How do we get our old lives back after we’ve been to Cancer World?

It’s a question that came up the other day and I’m not sure about the answer.  It came from a cancer patient,  some one who had gone through the cancer gates, lived the ordeal of difficult treatments, and has come out the other side.  He was wondering how he could get back to being “himself” again.  He wanted to know if it’s possible to find that old life.  He called it the “good old days.”

Are those days gone forever?  Can you ever go back? 

Speaking from a caregiver’s corner and the fact that cancer took the love of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I did B.C. .  My world shifted permanently.  That’s not to say that I try every day to find a little piece of normal again.  The smiles and the laughs are a little more measured than they used to be, but at least I’m trying.

Other caregivers who had better luck with their loved ones and find themselves back to daily tasks that don’t include all those trips to the doctor and to treatments, say some of the old habits do return. They also say the fear of the cancer coming back is always on their mind.  Once the beast finds a way in, it’s never too far away. 

So I guess it just depends on the individual.  Some can’t wait to shake the cancer stigma while others wear the scars as a reminder of courage and stamina. 

And  just maybe, the lessons we all learned from our cancer experiences created a ‘new normal.’

We can see clearly now…right?


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It’s Nurses Appreciation Week….

How do we thank them for all they do for us?  I’ve come to the conclusion it’s just impossible to do that.

Nurses are the life-line between patient and care, between patient and doctor, between patient and comfort. 

In Cancer World, they are the keeper of the keys to our well-being.

They make us feel like we’re their only patient, when we know many more came before us and many more will be seen after us.  They remember what was bothering us on the last visit and ask how we’re feeling today.  If the chemo is causing side effects, they will see it on our faces from across the room and almost by magic, a gentle hand will appear to provide some extra support.

If cancer has forced us into a hospital bed, it’s the nurses who fill the blank spots in the long days and lonely nights away from our families.  A check for vitals can turn into a conversation, not about cancer, but about the day outside, or a new movie, or a family event.  Anything to make the time pass a little quicker. 

Nurses are not just about medicine.  They are there to catch us when cancer makes us stumble.

I salute them…every one of them.

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We’ve all paid the Cancer Toll. 

The cost of what this disease does to a couple or a family can not be measured in dollars.  We can leave that to the health care guru’s who are trying to trim what they consider to be the fat off our health care bills.

I’m talking about the stress and strain and day to day life changes that cancer creates.  Patients who spend months and years making trips to their cancer centers for treatments, driven by loved ones who have turned into caregivers. We try to hold it all together, not just at the treatment centers but at home too.  Some one who wears many hats in a regular life, now adds the hat of the caregiver into the mix and it’s a whole new ballgame. 

Remember when our days were packed with work and errands and getting kids to baseball or gymnastics or after-school events?  There wasn’t much room for anything else. But that was life…busy and full.   Add cancer into the mix and it all changes.

The rhythm of life gets a new count. 

My dictionary says a toll is the “cost of achievement in loss or suffering.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the sparkle behind those eyes. 

My friend Bruce found out he had a very serious form of leukemia just over a year ago and since then he’s been using every ounce of energy, grit and stamina to just stay alive.  I doubt he’s been worrying about his ‘sparkle.’  But, I’ve been watching for it, hoping one day I’d see that twinkle in his eyes return and that day has come. 

It’s a happy time for me.  There were days, actually weeks, when I was worried that the disease was getting the best of him.  If it wasn’t the cancer that was weighing in, it was the treatment that was more than he could handle.  He had a bone marrow transplant.  NOT an easy procedure to come back from, to say the least. 

It’s like Leroy once said…”My doctors are trying to kill me.”  Remember that blog…when he wrote about  how the chemo and all the other drugs could do bigger damage than the cancer itself? Well, that was Bruce too.  With no immune system, leukemia lurking, a beat-up and tired body, he was at his weakest point. 

But he’s a fighter, he’s proven that and I’m so proud of that fighting spirit.  Once again, and for a long time, I hope, cancer has been beaten back. 

I have seen the ‘sparkle’ in those eyes.  The spirit has returned.  He’s back.

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This is National Cancer Research month. 

That pretty much says it like it is.  Without the many thousands of labs across the country, cancer would still be in charge.  It’s not in charge anymore.  It’s still a beast and it still kills, but we’ve come giant steps since the days of one-chemo-for-all. 

Remember when chemo therapy, and they meant that as a singular therapy, would be the answer to stopping cancer in it’s tracks?  Years have gone by, chemo’s have been refined, many other treatments have been introduced and some cancers have been actually been stopped.

Think about whats been going on in so many of these labs.  The genome has been charted, cancer genes have been discovered by seriously brilliant researchers and we’ve leveled cancer’s playing field because of it.

In science time, these successes have happened very fast.  In ‘I have cancer and I want a cure’ time, it hasn’t happened fast enough.  Believe me, I know.

So I suppose that’s why they have a named ‘research month.’  No one group puts its hand out more than another, but I’m sure it’s here to make all of us aware that without our donations, these advances could not happen.

