I send an average amount of emails every day.  I try not to stay glued to my computer for hours.  It’s just not a good thing to do.  But it’s fun to say “Hi” and to keep up with friends and family.  I send a few birthday greetings via email, sometimes a serious note but I still find the written word sends the best message.

I heard a wonderful radio report this morning about how the world is forgetting to write.  Email is just so much faster.  And, as we all know, faster is the way of the world these days.  But the written word still carries a stronger message. 

Can you remember back to when you actually took the time to buy a card, put a pen in your hand and sat down to write a little note? 

Staying in touch is one of the most important parts of caregiving.  So many of us have friends or family members who are struggling with cancer these days.  Have you ever thought to just sit down and write a few words to say “I’m thinking of you?”  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I used to send Leroy cards when he was sick.  I’d mail them at our post office and they’d come to our mailbox a day or two later.  Words written from my hand to his heart.  Priceless.  Sending the same thoughts via email would have landed with a big thud.

So pull out a favorite pen and paper and get to work.  Some one out there can’t wait to hear from you. The pen is mightier than the computer.

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It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re going through the motions or if you’re really living again, because you’ve survived the most terrible thing you can imagine.  You’ve lost a loved one to cancer and you’ve lived to fight another day.

Waking up to your brave new world isn’t much fun.  It’s filled with challenges you never imagined you would face.  It’s a world of the lonely.  It’s a world of starting over.  It’s face to face with the second step. 

But remember, we looked at our special warriors who were fighting their cancer and we were in awe of their strength.  They looked at each day and faced it and their cancer and never flinched.  It was a different world for them too. 

We have to remind ourselves of that every day.  Talk about role models….what better examples could there be?

We can do this…We’re survivors too….

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The question came in the middle of a phone call from some one I hadn’t heard from in quite a while.  Since no one has asked me that question in a long time, I really wasn’t prepared to answer it…atleast not in the way it was asked. 

It’s been hours now since that call and that question is still rattling around in my head.  “How ya doin’ all by yourself?” 

Am I “All by myself?”  I guess I am.  For so many years there were two of us.  Now it’s just me.  Death by cancer meant death of life as I had known it for a very long time.  Putting together a new life takes a lot of work. 

In the beginning, I didn’t want anything to change.  That might sound strange, because I really had no choice in the matter, but I fought the change.  I think that comes with the grief and the shock of the loss. If you can hold on to anything during that time, you do it with everything you’ve got.

Slowly, and I mean slowly, the new life begins to unfold.  New responsibilities pop-up and old habits fade away.  It’s a huge adjustment, and there’s no denying it.

Friends, friends as a couple vs friends as a single, thinking for one instead of two…lots of changes.

So, “How ya doin’ all by yourself?”

It’s an interesting question…..I’m working on the answer.

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I’m feelin’ the love today, so I’m going to share it with all of you.

Last night, some of the old crowd gathered to raise a glass to say a belated Happy Birthday and a “We remember everything you stood for” to Leroy. 

The air was thick with humidity, we sat outside on a deck over looking the Potomac River and we told old war stories, talked about career moves, good and bad ones, and basically picked up on conversations that were left off months ago, when we saw each other last.  But that’s how this group works.  Leroy loved the people who worked with him.  He was so proud of their accomplishments.  More than a staff of talented producers and editors and technicians, they were a unit of men and women who had each others’ back. They produced some of the best television news shows on the planet. Leroy had the biggest back of all and he used it to protect his team. 

They have never forgotten that.  They showed it again last night.  When ever we get together to salute the Big Guy, I find myself sitting back at the table, pausing, and just observing.  These are people who have busy lives.  But there they were, taking time away from their families and friends to remember him.  I’m in awe of that.

He can still draw a crowd.

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Are you in the best place for treatment of your type of cancer?

Let me be very clear, this isn’t a plug for Johns Hopkins.  I’m asking a very real question because recently I’ve met cancer patients who have come from places where their doctors should have stepped-up and said, “Look, I don’t see this kind of cancer that often, you need to go someplace that does.”

In this country, we’re lucky to have many cancer centers that do great work against this disease.  Some, it seems, do better with certain types of cancer than others.  They can save lives with cutting edge treatment.  They can give better quality of life to those they can’t save and many have clinical trials available that allow a patient to pay it forward and help  research take the next step for  the next person coming through the door.

But so often, that doesn’t happen, or if it does, it happens too late and by the time a patient gets to a cancer center for a second opinion, or advanced procedures, the disease has moved beyond the place where help can be given. 

This beast waits for no one.

I know, there are a lot of reasons the suggestion of a different place for treatment, doesn’t happen.  Some of it is the doctor’s responsibility and some of it falls on the shoulders of the patient and else where.  It’s just so frustrating to meet cancer victims who could have been treated differently and more effectively, had they been referred some where else, sooner.

So, I guess it comes down to asking.  “Am I in the best place for treatment?”

I always say, knowledge is power in cancer world and that certainly applies in this case.

