Cancer Education and Kindness


Educating people about cancer can not only be life-saving, but is also a kind thing to do. I was reminded of this by a post from a children’s author who died of cancer.

Like many born and raised Arizonans who spent a lot of time outdoors long before effective sunscreen became available, I make a dreaded semi-annual trek to a dermatologist for a checkup.

Fortunately, I’ve only had one smallish spot of basal cell carcinoma. However, I still usually walk out with a little bandage on some part of my body, nonetheless. Obviously, my dermatologist is a proponent of screening and early detection.

At a recent appointment, while nervously waiting for the dermatologist, I started looking through bookmarks on my phone’s browser. While scrolling, I came across Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble video about kindness, a favorite of mine. Amy “was a person who liked to make things,” including authoring many best-selling children’s books.

Sadly, Amy died in 2017 of ovarian cancer. Shortly after her death, her husband created a nonprofit foundation in her name to help fund ovarian cancer early detection research and child literacy programs — two issues important to Amy.

Naturally, with my late wife being a writer and a teacher, and me being a children’s book illustrator, we were big fans of Amy. But now there’s wistfulness in watching her videos and reading her books.

I had also bookmarked Amy’s foundation’s website, and as I continued to wait for the doctor, I began scrolling down the site’s homepage where a statement caught my attention. It’s something I think needs to be shared and expanded upon:

“The only thing standing between early ovarian cancer detection and the ability for every child to read is the same thing: education.”

I wholeheartedly agree with both parts. Of course, the part about needing to be educated about early cancer detection shouldn’t only be limited to ovarian cancer. Sadly, had a few people been better educated about inherited cancer syndromes, my wife’s death due to hereditary breast cancer could have been prevented. 

As I was leaving the dermatologist after my appointment, I started thinking a lot about cancer and cancer prevention education. It was hard not to think about cancer. I had just had a chunk of skin cut out of my shoulder to be biopsied for skin cancer and found myself waiting for the elevator directly across from the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Care office where my wife and our daughter had their genetic tests done for a germline BRCA2 mutation. Both of their tests proved positive.

Then gut-wrenchingly, adjacent to the building’s front door was the radiation oncologist’s office where my wife had treatment for brain metastases. Out the door and across the street is the hospital where my daughter had prophylactic surgery to reduce her cancer risk due to her BRCA2 mutation. And, as to add a cruel exclamation point, a few steps down the sidewalk sat a large bright-pink breast cancer ribbon sculpture.

After a much-needed meltdown in the parking garage, I started for home. Along the way I thought more about cancer education. More specifically about MY cancer education.

Thinking back, prior to my wife’s cancer diagnosis I was more cancer ignorant than I thought. Not that I was totally clueless. I had friends and loved ones who were diagnosed with cancer over the years and I had read information about their tumors and treatments. But it’s now painfully obvious how much I did not know or understand. And my knowledge of hereditary cancer was basically nil.

Being diagnosed with cancer or caring for a loved one with it forces you to learn more about cancer than you ever truly wanted to know. And, as the readers and contributors here know all too well, many of the things you learn can be frightening and unbearably painful to talk about.

Yet, there’s an importance to the sharing of the lessons learned while dealing with cancer. With my wife, I witnessed how not sharing cancer risk knowledge can lead to needless suffering and heartache. However, with my daughter and other individuals, I have seen how the open sharing of cancer knowledge can be literallylife-saving.

Thinking about Amy and her Thought Bubble video, cancer education and all the broken lives and lost dreams that a cancer not prevented or detected early leaves in its wake, maybe there’s something even more to sharing cancer awareness and prevention knowledge — it also might be a major act of kindness.

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