Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Holding On to What We Let Go Of --David Kalish

Here is an excerpt from the life, and the new novel, by David Kalish  a new friend in Upstate New York. This true story gives you a taste of his wonderful novel called "The Opposite of Everything". You will want to read the whole book. Take a read:

Twelve years ago I pressed my six-month old daughter to my chest and waded waist-deep through a lukewarm pool of water. “How many seconds again?” I asked the two rabbis, who stood poolside next to my wife.
“Three seconds,” the reform rabbi said, touching his stopwatch.
“God willing,” the conservative rabbi added.
I nodded nervously. For that’s how long I had to submerge Sophie — completely let her go. Like God commanded Adam and Eve to go from the Garden of Eden. Like Moses beseeched Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Perhaps I could write my own bible chapter. For I was on chemotherapy at the time, pale and bald as a cue ball. A part of me hoped that giving my daughter a ritual mikvah do more than make her Jewish. It would help me let go too. Of my past. Of my fears for the future.

The rabbis checked their stopwatches. A hush rose in the tiled room. As my wife anxiously watched, I released Sophie into the pool. She sank, her tiny arms seeming to wave goodbye. A shadow slipped over me. I thought of my diagnosis of medullary thyroid cancer several years earlier. My first marriage crumbled under the pressure of sickness, a wife who couldn’t cope. And now the pale helpless face of my daughter, the fruit of my second marriage, stared up at me through the water.
By some automatic reflex my hands scooped her up, clamping her to my chest. Amid the din of her screams, the rabbis shook their heads. Not enough time had passed.
I thought of my own clock speeding toward an end point. The folly of giving my daughter a ritual mikvah when I might not be around for her Bat Mitzvah. But something inside me grew solid as the Ten Commandments. I’d finish this thing if it was the last I did. Sophie’s screams softened to whimpers. I dropped her back in.

She was a fast learner. Her wriggling fingers cut back up through the surface, grabbing my arms. The rabbis again checked their stopwatch, shaking their heads.
Questioning the existence of God, I dropped her a third time. I moved backward two steps — out of her reach.
I remembered gasping for breath myself a few years earlier, waking up from eight hours of neck surgery. A nurse administered too much morphine, causing my lungs, weakened by anesthesia, to collapse. A medical team rushed in; I dimly overheard the surgeon mention “tracheotomy.” Fearing a blowhole in my neck, I managed with the doctor’s help to start breathing again.
The memory faded; I snapped to attention and saw Sophie sinking like a doll, slipping into shadows.
I plucked her up and held her dripping body to mine. Cah! She spit up. Cah! Water drooled from the side of her mouth. Cah!  She smiled, not seeming at all upset.
The rabbis beamed. “Three seconds,” the first one said. “Maybe four.”
“For both of you,” the other said.
The rabbis said a prayer, adding a few sentences. When you save another life, it is as if you save your own. This is the essence of Judaism. But Sophie wasn’t listening. Tired from all the excitement, she slept in my wife’s arms. I closed my eyes. If my story ended with this kid asleep, face scrunched against my wife’s milk-swollen bosom, I was cool with that. If the story ended here, that would be enough.
But in fact, this isn’t how things end. Since that day twelve years ago, I went on to try a new drug, with fewer side effects, that today holds my cancer at bay. Sophie has her Bat Mitzvah this coming May, and we live in a spacious house in upstate New York. Summers, we sow seeds in a little garden plot, weed tomato plants, and set down aluminum pie plates filled with beer to drown the slugs. Each morning I walk my two small dogs unleashed, like my thoughts, through a nearby forest. My novel was  published this year. I’m just getting started.
Editor’s Note: David Kalish is the author of the new comedic novel The Opposite of Everythingwhich inspired this essay and is a finalist in the Somerset Fiction Awards. For more info: www.davidkalishwriter.com, or on Amazon.com.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Black Women Die of Cancer

I'm sharing an important article that was in the New York Times yesterday written by Harold Freeman, past president of the American Cancer Society.

He details the history and efforts around improving diagnosis, screening and treatment for black women. His focus here is on breast cancer but the concepts extend to other cancers as well. He details how efforts to get mammography rates to match the white community did improve but survival rates did not, and he shows how the most important access is to compliance with treatment after diagnosis and the particular effectiveness of healthcare--especially cancer care--navigators.

Please take  a look at this article and share it with people you know who work in healthcare but especially with those who are working with people living in poverty. Often it is day care, work leave and transportation that are the hidden impediments to full access to healthcare and treatment.

Here's the link:


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ambulate! by Joe Q.

This week we have a wonderful guest post by Albany writer Joe Q. A cancer survivor, Joe was prompted to write after reading John’s surgery story here on Love in the Time of Cancer. Here is Joe’s reminiscence:

Diane, I laughed at the "ambulate" part of your blog.  It rang a bell.  I’m remembering the operation to remove my cancerous prostate in the fall of 2008 at a big hospital in Manhattan.

