Commentary: Funny the Things You Think About

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The following is a commentary that aired on Morning Edition, February 16, 2006:

Death and I are hardly strangers. In my career as a journalist, I've covered 14 wars, genocides, natural disasters. I've seen tens of thousands of people die in front of me. Most of those deaths were sudden, brutal, painful, often without dignity.

There were times I thought I was going to be killed, too. Never really had time to think about it much, though. In those situations, you're usually pretty busy trying not to die. And journalists who go into those situations will always tell you they know that's not the way they're going to die. They just know it.

Then a while ago, I noticed I was slurring my words. One side of my face began to droop. I finally ended up in the emergency room for a brain scan. When I was being wheeled back into the ER, I caught the eye of the doctor, and I knew. I'd seen that look once before.

Four years ago, I came to after a routine colonoscopy to see my doctor's face, and I knew then, too. Cancer. So, I had surgery and had been clean for four years. I was the poster child for early detection and treatment. Until now.

Sure enough, there was a mass in my brain. A brain tumor, and the next day, another body blow: lung cancer. I pushed my doctor for the worst-case scenario, so he gave it to me. Six months.

Funny the things you think about. I'd been meaning to get my eyes checked. Should I still bother?

But what's truly amazing is that you can get through something you were certain you couldn't get through. Within a week, they operated to remove the brain tumor. The next morning, I was up and walking around. Truly a miracle.

Granted, I had a line of staples down the side of my head, but that tumor is gone. If it had been Halloween, I would've won a prize. But my friends and family were kind enough to lie to me, saying the staples weren't all that noticeable.

All those times when I was covering the deaths of other people, I always looked for the lessons that I felt were there, but that I was somehow missing. Now I realize I was looking for the wrong thing.

I don't have any great insight into death, but maybe I've learned something about life. It takes courage to get through life. The courage of doctors and nurses who can work magic with their hands, the courage of those keeping a lonely vigil at the bedside of a loved one. The courage of the ill, fighting with everything they have, not just to cheat death, but to live.

I have a long road ahead, but things have started to break my way. My cancer's the type most susceptible to treatment. I've started chemotherapy. And now I live in a different world than most of you. The world of cancer. In my world now, when you meet another patient, you don't ask, "What do you do?" Or, "where are you from?" You ask, "What do you have?" And, "What are you taking?"

Unfortunately, it's a much bigger world than you might think, because one way or another, cancer touches all of us.

I'm not spending my time thinking why me, though. I don't have the time. I think about the old saying, "We aren't given the burdens we deserve, we're given the burdens we can bear."

I have work to do, because I'm going to fight like hell.

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On April 8, 2006, I received the diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

A thyroidectomy and last week's radioactive iodine therapy treatment are Memorial Sloane Ketterings protocol treatment. I am grateful to the MSK community for their professionalism and humanity.

Thyroid cancer is considered the best/most curable cancer to get, as well as the fastest growing cancer in women. I'm in good company and have a terrific network of support.

Regardless of the excellent prognosis, I have been thrust into and choose to create several parallel universes.

My brother died fifteen years ago after a harrowing battle with male breast cancer. His immediate family will always feel the catastrophic impact of his illness. In some ways, I prefer being on the patient end rather than the loved-ones' end of this disease.

Different versions of my story? Yes, several, including the version I was forced to tell my parents — in their mid '80s, holocaust survivors and forever grieving the loss of their son I had to tell them about the surgery after loosing my voice for several weeks after surgery. However, the don't ask, don't tell rule regarding the C word held fast and true. As my teaching job is up for review, administration was also spared the specifics. I forced myself to return to work sooner than prescribed and still pooh-pooh thyroid cancer as a "bad cold" in comparison to the other more aggressive and lethal forms. I am grateful, though, and enabled by my diagnosis to explore new universes.

Thanks, Leroy, (we are afforded first name familiarity), for sharing your courageous insight.

