Every once in a while, a movie gets made about someone who dies and they come back as an angel to earn their wings, or they never really get to heaven because they still have things to do here on earth. 

There was “Heaven Can Wait” or “Ghost.” You probably have your own favorite that comes to mind.

So today, I got one of those grocery coupon handouts in the mail.  It was filled with ads for everything from tomato soup to razor blades.

Stay with me, because I promise this will all come together!!!

I think most of you knew that Leroy had a sweet tooth.  He was a chocolate lover from ‘way back.  Pumpkin pie was a favorite, so was pecan pie.  But, he LOVED Oreo cookies.

As I turned the pages of this coupon handout, there it was…”Introducing OREO Ultimate Icing.” A dollar off coupon when you buy a squeeze bottle of “A delicious new icing made with OREO cookie pieces.”   

I laughed out loud.  THIS IS IT….if there was anything that would bring him back, OREO Ultimate Icing would be the ticket!!

As they say on “The Price is Right” game show….”Come on down.”

The squeeze bottle will be waiting in the kitchen for you, Leroy.

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It is the room filled with sad eyes.  I’d forgotten how powerful it is….what a powerful grip those eyes have on me.

I was in the infusion room yesterday at the cancer center at Hopkins.  Sitting there, visiting a friend who was waiting to get his blood results before a chemo treatment. 

I’d gotten there, early, and at the time the waiting room was full.  The nurses were busy trying to find empty loungers and day beds so they could keep the traffic flowing.  One pod was full.  The chemo pumps were clicking away and if I followed the tubing to the arms that were attached to the pumps and glanced up, I was locked onto those sad eyes.

No matter what stage of chemo, no matter how healthy or sick, a cancer patients eyes speak volumes. 

Staying positive, finding hope in this room is one hard task.  This is the center piece of cancers’ demise..the chemo room.  This is where you go to kill the beast that is trying to kill you.

The nurses who do their jobs so well, try to keep the mood elevated, but sometimes it’s just not possible.  Chemo and cancer is a hard combo to overcome.

The eyes in the room say it all. 

The sparkle, the spunk, the twinkling must be down the hall.

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This passed my desk today and I thought about how it fits in cancer world.

“I’ve got dreams in hidden places and extra smiles for when I’m blue.”

Living with cancer has a way of taking away our dreams.  The future vanishes into the now and we forget about our dreams for tomorrow.  We get so focused on today because we have this challenge to make the most of today for fear there will not be a tomorrow. 

That’s not the way it should be.  We all deserve a future.  Everyone should have permission to think about their dreams and see them come true.

Future’s come in all sizes.  If you live in cancer world, no one has to tell you that.  So the answer is to dream big, no matter what.

Here’s smiling at you!!

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Cancer has hit the sports world hard this week.

Seve Ballesteros, the flashy, brilliant golfer who learned to hit the ball a mile, as a little kid, with a three-iron off the beaches near his home in Spain, died at the age of 54.  He had brain cancer. 

Seve was only 19 when he woke-up golf.  He had a flair and a joy for the game few had ever seen on the pro tour.  I remember seeing him on the golf course and couldn’t believe his style.  He used to walk the fairways like they were red carpets.  His post tournament interviews were always filled with great stories and great lines.  He took “stuffy” out of the pro game and made it fun to watch.

I can’t remember anyone ever saying anything negative about the man.  And by all accounts he battled his cancer until there was nothing more to be done.

Those were Harmon Killebrew’s thoughts today as he released a prepared statement from the Baseball Hall of Fame, saying his cancer, that began in his throat, has reached a point where his doctors say they can do nothing more.

Killebrew will live out the remainder of his days under hospice care.

“With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease.  My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.”

Harmon Killebrew was an 11-time All-Star in the major leagues.  He was a brawny, scrappy player in the days when baseball players were baseball players. He played the game for 22-years. with stats that put him into the Hall in 1984.

Seve Ballesteros and Harmon Killebrew..strong, successful and invincible…until cancer knocked.

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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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