She’s been through many rounds of chemo now and it hasn’t been easy.  Two different kinds of cancer was found in one of her breasts, so you know treatment was fast and furious and now she’s bald.  That’s what so many chemo’s leave as a trademark of treatment.

At first, she wore scarves, sometimes hats….these were ways to disguise her baldness.  This woman has one of the best faces too.  Big brown eyes that speak to you with a simple glance.  Her cheeks are full and they frame a beautiful smile.  So I’m sure she felt uneasy in the beginning, without her hair.  She didn’t want her young daughters to be embarrassed of Mom. 

But now that’s changed.  Now, it’s her daughters who are telling her, ‘Go for it, Mom.’  And so that’s exactly what she’s done.  She’s taken the ‘Bald is Beautiful’ approach and gone are the hats, gone are the scarves.  With cancer you get this….a new look and a new strength to go with it.

My friend is back to work and back in life.  And she’s getting more comfortable with her baldness every day.  Her hair may be gone, but she isn’t.  She is still smart.  She is still savy and she is in the game. 

And somewhere in her home, there’s a huge pile of scarves and a few hats too.  Who needs ’em!!

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Two men who don’t know each other.  Two men fighting the beast with every thing they’ve got. 

Two of the strongest men I’ve ever met.

They were both diagnosed around the same time.  One has colon cancer, the other has leukemia.  Both have gone through extreme steps to stay alive.  Multiple surgeries on the colon and a bone marrow transplant….and that’s just dealing with the cancer.

It’s what has happened to each of them aside from the cancer, that’s made them into warriors. 

Not that having colon cancer isn’t enough, one warrior suffered a stroke in the midst of his cancer treatment.  The doctors had to stop treating the cancer, while a new set of doctors stepped-up to treat the stroke.  It took a very long time to get him to a place where they could concentrate on the cancer again.  But they did it and he had the strength and the will to fight another battle. 

With leukemia and a bone marrow transplant, a big bag of side effects comes with the procedure.  This has got to be one of the most difficult “corrections” of a disease out there.  In many cases, if the leukemia doesn’t kill you, the bone marrow transplant certainly could and if you get through those two killers, all the other problems that arise from the new marrow put a body through such an ordeal, it’s a wonder, my friend is still, as he likes to put it, “vertical.”

But these are two of the strongest warriors to walk this earth.  I’m sure they don’t see themselves this way….but I want them to know, I do.

I bow to your spirit.  I applaud your will to live another day.

You may not know each other, but you were cut from the same cloth.  Bravo!

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There is no summer vacation in cancer world is there?  I was on the highway this afternoon, after some meetings in Baltimore and rolled smack-dab into the beginning of the July 4th traveling crowd.  Folks who figured, “Why not leave on Thursday?  No one will be on the road Thursday.”  Hah…not exactly.  Cars were packed with beach toys, luggage, surfboards and smiles.  Heading to the beach for the long weekend.

My head was still back at the cancer center and I thought about the patients who were leaving there with no idea that all that extra traffic was in their immediate future.  Some would be feeling the hangover from radiation, others coping with chemo brain and no doubt a few who had just found out their lives had changed with the diagnosis of a cancer.  Summer vacation, even a long holiday weekend would be spent recuperating or rebounding from that experience.

My hope for them is that they find a little time in the days ahead to enjoy and celebrate the Fourth of July and the good things that go along with it. 

Don’t let the beast get the best of this holiday. 

Wishing all a happy and safe Fourth…Happy Birthday, USA!!!

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A lot of emotion riding on this debate about Avastin.

Bottom line….you have breast cancer and you’re taking Avastin.  It’s working.  It’s blasted through all the other therapies you’ve taken and it’s found those cancer cells and it’s killed them.  It’s gone where no other cancer medicine has gone before in YOUR body and it’s put the beast in a box somewhere, at least for now.

So, YOU, the breast cancer patient, with the help of your insurance company should be able to continue to take this medicine, right? Not so according to the FDA….and now, an advisory committee to the FDA agreed in a unanimous vote of 6-0 that the drug should not be approved for breast cancer. 

According to reports, this appointed committee feels the risks of the drug out-weigh the benefits.  Too much toxicity and the drug did not appear to help women live longer or have a better quality of life.

Avastin will stay on the market because it’s approved for several other cancers.  But, if the FDA follows the panel’s recommendation, insurance companies and Medicare would be less likely to cover it’s big price tag for breast cancer.

I wonder who on either committe has anyone close to them who might be fighting breast cancer today?  Might be taking Avastin and seeing a benefit from it?  I’m just wondering….would they vote the same way?

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How much does superstition play in your cancer world?  Is it or was it ever a factor?

It was in our years with the beast.  We parked on the same level, on the same side of the parking lot at the cancer center for every appointment.  If there came a day when there wasn’t a spot open, one of us would say something like, “The day’s starting off wrong already!”

During Leroy’s chemo days, I would leave the infusion room just as his drip would begin and drive down to a little bakery at Fells Point.  They had those cookies with big chocolate drops on top and Leroy loved them.  They may not have had medicinal powers, but they had good karma in them, and that’s all I cared about.  Those cookies did just as much for his spirit as the chemo did to the cancer, or at least, it seemed that way.

We always saw patients walking around with lucky pillows, stuffed animals, good luck charms.  If cancer does anything, it gives a person permission to believe in just about anything that will make a difference in how you face your disease. 

My little Webster’s dictionary defines the word ‘superstition’ this way, “Beliefs based on ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic.”

I’d say someone in the Webster’s family has faced cancer.

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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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