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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‘I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  That’s what my friend said to me through her grief.  She’d lost a loved one she felt her entire world was spiraling out of control.  She had determined that since she’s experienced this terrible loss, everything else would follow.  Her life would be like a line of dominoes.

Is this some of the poison cancer leaves behind for us to deal with?  Have we been so damaged by the power of the disease that we begin to think that a death is just the tip of the iceberg, just the beginning? 

In my experience, I didn’t think it could get any worse, but clearly she didn’t share that opinion. 

Do we get so conditioned by living with cancer that our world is forever skewed, never to return to what we once called normal?

Carlos Santana sings a great song “Wishing It Was.”  There’s a line in the song that makes me think he’s been to cancer world….”Pain never makes me cry, but happiness does.”

Haven’t we all been there?

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Leroy had the best smile.

He smiled a lot too.  Even during the cancer years, he found smiling time.  Oh sure, there were days when treatment and procedures swallowed up any hint of a smile.  Those were really tough days.  I knew he was struggling when I couldn’t get him to smile about something…anything.

He was lucky that his friends kept him smiling.  He had such great support from them.  When the house was full of visitors, it wasn’t just the chatter that lifted his spirits.  There were so many smiles in the room, he had no choice but to smile too.  And that made him feel better.  It made everyone feel better. 

Cancer has a way of making you forget how good a smile can make you feel.  It’s one of those “beat-back the beast” tricks that cost nothing, but is worth millions. 

So often, a smile is followed by a laugh and if you can get your cancer patient to find a laugh through all of this, you’ve found a treasure. 

But start with a smile….it works like magic!

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Talk about memories, closure and remembering.  Here we are in the midst of another holiday season.  Easter weekend is upon us, Passover is almost half over and just feeling Spring’s wonderful embrace has opened up another page out of my memory album with Leroy.

I’m so grateful to have all these moments stored away for instant access, but God help anyone who asks me how I’m doing these days, because they will get a truthful answer.  I MISS HIM. 

 I miss putting that Easter basket filled with See’s candy Easter eggs and that big chocolate bunny on his side of the bed.  It happened every year, but he’d still pretend to be surprised. I MISS HIM.

As Mo said, the hole goes deeper.  She’s right, it does.  I guess time does that, but the missing and the loss can’t be erased. 

Some people are better at substituting, finding a fill-in or replacement.  You can’t convince me they find a match, but they do find a someone who can be a companion.  That’s an important piece to some who don’t like being alone.  

For now, I’ll take the memories.  They fill the empty part of me with great images of a life I loved and the man I loved who helped make that life.

Wishing you all a good holiday, with happy memories to fill you up.

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Al makes a very good point….we need to keep our cancer memories under the surface. 

I learned over the last 32 months that when friends asked how I was doing, immediately after Leroy died, they were expecting me to answer describing how hard life was without him.  I would say how much I miss him.  I would say how much I miss hearing his voice and his laugh.  As the months have passed, I’ve had people tell me I should be over the grief.  I shouldn’t feel melancholy any more.  So now, I know who I can be straight with and express my feelings and who really is just asking, because they think it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve learned to put those feelings and those memories just under the surface, where I can feel them, but where they are not on display. 

Leroy, I miss you like crazy….but that’s just between you and me.

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Making memories.  That’s what life is all about isn’t it? 

As a kid growing up, I was lucky enough to be a part of a group who grew up on the same street.  There must have been 30 of us all within a few years of each other and we did everything together. We played sports according to the seasons.  It was easy to do that living in Southern California. Baseball in summer, basketball in the fall, football in the winter.  The boys even tolerated the girls! And we made great memories. 

We still get together and remember the good times.  We have photo albums that make us laugh and we enjoy the “good ‘ol days.”

My photo albums from cancer world are in my head.  I remember so many of the days walking into the cancer center.  I mean I remember them clearly.  I see Leroy walking into the exam rooms.  I see him in the hospital bed.  I see him getting ready for his RFA’s and his visits with the doctors.  I remember so much of those years, so clearly. 

There are days when I can’t remember what I had for dinner, but I remember cancer world.  I even remember conversations.  Important turning points in his fight with the disease. 

Do you think these will ever fade from my minds’ memory book?  In some ways, I hope they remain with me always.  That time changed me forever.  I learned about life and I learned about death.  I learned about struggle and I witnessed, from the front row, how different people are, when they are faced with great misfortune. 

Leroy and I made some great memories in the midst of all this chaos too.  I pray those precious moments are on speed dial to the day I take my last breath. 

It’s all about the memories.  They make the life.  We need to remember.

