I can think of a half dozen homes altered by cancer this Thanksgiving.

Friends who are fighting cancer and don't have the same energy they've had in past years to stand and prepare a huge Thanksgiving meal for family and friends.  Instead, they'll leave the cooking to others and if I know them like I think I do, they'll raise a glass of ginger ale and look around the room wondering if they'll be here next year to enjoy the room full of love and support. That's what cancer in the room does to a Thanksgiving celebration.

I'm also thinking of a couple of homes where a chair at the table, will be just a chair; sitting empty this year because cancer stole another loved one from us.  Glasses will be raised at this table too.  Everyone will say how thankful they are for everyone who has gathered, but there will be so many broken hearts from the loss.

There will be 3 cancer widows at my table this year.  THREE cancer widows. Add to that, three young adults who missed having a father in their homes for a good part of their 'growing-up' years.  We will lift our glasses before dinner and say how much we miss these three wonderful guys.  They were a force in our lives and they left a big hole in our hearts.

We were lucky; we had them even for a little while.  That's something to be thankful for, indeed.

 

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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I have two really good friends who are in the deepest, ugliest part of fighting breast cancer.  They were diagnosed about a week a part.

Both women are smart and sharp and from their diagnosis, moved on to connect to oncologists and surgeons who are affiliated with comprehensive cancer centers and they are being treated aggressively.

They both have Taxol, an anti-cancer chemotherapy pumped into their veins now and each woman is handling that differently.  I'm sure it has to do with the other drugs being used to make their individual chemo treatment as effective as possible.  Because both found their cancers early, the prognosis is good, although the type of breast cancer is different for each friend.

If you think about it, it wasn't that long ago that getting a diagnosis of breast cancer meant only one type of chemo, maybe some radiation added to the protocol, but even that wasn't targeted and a lot of healthy tissue got caught in the crossfire of the radiation beams.  So much has been learned and treatment has been specialized to fit specific types of cancers, even in the breast cancer family.

These ladies are lucky.  They really are lucky.  They have a better chance at a long, strong life now, post treatment.

It's that way for many cancers now.  Research and clinical trials have pushed forward the knowledge to better treat our family members and friends.

Two steps forward....

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He was diagnosed at a small town hospital.  His doctors had seen cancer before, but his was a complicated and difficult cancer.  They said they could treat him but to their credit, they told him he'd be much better off if he went to a cancer center where his diagnosis would be looked at by a multi-disciplinary group of doctors.  They would put their heads together and as a group decide what the best treatment would be.

Experience counts in cancer world.  YOU want your doctor to say "I've seen this before and we should do this," instead of hearing "I haven't really seen this kind of cancer before."

So he took the advice and his team of doctors have been aggressive.  They have taken steps to attack his cancer with chemotherapy, surgery, recovery from surgery and now more chemo of a different kind to create what they hope will be a "knock-out punch."

This man is feeling the effects of the chemo, but his cancer is N-E-D at the moment and that gives him HOPE.  He's a realist and knows this cancer could come back. But for now, he's in a good place.

Like his wife says, they live well each day.  "Each day counts so much more."

You bet it does.

 

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Birthdays…

Today is mine.  My birthday.

So many wonderful friends remembered and for that I am very grateful.

Birthdays are just different now.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to celebrate, but there's a big hole in the circle that surrounds me on this day.  I have so many great memories of celebrating with the Big Guy. We had our "Birthday weeks" and they were special.  I think back on them now and I'm so glad we had those special times.

The 8 birthdays that have come around since he's been gone are another marker of how much cancer changes lives.

These calendar days, as I call them, are a real test of our strength and perseverance to keep moving forward in life.

There was a point in this day where I took a couple of steps backward, allowing cancer to creep back into my world.  But I pushed back and will celebrate tonight with another year under my belt.

There are new memories to make and they'll fit nicely next to the old ones.

 

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President Obama called her an "extraordinary journalist." He said she "also inspired tomorrow's journalists."

He said he "admired her integrity, tenacity and intellect" and he called her a "trailblazer.'

He was 100% on target.

Gwen was all that and more.  She died today at age 61.  CANCER took her life, but not her spirit.

Gwen had a feisty spirit.  She definitely was a glass half full kind of woman.  She loved her job. She was so good at it too. But there was more to Gwen than that extraordinary journalist.

We had offices across a narrow hall at the NBC NEWS Washington Bureau so we shared a lot of talk and a lot of laughs and because my office mate was her producer, we also shared a lot of those last minute dashes to make air.  She was a trooper.  She worked so hard.  Journalism meant something to Gwen.  The word stood for something and she honored her profession.

When she was diagnosed we talked about how her new journey would change her life.  She wanted to know what to expect.  I don't think any of us who knew what she was going through expected Gwen's life would end in just a few months.

It's a sad day for me.  I've lost a friend and in some ways I feel like maybe I let her down.  Should I have pushed her to more aggressive doctors?  Did I check in with her enough along the way?

My only consolation is knowing Gwen is no longer in pain from her cancer.

She's at peace.  I know she's at peace and for that I'm very grateful.

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She's a strong woman.  She's lived long enough to learn the ropes about life.  Then she heard the words "You have cancer."

She's forgotten how strong she is, because those words have shaken her to the core.

Three words that can make even the bravest shudder at the thought that there's something bad happening to their body.

Her doctor explained the treatment phase of this fight today.  She listened and took notes, because she knew the words would float around the room but not much would be retained.  The dates stuck out more than anything at this appointment.  The day she'd go for "chemo education."  The day she's scheduled to have a port put in so the chemotherapy infusion would be easier on her body.  No needle sticks.  The doctor explained the number of treatments over the course of many weeks and radiation would follow as a one-two punch against her cancer.

So now she's in the cancer loop.  She has to start to think about nutrition and hydration and continuing her exercise routine.  She's a smart woman and knows these are all important pieces, but what worries her is how she'll feel.  Will this kill the cancer?

Will this change her?  How will this change her?

"I'm scared."

She's strong enough  and brave enough to say those words.

It is a scary time.

 

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Laced-Up

When I was a care giver, I needed support and she was there for me.

She'd call me just to check in and say "Hi."  It didn't have to be a long conversation.  I think she could take "my temperature" by the tone in my voice.  A hard day and I was tired and my voice reflected my concern and worry and she would stay on the call a little longer, trying to pick up my spirits.

We would walk for miles over the years Leroy battled his cancer.  The fresh air, the road stretched out before me and my friend by my side was a cancer treatment not discovered in a lab somewhere, but it worked wonders for this care giver's psyche.

Cancer has become a part of our walks once again.  And this time, I'm the one calling to see how my friend is doing.  She's heard the words "You have cancer."

It was discovered very early and her prognosis is very good.

It's still cancer.  Cancer requires support from friends.

My walking shoes are laced up and ready to go.

 

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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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