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My name is Eleanor
I have cancer, but it is not who I am.
I am not a number or the result of a
My name is Eleanor
I am a baby at my mothers breast.
I am a toddler being thrown high in
the air by my father and giggling.
I am a young girl playing with my
dolls and my trucks.
I am a teenage girl going on my
first date full of nervous anticipation.
I am graduating high school and
trying to figure out what next.
I am a young woman walking down
the aisle with the love of my life.
I am an employee and a homemaker
I am a new mother.
I love my family, my friends, roses, cooking
I love watching sappy old movies and
going through a box of tissues while
munching on popcorn.
I love to dance and sing.
I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister,
a granddaughter,a niece, an aunt, I am
a grandmother and a great grandmother.
I am all of these things and more but what
I am not is a disease.
I have cancer and it may destroy my body
but it cannot touch my spirit or my soul.
So you see although my body may have cancer it does
not have me.
My name is Eleanor.
Don't help me.
I am a fiercely independant woman. i am a survivor. I am strong. I will beat this (insert cancer type/condition here) and my life will inspire others. If I show weakness then it wins. I will get up everyday and tackle the world. I will do my hair and put on lipstick and look as amazing as I can so no one will know that I am "sick". I will not ask anyone for help. I will carry all of the groceries into the house. I will change the water bottle on the water cooler. I will carry packages to Fex Ex. I will walk the dogs. I will drive myself to scan appointments and blood draws and biopsies. I will wash and dry laundry and I will never miss a single day of work.
Please help me.
I get up everyday in pain. It takes me longer these days to do my hair and put on my lipstick. I carry all the groceries into the house and I have to sit, catch my breath before I put them away. I wait until I am practically dying of thirst before I change the water bottle on the cooler. I carry the heavy packages into Fed Ex one 5 pound box at a time. I no longer walk the dogs- that's what the doggy door is for. I drive myself to scan appointments and wring my hands and bounce my leg because I am afraid of bad results. I drive myself to biospies and sometime I cry when I'm alone and putting my clothes back on. I can take laundry for 4 people up the stairs and put them away, but my body will hurt for two days after. I never miss a single day of work- but sometimes I am working from my bed.
It's easier for me to help others than it is to help myself. While I want to do everything myself- there are times that I get really annoyed if those I love don't offer to help me.
To their credit how can they know I need help when I don't look or act "sick"?
“Drug-related deaths have grown to be a major US public health problem over the last two decades. Between 2006 and 2015 there were more than 515,000 deaths from drug overdoses.…” This from a March 26 article in Science Magazine. The death rate averages 5,722 per year over the cited period. Further, “the drug epidemic is a pressing concern among policymakers.” This concern translates to a $865 million research budget for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This budget funds $151,117 per individual drug-related death.
This year, 163,199 Americans are projected to die from lung cancer. The National Institute of Health Lung Cancer research budget for 2018 is $282 million. This level of research amounts to only $1,727 per individual death.
Lung cancer kills 28 times more people per year than drug addition, but the drug addiction research budget is 87 times larger then lung cancer’s on a per-death basis. Clearly, our public health policy makers fail to understand the meaning of the word major. The major and largely unaddressed US public health problem is death from lung cancer.
Stay the course.
For the past 11 years, I’ve helped treat lung cancer patients as an RN in a cardiothoracic practice. Then last October, I developed a bad cough that lasted over a month. It was cold season, and my co-workers and I thought it might be pneumonia or even bronchitis. No one suspected it could be lung cancer, since I’m a nonsmoker and haven’t been exposed to common risk factors like asbestos, radon, or pollution.
I had a chest ray taken, which showed fluid around my right lung. The tests of the fluid didn’t uncover anything extraordinary. I didn’t look sick, but I felt fatigued and at times, I had difficulty breathing. A few days later, I had a CT scan, which supported the pneumonia diagnosis, but it also showed a thickening on my chest wall.
The doctors drained the fluid and tested it twice. Both times, the results came back negative for cancer cells. This didn’t completely rule out the possibility, but it gave us reasons to be hopeful. I started taking antibiotics and steroids, which were prescribed by a pulmonologist. But the second CT scan did not show any improvement.
