For those following, we will go back to dissecting cancer next time. For today, something that is on my mind I just have to get out there.
My friend, Mike Terrill, is in the final stages of brain cancer. Search wranglersrear on WordPress and you will find him – and his amazing story and journey via blog. None of us know for sure just how many more blogs he has left to give us, but he has chronicled his journey through terminal cancer in a way I have never seen before. It is eye-opening, to be sure, uplifting at times, it will make you cry, it will make you mad, but most importantly it will introduce you to a man. A man who wants nothing more than to make the entire world hate Cancer as much as he does.
I have been sharing Mike’s blogs, as well as another friends, Suzanne Pearson Rose’s, and mine, on my Facebook page. I’ve shared a couple of them here. I will admit, when I was first added to the page, Curing Cancer With A Smile, I glanced at it and went on about doing whatever it was I was doing. From time to time, posts would dance across my field of vision, I’d read over them, and go on. For whatever reason, this spring a post leapt out at me and caught me. I did what I had not done up to that time, I commented. That was it. I started reading. I got “introduced” to a whole lot of wonderful people, people who had cancer, people who had survived cancer, people who had cared for someone with cancer, people who simply cared, people who knew someone who had cancer. Amazing people, with hearts that know no bounds, with love and compassion for anyone suffering, with anger for injustices. People who commiserated with each other. People who boosted each other when needed. People who just listened. The wonderful, awesome people of Curing Cancer With A Smile.
So, as I go on, as I share blogs about cancer, some of my friends are wondering what the heck is going on? Why all the cancer posts? Where are the cutesy coffee pictures, and puppy pictures, and the jokes? Oh, they are still there. But, you see, I was looking for something. Have been for quite a while. I want to make a difference. I want to DO something. My body doesn’t want to do what it did just a few years ago – but my mind is still just as sharp as ever. I know, what I do every day is important. Taking care of my husband and my son – as well as my other son, and helping my daughter and her husband with my adorable grandson – is very important, vital work, and I love doing it. But I wanted something else. I wanted to HELP others. Obviously, I can’t work outside the home anymore, unless I hire a caretaker for my guys. So I looked into working from home, via the internet. Nope. Requires a more stable internet connection than satellite internet provides. But I found Curing Cancer With A Smile. I can do this! I can put Cancer Awareness on the front burner again!
So I start my one woman crusade for Cancer Awareness. No more small case letters! Indignation! Anger! Get it out there – lets end it! Yes, I still want all those things, and I will return back to teaching myself and all of you who read about different cancers, what they are, what they do, and all that stuff next time. But today, I stopped to think for a minute. Why should Cancer concern me? Why should it affect me? So, the ol’ wheels in the brain started turning, throwing around memories. Wow. Trips down memory lane can be time-consuming – but maybe I should take them more often.
Cancer first entered my life when I was 7. It was 1971 when my “Aunt Betty” died. She died, mom told me, from cancer. Whispered almost, like you would say something you didn’t want anyone to really hear. Like hearing the word would cause the world to end. I never did know what kind of cancer she had. I know she smoked like a chimney, but almost all of my parents friends and contemporaries did.
For the next few years – actually the next couple decades, I can only remember one connection with Cancer, and that was in junior high school. Jonathan had leukemia (which I know now is a type of cancer – back then I didn’t make the connection). He died in 9th grade. He was a great person, had the best personality. I had bad knees as a teenager, and I had adaptive PE with him. I remember we had an assembly at school when he died, but I knew he didn’t want any of us to be sad, because he wasn’t hurting anymore, and he could do all the things now he couldn’t do before. I was 13 or 14.
