21 August 2010

A Strange Meeting

Darren and I met about ten years ago, at a party where we each were promoting our respective businesses. It was a networking event of sorts and I was in full gear. The room was packed! But, you could not have missed Darren if you tried. He was striking -- tall and lean for a rugby player, he had a wide, welcoming smile and a very compelling Irish brogue. Upon hello and name exchanges, I quickly handed him a flier to an event I was hosting. Without skipping a beat, he handed me a flier to his, but with a couple of drink tickets and an invitation to get in for free. Wow! (Why didn't I think of that?). By happenstance, both of our events were on the same evening and we were contending for business form the very same crowd of which we were part. We were competitors! But really, even at that, he had managed to charm me and I never really thought him "the enemy." So for years we vied for the same business almost always, until he and his business partners decided to deviate from their current business and do something else. That was when Darren began to be a really successful and noted businessman in our city. His business grew by leaps and bounds, but never had he changed from the Darren that I had met years back.

Still charming and impish, still welcoming and unassuming, still tall and strong. What a great success story! He came here from Ireland a few years before this success, taking a chance and couch-surfing at friends homes for about a year. To then see him owning several enterprises in the city and being featured in local magazine's "Society Page" as one of the city's eligible bachelors was quite a fete! On any given night, you can see him walking on his street with the biggest, scariest pit ball -- Sam in stride with him. He and Sam were so popular in their neighborhood that local merchants always had a treat for Sam whenever they walked by. They were quite the pair to behold. If you didn't know that Darren and his pit bull were the biggest sweethearts, you'd walk the other way if you happened by them in an alley.

On my second chemo session last year, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw Darren walking down the hallway at Dr. T's chemo treatment clinic. Sure, we hadn't seen each other in years and I'd heard rumors that he was ill. But I also heard that he'd gotten well subsequently. So to see him in a chemo clinic was quite shocking. I didn't know what to do with myself. Both of us being as private as we were, I wanted to give him his space (as I didn't know what treatment he could be undergoing). But also, I wanted my own space. The last person I wanted to see in the clinic was a business colleague (we were sort of friends too). So, I quickly put my head down behind a book, raised the book high and "hid" from Darren.

Well, son-on-a-gun, if he didn't plop himself down at the chemo chair immediately to my left. Argh! Still, I kept the book in front of my face, but it would have really looked funny if I moved the book to the left of my face. I just hoped he wouldn't turn to see me. Riiiiiiiiiight! "C!" he exclaimed! "Wat in de world are ye doin' here?" he continued in his charming Irish brogue. And there it was. We had to face each others...business competitors and colleagues sitting side-by-side in a chemo clinic. "If someone 'ad toold me years ago, dat you 'an me would be meetin' in a plece lak dis, I would've punched dem in da mouth!" he said, smiling weakly and winking. And my! How strange is life. Darren's younger than me (by at least 10 years), strong, fit, never smoked...but...

Darren had lung cancer. He looked emaciated and tired. His strong rugby build was gone. But he still had his hair. Certainly, it was hard to process this vision of the former "force to be reckoned with." He said that they thought the chemo had worked, but subsequently, his oncologist discovered that it hadn't. And so the cancer had metathesised to more areas in his body. He was in the clinic for a Neulasta shot, as his immune system had gone awry. He told me that at this juncture, his oncologist didn't have anymore solutions to his cancer.

I begged him to go see my Dr. T (who is in the same practice group as his oncologist). I told him how amazing Dr. T was. He urged him to find a new, alternate route. He nodded "okay" But, he seemed resigned. After his shot, he gave me a peck on the forehead, wished me all the best, and left.

Last night, at Relay for Life, I lit a Luminaria for Darren. He passed away a year ago this month. He was young, strong, fit and never smoked a cigarette in his life. Yet lung cancer took his life.

Cancer is an equal opportunity killer.

13 July 2010

Relay for Life? Or Celebrate Life?

