Note: I am going to obnoxiously use the portmanteau cancerlebrity for at least another month. I apologize ahead of time.
One of my personal inspirations (and soon to be guinea pig for my shiny new MBA strategic planning skills), Jonny Imerman, says “Be proud of your cancer”. That was only one of many gems of insight shared by Jonny and dozens of survivors, caretakers, and supporters at March 24th’s Young Adult Cancer Conference at Dana-Farber. The young adult cancer family (and yes, we very much are a family) came out in force in support of each other – there was so much love over the day as we shared our stories and learned from each other about how to deal with the physical, emotional, and practical concerns in which our non “cancer-friend” friends cannot really relate.
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I have developed a lot of superstitions after getting sick. I never say that I’m cured. I bristle when I think about the word “remission”. I never let my brain dwell too hard on relapse. If any of these thoughts cross my mind, I feel like its going to come back. You see this in those with OCD – thinking that mere thoughts can cause large scale actions.
So when I thought I was relapsing, I did what made sense to me. I didn’t tell anyone.
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I’ve been holding off on this post because of a particularly nasty relapse scare last week – even people who had lymphoma occasionally have lymph nodes swell to the size of marbles and it’s still OK.
So now, after what have been the worst week of my life, things are ok.
It’s been over 6 months since my last chemo. That’s how I mark my remission. There’s no real way of knowing when the cancer cells finally died off in my body, so that last chemo makes sense. I’ll be celebrating by chatting with Kelley Tuthill, herself a 5 year young adult breast cancer survivor, from WCVB-TV Boston (Channel 5).
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Are you a young adult cancer survivor between the ages of 15 and 40ish living in the Greater Boston Area? Join us TONIGHT for the Stupid Cancer Happy Holiday Hour at Joe Sent Me in Cambridge (Davis Square) from 6-9. There will be a live band, half off apps, a free dessert table (Lyndell’s cake – that’s incentive enough to go!), plus some fantastic cancer’d folk.
Support cancer survivors in their 20s and 30s and come out to an official “Stupid Cancer Happy Hour”, a different kind of social support mixer brought to you by the I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation, the nation’s leading grassroots organization for young adults affected by cancer. Come one, come all to chill out, make friends and hang with people who don’t care whether you have one boob, one ball, two ports or even a hyperactive platelet count.
Food, fun, drinks and overall good company are in store for a meaningful evening of community, empowerment and hope.
Stupid cancer! Survivors rule!
Please pass this on to anyone fighting or surviving this disease who needs a little peer support. Getting cancer in your late teens, 20s, or 30s is extremely isolating – no young adult should have to go through it alone without people who know what you’re going through! We have Stupid Cancer Happy Hours fairly regularly, so if you can’t make this one, join the Facebook group to stay up to date with the next event!
Christopher Hitchens passed away yesterday from pneumonia as a result of his treatments for esophageal cancer. Many people toe their party lines; self proclaimed radicals are often not too radical at all. Hitchens splayed himself across the political landscape in a way that was both completely unreasonable, yet entirely logical. He and I disagreed on many things, but I found myself drawn to his reasoning no matter what the topic.
A few months ago, he wrote an essay for Vanity Fair about his cancer. I’m the ultimate consumer of cancer essay, and this one touched me like none other. I am finding it particularly poignant this week after “finding my voice” to speak about my experience in front of 30 people who I have shared a classroom with for a semester who had no idea.
What do I hope for? If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.
I am so sorry that you did not get that remission, Christopher. The world has truly lost something real.
Thanksgiving. Like many, I will spend the day gorging myself on way too much food, planning out my strategic holiday shopping attack, and beginning what will be a very busy month of Christmas movies and music (I’m a Jew who collects Virgin Mary things only semi-ironically, what can I say?). But more than any other year, I am spending today reflecting on the things I have to be thankful for.
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From time to time, I look to see what search terms are used to find my blog. Far and away the most common are questions surrounding the bone marrow biopsy, which also happens to be one of my most read blog posts ever. One little procedure that causes so much anxiety.
I wouldn’t admit it at the time, but my friend Jon watched me sit in the waiting room before the procedure popping about 6 Xanax. Now, they didn’t actually hit until *after* the procedure (which led to me standing in a Stop & Shop yogurt aisle completely unable to function while staring intently at a yogurt container for 10 minutes), but having them there provided some placebo until I physically walked into the room.
The only things I remember strongly about the whole thing were that the room was lined with photos of puffins and that I managed to say “Ouchies” more times in 5 minutes than I have in my entire adult life. It was still early with my oncologist and I wanted to maintain the “I’m too young and innocent to swear” routine as long as it would take me. One of my many doctor voodoo superstitions is that if the doctor thinks of me as being you, he will treat me better. Logical brain knows that’s ridiculous, but emotional panicked brain stores that notion away right next to “Jewish doctors are better” and “doctors who speak a 2nd language are more intelligent”.
The reason why I’m addressing the bone marrow biopsy now is because I’m afraid that I’m terrifying people who are seeking advice and comfort in the face of a bone marrow biopsy. If people are searching for information about the pain and discomfort of a biopsy, they are probably facing their first one. That means they have already had the rug pulled out from under them with a hematological disorder or cancer (particularly lymphoma or leukemia), are probably considering pitching a cot in their doctor’s waiting room, and are functioning on adrenaline alone.
So fear not! Yes, it’s uncomfortable and painful. But you’re bigger than that! Plus, then you can go around talking about how your doctor drilled a hole in your bone. Trust me, the color drains from peoples’ faces: it’s particularly useful for unwanted nosy coworkers.
It can even be funny, as Milton shows us…. (warning, this ACTUALLY SHOWS the bone marrow aspiration – but nothing too gruesome. Worth watching if you can handle it – it’s a lot less scary than it sounds!)
If anyone FROM THE FUTURE reads this and has any questions about the bone marrow biopsy, please comment. Don’t suffer in silence and don’t get yourself worked up about what you can’t control. Cancer is one of the ultimate losses of control and your sense of humor is one of the few things you can (though you might have to walk through fire to do it) hold on to.