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I was at a luncheon the other day attended by people who have been touched by cancer in various ways.  Some were being recognized for their good work in the fight against the beast.  Some had left their white coats on a hook in the lab and were there to address the group with the latest news on research in cancer world.  One doctor called this “the golden age for cancer research.”  A bold statement to be sure, but he backed it up with facts and discoveries that link cancer and the genome and how the two are beginning to reveal how closely linked they really are, leading some scientists to develop better treatments for many cancers.

So there she was, sitting next to me.  A lovely woman, without a shy bone in her body.  We started talking about nothing really…then she mentioned she was not only a survivor of breast cancer, but a three time warrior of the disease. 

She was sure her cancer came from hormone replacement therapy.  She felt not one lump but two and this came just weeks after her regular check-up.  When she’d seen her doctor, she was told her mamogram was clear, but that wasn’t good enough for her.  She knew something was wrong and pushed and pushed for more tests.  Not only did they find cancer, but two different kinds of tumors in one breast and another tumor in the other breast. 

What to do?  She listened to the opinions, but more importantly, she began to get educated about her disease.  She explained how important that part of the fight was because it gave her an opinion worth listening too.  And it helped guide the doctors in their decision when it came to treatment.

She had major surgery. Twice.  It was her decision.  It was her choice and she said she’s sure she wouldn’t be sitting next to me at the table, if she hadn’t advocated for herself. 

“Get educated” is the way she put it.  “If cancer comes into your life, get educated.” “Don’t just say yes to the doctors, know as much about your cancer as you can.”

Who could question her logic?  She’s living proof of how important it is to be your own advocate in the cancer fight. 

I love meeting people like this.  They remind me that the will to live, for how ever long, will trump the beast every time.

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Say What?

 

Have we gotten bolder when it comes to standing up for ourselves or our loved ones? Just because it’s the way of the world now, do we have to speak-up or end-up with tire tracks on our backs?!!  It seems that way.

Reading your comments and seeing all of these insensitive remarks made in a hospital setting, in a cancer world setting is so awful.  I have a few of my own that will never leave me and I’m remembering from Leory’s first surgery.  That’s going back more than nine years now.  The comment a surgeon made to us when she was doing a post-op exam on him.  She looked up and said, “We all have an end date.”

She never put a foot in that hospital room again.  I made sure of that.

Where do these people put their common sense?  Did they have any to begin with?

Every medical team and I mean nurses, doctors, aides, everyone, should gather at the beginning of their shifts and be reminded of where they are working and how fragile the patient is, in each and every room they will enter.  If they are not qualified to give medical advice, or offer up information, then they shouldn’t open their mouths.  And for heavens sake, check the stupid remarks at the door. If they fail to do this, then they get what they deserve.  A stong verbal reminder that they goofed big time!

It can happen once.  We all get a pass, once.  But if it happens twice, shame on us.

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YOU COUNT

No one should ever, and I mean ever, feel like a number, or a medical file, while waiting on care at a cancer center. 

If that has happened to you, don’t stand for it again.  Instead, stand-up, find someone who can direct you to a supervisor and complain.  LOUDLY.

Cancer may be changing your health.  It may be changing the way you look and the way you feel, but it hasn’t taken away who you are.  You are a bright, functioning, person. YOU count, just like anyone else counts in this world.  No one should have the ability to make you feel less than that. 

So, if that happens, get up and get angry.  It’s OK to voice your opinion. 

Cancer centers employ a lot of people.  Some of them, unfortunately, were absent the day they taught manners and how to treat a patient.  So it’s up to you to sometimes do a little teaching on your treatment day. 

Remember, you’re not a number, but you do count!!

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The clock is always ticking in cancer world.

If cancer is a hereditary concern, it’s just a matter of time before the genes do what they’ve been preset to do and the cancer begins to grow.  In some cases of breast cancer, or colon cancer and others, it’s important to start the check-ups early to monitor any early signs of changes.  There are so many tests now that can do that.

And then there’s the more immediate time frame.  Going to the doctor, getting blood tests or scans that will tell the tale of where the cancer is at this moment.  It’s a pins and needles kind of day.  We’ve all sat there waiting to hear what the results will say.  There isn’t a more anxiety filled time than waiting for that exam room door to open, when the doctor walks in to report on the report.  But wait, not everyone gets those results so quickly.  Instead of a few hours, it can be days, even a week or more for that phone to ring with results.  It’s agony.  We all know that in this age of medical machinery, tests are completed and results can be had in hours.  Sure, they need to be read and written-up by an expert, the doctor has to review it too, but as the clocks ticks, the patient can hardly resume a normal routine until the resutls are known.

Time, precious time…give us those results.  We need to know.  

Good news, not so good news, we’re living with cancer, so we’re already prepared for either outcome. It’s just the “time thing,” the waiting, that really makes us crazy.

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