Every person who hears the words “you have cancer” has a unique story. As part of Cancer Today’s mission to provide “practical hope” and “real knowledge” to those who are affected by cancer, we strive to highlight those stories to provide a real-life glimpse into the challenges of treatment and what comes after.
As National Cancer Survivor Month comes to a close, we’d like to take an opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learned from the cancer survivors who have shared their stories with Cancer Today, the magazine and online resource for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers, which is published by the American Association for Cancer Research.
Follow your passion
Holly Rowe, an ESPN reporter, continued to work while undergoing treatment for desmoplastic melanoma, a rare, fast-spreading form of skin cancer. Throughout her treatment, the veteran reporter offered sideline analysis and conducted interviews with coaches and athletes for ESPN. She also openly shared the ups and downs of her treatment, receiving support from many fans and inspiring others with cancer along the way.
Less than a month after one surgery, she was covering sporting events. She remembers drawing strength from the athletes at the games of the Women’s National Basketball Association and the Women’s College World Series.
“Every day, I’d see people winning. I would see these women doing amazing things. That really inspired me and gave me amazing strength,” Rowe said, in the summer 2019 issue of Cancer Today.
When Ben David was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in January 2016 at the age of 39, the rabbi had to learn to be on the receiving end of support. “I’m a rabbi, so I’m biologically wired to be the one providing comfort,” David said, in the spring 2019 issue of Cancer Today.
The runner, husband, and father of three learned to accept the support of his congregation at Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He also built back his strength to enjoy a favorite pastime: running marathons.
“I think that’s all most people want. To get back to their lives and who they were,” David said.
Connect with others
Social media can be an invaluable tool for cancer patients looking for information and others to share experiences. By joining an online patient forum, Janet Freeman-Daily, who was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in 2011 at age 55, learned about a clinical trial called the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium Protocol, which offered tumor testing for abnormalities that might respond to a targeted therapy.
“Other patients told me about it, [but] my doctors in Seattle hadn’t heard of it,” she said, in the fall 2018 issue of Cancer Today.
Freeman-Daily had her tumor tested twice, and learned her cancer had a mutated form of the R0S1 gene, an abnormality thought to be present in just 1 to 2 percent of lung cancer cases. With this knowledge, Freeman-Daily, whose cancer had metastasized, joined an early-phase ROS1 clinical trial for Xalkori (crizotinib) in November 2012. After treatment she had no evidence of disease. Freeman-Daily and other patient advocates affected by lung cancer have started a Twitter Community called Lung Cancer Social Media Chat (#lcsmchat), and a website and online Facebook group called ROS1ders, for others who are affected by this mutation.
Be open to sharing
When Bob Riter wrote a column about what it felt like to be a man with breast cancer for Newsweek in the summer of 1997, he had some reservations: “I remember right before that column came out, I thought, ‘Should I be telling all these people that I have breast cancer? Will I become known as this guy with breast cancer—this real oddball?’,” he recalled. But after the article ran, men with breast cancer living all over the country wrote letters thanking Riter, who was a college professor at the time, for raising awareness that breast cancer can also occur in men.
The experience revealed a calling. Riter starting volunteering and eventually went on to become the executive director of a nonprofit organization that provided support to people with cancer. “Ironically, in a sense, if I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, I’d probably still be teaching,” said Riter, in the winter 2018-2019 issue of Cancer Today. “I’m really quite happy with how my career changed. I discovered this mission that’s been a perfect fit for me.”
There are some days when Gary Lambert, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at age 37 and underwent a stem cell transplant in October 2015, struggles to stay positive. Lambert started exercising two months after his transplant. In the winter 2018-2019 issue of Cancer Today, Lambert said he strives to live his life like he doesn’t have cancer—which isn’t always easy.
“Myeloma is a weird disease in that you’re living with it. It’s never gone. It always comes back. Pushing my limits helps me get out of my own head,” Lambert said. Lambert tries to just keep going; mostly, he wants to keep being there for his wife and two kids. “Despite all he’s been through, he stays positive. He just puts his head down and works. You have to respect a guy like that,” coworker Michael Gagliardi noted in the article.
Cancer Today is a magazine and web resource for cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers that is published by the American Association for Cancer Research.
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