NEAL CONAN, Host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
A diagnosis of cancer isn't necessarily a death sentence, but it is always a life-changing event. Mortality, which may have been an abstract notion, suddenly comes into focus. Fear, anger, and resentment contest with hope and courage. The patient sees the world through a new lens, and in many ways, stands apart from family, friends and colleagues.
Journalist Leroy Sievers describes his newly refined skill at reading the faces and body language of medical technicians, doctors - of people he's told, and those he hasn't.
S: colon cancer four years ago, which he thought he'd beat - then, six months ago, tumors were found in his brain, lungs, and liver. He shares his stories through commentaries on NPR's MORNING EDITION and writes a daily blog about his illness. You can read the blog at npr.org/mycancer
Later in the program, Murray Horwitz returns as our summer film festival focuses on movies about movies. If you have a favorite, you can e-mail us now. The address is email@example.com.
But first, my cancer. We're asking Leroy Sievers to act as our ambassador from the world of cancer today. So if you have questions about how to talk about the disease and its treatment, or if you have cancer and want to share your stories about how your life has changed, give us a call at 800-989-8255. That's 800- 989-TALK. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leroy Sievers is here with us in Studio Three A, and it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
M: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Last time we heard from you on MORNING EDITION, you'd just had some scans and were awaiting results. How's it going?
M: Well, the results weren't great - not what you want to hear. You can sort of tell. I was going to meet my doctor and just have a quick conversation in the hallway, and when I saw him, he said we need to find a place to talk. And so you know immediately it's bad news.
My cancer has spread. The tumors in my lungs have gotten a little bit bigger, and now there's cancer on one of my vertebrae, which is a whole new thing - something I never conceived of. It's all colon cancer, which is fairly aggressive, moves very fast and just sort of moves around your body. But it wasn't a great day.
M: Not the news you're hoping to hear. You get used to bad news. It's almost always bad news. And you can tell yourself, oh, I'm expecting the worst, but you're lying.
CONAN: Yeah, and as you say, as soon as that doctor says we need some place private to talk...go back to when you first were diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago. You were working at Nightline at the time at ABC.
CONAN: And how did you tell people? I mean, I understand you had a staff meeting in which it was announced.
M: Right, I was the executive producer. I was running the show, and people sort of knew something was wrong. And I was going to have surgery, and I was going to be out six to eight weeks, and so I had to call everyone in and tell them. I didn't make eye contact with people because I wasn't sure I could get through it, and I thought it was important for me to not break down and, you know, not cry.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
M: And some people were crying and stuff. It's very, very hard. People take it in very different ways. Then it was much harder for me to talk about. It's much easier now. Just, you know, it's - through it again.
CONAN: A little bit more experienced at it.
M: Yeah, unfortunately, yes.
CONAN: Yeah. And yet it does - it must get tiresome explaining this over and over and over again.
M: A little bit. And I usually tell people - I say, look, stop me because this is sort of a big part of my life, and I can sort of talk about it endlessly. And I'll tell them, well, stop me when you're sick of this, stop me if you don't want to hear it. And you try to gauge how much people want. Close friends sort of get it all.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
M: I will tell them the truth. Other people who are kind enough to ask, but I don't know particularly well or I don't think can handle it particularly well, I'll give a much shorter version or a much blander version. You just try to gauge what's the right amount and what's the content to tell someone.
CONAN: You described that world of cancer eloquently, I thought, in one of your commentaries.
M: Well, thank you.
CONAN: Tell us a little bit about stepping outside of this, you know, universe in which you - which you thought was contained and realized you'd stepped through some sort of a membrane.
M: Yeah, it sort of looks like the normal world, but it's very different. You know, everyone's in it - old, young - but your concerns become very different. You - if you sit down next to someone in an airport, you're going to say where are you going, what are you doing, what kind of business you are - are you in? If you sit down in the cancer ward, it's what are you taking, what are your side effects...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
M: ...what have you got? You generally don't talk about prognosis, but it's a different - it's just a very different world, and it really colors everything.
CONAN: Yeah, a friend of mine who had testicular cancer talked about in the waiting room, and he said, oh, I've got testicular. Aw, yeah, just testicular. Oh, you're going to be all right.
M: Exact. There's a little bit of sort of a one-upmanship, I think. You know, I can beat that. I've got much worse.
M: And you can also tell. I mean, I hate to say it, but you can look around and you can tell people who are having a hard time, you can tell people who are doing pretty well, and you can sort of tell people that have given up.