For the next few years, my life was punctuated by the normal teen age, high school stuff, with the exception of the loss in March, 1979 of my aunt/godmother, my uncle the next day, and my father November 1st of that year. None had cancer, though. The next few years, as I completed my somewhat rocky road to adulthood, were filled with the concerns of a child of an alcoholic. I joined the U. S. Navy in 1982, and left home. In 1984 I had my first child, and although his life has been nothing but twists and turns, ups and downs, no cancer. I knew at the time he was born that my first cousin was very ill, with breast cancer, but at 20 years old it didn’t sink in. By that time in the “world”, there was already a differentiation – there was cancer, and then there was breast cancer. Breast cancer wasn’t near as bad in 1984 as it had been just a decade before – people LIVED after they had it. Besides, we were on the cusp of a new horror, AIDS. Cancer of all types would be taking a backseat for the next 20 years. But September 21, 1984, my cousin Laurie died. She was 48. She left behind a husband, 4 children, and at the time 2 grandchildren. She never got to see her other grandchildren. She never got to see my children. I was not told of Laurie’s death until September 24th – because her daughter, my cousin Kim – who is only 3 months younger than me – knew I was getting married September 22nd, and knew her mom would not want to disrupt my wedding. Now cancer was a part of my consciousness. Not yet in the forefront really, but I actually KNEW someone.
I went on about my life. Raising my children, dealing with Ryan’s multiple medical issues, being a wife and mother. We moved to Mississippi in 1987, when my husband got out of the Navy, to be close to his family. His father had passed away earlier that year, so it was the logical decision, since my mother had passed 2 years before. One note here – most of the deaths I had dealt with were heart related, other than my mother. She died of acute kidney and liver failure caused by alcoholism. But the only cancer death really was Laurie – and I was not around her when she was sick. I didn’t really realize I was still reeling from losing my dad at 15 – I didn’t allow death to touch me, not really. It happened, you got through the funeral, you went on with life. That is what our loved ones would want us to do, I think. But cancer was something others got. Sure, my cousin had cancer, but cancer wasn’t contagious! So life goes on. In 1989 I took my two children to California to see friends, see my brother and sister, in general visit. I had been talking to my Uncle Don and Aunt Pauline, who had moved to Arizona not long before this. I knew my uncle was sick – he had lung cancer. Again, it was not LUNG CANCER – it was lung cancer. He had smoked most of his life – his wife smoked – it happened. I called Aunt Pauline when I started to head home, and told her I was coming through Mesa on my way, was it okay if I stopped by. I hadn’t seen them since I was about 10, and I wanted to introduce my kids, and see them since I was going to be close by. She didn’t prepare me. She said “Don is having a bad day, but he wants to see you. He’s in bed”. No preparation for the gut punch. That man laying in that bed looked like he might have been my uncle. He was about half his normal body weight. His skin color was – abnormal. I don’t know how else to explain it. But the voice – it was him. We had a pretty good visit – about an hour. He said he was getting tired, so I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. My aunt and I stepped outside – the late afternoon joys of Mesa, Arizona in late July – it was “down to” about 110. We both lit cigarettes, and talked for a while. She said she was glad I had gotten to see him, and she thought my visit had done him good. Neither of us said what was so obvious – that inside their mobile home was a man who was in pain, and dying. I left, drove to my hotel, got up at 2 the next morning because I woke out of a sound sleep like I had heard a noise. I didn’t find anything, so I loaded the car and headed east with the kids, back home. I had a phone message when I got home two days later (this was before cell phones). At 2 am, after he had spent an hour late that afternoon with me, my uncle had died. My aunt would pass away 11 years later, from mouth and throat cancer.
Fast forward a couple of years. 1993. I started work for a CLU – certified life underwriter. For the next 7 years, I would deal with life insurance, mostly, and death claims. A few were cancer deaths. I remember one lady – she was only 28 when breast cancer took her. She would come bounding into my office, bigger than life itself, proclaiming another victory over a chemo session. The doctors did manage to cure her breast cancer – but some of it snuck away, and attacked her heart, lungs and brain. Sobering – but it was work. I had to fill out the papers so her husband would get the “benefit” check. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now, how a dollar amount is supposed to be a benefit equal to a family member. Guess that’s why I’m not still writing insurance.
