Back to Where it all Began

I can’t tell you how excited I was to give a speech at my daughter’s elementary school’s Terry Fox Day Celebration! Honoured, excited and unusually nervous … partly because I don’t normally speak to the Grade 1-6 set, and that kept me up late the night before, reflecting on my story.

My cancer story started at the very same time as my little girl started going to that Elementary School. I was active and healthy, with no idea that I could possibly get lung cancer. We were happy and excited about life. I had a cough after a cold at the beginning of the school year. My daughter was in grade one. The cough didn’t go away. Eventually we learned that it was lung cancer.

I was very sick and it really affected our family. I coughed all the time, and couldn’t even bend over to pick something up. We needed a lot of help with meals and cleaning and other things. There were a couple of times I even thought I was going to die.

I’m a lot better now, in fact you would never guess I had lung cancer just by looking at me. I think it’s a miracle I’m alive, and I’m incredibly thankful for innovations in cancer treatment that mean I can take pills at home every day and live a somewhat normal life.

I did not expect, didn’t even imagine there would be cancer research breakthroughs in time for me! I cannot begin to perceive all the steps that had to be in place for treatments to be available to keep me alive today. I am thankful for all of the people, every single member of that huge team, all those special someones who have made a difference, changed our story, helped to bring about life-extending innovations in the lung cancer world.

I know Terry Fox transformed the cancer universe for many of us! I’m grateful for Terry Fox, for all the runners and researchers, dreamers, donors and doctors – everyone involved in the relay race that has lead to me standing in my daughter’s Elementary school gym on Terry Fox Day 2018.

This experience was extra emotional for me too, because this wasn’t only my daughter’s elementary school: it was also my own elementary school, where I went as a little girl, walked the halls, played in the yard, laughed with friends, learned all about fractions, performed in my school play, and at piano recitals. It was also the school where I did a practicum when I was a student teacher. So many memories!

I got pretty choked up when they showed the video about Terry Fox before I spoke. Terry Fox is a hero to me. He was long before my cancer diagnosis, and even more so now.

I managed to wipe the tears from my face before the lights went back on, and told the group the good and age-appropriate part of my story, making sure they understood the connections between their Terry Fox run, the importance of cancer research, and the difference that they were making for cancer patients and our families.

When you run, you raise money

so that scientists can do cancer research

and invent medicines

that doctors can give to cancer patients like me.

THANK YOU!

Today you are making a difference for cancer patients and our families! I’m so grateful that I get to be here and say “Thank You!”

But the teacher in me didn’t stop there: I also gave them a little lesson on getting through the tough times in life.

HOLD ONTO HOPE! Be like Terry Fox: DON’T give up! There is always reason to hope!

ASK FOR HELP! friends, family, teacher… find your team of encouragers, even if only one or two others (Terry Fox didn’t do it alone: he had a lot of help, including his brother and a friend in the van!)

HELP OTHERS TO HOPE (Sometimes that can help us hope too!)

. ..  …   ….   .. . ..   ….   …  .. .

I received lots of positive feedback after my speech, but as I walked home I couldn’t help but think of a few of the significant things I didn’t say to those beautiful children, the teachers, the VP, the parent-volunteers …

The statistics are heart-breaking: 1 out of every 12 of them will be diagnosed with lung cancer – that’s about 2 kids from each class – all the more gut-wrenching because it’s the deadliest cancer by far.

Lung cancer research is grotesquely underfunded.

We need a lot more research, and the time is now!

I can’t bear to think of those sweet children, grown up and enjoying life with a happy family, their a precious little daughter or son in grade one, then devastated by a diagnosis of incurable lung cancer!  I want a cure!

 

An Act of Defiance

Three years ago I committed an act of rebellion way beyond anything I had done in my teens.

I didn’t do it alone: I recruited my family in this ridiculously defiant act.

I was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2013. At that time, there were two treatment options for my particular kind of lung cancer: IV chemo and a new targeted therapy (pills) called Crizotinib. I underwent IV chemotherapy and then I took the brand new targeted therapy, but one and a half years after my diagnosis, I had run out of options. In May 2015, the cancer was growing and there were no more approved treatments.

Thankfully, my oncologist did his research and learned there was a clinical trial that I might qualify for. This clinical trial was for another new targeted therapy called Ceritinib. I underwent lots of testing to find out if I would be allowed to join.

My friends prayed as I went through the process. We had no idea if I would qualify, nor which arm of the trial would be the best one for me. I was approved and randomly chosen for the group that we now know is now best practice for this drug. All over the world now, people take Ceritinib with a low calorie, low fat breakfast, exactly as I did throughout that clinical trial.

