Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hope for the Emperor of All Maladies

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.


Deb said...

This is very touching and reality for many of us. I have lost countless family members and a dear friend to cancer. I pray, too, that it will soon be a disease of the past. Deb

I need orange said...

There is so much we are learning, every day, that will help.

I learned in epigenetics class that every cancer has it's own genome. Even though it begins from our body cells, by the time it gets to a point where it runs amok, it's not us any more. It's its own entity.

This means that the potential is there to attack it right in its differences from us -- which may enable treatments to wipe it out, without hurting us in the process....

I'm sure there are many more avenues for attack, but that's the coolest new one I know about.

As you say -- "it is cancer" is a very harsh thing to hear. And there is much reason for hope.

Jeanie said...

So well written, Jeanie, and powerful for me today as we just lost Doc's best friend to cancer yesterday. I love your closing words... "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."

Anonymous said...

My father died of colon cancer at the age of 87. I hope I don't get it, as I have colitis. My mother, on the other hand, is still alive at age 98.

Beth Leintz said...

What a great reminder of how cancer treatments and detection have improved, and of how much courage people show when fighting this awful disease.

ds said...

Thank you for this, Jeanie. Like so many others, I have had way more contact with cancer among family members and friends than any of us would wish. Just the other day, a friend wrote of her diagnosis (early stages, so much hope). On and on and on it goes. Some day we will eradicate this most devastating and personal of all diseases. Until then, keep calm and fight on, right? (I did not know about Diana; my heart just broke)

Jennifer Richardson said...

Powerful post, Jeanie;
thanks for blowing the horn
of hope and yes and fight!
for those who will need to hear
it soon...it's easier to hear
the dreaded word when you've stuffed enough of these stories in your pocket.
Much love to brave you,

Sally Wessely said...

This was a beautiful and powerful post, Jeanie. I hate cancer too. My grandmother died from breast cancer before I ever got to know here. I have always believed that was one of the great losses in my life. I think my life as a child would have been so much richer with her in it.

I'm so happy you are working on this project.

I'm sorry for the loss of your dear mom. I know she missed out on so much too. Hugs to you.

Marilyn Miller said...

Jeanie, this post takes my breathe away. So well articulated and so many thoughts brought to the surface. I hope this is on my station when it comes out. Cancer just creates so many terrifying thoughts. I do pray they find a cure.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

A friend actually recommended the book The Emperor of All Maladies to me recently so I am hoping to read that this year.

This is such a well-written post. I hate that our lives have been touched by this awful disease but I try to have hope that some day there will be a cure. I feel like I am getting to an age where I hear of more and more of my peers with the disease so I hope and pray that they are survivors of the disease.

Esme said...

Such a sad yet true post. Everyone's story breaks my heart. It is a cruel disease. I will say a prayer for those who are fighting it and those who have lost the battle. May we one day find a cure. xo.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh yeah.I know the story. All my family members on both my dad's and mom's sides died of it. My father's family lived long into their 90s, but they died of it. My mother...oh dear....

I am a bold person. But I am afraid of that word. I call it "The Big C" - I know.

When you see them in a collage just here, you realize how many more collages could be made. Too many.

I just finished telling a friend whose dog died of cancer recently, "It takes courage to be human."

Be well sweet friend. Anita

The French Hutch said...

Dear Jeanie,
That is one word that scare me as well. Thank you for writing this tribute to all you speak of here and talking about this horrible disease. I know we talked about this a little before Gretel passed away and I know your heart is broken. I am so sorry to hear this sad news.
Take care sweet friend...........

Cheryl said...

Early detection is key! It seems everyone knows someone who has cancer.... it wasn't like that 40 odd years ago. Makes you wonder what is the cause, food additives? pollution... something has to be at the root of this evil. *sigh*
big heart felt hugs,

Joanne Huffman said...

It's amazing how Cancer has invaded the life of just about everyone. I look forward to seeing what the TV show has to say on the subject.

paris parfait said...

Oh Jeanie...this post made me cry. Thank you for writing about this disease that fells people of all ages and from all walks of life. I've read The Emperor of All Maladies and am waiting to see the doc. xo

annie said...

Kick butt, beloveds
Cancer prowls, wears concrete boots
Steal them. Kick back HARD

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this lovely post, Deet. It was beautifully written, as all your posts are, and I was glad to be shown on your "wall of hope." I intend to keep fighting and I am so appreciative of your support! I wish I had been give the opportunity to know your mom and your Aunt Grace, but I know from their children that they were truly wonderful women.


Kitty said...

Beautifully written information, as usual. The show sounds like it will be very special. I will look up the website tomorrow. I also pray that you never have to deal with cancer.

Barb said...

Cancer is such a scary diagnosis. Even though heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, I think cancer is a more dreaded illness. My mother died of breast cancer when I was in my 30's and Bob's mother died of a brain tumor. Your post is very thought-provoking, Jeanie.

Anonymous said...

Maybe your best yet!

Shelia said...

Oh, Jeanie! I know, this cancer is a horrible thing and things are changing and maybe one day...
I got the big scare right after we moved with a new doctor and she found two lumps in my breast. I faithfully have my mamo each year and it was time again. Needless to say it was a long ordeal and i lived in dread for a couple of months and praying it would not be the big "C"! Well, hallelujah, Praise the Lord they weren't but lipomas. I have these little fatty tumors all over me and have had so many taken out and these two little boogers were in my breast! Just went back yesterday to have my band aids taken off - no stitches. So I'm trying to milk it just a little longer! :) How exciting for you working with the TV network! Congrats on that.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I'll mark my calendar and check out the link! Thanks so much for letting us know about this program.