My first surgery was scheduled for late January. The doctors thought I had an infection and that they’d be able to clean it out. But during surgery, they discovered growths in my lung that had expanded into my chest wall. The hospital lab confirmed that it was lung cancer.
My boss, cardiothoracic surgeon Carmine Frumiento, and my colleague, Danielle George, a longtime friend and physician assistant who I work with every day, had to give me, my husband, and my family the heartbreaking news that I have advanced lung cancer. It sounded so surreal that at first, I thought I was dreaming. I have a 6-year old daughter and a 2-year old son.
All of the sudden, I went from being a care provider to being a patient. I had the surgery, and then later that week, I traveled to Massachusetts General Hospital to meet with some of the best specialists in the country. Danielle traveled to Boston with me and my husband, Chris. Before we left, Danielle and Dr. Frumiento helped us prepare a list of questions to ask the doctors at Mass. General.
The doctors at MGH recommended starting a new targeted therapy without chemo or radiation. The results have been very promising on patients with my genetic mutation. But since the medication is so new, my insurance would not pay for it unless I tried an older treatment first. In order for her insurance to approve the new treatment, I would have to progress on the old treatment, or suffer from intolerable side effects. It felt like I was on an emotional roller-coaster. Fortunately, my colleagues helped me appeal the insurance company’s decision, and we won.
I still work as a nurse, but I’ve cut down to just mornings, since I get very tired by the afternoon. I’m very grateful for the support of my work friends, who have become like extended family. They’ve helped to make sure I’m getting the best care. I realize that not all patients have those strong connections, and how important it is to advocate for yourself.
I’ve been fortunate to have incredible support from my family, friends, and community. They’ve helped with everything from meals to child care to raising funds to help pay for my medical expenses. And my family was selected as the beneficiary of the Celebration of Courage Co-ed Hockey Tournament earlier this month. My husband has played in the tournament for many years to help support and raise funds for families affected by cancer. Now, our family is affected by cancer.
It is likely that my cancer will never go away, but I have been told that the genetic mutation cannot be passed down to my children. The goal is to turn my cancer into a manageable chronic disease that I can live with until better treatments are available.
I hope my story will raise awareness that lung cancer can happen to anyone, even young nonsmokers. It’s a fact I never fully realized myself, until I was diagnosed. There is so much blame and stigma surrounding lung cancer. I want to help raise awareness about the resources that are available for anyone who is diagnosed.
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Becoming Empowered Advocates
My wife, Heather, told me about LUNGevity National HOPE Summit and that she wanted to attend. She received a Travel Grant from LUNGevity and I decided to join her at the conference. It is one of the best things we ever did. The wealth of information about lung cancer available through LUNGevity is not comparable to anything I could find in Canada or through any Canadian organizations. LUNGevity is so caring, thoughtful, and cutting edge.
Heather and I attended our first National HOPE Summit in 2016. It was so incredibly inspiring. We got to see first-hand that the statistics are just numbers, not individual expiry dates. The number of people in attendence was impressive and the conference was well organized. We met people from across North America who embodied hope and positivity. It felt like a family. The medical professionals at this event were amazing. They spoke with my wife and gave her their contact information if they could ever assist her in any way in the future. After that experience, I felt empowered to become an advocate and to get involved with awareness events with my wife in our home province of New Brunswick.
I followed LUNGevity on Twitter and I joined the LUNGevity Caregivers group on Facebook. I started participating in a few of LUNGevity’s LC Caregiver Twitter chats, which are held the first Wednesday of every month. I utilized the #stopthestigma hashtag on Twitter whenever possible. I volunteered to be a LifeLine Support Mentor to provide peer-to-peer support to other caregivers, and I joined LUNGevity’s Social Media Ambassadors to help raise awareness online.
My goal is to raise awareness of lung cancer as the number one cancer killer, taking more lives annually than breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers combined, while receiving the least amount of federal funding for research. I hope that my advocacy efforts will help other caregivers through sharing my experience, strength, and hope.
Whenever I can, I join my wife in her advocacy work. It is important to us to stay educated on new treatments, research, and changes within the lung cancer community. We continuously meet with Federal and Provincial politicians to educate them about lung cancer, to lobby for equal access to health care, to promote genetic testing, and to demand equal catastrophic drug coverage in Canada.
