Tag Archive | survivor

Relay for Life

Since I was diagnosed and began treatment for cancer, I have wanted to participate in some kind of walk or event to help raise money for cancer research and other services that organizations provide to cancer patients.  I was not physically up to it while going through treatment but had the privilege and availability last week to finally do one.

The start of the survivor lap

The start of the survivor lap

I hesitantly signed up to do Relay for Life by the American Cancer Society.  I say hesitantly because when I went to thewebsite and read what it was all about I saw that participants “camp out” and stay overnight.  I never even did many “all-nighters” when I was in college yet alone one outside at this stage of life!  I emailed the person in charge asking if I HAD to do that and found out I could just attend whatever events I wanted to.

With only two weeks to go before the Relay I emailed and posted the event and was able to raise $450 for the American Cancer Society!  Many of you were supporters, thank you!  In total 37 teams and 973 participants helped raise $140,870.82 (latest figure) at the one I attended.  Many communities do a Relay for Life and they happen around this time of year, I think all at high school tracks.   More than 4 million people in over 20 countries participate in a Relay.  Let me tell you first what the funds raised help do.

American Cancer Society 100 years old

American Cancer Society 100 years old

The American Cancer Society is celebrating it’s 100th birthday!  No single nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization in the US has invested more to find the causes and cures of cancer than the American Cancer Society.   Since 1946 they have helped make possible almost every major cancer research breakthrough.   They provide a place to stay in one of the 31 Hope Lodge facilities for cancer patients and their caregivers while receiving effective treatment far from home.  They provide transportation for cancer patients to and from treatment for those that do not have a way to get there or are unable to drive themselves.  The ACS has a program to help cancer patients look good and feel better about themselves.  I attended one of  these and you can read of my experience.  They also have a support program matching specially trained breast cancer survivors with those who are newly diagnosed that need someone to talk to.

Our T shirts

Our T shirts

The Relay runs from 6 pm to 6 am.  The  opening ceremony included speeches, songs, and the release of about a dozen doves.  Then the State Troopers bagpipe band  led a procession of cancer survivors around the track for the first lap, a victory lap!  There were 208 survivors registered but less were there I believe due to the weather.  The event is held rain or shine and storms were threatening.  As we walked around the track, caretakers, family and friends cheered us on.  It reminded me of Hebrews 12:1,  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (NRSV) There was a sea of purple as we wore our Relay survivor shirts.   Each participant had their own unique circumstances, yet we were united in spirit sharing the same unfortunate struggle…CANCER…but as survivors!   On the second lap around, the caretakers joined us.  This was CELEBRATE!

Personalized luminaries lined the track.

Personalized luminarias lined the track.

During the evening teams had their bases set up on the grounds with large tents, not for sleeping in, but with tables and chairs and food. There were different contests going on through the event between the teams.  Local businesses and groups  like Shop Rite, the Fire department and Applebees also had tents and were handing out food.  There were inflatables and activities for the children, a band playing, and a raffle tent for the survivors.  All survivors also received a knitted or crocheted lap blanket.  Once it was dark there was a luminaria ceremony.  Decorated personalized bags in memory or in honor of someone with cancer lined the track with candles in them.  It was quite a sight.  There was a ceremony with a slide show and glow sticks were handed out.  Lots of hugging and some tears were shed as photos flashed across the large screen.  Walking the track reading the names and messages on the bags and looking at the photos on some was very moving.  This was REMEMBER!  It reminded me of how the whole chapter of Hebrews 11 is filled with examples of people whose faith brought them through; Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc.  I could visualize their names on the luminares and those great heroes  saying, “Remember us.  Keep the faith as we did.  Run the race. You can do it.”

The third part is FIGHT BACK!  I was too tired to stay any later so I missed the Fight Back portion.  From what I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunderstand it’s the ceremony that encourages participants to take some form of action fighting  back against cancer.  What are you willing to do for  yourself, your loved ones, and your community to make sure everyone can celebrate another birthday?  There is a lot you can do!  Starting with yourself, if you are a woman, be diligent with your mammograms and monthly self-checks.  Be an advocate and encourage others to do the same.  Watch the foods you eat.  Don’t smoke.  Exercise.  In short, take care of your body!  Support cancer research and participate in an event like Relay for Life.  I plan on doing this again and will start earlier next time in raising funds.  I hope to bring family and friends with me next time.  There is a battle going on and we need to do what we can to fight back.  The same is true in our spiritual lives.  “Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can stand firm against the devil’s evil plans.  Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world.  So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing.” Ephesians 6:10-13

We need to make investments in things we feel are worthwhile.  For me this will be one of them.  I hope my small part will add more birthdays to someone’s life.

