My sister Sharon is incredible: funny, smart, kind, clever, imaginative, gorgeous, loving, and my favorite person on the planet. Ever since she opened her baby-blue eyes and smiled at my two-year-old face, she's been my best friend.
So you can imagine how devastating it was when she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. The first oncologist she visited told her, "We'll make you comfortable," and recommended the Elizabeth Kübler Ross book, On Death and Dying.
Sharon left that doctor's office like Road Runner taking off down a canyon.
She refused to read survival statistics and stayed off the internet too. She even avoided breast cancer support groups. (Now I might have joined one, but Sharon just said, "I don't have time!" which I think is fine — each of us has different ways of coping.) Sharon didn't slow down as much as I wanted her to — it was like she refused to believe she had cancer. Frankly some of her denial made me crazy, but she did the important things. She found a comprehensive cancer center (Johns Hopkins), and took the medicine . . . now here is the best part: THIS DECEMBER IT WILL BE SIX YEARS SINCE HER DIAGNOSIS.
I'm not saying it's been easy (it hasn't), but my sister is my role model for an UNSINKABLE HERO. I don't think we can "decide" to survive cancer, but I also don't discount that my sister's approach has given her a survival edge. Sharon is my role model for the power of positive thinking, and she is a walking miracle. She believes she has a cancer-free future too.
Coincidentally, one of my dearest friends, Dr. Lauren Wood, is a principal investigator on a vaccine in a clinical trial which is already underway. This trial could make my sister's dream a reality. Fortunately my sister's treatment is working, but that vaccine is the next step. I've seen my sister's hopeful face and, as the old Monkees song goes, "Now I'm a believer."
There is an immediate problem, however: the government shutdown means that no cancer patient can get on a clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health. There are about 200 patients a week, people like my sister, who need the hope and the help of NIH. And it's not just these 200 people and their families who need the work of research to move faster. It could be your sister, someone in your life . . . or you.
There is a petition you can sign and a story from The Washington Post that explains more.
So if you know someone who is diagnosed with cancer, especially if it has a scary number attached to it, please tell them that it's only a number, and share my sister's story. She is proof that life and the refusal to allow fear to take over makes a difference. I hate cancer, even as a chronic disease. I love LIVING, and my sister is certainly is someone who LIVES fully—as evidenced in the photo above where she is posing with the cake she made for a baby shower. I would have bought the cake, but she wanted to make it by hand. Jeez, she just won't slow down . . . Thank goodness.