Cancer is such a frightening collection of diseases. I have had several dear friends and a cousin by marriage die much too soon because of it. I pray that more awareness, more research and better preventive measures and testing can make a difference in the terrible toll cancer takes. In the meantime, may you find some comfort in making a difference in raising awareness through this post and also your work on behalf of that t.v. series.

Privet and Holly said...

Jeanie, this post absolutely
speaks to my heart. You may
know from reading my blog
that I lost my best friend of
25 years in the fall of 2013,
Kathleen. I was with her when
she received her breast cancer
diagnosis, and I said the same
thing, "It's not like receiving
this news when our moms
were this age." She held on
to that and fought so hard. I
currently have an aunt fighting
BC and a nine year old little
cousin with leukemia who is
giving that malady her a one-
two punch!

Thanks for sharing all of these
stories ~ as you say, we all have
one that is unique as our fingerprints,
but some are longer than others.

I will go check out the links that
you mentions.

Hugs to you,
xo Suzanne

Bella Rum said...

Cancer took my sister. When she was diagnosed, it was such a shock. We didn't have much of a family history with cancer.

Very touching. What a beautiful post, Jeanie.

Tracy said...

Oh, wow... This was HUGE, Jeanie! Hugely beautiful, and hugely powerful. Every has their story. And every family member, friend, co-worker has their story to as they share the dear one's journey with the big C. Much as things have changed, and we know more, and more is happening for treatments and cure, it still scares us all--it breaks the heart.. I can only pray for those who suffer in any way by this disease, and for those who struggling along with them. I hope an pray... ((LOVE & HUGS))

shoreacres said...

I've been following a blogger for months who was struggling with cancer, and posting every day in her online gratitude journal. Things were getting complicated wtih her treatment, and its side effects, and in her last post, she said she was taking a little break until she felt better. That's the last we've heard.

It's so distressing, the number of people who have to face this disease, both those who are part of our circle of family and friends, and those who are only acquaintances. My father died of cancer only three months after diagnosis: a better doctor and better tests might have given him a chance. There's no avoiding disease, of course: it will come to us all. But learning not to be afraid of it is something we all need to do, whether we're stricken with cancer ourselves, or not.

The Artful Diva said...

The C words scares the hell out of me too. God bless those who fight the fight - success is definitely in the effort.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Gulp. Tears in my eyes.
Beautifully written.

Betsy@My Salvaged Treasures said...

What a touching post and a beautiful tribute to all of those we've lost from this dreadful disease.

psychelyn said...

I've had a recent whirlwind in life that kept me out from the blogging world lately. I'll speak about them when I'm fully ready to be back.

I realized that I 've been missing a lot of wonderful, meaningful blogposts from my favorite bloggers, which includes you.

This post is very powerful. It struck me right at the heart. Cancer runs in my family as well. I've lost a grandpa, an aunt and a young cousin. Seeing these pictures of your loved ones and people you know makes my heart bleed. They all seem to be wonderful people, living life like all of us but what is it in them and their families to deserve such a disease. This thought just breaks my heart. It scares the whole out of me. My friend's sister who has a little daughter died of cancer just before New Year.

Roses, Lace and Brocante said...

Oh Jeanie, I agree that word makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.... it puts the fear of God into me.

I pray that we are safe - there is so much more that can be done these days to avoid certain C...... - regular checkups, keeping fit and eating a healthy diet.
I think anger and fear are friends with C, so I try to have peaceful thoughts and a calm environment.

Each to their own I guess.
I love how you always tackle these topics head on - and give them a good airing.

Keep well

Vagabonde said...

Such a well written post, Jeanie, and so important. We all have been touched with this disease, unfortunately. I was trying to think who I know who has cancer to write about on this post – duh as they say …. I forgot my husband has cancer. I guess it is because I don’t want to think about it. He will have surgery in a couple of weeks and I hope they will take the tumor away, but it is always scary.
Your project must be interesting and informative but at the same time I think it must be hard to think about all the wonderful people you know who have been hit with this disease. However, as many say, much progress has been made in treatments.

Sally Tharpe Rowles said...

What an accomplishment to be working with Ken Burns on such an important but sad topic. It is so important to get the information out there. Thanks for this heart felt post.

Jacqueline~Cabin and Cottage said...

My father died of cancer when I was nine. And, of course, my lists of loved ones effected by cancer would look similar to yours. You have put together a wonderful tribute here. Thanks for mentioning the upcoming program.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, Jeanie. My life has been touched by cancer, as most of us, my dad from lung cancer when I was 9, my sister from lung cancer in 2008. My mom had cervical cancer when I was 7, and was probably one of the first in our area to be cured of it, because Pap smears were still kind of in their infancy at that time. Of course, it was a very radical treatment, complete hysterectomy, including cervix, but Mom lived another 27 years.

I will put the show on my watchlist. If Ken Burns is involved, it's bound to be good.

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

This is a beautiful post, Jeanie, and I'm sorry I'm just now reading it. You honor your friends and family with your words and photos.

Yes, cancer is an ugly disease. It took my father-in-law, other family members, friends, co-workers. A toddler in our community. A co-worker's mother. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 72 but has had no recurrence in the 15 years since then.

Quiltmoose - Dagmar said...

A powerful post beautifully written! And of course I've been especially touched by it. Take care!

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