For Addie who taught me grace, Maureen who embodied tenacity, Jan who pushed the boundaries of life and Aunt Faith and Aunt Gayle who lived valiantly and were gone too soon. I love and miss you all.
Today marks World Cancer Day. Lung cancer bloggers are honoring survivors everywhere, to view all stories the link is here. I choose to celebrate the lives of friends passed and living by sharing what I’ve learned from our interactions. Cancer know no boundaries. No social class or convention. No gender. No age. It simply is.
There is something about the phrase “You have cancer”, any cancer, that knocks your knees out from under you and causes gravity to fail. Things spin on at their own pace, and on their own axis. Staging, typing, mutation testing, CTs, MRIs, bone scans, blood tests, ports and more. At some point a cancer diagnosis limits ones options for the future and no matter who you are or which cancer you experience you fight like hell to reclaim that life. Stage and type are irrelevant.
Attending a survivors support group at the Cancer Support Community opened my eyes to the universal fears and anxiety that come with cancer. Recognizing that, I found an easy and instant kinship with survivors of other cancers. Its a bond formed of our shared experiences. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery take their toll on all patients. Side effects of treatment are based on the chemo agent used not the location of the primary. Cachexia is cachexia. Neuropathy is neuropathy. Tinnitus is tinnitus. Scanxiety is scanxiety. Stage and type are irrelevant.
We all experienced people we thought to be fair weather friends stepping up to help us through some of our toughest challenges while that we lost friends and family who were terrified by that ‘C’ word. We all have a deeper appreciation of waking to a new day. Then there’s the shared awareness that life really does go on, it doesn’t wait till treatment is done and we’re ready to take on new challenges. Most important, we get time to make wonderful memories with family and friends that will last their lifetimes.
One very important event for me was meeting Addie, a stage 4 colon cancer patient who had been her mom’s caregiver through her colon cancer treatment and hospice. Here was another daughter who understood what it’s like to bury a mom who shared the same disease. When Addie went into hospice it was a gut wrenching experience. In the last days before her passing the FDA approved a drug she had been anxiously awaiting and had been denied compassionate use for. Reflecting on her calm and grace I am humbled and brought to tears.
Since that day many other friendships have grown out of those shared experiences. Lung cancer expanded my world in ways I never dreamed. I met Elise, a 2x breast cancer survivor, who became one of the best friends you could ever want in your corner. The summer after Addie passed Elise needed knee replacement surgery and I volunteered to drive her around. Her family came from Europe to help her with the house and yard work and I was always the driver when it was time to explore museums, parades and festivals. Her family is as warm and friendly as Elise and I had an invitation to spend the Christmas holidays at their home in Luxembourg. It was a once in a lifetime trip.
My world expanded even greater when I built relationships with other survivors on line at websites that I learned to trust. For lung cancer patients that would be LUNGevity.org, Inspire.com or the Lungcancerfoundation.org (the Bonnie Addario Foundation). For those of you on Twitter I recommend the tweetchats at Lung Cancer Social Media -#lcsm. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of my on line acquaintances at conferences in real life and found friendships that endure.
Cancer never really limited my world, it opened it wide.