I'm a walker.  When I'm not on the C & O Canal logging miles, I'm in my own neighborhood putting one foot in front of the other watching the seasons change year after year.  Who knows how many miles I've traveled?  My map of steps keep me connected to the birds and critters and trees that make this my home.  I see the migrating turkeys in the Fall.  I see the new born fawn sticking close to Mom in the woods and I watch the trees hold tight in a summer storm.

The houses I pass tell a story too.  They look like most homes in any other neighborhood, but it's who lives there and what they've faced over the years that tell the tale.  So many of my neighbors have met cancer face to face.  I'm happy to say, some have stood strong and appear to have won their battles against this enemy.  I've seen them struggle through their treatment.  Some have stayed inside their houses for months on end, leaving only for doctor and treatment visits.  Others have been defiant and have forced themselves to stay as active as possible when their bodies would have preferred to simply rest.   In my own home we did the very same thing; Leroy hated giving in to the effects of chemo.

So now there is another house added to the cancer list.  A good friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  Of course you'd never know it from looking at the house.  The lawn is green and mowed.  The rose garden is just about finished blooming and the vegetable garden had a record year for tomatoes.  The house itself is beautiful, and now it has a new assignment: Take care of those who have taken care of it for all these years.  There's a cancer patient and a loving care giver living inside those walls and they need shelter in this storm.

I'll be watching as I walk by...

 

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I remember many years ago, when I was a teenager my extended family had gone into crisis mode because of cancer.  A young, married cousin of mine was diagnosed with liver cancer.  She had three small kids, a great husband, a successful and happy life and this cancer was going to kill her.

It was at a time in cancer world, when a liver cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.  There was really just one type of chemotherapy for all cancers and it was so toxic, cancer patients could barely stand the treatment.

I don't know what killed my cousin first, the treatment or the cancer.  My entire family was heart broken.

I remember hearing whispers that my cousin had given up once she found out about the cancer.

I still hear that sentiment expressed today among family members to their loved ones who are faced with a cancer diagnosis.

"Don't give up."  "We're gonna fight this."  "We'll face this cancer and we'll beat it."

We've all heard these thoughts expressed.

I guess it's so important to stand up to cancer.  If we're mentally strong,  do our bodies listen and respond better to treatment? Are we just being strong for our loved ones and care givers?

It's hard for me to imagine anyone just giving up.  If they do, it's got to be because the strain and pressure of what cancer brings to a life is just too much.  It's not because they don't want to live.  It's not because they don't want to fight.

Fighting is part of having cancer.

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The sound of the Cancer Center is muted most of the time.  Footsteps walking to treatment don't make much sound.  T-stands rolling across the floor with bags of fluids swaying back and forth really don't talk much either.  If anything, they convey the message of cancer, or what it takes to fight it.

New patients are overheard asking for directions and veteran patients walk with a purpose; they just want to get to their appointment and move on to better times.

So there he was, with his double-filtered mask covering his nose and mouth.  His ball cap fit perfectly on his bald head. He was dressed in comfortable clothes, so maybe he had a chemo treatment coming up, or maybe he'd learn from so many visits to the Cancer Center, that clothes should be comfortable, not fashionable when you're fighting cancer.  So it wasn't his appearance that drew me to him, it was his ability to slow the pace of cancer that day because he was playing the piano in the lobby and it was magical.

The notes literally hung in the air.  A man at the elevator stood there with tears in his eyes.  A young family made up of a cancer patient, a wife and two kids huddled together and just listened.  Another couple held hands across the two chairs they were sitting in and just looked at one another.  I can only imagine what they were thinking.

This young man had managed to silence cancer with his sound of music.

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Little Red Wagons

If you didn't have one of our own, you knew someone who did.  It was a right of passage.

When you got so tall, and so old and coordinated enough to steer it, you pulled it over the bumpy sidewalk and owned the block, showing off to your friends that you owned a little red wagon.

Maybe you put your favorite dolls in the wagon.  Maybe it was part of your paper route.   My sister got one of her many dogs, by spotting a litter of puppies snuggled up inside a red wagon.  It was part of a block parade on the Fourth of July.  "Julie" popped her head over the rim of the wagon at just the right moment and it was love at first sight.  Julie was a lucky girl to land in that house.  She was the heart of that home and it all started with a ride in a little red wagon.

So today, when I spotted a little red wagon rolling through the lobby of the cancer center, I sighed.  Inside, covered with what had to be a favorite blanket and fluffy pillow, was a little person suffering from cancer.  I have no idea which cancer had invaded this youngster, it doesn't really matter.  What mattered was this little red wagon was her comfort zone.  She didn't have to struggle to walk, she didn't have to sit in an ill-fitting wheel chair and she didn't have to avoid the eyes of those of us who just naturally feel a twinge of sadness whenever we see a child suffering from cancer.

Her care giver, who I suppose was her mom pulled the wagon with ease toward the doors and out to the car.  A day at the cancer center had come to an end.

The little red wagon had done its job.

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Let's call it the vicious cycle of cancer.

The beginning goes something like this:  A discovery, a probe to discover more about the discovery, a biopsy, a scan, a plan and then it begins for real.