CONAN: Mm hmm. You look great. You sound great. Do people find it hard to believe you've got what you've got?
M: Yes. I find it hard to believe. A friend of mine said if I didn't know you were sick, I wouldn't know you were sick. It's very strange because I feel - except when I'm on chemo, and you get the side effects - I have no symptoms. I feel fine. I look the way I always looked. And so I know the cancer's in there. I've seen the pictures of it. I've seen the scans. But it's sort of surreal. It's more intellectual than anything else. I have cancer because they told me. That's the only reason I know I have cancer.
I did have some symptoms when I had a brain tumor. I started to slur, and oddly enough, none of my friends sort of commented on it. One friend thought I was drunk at one point, and I would say, you know, I don't drink during the day. That's not my style. But otherwise I wouldn't know. And I think a lot of people go without knowing for years.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the line, a lot of stories - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com. We'll begin with Loretta(ph). Loretta's calling us from Wichita in Kansas.
LORETTA: Hi, there.
LORETTA: Thank you for letting me make my comment. My comment is similar to your guest speaker. People see me walking and talking, and they say, oh, you look great. And then they want to hear about my symptoms, and I tell them, well, I get tired. And they just - pretty soon the conversation talks - turns to them about their ailments.
And another thing that - another thing that I've noticed is that I had two relatives that just cried and cried when they found out I had cancer. I have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I've been in remission three times. But after the cry that they had, I hardly see them.
LORETTA: And I don't - you know, that's kind of hard to deal with, so.
CONAN: So they almost treat like your infectious.
LORETTA: Something. I don't understand it. You know, I just really don't understand it, and I just kind of just try to live with their reactions...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
LORETTA: ...and just go over it.
M: It's very...
LORETTA: You know...
M: I'm sorry.
LORETTA: ...go on living.
M: It's very hard for some people to deal with it at all. Some people can't even say the word, and some people just can't cope with it. And unfortunately, they withdraw and there's nothing you can do about it. It's hurtful, and it's painful, but that's - I guess they - people do the best they can.
LORETTA: Yeah, and me - I try to explain to one person that we have to make the most of our time, the best use of our time, you know, to really get to know each other. And if there's anything that needs to be resolved, let's resolve it and - but everything is okay. I mean, I just, you know, I just don't understand how - why that big cry and all the, you know...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
LORETTA: ...and all that and then not really...
CONAN: Might there - I don't mean to infer what your friends are feeling - but might there not be an element of guilt? You've got it, I don't.
LORETTA: I don't know. I've never thought of it like that.
M: I think there's also a little bit of guilt is I can't help. There's really nothing I can do, you know, and people want to help. People - it's funny - tend to treat you like you're a little more fragile, and you sense that immediately. They sort of tiptoe around you, or they drop their voices, or they're more solicitous. And like the caller, you want to say, look, I'm the person I was before. I just simply have a disease.
CONAN: Loretta, good luck.
LORETTA: Thank you so much.
LORETTA: God bless. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Let's talk now with - if I can find the right button there. There we go. Bob - Bob's calling from Jackson, Tennessee.
BOB: Yeah, good afternoon, Neal.
CONAN: Good afternoon.
BOB: Thank you for taking the call.
BOB: My wife has a - has had cancer twice: colon and kidney. And to echo exactly what the previous caller was saying, a lot of people just kind of turn and run, or they react by saying, well, gee. I'm sorry to hear about that. Now let me tell you what's wrong with me.
BOB: But the thing that has aggravated my wife, Maggie, more than anything else, I think, is that people just tend to want to ignore her. And they'll come back later and say, well, I didn't know what to say. And she has said over and over again, just look the person in the eye and say, I'm sorry. You don't deserve that. Is there anything I can do to help? And that's all you have to say.
M: I think that's exactly right. I mean, a kind word - but also one, and I think the great gifts that friends or family can give to someone who is fighting cancer is just a little bit of normalcy. I don't always want to talk about it. I want to talk about the latest movie or TV or sports or something like that. You know, let's talk politics, let's go out to dinner, let's do something else - because you live with it 24 hours a day. It's never very far from your mind, and someone who will just give you a break from that is incredibly valuable.
BOB: You're absolutely right about that, and as the previous caller and you have all said, maybe there are people who don't know what to do. But I think if you start out by saying how can I help, and maybe then the person who has the cancer says, I'll tell you how you can help. Treat me normally.
