One thing I have come to realize under my new role as “cancer patient,” is that not all “cancer patients” are into fundraising and charity.
It’s not that we don’t want to help others, it’s just that we’ve become the faces that need to be helped. And to be perfectly honest, we don’t need healthy people reminding us that we need help by running and doing things that us sick people can’t do. I don’t speak for everyone here obviously, but you know, sometimes it stings.
Under my new role as cancer patient, I also now know what is really helpful to fellow patients and the people that love them. A CURE. For all kinds of cancer.
It is with this that I laced up my sneakers on Sunday with my mother and step-sister to participate in the Terry Fox run. One of the organizations out there who I feel is really dedicated to finding a cure, and one of the top funders of cancer research in Canada.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Terry Fox, he attempted to run across the country in what he called “The Marathon of Hope” in 1980 after losing his leg to osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. He did it in the name of cancer research, asking just one dollar from every Canadian. He died before he made it across the country. No wonder, I cannot fathom attempting such a feat with this disease.
I’ve participated in this event a few times before, but it was surreal being there on such different terms this year. Last time I ran it was two years ago, back when I was at the top of my game. This year, I walked the 5k in one hour.
Also surreal was not only writing the name of my uncle down, but also seeing my own name down with those affected by cancer.
What I like about this event is that there is no fundraising limit, no timing chips, no stress. You just show up, donate want you want, and go as fast as you want. You can even bring your dog if you want to!
Hopefully next year I’ll be healthy enough to RUN the 5k again. Although, walking along and chatting with friends and family was great too. I mean, why outrun cancer? No freakin’ way it’ll ever catch me anyways.
In participating, I donated some money from The Great Fundraising Act fund. Spreading your dollars just a little bit further, in hopes of saving another Terry Fox, another Uncle Bob, and of course – ME!
Because cancer really is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Likely the hardest one me, and so many others, will ever have to run. Events like these remind me that I’m not alone in this, and that I’ll eventually reach the finish line.
Did you know September is Worldwide Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month? Well, neither did I until a few days ago. Actually, up until a couple months ago I didn’t even know what lymphoma was.
Charity, awareness, fundraising, these are all things that I didn’t give too much thought to before. I’d play my part, feel good about myself, then move on with my busy life. Now that I am one of the growing number of faces affected by cancer, my view of the whole thing has completely changed.
First, let me help raise the awareness by describing these cancers a little more. They are not your typical “get tumour, get operation” cancers. That is because they start in the blood. The cells that travel all through our bodies which are not just located in one convenient place.
There are three types of cancers that are generally categorized as blood cancers – leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. There are probably hundreds of different sub-classifications from here, so today I am just going to point out the main differences.
Leukemia starts in the bone marrow. Inside our bones is where the white cells are created, and these cells can rapidly grow, turning them cancerous. Myeloma also starts in the bones, with a different kind of white blood cell called plasma.
Lymphoma, the cancer I have, is sort of like the next step in the cell process. The white blood cells go from the bones to the lymphoid system, an array of complex vessels that is part of our circulatory system.
Once in the lymphoid system, the cells become known as “lymphocytes” and move around the system, flushing out through small nodes at the end of the vessels. It’s also where immune responses are stimulated, making it a part of our immune system.
The cancer I have is of those lymphocytes. Specifically, of a “B” type of cell that designates it as “Hodgkins Lymphoma.” This type of cancer is actual very predictable in how it grows, often starting with a mass of growing nodes in the throat or chest. It also responds very well to chemotherapy. Blood cancers can’t always be operated on as they don’t create the big lumpy tumours we are more familiar with. I think of it more as a “shadow” of extra, unwanted cells. I personally find blood cancers more scary because of the cell’s ability to travel anywhere in the body and spread to organs.
Blood cancers, like any other kind of cancer, can happen to anyone at any time. But you’ll notice they are the most common types of cancer in younger people. And this is where awareness is important!
As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s not like someone can just get cancer at 20 years old, beat it, then forget about it. Getting cancer at such a young age sets patients up for decades of potential health problems as a result of our still-outdated treatments.
Chemotherapy is an incredibly harsh therapy that kills the good cells along with the bad cells. For example, apart from making one’s hair fall out, it can also cause infertility. A big deal to a 25-year-old woman like me. Radiation puts people at risk for other cancers down the road. A much larger risk to take if you still have 60 years of life ahead of you. To the point where I may not get radiation to my chest because of the high associated breast cancer risk.
I had no idea just how outdated our cancer treatments were until, obviously, I started receiving them. When people say that “chemo isn’t as bad as it used to be” it’s not that the chemo has necessarily changed – it’s that there have been more advancements in drugs to take along with it to make the side-effects more manageable (thank you Zofran!!).
What we really need are treatment options that don’t kill the healthy cells. In today’s advanced medical world, it sounds like an easy task. But it’s not. It’s still really hard to make a medicine that can distinguish between the healthy thriving cell that grows the hair on my head, and the bastardly cancer cell that wants to take over my chest.
There have been small advancements in recent years, and scientists are still working away at finding modern treatments. But as we know, research ain’t cheap. Part of raising awareness is inspiring people to take action on top of that. There are all kinds of way you can give back if you feel so inclined. You can check out the LLS website. I’m a big fan of donating to your local oncology clinic and cancer research centres. Or, in the tune of The Great Fundraising Act, find an individual cancer patient who needs your help.
Even if you can’t give back, just having a greater understanding of cancer is a good start. In a world where “awareness” is wearing pink boas and updating our Facebook statuses, I think it’s important to know that there is much greater depth to this big bad disease. You don’t have to know all the science behind it, but you should know there are real people dealing with real problems because of it.