Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

I had no idea what to think when JW, one of the co-owners of the company I work for popped his head into my office as I was talking to the Dan, the bossman. He told us to come with him for a second and that he had something to show me. We got to the top of the stairs leading outside and Dan covered my eyes and told me to hold onto the handrail. Somehow I reached the bottom without falling over myself and they led me outside, then uncovered my eyes.

There she was - our new water truck - along with most of the people that work in my office, smiling and clapping.

I'm not one for being the center of attention, but our new water truck? It's pretty damn cool. (I'm just going to pretend I didn't wear the baggiest, sloppiest pants in my closet today and that my eye makeup hadn't dripped off for the zillionth time right before this picture was taken.)

Apparently, when the guys went to ConExpo in March as we were hiking in the Grand Canyon with the Clouds, a few too many beers resulted in a novel idea after seeing one of the exhibitors at the conference. Once our company logo gets put on it, after it heads out to this weekend's tournament, it's headed out to one of our job sites.

Overwhelming doesn't quite capture the initial reaction I had.

Pretty incredible things... I guess I have touched more lives than I am even aware of.

Stand Up

This morning I'm finishing up my morning whatever-ness, which included putting together a thank you note for the goody bags for this upcoming golf tournament (which is in and of itself another entry) and I stop to watch the segment on the Today show about an upcoming movement called Stand Up to Cancer. All three major networks are donating an hour of prime time air time on September 5 to raise funds for the "dream teams" and cutting-edge innovative research grants. I don't know if it was just the timing, but the PSA got me...

For some reason I was taken back to the program the first night of last year's 3-Day. I was tired, and bald and my eyes were constantly twitching and tearing and puffy. I dreaded the sun going down because I knew I would have to take off my sunglasses. There we were, having finished dinner, listening to the emcee (I'm not sure what she was really called) talk about various things. I think they were doing recognitions of teams or people or something, and at the end, she asked the survivors to stand up. One by one people started standing. Some jumping up jubilantly, some arm in arm, some rising slowly, hesitantly, as if they weren't sure where exactly they fit in. Yet, the people standing were so few in comparison to the masses that were present. And then, there was me. Although I should have been used to this drill by now, I still sat there quietly and tried to remain un-noticed until Greg gently (?!) nudged my arm. Slowly I rose to my feet, listening to the applause of those around me, seeing the teary eyes of Greg and Larry and Jan, knowing that at that particular time, I needed to stand up and be (proverbially) counted because it was a reminder of why every single person in that room was there. That's what the PSA reminded me of.

Pretty powerful stuff. To me, at least.

Now that the major battle is over, I find myself struggling with whether or not one person truly can make a difference. A cancer diagnosis doesn't automatically make someone a kinder, gentler person or turn on some magical light switch that prevents them from taking things for granted or enabling them to suddenly live the way they "should". It also doesn't have the power to change those around them. It's kind of an oxymoron though, isn't it? While we can't give cancer the power to move mountains, even in a positive way, it is undeniable that once someone is touched by the demon, they are never quite exactly the same.

I've seen the subtle changes in myself - which have been different each time I've dealt with this, and I've seen the subtle changes in those around me. What I've learned, is that cancer doesn't necessarily make someone hold another tighter, or live each moment as if it were their last at all times. Then again, what would that be like anyhow? The more I live, the more I think about it, I'm pretty certain I wouldn't want to forgo day-to-day normalcy, even with its chaos and uncertainty at times for the constant feeling of desperation from trying to live each moment in preparation for the end. Because the truth is, none of us know when that day will come - cancer or no cancer. Does that, in fact, mean that we *should* be living each day like our last? I don't know the answer to that. I don't know that it's entirely realistic, even with the best of intentions. Then again, sometimes I simply get overwhelmed by the gratitude and enormity and the realization that yes, I have been given a stay of execution. For now? For ever? That part, I simply don't know. I don't think it has any bearing on whether or not I'll leave a 'legacy' or a 'lasting impression' and I'm fairly certain that it has no bearing on whether anyone will love me any more or any less because of it.

I suppose all I can do is to make every effort to treat people the way I'd want to be treated. Then again, I didn't need cancer to teach me that concept. So it goes.

