Review: Everyday I Fight

51zYCKX2OoL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been hoarding this book from my public library for months and received word they want it back, so I’ve spent the last few days immersed. Disclaimer: I love Stuart Scott and first remember him, not from ESPN, but the VH1 documentary series, “I Love the 70s/80s/90s”. He was hilarious and those are totally worth watching on YouTube. They are hysterical and will remind you of all the forgotten pop culture trends of your youth.

I digress.

I fell even more in awe of Scott when his 2014 ESPY Award speech went viral around the time when I was diagnosed with a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor.  In his inspiring speech he encouraged those “in the fight” to cry, “Live. Fight like hell. And when you get to tired to fight, then lay down and let somebody else fight for you.” I still can’t watch it without sobbing. And when he died in January 2015, I took it personal. So, I should’ve known that reading his words would hit me right in the feels and leave a puddle of tears and tissues on the floor next to the couch.

‘Everyday I Fight’ expressed many of the thoughts that pass through my brain regularly. Let me share a few passages and sentiments I found powerful:

“Once you’re told you have it, cancer is never not with you. My life was now forever divided between the before and the after of my diagnosis. I’d look at people walking by and I’d think: ‘You don’t have cancer.’” Then, “I came to realize what I was really doing making these observations: I was noting the innocence of others. And on some level, I was mourning my loss of the same. I would never have that again. That carefree, total immersion in simple moments. From now on, whenever I laughed, it would no longer be an innocent laugh;” Wow.

“There’s not any time of any day that you forget you have cancer. You never have a moment when you say to yourself, ‘Hey, wow, I forgot I have cancer.’” I feel like this could be applied to situations where family or friends don’t mention the word in my presence. Perhaps they are thinking it will only remind me. And I’m here to echo Scott – I am NEVER unaware that cancer is a part of my life. It’s better to acknowledge it and move on than to be silent.

Later he describes his surprising indifference when his doctor told him his body showed no signs of disease. His response to the “good news”: “that anxiety never leaves you. In fact, it only gets worse – because you’re no longer taking proactive steps to combat the disease.” Man, I have been there. In fact, I’ve notice my anxiety is heightened when I am classified as “No Evidence of Disease”.

Scott reached out to Lance Armstrong for advice who told Stuart it took 12 years of clear scans for that anxiety to fade. 12 years where he didn’t have cancer on his mind every second of everyday. 12 years! That’s over a decade where Armstrong was killing it on the bike – okay, say what you will, but the man is an endurance athlete through and through.

After the inspiring ESPY moment, Stuart wrote of the most impactful review of his performance written by then Slate intern, Eliza Berman, “The Most Moving Thing About Stuart Scott’s Speech at the ESPYs,” where she writes, “Cancer is a ‘battle’ People with cancer are ‘fighters’ and if they don’t die from the disease, they are ‘survivors’…The problem is one of language. We have a tendency to foist heroism upon people with cancer in a way that might, at first glance, seem generous and celebratory. But it can also be damaging…Saddling people with cancer with Herculean expectations fails to acknowledge that it is absolutely normal to feel afraid, to feel like you can’t go on, to actually want to give up…This guy (Stuart Scott) who the video showed in the (literal) boxing ring, and on the sidelines of his daughter’s soccer game – even this guy sometimes can’t fight…The world needed to hear that. Scott’s public ambivalence about the superhero cape he’s been given was a gift to all those who don’t always feel like superheros.”

Truer words have never been spoken on the subject of cancer. To read the whole article, click here and if you need a little inspiration or perspective today, (re)watch Stuart Scott.

May he be upstairs screaming “BOOYAH” and jamming to “Rappers Delight”.

 

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Hands in the Air if You’ve Had Radiation

The last week of September I took advantage of a cheap flight and travelled to my home state of Michigan for a week of visiting with family, friends, my beloved home yoga studio, all the yummy food I miss and cooler fall weather.

I also decided to take this opportunity of proximity to drive to Toronto and visit my dear friend, Kevin. Those of you who read my blog regularly might recognize him as the main character from my days on the El Camino de Santiago. (Catch-up on those here)

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Kevin in his natural habitat

Toronto is only a few hours drive from Detroit. As I crossed over the border, I texted Kevin giving him my ETA and joking that I had successfully duped border agents because I won’t be coming back to the United States. I mean, how could I resist affordable healthcare, sane leadership and Tim Hortons? I’ll tell you how – snow and cold weather. Politics, healthcare, coffee and hypothermia aside, Kevin, I and his partner had a lovely evening catching up, followed by Kevin and I spending the next day eating and walking around his Toronto neighborhood (a la Camino style).