So, cancer was still out there, wreaking havoc on the lives it touched, but it had only dealt me glancing blows – kinda like paper cuts that you forget once they heal. There were others, people in my life, on the outskirts of my life, who had cancer, who died from cancer. But it was treated with the same nonchalance as ordering a chicken salad. “Oh, so and so died. You know they had cancer.” Once a year, for about a week, you would hear about the “Relay For Life” to benefit breast cancer, and of course living barely 100 miles southeast of Memphis, we would hear about St. Jude’s – they have a radiothon once a year. I’m not being flippant, honest! This is how it was. This is how it IS for those who aren’t directly in the trenches. Then in about 2007, I get a call from my Uncle Tom, informing me that my Uncle Max (these are my mom’s other two brothers, Don was the third) had passed away from lung cancer, and his life insurance was to be divided between my mothers children, since she had predeceased him. Now my Uncle Max was the character of my life. He would vanish for years, only to resurface with tales of his adventures. He was a cab driver in Washington, DC for a long time, he had been married and divorced, and had done the unthinkable and just lived with his girlfriend (his generation didn’t do that). He always, every time he ever visited, had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Fun was the perfect word to describe him. You have to realize that my mom and her siblings lived not just miles, but states away from each other. Mom in California, my Uncle Don in Illinois until his last couple years in Arizona, my Uncle Max in Virginia, then Oregon, then Florida, my Uncle Tom in Connecticut, then Texas, and my Aunt Rosie still lives in Wisconsin. So it’s not like I grew up with them around all the time. Anyway, I dealt with Uncle Max’s death, made a mental note of the lung cancer, and life went on. Then about a year and a half ago, I got an email from my sister that my Uncle Tom had lung cancer, and was not doing well. This one was a huge surprise. My Uncle Tom was actually Dr. Thomas A. Stoner, college professor of music, retired; composer; church organist, and all around amazing guy. Never smoked. Very health conscious. He and his wife had retired to Texas. I fully expected the call, when it came, to involve dying “peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of 99”. Lung cancer? Do what? Okay, so I start to process this as a really strange turn of events when I get the phone call – Uncle Tom DIED. By now, events had begun in my life to get me to where I am today, and I was much more concerned with the “how” than I had ever been. It forcibly hit me – all three of my mom’s brothers had died of the same thing! I’ve been working on my family genealogy for over 10 years now, so this fact hit big. Three brothers, three very different lifestyles, all three lung cancer. This thought has been rolling around in my brain now for over a year, but it hit me today. I have said in Curing Cancer With A Smile that I don’t have anyone with cancer, I’m just there because major illnesses are alike, and as support. But today, thinking about it, taking my day-long trek down memory lane, I discovered I DO have people in my life who have had cancer. But because of the almost lackadaisical attitude it has enjoyed for the last 3 decades, if not longer, I didn’t even realize it!
So, you ask, why has she taken me down her own memory lane with this rambling missive? Simple, really. I could have done it in two sentences. First, look at your life. Second, see how much cancer has touched you. My friend Mike Terrill posted a blog today, about caring for a terminal cancer patient in the end stages. That got me to thinking. The result is in front of you. Look at your life. All 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or more decades. Look at those who were stolen from you. By this insidious thief, Cancer. Let’s get angry. Let’s use that anger to get results. If this were a mortal man, stealing lives before their time, it would be called murder, he would be hunted down, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced. We have the ability to do the same to Cancer. We can hunt it down with research and awareness, arrest it with preventative treatments, and treatments that eliminate it, try it with good quality healthcare, convict it with more research and more awareness, and sentence it to die by eradicating it and making it a mere memory! Join me – share this. Share Mike Terrill’s words. Share Suzanne Rose’s words. Put the arrest warrant out there for CANCER. The American Cancer Society has been around over 100 years – that is too long. We can do this. Cancer has taken advantage of our complacent behavior for too long. Get the word out! Take your own trip down memory lane. Do it for you aunt, your uncle, your parent, your cousin, your neighbor, your child.
Cancer – you are on notice. We will spotlight you. You will slink in the shadows no more. Your days are numbered.
Thank you for your time in reading this – please give me 30 more seconds and share.