After I went into remission, a very urgent need came to be that I needed to do something about the cancer experience. The core of my belief system is that everything happens for a reason. And, cancer is a big THING! I cannot let the experience or the lesson go to waste. All of that must be put into something good. I had great intentions. I was going to make a difference for those touched by cancer! Although, I was wisely counseled by my boyfriend and my brother that I should probably take things in stride and put it in first gear and take some time to heal and regroup, before any major undertaking. Well, of course it turned out that it was wise advice. I had just about enough energy to go to work daily and maintain the rhythm of the once-interrupted life. It takes time to put things back together, I suppose. Life certainly did not stop or slow down, just because I had to. So, it turned out that it was the best advice.

And now, I finally have my bearings. So, I took some time to research how I could get involved and give back. There are a lot of choices. But, in the end, I chose The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, in keeping with my former post and a belief that we are all in this together. Yes. There are different kinds of cancer, including mine. But, I wanted to support the organization that helps all cancer. And the American Cancer Society was the best choice for this. I also liked Relay for Life because of its communal character -- camping for 24 hours with your "team," amongst other teams.

So, this was quite an an important decision for me. It was sort of a "coming out" to my community at large -- many of whom did not know I was sick at all. It was also a chance for me to involve my friends and family with cancer, at last! I had my reservations and trepidations about all of this. But I was done keeping my cancer under a bushel. It was time to share. I've had a year to have to almost all to myself. But, the world doesn't benefit from that. Does it? Only in my "coming out" and sharing the experience with others will it do anyone else any good. Time to get over my introvertedness and time to let go! I was not doing anyone any good by keeping all of this under wraps.
Still and all, it took about a couple of weeks of clicking on Relay for Life's website to read up on what it involved to be a Team Captain and to raise funds as well as organize a team for the event. I had to talk myself into committing to it -- being a team captain and assembling a team for the event, with the help of my friends and community of course. And what a "coming out" party it was going to be! We were going to "camp" for 24 hours while raising money for the cause. Brilliant!

Last night, as I put the final touches in the Evite for Relay for Life, I got a phone call from one of my very good friends to discuss another very good friend's bridal shower/bachelorette party. The date and venue was set. All I needed to do was post my response to the event's Evite. Done! Am there with bells on and all that. Of course!

BUT. . . (you guessed it!)

The aforementioned shower/bachelorette party is the same day as Relay for Life! (May I just say that I was mildly annoyed and discouraged? After all that thought and self-prodding to finally do something AND involve everyone else, someone had the nerve to get married!)

Momentary quandary: Should I go through with the commitment to myself and the powers that be to do Relay for Life? Or, should I be a good friend and attend said bridal shower/bachelorette party? Herein lies the rub: The very community that I wanted to finally open up to and involve in my cancer journey will be a the bridal shower. So, really, in the larger (or smaller) scheme of things, what was more important?

Yes. I had (definitely) grand and (perhaps) honorable intentions in doing Relay for Life with my community of friends and family. But really, do gestures of gratitude or reason have to be that grand in order to count? Or, is being there for a good friend during a very important occasion of her life, as grand as being at Relay for Life? Here, the old adage rings true. Charity begins at home. In this instance, I didn't have to make a big splash to make a difference. I am blessed to be alive to share in this wonderful time of her life. There are currently over 200 teams registered to participate in my city's Relay for Life. But my girlfriend only has only a few of us with whom to celebrate her impending marriage.

There wasn't a quandary after all.

08 July 2010


Around this time last year, I was coming away from a big, happy remission party that my friends had given for me. Friends flew in from far and wide, there was an abundance of food and good cheer, and everyone was happy that I had "conquered cancer!" What a celebration!

But I remember being at that party and watching my friends "celebrate me," and feeling as if I were watching a movie, in slow motion with no sound. Yes. I was there. Yes, I was hugging and kissing and cavorting with them. But it felt as if I wasn't there -- as if I was on the outside looking in.

The thing was, even though I was relieved, I couldn't relate to everyone's euphoria and celebration. I was pre-occupied with overwhelming feelings of alienation and void within. My life over the past few months had been seriously regimented with an intensely focused goal -- kill those cancer cells! Mission accomplished! I had entered remission and I should've have been dancing at the rafters. But I wasn't. Well, externally, I was. I had to -- for everyone else's sake.

