“…But what I didn’t know was that as I stood here last year, something sinister was still going on inside me. Just a few weeks after speaking here, I began having seizures. I had to go to a local hospital to have an MRI, not Penn, so when the ER doctor came in with a phone and said it was Dr. Amaravadi, my oncologist, on the line I knew something was very wrong. Dr. A confirmed that they had found a brain tumor in my right occipital lobe and that it was indeed melanoma metastisis. He is someone who doesn’t get worked up easily and never really seemed too worried before this, which is a quality that I very much appreciate about him, but now he had a sad and concerned tone that I hadn’t heard before. I was heavily sedated at the time but I’ll never forget him reassuring me that he would still be my main doctor, the one looking out for me, even as he had to send me to a neurosurgeon and other doctors to get this looked at. As tears streamed uncontrollably down my face, all I could think to ask him was “am I stage 4 now?” And there wasn’t really anything for him to say besides, “Yes.”
So, what do I know about cancer? I know that there are so many different kinds, stages, treatments, options, outcomes. Every cancer and every treatment reacts differently depending on the individual. I know that cancer is an elaborate mystery. I know that I have it and I know that living, even with an end in sight, is still living. Cancer does not just eat away at our flesh and bones, it attacks us mentally and spiritually, making us doubt everything we once knew and pulling the proverbial rug out from under us. Any sense of comfort or security in life is thrown away and we are left feeling powerless, vulnerable, and alone. I know others who are fighting, I know people who have won and are considered cancer free, and I know people who have died. I know that due to cutting edge research, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in two clinical trials, one on a high dose of a newly approved drug (10mg/kg Yervoy) and one of a drug that wasn’t at the time but is now FDA approved (Keytruda). I was only diagnosed a year a half ago, but so much progress is being made. My sites of metastasis (brain tumor, lymph nodes in lungs, hip bone) are at this time inactive thanks to these medical breakthroughs.
Awareness and funding are two huge tools to help in this fight. Awareness that some cancers can be prevented based on lifestyle choices, knowledge of early symptoms and pushing for routine tests like colonoscopies, mammograms, skin checks, etc as a means of early detection saves lives. Without the endless and selfless devotion of doctors, scientists, researchers, and caregivers, I would not be alive today. Without the tireless efforts of people like you who care enough to make a difference in the lives of people with cancer, I wouldn’t be here. You offer us cancer patients something that now doesn’t seem quite so far out of reach, hope for a cure.
So much more than being here to share my story, although I do hope it does resonate with you and that you will get educated and make wise choices about your skin (never using tanning beds, opting for sunscreen, getting checked regularly), more than that I’m here to say thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of me and others out there fighting this fight, thank you. Because of your donations and sacrifice of time, we are getting closer and closer to making cancer history. I can stand here today, having outlived my prognosis, because of people like you. Thank you.”
I mean this from the bottom of my heart. If you are, or have been, in any way involved with Relay for Life or any other organization with similar goals, I want to personally thank you. I know there are people who are critical, but I only feel grateful that so many individuals care enough to rally around and encourage those of us walking this uncertain path. Stay tuned for more stories of faith, love, and fighting cancer in the upcoming weeks, I had some amazing people reach out to me to share their stories.