Damn Cancer.

I’m here to tell you it’s not easy carrying around the label cancer “survivor.”  Leroy used to hate that word “survivor” because he always felt it carried so much weight with it.

If you were a “survivor” you had to walk the walk of success: YOU beat the beast.  YOU were somehow luckier than the person next to you in the infusion room for all those months, they didn’t make it, YOU did.

He used to say, I didn’t fight any harder.  We both wanted to live. Leroy was a “survivor” for 4 1/2 years until his cancer showed it’s face in the form of a colon cancer brain tumor. He felt fine, until he didn’t.  That’s when he said, “I guess I’m not a “survivor” any more.

It had gotten to the point where he stopped wondering on a regular basis if his cancer would ever come back.  That’s what so many cancer “survivors” do, you know, they wake up in the morning wondering if this is the day cancer reenters their life.

So this was the day, three cancer “survivors” I know talked about how much they think about their cancers coming back.

All three are under regular surveillance in the form of check-ups every three months.  One just had a scan that showed an active lymph node.  Another had a blood test that had an elevated reading and the third is back in cancer world after the discovery of a new tumor.

All three “survivors.”  Two of the three still fit the definition and hopefully those test results will prove to be signs their immune systems are working to fight off any new invasion.

And as many times as their doctors and nurses and families and friends can say “don’t worry,” I’m sure it’s nothing, believe me, “It’s something to them.”  They will wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

Damn Cancer.  Being a “survivor” is half the battle.

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Immunotherapy; We’ve awakened our own immune system, with the help of some sophisticated drugs, to recognize cancer as being one of the bad guys and attack with gusto.

All these years it really hasn’t been that way.  We’ve tried to kill the beast with poison in the form of chemotherapy or zap it in the form of radiation.  Both of these treatments seem to work, for a while, but the cancer maps out strategy to pull an ‘end-around’ only to live again.

I guess we haven’t given cancer enough respect.

So what about now?  Are we putting too much stock in our immune system?  Can it really start to spot a cancer advancing on our colon or lung and take aim at this intruder? I’d like to think we can because there’s just too much cancer in this world.

I’m a baby boomer and my generation is filling up oncology floors at major hospitals around the country.  Cancer is a boomer’s battle.  Maybe it’s because we don’t move around enough.   When we were younger, we were athletes, we planned out down time around the gym.  Now they call them ‘health clubs’ and for a small fortune if you squeeze in one ‘body burn’ class a week, it’s a major accomplishment.

The Boomer generation has money and brains, so it’s not that they can’t afford to eat well, play hard and follow what the experts suggest to enjoy a cancer free life.  A sedentary lifestyle isn’t going to cut it, neither is eating fried foods without a vegetable in sight.  It’s just common sense.

Kudos to the researchers and scientists who have discovered the way to our immune system and how to turn it on in the fight against cancer.  But we’ve got to do our part too. Belly-up to the salad bar!!

 

 

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So consider this a bit of a vent…For a long time, I’ve been an advocate of retraining our cancer doctors when it comes to saying those awful words to a patient.

“YOU have cancer.”

We’ve talked about this many times.  That sentence is a world stopper.  Nothing is ever the same again….NOTHING.

And I understand how doctors put it out there because the truth is important to hear.  I’m good so far.  But what comes after that is where I draw the line.  I bet most patients hear those words and the first question they have for their doctor is “How much time do I have?”

It’s here where from my corner, I wish the doctor would stop, take a breath and think long and hard before answering that question with a time stamp.  How a doctor answers that question can mean the difference between living and dying to a patient.  Some patients hear “3 to 6 months” of “maybe a year” and not only does their mind shutdown, but it seems like their body does too.

This comes up today, because I had a phone conversation with a friend who told me about a 74 year old man who was just diagnosed with live cancer.  His doctor told him he probably has less than a year to live and within a couple days of that conversation, that man is now in hospice and has simply given up living.

Words carry heavy burdens in cancer world.  Cancer doctors have the hardest job in the world but they need to think quickly and carefully when their patient asks that question “How much time do I have?”