Tina, from my office, started chemo today. They're hitting her hard with Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxotere all at the same time. Ugh. Just plain friggin' UGH. I've made every attempt to pay it forward - to pay homage to all the people that stepped in and lifted me up in prayer and with kindness and strength and hope - now is my chance to be able to do that for someone else. She told me that while of course, this should never happen to anyone, she is thankful that I am her to help her through this. That perhaps I am her guardian angel, and maybe I was supposed to be here. From my perspective, all I can do is keep showing up - apparently it does make a difference. It's been difficult at times, knowing that I am all too aware of the journey she is about to embark on. This time, it's not my battle though and I have made every effort to remind her that while nothing is curable, everything is treatable, and to not EVER let anyone tell her what she can't do, or feel like a statistic. I hope, at the very least, it helps to take a look at me and know that it is possible to get to this stage of stability.

We plan, God laughs.
Me? I can only try to pay it forward.
Living art, indeed.

Thank you, Jon Lester

Thank you for your incredible accomplishment last night. Thank you for making Red Sox Nation and all the lovers of our national pastime proud. Thank you for your tenacity, your spirit, and your humbleness. Thank you for throwing the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history and for the victorious look in your eyes as you tipped your cap to the adoring fans at Fenway, and the millions watching around the country. Thank you, most of all, for not letting cancer get the best of you and allowing your accomplishments to be an inspiration to baseball fans, those touched by cancer, and everyone else alike.

The no-hitter, that was about baseball. The fact that it was Jon Lester throwing it, that was something bigger.

I followed Jon Lester's journey, before I even knew of my own recurrence, and watched with tears in my eyes as he clinched the final game of the World Series last year. This time last year, Jon Lester wasn't even in the Red Sox rotation. He was still recovering from his treatments.

Chad Finn's article in today's Boston Globe said

It's impossible to exaggerate how meaningful this is. Every time Lester takes the mound from now until the final pitch his career, he will stand tall as a hero and an inspiration to those scared children getting treatment just a few blocks from Fenway. He could throw a half-dozen more no-hitters, and his status as a survivor would remain his greatest legacy.

Dan Shaughnessy wrote

All of New England will cherish the moment. It's storybook stuff. Seven months after winning the final game of the World Series, the 24-year-old kid who survived cancer pitches a no-hitter at Fenway Park.
This moment reaches far greater distances than the borders of New England. This is not to diminish the fight of those who haven't quite accomplished the feats of Jon Lester - cancer or not - because cancer is a non-discriminating demon, and each individual is uniquely different and each fight is a good fight worth recognizing.

Today, as a cancer survivor, as a baseball fan, and as an eternal optimist even when it seems most implausible - thank you, Jon Lester - for reminding me that all things truly are possible.

The Life in a Day

I looked up at the calendar hanging in my office the other day, and noticed that the Quote of the Month was this:

"One should count each day a separate life." - SENECA
Now, the calendar went on to question the person sitting in front of it. Does this mean that the morning is our youth and the evening our old age? Or does it mean we should get the most out of each day? Maybe both. I guess that would explain why I get so tired at night sometimes. I'm apparently an old lady already.

I was listening to NPR the other day, and Evan Handler was on, discussing his book, It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive. His first book was about his illness, this one is about his survival. He was speaking about how felt he had told "Hallmark- type" stories in the most "un-Hallmark" way possible. His latest book, in his words, is about "...the guy who is lucky to be alive but still takes a long time and struggles to find the kind of gratitude and contentment that he believes life should hold for him. And that’s largely because I think there is truth to those stories and I think they have wider application than to just the cancer community because everyone struggles with issues of gratitude and whether they are getting enough out of their life." He went on to say that it might be helpful for other people to read about someone who had his life nearly taken away that still struggles with that stuff.

I suppose it's strangely comforting to know that we all deal with that stuff.

He also said, "I think denial of death is a healthy thing. Human beings are geared and wired to thrive through denying death rather than coming to a clear acceptance of it so it is very difficult to incorporate finality into your every day life. "

Perhaps that's part of what has gotten me through all this. My refusal to accept finality into my every day life. I think that way of thinking is a phenomenon that is fairly unique to Western culture, though.