CONAN: Hmm. How's your wife doing, Bob?
BOB: So far so good, Neal. In both cases, they said they got it all, and it wasn't anything that needed chemo. The kidney cancer was three years ago. But another thing I'm sure your guest will talk about is that every time there's a new ache or pain, then that voice looms up in the middle of the night. Here we go ahead, question mark.
CONAN: Yeah. Bob, we wish you and your wife the best of luck.
BOB: Very good, thank you.
BOB: Enjoy the program everyday, Neal, thank you.
CONAN: Is he right about that? You wake up and your knee starts to twinge, and you think, oh, my gosh, what's this?
M: No, because I never really had symptoms from it. It's more - I took a break from chemo. I had three weeks off and then went to one drug.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
M: And that's when the cancer spread. Then you're nervous. It's, like, the chemo was working before. It was holding it in place. That whole time you feel great because you're off the chemo, but you're thinking, boy, am I opening the door or what's happening in there? How do I know - because you only do the scans every, you know, couple of months or whatever. So there's that fear. It's, like, what's happening in there that I can't see and can't feel?
CONAN: You must think about your body in a whole new way. I mean, this thing that has functioned without thought all your life, and now it's betraying you.
M: Absolutely. It's trying to kill me, and it ticks me off. There's - I mean, some of the side effects - for instance, right now your feet tingle from the chemo. It feels like someone is squeezing the tips of every one of my fingers. That's a constant, physical reminder that doesn't go away, so I know every second of every day that that's going on.
CONAN: But that's the chemo.
M: That's the chemo. That's the only thing that's made me sick.
CONAN: And you wrote, interestingly, about the chemo that, you know, of course, it's a process of poisoning your body - and just enough to kill the cancer. They hope not enough to kill you.
M: Exactly. I mean, one of the things - you know, I'm not symptomatic from the cancer. The doctors say I may never be. So then they give you these prognoses, and the question I've always asked is, well, what's going to kill me? Because I don't quite get what the process is going to be, and I still don't quite understand what's going to happen except the chemo's not good for you. It is poison, and that seems to kill as many cancer patients as the cancer does.
CONAN: We're talking with Leroy Sievers about living with cancer and how difficult it can be for people to talk about it. And we're taking your calls - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal CONAN, in Washington.
Leroy Sievers writes a blog at our Web site that's a daily account of his life and his fight with cancer. Today he's our guide into his world - how he talks about cancer and with who and what made him share the experience with all of us.
Y: npr.org/mycancer. If you have questions about how to talk about cancer or if you've had cancer yourself, how do you talk about it with family and friends? Or do you avoid the topic entirely? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK - e- mail is email@example.com. And let's turn to Noel(ph). Noel's with us from Portland, Oregon.
NOEL: Hi, Neal.
NOEL: Just situation as far as from the friend's perspective. A good friend of ours just had her second cancer operation that's still in pathology. Her husband, in the meantime, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. So I was at the - in the room with her last night and him, and, you know, trying to figure out what to say and what to do. And we just started talking, and I think that's one of the keys. And one of the things we talked about was this Texas hold'em poker.
NOEL: You know, you've got seven cards, you throw two of them away, and you keep the five best you can. And she's on her second cancer, but we just looked at it as, you know, she's got a lot of things in her life that are positive and a lot of people that care for her, and so does he. And they even played the little one-upmanship while he said, well, now I was diagnosed with prostate, and now you come along with this to make me, you know, go back in the shadows and - so we used a little humor, but we also used a lot of things that, you know, what's on the good side of this other than just what's on the bad side?
CONAN: Hmm. Though optimism is hard to maintain sometimes, isn't it, Noel?
NOEL: It's very hard, but - you know, and she was still even a little groggy from the medication that they have her on. But, you know, I really felt like it was a lift for her, for us just to be able to kind of still deal with the subject but look at other things in her life, too.
CONAN: Hmm. We wish your friends good luck, Noel.
NOEL: I thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. You got a six-month diagnosis, or, you know, six months to...
M: Prognosis, right.
CONAN: ...20 months prognosis about six months ago.
M: Well, when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December, and I think it was the second or third day, and that's obviously the question you want to ask. It's how much longer, you know?
M: How long? When am I going to die? And they only have averages. They don't know for your case, but I pushed the doctor - because they try to hedge off - and he finally looked me in the eye and he said six months, which was up to a couple of months ago. That's a shock. I mean, you're hearing sort of goes away. You know, the room starts to spin. Nobody likes to hear that. I can't - it's hard to describe that reaction. I've had - I have a bunch more prognoses now. They're very different. Who knows?