 

A rose is a rose is a rose, or is it?

“A rose is a rose is a rose.”  This is from a poem Gertrude Stein wrote in 1913.  Supposedly it means that things are what they are when all is said is done.  To me it always sounded like it meant that all roses are just that…simply put, just a rose.  I want to tell you about one rose that is  more than just a rose, to me anyway.

I went for a mammogram in January which was one year since my previous one when my breast cancer was first detected.  Upon completion I was handed a rose.  After all, it is the least they can do for you after what they put you through!  I had my mammogram early in the morning before work.  The rose sat in my car all day.  It had a little tube of water attached to the bottom of the stem.  The rose did not look especially beautiful.  It was still a bud but looked like possibly it was leftover from the day before’s supply.  I was one of the first patients of the day and perhaps the new batch had not yet arrived for the day.

Me and my "survivor rose" at 3 weeks!

Me and my “survivor rose” at 3 weeks!

At the end of the day I arrived home and popped the rose in a vase with some water.  Over the next week I enjoyed seeing it bloom and enjoyed it’s beauty.  At the end of one week I suggested to my photographic son that he use it to shoot and practice with before the petals started falling off.  One of those pictures is on a recent post.  After two weeks the rose was still in bloom and hadn’t lost any petals.  After three weeks one leaf on the stem dried up and fell off but it still hasn’t lost any petals and still looks beautiful!

With Valentine’s day coming I happened to watch a video recently on how to keep your roses looking fresh and nice.    They suggested making a fresh cut at the bottom of each stem.  I hadn’t.  They said to use a very clean vase free of any bacteria.  I used a dusty old one I didn’t even rinse out. They said to add the packet of food to the water in the vase.  It came with no packet.  They said to change the water every 2-3 days.  I haven’t changed the water once, in fact I haven’t even added any more water to it.  They said to keep it in a spot that is not in direct sunlight.  It has been sitting in direct sunlight on my table since the first day.  It is such a sunny spot that my elderly cat likes to lie there in the sun to keep warm.

I have no green thumb.  I don’t even have any live plants in my house.  Anytime I received roses in the past they would bloom quickly and then the petals would fall off.  Sometimes they don’t even open up all the way.  Often they droop at the top of the stem and hang their heads.

This rose is still standing straight and tall and beautiful.  It’s almost like it has refused to give in or die.  I LOVE the fact that this is the rose I was given for a mammogram that yielded results marked NORMAL!  It is a survivor and so am I!    I have seen God’s hand through this whole cancer journey and felt that it was very fitting that He gave me such a beautiful sign of survivorship.  I think He is also reminding me to keep on blooming despite my circumstances.  One day this rose will die and so will I but for now I rejoice in life and I think this rose has been rejoicing as well.  One thing that will never die is the Word of God.  Isaiah 40:8 says,”The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (NASB)

All Things New

When you are in the midst of any kind of trial it is hard to imagine that it will be over some day.  Fortunately, we occasionally get to begin to see glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel, or at least in that direction.  I have been marking milestones along the way of treatment.  It is too overwhelming at first to think about all that is ahead as far as treatment is concerned.

First it was anticipating the surgery, waiting for results, praying the drains would come out soon, and healing.  Then it was counting each dreaded chemo infusion down and looking forward to the good week in between.  Next came radiation with an almost daily countdown but it still seemed to last forever.  Now it’s the herception infusion every three weeks but it’s still too far away to even begin to think about a countdown.  In the meantime it’s little things like waiting for all the fatigue to disappear, for the “chemo brain” fuzz to go away (although that’s a good one to keep as an excuse as you get older), for my brittle nails to stop chipping, and achy joints to improve.

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelThe light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter as my hair begins to grow back.  It was kind of nice not having to shave my legs or underarms, or tweeze my eyebrows.  At the same time as I have to start doing those things again it makes me smile to know that my body is slowly mending itself and getting back to normal.  It will still probably be awhile before I go out without wearing a wig or scarf as the hair on my scalp is so short and I don’t like the way I look.

When radiation was finished my radiologist told me to continue to moisturize my breast twice a day and that in a month it should look normal again.  I found this hard to believe as it was literally blackened in areas, especially around the surgery site from radiation burning.  I also had hard scar tissue there as well.  To my surprise  three weeks later even the appearance of my radiated breast looks almost normal again.

By the time I had started radiation I had finally stopped gaining weight but have not lost any weight since.  Between going back to work in September, and the winter and the holidays coming, I don’t see any coming off for a while.  Guess this will be one are that will not be returning to normal for awhile.