Anyhow, May has been slow in terms of writing. We've still been running, and so many times, I find myself composing miscellaneous entries in my mind. By the time I actually get home, shower, eat, go to work, plod through the needs of the day, and decide to write something - most of the undoubtedly brilliant thoughts have left my mind. I know I started this as a way to explore and somewhat chronicle my journey, but as I have the current and wonderful hiatus from most things cancer and chemo, save the every-three-weeks blood draw and infusion (yawn), could it be that my usefulness for this site has waned as well? I don't know. I know that sometimes when I'd like to write, or to vent - I need to consider my potential audience. Or, more accurately, I need to consider that this is a public blog and I have no idea who my potential audience might be. Far too often, this leaves me in the position of not writing at all. So it goes.

I've been sucked up into work needs, and visitors' needs, and the upcoming golf tournament for the 3-Day. Not to mention the trip back east in June and all the things to look forward to coupled with all the things that stress me out that go along with it. Add to that my still dripping eyes, traffic school for the unfortunate red light camera incident, and the fact that I find that my body may have changed on me with this menopause thing - who has the time to write. I suppose that time is what you make of it though.

It was an interesting day at Desert Oncology today. I went in, armed with my bottle of water, my Ativan, my book, and yesterday's crossword puzzle. I decided not to look down, for once, in the waiting room, and ended up talking to two other women, both with scarves on their heads. My sheep's-ass-looking hairdo is a dead post-chemo giveaway, so each one of them had asked me about various side effects, and about my experiences. One by one they were called back to the doctor's side, and I waved goodbye and wished them well. Then it was my turn for the chemo suite.

The nurse that brought me back (whose name I have forgotten and I heard her telling someone else that her name tag was probably on the floorboard of her truck) complimented my hair and said I should keep it short. Yeah... it's not my favorite, but beggars can't be choosers and I'll take the mess I've got over having none at all.

As I settled in, I looked over the blood work on my chart. Not a single factor out of range. (silent cheer) I then looked at the ever-present brown sheets that contain the "Progress Reports" dictated by the doctor. Generally, they are pretty similar. "Patient offers no complains, tolerating therapy well." and other pleasantries like that. Today though, I was interested to see what the last notes said. This one I think I'll frame and hang on the wall next to the 2004 print of the Red Sox winning the World Series after 86 years.

A: (which I can assume is for Assessment and not Amazing or Ass) Stage IV Carcinoma of the breast, disease free, doing remarkably well.

Sheer poetry. Disease free. Remarkable.

Wow. Of course I asked the nurse to make me a copy for enlargement and framing purposes. I haven't exactly run it past Greg that I'd like to replace the Kandinsky in the living room with Cavalcant's latest brown paper.

So, Debbie found a happy vein in one stick, I took my Tylenol, got my book out, accepted a blanket, and settled in for the next couple of hours. Until a woman came in and sat in the chair next to me. She was smiling and joking and while Debbie started her IV, and was asking her some questions, she was talking about how she felt like a caged animal. That she had all this energy and restlessness that she didn't know what to do with. And then she started crying. She said that she was OK until she got into that room, and then she got so scared all the time. So very scared. She said she was always the strong one. That people had always looked to her for strength, and that she's never allowed her husband to come with her to any of the treatments. That she has tried to keep on keeping on, without giving herself a chance to feel very much. As I listened to her, I politely (yes, really) butted in and said, "It's OK. Believe it or not, you're normal." I told her a little about my experiences and that one of the biggest lessons I had learned from my first go-round is that I needed to give myself the time to feel. And to mourn. And to heal. She said how she felt that things were going so well that she felt that she wasn't entitled to feel the things she was feeling, and I told her, whether or not it made a difference, that not only was she entitled, but that if she didn't allow herself to feel these things, they'd catch up with her later. I told her that it IS a big scary thing, no matter how smoothly the treatments go. It's real, and it's scary, and it's yours. It also doesn't mean that it's not going to be OK. We talked for a little while - mostly I let her talk - and she thanked me, more than once, for listening. Before she left, she had also called her counsellor to make an appointment, and spoke to the nurses about increasing her anti-depressant dosage a little. And she thanked me, again. I don't know. Maybe it was one of those instances that I was supposed to be in that place to provide a bit of comfort to someone who had the same feelings I have experienced. I don't know if I'll ever know if my being there helped, but I reminded her that just because she is always optimistic, doesn't mean she can't be scared. It's been a hard lesson to learn....