With the midnight staff change, Kathryn, an RN from Dublin, Ireland, asked whether I had walked yet.  Before I could answer, she demanded: "Up!  To the hall!  Walk!"  Another guy on the floor was in the same boat, Kathryn his drill sergeant too, the lament palpable on his face.  So the two of us trudged back and forth from midnight on, catheter, et al, the only consolation being the Manhattan skyline, Chrysler Building and seeing Central Park on one end, and Roosevelt Island and Queens on the other.

Finally, nurse Kathryn relented and we got to bed at 12:30 AM.  

But Kathryn wasn't done yet.  At 7 AM, I knew the drill as she approached, then demanded: "Up!  Walk!"   So the other guy and I trudged back and forth for another 1/2 hour.  

When my wife showed up to drive me home to Loudonville, New York, Kathryn thundered, "He can't ride in a car for three hours!"  But when my wife said that my surgeon approved, Kathryn demanded stipulations.  So at each Thruway rest area, I had to walk 10 minutes in the parking lot, again catheter, et al.  Plus Kathryn demanded I walk in the house for one hour daily for one week.

Kathryn reminded me of the Sisters of Mercy, the Irish nuns of my grade school. Jesus Christ reported to them in the 1950s.   

Yes, nurse Kathryn missed her calling.  She could have been the Ambulatory Nun!

Be well.  Joe

Thank you, Joe!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Money and Cancer

Yes, those are two great taboos that we encounter in CancerLand. We know the experience of people turning away or being insensitive because they don’t know how to talk or ask about cancer.

But money is the place where many of us turn away. We are reluctant to ask about prices, costs, expenses and who can say, “Can we afford this?” when the conversation is about the cancer care of a loved one?

Simply by our social culture we treat money talk as taboo then mix in a crisis, a hint of death, some judgments about family issues, savings, spending…and you have a great big silence. One frequent blind spot is assuming that if you have health insurance you are all set. But, and you know if you have cancer, seeing a doctor several times a month can mean a big bill of co-pays. You can be in debt even before chemo begins.

That silence around money and the cost of cancer care can hurt everyone: the patient, the caregivers, the kids and extended family and friends as well. Money talk is just plain fraught. But it’s crucial. And there is help –both financial help and help in how to talk about it.

CURE Magazine has published a special report called “Paying for Cancer Care.” It’s a tremendous resource and it’s free as are most of the resources they provide in the print and online publication.

Here are some of the articles in the publication:

Financial Fix: A cancer diagnosis could break the bank, but it doesn’t have to.

Risky Business: Concerns about insurance should be addressed early.

Debt Crisis: Coping with cancer’s financial aftermath calls for creative solutions.

Money Madness: Worry about the cost of care takes an emotional toll.

That’s just a start to what is available in the special report, “Paying for Cancer Care.”

You can see the publication and all the links online at www.curetoday.com Here is the link:


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LGBT with Cancer?

Yesterday at the oncology center I picked up a postcard and got an education in love, cancer and healthcare. I learned about the National LGBT Cancer Network and the free services for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cancer patients and survivors.

In addition to online forums and trainings and one to one support there is very important education available for healthcare providers --culturally competent training. Yes we know that terminology but to get it to move from head to heart I recommend this very powerful and brief video on the National LGBT Cancer Network site.

Someone you know needs this link. Maybe a friend, a coworker or your own healthcare provider. Be a friend and share this--after you watch it.

Click the link below and watch the three minute video and then pass it on.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Flying Harder Getting Stronger

I heard a great story the other day and it helped me better understand some of the darkness and difficulties that we face in Cancer Land. For a long time I falsely assumed that struggles or emotional challenges were signs that my spiritual life was not good enough. I believed all those platitudes like, “Fear and faith can’t exist at the same time.” Now I know that is just silly.  Of course they can.

But here is the story that is changing my thinking:

Every year the birds of Capistrano fly north. They leave the island and fly across wide swaths of ocean to make their long journey. What ornithologists who studied them noticed was that the swallows would pick up a twig and carry it with them. They carried the twigs in their mouths for hours as they flew over the ocean.

It seemed crazy. And really hard.

But what the bird watchers learned was that the birds would fly long distances over the ocean and when they got tired they would drop their twig and rest on it. The twig floated so they could take a break and then pick up the twig again and keep flying.

The very thing that seemed to make the journey difficult turned out to be the very thing that made the journey possible.

So too with challenges  in our spiritual lives. Cancer Land can be very hard, and facing our feelings head on seems to make it harder. But we are strengthened. Just when we want comfort and to fly lighter we are carrying a dam twig.

The root of he word comfort comes from the Latin, confrontare—to strengthen—and we are being strengthened.