Survivors are breaking stereotypes and redefining life with cancer
Cancer can affect anyone, anywhere at anytime. Young, mature, stout, svelte, beautiful inside or out. You and yours are not off limits to this disease. According to the American Cancer Society, one out of every two American men and one out of every three American women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. We all are—or will be—friends, caregivers, children, parents, siblings, co-workers, doctors or nurses of cancer patients, if not patients ourselves.
However, the situation is not as grim as it sounds. Today, many people are not dying of cancer—they are living with it; a cancer diagnosis is no longer an automatic death sentence. Thanks to technology, funding and education, survival is measured in years instead of days.
American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) researchers have developed lifesaving tests and linked lifestyle choices to cancer. We can minimize cancer’s effects through early detection and even decrease our chances of contracting the disease by avoiding cigarettes, unhealthy foods and making other healthy choices. Today’s cancer education is not subtle. Television advertisements show how we ingest harmful chemicals when breathing polluted air. Magazine articles and cooking shows promote consumption of four to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to reduce the likelihood of cancer by up to 30 percent. The evils of cigarette smoking are constantly exposed in ad campaigns and educational programs.
The number of people living with cancer is so large, the disease is immersed in our society and culture. America watched as character Samantha Jones shaved her head and battled breast cancer in the HBO hit-series “Sex and the City.” Texans rallied behind Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong as he achieved success in his fight with testicular cancer. Closer to home, Houstonians joined Marvin Zindler as he documented his battle with prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Confidence and hope are changing how cancer is viewed. Seeing successes of new treatments and cures overpower cancer’s ability to dictate mortality; people are not giving up. Instead of lowering their eyes and whispering, “I have cancer” to friends and family like they’re ashamed, cancer patients are taking ownership of the condition and proclaiming, “I have cancer and I’m fighting back!” This new attitude arms patients with confidence and courage to face the unknown and grasp the inevitable. They realize each day they have cancer is a day they are surviving cancer, and it strengthens their defenses.
Then there are the unique blessings during this journey. Blessings and cancer? It sounds crazy, but they can be found in the most unusual places or circumstances. Those diagnosed with this disease gain fresh perspectives of life, and many see the significance in choices made every day, sick or well, to hate or love; hurt or forgive; doubt or have faith with optimum clarity. You find humor in situations only cancer patients appreciate, like when two strangers hold hands in the hospital wig shop as they are miraculously transformed into Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. Deep bonds are formed in support organizations like CanCare of Houston, Inc., whose staff members have personal experiences with cancer.
Yes, cancer can still be fatal. So can spider bites, car accidents, or avian flu. However, choices you make today affect survival tomorrow. Get informed. Identify actions you can take to prevent, or at least ensure early detection of cancer. Get involved. Participate in awareness programs, donate to research institutions and volunteer in cancer support programs. Most importantly, get real by acknowledging cancer is part of our world we can do something about.
Houston plays host to one of the largest Susan G. Komen “Race(s) for the Cure” in the country. Pledge your support at www.komen-houston.org
Hope in Houston
Texas Children’s was recently ranked one of the top medical facilities in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Anyone who has visited knows it’s not your typical drab, depressing hospital. Specializing in pediatric care and treatment, it’s full of color, life and vitality. Doctors focus on patients’ whole health, not just treating diseases.
M.D. Anderson, a research hospital and branch of the University of Texas educational system, is one of the leading oncology institutions in the nation. And it’s in our own backyard. It services local, national and international patients in various stages of diagnoses or treatment every day.
CanCare of Houston, Inc.
(www.cancare.org) focuses on customized needs of the cancer diagnosed and their families. An interfaith support network, CanCare offers free, one-on-one, long-term emotional support to patients and their families. Patients are blessed with support from staff who’ve been through the same trials.