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”.

 

Cancer Book Club & Other Favorite Reads

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to break my technology addiction and my first course of action was banning devices from my bedroom. Instead of watching something on my iPad as I fall asleep, I replaced the activity with reading (real books) and have never felt more well rested, energetic and sharp. It’s made me realized how much I’ve missed reading like I did when I was younger. Plus, I’ve read over 45 books this year!

Naturally, some of these books are about cancer.  They consist of either memoirs or “how-to’s” on surviving. Below you’ll find a random, incomplete list my favorites to-date to serve as suggestions if you’re looking for inspiration.

rufusDie Young With Me by Rob Rufus. Read this if you’re a young adult impacted by cancer, lover of punk music and/or don’t subscribe to the kumbaya-ness that often accompanies illness. Personally, I’m a little partial to this story since Rufus and I both live in Nashville and are cancer surviving writers, who aren’t afraid of a few f-bombs.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi. It’s sad, it’s profound, but most of all, it’s beautifully written. Read my complete review here.

Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani. Read this book if you believe in miracles or want to believe in miracles by a first hand experience.

radzwillWhat Remains by Carole Radzwill. Another weeper, but the prose is incredible. I found this memoir of loss an example of what our caregivers endure along our side because they are often the forgotten trauma survivors.

Crazy Sexy Cancer by Kris Carr. Read this if you are a newly diagnosed woman and/or interested in means of healing through food, alternative treatments, etc. Better yet, watch the documentary or an episode of Carr on Super Soul Sunday.  

41b5V0a3aFL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I Have Cancer and Never Felt Better by Tracy Krulik. Check this out if you’re a fellow pNET, especially if you’re about to go into surgery. I devoured this before my distal pancreatomy and it provided me with many important questions I would have not otherwise asked.

Now, this all being said, I have set up some rules for cancer reading, which may not always be a relaxing escape.

  1. Memoirs only before bed. Rule 1a – the person has to be alive. Rule 1b – it can’t be a section where the subject is talking about a similar trauma (chemo, nausea, etc.) Bringing those feelings and memories to the surface have no place in my bedroom.
  2. No cancer reads on vacation. Time away is officially a cancer-free zone in my family.

Don’t want to read about cancer? Yeah, me neither. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is my all-time favorite book, ever. The prose is out of this world and tells the story of an immigrant family’s struggle of retaining their culture versus assimilating to America. If you like this book, Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is also worth the time. It was Lahiri’s first book and won the Pulitzer Prize if you needed any further nudging. There’s also a movie based on The Namesake, which, for the first time ever, does justice to the book.

The Moth Presents all These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown. Read my complete review here. Okay, so there are a few stories about cancer, but they are happy ones.

patchettCommonwealth by Ann Patchett. God, I love Ann Patchett. She lives in Nashville and owns a bookstore I frequent. Between you and I, I sometimes hang out there just to catch a glimpse of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thinks I’m a stalker. I just kind of want to soak up some of her genius by breathing the same air.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. An interesting memoir of escaping and growing up in poor Appalachia.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. A novel an African immigrant family trying to make it in New York City. While this story is fiction, I think it portrays the sacrifices and lengths that foreigners will go to to achieve the American Dream.

If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my Goodread’s list, which has the last few years of books with ratings.

Also, my “to-read” list is primarily comprised of recommendations from others, so if you have a book that’s touched your life, please share by commenting below.

Up next in the cancer category is Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, Everyday I Fight by Stewart Scott, A Walk with Purpose by Michael Becker and The Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight.

Happy Reading!

Cancer Camp Reunion

This is the story of three, thirty-something girlfriends from Denver. Let’s call them Harry, Lloyd and Elle. They had wonderful marriages, adorable children and flourishing careers. You might say they had it all.

And then they all had breast cancer.

First to be diagnosed was Lloyd. Months later, Harry. After Harry, it was Elle.

Shortly after her diagnosis, Elle found a bracelet that said, LIKE A BOSS. She thought of her daughter and decided that would be her mantra for facing this disease. So the three friends got their forearms tattooed and the “Breast Friends” were born. From what it sounds like, they had a good time while confronting an experience, I would describe as the opposite of a good time. I recall a story of them sitting on Lloyd’s front porch laughing hysterically at the terrified expressions of passersby – three bald, young mothers watching their children play outside as if nothing about them was unusual.

img_1865Elle had a crazy idea that the three of them should go to a week-long surfing camp with First Descents, an organization that takes young adult cancer survivors on (FREE) adventure trips.  So, the three of them signed up. Then, Elle got really sick. Then, she died.  She was 36 and left behind two beautiful babies and a husband. Harry and Lloyd spoke at her memorial saying how she would be their lighthouse.

Harry and Lloyd knew they had to go surfing to honor Elle and so they joined thirteen other cancer survivors in California in September 2016. Their residence for the week – Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The universe works in poetic and mysterious ways.

1476993212Some of the most definitive moments of the week were not those spent conquering waves, but were when Harry and Lloyd spoke of Elle. They brought some of her ashes to be spread at the lighthouse and at Cowell’s Beach where we learned to surf. On the last day, our entire group was in the water, sitting in a circle on our boards, having a moment of silence for Elle, when a harbor seal popped its head out of the water. Call me crazy, but that was Elle and she got her wish – she was surfing in the water with her friends.

This past weekend, my husband and I voyaged to Denver for Easter. I was looking forward to visiting a new city and Rocky Mountain National Park, but I was most excited to have dinner Saturday evening with Harry and Lloyd. Over big bowls of ramen, we laughed and reminisced about our week of surfing with First Descents. Talking about the other campers, the funny moments and the mandatory nicknames (hence the story behind two comedic girls called Harry and Lloyd). We talked about how we loath being labeled as brave or courageous, after doing what anyone else would have done in our situation. We talked about people in our lives who have been recently diagnosed – children, mothers, friends, young women.

The injustice of cancer is mind-blowing and reminded me of a quote in Susan Sontag’s, Illness as Metaphor:

“Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

And by having been citizens of that other place, Harry, Lloyd and Mitten (that’s me), decidedly agreed that because of cancer, we are all better people. And that to best honor their friend and the others we’ve lost along the way, we are obliged to be grateful, compassionate and out living our lives to the fullest, every day…like a boss.

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If you’re interested in learning more about First Descents, check out their website at www.firstdescents.com. Or if you’d like to financially contribute to the Like A Boss Team, click here. To date, Harry and Lloyd have raised over $13,000 – enough to send six other survivors to a week-long camp. Click here to read about my week with First Descents.