This past month (or so) included many milestones, anniversaries and news. The instances were good and bad - sometimes wrapped in the same package.
Cancer has been all around, beyond just pancreatic and even more so than usual.
October ended with heartbreaking news for me (again). Tony was a new friend I had been introduced to by a former co-worker. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a year before I was. He had the Whipple surgery, chemo and radiation just as I did. Tony was my pace runner of sorts – a survivor whose story I could look to with hope and pride. We compared notes on our lives and lifestyles before our diagnoses and since. He was doing well but was undergoing some more chemo because of some suspicious spots on his lungs. After months of corresponding by email, we had finally met in September. A few weeks later, he had sent out a happy message to announce that the spots had disappeared and he was done with his treatment. Only a few days after I sent him an email of congratulations, I learned that he had passed away after an adverse reaction to a flu shot. It is a devastating tragedy that defies all reason. It is only as I write this that I can finally recognize that I have been angry with my God ever since.
On the eve of November, Halloween was the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. This year, in stark contrast to last, it was a day to celebrate. After all, I wasn't sure that I was going to make it this far. But, on the flipside of that celebration, is the memory of the most crushingly sad and terrifying days of my life.
The day after Halloween was a glorious day of running the NYC Marathon. I had to do it - to prove that I could and to pick up where I left off last year. And the day after that was my birthday. A day that I feared I would never see. It has been an unforgettable year that can never blend into the 42 others for me.
The memories of my November 2008 are being replayed too vividly as I watch a dear cousin struggle with the painful process of the signs of cancer being confirmed this November. Of a similar age and place in life, I hate that he and his family have to share in this experience. And yet, there is also tremendous love and cause for optimism for him.
As it happens, November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month. The intent is to raise awareness of the fact that pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States—and has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers. This year, 42,470 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 35,240 will die from the disease. The number of new cases and deaths caused by this deadly disease are increasing not decreasing. Again, though very sad, there is still much hope and work to be done.
Like many emotional wounds that never completely heal but serve as lifelong reminders, I am trying to make good use of my awareness. I am willing to offer support to anyone that could use it, but wish more than anything that there was never the need to. Unfortunately, I spoke to two women this month being profoundly affected by pancreatic cancer. The father of one was just diagnosed and the second is a patient seeking out a surgeon herself. It helps us all to know that we are not alone in our struggles and pain. Along those lines, I would like to publicize a group called Imerman Angels. It provides one-on-one cancer support: connecting cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers. Imerman Angels partners a person fighting cancer with someone who has beaten the same type of cancer. Please let others that you think might benefit from such a connection know about them (http://www.imermanangels.org/).
The new month also marks the anniversary of a new beginning for me – Dec. 1st is a year since I had the surgery to remove the evil cancer from my body. It feels as if a huge reservoir of love has been zip-filed into that void. Thank you all for that.