Friday, September 5, 2008

Stand Up To Cancer

I just watched a show that made my previous post seem inconsequential: Stand Up To Cancer.

There is not a person in this country who has not been affected by cancer in one way or another. By the Grace of God I have not had this awful disease myself but the two most important people in my life have. One is no longer with me and one is.

My mother, Mary Barrows, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. I was in the Navy at the time and she went through chemotherapy alone. She wound up in the hospital with blood clots that could have killed her as a result of the oral medication she was on so her oncologist took her off of it. She was clean for the next four years. On her exam at the five-year mark, the point when she would be considered cured, a bone scan showed spinal metastases. For the next eight years she endured numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Her disease was in and out of remission several times. In May of 2002, after surgery for a perforated diverticula in her colon, we found that her cancer had spread to her internal organs. She went to be with Jesus on August 2, 2002. She was only in Hospice care for 6 days. I still miss her terribly. The most important lesson she taught me was the importance of having a positive attitude even when life sucks. She never gave up hope and she used every opportunity to inspire others. She gave anyone who wanted it straight talk about what they could expect in their fight with cancer, she gave those of us who love cancer patients advice on how to deal with it and what to say. She never sugar-coated anything but she also NEVER GAVE UP! She said that whether she outlived her cancer or not she was still a winner because if she lived it would mean she had beaten it and if she died she got to go be with Jesus, so either way she won.

My beloved husband John was diagnosed with Stage I colon cancer in June of 2006. We had been married for less than a year. John had been feeling rotten for about 6 months and had been in and out of the hospital for testing. He had a heart catheterization, upper GI exam, everything but a colonoscopy. The feeling rotten would get a little better for a while but it always came back. Finally his primary care doctor noted that since he was 51 he should have a colonoscopy. By this time he had been through so much I was actually opposed to putting him through more. The prep for the exam was awful and I think the poor man threw up in every room of our apartment that night. He had the colonoscopy and an upper GI endoscopy. They found a single large polyp in his sigmoid colon. I didn't think it was serious since lots of people have polyps removed. As I was laying in a hospital bed recovering from surgery John called me from work. His doctor had gotten the test results and called him. Cancer. The disease was so close the edges of the polyp that surgery was recommended. On August 21, 2006 John had his sigmoid colon removed. We held our breath through all the followup exams but he remained clean. His last colonoscopy showed nothing! He is considered cured and won't need another colonoscopy for 2 years unless his symptoms return.

So what is it like living with cancer? What is it like living with a survivor? The old metaphor about the 800 pound gorilla is close. Even though we don't dwell on it there is still the niggling little fear in the backs of our minds that John's cancer will return. Every time he starts having some kind of bowel trouble our minds go right to the thought that ohmigoditsback! We don't dwell on it but we live with it. We do what we can to keep both of us healthy and we support efforts being made in cancer research. John belongs to an online colorectal cancer support group and he is vocal in his efforts to spread awareness. For the past two years we have been part of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life; I was a team captain in our former parish church and John was the emcee for our local event. This year at Relay I couldn't be a team captain or on a team because I had just had Jimmy. But at the age of 10 days Jimmy helped fulfill a dream his Daddy and I had; he walked the Survivors' Lap with Daddy. That day would have also been my mother's 85th birthday. Needless to say I bawled like a baby and proudly took my place once again at my husband's side to walk the Caregivers' Lap. There is a picture of Jimmy in his Snugli with his Daddy at the bottom of this page.

Every person in this country is affected by cancer in one way or another. If you don't have it then you know someone who does. It could be your parent, your spouse, your sibling, your child, your best friend, your neighbor, or your coworker. Tonight's show cited the sobering statistic that every 60 seconds one person dies of cancer. As a woman there is a 1 in 8 chance that I will develop breast cancer, probably higher than that since my mother had the disease. There is a 1 in 3 chance that I will develop cancer of some kind. There is a 50% chance that at some time in his life my son will develop cancer of some kind. One in three women and one in two men. That's too much!

There is a lot of research being done on finding causes and cures. Researchers are so close to a cure but many programs are woefully underfunded. The private sector and private citizens can only do so much. If the money that is wasted on all the pet projects slipped into Congressional bills was given to research we could probably find a CURE in a few years. I don't want cancer. I don't want my husband's cancer to recur or for him to get another type of cancer. I sure as hell don't want my son getting cancer. Every week the United States loses 10,000 people to cancer. That's too much!

I am standing up to cancer. My husband is standing up to cancer! We are doing whatever we can to spread the word and promote awareness. We won't rest easy until we know that our families and friends, and most especially our son, will not have to live in fear of cancer. Stand up to cancer! Stand up and fight! Stand up and write to your Representatives and Senators urging them to make this their first priority in funding. If we don't stand up to cancer and fight it, if people keep dying at the rate of 10,000 people a week, we may not have a country to save.

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