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Surviving cancer as inspiration


OK, I got really beat up by some folks on our facebook page for this line from my blog last week. "Calling a breast cancer survivor an inspiration is not something I do lightly. I think the term is awarded to many of us for just trying to stay alive. There is nothing inspiring about it. "I was hoping to focus on Kim Stewart, a woman with metastatic breast cancer in Milwaukee who did a triathlon and who I see as someone who will inspire women with stage 4 disease not to give up. But lots of people got hung up on what is and is not inspiring. Maybe I should have said. "When I was going through treatment for breast cancer and throwing up for hours at a time and living with a mouth full of ulcers, I found it strange when people called me an inspiration. I didn't feel that way and I sure wasn't trying to inspire anyone. I was only trying to stay alive." And to the question about whether I have been inspired by survivors I have met along the way. You bet. Too many to name but here are a few.Marilyn had an ear to ear smile, and when she joined my support group back in 1990 I was surprised to learn that she had been living with metastatic disease for nine years. We only had a few drugs back then and she would respond for a while and then relapse. Marilyn had a joy about living that was hard to beat, and I wanted to know how she did it when she was living my worst nightmare. Well, she explained, there were worse things than dying, and one of them was dying without having lived life to the fullest. Marilyn inspired me to live life to the fullest. Brenda's breast cancer metastasized to her lungs two years after her diagnosis in 2005. A cocktail of Herceptin and a few other select drugs put her in complete remission by 2006. When I met her at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium three years ago she had just learned that a new drug called Herceptin had gotten rid of them – all of them. She was free of cancer. Another flare up of tumors in her lungs meant a new drug was added to the cocktail and once again, she was free. Then in April of 2007 she learned the cancer had reappeared in her brain. Xeloda was added and by October Brenda was again in total remission. When I saw her at San Antonio again in 2010 she was working on getting into a clinical trial and had jumped through the majority of hoops with only a few more to go. Brenda inspired me to never give up.Suzanne was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer at age 31 in 1998. She did regular treatment until 2004 when her cancer spread to her liver and she was told there were no more options. She went on line to her colon network and one man reached out to tell her about brachytherapy, where small spheres filled with radiation are sent directly to the liver. It worked and Suzanne was able to return to chemotherapy. In the midst of all this, Suzanne, who used to hide in the bathroom when called upon to speak in public, began talking across the country about options for liver tumors. At the same time she and her husband Ronnie bought a house in the country with horses where they and their two daughters could enjoy a slower pace of life. In addition to all this, they took in a foster child who had been born to a friend of their daughters. This year they adopted Chloe, now 3. Suzanne inspired me to keep on living no matter what you think the future may hold. And there are so many more. I guess I could say that cancer itself inspired me to become an advocate for those who don't have a voice or need someone who knows the ropes to walk beside them on the journey.

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