I’ve come to know that every cancer experience is as individual as the person who carries it. Sure, we can understand and make general statements and assumptions—as we do with people in general—but when it comes right down to it, every person deals with their cancer in their own way. If we are the friend, relative or partner of someone with cancer, our experience is also our own. I’ve never had cancer, but with this in mind, I have approached others by asking things like, ”How can I help” or “What do you need you need from me.” I’ve spent many days and weeks walking with friends talking about cancer, cooking meals, cleaning houses—whatever was needed.
In my lifetime, the way we talk about and approach cancer (and of course the success rate of treating cancer) has changed dramatically. When I was in middle school, my paternal grandmother died of colon cancer (although I was not told that until many, many years later.) In high school, a friend’s mom died of cancer, but we were not allowed to talk about it or even say the word. It was very taboo to talk to people about their cancer. There was a negative stigma attached to having cancer or being in a family afflicted by cancer. So weird to think about that now.
We can see this type of thinking prevail in Will Cutlip’s personal essay on his experience with cancer (page 20). This piece really resonated with me because Cutlip has been surrounded by cancer for most of his life. As you read it, notice the evolution of how cancer was talked about and dealt with over the years. Through his family’s multiple experiences with cancer, he has come to this wisdom: “Show love to the ones you love” and “just keep on keeping on.” Great advice for anyone.
Gwen Simons’ story (page 16) reminded me of a friend of mine. Simons, a physical therapist, approached her cancer differently than what was originally suggested by her oncologist. This is important. During a self exam, Simons discovered a lump, which was later determined to be a half-centimeter in size, She was diagnosed with stage 1 cancer. Despite the recommendation for a lumpectomy and radiation, Simons wanted to have a double mastectomy. What Simons decided likely saved her life. Bravo to Gwen Simons for choosing the course of action that she felt most comfortable with.
Meryl Ruth is doing something that I have often thought about doing (page 12). I often see ads for hospice training and someday I will go and get the training. I have been with people in hospice and others near the end of their lives, and I have not felt uncomfortable. This, combined with my love for dogs and belief that the pure love of a dog can do wonders for the spirit of a human, inspires me to want to pursue this at some point. So I loved reading about Ruth’s journey with hospice volunteering and the way she uses one of her most loving dogs to comfort people. If this interests you—or if you just love dogs—you should read “Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me” by Jon Katz.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned by liking us on Facebook. The next issue of My Generation will be out in early August.