Sent by J. Ron | 4:20 PM | 6-26-2006

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor three years ago, possibly a "side effect" of being treated with chemo and radiation therapy for leukemia in 1976... studies are beginning to show this as a new "trend"?

I can really relate to what you said about how everyone is somehow personally affected by this heinous disease...

Sent by Denise Crie | 11:20 AM | 6-27-2006

When I heard Leroy speak, it brought back a memory that still haunts me. A few years back the man who owned the lawn sprinkling business that serviced our business came in and announced that this is the new guy who will be taking care of us from now on, because "I am dying of cancer and will not be around." Being able to say that to relative strangers had to be unbelievably hard and his words have never left me.

Sent by Joseph Larrance | 2:31 PM | 6-27-2006

I'm addressing my comment directly to Leroy Sievers. I am a hypnotherapist who trained last summer with Steven Parkhill. Steve worked with cancer patients, most of them in the hospice stage, for 15 to 20 years. And the vast majority had total remissions... tumors gone.

His book, "Answer Cancer," now available only as a downloadable e-book, explains the power of our subconscious mind in causing cancer and many other serious diseases and in curing those same diseases. This is not done simply by giving positive suggestions while in trance but by locating and shifting the negative perceptions and emotions that are at the root of the disease, most of which are in early childhood or in the womb. As I said earlier, his success rate with cancer (hospice) patients surpasses medical treatment by light-years... and the treatment doesnt poison their bodies in the process.

For yourself and for all your listeners, I strongly recommend that you download the e-book and read it. You have noting to lose but $9.95.

Although Steve is no longer working with clients, he has trained a number of hypnotherapists and could recommend several, I'm sure. His book is not academic but rather laced with his own personal opinions. The gist of his message, however, has proven accurate cancer patient after cancer patient.

If you are interested in proceeding further, Omni Hypnosis Training Center in DeLand, Florida, can put you in touch with him. Or, you can contact me. I belong to an email group of these trainees.

Sent by Judy McBride, CHt | 8:52 AM | 6-28-2006

Leroy — you were very kind to join my sister, Mary Claude, and my family two years ago in the celebration of my father's life after he died at seventy-five years following treatment for a stage four brain tumor at Johns Hopkins. We now join you in your fight to beat the odds with cancer. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

Sent by Kent Foster | 8:59 AM | 6-28-2006

How are you? I mean it! How are you today? My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer more than twelve years ago. He never under went the suggested surgery or any chemotherapy. He has a large mistrust of the medical community and consulted an American doctor practicing in Mexico prescribing alternative treatments, namely diet, and supplements. I have used the time with my father to speak to him, to learn who he is, and where it is I come from. I have tried to find the meaning in his illness it has taught me patience, love and understanding for a man who has offered his son everything he has to offer if it were not for this I may have never ventured to treat my father and respect such an honorable man truly deserves. I have read from your struggle it has opened your eyes and tested your soul. Your story has moved me and reminded me of the most important thing life has to offer us the connection and experience to each other. Please accept my humble appreciation and my hope that you will survive.

Sent by Oscar Sida | 1:50 PM | 6-28-2006

Hello! I've read your current blog writings from my home here in The Hague. As a long-standing expat, I am sorry to say that your name was unfamiliar to me. I was struck initially by how articulate you are, and of course, by your major health challenges and your reaction to them. Much of what you wrote struck a chord I recently flew to Chicago to visit a friend battling ovarian cancer. We are both 59.

I wish you well with your efforts to fight this disease with determination,and a generous amount of courage and humor and honesty. I look forward to reading your blog for a very long time to come.

Sent by Maris Rabolini | 8:56 AM | 6-30-2006

Thank you for sharing. My heart goes out to you. You have captured in words what I have not been able to the grasp of my mother's emotional and mental state as she battles her own lung cancer. I see the same strength here on the thread of comments that I see in my own mother.