Inside, I was dutifully grateful, as if by rote. But I was also lost and dreadful, and somehow numb. My gratitude was not as overarching as everyone else's. What was in the forefront were my feelings of dread and estrangement. Yes. I was relieved. But more than that, I felt lost and in flux. What an ingrate, right? How many people would want to be in my place and be in remission? Fortunate! That's what I was and that's the way I should've felt. To no avail.

Why then was I in this state of being? Why wasn't I shouting through the rooftops with joy like everyone else? Why did I feel empty and gray?

First - when I was diagnosed with cancer, Auntie Mame told me that my illness was but a detour; and that life will go on after I beat cancer. She meant it. I believed it wholeheartedly. And because of that. . .

Second - the months ensuing were intensely laser-focused on one thing: cancer. I was surrounded by the most competent people and together, we marched to the drum of beating cancer. I lived and breathed it. It was my sole purpose of being. There was nothing else.

Third - because of the above, everything had a sense of urgency and (if you will) sensationalism. My family, friends, and colleagues were panicked and frantic. All eyes were intensely on me: Dr. T and his team, my family and friends, my colleagues. Although I fought hard to be at arms' length with family and friends, it still felt like I was very much in the limelight. Herein lies the rub: Eventually, I bought into it! I got used to the attention, even if it was unwelcome, many times. Kris Carr was right! Cancer is crazy and (yes!) sexy!

Now, I use "sexy" in the loosest way possible; sexy like in "interesting" or "attractive" and yes, even "sensationalistic." But definitely, more on the "interesting" bent. Cancer is sexy that way. And because it is, people gravitate towards it -- people gravitated toward me. For a few months, I was the cause celebre, all due to the fact that I had cancer -- phone calls, cards, people flying in from everywhere to visit, prayers, tears, gifts, parties, you name it. What was particularly welcome was the care that I received from my oncology team. I felt as if in a protective cocoon of medical care. I'd gotten used to it.

So, as intensely as attention and care was showered on me during my period of illness was as quickly as all of that disappeared once my remission was declared. After the party, there I was, left in the cold and facing the abyss that was life without cancer. Silence. . . that was what I was left with, after the party, the fuss and the doctor visits had stopped.

Last - After I went into remission, I started believing that cancer wasn't just a detour. Rather, it was a divine push of the "reset" button. Everything happens for a reason. I believe that. And so, of course, I questioned why I got sick and then was spared afterwards. There had to be a reason. And I had to repurpose my life. New beginnings. There had to be something bigger out there. What was it?

After all the concentrated attention lavished on me, so much so that sometimes I couldn't even breath, I was left with myself -- to figure out why my life was on out "reset."

If there was ever a time I really felt alienated from my waking life, it was then. Somehow, I felt I didn't belong to the cancer community anymore because I was in remission. But, at the same time, I felt I didn't belong to the other comuunities who hadn't been ill with cancer either. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything. I was facing this foggy abyss and I didn't know how deep or wide it was. But I had to try. I had to take steps to repurpose my life -- quickly! Life's too short, afterall. And so, I tried . . . for a year. . .

Last weekend, the same friends got together for a party at the same place around the same time. Only, it wasn't my remission party, it was 4th of July get-together. It seemed to me as though everyone had changed: babies born, couples married, friends almost graduating from school, kids getting older, and friends being pregnant. A good friend asked how I was doing. Me? Fine, I guess. Nothing's changed. I'm still in remission. Am still in the same job. Still have the same aches and pains. Have I discovered the "reason" why I got sick? Have I discovered my new purpose? Had I done anything significant over the past year except suriving cancer? No. I had nothing to report. An immense feeling of disppointment overcame me. I am now, where I was last year -- still feeling alienated and somehow lost. No progress.

What I didn't realize was how spent I was. Having put all of my energy into overcoming my illness, I was bereft of direction or will to do anything else, despite the internal pressure to grandly rebirth myself ala "Phoenix rising from the ashes!" Little did I know that the ashes would weigh me down for while and blur everything. And, so after a year of walking around in circles (it seems), I am back in the same place, with my hands up in the air still asking "Now what?"

I spent most of the 4th of July in tears, discouraged.