I have a feeling that “normal” for me will be a “new” normal.  I guess I can’t expect things to be the same as “BC” (before cancer) as “AD” (after diagnosis).  Many things have changed that can never be the same again and actually there are things that I hope will never be the same as BC.  Having cancer has changed me not only physically but in other areas as well.  I have had the time to reevaluate my life, my relationships, my goals, and to think about what really matters.  I feel like a new person, like I’ve been given the chance to start over.  A fresh start.  A new start with whatever time I have left in this world.

I watched a DVD the other week on Joni Eareckson Tada who after 45 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic (from a diving accident) was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/cancer-jonis-journey-part-1/  She mentions how it was a good experience in that it changed her on the inside and has helps her to live her life now in the moment.  Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Joni does not dwell in the future, but is taking one step at a time, responding in the “now.”  She is able to wake up happy each day wondering what God has in store for her for the day.

We are all given the opportunity to begin a new life here on earth.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT)  In Revelation 21:4-5 we are given a glimpse into eternity for those who belong to Christ, “ God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (OR CANCER).  All the old things have passed away Then the One sitting on the throne said, ‘See! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  A pain free, disease free, burden free future for eternity.  That makes me smile from ear to ear.

Pink ribbons vs. bandages

 

Now that October is here you are probably seeing those pink ribbons everywhere you look because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It seems that there are more and more products sporting a pink ribbon in every aisle of every store.  I never paid a lot of attention to them before.  I knew what they were for and would occasionally pay more to get whatever it was so a few more cents could go to breast cancer research but that was the extent of it.  This year more than ever I am fully aware of each and every pink ribbon I see.  At first it sort of excited me and I would smile and think out loud to myself, “I can relate to that.”

It’s hard to explain but another part of me does not  identify with a pretty pink ribbon.  I tend to think that men who get breast cancer (YES men can and do get it) really can’t identify with a pink ribbon! There was nothing pretty or girly about the whole experience for me.  I think back on the surgery, and the chemo, and the side effects, and the radiation, and the drugs, and the doctor visits, and the hospitals, etc.  I can identify more with a bandage covering stitches from a lumpectomy or a bandage where an IV was pulled out than I can with a pink ribbon.  I can identify more with a band aid covering where the blood work was taken from or with a scarf covering a bald head than I can with a pink ribbon.  Don’t get me wrong…I am all for research and raising both funds for it and awareness but in a way, a pink ribbon troubles me.   I am left now with scars from surgery and drugs and tattoos from radiation that pink ribbons cannot cover up.

I am proud to be a survivor and I will wear a pink ribbon with honor as one but I’m not so sure it is a good representation of breast cancer.  There is nothing pretty or pink about it.  It’s ugly.  There’s nothing cute about it.  The closest resemblance I can think of is after your hair falls out and starts to grow back in it is like a soft fuzzy peach, like a newborn’s head, and I guess that reminds you of a cute baby or a pink ribbon!

Aside from my ribbon  ramblings since it is Breast Cancer Awareness month, let me take this opportunity to once again remind you ladies that are due for one, to please schedule your mammogram!  I know it’s no fun but many times the things that are truly worth it will cost us something….in this case discomfort, okay, a lot of discomfort.  It was through  a routine mammogram that I was diagnosed.  Often times you cannot feel anything but an x-ray will pick it up.  If you wait to go until you feel something it is probably already advanced.  If you have the opportunity to walk or run for Breast Cancer (Race for the Cure, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Think Pink Walk, etc.) or can buy a product to help fund research, do so!  Kohl’s has two pages of items $10 or less that when you purchase them, 100% of the net profit goes to supporting the fight against breast cancer. Check their website under women’s cause merchandise  Elle collection.  This is just one example.  Your donation could be helping out yourself down the road or your own mother or sister or niece or wife or daughter!

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2012:

Maybe a pink ribbon is not the best representation for breast cancer but I can think of one symbol that I would agree with.  Whenever I see a cross I think of the sacrifice that Christ made for me.  There is nothing pretty or pink about it. The cross was rugged and probably splintered. Nailing anyone to a cross is ugly.   It had blood dripping on it where they nailed his hands and feet to it.  At the same time because of what was accomplished on it, it holds a certain kind of beauty. Christ died on the cross but he did not remain defeated.  He conquered death. His nail scarred hands show His love for us.  ” He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NLT  He loved us so much, he stretched out his arms and died.

I guess it’s the same with cancer.  It’s ugly,there’s  nothing pretty about it.  At the same time there’s  a certain beauty in the battle scars because we are survivors.  We are fighting or have fought the battle and we are winning or we have won.  We are victors and that is a beautiful thing…pink ribbons and all.