I kept taking Ceritinib as long as it worked: almost two years! The side effects were difficult but bearable. That clinical trial extended my life – not just for those two years, but it also carried me through long enough for new treatment options to be available. Now I’m on a third targeted therapy, and it has been working well for a year and a half. We give thanks!

But three years ago, I had just started this clinical trial and I had all kinds of side effects. They tend to be worse the first few weeks of a new treatment, and I was also dealing with side effects from recently stopping the previous treatment. It was a very difficult season, I was in excruciating pain, and we had no idea if the clinical trial would work.

So in the midst of all the uncertainty and pain and grief, I decided to take a drastic step.

It had to do with an apple tree. I’m a bit of a gardener (not so much in recent years). For years, I thought about planting an apple tree but never did because it takes a few years to bear fruit, and I preferred plants that would give more immediate results. I did not want to wait for an apple tree to mature enough to bear fruit.

Three years ago, I chose to incite rebellion. I chose defiance.

Shortly after I started that clinical trial, my birthday was approaching. For my birthday I told my family the only present I wanted was for them to give me an apple tree and plant it in our back yard. A special tree, with branches of different kinds of apple trees grafted on so that we could have a variety of apples to enjoy. A tree of hope.

Hope is an act of defiance.

I started a rebellion and provoked defiant hope.

And it paid off: as I celebrate my birthday three years later, that tree is fruiting in a spectacular manner!

Three years later, more treatments are approved and available, and many more are in the pipeline for my kind of lung cancer and for other kinds too.

Three years later, there are baskets full of hope that were empty before.

There’s still a long way to go, though. I’m grateful that I’m here and I have a voice to speak up for lung cancer patients and all cancer patients.

This kind of defiant hope compels me as I seek to improve outcomes for lung cancer patients. I have so much to learn! I want to strategically invest my limited energy! Lung cancer has been neglected for too many years, and I’m looking for ways to change this.

It takes hope to plant a seed. It seems ridiculous that a small dead-looking seed will come to anything, but we know it can. We’ve seen it time and again: we eat food every day.

I’m planting my seed! I hope my small efforts will make a big difference for many of us.

Hope gathers us. Hope unites us. Hope holds us.

Hope is an act of defiance. Come join the rebellion!

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.

Saying Yes to New Adventures!

I did something new and exciting … and a little scary!

You can read more of the story below, but right now I just can’t wait to tell you my exciting news!

For Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I made a short video called, “What can Jelly Beans Teach us about Lung Cancer? You might be Surprised!”

I’m proud of this little video! It’s my first attempt and it’s rather rough, but it’s real and from the heart, and I’m honoured to share it with you!

This whole adventure started back in October when I chose to have a week of saying yes! I decided I would stretch beyond my comfort zone and do things that frightened me!

The next day, the phone rang and I was asked to speak at a fundraiser for Lung Cancer Canada. I said a fairly quick yes, and then started thinking about it!

The more I thought about it, the more nervous I got!

The fundraiser would be in a restaurant, but there wasn’t going to be a microphone, or even a section of the evening when I would give a speech. Giving a speech like that makes me nervous, but I’m getting used to that kind of nervous.

No, this time I was expected to initiate conversations with a bunch of strangers and somehow find a “natural” way to tell them things about lung cancer. That is scary for me!

I couldn’t imagine how to make this happen. I mean, I could easily picture far too many awkward ways of doing it, but there had to be a better way! What would help me feel more comfortable starting up conversations? How could I teach a bunch of strangers about grim lung cancer statistics at a restaurant?

So I came up with an idea! I got a few items together and worked out a little interactive spiel, and then I went to the fundraiser.

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I did not expect it to turn out so well! The woman organizing the fundraiser was so lovely, and the family and friends who had shown up to support her were kind and encouraging. Most of them wanted to hear what I had to say, and quite a few were very keen. I gave out some of the Lung Cancer Hope Rocks too! #LCRocks

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What was so powerful for me, though, was to watch the looks in their eyes as the penny dropped. Wow! These simple jelly beans were helping the message get through! When those moments kept occurring throughout the evening, I had a growing conviction that I needed to find a way to get this important message out to more people.

So that’s why I said yes to another scary idea and made the video!

Obviously, the video isn’t an interactive dialogue like all my jelly bean conversations have been, but because this is such an important message, I’ve chosen this media to communicate more broadly than I could do in small groups or individual conversations.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month! Please honour me by setting aside ten minutes: seven minutes to watch the video and three minutes (or more!) to consider what your response will be.

There are many people who played various roles in helping, supporting and encouraging me along this whole jelly bean journey. Thank you! I am especially grateful for the technical support and encouragement of Jith Paul of Treepot Media. Thank you, Jith, for your partnership in the making of this video. I literally could not have done it without you!

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