But today, even feeling like I am where I was last year, I renew my commitment to keep at it. But it's another year and it deserves a new commitment. So what if I still don't know why? or when? or how? What's important is that I'm still here walking, albeit in circles and stopping from time to time asking "Now what?" But, I'm here and I'd like to turn a new page. Perhaps by doing so, I'll find that "passage" and read the answers. Maybe someday, I'll find a way to the clearing. But none of that will happen until I press the button myself (not the universe, not the divine, not cancer nor anyone else) . And so . . . .

Here I go. . .


25 June 2010

Someone Up There Has a Sense of Humor

I like astrology, not in the "weekly horoscopes" type astrology, or even as a basis to predict my future. Rather, I'm a huge fan of zodiac characteristic profiling. It's pretty spot on, in my humble opinion. Most Libra's I know are people pleasers, wanting a balance in their environment. Leo's and Aries are pretty strong-minded and stubborn. Virgo's are pretty solid, salt of the earth people. I am a proud Pisces -- pretty fluid and goes with the flow for the most part. Look up the standard character description of a Pisces and you pretty much have pegged me (well, as much as you can peg "water"). I was a March baby, born on St. Patty's Day and I love, love, love, love being a Pisces.

A year ago today (June 25, 2009), dear Dr. T said these magic words "Well, your CA-125 score is 7 and I'm happy to tell you that you are in remission." He said it! He said "REMISSION" on June 25, 2009, the day I was given a "second go" on life! So, today's my first [second] birthday!

I cannot believe a year's since passed. It is at once so near and yet so far. It's fresh, still. But, it seems like a long time ago. I haven't forgotten. But it seems the world has, or at least the world around me has. And I wish I could forget like they could. But, I know that it'll be with me for a while, because Dr. T made very clear that I was in remission and not cured. Nonetheless, I am happy to have a second birthday. I'm happy to be here watching World Cup re-runs. I'm happy to have silly arguments with my daughter. I'm happy to be getting frustrated at work. I'm happy to wake up every day, even though getting out of bed is painful on all levels. Yes. I'm happy that it's been a year and I'm still fine. I'm blessed to be alive, no matter how grumpy I get. I'm happy it has not reared its ugly head at all.

It? What's "it?" Why, cancer, of course!

But guess what? When I looked up what Zodiac sign corresponds with my June 25 "birthday," I was amused when I found out it was "Cancer!" That's when I had a good chuckle with the powers that be! Someone has a sense of humor up there.

And, I'm glad to laugh about it. Now, please pass me a piece of that wonderful [Cancer] birthday cake.


15 June 2010

Carpe Diem

To the Virgins, to make much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he 's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he 's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

~ Robert Herrick

02 June 2010

How Do You Process It . . . ?

. . .when you find out that your oldest and dearest friend died in her sleep on the morning after you come back from a weekend of camping fun with other friends?

Two Sundays ago, that's just what happened. My friend Rose died in her sleep at the age of 49. I'm in a daze and I don't know if it's sunk in. Yes. I went to her family's rosary for her the evening after they found her dead in her bed. Surreal, altough very real, as I helplessly watched her three children cry with pain for their mother. Marie the oldest, who was 5 when I first met her now has 3 of her own was the one who seemed like she couldn't handle her mother's death at all. Jessica was born two months after my oldest son was born. To me, she's still a baby at 23. Bt she too has a son. And she was there, on the floor, wearing her mother's watch trying to hold on to anything...anything. And then Rose's youngest at 16, John was trying to be strong because "I have to take care of my sisters now" he whispered to me. It tore me asunder to watch them fall apart in front of their mother's picture.

Rose and I "grew" up together. We had babies together and saw each other through rough waters with men. As time went on, we headed our separate paths. She got sick and I got sick. She had diabetes and I had cancer. Neither of us wanted to let the other know that we were each were very sick. In March, Rose and her daughter Jessica attended my daughter's 21st birthday dinner. I was glad to see her after all these years. She was glad to see me. In two minutees, we were thick as thieves again, comparing notes (with a lot of that old humor) about our maladies. Just like the good old days. Like we never missed a beat.

When she was hugging me good bye, she looked at me intently and said "Never again, C. Let's not let time pass this long before seeing each other again." I agreed. That was the last time I saw her.

I've been trying to process this for the past two weeks. I've been trying to forget. I've been hoping to wake up one day and find out it was just a dream. I just don't want it to be true. It just doesn't seem right. I survived her. All her older siblings survived her. She was so young. She was so needed. She was so loved.