Sent by Dorothy Chen | 2:08 PM | 6-30-2006

Cancer is scary and at the same time it can teach us so much about life that we would otherwise miss. There are a lot of wonderful alternative therapies out in the world that can help not only cancer patients but all people. Unfortunately mainstream medicine does not want to recognize these therapies for fear of what I do not know, perhaps it is money, but I believe that doctors are truly wanting to help. I would like to share with you a resource that I hope will help you in this time of learning. Please check out, my friend, Chris Wollam's website, and explore and learn about the many ways to beat cancer and for those who don't have cancer yet see how you can prevent or at least reduce your chances of getting it. I wish you all well.

Sent by Craig Doerner | 11:33 AM | 7-4-2006

As a woman with a Stage IV metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, there is so much that I relate to in what you've written. I was diagnosed two and a half years ago at the age of 43 with a husband and three boys, one age 12 and twins who were 10. Considered "incurable," around 96-98% of individuals diagnosed with this die between 18-36 months post-diagnosis. I was fortunate within several months I was accepted into a clinical trial at NIH, where you get incredible care and experience this wellspring of hope and compassion.

Those are the facts.

This is my life: everyday I just feel so grateful for another day with my husband and boys, family and friends, clients (I am a psychotherapist) and the opportunity to make a difference in the world somehow. I cannot recall at the moment who said it, but this I believe to be the absolute truth: we all die, but not everyone truly lives. It has taken me all this time to come to peace with what is and to live as though I am going to live, even though I still have my moments. The parallel universe of cancer can be crazy-making. But when you can get to a different place where you realize it's not about dying, it's about living, somehow it all changes and peace creeps in. There ARE many blessings in a situation like this and all we have to do is look for them...for instance, you realize how truly loving and compassionate people can be.

I've found that you get to your bottom line eventually, that all the crap gets sifted out. For me the bottom line is living my faith out on a daily basis and being able to feel God's presence in my life. There is no time other than the present moment that we have, and now I am learning to be in that moment and use it to live out God's will. The bottom line is different for everyone, but to be able to get there and be in it is an incredibly liberating experience. I can hear in your writings the longing to make sense, to put the pieces together so that a picture emerges and so I know you are on the journey. This is good. Know you are not alone. And that your search will bring you to your bottom line where all the crap has been sifted away and your life is simply what you intend it to be.

Sent by Lisa Martin | 2:26 PM | 7-6-2006

Hi Leroy, on feb 3 199 i had a massive stroke, doctors said i certainly wold NEVER walk afgain, i can now fo 12 klms ast a stretch, then i had a heart attack but luckilly found out i had a hole in the heart whioch probably caused the stroke so i got it fixed and felt terrific. WEarlier this year i was diagnosed with agressive prostate cancer, had a prostatctomy but thy missed the cancer, but aftre having a bladder ressection following a staph infection they found my cancer
p.s.a. has dropped to.07 and no problems expected, so miracles happen, but you must believe. keep it up.

Sent by bryan grehan | 9:40 PM | 12-4-2007

I wanted to commend you on having an excellent informative cancer blog.

I am working as a SEO consultant for The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

We would be very interested in discussing how we could help each other promote our web presence. Please let me know if you would like to speak in that regard.

Please do not publish this comment.

Thanks,

Sent by Josh | 11:12 AM | 2-13-2008

I was the poster child for early detection for breast cancer (discoverd at stage 0 during my yearly check-up)... until, two years later, when I was diagnosed with stage 4, and no one could explain it.

I'm a statistical anomoly. I wasn't even supposed to have a recurrance (I had a mastectomy and clear lymph nodes), but now I have metastasis in my bones, liver and lungs.

I'm looking to connect with other young, "healthy" women (I'm 42) with stage 4. (I'm ER/PR negative and HER2 positive)

I'll be on chemo for the rest of my life. So, my plan is to be on chemo for a LONG time.

Anyone looking to contact me can visit my blog: coffeeandchemo.blogspot.com

Sent by Rivka with a capital A | 5:44 PM | 3-31-2008

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