Jill’s story

I find it weird how few details I remember from what was such a momentous day in my life.

It was a Thursday in December in Ottawa. So, I imagine that it was probably cold and pretty bleak. There must have been lots of people heading to work, and many others on their way to confront mall crowds to pick up the latest hot toy or special gift to put under the Christmas tree.

I had probably woken up at the usual time, helped my sons get off to school and my daughter, who was in Grade 1, to her bus stop.

But the truth is that I don’t really remember.

It was just another routine day — until it wasn’t.

Until it became my personal nightmare.

And my family’s nightmare.

And the day that changed my life.

It was the day that I met with doctors to get the results from a bunch of tests that followed my complaint about a cough that wouldn’t go away.

At least I thought it was a cough. And wished that it had been a cough.

Instead, it was lung cancer.

Many people who get horrible news like that say that they remember so many unusual and often irrelevant details, similar to the war vet or the witness to history: the odd pattern on the doctor’s tie or maybe the light bulb in the waiting room that needed to be changed.

Not me. I remember pretty well nothing. I don’t remember what I was wearing or the weather or anything about what I ate.
About the only thing that I remember was the part where my doctor uttered the bottom line: “Jill, you’ve got lung cancer. We cannot cure you.”

There were lots of other words, I’m sure. Stuff details about my diagnosis and the lack of options and the horrific prognosis.

But after hearing the bottom line, the rest of it didn’t seem to matter much. Maybe that’s why I remember almost none of it. After hearing those words, my world just went into a dizzying blur. It was like I had entered some alternate universe that had completely different physical properties to the one that I was used to. 

Maybe I had been dropped into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

It must have been something weird like that because the doctors said “lung cancer” and I remember thinking that that made no sense.

That’s a smokers’ disease and I’ve never smoked.

That’s a type of cancer that I associated with older men. And i’m a mom with three young kids.

Like most Canadians, I didn’t know very much about lung cancer.

That’s no longer true.

Yes, it’s true that many lung cancers are caused by smoking. But we could remove all of the lung cancer deaths in Canada that strike smokers or former smokers and lung cancer would still kill just as many people each year as breast cancer. To say that another way: As many non-smokers die of lung cancer as women die of breast cancer. 

Lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer deaths world-wide and is responsible for about 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Canada. That’s even more than the deaths caused by the next three biggest cancer killers combined.

I don’t want to diminish breast cancer or any other type of cancer, or those smokers who contracted lung cancer. All cancers are horrible and all cancer victims have friends and loved ones and lives that they want to continue.

I want to point out what to me is painfully obvious and a gross injustice. This hellish disease that attacked my body and has placed me and my family under extreme stress for more than four years has a problem. Or, at least the battle against the disease has a problem.

It’s a PR problem.

People don’t seem to have as much sympathy for its victims as they do for other cancer victims, even though one in 12 Canadians will at some point in their lives get lung cancer.

One in 12!

Yet, despite that staggering number and the fact that lung cancer is responsible for about 30 per cent of all the cancer deaths, this disease gets about 7 per cent of cancer funding.  

How does that make sense?

It doesn’t.

And that’s not just the opinion of a lung cancer victim. According to the experts at McGill’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC), there are two factors behind the lack of research: first, the stigma around lung cancer. As I mentioned, this disease has a PR problem. 

And two, the grim survival rates. Only 17 per cent of lung cancer victims are alive five years after being diagnosed. It’s the deadliest form of cancer, which, in a very odd way, contributes to the PR problem because it means that there isn’t a very big pool of advocates to speak out about the need for more research.

I’m doing everything I can to remain one of those advocates – and a wife, friend and mother — for as long as possible.

I’m well aware that the fight against this disease needs people like me. I’m also very aware that I’m only here today because of new forms of treatment, which comes from research, which comes from generous donations.

Seventeen months after my diagnosis, I was weakening, running out of treatment options. Honestly, I thought my lung cancer was getting the best of me.

But a clinical trial at the Ottawa Hospital gave me a shred of hope and a life line. It extended my life by about two years. During that time, new treatments became available. That meant another life line and another one after that.

It’s now been more than four years since my diagnosis. I’m still here. I’m still a wife and a mom and a person who loves music and my friends and who gets lots of joy from my life.

That’s all thanks to God and to research and to generous donors.

I thank all donors from the bottom of my heart for that and ask that we each do whatever we can to beat this horrible disease. We need another life line. I need it and so do countless others.

Cancer affects all of us and we can and must win this battle.

I’m betting my life on it.

