There are so many things to deal with in the cancer battle.
At first glance, after hearing the "YOU have cancer" words, treatment is scheduled and you find yourself on a new life path. It's a scheduled new life path with a team of doctors to monitor your health, a treatment path that fills the calendar with chemotherapy appointments and maybe radiation appointments and blood draws and scans, etc.
Then something unexpected happens. A fever, white cells are way to high, red cells are way too low, maybe an obstruction of some sort and the next thing you know, you see the inside of an ER with all its' craziness and uncertainty. You learn patience in the ER because once you're evaluated, and the hint of 'emergency' is gone, it feels like the clock is moving in the wrong direction.
Do you end up in the hospital? It might be related to your cancer, but it needs a different set of doctors and your cancer treatment that was once the most important thing in the world, now becomes an after thought. The immediate problem takes center stage.
This has happened to friend of mine and his hospital stay, actually two long stays, has meant no chemotherapy for weeks.
Now he's wondering, what's going on with his cancer, while all these other issues are being treated? Is the cancer just sitting there, waiting to be challenged by the chemo or is it taking this opportunity to find new places to cause bigger problems?
Cancer doesn't wait for anyone or anything.
I'm worried for him.
He wasn't feeling well. Usually, he is bouncing around the house with tons of energy. His energy level had dropped and his mom was worried. So off to the doctor they went.
The doctor said further tests were needed and that meant blood work and tissue samples for biopsy. It took days before a diagnosis was made and the results were not good.
Chemotherapy was ordered, preceded by a pill to knock down any nausea that would likely come from the medication.
Another family touched by cancer.
The patient in this case is the sweetest little black and white cat. Bucchi is my neighbor, my pal. I'm so sad about his diagnosis. Animals, like people react differently to cancer and meds. Bucchi's mom and dad have done their research and have taken him to the best cancer specialist in the area. He'll get expert care. If love had anything to do with cancer treatment, he'd be cured tomorrow.
Our pets are our loved ones too. And when they're diagnosed with cancer our lives are changed too.
Bucchi, sending good thoughts your way.
I met a woman today who gently coaxes cancer patients and their caregivers to express themselves.
An easy task, you might say? Not so fast. Not so easy.
One of the hardest parts of living with cancer is 'being' in cancer world. Your friends and family tend to forget that you're still the person you were before you heard the words "You have cancer." You haven't forgotten how to live in the real world. You're still skilled in whatever profession you had before that scan was read. You're still interested in going to the movies or eating at your favorite restaurant or going to the gym. WRITE about who you are, who you've always been and will always be. Caregivers, the same assignment works miracles for you too.
You're still YOU. But you're forced to talk about cancer now and that somehow erases all the other parts of who you are. So this woman, this angel who understands that, gives you a journal and encourages you to write about YOU.
She also takes you out of cancer world by asking to describe a place that is anywhere but your hospital room, or waiting room or exam room. These were not normal places for you to visit until the diagnosis, so where would you rather be? The success of this exercise is to take cancer out of the room.
I think one of the hardest 'asks' is to express, in words, the "What I meant to tell you" exercise. Patients and caregivers forget how important it is to say "I love you" or "Thank you" or "I'm so glad your here." It might be even harder to write it down. It is so important because the possibility of loss and never saying those things leaves holes that can never be filled. A little coaxing from some one who understands this (she lost her husband to cancer 30 years ago) is the gentle push at just the right time.
Her technical title is 'writing clinician.' Research, she told me, says these kind of expressions are a health benefit and I don't doubt it for a minute.
I think I'd call her a clinician of the heart. She's mending an organ that is hurting and can't be fixed in an operating room. Words, expressions and feelings are the best ways to heal it.
It's been stretched, twisted, pulled on, pulled off, and thrown across the room. That happens when the cancer fills the room and it's just too much to handle. That's when this little stretchy, rubbery bracelet with the words "cancer sucks" allows us to vent and who cares where it lands.
I've worn my "cancer sucks" bracelet for about 10 years now.
I remember finding it in the 'Image Recovery Center' at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Hopkins. I was a little surprised at the slogan but sales were brisk the day I got mine.
I'm sorry to say, I've given them to many friends since that day.
Two little words wrapped around a wrist. A silent shout out to the world.
It says so much.
What makes cancer go away?
I'm not talking chemotherapy, or radiation. I 'm not talking immunotherapy or epigenetics.
I thinking about the things that take us a million miles away from our cancer worries and that goes for patient and care giver.
The list begins here, tonight. Feel free to add on....
1. A care giver and a patient, windows open, beautiful Fall day, and a drive along the coast.
2. A visit from the grandkids who don't have a clue what cancer is, or that grandpa or grandma have it. They have come to give hugs and play games and drink hot chocolate.
