From my speech at the opening ceremony for Relay for Life of Reseda in June 2013:
A year and a half ago I was paralyzed with fear, afraid to leave my house after being given the news that I had late stage breast cancer. It felt like I had been struck by lightning and that the earth had opened up and swallowed me hole as I spiraled down into the middle of nowhere. I was in true shock. I couldn’t bear to be around other people, because I couldn’t bear to hear any stories about people who have had cancer. Everybody has been touched by cancer in one or more ways. Everybody has stories about cancer. Some that ended well, and some that didn’t. That’s why we’re all here.
I had never been in such bad shape mentally. I have faced some pretty tough challenges in my life, and have always risen above them, but not this time. For the first time in my life I understood blinding, crippling, raw panic. And depression. I had never been depressed before.
Cancer takes a solid year out of your life and the ones who love and care for you, even if your prognosis is good. Cancer is a 24-7 ordeal for everybody who is touched by it. That’s why we’re here.
Even with all the incredible advances that have been made with treating various cancers, cancer treatment is still debilitating. Chemo for me was two to four times a month, four to five hours a day.There were more visits to various doctors during the week for shots to boost my white blood count, take blood tests, and regular check-ups. The side effects of chemo kept me in bed for days afterwards. I couldn’t work. I could barely care for my family. My family had to take care of me. We couldn’t escape cancer. Our whole life was all about cancer, cancer, cancer. That’s why we’re here.
Cancer is expensive, even with insurance. A year of various deductibles and co-pays, and out of pocket costs add up really fast. These expenses are compounded if the cancer patient is too sick to work. If the family depends on two incomes to get by, cancer is a financial hardship. People go bankrupt. People worry about losing their job for taking off so much time off to care for a loved one.
The side effects of chemo are horrendous. I was exhausted. My bones hurt. On really bad days I felt like an 80 year old woman. I could barely walk. My hair, eyebrows and eye lashes fell out. I got sores in my mouth and the bottoms of my feet. My finger and toe nails turned brown. I got bloody noses. My body was forced into early menopause. Everybody in my house had to wash their hands a lot because I couldn’t afford to catch a cold and compromise my immune system any further. My digestive system was super sensitive. I felt toxic. I had four surgeries, leaving me completely helpless for two weeks after each surgery. After care at home was pretty gross – I will spare you the details about that. There were weekly doctor visits to my plastic surgeon’s office and daily radiation for months. We kept living with it, while the lives of those around us went on. Cancer goes on and on and on. That’s why we’re here.
I got through all of this with the loving support of my family and friends, and my daily commitment to my art. Being creative helped me endure the monotony and pain of ongoing treatments. After I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I could start to see some humor in my situation and I created a cartoon strip called, “Topic of Cancer”.
Please stop by my booth today to see my greeting cards for sale. Art and humor helped me keep the necessary positive attitude necessary to endure the never ending treatments and recovery time. Talking to others who have or have had cancer made me feel better, too. Friends, family and church members brought us dinners every night which helped bring down our grocery bills and took the burden off of my husband to shop and cook at the end of his long, stressful days. People stepped up and helped with my nine year old daughter. Cancer brings out the best in people. – that’s why we’re here.
Whenever I called the American Cancer Society, the person who answered the phone was always so informative and compassionate. They were always available to answer questions and offer free assistance to me like they do the millions of cancer patients and caregivers who turn to them for help every year. The American Cancer Society helped fund research for Tamoxifen, a drug that I will be taking every day for five years to help prevent the cancer from sneaking back – that’s why we’re here.
Volunteering for Relay for Life has helped my family and I bring closure to a long, painful and scary ordeal. Cancer isn’t just hard on the person who has it, it’s hard on everyone who loves and lives with that person. My little girl will be sharing a little bit about her story tonight at the luminaria ceremony. I’m here today to help pay it forward. I have benefited directly from all of the research that has been done for my particular type of cancer. Research costs money. Lots and lots of money. I am so grateful to be alive today. I wouldn’t have made it 30 years ago. I am so grateful for all of the research that has already been done for breast cancer. Today, I relay as a gesture of thanks and to help raise money for research for other cancers that aren’t as common as mine.
Cancer is a disability. Cancer kills. It affects all of us, sooner or later. We really are in this together. That’s why we’re here.
Thank you all for giving so much of yourselves today so that others can live.