“ Cancer “ was always a significant and serious medical term to me –but one that, at the start, did not have any medical impact on my family.
In the early 1980’s, while living in Winston-Salem, NC, a dear friend of mine, in her early 30’s, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She and her husband had 2 young children and I was asked if I could help the family by taking her to her chemotherapy sessions, on occasion, so that her husband would not miss work. Of course, I agreed to help.
She began her treatment at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, which at the time, was a joint partnership between Bowman Grey School of Medicine and NC Baptist Hospital.
In those days, patient support, beyond what was provided by one’s doctors and nurses, fell solely on the shoulders of the patient’s family or friends. This was a very stressful situation because, often times, the family was emotionally drained, lacked the background to know what questions to ask and often traveled great distances, with no place to rest, during the loved one’s hospital care and treatment.
During my friend’s care, I helped to create and to participate in a volunteer program that tried to support families under these circumstances.
When my friend’s condition deteriorated and she was transferred to Duke University Hospital, I went several times to help her at her “ end of life” stage. Duke also created a volunteer program, similar to that at Wake Forest, to assist cancer patients’ families. When my friend passed away-I hoped and prayed that the word “Cancer” would never touch my family or friends’ lives again.
I WAS TERRIBLY NAÏVE.
On the weekend of September 10th, 1982, our lives changed forever. We are of the Jewish faith and that weekend was the celebration of our younger son’s 13thbirthday. In the Jewish faith it is called a Bar Mitzvah. All our family and friends were in town for this special event and no sooner had we arrived home from the Saturday evening celebration than my husband’s back and right side started to cause him great pain.
We immediately drove to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his right kidney and the kidney was removed. The tumor was contained, the cancer had not spread in any way, and we were told that he required no further treatment. We were so very grateful but absolutely shocked. Our family had had excellent medical care, we had exercised regularly, had watched our diets. No one had ever questioned our family history of Cancer. The hospital handed us brochures, but since we were told that” we have gotten it all. He is Cancer free.” we rarely focused upon Cancer except when my husband went to his doctor for his quarterly check-up and paid his elevated insurance premiums.
Because of my friend’s death, I started to do regular monthly breast checks and had an annual mammogram. We moved to Atlanta in 1987 and it took a while to establish ourselves in the Atlanta medical practice.
In December 1988, I noticed that the nipple on my right breast had turned a darker red than usual. I was around Christmas and we were going to Washington, DC, my husband’s hometown, to celebrate his parent’s anniversary. I decided to make a doctor’s appointment when I returned home after the New Year. While we were away, my nipple started to bleed on occasion and I knew that I had a potentially serious problem. My Winston-Salem doctors recommended an Atlanta Oncologist for me to see. He was excellent and told me that I also needed to be seen by a breast surgeon. On Valentine’s Day, 1989, I had a mastectomy of my right breast. I had stage II Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement. I had chemotherapy and radiation. In 1992, just three years later, I had a recurrence on the same side.
Cancer changed my life as it had for my husband. I was very lucky to have the support of my family, friends and excellent doctors. But our children now had both parents as cancer survivors and this fact, plus worrying about the hereditary implications, has never left my mind.
I promised myself that I would do everything that I could to eradicate Cancer in my lifetime. And, if the disease were to overcome me, it would take me “kicking and screaming”.
I am very fortunate—I have had and do have to this day every possible advantage in understanding and caring for my health. I live in the metro Atlanta area that has excellent medical care available. I have the financial resources and the time that I need to learn about every aspect of the disease and how it may affect me. And I have the support and devotion of family, and my survivor friends.
My main concern today and every day is for those cancer patients and survivors less fortunate than I—those living in rural parts of Georgia, those who do not live conveniently near a hospital and may not have a method to get to the hospital, those who do not have the financial resources to handle their care or know how to acquire the most basic, necessary health insurance, those who do not know how to seek out or do not understand information that will help them deal with the disease, and those who do not have the support of family or friends.
To that end, I have been engaged in a number of organizations fighting the battle against cancer. I was a Founding Member and Past President of the Georgia Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, former member of The Health Strategies Council of Georgia and Coordinator of the former Cancer Survivor Leadership Council of Georgia.
Today, I am A member of the Georgia Cancer Control ( GC3) Plan Steering Team and serve as a member on the GC3 Survivorship Advisory Board.
People tell me, all the time, that we live in a high tech world and that information about our disease is available to us instantaneously. Yes, we do. BUT, if you do not have access to a computer or a smart phone or cannot read or understand English, you are at a significant disadvantage.
My desire and goal is to help to expand our Cancer Patient Navigators of Georgia system. I want information about this program made available in the most basic of ways. Print information in various languages and distribute it not only at medical venues, but for example, at houses of worship, stores, and libraries. Put information on billboards or advertise at movie theaters. Seek to acquire and to train additional both lay and professional individuals to join this endeavor.
As we all know, when a patient understands that he / she has the support that is needed to guide them through this stressful and often painful time in their lives, life continues to be more comfortable and hopefully longer lasting.
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