|Fall 2009-First Person|
As a licensed social worker, I frequently remind others of opportunities that are born in crises. Opportunity was thrust upon me in August 2007 when I was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer. Following my diagnosis, I underwent five weeks of radiation treatment, six months of chemotherapy and two surgeries; I also had six months with an ileostomy. I have recently completed more chemotherapy and a third surgery to remove metastasis in my lower left lung awaiting adjuvant chemotherapy in the near future.
It seems appropriate to speak about the opportunities afforded to me on my journey with cancer. My personal challenge is to concentrate on the positive aspects that have been influential on my life perspective. This is not to say that I do not fall victim to bouts of negativity about the challenges I face, but I am resolved in knowing that my hope is grounded in a clear understanding of what I face and what it will take to fight this disease.
One of the greatest opportunities to arise is the blessing of receiving treatment at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Suzanne McNeil, R.N., was my initial contact at the Cancer Center, and she still provides me with guidance, assisting me as I navigate appointments, tests and issues with my insurance companies. This initial contact proved to be appropriate foreshadowing for my entire experience. Martin Heslin, M.D.; James Posey, M.D.; and Rojymon Jacob, M.D., and Douglas Minnich, M.D., have shared their expertise and knowledge, empowering me to continue my treatment journey. These individuals, as well as all their staff, have provided me with strength in the face of uncertainty. My partnership with the entire community at The Kirklin Clinic® and the Cancer Center has been the cornerstone of my resolve to fight my illness.
The Power of Relationships
In addition, I have forged relationships with fellow survivors and caregivers through the Colorectal Cancer Coalition (www.fightcolorectalcancer.org). This organization advocates research and policy initiatives to assist in the fight to defeat colorectal cancer. Specifically, it provides opportunities for researchers who are on the forefront of the fight and advocates legislative changes to address the need for expanded colorectal cancer screening. In March 2009, I attended the Colorectal Cancer Coalition Call-On-Congress in Washington, D.C. I received advocacy training and networked with patients and caregivers from around the United States. The culmination of our efforts was a stampede of congressional offices on Capitol Hill in support of H.R. 1189: Colorectal Cancer Prevention, Early Detection and Treatment Act of 2009.
I would be remiss in respecting our hard work if I did not request everyone reading this to discuss his or her risk for colorectal cancer with a health-care provider and to strongly consider a colonoscopy if deemed necessary. Remember, the strongest symptomatic indicator for colorectal cancer is no symptom at all.
Standing in Solidarity
Social workers often find themselves providing social support for others. On my journey I have been blessed to be surrounded by a strong social support system. From my family, friends and faith community to my doctors, nurses and social workers, I have been given what all patients need on their path: a constant reminder that you do not stand alone. You stand in solidarity with all those who care about your health and well-being. Even if you face many of these battles without the blessings of friends and family, you are still supported by professionals who are waiting in the wings to help you understand treatments, provide medical intervention and continue to walk with you toward improved health.
I mentioned earlier the foundations of my hope regarding my journey, and I want to share a passage from a book recommended to me by a fellow colorectal cancer survivor—The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman, M.D.:
"Many of us confuse hope with optimism, a prevailing attitude that “things turn out for the best.” But hope differs from optimism. Hope does not arise from being told to “think positively,” or from hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality. . . . Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see—in the mind’s eye—a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and pitfalls along the path. True hope has no room for delusion."