3. The popcorn is fresh, the movie is a new release and you're sitting in the theatre watching it. What cancer center?
4. Pancakes are fresh off the griddle, the butter melts the instant the two meet. The syrup is warm and tastes 'fresh squeezed from the Maple tree.' The OJ is chilled and friends are over for a visit and breakfast.
5. A evening marathon of watching all the 'Hunger Games' before the last film is released.
She's done it again...
My friend Suzanne needed another boost to battle her cancer and she got one.
I've lost count of how many clinical trials she's been on but there have been many. Her body uses these trials like little magic bullets against her cancer. She rallies to fight another day over and over again. She's the best possible participant for a research group who runs a trial because she responds so well. Her body has paid it forward and forward and forward again. Her results have helped pave the way for so many new trials too. And when the cancer figures out a way to move around the meds, and her scans show growth of the disease, Suzanne's doctors do a search to find what's new and available for her.
So now she's on yet another trial and this time she had a few upsets along the way, but her trial nurse decided Suzanne needed an adjustment in the meds. She "tweaked" her doses and it seemed to work.
The latest scans show shrinkage again. She's responding.
She's grateful for all the opportunities to take advantage of these new meds being tested in cancer world.
I'm hoping some day soon, Suzanne will find the final trial. The one where her doctors will tell her to "go home and have a healthy, long life...trial free."
I remember when they put the chairs in the hall.
Word was, they were only going to be there until the chemo infusion room remodel was completed. With all of that construction, the waiting room was filled with equipment and building supplies, so there wasn't much space left for the people waiting for their chemo that day, or for their caregivers along for treatment day.
So we waited in the hall. The overflow was huge. So many people waiting with the hope that this chemo drip would be the one to chase away the cancer.
That was a few years ago. The new infusion waiting room came out nicely. The chairs were more comfortable. The big screen TV added some distraction and there was just more space, so you didn't feel like you were sitting on top of anyone.
But the chairs are still out in the hall. When I walked by there today, one man was staring out into space. His newspaper had fallen in folds on his lap. I don't think he even felt it. He was so lost in his thoughts with sad eyes and not a trace of a grin. I couldn't read his mind, but if I had to guess, he was wondering what the next step would be for a loved one getting treatment inside the infusion room. Maybe he was wondering, "Is it working?" "Is that chemotherapy doing anything to kill that cancer?"
Sitting next to him, was a woman with no newspaper, no book, only her hands holding her head: sadness hiding inside ten fingers.
Inside the waiting room, there were plenty of empty chairs, so these caregivers made the choice to sit in the hall. There was more room for their feelings out there.
The chairs in the hall give a mind a chance to breathe.
I met a young woman today diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. Her doctors have been very clear in explaining how her cancer has spread to her stomach, lymph nodes and now there are spots on her liver. She's not impressed.
In fact, when she found out she had stage-4 cancer, she approached a surgeon about "cutting out as much cancer as possible." The surgeon declined. This 40 and fabulous woman refused to accept that answer and instead put it to the surgeon this way: "You have to operate. If you give me just one extra day to spend with my son, it's worth this operation."
When she put it into those words, there was no denying her request.
That was one surgery, countless chemo's, radiation treatment, and two clinical trials ago. In fact, she's still on her second clinical trial and holding her own.
Can't say the same for the cancer. It's been beaten up, down and all around.
You just can't mess with a mighty will to live.
She came to the event dressed in a beautiful dress.
She's lost a lot of weight from her cancer, but in that dress she looked terrific and if you didn't know she was a pancreatic cancer patient, you'd think she was just a well dressed, slim, woman with a smile on her face enjoying the festivities.
Truth be known, when we were talking, her doctor walked up to say hello to me, and he did a double take before he recognized his own patient...that's how good she looked.
Doctor's don't always see their patients dressed up or feeling well, so I figured he hadn't seen her all "put together" but he was pleased to say the least.
There have been times in the past year, my friend has not looked good. Her eyes have been cloudy, her skin has been pale, with a chemo texture to it. She has been weak from treatment too.
Now, she's in a different place. Her disease is on hiatus. She's rebounded from the worst of her months in the fight.
She sparkles again and when I saw her the other day, I told her so. Her smile said it all.
Today, her scan backed up that smile. Some times you don't need a scan to say what we already knew: N E D.
Looking good....some times better than a scan.
With a heart at peace, you will once again be humble, and bend like a blade of grass, like a human being.
Words written by Leah Goldberg.
How hard is it to have a heart at peace in cancer world?
Can a person accept a serious diagnosis, live with it and live with a peaceful heart?
I don't know to tell you the truth.
Maybe hope and a peaceful heart go hand in hand. Holding on to hope, even as it shifts in its meaning, allows the heart to beat differently too.
Maybe the "peace" part shifts just like the "hope" part?
Peace and hope are vital pieces of living with cancer.
There are always tomorrows with peace and hope.