26 Nov Cancer Is The Common Language Connecting Us All
I went into a local store to make a return the other day. The clerk asked me why I was making the return. I said because I made a hasty decision in shirt choices and it didn’t match my suit. She asked what was the special occasion and I told her it was my father’s funeral. She expressed her condolences and asked if it was sudden. I shared with her that it had been a short fast struggle with pancreatic cancer. She then shared with me that she too had lost her father a few years prior to pancreatic cancer as well. We shared this common story of being connected through the loss of our fathers to cancer.
Last Thursday I had the privilege of conversing with one of the executive directors of an academic medical center. I had been slightly late and I apologized profusely for my tardiness. When he asked me the reason for my tardiness I confessed that I had slept through my alarm. He noted that it didn’t seem to be something I typically do and asked if there was any other reason as to why I may have slept through the alarm. I told him that perhaps because I was trying to drown myself in work to not have a lot of time to think of my fathers passing that it might have finally caught up to me. I shared with him my breaking down and crying bout. He shared with me that he too lost his mother a few months ago and that he had dealt with it in a similar fashion. He told me that it does get better as time moves on, but that it will continue to creep up and hit me from time to time. To be prepared for those moments. We connected on a new level.
Both of these stories made me think about how we connect and communicate with one another as individuals. It made me think about language. I recall being in a class a few years ago and someone making the point that mathematics was the only true universal language. I recall someone making the point that pictures may be the only real universal language.
In my opinion, I think “cancer” may be a universal language.
I took a moment to pause and think about the two recent situations and then to look back on all of the many conversations I have had over my career.
Cancer. You have cancer. I have cancer. My mother has cancer. My father has cancer. My wife has cancer. My husband has cancer. My sister has cancer. My brother has cancer. My daughter has cancer. My son has cancer. My friend has cancer.
I lost a loved one to cancer.
No matter what the dialogue is, that small five-letter word has a tremendous amount of impact. It changes lives. It can rip families apart. It can make strong grown men fall to their knees and sob. It can turn people into heroes. It can give life a purpose. It can give perspective to what is important in life. Five letters arranged in such a fashion that it spreads fear, brings chaos, and tests love.
Cancer is a story that impacts everyone. Cancer has a harsh reality that it doesn’t care about the amount of money in your bank account. It doesn’t care if you run a successful business, if you happen to be a celebrity, or if you are out of a job. It doesn’t care about your religion, politics, sex, or even your race.
Cancer cares about the same thing we do, surviving.
All of us are made up of 23 pairs of chromosomes. Within these 23 pairs of chromosomes are around 3B (B=billion) various combinations that make us human, make us individuals, and make us completely unique from one another. However, the one thing all of us share that makes us human is the one thing that generates cancer.
DNA. When it works the right way we live, we thrive, we are our own unique individuals. Yet, we are humans. We make mistakes. We make mistakes all of the time. Our habit of making mistakes occurs at this same genetic level. Most of the time, just as in our everyday lives, we can correct our mistakes. We can continue to move forward without a lot of negative impact or repercussions.
However, every so often, something happens and we cannot correct it. It is a mistake that begins to thrive. This mistake manifests in the form of cancer. At times we can do things to help us manage the mistake and continue to live. Continue to survive. Cancer does the same thing. It fights just as we do to stay alive. To thrive. To survive.
We use the word cancer to simplify our fears. We use it to become a common word that links all of us together. It connects our stories. The stories can be made up of people, emotions, or situations. No matter what walk of life or which part of the world we reside, the simple word that represents cancer has the same impact. A word to sum up all of our fears.
Cancer is not about breasts, or prostate, or lungs, or colons, or rectums, or brains, or blood or any other specific site in our body. Cancer is about genetics. Cancer is a multifaceted complex language made up of billions of examples that is specific, targeted, precise, and personal.
Cancer is not just personal in the stories of how it impacts all of us. Cancer is a story of how it comes to life inside of us, at a genetic level. Cancer is as individual as you or I.
To win the battle we need to continue to unite our stories. We need to collaborate on a new approach that allows us to understand the cancer story from a genetic level. To target cancer, at an individual level, with a personalized plan of care. The more we work together, the more we combine our efforts and learn, the faster we can impact the lives of one another, and our own life.
Cancer is a story about human beings. I want my story to be a part of how we as humans decided to be the ones standing at the end of the race, victoriously, winning the battle against cancer.
What will your story be in the saga against cancer?
As always, you can feel free to contact me at: CANCERGEEK@GMAIL.COM
Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC)Posted at 18:49h, 26 November
Absolutely! I am always struck when I go to medical conferences when a speaker stands up to deliver their presentation and manages throughout to convey the impression that cancer is somehow not connected to them personally. It is their job but not something that they may be diagnosed with or someone close to them.
cancergeekPosted at 20:14h, 26 November
I completely agree with you. I may be a minority, but I think putting myself out there, along with the stories of my father and my own experiences with cancer, allows me to relate and connect on a deeper level.
Healthcare should be all about connecting and stories. I am glad that you enjoyed the post and that you also recognize the lack of participation by speakers at times.
Thanks for all you do.