Think HOPE, not Hospice.

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She is the picture perfect example of a patient advocate.

She was basically told to go home, find a hospice group and die within the comfortable embrace of her family.  Her doctors told her they were out of options.  Her cancer was way ahead of her treatment, she could barely stretch out of her fetal position because it hurt so much and giving up the fight sounded reasonable at the time.

She had a sister who wasn’t going to let her quit, and she jumped on the www. clinicaltrials.gov  web page to search for some  answers.  She stumbled upon a clinical trial underway at the Bloomberg/Kimmel Immunotherapy Institute at Hopkins and reached out.  Though there were no promises, the doctors said “come on down” in so many words.

What happened is probably something many would classify as a miracle: A miracle of medicine and a miracle that you just can’t explain through science.  Her first treatment, on this trial, and her cancer started a hasty retreat to unknown territories.  Who knows where cancer goes when it bolts a body, but that’s what happened here.

She had such a major response to this clinical trial that before she knew her doctors were unable to find what was once a metastatic colon cancer nightmare.

Not everyone in her trial responded like she did and her doctors went to work to find out why.  It turns out she had a particular genetic mutation that worked in her favor and not the cancer that had been raging through her body.

She was given the gift of Life….again.

It’s been more than two years and she’s doing fine.  She returns to see her doctors and they put her through scans and blood work on a regular basis.  N-E-D

Beautiful letters…Awesome meaning….Can’t beat the gift of Life.

 

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Thanks for still being here….I know it seems like I just dropped off the planet, but I’m back and happy to be here.

It’s a cold, snowy day at my house. Mid-March and our first big snow storm of the winter, go figure!  And it came with all the elements too.  Rain last night then big snow then ice pellets hitting the window in the middle of the night and now some flurries.  I guess the winter gods decided to wrap up everything in one big system.

The storm began on an evening of remembrance for me.  It was a year ago that my friend Jay died from gall bladder cancer.  His was the worst of what cancer is all about.  A diagnosis last July and death the following March.  It was 8 months of a hellish battle with little relief from a painful struggle to live.  There are some cancers that are so brutal.  Jay was strong and brave and was a true warrior.

Jay’s family has had  a year to process his loss and it hasn’t been easy.  But there’s a message here for all of us: There really isn’t a time frame on grieving.

It’s been almost 9 years since I lost Leroy to cancer and I still grieve.

I want anyone out there who has lost a loved one to cancer to understand they must let the grieving pass through you as the days, months and years go by…the face of grief will change over time but if you believe for one minute that the one year mark clears the slate, the adjustment to your new life will never be complete. The old you is gone forever.  The new you needs time to emerge and develop.

Let the healing begin.  Allow the healing to go on forever.

It’s good to be back.

 

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When treatment begins and when it ends; two huge days in a cancer patients’ life.

Walking into the infusion area for that first treatment is an uneasy time.  Very few patients enter with their heads held high. Instead, body language speaks of fear and hesitation.  They can think of a million other places they’d rather be and I’m not talking vacation spots.  Chemotherapy rooms, as comfortable and contemporary as they are these days, are still rooms filled with T-stands, bags dripping with harsh chemicals, and most of all, cancer patients.  No one wants to be there.

First timers are afraid.

As the weeks progress, treatment doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but the walk into the room becomes more familiar.  Patients know other patients and nurses and patients have bonded to make the process so much easier.  Any one who has spent time in infusion know a chemo nurse is a patients’ connection to HOPE and sanity and calm.  Your chemo nurse is your anchor.

I’m thinking of two chemo patient’s tonight.  Both are within reach of their chemo finish lines.  One has a date to remove her chemo port. That spot on the calendar is circled. The other is looking in the mirror and seeing hair on her head and it’s the same light brown as it was when she lost it. But she found it at die besten online casinos für österreich – atlas. Two very big deals when you’re in chemo world.

Or about to leave it.

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So how did everyone do over the Holidays?

