Monday, June 16, 2014

The Possible Journey

Today, my friend in Brooklyn I've blogged about from time to time is leaving on a jet plane-destination, Scotland, to visit a dear high school friend of hers.

She's ready to go, with the blessings of her oncologist.  She's waited over two years for this day as she progresses through treatment.  Some people might think this type of journey was impossible in the midst of chemo.  My friend disagrees.  It's possible and it's happening.

Cancer itself is a journey - for each cancer survivor, it differs.  Here's another viewpoint, from a blogger in Alaska now being treated for her third cancer since 2008.

In honor of her trip, I'd like to rerun a post from earlier this year, with some edits.  It is a post that talks about something my friend feels strongly about.  It's part of her journey.

The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer

The original post had a picture of a hyacinth. In the language of flowers, hyacinth can mean consistency.  Or, it can mean "I'm sorry, please forgive me."  Today, I rerun the post with the picture of Kool-Aid irises above.  Iris is the flower that says "Your Friendship Means So Much to Me", according to a site called The Language of Flowers. 

It also means "Faith", "Hope", "Wisdom" and "Valour".

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, the patient has to explain that yes, some 15% of people who get lung cancer never smoked.

If yes - well, the cancer is their 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 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.  So, today, I will say "have the trip of a lifetime" to my friend.  May this trip be the most wonderful of your life.


  1. I commented on your original post....but this is a good post. What is really sad about lung cancer (and yes,I said the same thing too) is its the number one preventable cancer but also the cancer that kills more people then the rest of them together....I hope your friend has a safe journey.

    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting again. My friend emailed me the other day (and emailing takes so much energy out of her that she rarely does it) telling me how much she appreciated the story I sent her from this gentleman - so I just had to rerun the post in her honor.

  2. This is so sad, but very inspiring. I will join a community here at my place when it comes to Cancer campaign. A little support will help them. God bless your friend

    1. Thank you, and thank you for campaigning against cancer.

  3. So sad!
    *Sending love to your friend*
    All cancers sound horrible, but the thought of anyone I know having lung cancer scares me. I wish that my Uncle would stop smoking!

    1. Thank you for showing your concern. I hope one day your uncle will stop, before lasting harm is done to his health.

  4. Thanks for the link to my (rather whining) blog post. I'll be in Ithaca myself, I hope, sometime during leaf-color time--my sister lives there. I'm on weekly Herceptin (and will still be) but the doctor assures me they can give me a triple dose before I leave for a two-week visit to New York and Arizona (my other sister.) And yes, lung cancer is far worse. My father died of it, and he was diagnosed a couple of years after he stopped smoking. Back when he started cigarettes were actually advertised as beneficial to your health because of the tranquilizing effects.

    1. I appreciate your time in visiting my blog and leaving a comment. My friend, incidentally, is also an ovarian cancer survivor of over 30 years.


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