The words "You have cancer" have just landed in your head and there's an instant hum or buzz that's taken over. You're watching your doctor's lips keep moving, but not a word is landing in the lobe where thinking and processing was so easy just a few minutes ago. Your brain has shut off.
The switch has been flipped, at least for a while.
When you come back around to the new reality that is now your life, my guess is your care giver who heard those same words has suggested it's time to take a walk through the internet and find out what all those words, your doctor used, really means.
Tread lightly is all I can tell you. There should be a cancer glossary that comes with every type of cancer, so when you dive into the internet in search of answers, there's a stock of words with meanings attached, to make it a little more understandable.
Blood draw and red and white count, chemotherapy, radiation, those are all pretty commonly known these days, but if you're headed for a clinical trial and your research nurse is talking about phases, or placebo's or blind studies, you really need that glossary.
Cancer is a complicated disease. The words that go with it can make it a real challenge.
So before you start to read up on treatments, and descriptions of what's going on in your body, stop and ask your medical team to explain the words they'll be using first. When you grow your vocabulary in cancer world, you're way ahead of the game.
There is no to telling how the missing will present itself. It's coupled with the grief and it's a mixture so intense after a long battle with cancer, it's a wait and see phase after such a big loss.
Some families stick to each other like glue, thinking one will take the burden off the others. Some go just the opposite direction and scatter to the wind, preferring to grieve on their own.
But what if it's a split decision? Where does that leave us?
There's no real resolution to this question. It causes such heartache inside a family unit that was unbreakable during the cancer journey. They worked together every step of the way. They closed ranks when a crisis would come up and they laughed together when lighter moments meant exhaling, even if it was just for a few minutes.
Now, this unit is shattered. The core of this family is gone. If he were here, he'd be unhappy with what's going on and he'd call the family together and tell them to stop being selfish and reunite. I can hear him strongly suggesting they all lean on each other because these are tough days and no one can make them even close to normal again, until this family locks arms again for a different fight.
This is the fight to survive without their leader: without their anchor.
You can't let this intense missing destroy what once was a strong family. That gives cancer another win, and that can't happen.
I know just about every walker in my neighborhood. I've been walking these parts for 25 years and I'm on a first name basis with just about every dog within a three mile radius of my house.
So when I spotted what looked like a cross between a yellow lab and a German Shepard making his way up a hill this afternoon, it wasn't the dog that caught my attention, but the young girl who was at the other end of the leash.
She was bald. Cancer bald.
There were wisps of new hair growth near her forehead, a few clumps of hair around her neck, but the rest of her head was bald. And she was pale. When she spotted me, I could tell she wanted to hide. Her free hand immediately went up and landed on her head. She had nowhere to go, so she smiled. I smiled back and commented on what a beautiful day it was and how lucky we were to be out in it.
She answered back not with words, but with a much bigger smile.
Everywhere you look these days, there it is, making headlines in cancer world, that word "Immunotherapy."
The end of March marked the dedication of the Bloomberg/Kimmel Immunotherapy Institute at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. Just a couple of days ago, tech legend, Sean Parker plunked down a cool 25 million to fund the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy based in San Francisco.
Immunotherapy....what the heck is it? To simplify this so that we can all understand it, and I apologize to the wizards at the lab bench who have made gigantic strides in this field, but to put it simply, it's basically using the body's immune system to fight and attack an individuals cancer.
Many of those who lead the field in this newest protocol, call it a "game changer." Clinical trials have shown some remarkable results. Should we get excited? Should we REALLY get excited?
How many years have we heard from the experts that eventually we would get to this point? It seems so logical that a person's immune system would hold the secret to killing cancer. To find the exact equation that turns-on that pathway appears to be on the horizon.
It's seems so logical, but then we all know, there's nothing logical about killing cancer.
We are a strong bunch.
Those of us who have been touched by cancer and I mean really touched by cancer, don't know how strong we are until we are well past the worst of it.
When we're in the thick of the pain and grieving, we figure this is the way it's going to be for the rest of our days. It hurts so much and we're left to deal with all the after-effects of loss, it's hard to see any future where our hearts won't be hurting or our minds will learn to think clearly again.
But it happens; like a thick, heavy fog that lifts with the help of a stiff breeze, it happens. We heal.
To all of you going through the hard part right now, remember this message. We heal. We are a strong bunch and we heal.