One of the things that's funny - the first thing people always tell you is, oh, my cousin's co-worker's best friend was given three months to live and lived 30 years.
CONAN: Twenty-five years ago, yeah.
M: That's great for them - totally irrelevant for me. I know that people are trying to give me hope and that - and they mean well at that, but every person's case is so different that that really doesn't matter. It does show, yes, there's a chance you can do it, but not really.
CONAN: Mm hmm. And the, as you say, you're going through chemo, which you have your doubts about. At the same time, you've also mentioned, maybe I should just go to Hawaii and slap down the credit card and tell them to keep Mai Tais coming.
M: I actually had that conversation with my doctor. I said is it time for me to simply go off? And he said, no. And I said you'll tell me when the time is. And I said yes. I mean, the thing that worries me about that - if I go off and then end up living another two years, I'll just become the drunk by the pool.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
M: And then nobody wants to be that.
CONAN: Well, that credit card might run out, too.
M: Well, there is that, too.
CONAN: Let's go to David. David's calling us from Jacksonville.
DAVID: Thanks for taking my call.
DAVID: I just want to make a quick comment about one of the earlier callers had talked about people withdrawing from you once they hear, because my own experience has been, you know - and my dad died from lung cancer. My grandfather died from kidney cancer. I've had family members of close friends that have died from cancer - and what it really comes down to for me - and, of course, I can't speak to why some others have done this - is that it eventually becomes a defense mechanism to try to maintain your own sanity, even though that may sound a little selfish.
You know, I started out being very supportive of family and friends of family members of friends, to try to help them feel as normal as possible. But then, inevitably, you see their decline, you see their physical condition decline. It becomes so hard that I just recently kind of did the withdrawal thing on someone from work, even though I didn't mean to - who I found out had cancer - because I just felt like I simply couldn't go through it again.
CONAN: Hmm. It's interesting, Leroy. You write about people who deal with this everyday - technicians and nurses, doctors - some of whom can't even say the word.
M: Right. I had one technician - I went in for a scan, and she said, well, we're looking for CA today. And I'm thinking I have no idea what that is. Turns out it is an abbreviation for cancer. She couldn't say the word.
It's hard for some people. I mean, people a lot of times will ask, so how's your - how's your health problems? It's like, it's okay. I have cancer. You can say the word out loud.
I feel bad for the doctors and the nurses, and I've gotten to be friends with some of them. One nurse told me she had a nervous breakdown because virtually everyone they see is a terminal case.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
M: So they come to work, and there's very little good news. And that's - if you think about that sort of day after day after day - they're trying to help these people, but they have to know - the people I become friends with have to be thinking at some point, well, we're going to lose him.
M: And that's - I don't know how they cope with that.
CONAN: A real growth industry must be psychiatry for oncologists.
M: Well, there isn't. Oddly enough, there's very little counseling. I mean, this particular nurse said there was no counseling for them at all.
CONAN: Hmm. David, thanks very much for the call. Let's go to Mike. Mike is calling us from Marshfield in Wisconsin.
MIKE: Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.
MIKE: This is a very important topic, because my very good friend has had - has cancer. And as a friend, I find it difficult to bring the subject up because one minute he want to talk about it in detail. And the next time I meet him, he doesn't want to talk about it. And I don't know how to approach him. And what I do is read his body language. If he's open and he wants to talk about it, I listen. But usually, he's very quiet and doesn't want to bring it up. So how do I deal with that?
CONAN: Mm hmm. Good question.
M: I think you let him lead. If he starts to talk about it or wants to talk about it, go ahead. If he doesn't, don't push. It's a hard thing. In some ways, I think it's much harder on the people around and the loved ones, the friends, the family. I know how I feel. I know what's happening to me. But, really, all anyone else can do is worry.
M: And you can ask, you know, how are you feeling until you drive people crazy. I think you just have to let them be - you have to let your friend be the leader.
MIKE: But sometimes I - it looks like for three weeks, four weeks, he doesn't talk about it. And I feel guilty because I want to find how he is doing. I want to be supportive, but I can't bring it up. And it looks as if I'm callous. Am I wrong in feeling guilty?
M: Yes, absolutely. The best thing you can do for him is just continue to be his friend, and if he doesn't want to talk about it and wants to do the things you've always done, just do that. And that means everything in the world. So there's no reason to feel guilty. By being there and being his friend, you're doing all that you possibly could.