I'm still learning.

Stan and Darlene also showed up today. He was missing some more hair, but it had been replaced by some of his old spunk. He was laughing and joking and giving people a hard time - more so than he had in a while. She told me that last scan showed that things were stable, and had even shrunk a bit. Battle on, Stan. Battle on.

I always want things to make sense, when often times, they simply don't. I want to know the why and there wherefore of too many things. However, in all this randomness, I think the moral of the story is that there is no moral, just life.

For however long we have it.

When I grow up...

I was thinking the other day about how long cancer has been a part of my life. My thoughts initially took me back to when I was living in Boston and an ex of mine had a roommate that had gone through cancer. Late summer of the first year I was in Phoenix I had gotten a call from him telling me that the cancer came back and his roommate had died. But that wasn't my first experience with cancer.

Cancer has been a part of my life since 1980 when I lost my dad to leukemia. He fought valiantly for four years until it finally took him. I never even knew until the final year he had it, and at that point it was a whirlwind. He was too young to have had his life cut short like that, just past his 35th birthday, and I was far too young to have not only lost my dad, but have to attempt to wrap my thoughts around cancer and death. 35 years old - younger than I am now - and there I was, this lost 9 year old kid, trying to make sense of it all.

Everyone has dreams in their childhood of what they are going to "grow up to be". At nine years old, it can range from a professional athlete to a teacher to a garbage collector to a veterinarian, and every other possbility in between. I remember talking to one kid that age a few years back, a tiny kid for his age at that, and he told me that he wanted to be an animal trainer at Sea World AND a professional football player. Me? I wanted to become an oncologist and save the world. Who the hell wants to be an oncologist at ten years old? As we know, things didn't quite turn out that way...

I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to make sense of it all, and to this day, I'm not sure I ever have. My dad, and cancer, became the underlying theme of many school projects when I got to choose the subject matter, as well as my college application essays. Even though it never made much sense to me, the whole experience did profoundly affect my life. Particularly in the past eight years, there have been so many times I wish I could have had a conversation with my dad and share our experiences - starting with the fact that is one experience I wish we wouldn't have had in common.

I don't know what happens in the next place after this one. I like to believe in the idea of a Heaven - of some place better than this when it is time to go. I think, many times, that concept makes it easier for the ones that are left behind. Also, I suppose the concept of the ability to get to a better place the next time around has a role in shaping how people conduct themselves in this world. Sometimes. Then again, it depends who you ask, when you ask them, and in what manner you ask. Some would tell me that my catch-and-release policy on bugs and my kind and compassionate heart would guarantee me a spot on the up escalator. Others would stand by the fact that being born into a particular faith renders me exempt from any glimpse of the pearly gates. Then again, those are the same ones that think that Ghandi is on his way downward, too. But, I digress. The intial thought that spurred this last tangent is that I like to believe that my dad is watching, and that he's smiling down at me - proud of who I have become and how I have handled all this. I like to believe that there are certain times that he has silently given me the strength, when I didn't even realize it, that enabled me to get through another day - even if it came in the form of me opening my eyes to reach out my hand for help or allow myself to let my husband catch me when I fell.

I suppose in some ways, cancer has always been a part of my life and apparently, it always will be. Yet, because of me, cancer is now and always will be a part of the lives of innumerable others, too. I hate that, and I'm sorry. Except if it can bring some comfort to someone else that is diagnosed and help give them the hope that if I got through this, twice even, they can get through it, too. Except if it helps someone take a look at their own life and not want to take things for granted. Except if sparks something in someone that causes them to develop a passion about something and want to make a difference. Ah, who am I kidding. I still hate the fact that cancer has touched so many people around me but since I can't change that fact, I do get to choose what I do with it.

I'm still not sure what I want to be "when I grow up" except alive. In hindsight, maybe I should have become an oncologist instead of spending so much time in his office...