Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Talk Amongst Yourselves. I’ll Give You a Topic

No doubt, you, like I, have friends who are, shall we say, a touch indiscreet in how much of their personal life they ‘share’ with people. There’s some sort of need within all of us to vent, to talk about our problems, or more often than not, other people’s problems. As long as you include something like bless her heart, it’s OK, because you’re showing concern, right? Some of us just don't see any boundaries and then there are others who just bottle it up. Until recently, I fell into the latter category...where I am now is a matter of conjecture, but talking things out within reason has been a therapeutic thing. For those in the former category, Facebook is just the latest iteration of on-line over-share and anti-social behavior. About 20 years ago, electronic bulletin boards and chat rooms were the breeding ground of some pretty heated, juvenile arguments and sharing of information that would be clearly inappropriate in-person. Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  I saw a particularly childish exchange over something really petty yesterday. Alas, some of us humans will forever be perpetual drama magnets.

Prior to our electronic presence, we all had our own venues of social networking captured forever à la Norman Rockwell. It seems to me that these places all centered on hair. Stay with me on this one.  Women shared the latest gossip at the beauty parlor and men gathered at the corner barber shop with the newspaper to do the same thing under some other more masculine sounding auspices. So, where does the guy who loses his hair to toxic chemical goodness go? You go to places where others who are rockin’ the cue ball do, right? Yes. So, that’s just what I did. UCAN (Utah Cancer Action Network) put on a little get-together, complete with a really nice breakfast and even some cool door prizes. I actually won not one, but two door prizes, which is nothing short of amazing for me, because I never win these kinds of things (OK, there was that time I won some lenses from my Minneapolis optometrist...way cool!).  I usually smile at the lucky winners with just a touch of envy because I want that thing I don’t really need, but want to win. You know you do, too...be careful what you ask for, grasshoppa!



So, I won a haircut at what appears to be a swanky salon! OK, back up a few steps and remember my hair fell out thanks to a particular brand of toxic chemical goodness nicknamed The Red Devil (aka Idarubicin). Oh, the irony!

Suffice it to say, being the gentleman that I am, I stood with a smile and removed my English driver’s cap in salute and thanks to accept the kind gift. The room, seeing my nearly bald pate, erupted in laughter. There is no expiration date, so I will get that haircut as my hair is coming back in, despite the assurance of my hem/onc fellow, ever encouraging soul that she is, that it will fall out again! When I won the second gift, there was a low rumbling murmur across the room to see if it was something equally ironic, but alas, it was a really nice blanket.



What was really great about this function was that it removed several layers of small talk and allowed us to get to what we all needed to get off of our mental plates, and trust me, just the word cancer adds a heapin’ helpin’ of hard-to-digest goodies on that plate. That’s before you put a name to the type and stage and then there's the treatment. Deep breath...we can do this. What a group like this does is take a good amount of that hard-to-digest off of the plate with a little word: hope. It also by-passes the TMI (too much information) filter because we already know the awful details...and can generally laugh at them or collectively roll our eyes! No gossip here, we've all been there. Empathy truly abounds!
And the people that put the function on drove that point home both in allowing us all to talk in groups about physical, mental/emotional, and recreational needs. In more than talking, there were resource and advocacy groups as well as some service providers specific to cancer patients and survivors. When all was said and done, we all tied a little token embossed with the word hope on it with a ribbon and attaching it to a single dahlia bloom and then gave the plant to someone else as if to say, I’m giving you hope. It was more than just a gesture because in a real sense, the people there were making it. They were surviving and thriving and contributing. And they were happy and smiling and living decades after being diagnosed with stage IV cancers. Many conversations that used to include the words, get your affairs in order, are becoming more hopeful and providing new options for treatments and clinical trials.

Make no mistake, cancer is still a killer, but we’re making significant progress. I’m convinced the reason that we are moving forward so deliberately is because we’re no longer silent about it. We’re demanding to know how to fight this monster and we’re funding research and we’re winning!


And we need to keep moving forward. To put this in perspective, a 2012 American Cancer Society report projected 1.6 million new cases of cancer to be diagnosed last year; some 577,000 deaths were expected based on trends. When I was waiting for my blood test yesterday, I saw an article in Time about cancer research that indicated that 1 in every 2 men and 1 in every 3 women will be affected by cancer in their lifetime. That’s pretty sobering, but again, makes the point a bit more urgent to keep the research on the fast track…and we need to keep talking about it – lifestyle choices to reduce our chances of getting it or surviving it if there are factors outside our control like genetics.



I’ve felt the need to talk with other leukemia survivors because despite how good I’m feeling, I know that I’m far from being out of the woods at this point and have a rather long road to recovery ahead of me. Everyone is different in how well we tolerate treatment. Some people get horribly ill and others seem to sail right through. So, while there’s a basic course to the regimen, there is a bit of an art as each body reacts accordingly. The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society connected me with one such survivor who has been free of leukemia for nearly a decade since transplant, giving me yet more reason to hope.


The other common thread I’m seeing in talking with survivors is that this is very much a long-term illness and the people that are standing with me for the long-haul are truly more than fair weather friends. Actually, the kind of people that hang tough with you when the going gets this tough are the color picture in the dictionary next to the entry for friend. For those of you who have stuck with me from day 1, thank you for being a friend, a real friend, and letting me talk…amongst you! I’m no longer feeling verklempt!


Sounds like a great segue for today’s music Thank You For Being a Friend by Andrew Gold



Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you're a pal and a confidant

I'm not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won't you stand up and take a bow

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be from me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend

Thank you for being a friend
Thank you for being a friend
Thank you for being a friend

If it's a car you lack
I'd surely buy you a Cadillac
Whatever you need, anytime of the day or night

I'm not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won't you stand up and take a bow

And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it's hard to hear
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend

And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You'll hear me call, as we ascend
I'll see you there, then once again
Thank you for being a friend