 

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It’s easy to help save a life. You can fund lung cancer clinical trials by designating “Lung Cancer” on the drop down menu (pictured above with the blue highlight). Please give generously at the link below, or to other specific lung cancer research charities. (I provided two others in my previous post.)

https://ottawacancer.thankyou4caring.org/donate/single-gift

Donations made to this designation will go to Lung Cancer clinical trials. Thank you to the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation for honouring my request for that designation. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but you can give every month of the year!

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Icing on the Cake

You may have heard me say that hope is an act of defiance. You may have heard me mention a conspiracy of hope… I’m happy to report a growing crowd of co-conspirators!

It’s taken me a while to tell this story. That’s because I can’t figure out how to tell it. I can’t do it justice, can’t even come close.

August 1st 2018 was unlike any other August 1st I can remember. It started small and kept on growing.

I spent weeks getting ready for it! I painted “Hope” rocks,

37878023_10156455262974318_4517379153766383616_oand more hope rocks,

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and more hope rocks …

38481222_10156469364944318_3341712253979197440_oI bought chocolates, ordered supplies, connected with a variety of folks, including key people at the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre and Lung Cancer Canada …

I organized a lung cancer awareness table staffed by lung cancer patients at the Cancer Centre. It really wasn’t that big a deal! But it was, after all, WORLD Lung Cancer Day!

And it was, to my knowledge, the first time such a thing had ever been done!

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I wanted to make a difference, brighten people’s day at the Cancer Centre, inject a little hope, raise some awareness about lung cancer … hence the hope rocks and chocolates and information. But what ended up happening was so much more!

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(OK, I know it looks like we were blocking the elevator, but that elevator was out of service!)

We enjoyed a beautiful collaboration among a number of different groups and individuals who all want the same thing: to help and support lung cancer patients.

We didn’t count the number of people we had conversations with, but there were many! There were always at least two of us staffing the table, usually three and sometimes more! It seemed there was a constant flow of people who stopped by wanting to talk. I couldn’t estimate the number!

Here’s the thing: I was blown away by the difference we made! I can’t find words to describe the impact that we seemed to have on people. You could see shock and bewilderment on the faces of people when they first stopped by the table … especially when they found out we were there because of lung cancer. Many could not grasp that most of us were actual lung cancer patients / survivors. We looked so healthy …

Lung Cancer is the deadliest of all the cancers. We know that far too well. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy each other’s company! 🙂 We cry together and we laugh together, and on August 1 it was a tremendous privilege to gather with some of my lung cancer sister-friends and bring joy and hope to the cancer centre! I don’t have words to describe how much it meant to me to be bringing hope to the cancer centre together!

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A conspiracy of hope! (In a place that can be so difficult to walk into.)

Here’s an excerpt of a letter I wrote to thank the team:

Thank you so much for your support yesterday! It was such a gift for us to be able to connect with lung cancer patients, other cancer patients, caregivers, staff, volunteers and friends! I loved the looks on faces when they learned we are LC patients/survivors! I’m confident we made a significant difference for many people yesterday.

It was significant for me too! Last year I painted hope rocks and brought them to the cancer centre all by myself. While I am glad I did that, and think it was a good thing to do, this year was so much better because I was doing it with you! Better because it made a bigger impact, and better because I got to do it with you!

I’m honoured to have served the Cancer Centre with you in celebration of World Lung Cancer Day 2018.

With love and appreciation –
Jill

But there’s even more!

Two of my dear (non-lung cancer) friends came and surprised me! They made and brought a huge, lungs-shaped cake to the Cancer Centre for us to share. What unexpected joy! They blessed us so we could in turn bless others even more! No words for how much this means to me! 🙂

A conspiracy of hope surprise party?

Here’s the best part, the icing on the cake: because we’ve got strong co-conspirators and teamwork, we’re going to keep these events going, raising hope and awareness about lung cancer. Monthly awareness tables, in ongoing partnership with Lung Cancer Canada and the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, organized by my dear friend and co-conspirator, who is alive and making a difference thanks (in part) to excellent medical care and lung cancer research!

Hope could benefit from a whole lot more co-conspirators!

World Lung Cancer Day Aug 1 2018 TOHCC LCC Jill Cecilia Peggy Andrea

(Apologies: I don’t know who to credit for all of the photos. Most of them are from Mieke. Thanks again Mieke!)

