Every six weeks, I go to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston for labs and a visit with my clinical trial oncologist. If all is well, I leave DFCI with a new box of trial medication to get me through the next six weeks when I will return for scans, as well as lab work and another visit with the oncologist. The hardest part of going to a large cancer center is that you see hundreds of people, most of whom are either patients, their friends or relatives. You can always tell the newbies because they usually come with an entourage and are confused about the way things are done at DFCI. There’s a certain rhythm of movement from the elevators to the registration desk, to the lab, then to visits with doctors and/or scans and other diagnostic imaging. When patients are new, they look scared and not knowing the rhythm throws them a bit further off kilter than they already are, just by the fact they are facing their diagnosis and new reality. One thing of which I’m sure, however, is that the doctors, nurses, aides and staff who work in cancer centers are truly touched by angels as they treat their patients with an empathy that must be in their DNA. How else could they treat patients who run the spectrum from shock to anger to disbelief? From being a survivor to being terminal? There are no two cancer patients whose cancer, prognosis and ability to deal with their new reality are exactly the same. In any case, I want to jump up and tell them that regardless of where they are in their cancer journey, “never stop fighting the good fight.”
A few weeks ago, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. We live more than 200 miles apart, so the only consistent support I can offer him is by phone. I pray for him to have the strength and courage to face the disease and be able to keep moving forward, even though he might have some setbacks. He has made his treatment choices and with the help of his amazing wife, is moving forward comfortable with those choices. Like the newbies at DFCI, I’m sure he’s experiencing a wide range of emotions, but if he were to ask me how to live with having cancer, the only advice I could really offer is for him to fight the good fight.
When I returned from my last DFCI visit, I came home to the devastating news that my dear friend, Allan had passed away a few days earlier after living with prostate cancer for 14 years. He and I grew up in the same New Jersey town, but he was two years older than me. Although his cousins and sister were my classmates, Allan and I got to be friends about five years ago, first through FaceBook, then by way of visits every few months. (He lived in NY State, but received treatment at Mass General.) In order to help him break up his long drive, several times he stayed at my condo. We even went to a Red Sox game together, even though he was a Mets fan and I’m a Yankee fan. Because we had several things in addition to having cancer in common, we clicked as friends. Even when he moved his treatments closer to his home, he and I talked by phone every month or so. During our last conversation, just weeks before he passed, we assured each other we were doing good. Our conversation ended, as did every conversation with my saying “I love you” and him saying, “I love you, too.” We often talked about taking one day at a time, but whenever I think about Allan, I will always admire him because he never stopped fighting the good fight.
Next month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as is every October. For me, October is more than the month in which we are bombarded with everything pink. It marks another anniversary of my stage IV diagnosis. In October, it will be 8 years since that diagnosis. I would be lying if I said there was even one day since October, 2009 that came and went without my thinking about the fact I have metastatic breast cancer. I ground myself with the things that have happened since then, especially those I wondered if I’d live to see. At the top of that list is that my grandchildren, Brandon and Natalie get to have a Nonni who they know and will remember, even though they are only 3 years and 18 months old, respectively. I want them to know I never gave up and never gave in.
I get asked all the time how I can be so upbeat, despite having a terminal disease. I’ve thought a lot about the answer and know that I have so many reasons to live and so many milestones I want to be around for (like seeing Brandon and Natalie on their first days of kindergarten.) In the end, however, even though I know breast cancer will probably win, it will never defeat me because I will never, ever stop fighting the good fight!
Don’t Stop Believing!
May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.