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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They're eating chocolate up around Boston, drinking Havana Club down South, out on the Coast, cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes are on the menu.  A friend in New York City is raising a glass or two of chardonnay.

Today is Leroy's birthday.

In Austria, Leroy's tree is in full bloom.  It's a strong, healthy Red Oak that sits on a mountain top and thrives; providing protection and shade to those who need it, just like it's namesake did.

We would probably be sitting down tonight, to a wonderful dinner of Chicken Vindaloo, Alu Paratha and a couple of ice cold Kingfisher's to cool down the amazing Indian spices.  Leroy loved Indian food.  It was his go-to Birthday dinner choice.

Look around today and if you think you see an unusual number of folks wearing Hawaiian shirts, they're probably just remembering a big guy, who loved life, had a big laugh, and had a fondness for Hawaiian shirts.  He also just happened to have the gift of message.  In the midst of a life crisis called metastatic colon cancer, he reached beyond his own dilemma to guide and comfort those who didn't have the words or wherewithal to navigate cancer world alone.

He had a long reach and he loved a good party.

Happy Birthday Leroy.

 

 

 

 

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Losing a loved one to cancer and life stops.  Life has been altered dramatically for a long time, because the diagnosis of metastatic disease means changing routines and adapting to a new routine that means doctors and hospital visits and losing control of what was probably a pretty nice life.

But when the disease moves in mysterious ways and the load on the body is just too much to handle and death reaches out: life just stops.  Families mourn.  Everyone mourns differently and sometimes we scatter because it's such a personal loss;  the hole left in each heart requires a unique kind of healing.  Sometimes we just need to do that alone.

So, when the scattered parts reunite to become a family again, each heart has begun to heal and the unit that stayed together during the journey finds themselves as one, again.

Life begins to take shape.  Old routines are gone, but new ones begin and they make memories; new memories that will build new family albums.

Life HAS to go on.  It's the only way we came make it.

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There are no words that can adequately convey the depth of the sorrow...

How did we become so broken?

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My neighbor Susan spotted it first.  She pointed to what looked like Indian corn growing amongst the leaves and twigs in my yard.  The more we looked the more we saw, it's everywhere.

It's not Indian corn, it's called "American cancer root."  That's right, of all the places a plant with the name "cancer root" has decided to grow, it has chosen my yard.

According to the USDA Forest Service, cancer root is a parasitic plant that grows when it can attach to a root system of certain oak trees. I have many beautiful oak trees.  It usually finds the perfect conditions to grow in the Eastern half of the United States and in Canada.

The description and explanation of this plant is extensive on the website.  What I really wanted to know was why do they call it "cancer root?"  The best they can do to answer that is to say "the name may simply stem from the parasitic growth form of the plant in general."  "There is no scientific evidence that it has any cancer prevention or cancer causing properties."

"Cancer root" appears to be a question-mark in the plant community.  That alone should allow it entrance into the cancer community. Don't worry and visit us at spielautomaten

 

 

 

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None of us really knew what we were doing when we became "care givers." At least I didn't so I'm speaking for myself and thinking there are a few of you out there who would agree with me.

A metastatic cancer diagnosis is a hard sentence to accept.  Some care givers, like myself again, start with a tool box only slightly full.  We have most of the right words to say, we find ways to provide comfort on days when our loved ones can't get comfortable, we find our strong face on treatment days and our hopeful face on scanning days.  Some how those items come, neatly folded and ready to wear with your care giver tool box.

I know our lives are changed in the present and in the future, but remember what our loved ones are going through: it's much worse for them.  Cancer hurts.  Treatment is hard.  End of life is a constant thought.

So when we, the care givers, begin to feel the weight of care giving, HOLD THAT THOUGHT.

Dig deep into that tool box and find what you need to mask that notion.  There's something in there: something you've been keeping fresh for just this moment.  Or maybe this isn't the first time you've needed it.

And consider who you're wearing it for.