It's been more than days, more than weeks, more than months. It's been over a year since her diagnosis of breast cancer.
She pushed through surgery and radiation and chemo. She was looking pretty frail for a while and her healthy skin tones faded to a pale dusty white. In other words, she looked like a woman who had cancer. "HAD" is the right word here, because she is cancer free and after last week, with a final reconstruction surgery, she is whole again too.
This is a strong, determined woman. She never gave-in to her cancer; at least not outside the warmth of her family and home. If I were to guess, there were some tough days and nights following treatment. But she kept to herself and soldiered through the worst of it.
She's a warrior to me. A strong, champion warrior.
I see her now, top down in her convertible, always a high-five wave over the top of her windshield. And even if it's just a glimpse of that face, I see rosy cheeks that surround that familiar smile. She's back!
She's whole again.
I'm dating myself, but when Leroy and I made our maiden voyage into the chemotherapy room for round one of 13 rounds, we thought we were prepared for the procedure. We had been warned that each body deflects the worst that chemo has to offer in different ways. Some patients get fevers, or sweats. Many get nauseous and their blood counts bob and weave all over the chart.
We knew how toxic these drugs were because our chemo nurse would greet us in her hospital garb, give Leroy a shot that would help to ward off these ugly side effects, but when it came time for the bag of chemo to be hung on the T-stand, the gloves and gowns and face guard would come out. Within minutes our wonderful, smiling, chatty nurse would look like she belonged in a quarantined pod. She was totally unrecognizable: covered from head to toe in protective gear.
So that was then and now? Now they are sending patients home with a pump full of chemo to disperse over many hours in the comfort of the patients' own living room. Not all chemo is homeward bound, but to think that some care GIVERS are now responsible for what is called the " Takedown" or disconnect of the chemo pump once it's delivered the drug, is pretty remarkable.
The lessons of "how to" do this are extensive. There are written instructions, demonstrations, back up after back up if a care giver is in need of medical assistance 24/7. The equipment is checked and checked again and all precautions are taken. After all, we are talking about chemo therapy. Safety is key.
And the future is now. Cancer treatment moves forward, so why shouldn't procedure follow close behind?
He's a young man, but he's already felt the pain of losing a friend to cancer.
It happened a few years ago and that tragedy lit a flame inside my young friend. He told me how wrong it was that his pal died from his cancer. He said he decided then and there, he was going to be a 'cancer doctor.' He's stuck to that pledge.
He's in college now and his "true North" hasn't wavered one degree.
He's aware of the long road ahead of him. The years of med school, the dollars needed to fund that education, and the commitment he must make to reach his goal.
I have no doubt he'll make it. It's so much more than being smart: this guy is on a mission to save lives.
His loss is going to be our gain.
She says she feels like a widow.
She says she's lonely.
She says she's a little afraid.
She says she's sad.
It's been 23 days and all of these emotions have been flowing through her heart: this open valve can not be closed. Truly, there is nothing that can stop this flood. It has to ebb and flow and ache and pound to it's own rhythm. Each one of us who has gone through it had to do it independent of the support and love we received from those who wanted to help. We have to feel this part of grieving alone, because no one can imagine how we really feel.
This part is a solo journey.
This is the 'feeling like a widow' part.
Four years ago a routine breast exam turned into a double mastectomy. Her doctor told her no need for chemo or radiation. She went with that recommendation and then followed with physical therapy, a new, healthy diet and the healing commenced.
As hard as it was, she went about life and work, trying every day to put those many weeks of cancer behind her. And she did it.
You know how it is, though, there's always that little voice miles away that drifts in once in a while with the words, "Will it ever come back?" She's even asked if it does, where does her particular cancer show its face?
A recent pneumonia landed her in the hospital and with that came a chest x-ray and with that came the red flag. The docs were looking at her lungs, but then they noticed that shady spot on her spine. So this is where it comes back?
She had to recover before there was any talk of biopsy, but in her mind, she was already there. The anticipation of what was to be was driving her crazy. It's a cancer patient's worse fear and her mind was on free-run.
There is no such thing as a fast pathology report, especially when you're counting the seconds for the results. It must have been excruciating for her, except for the fact that when the news came that the shady spot was benign, I guess you could say it was worth the wait.
The spot was, just a spot. Not a spot that held new cancer and new challenges.
Back to that healthy diet and new healing and more appreciation of life.