I should be very sad. Or very angry. But I don't know how to feel.

Many times, I"m sad. Very sad.

I don't understand.

It's just not fair.

20 May 2010

The United Colors of Cancer

Until I was diagnosed with cancer, I'd always associated color pink with cancer. There was a time of year when pink surfaced everywhere, it seemed. Yoplait would start its pink cup covers drive and I diligently collected my Yoplait tops and sent them in so that donations may be made for cancer. Little pink tents would pop up at stores everywhere asking for donations to cancer. I contributed to several girlfriends' efforts for the Avon Walk and the Race for the Cure, all that while thinking "[the color] pink = cancer." It is a credit to those who have worked so hard to further breast cancer awareness and research that pink has generally become the trigger color for cancer awareness for most people who are uneducated about it. Breast cancer awareness has opened eyes and hearts everywhere to the awful existence and effects of cancer. And it is absolutely impressive, the breadth that breast cancer awareness has reached. I never would have thought I'd see the day when big, manly NFL players would wear something pink on game day to raise breast cancer awareness. Such a manly gesture for a feminine problem. In my humble opinion, our common psyche has equated the color pink to cancer awareness.

Last week, while my my daughter and I were watching TV a new Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial came on. It featured several people holding pink buckets of chicken. One woman said, "I'm doing it for my sister;" a man declared "I'm doing it for my wife;" and a little boy ended the commercial saying "I'm doing it for my mom." Afterwards, the male announcer declared that KFC was donating a portion of their chicken sales to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The commercial ended with an announcement that the fried chicken purveyor was donating a portion of it's chicken sales to the Susan G. Comen Foundation. At which time, my daugher turned to me and said "Well, I'm going to get a bucket and wrap it in teal and say 'I'm doing this for my mom.'" It took a few seconds for that to register. So much so that my daughter saw the puzzled look on my face. To which she addressed "Mom! Teal is the color for ovarian cancer!" Duh! But of course! How could I have missed that? Easy! To this day, I still equate cancer awareness with the color pink. So, I wasn't I wasn't thinking teal chicken buckets at all, even though I've been dubbed a "teal warrior" for having survived ovarian cancer.

But, because I am now an ovarian cancer survivor, should I shed pink for teal and put my efforts toward ovarian cancer research instead of my tiny donations and efforts towards breast cancer awareness and research? Do I owe that to my "tribe" now? It seems as though there's a prevailing sense that one should be loyal to one's "tribe" and advance research and awareness for their sort of cancer. And rightfully so! I wouldn't want to inflict ovarian cancer on anyone. So yes! I want a cure for it and am keenly aware that my efforts and donations will help that cause. But, ideally, what I really want and wish for is equal funding for all types of cancer and not just ovarian cancer (just because that's the cancer from which I'm in remission). I want everyone to have a fair shake at cancer research and awareness, no matter how obscure the cancer.

I wish there were a United Nations for cancer -- each cancer represented, but a united front to eradicate the disease altogether. While I understand and appreciate that each cancer behaves differently, I am also aware that financial backing or publicity and coverage for certain cancer research is not as abundant as that breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example. I just wish that each of the other cancers represented by the ribbons above had the same backing and support -- the same resources like Susan G. Comen Foundation for breast cancer research and awareness. If everyone pooled resources together and cross-referenced each other's work, then I believe there's strength in numbers and unity of purpose. -- much like that of Stand Up To Cancer's mission statement:

". . .to accelerate groundbreaking cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives. SU2C's goal is to bring together the best and the brightest in the cancer community, encouraging collaboration instead of competition. By galvanizing the entertainment industry, SU2C creates awareness and builds broad public support for this effort. This is where the end of cancer begins."

Kudos to organizations like this and the American Cancer Society! There is strength in numbers, certainly. And I believe in that. I do stand in steadfast support for my sisters who have been affected by breast cancer and ovarian cancer. But, I am equally hopeful and supportive for all my brethren who have been affected by cancer -- whatever kind or color it is. It may sound naive, but in this case, cancer is cancer and together, we must eradicate it -- all of it.

(Does this make me a cancer socialist?)