Readers respond to questions posed by CURE.
I was the go, go guy. No time for anything other than my work and things related to my work. Then came the "your colorectal cancer is beyond resection. Go home, get your affairs in order, you have about four months to live. We can keep you pain free." With the end of my life 16 weeks away, I found that work wasn't all that important after all. One day while on my way to work, I noticed the sun was just starting to show above the horizon. The sky was beginning to turn a blaze of colors. I stopped the car, got out, and, standing there, watched it unfold. How many other days had this same thing occurred and I never noticed the majesty of nature that surrounded me for all these years? My life, what was left of it, was changed that day. I took time to smell the roses, took time to really converse with my family members, took time to enjoy all that life can give. That was 16 years ago. What happened? I don't know, but I'm still here and the "all important" work is way back on the agenda.
My mother-in-law and I never seemed to connect. She was diagnosed with an aggressive sarcoma of the colon and given three weeks to live. I spent time with her in the hospital and was very open with my questions about her preparedness with this diagnosis. This time created a bond between us that we had never shared before. That was over three years ago! We are still very close. Her cancer diagnosis was a positive for our relationship.
This past weekend I went to our third annual BreastFest in Angola, Indiana. After I was first diagnosed in October 2006, I started using the message boards on the Susan G. Komen website. I met and bonded with many women on there. In October 2007, a group of seven women from the message boards met and spent a weekend together. We shared tears, laughter, and, most of all, understanding and support. The next October, we had a group of 17 wonderful ladies meet together. In 2009 we had grown to 25 wonderful breast cancer survivors along with a few friends and family. We had one fellow sister who had 21 years survival since diagnosis who came with her daughter who is a two-year survivor! It truly is a healing weekend, and every year I look forward to seeing my special sisters.
My experience with small cell lung cancer was extremely frightening. Ultimately, my oncologist said two to five years maximum was all I had left. He told me because I was only 56 that he was going to hit me hard, and he did. My five children, my husband, my numerous grandchildren, and my oncologist gave me the courage and strength to fight for my life. It has been four years and four months, and, thanks to God, prayer, and my family, I'm still here and each morning that I wake up is a glorious new day!
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) 33 years ago at the age of 2. In 1976, the odds of my living just five years were 49 percent. I wouldn't say that having cancer allows you to have a lot of positive experiences; I think most cancer patients and survivors would agree with me. Cancer taught me to be strong, that life is precious, and every minute you have is special and extremely valuable because you don't know if it is your last. People in my life will come and go, but I cherish them much more for the time I am given to know them. Relationships with family, friends, and yourself are extremely important and valuable, and you shouldn't take them for granted.
I was diagnosed at age 32 with stage 3 breast cancer. I underwent chemo, radiation, a double mastectomy, an oophorectomy, and reconstruction. This occurred during a time when my husband and I were trying to start our family. This has been a major adjustment for me. I was forced to deal with a chronic illness at a young age, and then it also stole my fertility. One might question how any positive experiences could be derived from such a journey. While I have made adjustments, I am a much stronger person today. I conquered a very difficult and challenging journey and I did it with courage and determination. I would never say I am glad I got cancer, but I will say I’m glad for the person I’ve become. Every day is a gift and I try to enjoy every bit of it. No matter what new challenge is thrown my way, I always say if I could get through chemo, then I can get through this.
I try to find the greater good in all things. So, when diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer, I decided I could either let cancer run me or I could run it. I decided I would run it. My doctor had me take the BRCA2 analysis, and it came back positive that I carry the cancer gene. Both my daughters were tested. The oldest daughter’s test came back positive and our other daughter’s test came back negative. My feelings about this are: Thank goodness we know that the gene runs in the family. Our oldest daughter has taken preventive measures to lessen her chance of getting ovarian cancer. This year she has had her ovaries removed and she has undergone a double mastectomy. These actions, we pray, will relieve her from having to go through chemo and all the other “lovely” things that go with the treatment.
I became good friends with my surgeon's nurse. She encouraged me throughout my treatment (along with my family and friends). She asked me to do volunteer work at the Breast Health Center. From there I started doing work for the American Cancer Society. Thereafter I was accepted on the Consumer Review Panel, United States Army Medical Research Programs. An incredible four days working with scientists and physicians. I then started working for a local hospice. And lastly was asked to come back to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Era of Hope conference. Every aspect of my volunteerism allowed me to grow inwardly with new knowledge about breast cancer and with that knowledge allowing me the gift of being a stronger woman. Would I want to go through breast cancer again? No. However, I'm glad I can say that all of the above was the good that came from something bad.
I was 37 years old, had been assured by three doctors that a lesion on my chest did not seem unusual, and then was told post-biopsy that it was a level 4 melanoma with 50/50 survival odds. Obviously, this came as a great shock, and I proceeded to have two surgeries, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. That was 33 years ago. The positive aspects are this: I still consider each day a bonus and try to make the most of it; I learned not to get upset about things over which I do not have control; I re-ordered my priorities so that truly important things receive primary attention; and I chuckle as other folks get upset by what can only be considered trivial. The price for learning these lessons was high, and I obviously would have preferred to avoid paying it. Nevertheless, the positives have been substantial and deserve to be factored into the equation.
Eight years ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 46. Four years later, my 20-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor. Over a five-year period, together we had five surgeries, two chemotherapy regimens, radiation, experimental drugs, and enrolled in one clinical trial. During this time we discovered how much other people cared about our family--not only our own extended family members, but friends, church members, office workers, teachers, coaches, acquaintances, and even a few total strangers all wanted and needed to help us get well! We were surrounded not once, but twice, by the help and love we so desperately needed. We miss it now that we have recovered! But we will never forget it, and we try to always give it back. If we had not had cancer, we would never have known how much people cared.
When our mother died from cancer over 15 years ago, my two brothers and I had split for reasons unknown today. We refused to communicate or see each other and missed important "family" events. At 58 years old I had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive lymphoma and was told I would need a related stem cell donor for any chance of survival. My wife did not hesitate to call both of my brothers. They agreed to be tested and one of my brothers was a perfect match! On June 11, 2009, I received two wonderful gifts. I was given a new immune system at NIH and my brothers and I are a family again.
At age 41 I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and a hysterectomy was scheduled. During surgery, they found the beginnings of cancer in both ovaries. The surgeon told me the uterine cancer actually saved my life. Without that, they wouldn't have found the ovarian cancer.