One word scares the hell out of me. Cancer. It scares a lot of us. Here are just a few people who have left this world because of this dreaded disease.
You've heard about my mom in lots of posts, and Mary Jane, Patricia, my grandmother and most recently, V.J., the Whimsical Whittler.
Since I wrote that post, dear Gretel, in the upper right corner, has been added to that list. I can't really write about that yet. And of course, last week marked the anniversary of blogger Diana's passing.
You'll also see my aunt, Grace, and my high school friend Gail here. All gone. And they aren't the only ones. Parents, siblings, children and spouses of good friends, college pals, one-time colleagues and more. I might not have good photos of them or my "grid" may be too small -- but they all matter and live in my heart.
But this picture tells a different story.
You might know some of them and you may or may not know their stories. But these are the men and women who have either kicked cancer in the butt, are fighting a very hard fight to kick it or courageously deal with whatever lies ahead. They are all ages. Their cancers have ranged from skin and thyroid to breast and eye, and lots of others. Their stories are all different. They are doctors and artists, business professionals and teachers, hair stylists and environmentalists. But today, at the moment I hit publish on this post, they are here.
They have had tough fights, each and every one of them and some are still fighting. For some, cancer has been something from their past -- they are five, 10, 15, 20 years past their last treatment. So far, fantastic.
These men and women have stories that could change tomorrow, next month, next year, years from now. But then really, don't we all? With my family history, I never know what the next appointment with the doc will bring or what they might spot on the next mammogram. And aside from that, there's always the proverbial bus that can change any of our lives at any moment.
It's this second picture I do my best to hold onto when I hear of cancer hitting the life of someone who matters to me. My mother died in 1977 from breast and ovarian cancer. I was 25. She was sick for three years.
Times Have Changed
Things have changed a lot in those 35-plus years since then. Detection methods have increased and research is encouraging. Technology is better, surgical methods are different, medications -- still rugged to tolerate -- have improved efficiency and results. Consequently, life expectancy has increased.
And so has quality of life. Yes, treatment can be brutal. But because so many treatments are more effective, life after can be improved.
That second photo gives me hope, not only because there are so many faces there -- but that they are just a few of the faces I know who are strong, courageous, tough, determined men and women who said, "I'll fight." And for many of them, they made that statement long ago.
They are amazingly inspirational to me, not only in their cancer fight but because of how that fight translates to any challenging disease or malady. They are my heroes. And so, too, are those who care for them -- the family members, nurses, doctors, neighbors and friends.
When you love and care for someone, supporting and taking care of them is just what you do. It can come at a cost. Stress, exhaustion, the constant struggle of finding the best information, the best care and treatment takes an enormous amount of energy. And the rest of the world doesn't stop for it. One still has bills to pay, a job or children to attend to, a house to clean. If you've ever been the caregiver for any reason, you know that.
Some of my cancer friends aren't pictured here. Why? They simply don't talk about it. I have one friend who told very few people of her diagnosis. She had a surgery and it was successful and that was that. The world needn't know.
The Ultimate Success Story
And then there is Eulah. Eulah was my next door lake neighbor from the time I was a teenager. The "hostess with the mostest," huge, big heart and a wonderful person. And no, she's not here with us now. She died when she was 101. Oh, and her cancer was some 40 or 50 years before. Talk about success story.
I hate this disease and I always will. And I pray for a cure and even more efficient treatment and detection. Understanding this, too, is important for we all have a role to play.
The TV Series
Recently I've been working with the public television station I retired from to assist with community engagement for a new series called "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies." Ken Burns, whose mom died when he was 11, is the executive producer and it is based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee and directed by Barak Goodman, who has a slew of awards to his credit.
The series will air on public television stations nationwide on March 30, 31 and April 1. But there is a wonderful website HERE with inspiring stories and much more about the film. I encourage you to visit if you have a curiosity or experience with this disease or simply want to know more.
The Story Wall
And one other thing -- there is a terrific "Share-Your-Story" wall on the site. The stories may well help other people deal with what you may have in the past, either as a cancer patient or survivor, physician, caregiver, family member or friend.
I urge you to share your story there, too. It's easy to do (if you're a blogger and used to a blog set-up, it's a piece of cake!). There is a spot that says "station code." If you watch public TV on WKAR in mid-Michigan, I hope you'll share WKAR as your station code, or your local PBS station if in another area.
My Mother's Prognosis Is Not My Prognosis
My friend Patricia died from cancer about 15 years ago and she, too, was the daughter of a mother who died from cancer. When she got sick, she kept saying "Our mothers' prognosis doesn't have to be our prognosis" and she fought for many years, living a full life in the interim, marrying and having a lovely family that was her world.
Things have changed since then. They'll keep changing. I haven't had that diagnosis and I hope I never do. But should that day come, I will hold Patricia's words close to my heart. Someday we can only hope there will be a cure. Till then, knowing and understanding, helping others, asking for help if we need it, is the best we can do.
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