On the way home, I enjoyed the drive and opportunity to catch up on my podcasts. Thankful for only one car ahead of me in the US Customs line, I pulled up to the Border Agent window and handed him my passport, ignorantly thinking I’d be home soon for a nap before evening yoga.

“Ma’am, have you had any recent medical procedures?” How much time do you have? Was my first thought. Then I looked in my rearview mirror to see six Border Agents and two German Shepherds.

I explained that I had a radiation procedure three weeks ago and the group of agents asked me to pull over to Secondary Inspection. It was a little surprising to find I’m still emitting radiation even though I’m well out of the quarantine period of six days for pregnant women and children and two days for general public.

In Secondary Inspection I retrieved the card provided to me by Excel Diagnostics – Thank God I kept it. They asked me several questions about the procedure all the while scanning me with a radiation detector, which first indicated I was emitting “Plutonium”. The following several scans revealed an “Unknown” substance.

Since they couldn’t determine the isotope, Border Agents asked me to come into the US Border Customs & Immigration building while they “called it in”.

While I sat and waited in the lobby, the only other person who entered the building for Secondary Inspection was a man with a turban, who was held by Agents at his wrists and taken into a room. I have no idea why he was selected for additional questioning, but the skeptical liberal in me drew some conclusions. The Agents never doubted my story and were only following protocols when I was told they’d have to “call it in”. There was no holding of my wrists and I wasn’t taken into a room, even after testing positive for Plutonium. Instead the Agents offered me a bathroom, let me hold onto my passport, called me “Ma’am” and promised they would be quick. I’m not trying to make a moral of the story case here, but a large part of me felt for this man and others who endure this type of treatment throughout their lives.

For those of you who have travelled to other countries for PRRT or another radiation procedure, this story is not unique. Had this experience occurred while I was a cancer underclassman, it might have upset me, but as I enter my senior year as a survivor, I was able to call my husband laughing as Agents cleared me 30 minutes later.

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Cloudy with a high chance of affordable healthcare

Can My Cat Detect Cancer?

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As featured on curetoday.com

I know this might make me sound crazier than a crazy cat lady, but, I think my cat might be able to detect cancer.

Before someone orders a straight jacket to be sent to my house, let me explain….

In 2012 my cat started licking and eating the hair off her belly. Thinking she might have an allergy or an invisible strain of fleas, I took her to the vet. After several swipes of my Visa and many tests, the doctor ruled out any physical problem and told me he believed my cat had a mental disorder called Psychogenic Alopecia. Basically, the feline equivalent of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Instead of washing her hands a million times a day, she overgrooms. They sent me home with a version of kitty Xanax, which failed miserably. (Those of you who have ever tried to give a cat a pill understand.)

2012 is also when I began experiencing symptoms of Neuroendocrine Cancer. These initial symptoms of this rare, silent cancer included facial flushing, occasional heart palpitations, bloating and trouble digesting food.

After a couple years of my cat obsessively licking her belly and my symptoms increasing, eventually I became symptomatic enough to prompt my doctor to perform a myriad of tests. Neuroendocrine Cancer is often misdiagnosed for five to seven years, but I was “lucky” enough to be diagnosed with a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor a month after my first doctor’s visit. Weeks following the diagnosis, I had a distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy and was sent home to recover without any additional treatment. My cat stopped licking her belly for a couple of months and then started again. Soon after some spots were found in my liver. And the cycle has repeated itself a few times. When all is well in my body, her overgrooming ceases and when something’s astray, the licking commences.

Could it be a coincidence? Sure, but if scientists are beginning to research dogs’ abilities to detect cancer, perhaps they should explore the secret power of cats as well. And should scientists accept my invitation, I know a certain tabby feline who would happily raise her soft, over-groomed paw in exchange for a couple servings of Fancy Feast.

Neuroendocrine Cancer (sometimes referred to as NET or Carcinoid Cancer) has the largest growing incident increase rate of all cancers. To learn more about this cancer and it’s symptoms, visit www.carcinoid.org.

Read my other articles with Cure.

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My own personal PET Scan