It was in July of last year, I was getting ready to drive to Virginia for a surprise 60th birthday party for a good friend.

Just a few days earlier he had been told "YOU have cancer."

His family decided the party needed to go on and they made the right decision.  The party was GREAT.  Family and friends, the two ingredients that made Jay's life, made it a special night.  Inside he knew he had just been handed a death sentence, and a few of us in the room that night knew it too.  We kept Jay's secret and celebrated his 60 years with gusto.

Cancer wasted no time; he was gone 8 months later.

Today would have been Jay's 61st birthday.  No party this night.  No celebration, except to remember him with love and the gratitude that he was my friend.

Jay and I would meet at the canal on June 16th, Leroy's birthday, and we would have a little ceremony and release balloons in Leroy's memory every year.  It was always a special time for the two of us to remember the Big Guy so today, I did the same for Jay.

Happy Birthday my friend.   That big, Happy Face/Happy Birthday Balloon that sailed by you in heaven was from me, remembering, from our spot at the canal.  I miss you.

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Recurrence

The diagnosis was years ago.  It was one of the more dangerous cancers but the doctors were aggressive and went right to work on it. The treatment was harsh.  It took a lot out of the patient, but she survived both the treatment and the peril of living with cancer.

She went back to life as close to what it was B-C.  It's never what it was, but if you work at it, it can resemble that former life.

Any one who has been through this knows every time you look in the mirror you wonder what's going on inside?  Are those cancer cells really gone?  Did ONE survive the treatment and find a new place to call home and even though it hasn't been detected yet, it's there, already doing damage?

In this case, the answer is yes.  The most recent scans confirmed it.  It didn't come back at the original location, but it found another place that would work just as well.  It's grown enough now, that the scans have picked-up its damage. Recurrence is how they phrase it but you know it has new misery.

It's back to treatment.  It's back to hard days at the cancer center.

Recurrence: To return to one's attention or memory.  That's how the dictionary defines it.

EXACTLY.

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We capture it and then it slips through our hands like sand through an hourglass.

Hope is elusive.

It gives us the energy to stay in the fight.  Even when the cancer is pushing past the chemo and radiation, we hold on to hope, praying the body will rally.

That is what a care giver is doing tonight even after the doctors who have cared for her sister have said it's time for palliative care and then hospice.  They say they have nothing more to give.  The cancer is in places where the load will soon overtake the body's ability to rally.

Hope is the last thing to go.  We hold on to it long after the treatment list has been checked off.

It's not that we're in denial; we're not.  It's just so hard to let go.

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Do you have an advocate?

If you're making your way through the cancer journey, no matter what the prognosis, you need a helping hand.

You need an advocate.

I can not count the number of times, Leroy and I would meet with the doctors and come away with completely different "reads" on their message.  We'd look at each other and say "Were you in the same room I was?"  We'd go back over our notes and talk about how we interpreted their meaning and ultimately we'd come to a reasonable conclusion.  Making informed decisions from these "group" chats helped so much.  And when it was time for me, as the advocate, to make a decision on my own, I knew it really wasn't on my own, because we'd covered so much cancer ground already.

There were times when he was in the hospital when advocating for his well being was so important.  There were the little things like getting snacks and meals right, or bigger issues with doctors and nurses.

Advocating for a loved one is part of care giving.  It's not easy.

It's like we've said so many times about becoming a care giver; We didn't ask for it, but it's probably the most important job we'll ever do.

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Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt's life touched all of us because she stood for so much.  She wasn't just a GREAT basketball coach. She was a world bender: There aren't many folks out there who get that title.

In today's Washington Post, sports columnist Sally Jenkins writes a beautiful tribute to Summitt.  It speaks volumes about the drive, dedication and impact of this woman, especially when Jenkins adds a letter Summitt wrote to a young University of Tennessee freshman named Shelia Collins.  The coach wrote it on the occasion of Collins' starting her first game.  It may have been written for the freshman, but it resonates far beyond the basketball court.

If I didn't know better, I'd have guessed Summitt wrote it to a cancer widow: there is so much wisdom here that applies:

From today's Washington Post, June 29, 2016 (the letter is dated November 22, 1982)

Sheila, This is your first game. I hope you win for your sake, not mine.  Because winning's nice.  It's a good feeling.  Like the whole world is yours.  But it passes, this feeling. And what lasts is what you've learned. And what you've learned about is- life.  That's what sport is all about --life!

The whole thing is played out in an afternoon.  The happiness of life, the miseries, the joys, the heartbreaks.  There's no telling what will turn up. There's no telling how you'll do. You might be a hero. Or you might be absolutely nothing.

There's just no telling. Too much depends on chance, on how the ball bounces.

I'm not talking about the game.  I'm talking about life.  But it's life that the game is all about.  Just as I said, every game is life, and life is a game.  A serious one.  Dead serious. But here's what you do with serious things.  You do your best. You take what comes. You take what comes and you run with it.

Winning is fun...Sure.

But winning is not the point.

Wanting to win is the point.

Not giving up is the point.

Never letting up is the point.

Never being satisfied with what you've done is the point.

The game is never over.  No matter what the scoreboard reads, or what the referee says, it doesn't end when you come off the court.

The secret of the game is in doing your best. To persist and endure, "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

I'm proud to be your Coach,

Pat Head Summitt

 

So many jewels of wisdom inside this letter: tape it on the wall, fold it and put it in your wallet or keep it at work to share with your colleagues.

Pat Summitt was so much more than her success on the hardwood..

 

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Finding the right place to be treated for cancer is a serious fact-finding job.

