At a cancer support group at my church, we sit together and share our cancer stories.
Yesterday I went to St. Luke’s Club, the cancer support group at my church, and walked out a different person. Seven of us fellow travelers on cancer journeys were present for our monthly meeting. All seven of us are long-time participants in the group, each in different stages of our cancer experiences, fighting different cancers or facing follow-up scans, and possibly more treatment. Two of the attendees are caregivers.
Typically, at St. Luke’s, we discuss a handful of topics during our hour-and-a-half Sunday afternoon sessions. We each contribute to conversations, some more than others.
Yesterday five of us listened while the other two each spoke for approximately 30 minutes, talking about the experience of making multiple life-and-death decisions, in the previous months. I have changed their names to protect their privacy.
Kelly joined St. Luke’s about 6 years earlier with her husband Will, who had been diagnosed with a sarcoma in his upper left arm. After seeming success in his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he had completed 4 ½ years of follow-up scans, during which he asked his oncologist repeated questions about pain in his abdomen. At his scan, 5 years after his sarcoma diagnosis, Kelly and Will were informed that his sarcoma had metastasized to his pancreas. In September of 2022, he was given a prognosis of one year to live.
Why wasn’t the malignancy in Will’s pancreas discovered until he had at least six CT scans after he had noticed pain in his abdomen?
Because sarcoma typically spreads first to the lungs.
Since his later diagnosis, Will has lived 15 months, and this January Kelly and Will decided to stop his most recent chemotherapy treatment. He is now receiving home hospice care and struggling to hold on to life.
Cindy had just spent 5 days, a week before yesterday, in the hospital. Her colon cancer had been diagnosed in the spring of 2021. She was given 2 years to live. She is nearing3 years. She had been treated with at least three different chemotherapies, all with a multitude of side effects. Cindy’s most recent chemo caused her so much nausea, diarrheaand a lack of appetite that she could barely nibble on a cracker or drink a sip of water. The reason for Cindy’s hospitalization was dehydration. Her white blood cells were at only one-third the normal level in her body. In the hospital, in addition to fluids, she was given transfusions of white blood cells and platelets. Cindy is feeling much better and is now able to eat lots of things. Her faith is strong, and she believes in miracles.
After Kelly and Cindy told their respective stories, the other five of us sat still. We ask a few short questions. I felt honored and trusted. They spoke and handled difficult subjects with confidence. Kelly, then Cindy, showed their ability to express their thoughts and feelings clearly and directly despite the subject matter.
I’ve been blessed with completing each of my three treatment plans, and surviving my cancers, yet twice in the past, I’veaccompanied patients who’ve struggled more than I.
Despite a lot of experience with cancer, yesterday at St. Lukes, I felt total empathy with Cindy and Kelly I was educated in cancer journeys on a whole new level.
Cindy got out of the hospital last Tuesday. In nine days, she will be back in the outpatient, chemotherapy infusion area, to receive the same chemotherapy treatment she received three weeks earlier.
I will be meeting Cindy there to keep her company.
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