Seven for seven…it doesn’t get any better than that!

3 colon cancers, gone.

3 breast cancers, gone.

1 lymphoma, gone.

N-E-D

Patients I don’t know well, but had the good fortune to meet while working on some clinical trials and immunotherapy projects this past week.

Doctors and patients were smiling at the results of these scans.

Is this a sign that cancer treatments are improving and patients are seeing the results of the hard work of researchers and scientists at the lab bench?  One can only hope that is true.

One the more ‘magical/mystical’ side of how I look at this disease, I’d like to think some how cancer is “on the run,” that it’s heading for a deep hole somewhere.  Too many good ways of killing cancer are out there now and it’s just time for this bad stuff to disappear.

YUP….I’ going with ‘magical/mystical’ with a huge dose of science thrown in…

 

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The hug…

It spoke volumes.

A gesture I see in the lobby of the cancer center hundred of times a day.  It came mean a lot of things; a big “hello,” a “good to see you,” or a “what can I do to make the hurt go away?”

There was no question about this hug.  The couple sat in their chairs taking turns to look around the room watching for some one.  A woman, wearing a white coat finally came through the doors and the couple stood up quickly.  The woman reached out, trying to capture both of them in one wide, open armed embrace.  It was the kind of hug that came with an “I’m so sorry.”

The couple held on to the doctor but the news was not going to change.  Red faced and almost embarrassed that they had become so emotional in a public place, the three of them finally sat down to talk.  It was a private conversation, but the body language was easy to read.

Cancer.  A hug.  Hold on to Hope.

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20160815_095447It’s not just another day.

I stopped trying to make it just another day a long time ago.

Leroy died this day, eight years ago, and when I look back I see the stages of grief the experts talk about and I guess I went through just about every one.  I think I added a few new ones too.  Each of us have our own layers of grief depending on the details of our lives and that’s OK.

It takes a lot for me to tear up at the mention of his name now.  Early on I could turn into a puddle just walking by his picture on the wall.  I’ve come a long way.

I still talk about him in the “almost” present when a story comes to mind.  I think about how he would have loved a movie I’d seen or a concert we would have gone to.  And I still love to see his Hawaiian shirts in the closet.

But it’s different now.  The “missing” is different.

I’d like to think his adventuresome spirit is still soaring; his big, wonderful laugh is still echoing somewhere and for all the wisdom and guidance he shared, I hope those who benefited, will remember him today of all days.

It’s not just another day.

 

 

 

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Holding on

To Cathi and Al,

What beautiful thoughts to “lift” and soothe the feelings of loss that still remain.

Eight years is a long time.  Maybe for some, it’s a time stamp that means it’s time to stop remembering; even stop feeling the sadness, but not here, not in this heart.

My album of memories overflows with ‘moments’ that bubble up with anniversaries, simple dinners, walks on the beach, finishing each others’ sentences, sunsets and sun rises. I see smiles and hear a laugh so big it could shake a room full of people.

I still see Leroy. And as August 15th approaches, the images get stronger.

The memories are here for me and I love them.

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Ten days…

These would be his last ten days.

Eight years ago, these would be the last ten days of his life.

He was 53 years old.  How could that be?  Cancer is the short, one word answer.

We had dealt with his colon cancer for almost 8 years. There were bad times.  The “You have cancer” moment comes to mind.  His doctor looked as surprised as we were, but there was the evidence in a 5X7 color glossy photo.  A cancerous tumor found from a routine colonoscopy.  A life changer.

There were good times.  “You’re N-E-D.”  No evidence of disease.  “Go to Maui, NOW.”  We did.  A farewell tour of our favorite spots for Mai Tai’s and macadamia crusted Ahi and saying good-bye to so many friends.  We sat by the pool, sailed the beautiful Pacific, sat on the lanai and remembered so many times we’d watched the sunset explode into golden light as it sank into the sea.

We both knew his life was beginning to ebb but neither one of us wanted to dwell on it.  The care giving changed as his needs changed.

The last ten days taught me more about life than death.

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It was in July of last year, I was getting ready to drive to Virginia for a surprise 60th birthday party for a good friend.

Just a few days earlier he had been told “YOU have cancer.”

His family decided the party needed to go on and they made the right decision.  The party was GREAT.  Family and friends, the two ingredients that made Jay’s life, made it a special night.  Inside he knew he had just been handed a death sentence, and a few of us in the room that night knew it too.  We kept Jay’s secret and celebrated his 60 years with gusto.

Cancer wasted no time; he was gone 8 months later.

Today would have been Jay’s 61st birthday.  No party this night.  No celebration, except to remember him with love and the gratitude that he was my friend.

Jay and I would meet at the canal on June 16th, Leroy’s birthday, and we would have a little ceremony and release balloons in Leroy’s memory every year.  It was always a special time for the two of us to remember the Big Guy so today, I did the same for Jay.

