Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer

While I would love to blog about spring today, there is something going on that I need to blog about.
White Hyacinth in my Front Yard

But first, a picture for my blog readers to enjoy.  In the language of flowers, hyacinth can mean consistency.  Or, it can mean "I'm sorry, please forgive me."

And now, the rest of today's story.

Last week, I got an email from someone I had a lunch date with.  She had been in communication with a woman she knew.  That person had "a cold that wouldn't quit." Finally, the person sought medical help.

It wasn't a cold.  It was lung cancer.  And before that woman could blink twice, she was being put into hospice care.  Her family called my friend and told her the woman was asking for her.

It was, needless to say, overwhelming. What do you do when you go to the doctor and find out you have something you never expected?  Well, my friend broke her date with me (good for her!) and went to her other friend - one who is suddenly making the acquaintance of the Ugly Stepsister of Cancer.

I decided to go to the library, now that I was without a lunch date. I found a wonderful book there, written by a local (well, from Ithaca, but Ithaca is only an hour from where I live in upstate New York) breast cancer survivor, called "When Your Life is Touched by Cancer". The author is Bob Riter. 

Yes, the author is male and is a breast cancer survivor.  Yes, men get breast cancer.  And, in fact, my spouse is at risk due to his family history.

There is one cancer that Bob Riter, who has worked with cancer patients as the executive director of The Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes, calls "The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer".  It is lung cancer.

Lung cancer patients bear a burden no other cancer patients bear.  They find themselves required to explain their cancer, over and over.  "Do you smoke?"  "Did you smoke?" they are asked when they tell others of their cancer.

If no (which is the case of someone I know who has been battling lung cancer for over two years),  the patient has to explain that yes, some 15% of people who get lung cancer never smoked.

If yes - well, it's your fault.  No support for you!

Why, ever, would we EVER want to blame someone who has cancer for their cancer?  But my friend has been through this, and now my friend's friend will have go to through this, too.


Also, last Tuesday, I gave four trees to a work friend who lives out in the country to plant in honor of a late neighbor,who died while I was on vacation in April.  I can still remember the day he told me, matter of factly, that he had cancer, and how he was trying to make his peace with it.  (And no, I won't describe "his battle", because that's another thing Bob Riter talks about.)

Finally, last Tuesday, my mother in law found out that her cancerous tumor is dead, but she still needs testing to make sure the cancer didn't spread.  And, meanwhile, she has bills coming in.  She's elderly, she does not have boundless energy, and she asked us to help investigate some of the bills.  She seems to be falling through the cracks of help. Wrong cancer. Wrong place of residence.  Wrong wrong wrong.

Cancer has been on my mind a lot lately.  So what I did was....email Bob Riter.

And he emailed me back! 

What a marvelous person, and the people of Ithaca, New York are so lucky to have him in their lives.

He gave me some starting points with which to help my mother in law.  And, he recommended that I give my friend with lung cancer a copy of the "Ugly Stepsister of Cancer" essay. He's generously posted it online for any of us to read. (To my friend,  I'm sending her the essay.)

If you have cancer, or have a loved one or friend with cancer, I highly recommend this book.  It is a treasure.  It covers so much, in simple language and in easy to read bites.  Bob Riter has thought of everything.  Well, everything but the line of Hallmark cards I'd REALLY like to see, but that's a blog post for another time.


And now, I hope I don't have to talk about cancer again for a long, long time. But, sadly, I know that is not going to happen.

14 comments:

  1. Oh gosh, that's so sad. It seems that more and more people are being diagnosed with Cancer. My Auntie died of cancer last year. She was only 61 years old. :(

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    1. So sad and, as it happens, that is the age one of the people I know with cancer is. I agree you seem to find cancer everywhere you turn - which really makes me wonder.

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  2. My maternal grandmother died of lung cancer many years ago now. She never smoked anything all her life. Recently I came across a blog by a young woman as she chronicles her journey of lung cancer. She passed away recently. It's very inspiring - her spirit. Here's the link if you're interested: http://stageiv.wordpress.com/

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    1. I am interested, hafong - thank you.There are so many things that can cause lung cancer. Here in upstate New York, we live above deposits of shale that are filled with radon gas - and that is a risk factor for lung cancer, too.

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  3. This sounds like a very resourceful book. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Nate, I hope you never need the book for any reason. The same for all my blog readers.

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  4. As someone whose father, uncle, and grandfather died of cancer, not to mention numerous friends, that "ugly stepsister" is all too true. It comes up not just in medical questioning, but in questions from friends. "My dad is dying of lung cancer." "Did he smoke?" No one "deserves" to get cancer, and the added stigma is unfair. Thank you for addressing

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    1. My pleasure, because so many people need to be educated. So much needless pain caused by questions that should never be asked, if people only realized. May I never be guilty of that.

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  5. Cancer runs in my family, and it is just such an ugly, awful thing. Wonderful blog. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, and I'm sorry. Cancer runs in my husband's family, too.

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  6. Thanks for the recommendation on the book and your story. My father is a cancer survivor and so I feel for what people go through. Cancer just hits for no rhyme or reason. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I have a friend who is a lung cancer survivor who never smoked. She also had a cough that never quit. Thank you for sharing that essay; it gave me new insight into what she must have gone through.

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  8. I'm sorry that these people in your life are affected by cancer. It's such an important thing to raise awareness about. My favorite podcast has a great episode where they talk about getting checked, and they do it in such a compassionate, comical way.

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