Cancer touches all of us

The daffodil is one of my favourite flowers. Its resemblance to the sun and its appearance in the early spring bring hope after a long dreary winter. Perhaps that’s why it was chosen to symbolize strength and courage in the fight against cancer.

Speaking of cancer, I don’t think I need to explain what a terrible disease it is, or get into statistics about the number of people who are affected by it. We probably all know someone who has it, has had it, or has lost their life to it. I was diagnosed and treated for melanoma in 1995, but fortunately it was caught early and I’ve never had a recurrence. I got off pretty easy.

As I mentioned in An attitude of gratitude, I recently read Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools, in which Barbara Tako shares her journey as a melanoma and breast cancer survivor. Intended as a guide to help people diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones, the book is broken down into three main sections:

  • Explanations and Tools for Coping with Your Diagnosis
  • Tools for Getting through Active Treatment
  • Tools for Survivorship after Active Treatment

Despite the serious topic, it makes for fairly light reading, between it being only about 100 pages long and Tako’s conversational writing style. I hope I never need the information, but having read it, I’ll be a little more equipped to deal with it if I or a loved one should ever receive that dreaded diagnosis.

The End of Your Life Book Club is another book I read fairly recently that deals with someone’s cancer journey. In this case, the author’s mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, has pancreatic cancer, and I have to say that she was a truly amazing woman. During her final months, instead of focusing on her own comfort and needs, she dedicated herself more than ever to the causes she was passionate about, wanting to help as much as she could before her time ran out. Wow.

My major takeaway addressed the awkwardness many of us experience when speaking to anyone with a serious illness, because we don’t know whether to talk about it or not. Instead of asking his mother, “How are you feeling today?”, Will Schwalbe would ask her if she wanted to talk about how she was feeling. What a great way to be supportive without being intrusive!

The Healing Journal:  Taking Control of Your Journey Through Cancer is another excellent resource. It was created by cancer survivor Lynda Peterson to help cancer patients and their caregivers keep track of and manage appointments, questions, treatments, contacts, medical history, travel arrangements and  ‘to do’ lists.

For more inspiration, I suggest you check out Putting on My Big Girl Panties + Kicking Breast Cancer in the Ass, Krista Colvin’s personal blog outlining her journey from diagnosis to survivorship.

It’s upsetting that cancer is still such a major issue in our world, but it’s good to know that help and support is there for those who need it. Hopefully you and I never will, but there’s plenty we can do in the meantime:

  • Participate in fundraising events such as The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers and Movember
  • Visit The Breast Cancer Site, where sponsors contribute funds for mammograms based on the number of visitors to the site each day
  • Protect yourself as much as possible by leading a healthy lifestyle
  • Undergo any routine tests recommended by your health care providers
  • Be aware of any unusual changes to your own body and get them checked out

I cannot stress this last point enough! I only found out I had melanoma because I had an ugly mole on my arm, I was self-conscious about it, and wanted it removed before summer. At the time I was temporarily working for a boss with a very laid back attitude, so I booked a doctor appointment before I had to return to my regular position where my boss expected us to make up any time taken off for medical reasons.

My family doctor said he didn’t think it was anything serious, but referred me to a dermatogist right away. The dermatologist did a biopsy, gave me my diagnosis (I don’t remember the details now, but it was still in the very early stages), and I had it removed within a week. The experience was no worse than going to the dentist. If I’d been working for the stricter boss, I might never have gone, or probably not until the disease had progressed much more.

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