It's important to put yourself in the right hands after diagnosis.  Most doctors have your best interest at heart, but their knowledge about your cancer may not be where it should be and you've got to ask some tough questions.  "How many cases like mine have you seen?"  "Do you feel like you've got a handle on my particular cancer?"

Hard questions? Yes, but the answers are extremely important.

Just recently, I've heard from two cancer patients who found out the hard way, that their doctors weren't equipped to treat their cancers.  Both had advanced disease and when they realized it was time to change doctors,  they were faced with some very scary decisions that should have been made months earlier.  Luckily, with research and many phone calls, they both landed in good places.

As overwhelming as a cancer diagnosis can be, don't stop searching for the best place; the right fit for you.  The doctors are important, but so are the treatment options, the location, the support, to name just a few "must haves" on the list.

Don't stop searching...your life depends on it.

 

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Spending time at the Kimmel Cancer Center never fails to be a teaching moment for me.  Over the years I have learned so much about the cancer journey.

I was a newbie almost 15 years ago when Leroy was first diagnosed.  I thought I knew the 'lingo' of cancer; I thought I knew how hard our path would be, and stupidly, I thought I could handle it all.  I had so much to learn....some of it the hard way.

You all know the story of our journey.

I carry that story with me every day.  And on the days when I'm walking the halls of the cancer center, I see myself in so many of the caregivers who are being brave and understanding next to their warriors who are fighting to live every day.  In the outpatient center, they sit; anticipating what news their doctor will share.  Will it be results of a recent scan? Will there be a change in treatment or maybe the words "You're N-E-D."

Then there are those walking through the lobby with those 'cancer bags.'  Those bags hold the secrets to getting through the day.  The morning paper is in there, the computer is in there, the cell phone, work from work because you never know how long the day will be once you get there.  'Cancer bags' carry a caregiver from one end of the day to the other.

And then there was today. They were hidden by the lush green landscape on a cement terrace that surrounds the cancer center.  He had his arm around her and she leaned on his shoulder with her hands up, around her face. No one ever goes out there, so I'm sure he thought she'd be protected; a private place to cry where the pain of cancer news is not shared with the rest of the world. She was weeping.  I don't know why I happened to glance up while I was walking by, but when I saw her face, I felt her anguish.

It was another lesson from cancer that came rushing back; one of those teaching moments you wish you could forever bury.

Her tears were hidden from the rest of the world, but I'm sure she'll remember them forever.

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Walk on…

There is something about getting on with life that cancer can not touch.

A neighbor is back walking her dogs and taking in the warm afternoon sunshine in the 'hood.'

It took a very long time before she felt well enough, strong enough, brave enough to put on her best sun hat and her walking shoes to face the outdoors.  Maybe it wasn't the outdoors so much as it was facing the 'old normal.'  After all, she wasn't the same person she was months ago.  She'd had breast cancer and her body was different.  Her mind had been messed with too.  As you know, once you're told you have cancer, and then you're told you don't have cancer anymore, you always wonder if some day something new will pop-up in a scan, or in an elevated blood test.  So I think it's safe to say, her confidence level of just walking outside the safety net of her home was in play here too.

But I saw her today, with the dogs in tow and feeling good.  She's talking about painting the house and refinishing the floors and catching-up on all the things that have been put on the shelf while she dealt with her cancer.

The best part of our conversation? She talked about getting the workers in to do house maintenance in the present and she talked about being "sick" in the past.  Another warrior who has put the war behind her for now.

She's got paint to buy and furniture to move, so get out of her way and let her get to work!

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Living with cancer: what does that really mean?

An old friend had a diagnosis of breast cancer last year.  She had a digital mammography and her doctor told her that was the only reason they found it.  He said it had been in a spot that was hard to spot and the digital picture enhanced the area and allowed for the diagnosis.

She went through surgery and treatment but she would not allow it to make a dent in her travel plans.  She is a traveler extraordinaire.  She and her husband have their spots around the world where they have made beautiful memories over the years and cancer was not going to rearrange those plans.  Her medical team told her to be prepared to maybe miss a few of those places this year.  They didn't know who they were dealing with...

So now it's been a year and it was time for her check-up.  They planned to come off the road just in time for my friend to make her appointment.  She's been "living with cancer" or "without it" and now it was time to find out which door would open, post-scan.

I got her email saying N-E-D the other day.  The results of the scan came right after her birthday.  "You're good to go" or words to that effect, said the doc.

The luggage is already packed.  See ya later cancer.

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My pal, Max

He's always prancing when I see him on the street.  He's a very proud walker, so prancing suits him perfectly.  His black, curly fur is beginning to show signs of gray because he's not a puppy anymore, but don't tell him that: in his mind he'll always be the unruly, happy-go-lucky 6 week old standard poodle who rules my street.

A couple of weeks ago he was out walking with his 'mom' and she told me about a little sore he had between his toes on his front left paw.  She had cleaned it well and he hadn't paid too much attention to it, so it was a "no big deal."  Max hadn't missed a step; he was still moving straight and fast up the street.

A few days later when I saw him, he had a huge shaved spot on his body and few stitches were visible on his skin.  That "no big deal" sore spot on his paw was more of a "deal" and the vet had taken a biopsy of it and he'd also found a lump on his back.  Those stitches were the remnants of that biopsy.

So now, we're in this wait and see stage.  The vet told Max's mom, he couldn't say what this tissue would show until the lab results were back.  "It could take as long as a week" she said.

So the wait is on.  Just like any patient in the same situation.  Is it cancer?  That's what Max's mom and dad are worried about and who can blame them?  And why does it always take so long to find out the results of the biopsy?

Wait and worry and hope all will be OK....with our beloved people and with our beloved pets too,  cancer holds us hostage.

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