Happy Birthday my friend.   That big, Happy Face/Happy Birthday Balloon that sailed by you in heaven was from me, remembering, from our spot at the canal.  I miss you.

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Recurrence

The diagnosis was years ago.  It was one of the more dangerous cancers but the doctors were aggressive and went right to work on it. The treatment was harsh.  It took a lot out of the patient, but she survived both the treatment and the peril of living with cancer.

She went back to life as close to what it was B-C.  It’s never what it was, but if you work at it, it can resemble that former life.

Any one who has been through this knows every time you look in the mirror you wonder what’s going on inside?  Are those cancer cells really gone?  Did ONE survive the treatment and find a new place to call home and even though it hasn’t been detected yet, it’s there, already doing damage?

In this case, the answer is yes.  The most recent scans confirmed it.  It didn’t come back at the original location, but it found another place that would work just as well.  It’s grown enough now, that the scans have picked-up its damage. Recurrence is how they phrase it but you know it has new misery.

It’s back to treatment.  It’s back to hard days at the cancer center.

Recurrence: To return to one’s attention or memory.  That’s how the dictionary defines it.

EXACTLY.

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We capture it and then it slips through our hands like sand through an hourglass.

Hope is elusive.

It gives us the energy to stay in the fight.  Even when the cancer is pushing past the chemo and radiation, we hold on to hope, praying the body will rally.

That is what a care giver is doing tonight even after the doctors who have cared for her sister have said it’s time for palliative care and then hospice.  They say they have nothing more to give.  The cancer is in places where the load will soon overtake the body’s ability to rally.

Hope is the last thing to go.  We hold on to it long after the treatment list has been checked off.

It’s not that we’re in denial; we’re not.  It’s just so hard to let go.

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Do you have an advocate?

If you’re making your way through the cancer journey, no matter what the prognosis, you need a helping hand.

You need an advocate.

I can not count the number of times, Leroy and I would meet with the doctors and come away with completely different “reads” on their message.  We’d look at each other and say “Were you in the same room I was?”  We’d go back over our notes and talk about how we interpreted their meaning and ultimately we’d come to a reasonable conclusion.  Making informed decisions from these “group” chats helped so much.  And when it was time for me, as the advocate, to make a decision on my own, I knew it really wasn’t on my own, because we’d covered so much cancer ground already.

There were times when he was in the hospital when advocating for his well being was so important.  There were the little things like getting snacks and meals right, or bigger issues with doctors and nurses.

Advocating for a loved one is part of care giving.  It’s not easy.

It’s like we’ve said so many times about becoming a care giver; We didn’t ask for it, but it’s probably the most important job we’ll ever do.

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Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt’s life touched all of us because she stood for so much.  She wasn’t just a GREAT basketball coach. She was a world bender: There aren’t many folks out there who get that title.

In today’s Washington Post, sports columnist Sally Jenkins writes a beautiful tribute to Summitt.  It speaks volumes about the drive, dedication and impact of this woman, especially when Jenkins adds a letter Summitt wrote to a young University of Tennessee freshman named Shelia Collins.  The coach wrote it on the occasion of Collins’ starting her first game.  It may have been written for the freshman, but it resonates far beyond the basketball court.

If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed Summitt wrote it to a cancer widow: there is so much wisdom here that applies:

From today’s Washington Post, June 29, 2016 (the letter is dated November 22, 1982)

Sheila, This is your first game. I hope you win for your sake, not mine.  Because winning’s nice.  It’s a good feeling.  Like the whole world is yours.  But it passes, this feeling. And what lasts is what you’ve learned. And what you’ve learned about is- life.  That’s what sport is all about –life!

The whole thing is played out in an afternoon.  The happiness of life, the miseries, the joys, the heartbreaks.  There’s no telling what will turn up. There’s no telling how you’ll do. You might be a hero. Or you might be absolutely nothing.

There’s just no telling. Too much depends on chance, on how the ball bounces.

I’m not talking about the game.  I’m talking about life.  But it’s life that the game is all about.  Just as I said, every game is life, and life is a game.  A serious one.  Dead serious. But here’s what you do with serious things.  You do your best. You take what comes. You take what comes and you run with it.

Winning is fun…Sure.

But winning is not the point.

Wanting to win is the point.

Not giving up is the point.

Never letting up is the point.

Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.

The game is never over.  No matter what the scoreboard reads, or what the referee says, it doesn’t end when you come off the court.

The secret of the game is in doing your best. To persist and endure, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I’m proud to be your Coach,

Pat Head Summitt

 

So many jewels of wisdom inside this letter: tape it on the wall, fold it and put it in your wallet or keep it at work to share with your colleagues.

Pat Summitt was so much more than her success on the hardwood..

 

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