A week ago I was asked to speak at a kick-off event for a local relay for life event. I agreed and thought that I would have no problem speaking. As it turned out, I cried throughout the whole thing. But, I do believe that I made an impression and people were ready to raise money. Here is what I said:
I appreciate the invitation to speak today. Not once did I think that I would use the word cancer in reference to myself. As a neuroscientist, I had considered my probability of ending up with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease but never cancer. Cancer was for other people not me. I have no family history of breast cancer, I have been an avid runner for 25 years, I enjoy yoga, I love vegetables, I have a healthy weight and I have never smoked. So, when I was told on October 1 2013 that I had breast cancer, I was in complete disbelief. When I was told on January 14 2014 that I had stage 3 micropapillary invasive breast cancer, I burst into tears. I had originally intended to hide my diagnosis from everyone. That did not work out. However, I have realized that I have nothing to hide.
So, why should we help the American Cancer Society? Because we need more research. Our government has drastically reduced funding to the sciences including funding cancer research. This money is needed for several reasons. We need research to improve treatment and quality of life for individuals with cancer. I endured two major operations (and I am not yet done), six months of chemotherapy, and seven weeks of radiation. While I am incredibly grateful for the medications and treatments that I have been given, there must be something better. I lost my hair, my eyelashes, and my appetite. I spent days curled in a ball in a reclining chair feeling nauseated, watching life pass me by. Watching my children carry on – stopping briefly to hug or kiss me before heading out the door to school or their activities. I had excruciating bone pain, my fingers and toes were numb, I lost toenails, and I had incredibly dry burned and irritated skin, yuck. There were days that I walked slowly up and down my street or on my treadmill because the bone pain was more manageable when walking that sitting. I chanted to myself “mind over matter; mind over matter” with tears from the pain running down my cheeks. Those of you who know me well are aware that I carried a bottle of Purell wherever I went. I was terrified of germs due to low white cell counts. I couldn’t snuggle my daughter when she came home from school with a high fever which is one of the worst feelings for a mother. Fortunately, grandma was there to hold her. In fact, I still have lower white cell counts than most people and I need to remain cautious even though I finished chemotherapy three months ago. So, I encourage everyone to donate money to the American Cancer Society for research into cancer treatments. There must be a better way. Scientists need the resources to develop new treatments that can target cancer cells effectively and leave healthy cells alone. And we need to save good people from cancer, like my dear colleague Andy who recently left us.
And what about the Relay for Life? I have been involved with the Relay for Life for a few years as a member of the Psychology department team “Psyched for Life” captained by the wonderful XXXXX XXXXX. The first time that my two children and I came to the campus event, my daughter thought that it was an actual race and spent a good 10 minutes “warming-up.” She likes to run. She was a bit disappointed but did an amazing number of laps, played games, and ate a good number of treats. This past year was a very different experience. Both of my children raised over 100 dollars individually for the event. Their mother had breast cancer and had completed one round of chemotherapy. We were not at the event long because I was too tired to stay. But the event had completely different meaning for them and they are planning on raising money again. So, why do we need the American Cancer Society? Why do we need the Relay for Life? We need money for research, research into causes and prevention. I will know in November if I have genetic material that I passed on two my incredible children. We need money to help prevent cancer in all of the children in this position, those who unfairly have an increased risk of cancer. I would do anything to prevent my children and other children from going through this experience.
But there are some positives. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of my family, friends, students and the general SMCM community. I believe that my family and close friends now have healthier lifestyles in response to my situation. I have learned to better appreciate the things around me: this beautiful campus, my incredibly supportive husband, my sensitive son, and my daughter’s wonderful giggle. I am happy to still be here and able to experience another fall. I am pleased to still have the opportunity to teach students. And I am delighted to be running again. Nothing can stop me from running.
This morning, I donated money to the American Cancer Society and I encourage all of you to increase awareness of cancer, cancer prevention, cancer treatment, and cancer research. I hope to live long enough to see additional research progress that comes directly from the support of people like you, and like me who have worked through the American Cancer Society to make things better.