Sometimes, HOPE is a kitten.
Okay, okay, sure, I know, that sounds a little weird. And a little bit like a desperate attempt to pass a poetry exam.
Let me explain…
Hope is strong and confident. Hope can be fickle. Hope can be hard to corral, name, and predict.
Hope can be ephemeral, and hope is also everlasting.
Hope can be full of contradictions. Hope can take many forms, directions, shapes, and sizes.
You’ve heard the expression “herding cats?”
Hope is one thing that cannot be herded. It is inspired, it cannot be forced, and it is felt differently by different people.
And hope, like most emotions we encounter after lung cancer has entered our lives, can have a complicated duality. An ambivalence. A way of being prickly when it doesn’t fit in our hearts, and a way of busting our hearts wide open.
A way of showing up without telling us why it’s there, and staying with us, warm and fuzzy and comfortable and soft, exactly when we need it most.
And that duality and ambivalence is essential to its nature. It isn’t going away.
…Okay. You get it. Hope is like a kitten. I’ve gotten just about everything I can from that analogy!
But, that’s not entirely what I mean. Let me explain (some more). Let me show my hand.
By way of update:
My mom is one of the people for whom I am a “caregiver.” She has been living with Stage IV NSCLC for a little over three years now. She was on a clinical trial of an immunotherapy medication for just over two years. She’s coming up on a year of having not been on any active treatment. She left the trial by choice, after experiencing some vague side effects that were determined to be likely due to the treatment (more on that another time).
She is exhausted every moment of every day, to some extent. This woman who was always the most productive, vital, “type-A,” energetic soul I had ever met is now essentially housebound. Her profound lack of vim and vigor is the antithesis of her identity, and it has left her feeling robbed. Some days she feels like going out to lunch or running one errand; but there are usually weeks between these good days.
(Side note: we have long made her medical team aware of her severe fatigue, and it was determined to likely be a result of her treatment. Because every patient and every situation is different, please always make your loved one’s medical team aware of every side effect that is experienced, especially when these interfere with your person’s quality of life!)
So, with these long hard days of being stuck at home, not feeling like herself, one might imagine that she would feel glum, and downtrodden, and defeated.
The answer is: of course she does! She’s human!
(Trick question, with a trick answer…)
See, the thing is, that isn’t ALL she feels. Nope.
Lately, despite choosing to not be on treatment, and despite being overwhelmed in the way that only a very tired person who has gone through a lot can feel (I know you all understand), she has also felt…hopeful.
Which reminds me:
She woke up a couple days ago
You heard me.
KITTENS. She wanted kittens in the house. Kittens. Baby cats. Catlings. Cat blossoms. Cat kids. Cat puppies.
We currently have two grown cats. We worship the ground they walk on. We have had both cats and dogs in the past. Pet adoption is an important cause to us, and we tend to make a new addition to the family every 5-8 years.
Following our normal timeline, we have talked about adopting kittens a few times since mom’s diagnosis in 2015. But, 10x/10, she has decided against the idea, once even as I was literally walking out the door to head to the shelter. She has been on a scale somewhere between hesitant and heartbroken each time, and each time because she did not feel she could handle the joy that a new pet brings.
Let me repeat that: she felt she could not handle, or did not want to welcome, the particular joy that a new pet brings.
The joy of a new pet is like Spring: It’s promise. It’s a belief in a tomorrow.
Disclaimer, because I feel I have to make one: the decision to adopt a pet is a serious one, and should not be made lightly. We are very experienced cat owners, and we have gone through the cat-to-kitten introduction process many times over the years. In a caregiving situation, pet care should be particularly deliberately and honestly discussed, since caregivers may or may not have the ability or desire to assume those responsibilities.
But, in our case, that situation could not be more perfect. I mostly live with my folks as part of my effort to help out, so I am around (and, let’s face it, more than willing) to contribute my part to Project KittenHope. At the end of the day, the kittens will become part of the whole family, owned and loved by all of us.
When my mom declared that the haze had lifted and that she was ready to take this step, it was an automatic victory. It was a sign.
It was hope.
Thus: this week, into our lives walked a two-month old little girl cat and a two-month old little boy cat.
And, yet, those of you who are here reading this understand, not needing any disclaimer. Because -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------*-
…one of the kittens just typed that.
As I was saying: because you understand this daily tug of war, seeking and understanding hope.
So, the past few days, while welcoming our new additions, I have literally been herding cats…and herding hope. It appears where it will, often when least expected, and gives its gift of easy breathing and lifted hearts.
Just like the kittens.
This past weekend, LUNGevity hosted their National HOPE Summit in Washington, D.C.: an annual gathering of lung cancer survivors and co-survivors (caregivers!) that is regularly the largest such meeting in the country. It is part family reunion, part medical conference, and part survivorship bootcamp: fellowship with folks who understand what the lung cancer experience feels like; experts who inform the crowd on the most cutting edge treatment and diagnostic research; and tips and tricks for living one’s best life as a lung cancer survivor or caregiver. The event leaves everyone enlightened, invigorated, and aware of information and tactics that can introduce HOPE where there may have been none.
Thanks to the LUNGevity Foundation, May is officially National Lung Cancer Hope Month. We HOPE (see what I did there?) that you will join us every day this month in ongoing conversations about all the HOPE that is out there in the lung cancer field: new diagnostic tests, new medications, new genetic sequencing, new surgeries, new forms of radiotherapy, new places to turn for assistance, new clinical trials, new emphases on patient navigation, and more. (See LUNGevity.org for more of this. Seriously, it seems there is breaking news every day!)
We also HOPE that you will share with us those moments, long and brief and in-between, that give YOU hope, inspiration, and a reminder of why we wake up every day to advocate for patients: for new treatments, for access to help, for better resources, for more information, and—as LUNGevity says--for a world where nobody dies of lung cancer.