 

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The first time I met Muhammad Ali, I was producing a sports radio talk show in San Diego and he had come to town preparing for a heavyweight fight against Ken Norton: a former Marine who was a longshot to make it through the first five rounds of the fight.  In fact, Sports Illustrated called him "Ken Somebody."

But Ali, being the showman that he was, knew how important it was to hype the fight, and being a long time friend of the sportscaster I was working with, decided to make an appearance and spend a little time with the crowd that had gathered to get a glimpse of the champ.  He was a people magnet.

He needed no introduction.  You heard him before you saw him and he parted a crowd like the biblical story of the Red Sea.  "I am the greatest."  His voice carried over the crowd and with his entourage in tow, he made his way up to the broadcast stage.  What was supposed to be just a short "promo" for the fight turned into an hour of Ali at his very best.  I was in awe of the man:His quick wit, his intelligence, his charm. He was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie. What struck me most, his hands.  He had the most beautiful hands I'd ever seen.  I mentioned that to him and with a twinkle in his eyes, and with not one moments hesitation, he reminded me that he was just simply "beautiful."

When fight night came, the San Diego Sports Arena was standing room only.  It's safe to say the majority of the crowd had come to see Muhammad Ali make quick work of Norton.  Instead, Kenny, with his unorthodox style of fighting, threw a right that met Ali's jaw in the second round.  Those of us at ringside noticed blood dripping from Ali's jaw and couldn't believe it.  The fight continued, in fact Norton won the fight on a split decision.  The arena crowd was stunned when the final bell sounded.

What transpired next is etched in my memory forever.

Post fight, the winner's circle parties the night away.  Ali's crowd had planned for that: Norton's corner, not so much. But with the surprising results, that changed quickly. And what about Ali?  The champ did not stay for post fight chatter, in fact he was whisked away quickly.  For me he was still the story, but where had his trainer Angelo Dundee taken him?

A small hospital just a few minutes from the arena had an unexpected patient.  In the ER, on a gurney, Ali waited to meet a doctor who would say later, how amazed he was that Ali stood in the ring for 15 rounds with a shattered jaw.  Even more amazing when I arrived, expecting a horde of media, I found just Dundee, Ali's long time friend and corner man, Bundini Brown, and my colleague Jerry Gross.  Angelo was shattered just like Ali's jaw.  He was convinced his fighter would never step into the ring again.  The four of us sat together in the waiting room while Ali was in surgery, watching the minutes, the hours creep through the night.

And then Ali just disappeared.

Jerry and I searched all over San Diego for him.  We used every source we knew to put the word out we were looking for him, but with no results.  Many days later, the phone in the sports office rang after the 11 pm show.  I picked up the phone to hear a muffled voice saying "I know you've been looking for me, but I didn't want to be found."  Realizing Ali had found us, when he was ready, he went on to offer a meeting that late night at a small coffee shop in a back booth with no cameras.  We brought a cameraman just in case, but when we got there Ali, wearing sunglasses in that back booth made it clear we were welcomed but not the camera.  He told us he couldn't, wouldn't let his fans see him like that.  He face was so swollen with his jaw wired shut, he was drinking coffee through a straw.

We talked about the fight.  We talked about the future.  Ali knew every detail about our search for him after that night in the ER.   The fact that we had been the only two journalists who had followed him after losing the fight did not go unnoticed.

Years later, at the Atlanta Olympics, Ali would visit the athletes village.  I was there shooting a story when word spread like wildfire that he had arrived.  The athletes were running to surround him and my crew and I were in the stampede.  When we got to Ali, I was told my crew could not shoot the event.  We weren't a part of the Sports Network group, and as much as I protested, we were being muscled away when a voice that once roared over the crowd, whispered "stop." Ali had turned to Angelo Dundee to say, "She's with us."  Before I knew it, we were a part of the inner circle.  The Champ had remembered.

All those years earlier, a young sportscaster had stuck with him at one of his lowest moments and he remembered.  We made eye contact and even though the Parkinson's had invaded his muscles, his mind was rock solid.

The beautiful hands were ravaged with arthritis by then too.  But not the twinkle in his eyes....that's where he held his memories and they were crystal clear.

 

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