Heather lends her name and story to different publications to spread the word about lung cancer. Through social media, she has connected with doctors and research scientists across Canada to support their requests for research funding. The most recent was through a connection with a very passionate doctor at the Dalhousie University Research Foundation.
I hope to help educate the greater public that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. It’s not “just” a smoker’s disease and smoking is listed as a possible cause for all cancers. Lung cancer patients do not deserve this disease. I plan to continue to volunteer at events in my area to help raise funds for research and to promote the work and resources available through LUNGevity. And Heather and I look forward to attending National HOPE Summit together this spring.
Part 3: Resources
One word that is perhaps overused in the professional cancer services field is a word that is also overused in many other humanitarian fields: “resource.” Sometimes, it seems like a catch-all. What do you guys offer? We offer resources! Hm.
What does “resource” mean to you?
To me, it means something that is drawn from by someone in need of help. Something that is stocked and available to give concrete assistance in a particular situation, and is either infinite in itself, or can be replenished.
A replenishable replenisher, if you will!
When I see fellow caregivers ask other fellow caregivers “what can I do? How can I help you?,” the answer is always the same. It’s an answer we see every time we ask the #LCCaregiver Twitter chat community the same question: what can your CG family do for you? What is the best way we can be a resource for each other? What can we do for you that is not already being done for you?
The answer is so profoundly simple: be there. Listen. Lend a supportive ear. Be a safe space for venting. Sympathize.
As much as we all sincerely want to “do more” or “be more” for those who are in our same situation, it seems as though the most important release we can expect from within the “pack” is the one thing we can’t really get from anyone outside the “pack:” understanding. As with any other experience in life, the bond formed when we realize that someone sincerely feels the same way we are feeling in response to the same stimulus is both profound and instant.
Only our fellow CGs “get” how we have time to do the shopping and the laundry, but do not have the time to answer the texts or get to the post office (or vice versa), without requiring an accounting of our hours. I swear, my dear non-CG friends and family who may see this, that I know you do not require timesheets from me, but sometimes it feels as if you do. Meanwhile, people who have undertaken a similar journey are not surprised at all when I explain that the day somehow did not actually contain 24 hours as promised on the packaging.
As useful (and awesome!) as it would be to live in a place where we could all physically pitch in for our fellow carers (a caregiving co-op of trusted co-carers? Say that five times fast…), it is MORE than enough to lend a shoulder and an “I hear you.” Your support is enough. YOU are enough. Something you have to say could make all the difference in the world for a new or overwhelmed caregiver.
So: the number one resource that caregivers have are fellow caregivers. Find them. Reach out. You’re in the right place to start, here on the LCSC: use the Caregivers message board.
Use the “LUNGevity Caregivers” Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/LungCancerCaregivers/.
Come find a buddy in the LifeLine program here: http://www.lungevity.org/for-patients-caregivers/support-services/peer-to-peer-mentoring/lungevity-lifeline.
Come to our monthly #LCCaregiver Twitter chats!
If you have been doing this a while, find someone who is new to the situation. Someone who needs to be told “it’s okay. I promise. You will find the new normal. It will become routine.
Had my last chemo on Aug. 3 and C. T. scans of chest, abdomen, and pelvis toward the end of August. The 3 tumors in my lungs had shrunk and still no spread of the cancer seen anywhere else. Have recovered from chemo side effects and just been enjoying not having to think about or battle the cancer for a while. Don't seem to have any long term effects from the radiation. Had a short bout of more coughing and shortness of breath right after last chemo. But from what I've read this could have been the result of the chemo or the radiation or both. A short course of steroids took care of that and have had no trouble since then. Will be having P. E. T. scan in early Dec. So far, have been happy with my treatment. I believe it was the best I could have been given in the circumstances.
I'm in the middle of my quarterly scan appointments. While I was waiting for my blood draw yesterday, I noticed a couple that was apparently new to the oncology clinic. The wife is the patient and, when she was called into the lab, her husband got up to walk with her and she told him she was fine, just going for a blood draw. I looked at his face and saw fear and I just wanted to give him a hug. This is the part I hate the most - when we look into our loved ones' eyes and see their fear. I just want to fix everything and I can't; we have so little control over this part of our lives. I have no idea why she was there or what her diagnosis is, but I definitely said a prayer for them last night.