Staying in Focus: My Personal Heroes

It has been such a difficult year for my family and friends. I have 2 family members, my mother and younger brother, a good friend, and the spouse of another friend fighting cancer. I have a niece, Laura, diagnosed recently with lupus. My younger brother has a wife suffering from debilitating pain in her spine

What I have learned from these very special people is that true heroes do not wear capes or wield superpowers. True heroes are the ones who walk bravely into a cancer center for a treatment they know is going to make them sicker than they can imagine, but they draw on an inner strength and face what they must. They are the heroes who get up despite being in pain, make breakfast for their family, prepare them for the day ahead, go to work or clean the house. True heroes, if you ask me.

I visit an oncologist twice a year for blood tests that can detect tumor markers, which could indicate my colon cancer is back. As I sit in the waiting room, I look at all the heroes sitting there. Cancer is an equal opportunity disease. It cares not whether you are nine or ninety, a young mother or a father who is the sole supporter of his family.  There are people in wheelchairs and children with no hair. But believe it or not there are smiles, too. Perhaps even laughter if someone like my friend Debbi is present.  She has had the doctors laughing, too. Her ebullient spirit has taken a beating this past week, as she has almost reached the breaking point, but I know that she will pull through because she is a hero.

Debbi prepared for this ordeal well in advance. She found a pretty wig before her hair had started to fall out. She started meditating to aid in her pain management and to keep her spirit strong. She learned about and looked up information on all aspects of her drugs and her treatment protocol.  As a result, she can talk to her medical professionals with confidence. She is an active part of the team and anyone who needs information on treatments for side effects, Debbi is the one with the answers. To look at Debbi, one would never guess what she has been through.

The same is true for my mother, who made her own heroic choice in regard to treatment. Mom, at 90, followed her doctor’s advice and began chemo, after cancer made its third appearance in her life. The first resulted in a partial mastectomy; the second was treated with radiation and  the removal of some lymph nodes seventeen years later. Then, 5 years later, a different form of cancer attacked this time, resulting in a second mastectomy.  However, it was quickly evident that she could not tolerate it. She dropped over 20 pounds, could not eat because of rampant mouth sores, and could barely get out of bed. She decided on her own to suspend treatment. She feels she has had a long and happy life and would rather have whatever time is left feeling alive again.  And she has rallied. Her strength is back, her interest in her hobbies has returned and her hair is growing back! She receives a treatment of 2 needle injections once a month, which the doctors hope will slow the cancer (which is in her lung) down. We do not know how long she will have, but in my eyes she was heroic enough to say, “No more. I’m done.” Can’t get more heroic than that.

And then there are people like my niece and my sister –in-law, who deal with pain every day. It took years for the doctors to diagnose Laura with lupus. During that time she has raised a family, often on her own, as her husband was in the service, stationed abroad. Somehow she dealt with the pain and got on with her life. My sister-in-law has sought treatment in as many ways a she could find, but there isn’t a lot they can do. A new treatment may be possible, but right now her focus is on her husband and she has been at his side, not only in this crisis but in others they have weathered together. Caregivers like this are heroes, too. They put their own needs aside and go to work, or drive their loved one to the doctor in the wee hours of the morning, they are advocates, they listen for the patient when the words are too hard to hear, they drive them to the beach to relax and prepare for the next go round, as my friend, Debbi’s partner, Richard, has done for her this weekend. They may not have their names splashed in big letters across the front of a newspaper, but they are heroes to the people who depend on them.

Perhaps our elected officials in Washington should take a little field trip to a cancer ward, or a chemo treatment center, or the children’s ward in a cancer hospital. Perhaps if they saw how hard these people are fighting just to stay alive, they would go back to Washington, sit down and get to work resolving the health care issues facing this country.  Health care isn’t about statistics it is about people, handling disease and pain, clinging to life with all the strength they can muster. All we ask of our leadership is that we are given some  confidence in our medical care continuing, or being there when we need it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some heroes in Washington.? Someone  who will stand up for the people fighting so hard to live.

I found a card recently that contained the following verse:

Even though cancer is a part of your life,

it doesn’t define you

You define yourself

with your strength

your courage

your hope…

That nicely sums up the qualities of my Personal Heroes.

Once you have cancer, the possibility of its return is always at the back of your mind. I was lucky once. A colonoscopy revealed a polyp that had to be removed surgically and the biopsy detected some malignancy. I had part of my colon removed butI  was spared chemotherapy. Next week I have my appointment with my oncologits (for a six week check-up) Should the day come when the news os bad, I have my persinal heroes


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