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That old feeling came back with a wallop the other day.  I’m talking about the day, when all of us made the leap from living a normal life to finding out ‘our’ cancers would take the ‘normal’ away forever. 

I was working on a project up at Hopkins, that will hopefully spread the word about their impressive Pancreas Cancer Multi-Disciplinary Clinic.  A gathering of the best doctors, surgeons, nurses and scientists who see more pancreas cancer than any place else in the country.  Patients come to this one day, comprehensive assessment of their condition  and leave with some sort of a plan on how to manage their disease. 

The patients and their family members are full of hope,  as they sit in the exam rooms waiting for the doctors who have news of their latest scans and test results. The beauty of this clinic is that all the specialists weigh-in at once. The patient isn’t running from doctor to doctor, just the opposite, the doctors  have come to the patient.  But that doesn’t mean the anticipation is less stressful.  For the most part, the news isn’t good.  Pancreas cancer is a bad cancer. 

There were a couple of patients who left the clinic that day learning that they either didn’t have cancer or what they did have could be surgically treated, always a hopeful sign, when dealing with  pancreas cancer. 

But it was the others, that took me back to that exam room years ago….As the doctor found the words, so difficult to say….the cancer has spread or the disease was terminal. 

No one is ever prepared to hear this news.  The world is turned upside down in an instant.  A loved one’s life is threatened. 

These patients were given the best suggestions for managing their care too, but from my experience, most of that went unrecorded in their heads, because their hearts are crumbling from the devastating news.

Maybe because I’ve been where they are now, I want them to know, how terribly sad I feel for each of them.  In many ways, their cancer, is “MY Cancer”….is “OUR Cancer.”

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I’m convinced all your Birthday wishes were received loud and clear!!!

I’ve been up at Hopkins all day working on a patient and caregiver project in the world of pancreatic cancer.  I was worried that being up there today would add another layer of stress on an already tough day, but truthfully, it was just the opposite.  Maybe because we spent so much time there and he got such good care and many of his friends from that time are there. 

What ever the reason, I was OK being there.

Hearing from so many of you today, meant so much and if you noticed a lot of hawaiian shirts being worn on the streets, that wasn’t by accident…not today!!

And tonight…there will be a few extra mai tai’s being poured and a little more chocolate being eaten… all with good thoughts and great memories of a big guy, with a big laugh and big heart.

Boy oh boy, do I miss him….

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It’s June 16th, NOT just another day. 

This is Leroy’s birthday.  He would have been 56 years old this year.   Instead, I think about this day and realize in one day less than two months from now, it will be three years that he died from colon cancer. 

I often wonder what he would be doing at age 56, if things had worked out differently.  He was such a solid journalist, I’m thinking he’d still be involved in the business, in some way.  He always wanted to give back to those who were struggling to survive in this world.  He saw so much of man’s inhumanity to man as he covered war zones around the world….he had hoped to find a comfortable fit that would allow him to make a difference. 

So much of  the bad stuff he witnessed stayed with him.  The images often came back to him in the night.  I think the only way he figured he could turn them into shadows, was to face them in the daylight…to bring them aid and comfort, while telling their stories to the world.  That would have eased his mind.

I think some of that happened, as he told his own story, fighting his cancer.  He lifted the burden of the disease, not just from his own shoulders, but from a community of cancer patients and their caregivers too. 

I hope that’s right.  I hope he felt that way at some point in his final days. 

As each year passes, I find myself understanding more about him and who he was.  It’s funny, I thought I knew him backwards and forwards, but as I think about him every day, I discover new parts that made him who he was.

June 16th…NOT just another day.

Happy Birthday Leroy.

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I’m about to step into the week that was.

What does that mean?  This week in June used to be filled with anticipation and celebration.  Now…maybe just the anticipation…or better put…trepidation.

June 16th…Leroy’s birthday.  June 19th…the day we got married.

Each year since he’s been gone, it will be 3, in August, I’ve reacted a little differently.  Maybe that’s because more time between these important dates has changed how I get through them?  I still struggle with the memories of celebrating and the traditions we created around them over the years.  I miss going to the restaurants that screamed “birthday” dinner.  We always opened a specific bottle of wine that brought back memories, not only of birthdays, but of the early days in our relationship.

Birthday cake and wedding cake equalled chocolate cake in our house too.

So, here I go…one step at a time, one day at a time….moving forward, into the week that was.

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How important is it to share family information?

We have birthday parties, anniversary parties, maybe we need to have family tree parties.  A time when we gather the generations of a family together and share the genetic thread that connects everyone in that family.

Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to know from the elders in the family how our family members lived and died over the years?  I mean, if heart disease is a common problem from generations back, wouldn’t you want to know that?  Cancer…colon, breast, prostate…all connected through the genome..it would be nice to know if family members suffered with those cancers. 

It would mean more frequent check-ups.  Symptoms that you might shake-off as nothing, might take on more importance if you knew a relative had the same issues.

Charting the family tree can prove to be an interesting history lesson as well as a life saving one too.

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