MIKE: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Mike. And, interestingly, you also wrote about - you see the rest of the world from across the other side of that membrane. You see the rest of the world going on: new relationships, new jobs, people going off to - and in the dark of the night, you feel resentment.
M: I do. It's hard not to. You know, people would say, well, I'm hoping to do this in two years or five years, or I'm going to get a new job. And I think - sometimes I don't - I have to catch myself. I think, boy, you know, in two years I'd like to be here and maybe I'd like to try this after that, and maybe I'll switch careers. And then I think, no, that's probably not going to happen.
It's hard, and you just can't stop it. I mean, there are times where you get angry, but there's really no one to get angry at. I mean, I get angry at my lungs, but that's not going to do much good. It is hard because you realize that your world is narrower.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
M: And there are some things I want to do that I can't do now, and that's going to become increasingly more narrow as time goes on. And, yeah, it's hard not to resent that. I don't resent my friends for doing that. I resent the fact that I won't have those chances.
CONAN: Do you assemble a list of things you want to do before? I mean, you know, drive a racecar at Monte Carlo, check, you know?
M: Actually, not. I mean, and I think I've shocked people before when I've said that - this, because I don't mean it to be morbid or sad. I've had a great life. I was a journalist for almost more than 25 years, went all over the world, got to see and do things. I don't want to go climb Mt. Everest. I don't have a list of things I want to do. All you really want to do, and I think all any cancer patient really wants to do is live. That can mean sitting on the couch. It could mean reading the newspaper. It's just the little stuff. I don't think any of us are ready to die.
CONAN: Let's talk with Tay(ph). Tay's calling us from Charlotte, North Carolina.
TAY: This is such a wonderful conversation. I am a cancer survivor of breast cancer, and a couple of comments that I'd like to make. One, the hardest thing I had to do was to tell my family. That was by far the most challenging thing, because you almost feel guilty that you - because you know you're going to create a lot of pain for them.
And the second thing, I had breast cancer. I had a lump, and I had many doctors tell me not to worry about it. I was 40 years old. It didn't show up on the mammogram. I don't say this to scare people, but you have to - one thing that I learned you must be so proactive in your medical care.
And the doctors don't tell you, yes this is X. They'll say it could be this or it could be that, or you should consider these three options. But there is so much decision making that you have to make in a moment of crisis. That was incredibly challenging for me.
CONAN: Hmm. Leroy's been nodding as you've been talking.
TAY: It's - I was not versed in breast cancer. I thought breast cancer was just breast cancer. And then to learn that there's so many different types of breast cancer, so many types of treatment. I could have a lumpectomy. I could have a mastectomy. I could do radiation. I could do - the decisions are fast and furious, and it's tremendously important, of course, that you pick the right one. And the second part of that, what's right for me is not necessarily right for every woman.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
TAY: I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. I'm three years out. I can't wait to get to that five-year mark. But you really must take control of your medical activities and make decisions and not count on other people. And like I said, that was very challenging for me.
M: It's terribly challenging. And one of the most shocking things was the first time the doctor said we don't know what you should do. What do you want to do? And I'm thinking you're the doctors. I always thought you'd tell me.
CONAN: You'd tell me, yeah.
M: Tell me what to do. I'll be there and you'll do it. And they'll say, well you have this option, you have this option. You know, what are you going to do? And it's like, I have no idea.
I'm facing a decision in about a week on a drug that may be very effective but may also cause strokes. How do you make that choice? It's hard.
TAY: Right. (Unintelligible) with your life.
CONAN: If you're wrong, you're going to - well, anyway.
M: Well, but the other thing that you said at the beginning of the call - I find myself - and I think all cancer patients do - I find myself comforting more people more than the other way around.
TAY: Oh, absolutely.
M: I've told people and they've burst into tears. And you sort of say, you know, it's okay. I have to comfort them because they're in pain as well. They're in pain for us. But it's sort of a strange reversal. Again, it's not something that - it's not the way you would expect it to be.
TAY: It's true. My mother passed away with lung cancer when I was 18, and I watched her comfort other people.
TAY: And then 20-something years later, I was doing the same thing.
CONAN: Tay, we'll expect you to call us back in a year.
TAY: I expect to call you back in 20 years, Neal.
M: Good luck.
CONAN: Thanks very much.
TAY: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking with Leroy Sievers. His blog - you can read it - is at npr.org/mycancer. If you'd like to join this conversation, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get Kelly on the line. Kelly's also calling from Jacksonville.
