October: Celebrating Survivors and Remembering Brave Warriors
I want to take a moment here as we enter October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to remember and celebrate the lives of those warriors who have fallen in battle against this menacing disease, and also to rejoice with those who have faced down this horrible giant and beat it back. Unfortunately, many of us have dealt with this disease in a personal way, as the patient, a spouse, a friend, a child, a parent, a sibling… The courage, strength, faith, and sheer will fueling those who tackle this disease is so inspiring. Cancer is absolutely scary… and the treatments aggressive and terrifying in their own right. To those who have been there, I salute you. I don’t know how you feel, but my best friend does, and, from what I've learned watching her, you are amazing, you are strong, you are brave, you are a warrior. You have been through the worst this world can throw at you and you have come through, and when you do, more often than not, you reach out to a sister, a friend, a complete stranger who is confronting this awful disease and you are there to support her through her journey. It is times like this where a friend to be by your side, to hold your hand, to listen to your fears, to wipe the tears, to acknowledge the physical and emotional pain, to just be there… is so precious. Being there for each other is what love is all about. Life can throw us into situations we are not able to handle on our own. When it does, being there for someone in need can make all the difference in the world… literally. If you woke up today, praise God. If you have the opportunity to support a friend in need, take that opportunity… You will not find a more noble calling.
One of the main focuses of Breast Cancer Awareness month is to advocate for donations and research to support screenings, access to care, and treatment for women in need. There are superb resources available providing education and support for those facing down this imposing foe. I want to do a shout out to all our clinical staff in North Oaks who battle cancer and other ailments for a living… day in day out. We all are indebted to you for giving of yourselves to help us live our lives to the fullest… Especially in this Covid-19 situation, you are risking your health and the health of your families to save the lives of others, usually complete strangers… Thank you! You make us proud!
In the Fall of 2016, my best friend and high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial surgery, the diagnosis shifted from Stage 2 to Stage 3, and a second surgery was required. As many of you have experienced personally, or through friends, what followed the surgery was intense chemotherapy… 15 rounds and 5.5 months in Lisa’s case (her Oncologist had her skip the final 16th round in order to lessen the chance of the neuropathy she was experiencing from becoming permanent). Chemotherapy is an amazing treatment, seeking out and destroying those fast multiplying cells we call cancer. While the surgery gets everything it can in the local area, the Chemotherapy is systemic, using the body’s circulatory system to carry the powerful drugs throughout the body on their search and destroy mission. They give you high doses of chemotherapy to ensure any lingering cancer cells are killed before they take up residence in other parts of the body. Unfortunately, while those high doses are seeking out and destroying the cancer, they are also wiping you out, in ways visible and not visible. Chemotherapy is precisely monitored because, unfortunately, chemotherapy is indiscriminate- it kills the cancer cells, but it also kills other fast growing cells like those found in hair follicles and nails and other systems. The Oncologists thus provide enough drug to aggressively treat the cancer, but not so much that the side effects and collateral damage do more harm than good. It is a delicate balance, but to the patient, it saps all you have. Nausea, loss of appetite, sapping of strength, having to generate energy for the simplest of tasks. We all know people who have been through this, and it is gut wrenching to watch the drug’s impact on the patient’s body and spirit… and yet these brave cancer warriors soldier on and do their best to live their lives while their body is being attacked from the treatments.
After months of Chemo, radiation gets at those places where the vasculature was not able to carry the chemo drugs. Bones and other structures are attacked by the radiation, penetrating deeply to kill any remnants left behind by the surgery and the chemo treatments. The radiation burns and makes the skin tight and painful, and makes the bones ache, but through these hardships, the patient is told, you know the radiation is doing its work. The patient’s poor body again soldiers through the treatment, hoping it can just make it to the next treatment, taking each Chemo session, each radiation treatment, one at a time. After all this is done, often hormone therapy is adopted to starve any remaining cancer from the sustenance it needs, which can cause its own set of side effects.
Amazing research has empowered tailored therapy for the specific type, grade, stage, and response to hormones and proteins found in a specific patient’s cancer. Over time, these tailored therapies have improved care and survivability. Again, thank you to the researchers, the oncologists, nurses, radiation oncologists, technicians, and other healthcare workers who are helping in this battle. Without you, we wouldn’t have as much hope as we do today.
Let’s all take some time this month to reach out to those in our circle who have battled or are battling cancer and let them know just how much we love and admire them… let them know the blessing they are to you. I am so glad that I have been able to enjoy these last 4 years with my Lisa since her diagnosis (and the many years we shared before that); she has been by my side through so much, and I am literally the luckiest man on this earth. At the Breast Cancer 5K from which the pictures were taken, an announcer let us know that there was a 90-year-old man walking with his 85-year-old wife. I want to be that couple someday…