 

Parliament Hill

I spent eleven hours at and near Parliament Hill on Tuesday, listening, learning and speaking. My first time serving as a lung cancer advocate in this particular setting, I was honoured to meet and have good conversations with MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, MP Peter Kent, and MP Kate Young. It was a privilege to represent lung cancer patients, tell my story, and raise important issues. It was also a treat to make new connections, deepen ties with good groups like Canadian Cancer Survivor Network and Lung Cancer Canada, and spend time with dear friends who are passionate about this important cause. I was excited to be present at Question Period and see inside Centre Block again before renovations begin. A full day devoted to lung cancer issues: a day well invested! Now a couple of days of rest!

With thanks to John Major for the beautiful photo’s above, and CCSN and 3Sixty Public Affairs for organizing this strategic day.

Thank you!

I’m so grateful that I could join about 200 Lung Cancer survivors and 170 caregivers at LUNGevity’s Hope Summit in Washington DC the end of April!

I arrived to cherry blossoms on Thursday afternoon and enjoyed a quick view of some of the monuments and museums from the Circulator Bus. I spent time in the National Museum of African American History & Culture. I’m grateful for the few hours I got to play tourist, the many steps I walked (about three times my usual), and the healthy food I was able to buy from a grocery store. I went to my room early and slept well in preparation for the packed schedule the next three days!

Friday was a special Advocates day, then a welcome reception to kick off the week-end. We listened to speakers, met amazing new friends and reconnected with dear folks who feel like family!

So much exciting new research! So much joy and love, tears and hugs. So much hope!

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Jill & Jill  # This Is Hope

I came home refreshed and renewed, encouraged and energized! I came home with inspiration, instruction and ideas! I came home with deep gratitude for the people who make this Hope Summit what it is: organizers, speakers, participants, and generous supporters like many of you!

Thank you for helping me go! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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Linnea has the same type of LC as I do, and is celebrating 13 years of living life since diagnosis!

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Canadians are loved, welcomed, and (this year) honoured with a special ribbon on our name tags. (I chose the purple one for fun!)

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Two of us came from Ottawa! So exciting! 🙂

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Five Canadians participated this year! Four of us are pictured here with LUNGevity’s inimitable Katie Brown! How many Canadians will go in 2019?

 

 

Finally, an update!

Being a cancer patient is not for the faint of heart! I’m just home from another routine CT scan. I get them every three months. The scans may be routine, but my reactions are not! Sometimes I feel stressed. Sometimes I’m relaxed. Often I’m in a pretty good mood and have enjoyable conversations with people I encounter at the hospital.

This time, I felt unusual stress in the lead-up. I don’t know why and I don’t think there has to be a reason. It’s very common for cancer patients to face “scanxiety”.

Maybe I’ve been thinking too much about this time last year: I was feeling great, went for my CT scan and was blindsided by the results which led to a change of meds. The new meds seem to be working well, and have far fewer side effects. I have no reason to suspect there will be bad news from this scan.

But still the lingering stress trudged through every day. I prayed and asked my Bible study group to pray too. That made a real difference, but even so I occasionally noted the undercurrent of stress ready to ripple through my (mostly) peaceful heart.

In the hours leading up to my scan I felt fine. Joyous even. On my way into the hospital I was thinking of a friend – a lovely person who works at the hospital and just got a big promotion. I was hoping for the opportunity to congratulate her in person, and prayed that I would run into her along the corridor by the coffee shop. There she was, right where I prayed I would see her, and it was wonderful to give her a hug and hearty congratulations!

I found myself praying for other folks in the waiting areas and happily chit-chatting with hospital staff. All was going well until I heard the CT machine from the next room saying, “breathe”. The strangest thing happened: a chill went up my spine and for that moment I was filled with dread about the procedure. I prayed and felt calm again, but that was a tough moment, and this scan wasn’t an easy one. The nurse couldn’t start the IV on the first go. He fished around and still couldn’t find the vein. (Ouch!) I prayed it would go better on the second arm, and it did. The technician was joking about a bunch of things and we were laughing together, but then suddenly he started talking about the changes to our city in recent years and the dramatic increase in gun violence. This is a subject close to my heart, and it’s hard to hear this as I’m lying on the machine about to have a test. There were a few other things that also made it hard to keep calm and relaxed.

But while I was waiting in the observation area afterwards, I became aware that other patients were having a much harder time than I was. The nurse had an even worse time finding a vein in the woman after me. She sounded extremely stressed. The man after her was worried about having a reaction to the dye, since that had happened to him before. CT scans are not for the faint of heart.

I’m thankful I made it through fairly well. Now I just have to wait for the results from my oncologist!

IMG_2995Thank you for standing with us! It has now been a little over four years since my diagnosis, and we give thanks that my health is so good!