Did you go into December thinking, “I can do this.”  “I won’t let all those Holiday memories come rushing in to remind me what I don’t have again this year?”

I did.

Did it work? Some of the time, but not all of the time.  I had my moments. Some of those moments were not really moments, they were MOMENTS.  What I have learned over the years is that you can’t fight the program.  It’s just like the experts tell you immediately following the loss of your loved one, “let it wash over you.”  It’s like a big wave on a summer day in the ocean; you can’t fight it, it’s bigger than you, so dive into it, let it roll over you and eventually you’ll come out the other side.

My waves are smaller now so I still feel sad, but I come out of it faster so it doesn’t hurt as much.

I suppose the Holidays are just made to pack a wallop.

I have friends who tell me they feel it on calendar days that aren’t marked in numbers and letters; just regular days, when their memories are sparked by seeing a couple holding hands or a hug good-bye at the airport.

That, I call LIFE.  For some of us, it is in the past and for others in the present.

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Hope in 2017

I guess this is the time to look back over the year and think about the highs and lows and do a little self-correction right?

I’ve never been a big resolution girl.  I look in the mirror and see things that need improving all year long, not just on January 1st!

This is more of a “HOPE” time for me.  I have way too many friends fighting cancer right now.  These ‘boomers” are part of the cancer population and they are warriors fighting for their lives every day.  My wish for the upcoming year is that they get healthy again and that cancer research continues to be funded and new and better treatments find their way to the treatment rooms.

Yesterday, at the cancer center, in the midst of this Holiday season, there were too many patients walking the lobby floor hooked up to IV drips.  There were so many visitors with their arms full of Holiday treats waiting for the elevator to take them to cancer patients who weren’t home for the Holidays.

For those of us who have lived through this season with cancer as an unwanted guest, it doesn’t take much to remember what it was like trying so hard to push cancer out the door and pretend it was just another Christmas/ New Year’s to celebrate.  It was anything but normal.

So HOPE is how I look at this end of year time.

HOPE for better times in cancer world.

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So were you in one of those many cars doing laps in the Costco parking lot this morning?  I was there early thinking earlier was better than later….WRONG!  But I powered through the aisles and escaped because it seems at Costco they get it; I mean every register was open and moving.

Tis the season for power shopping.  My local grocery store was in similar shape but in some crazy way, I was happy to be out among the crazed today.  I felt a certain ‘Holiday spirit’ too. So many people were smiling and laughing and handling the long lines with ease.  I was lucky today, not a Grinch in the bunch.

But that’s not to say I’m not thinking about those who weren’t out in the Holiday shuffle.  I have too many friends who are carefully watching the side effects of some serious chemotherapy right now.  The Holidays are not easy for cancer patients or their caregiving families.  The treatments still go on.  The treks to the cancer centers still go on.  The ups and downs of cancer don’t follow a holiday schedule.

So I’m wishing you all strength and courage as the Holidays approach.  You are all warriors in my eyes and I admire you all.

And to this amazing community, here we are at another years end….YOU are my strength.

Happy Holidays everyone.

L

 

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Why is it we survivors, even after many years have passed, try to be so strong?  We think we can’t show the sorrow that is still tucked away in those deep folds of our heart.  We still have our moments when we get sad.  Sometimes those tears still bubble-up and we quickly blink them away, hoping the memory that brought them to the surface will disappear too.

The Holiday season reveals our weaker side for sure.  Memories of great celebrations that we miss dearly or sad recollections of how cancer tarnished the last holiday we spent together; it can be a hurting time.

And don’t think we don’t change our mood, because we do.  We act differently and our friends can see it.  I was with another cancer widow the other day and I could feel the stress in her actions and words.  When I brought it up to her, she said she thought I was the one who was ‘up-tight.’ We both admitted to feeling the weight of the Holidays.  So many reminders of a former life.

“If I think about them, I’ll be sad and I don’t want to be sad,” she said.

I get it.  If you don’t go there, it won’t win.  Be strong.

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