KELLY: Hi. Good afternoon.
KELLY: I have a question. I just finished my sixth chemo, and I've finished with ovarian cancer. And I've been doing remarkably well and taking Haelan 951 and vitamin C infusions and wanted to know if you'd considered any treatments for what you're going through. And I also wish you very well.
M: Thank you. I've - a lot of people suggest alternative treatments. I honestly don't know a lot about them. I mean, there's some on the outside, it's like you should try the Tahitian-something-berry or the fruit of something. On the other hand, there is real research into mushrooms, into scorpion poison of all things. So, you're never quite sure where it's going to come from.
I have to admit, I'm fairly traditional. I'm in - I have good doctors. I trust them, and right now we're going down that road. But my thing is, if something works for you or it makes you feel better, you know, go ahead and give it a shot. As time goes on, as the traditional therapies fail, which they're all sort of destined to - a lot of them are - then you start looking further and further a field.
KELLY: I think the reason why I ask the question is because I saw my mother and my grandmother die both young - in their mid-40s - of cancer. And, without sounding like a doom-and-gloom person, the chemotherapy, it just - you know, it never truly worked long term for them. And I feel like there's something out there with alternative medicine that people can latch onto, that - I guess if their individualized, can help them if they can just find the right treatment for themselves. Because we're all different spirits and we're all different souls and I think that we all have to come from that aspect of healing.
M: Well, and they're learning things. I mean, acupuncture, which used to be sort of - you know, people would laugh about that - is now offered at most hospitals to ease chemotherapy side effects. One of the things the doctors tell us is just hang on. Do whatever you can to hang on, because maybe somewhere someone's going to have the breakthrough tomorrow or next week or six months from now. You never know what's going to come out.
CONAN: Hmm. Kelly good luck.
KELLY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can get one more caller in. this will be Bea. And Bea's calling us from Sanibel in Florida.
BEA: Hi, thanks for taking my call.
BEA: I have a varied cancer history. Unfortunately, at age 30 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a radical mastectomy. I'm now 63. And four years ago, I had a very large sarcoma tumor in the belly. I had surgery and have gone through lots of chemo. This is the first summer I have had hair in four years. So, I'm real excited about having hair. But those are the...
CONAN: It's the little things sometimes, isn't it?
BEA: It is. It really is the small things that count. In regards to family, yeah, it's the hardest thing of all because you see the pain in their eyes. They may not say anything, but the pain in the eyes is what kills you. The thing that's so important is just every day you have to get up, look at that sunshine or the rain, and say thank God I'm here. Because let me tell you, it's a good life.
And I wish anyone that's dealing with cancer on any level, you know, lots of good luck. I am so lucky. I go to Dana Farber every three weeks - all the way from southwest Florida - to get treatment for a new protocol. And I'm so excited because maybe this will do it. And that's where I'm at, at this point. I just, you know, thank God for every day and it's a good life.
CONAN: Well, Bea, congratulations on having to go back to the hairdresser.
BEA: Yeah. I love it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BEA: And good luck to Leroy.
M: Thank you very much.
BEA: Take care.
CONAN: One thing you've also written about - been some suggestions maybe if you changed your diet it might be better for you. And I think you said the hell with it.
M: Well, exactly. If I have a hot fudge sundae and that makes my life shorter by a day, that's a price I'm willing to pay. It depends on each thing. Some people say don't eat red meat, change your diet. I'll be honest with you. At this point, given the situation, I'm going to eat and do what I still enjoy.
And I'm not willing to give up that many things for the cancer. It's taken enough. That's just life's little pleasures I'm going to hold onto. And if that's a nice bottle of wine or a hot fudge sundae or a double cheeseburger - for me, that's the price I'm willing to pay.
CONAN: Thank you on behalf of all of your readers and listeners for sharing your stories with us. It's - I know it helps a lot of people to hear somebody else talk about it.
M: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Leroy Sievers, good luck to you.
M: Thank you.
CONAN: Leroy Sievers is a journalist who shares his life as a cancer patient in a blog at our Web site. You can read his daily postings. Hear his Podcast and send him your comments: npr.org/mycancer. He's also a regular commentator on NPR's MORNING EDITION.
I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back with our annual movie festival. When we come back from a break, Murray Horwitz will be here. Send us your nominees for best movie about the movies. Our address is email@example.com. I'm Neal Conan, back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.