There is so much I’d love to tell you about! I know there was a longer-than-usual gap between posts, and I’m sorry if you felt any anxiety about that. I was very sick and tired out through November and December and even part of January. I’m so thankful to be getting my energy back! Here are a few quick updates.

My Lung Cancer and Jelly Beans video has had over 700 views, and many of you have made donations toward lung cancer research. Thank you very much!

 

Here it is if you want to see it again: (pardon the look on my face at the beginning!)

I’ve recently done some fundraising to help me get to the LUNGevity Hope Summit this April. I just learned today that I have raised the full $1500. Thank you to all who have given! Your gifts are both encouraging and helpful!

A large group of us are raising money to fund research into the specific kind of cancer we have: ALK+. Together, our whole team has raised about $300,000. (I think!) We surpassed my own personal fundraising goal of $500., and I’m wondering if I set my goal too low. If you would like to make a contribution towards research into my specific kind of cancer, you can still give here: Jill’s ALK+ Lung Cancer Research Fundraiser. (This is to an American charity, so receipts will only help those who pay US taxes.)

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Our pilot project for the Ottawa Lung Cancer Support Group is completed. It has been a tremendous success! This group of women connected well and we have really enjoyed spending time together. In fact, I invited them over to my home last week! Our leader is a real gift to us, and her skills and experience make a significant difference in the quality of the group. We have shared some ideas and soon the decision will be made about how to move forward to support more lung cancer patients. We are very grateful for the generous support of Lung Cancer Canada and The Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. If you know someone diagnosed with lung cancer in the Ottawa area, and you’d like to learn more, please be in touch – either with Lung Cancer Canada or with me.

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One in thirteen Canadians will be diagnosed with Lung Cancer

I’ve participated in a few other (lung cancer) events and there are a couple of more in the pipeline. I’ll try to keep you updated better in months to come!

Thank you again for standing with us. We can’t tell you what a difference that makes!

 

 

“You’re not alone”

Having “the conversation” with people you love is one of the hardest things after a cancer diagnosis. Three and a half years later, I clearly recall some details of those painful conversations when I told my friends or family that I had cancer – serious cancer.

The anticipation was horrible. The conversations were difficult, but there were many moments of love and generosity outpoured, both during the conversation as well as afterwards. So much grace that I had not anticipated!

I remember telling my small group. Our group has met weekly for several years to study the Bible and pray together. We had grown to love and trust each other, and these were friends I knew I could lean on. I knew they would be there for me, but I had no idea how much.

“You’re not alone.” The first words I remember hearing from my small group when I told them my sad news. Many more words of love, support and solidarity have followed, but these words echo out across the years. These words echo when my friends pass the tissues and cry with me, when they gather around and pray for me, when they bring me food and organize an army of beautifully generous meal preparers, when they get on hands and knees to clean my house, when they sit with me and listen, when they take my kids out for treats and listen, when they have our family over for an evening of fun, …

It’s not good to be alone. We need each other. We need people to laugh with and cry with. We were made for community.

The gifts that I have received in vulnerable times mean so much, and I am grateful beyond words for the goodness that friends, acquaintances, and even strangers have poured out over us since my diagnosis. God’s presence, faithful love and abundance is always with us – so many passages of Scripture remind us! We have felt embraced by love and generosity … never alone!

Another good gift I have received is the community of lung cancer patients and caregivers. People who’ve had similar conversations with their family and friends. People whose conversations have not always gone well.

I’m grateful for so many of these fine folks I’ve been privileged to get to know online through patient forums. These groups are a good source of support and information for me. I’ve grown to love these people and to think of them as my tribe!

And recently I got to meet some in person through LUNGevity’s Hope Summit in Washington DC.

I left Ottawa one cold and foggy morning in April and arrived in a completely different climate zone. Spring had sprung in DC. I had already missed the cherry blossom festival, but there remained much beauty to behold!

The Patients’ & Caregivers’ Summits began on Friday night, with an Advocates meeting for a number of us keeners on Friday. I arrived on Thursday morning with the whole day stretched out before me. I hadn’t ever met anyone from LUNGevity before, and I was a bit nervous about being there all by myself. I checked into the hotel, right by the beautiful Key Bridge (which crosses the Potomac from Rosslyn Virginia into Georgetown). I was just about to head out the door to find my way to some of the Monuments and Museums in DC, but got distracted by people arriving in the lobby.

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View of the beautiful Key Bridge & Georgetown from the top floor of the hotel

I couldn’t help but overhear one of the conversations … it sounded vaguely like it could be between two LUNGevity friends who hadn’t seen each other since last year’s Patient Summit! I approached and asked if by any chance they were part of LUNGevity, and that is how I met my first two LUNGevity friends, Ivy and Don! They were so friendly and invited me to join them and others for a walk across the Key Bridge to Georgetown for lunch! It was pretty easy to choose getting to know them over sight-seeing!

