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"Nothing Ever Changes" and Other Hurtful Words About Cancer

A brief interaction at the gym gives this metastatic breast cancer patient a reason to reflect on the hope we must nurture.
PUBLISHED November 20, 2016
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
"Seems like with all the money we've given..."

The woman walking behind me on the indoor track had just asked about my light-pink Brown football shirt that could not be mistaken for anything other than a t-shirt used in a fundraising campaign for breast cancer. 

"Do you bench press?" she asked, referring to the fundraising aspect pictured on the back of the shirt. “No," I laughed. “It's from the football team at my daughter's college."

I’d already started increasing my pace to discourage any further conversation. I was finishing my workout and really just wanted to head home.

And then came the comment. 

"Seems like with all the money we've given, cancer would be gone. Nothing ever changes."

I have exercised all my life. I exercised straight through six months of weekly doses of Taxol, pertuzumab and trastuzumab. I continue to exercise now, facing treatment that will continue for as long as I live. God willing, it will be years. I exercise because it makes me feel better, because early research shows it helps with the effectiveness of treatment, and because it is something I have always done. In other words, I take my exercising seriously.

But with those bitter words – words no metastatic breast cancer patient wants to hear – I shoved exercising down, way down, to the bottom of the list of things that mattered. 

I stopped there on the track and turned around to face the woman who'd just addressed me. She was maybe my mom's age. Maybe she'd faced cancer or lost someone to it, like so many of us. I wasn't mad. I just wanted her to understand.

The words ricocheted around my brain: "Seems like with all the money we've given..."

I smiled. I stood still as she came a little closer. "I have given money and time and I hope you have too," I began. "I have metastatic breast cancer and because of things changing I’m still here. I’m still alive.”

Momentarily taken aback by my bluntness, she nonetheless flashed two-thumbs up at me as I turned to continue my walk.

It can feel like things don't change. People keep getting cancer, and the numbers for breast cancer deaths remain stubbornly high and research lags. But there is progress. If I believed the old statistics, I either wouldn't still be here or I'd be hanging on. Instead, I have a fairly normal life. Yes, I have to go for drug IVs every three weeks, I have to concentrate a bit when I walk due to neuropathy, and I have too much experience with a variety of tests and biopsies. 

But things have changed and improved for countless women. Even if those changes do not yet mean a cure and are unable to touch every woman with breast cancer, even if the drug trials continue into the foreseeable future with their limited results, even if we have to continue to give money and sometimes feel hopeless – even with all of these things change happens and your money and time are well spent.

In this season of giving thanks and looking forward with hope, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who's ever shared their money, their time, their prayers and their hope. 

Things do change. There is hope. 

"Seems like with all the money we’ve given…” Indeed.
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