The "You have cancer" moment has moved to the "You are living with cancer" reality.

Such is the case with a close friend who heard the words chemotherapy and radiation in a conversation with her doctor today.  A treatment plan is being assembled.  She's decided to leave town for the long weekend.  She's planning on leaving her cancer at her door.  It will be there when she returns.

Then there's a wonderful young man who lost his Dad a few months ago.  Death from cancer.

That goes something like this: The discovery, jumping ahead to the plan, treatment and more treatment when the first line therapies are not successful, possibly a clinical trial, always holding on to HOPE, even when HOPE runs out.

He says he's doing OK.  He says there are good and bad days, but it's his Mom he's worried about because she is just so sad.  I try to explain that this grieving is a process.  We all do it differently, but we all need to do it.

Death from cancer.

A vicious cycle.

 

 

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Anticipation…

It's been a summer of high humidity and slow and easy traffic around the neighborhood.  New families have moved in along my walking route and it became obvious yesterday and today that they made the choice to live in this 'hood' because the schools are so good.  It has been a like a Rockwell painting these past two mornings; the cutest little kids anticipating the big yellow school bus with Mom and Dad and the dog all waiting to wish the little people a good day at school.  The drama, the tears, the smiles and the book bags that are twice the size of these kids, weighing them down as they take their first steps onto the bus.  The anticipation of what's to come.

The passage of time.  Another school year begins.

There's another house on the bus route.  The kids who were raised there are grown up now.  They are married and live a few miles away.  Their Mom is still living in that house and she's been anticipating a new beginning too.  Living with cancer is her new normal.  It's the anticipation of her biopsy that weighs on her mind these days. Her doctors tell her she should get the results in a few days.  What does that mean?  Two days is a few days in my book, but odds are she won't hear anything for at least a week.

Once again, it's the waiting that makes this so difficult.  Knowing is better than not knowing.  You can make a plan, when you know what you've got to deal with.

The anticipation is the worst.

 

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Happy will take over this weekend.  It will beat cancer with a capital "H."

A wonderful couple will come together in marriage with a celebration full of "HAPPY."

Just a few months ago, the bride-to-be shed tears, in fact we all did, when her Dad passed away after a short, hard fought battle with cancer.  He knew his diagnosis would not allow him to be here this weekend so the family celebrated early, with a betrothal ceremony and the bride danced with her Dad.  Pictures were taken, and memories were made.

So much love in this wonderful family.  This will be a ceremony tinged with sadness, but HAPPY will prevail.

HAPPY will take over...

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She's been a friend for a very long time.

We've spent many hours at the pool.  We talk about our lives; we share our stories and talk about our families and jobs.  We swim in the lanes and talk about how we love summer.  When our favorite season starts to wind down, like it is now, we both feel the change in the air.  We notice how the clouds change too.  In peak summer, when the thunderstorms rage across our sky, the clouds are big balls of 'angry.'  Now, later in the season, they seem to flatten out.  There's not as much room for the lightning and thunder to hide and even though we still get T-storms, they space themselves out a little more and we're both very glad about that too.

So when my friend went for her annual mammogram, it seemed like just another summer day.  She would be late to the pool that day. She didn't come to the pool that day.  She was told there was something on the scan that needed further examination. A sonogram, a needle biopsy, and cancer was discovered.  Surgery will be in a couple of days.

What do you say to that?  You want to say "You'll be OK."  You want to say "Don't worry."   You want to say all that healthy eating, exercising, living will pay off and this will be a blip on your screen.

You pray all that will be a factor in her recovery and she'll be fine.

You want all those thoughts to be true.

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Seven for seven...it doesn't get any better than that!

3 colon cancers, gone.

3 breast cancers, gone.

1 lymphoma, gone.

N-E-D

Patients I don't know well, but had the good fortune to meet while working on some clinical trials and immunotherapy projects this past week.

Doctors and patients were smiling at the results of these scans.

Is this a sign that cancer treatments are improving and patients are seeing the results of the hard work of researchers and scientists at the lab bench?  One can only hope that is true.

One the more 'magical/mystical' side of how I look at this disease, I'd like to think some how cancer is "on the run," that it's heading for a deep hole somewhere.  Too many good ways of killing cancer are out there now and it's just time for this bad stuff to disappear.

YUP....I' going with 'magical/mystical' with a huge dose of science thrown in...

 

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The hug…

It spoke volumes.

A gesture I see in the lobby of the cancer center hundred of times a day.  It came mean a lot of things; a big "hello," a "good to see you," or a "what can I do to make the hurt go away?"

There was no question about this hug.  The couple sat in their chairs taking turns to look around the room watching for some one.  A woman, wearing a white coat finally came through the doors and the couple stood up quickly.  The woman reached out, trying to capture both of them in one wide, open armed embrace.  It was the kind of hug that came with an "I'm so sorry."

The couple held on to the doctor but the news was not going to change.  Red faced and almost embarrassed that they had become so emotional in a public place, the three of them finally sat down to talk.  It was a private conversation, but the body language was easy to read.

Cancer.  A hug.  Hold on to Hope.

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