I never did make it to any museums or monuments, but I have no regrets! I was privileged to spend a lot of time meeting new friends and walking back and forth multiple times across that bridge! No one was left behind … not even people with diminished lung capacity! 😉

I learned more about advocacy and what it means to be an advocate or an activist. Thought-provoking! So many good conversations both as part of the summit and in the unscheduled moments!

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Chris Draft of the Draft Family Foundation: Inspiring Advocate!

So many exciting new advances in Lung Cancer treatments! So many resources! So much reason for hope!

One of the presenters was Dr. Ross Camidge, a well-known expert in my particular type of lung cancer. Late Saturday afternoon I sat beside him at an “Ask the Expert” table discussion. So many questions I could have asked him, but my brain was chock-full of information so we mostly chatted about cross-cultural differences (he’s from the UK and works at the University of Colorado Cancer Center), and he told me funny stories! 🙂

I came away encouraged and inspired! I came home with ideas and direction! I’m so grateful for all the LUNGevity folks who welcomed me, and for the anonymous donor who made it possible for me to be there. Thank you!

But mostly I came away with a strong sense that I am not alone! There are so many others walking similar paths, and I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know some more of my tribe! I’m grateful to be able to walk across that beautiful bridge! I’m grateful to have met these beautiful people who are walking a similar journey to me – patients and caregivers and others who support and advocate powerfully!

I hope to tell you more in future posts. There is always so much to say! 🙂

Here’s some exciting news about next week: I’m participating in a webinar for Cancer Coaches on Monday afternoon, speaking about my clinical trial experience. This is my first webinar, and I’m grateful for this opportunity! Cancer coaches are a real gift, and they can help you with difficult conversations!

 

 

Good News and Good Gifts

Here’s a bit of good news that made me cheer yesterday morning:

My regular clinical trial protocol has changed! So, instead of going in to the hospital two days in a row every three weeks, I’ll now have all my appointments on the same day – yay! It will be one long day, but only one day and I’m pretty sure it will be less tiring overall!

To celebrate, I slept in this morning! My 8:30 am appointment was cancelled because I did all my tests and meetings yesterday! I feel tired today, but not as tired as I typically do on the second appointment day!

Yesterday at the hospital, I rejoiced again to receive comments about how thick my file is and how many weeks I’ve been on this trial. I’m very thankful that these meds continue to work for me! I’m grateful that I get to keep taking them, and hopeful that the good work they are doing will continue for a very long time!

In other exciting news, my kids have been away at camp (a great opportunity for which we are deeply grateful!), and they’re coming home soon! I wrote a poem this year which I will have posted below. (Sorry about the formatting: not exactly what I wanted, but it’ll do!)

I hope you will enjoy the rest of the Summer (or Winter, for those in the Southern Hemisphere), and give thanks for the gifts of each day! Our doorbell just rang, announcing the good gift of a dear friend visiting and presenting me with a gorgeous shirt she just made for me! I’m feeling rather bowled over by this generous gift! I am grateful for so many gifts, including your ongoing prayers and encouragement! Thank you!

Heart Pressed

They bump out the door,

Duffle bags bulging with sleeping bags and swimsuits,

Enough for fourteen fun packed days

The door bangs behind them,

Its vacuum pulling my heart along with them, 

Pressed up against the glass,

Aching for their presence

Yearning for their laughter

Echoing around these now empty rooms

And they’re off!

Bundled into the car

Bright smiles, cheerful waves and calls of, “I love you!” “xoxoxoxo!”

Last year, she said, she blew me kisses all the way down our street, down the next one and the one after that, and even along the highway …

Our love is a bungie cord

It stretches and stretches and

Will not break

My heart squeezes out through the door and sneaks into the car with them,

Travelling that 400km journey, tucked away like the messages I hide in their bags,

Like my note she keeps safe under her pillow at camp

And I remain, heart pressed against the glass,

Aching for them to deeply know the One who will never leave nor forsake them,

Yearning for them to encounter Him in bigger and truer ways,

Trusting that as they grow, He is always more than enough.

Heart eagerly pressed against the glass,

Excited about the people they will meet, skills they will learn, songs they will sing, stories they will savour, beauty they will behold …

And bundle up to bring back home to me

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A sample of our summer adventures:

(Diefenbunker, Nature Museum, History Museum)

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My firstborn, serving his delicious homemade ice cream!