Research is key in cancer.  Caregiving is key in cancer.  We need to support both.

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If we can’t have ‘them’ at least we can do our best to keep their memories alive.  That’s what we did yesterday.  That’s what we do here many days. 

We remember the smallest things don’t we?  I mean my Mom’s great tuna sandwiches had nothing to do with shaping me for the future, but I remember them as vividly as any lesson in life that she taught me. 

I guess in some strange way, remembering them, not only keeps the ‘good old days’ alive for us, but in a way, we keep their guidance and advice alive too.  Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you think back and that little voice inside your head says, “What would Mom do?” “What would (fill-in the blank) do?”

Happens to me all the time.

It’s a memory that keeps on giving.

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We measure years so differently.

A fifteen year birth date is a young life, full of opportunity and hope.

A fifteen year death date is a memorial on a calendar month that is filled with mixed emotions. 

I’m having one of those today.  It is the anniversary of my Mom’s death.  Cancer ended her life on May 2nd, fifteen years ago this afternoon. 

My Mom was a great mom.  She had her hands full raising me.  I can admit to that now because I have hind sight.  In fact, I’m not sure how my parents got through those tough teenage years of mine.  They must have been made of steel.  It was much easier when it came to raising my sister!

My Mom was one of those moms who made the best tuna sandwich in the world. She was the best cook. Even though she was deathly afraid of the water, she would take me to the beach when I was a kid, so I could spend hours body surfing in the ocean.  She loved just sitting on the sand, people watching and getting some sun.  Summers in San Diego were the best.  She believed in keeping her kids active, so she’d pack us in the car and drive us to swimming lessons and tennis lessons and any other lesson that would keep us busy.

She was smart too.  Played piano my ear and expected good grades and good behavior from us from elementary school on up.  That happened ‘most’ of the time.

She was well into her 80’s when cancer can into her world, but she was still strong and healthy. Besides being in the hospital for the birth of her two daughters, a broken hip was the only other time she’d really been in need of medical care. 

So when her doctor told her it was cancer that would take her life, she was mad.  “How can this be?” I remember her saying.  We all wondered that too.

Less than a year later, this wonderful woman who gave me life, lost her own as the cancer spread.  Fifteen years ago…only a heart beat away.

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It’s been a day.

I don’t know how many of you set your alarm and got up to watch the Royal wedding this morning, but if you did, you saw a flawless, extraordinary event.  The Brits do know how to put on the pomp.  This might sound odd, but in the midst of this super-sized gala, they managed to pull off a very personal, beautiful moment where two young lives, obviously in love, were joined forever.  With just a few billion people watching, they did it their way! 

I think we all need a little Royal wedding fix every now and then.  It’s good for the soul.  We deal with so many life changing events in our daily lives.  In this community, we’re faced with life and death health decisions constantly. 

Watching a piece of history unfold that isn’t related to war or weather or health is OK in my book. 

Our tiara’s might be a bit tarnished from lack of use, but a little polish and we clean-up just fine.

There’s plenty of time to get back to the real world.  Have a good weekend.

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Sometimes events dictate topics and for me today is one of those days.

I just spoke to friend who is down in Mississippi in the aftermath of the tornado outbreak that started yesterday afternoon and continued to ravage the South throughout the night.  He’s down there shooting footage for NBC NEWS.  This guy has seen a lot of destruction over the years, covering war, hurricanes, tsunamis.  You name it, he’s seen his share of bad news.  He told me he’s never seen this kind of damage, in such a wide area, EVER.  What’s worse is he knows that under all this destroyed property, victims of these tornados will be found. 

The loss of life from all those twisters will set new records.  The weather history books will be rewritten after last night.  It’s such a wake-up call for all of us and a reminder that we are not in control. 

But we do have control of our thoughts and those should be with the victims families this day and for many days to come.

Heartbreak and sadness has many faces.

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It comes in waves.  All of sudden television and radio ads talking about cancer, all types of cancer.

Michael Douglas was just on Oprah talking about his battle with stage-4 throat cancer.  His doctors have given him an optimistic diagnosis.  Douglas says they’ve gotten all of it He also says the entire experience has changed his life.  He talked about how his kids are his priority now.  His career has slipped a few spots on the life ladder.  That’s not surprising is it?

All of us who have been down the cancer road have gone through much the same transformation.  Life takes on new meaning.  What was our normal, is gone and we make a new normal.  Priorities shift.  Infact, we forget most of those old priorities as we try to settle into a different life.

I watched Michael Douglas as he spoke about his cancer.  He looks different.  He still resembles his famous Dad, Kirk, so much, but the change is in his eyes.  It’s where cancer leaves its mark.  There’s something to be said about the eyes being the window to the soul, because once cancer has knocked, the signs of a change is first reflected in our eyes. 

The confidence, the self-esteem, all the things that come together to make us who we are, take a hit.  Cancer attacks an organ, but it wounds the heart and damages the soul.

Victor or victim…it makes no difference.

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