I didn't realize until today how long it had been since I had posted on my blog. Wow, it's embarrassing! I make no attempt at excuses. I do miss posting here and will endeavor to get back into it in the near future.
Until then, I am sharing here something that I wrote for a different purpose. Tomorrow night, our family and many friends are participating in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Light The Night Walk" in New Haven, CT. We are "Team Chuck", and we walk in memory of our friend Chuck Pataky and in support of those still fighting these terrible cancers. By walking, and soliciting donations, we raise money that the LLS will divert toward further research for better treatments/cures as well as various forms of support for families who are facing their own devastating diagnoses.
I'm going to tell you a secret. I used to be thoroughly skeptical about supporting medical-related charities like LLS. I used to feel like, even if the money wasn't misused (which cynical-me assumed it was), the research probably wouldn't make a difference anyway. My opinion has changed.
I read a book this summer (dorky beach reading, yes, I know) called "The Emperor of all Maladies" by (research oncologist) Siddhartha Mukherjee. In it he details the history of cancer, dating from the earliest known examples (think mummies) to the latest research today. This book was fascinating to me in many ways, but perhaps the biggest impact it made on me is that it eradicated my skepticism about the possibility of finding real, honest-to-God cures. I had no idea how far we had come, even since the 1950's, in improving the mortality rate for people with many cancers. There are quite a few cancers today that would have been a death sentence fifty years ago (or even twenty years ago) that are now either mostly or entirely curable.
Fascinatingly, the whole realm of modern chemotherapy started with leukemia patients. Because leukemia was the easiest cancer to quantify (drawing blood was a lot easier than looking at tumors in an age before CAT-scans), leukemia patients were the recipients/guinea pigs for the earliest and most ground-breaking forms of modern treatment. There are countless people who are alive today because of the discoveries made by men like Sidney Farber, and before cancer treatment became politically supported, the willingness of private citizens to fund such treatment.
Today, medicine is a big machine, I know, and it's easy to be skeptical about how much we can trust the drug companies and government funding to fix these problems. Some of that skepticism is warranted. It's all part of a very complicated conversation, and one full of questions that I don't know the answers to. But, here is what I do know.
There are people today who are alive because SOMEBODY thought that finding a cure to their disease mattered. There are diseases that are treatable/curable today because people like you and me lobbied for and supported research. Conversely, there are diseases that would likely be widely curable if more funding was available to hurry their research along, but sadly, it is not.
Below is what I wrote for my "Why I Walk" page on our "Team Chuck" fundraising page. Even if you don't know anyone involved in this effort, I hope you'll take a moment to read it, as well as click through to our team website and check out the personal notes written by other team members. I have learned a lot about cancer over the last few years, and one of the things I've learned is that it can happen to anyone. If it was your friend or family member who was diagnosed (or you!) with T-PLL or some other form of cancer, wouldn't you want others to have supported the search for a cure?
Thanks for reading. The link to our team's website is at the end of the post.
|This is "Team Chuck" from the 2011 Light The Night Walk in South Windsor, CT.|
Why I Walk
Four years ago, our family learned about leukemia because of our friend Chuck.
I admit that I was totally ignorant about leukemia until Chuck was diagnosed in June 2010. Talk about a steep learning curve. When I heard he had T-Cell Prolymphocytic Leukemia (T-PLL), it only took a few minutes of research to get a glimpse of exactly what he was up against.
It wasn't good. Then again, the words "rare, aggressive, and invariably terminal" really never are.
Over those next 9 months we all continued to learn about leukemia because of Chuck. We learned the hard way what a disease like T-PLL can do to a man. Everyone knew that Chuck was tough, but it wasn't enough. It didn't matter how strong he was, how hard he fought, how skilled his doctors were, how much he wanted to live, how many dreams he had or how many people loved him. T-PLL was a devourer so ravenous that it wasn't satisfied until it had taken him away completely. And in March 2011, it did just that.
He was only 34 years old.
Because of Chuck, I now know that a disease like T-PLL takes a lot of things. It takes your vitality, your health, your freedom from pain, your long-term plans, your ability to see your children grow up, and your future. I also know what a disease like T-PLL leaves behind. It leaves an empty seat at the dinner table, an empty spot on the ball-field sidelines, and an empty place in the heart of a family. It leaves an empty place where a father and a husband ought to be.
I've seen this empty place. I know it well. I hate it. And if there is anything I can do to stop a disease like T-PLL from leaving an empty place in another family, you better believe that I'm going to do it.
This is why I walk.
Now, of course I know that no amount of walking will fill the empty place that Chuck - or any other loved one who has passed away - has left behind. I also know that no amount of walking will produce some sort of "magic bullet" that will cure cancer. There are too many different types of cancers in the world, too many variables, and too many factors for there to ever be one simple solution. But, that doesn't mean the quest is hopeless. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite is true.
Did you know that 60 years ago, a diagnosis of childhood leukemia was a (quick and ugly) death sentence, but now most leukemia-stricken children survive?
And did you know that 20 years ago, a diagnosis of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia meant you only had 3-5 years to live, but now 90% of CML patients can - just by taking a daily pill - live a normal life span?
These are only two examples of the life-saving progress that can be made when dedicated people direct their God-given minds and resources toward fighting cancer. There are many other examples as well. And today in 2014, we have better technology and greater knowledge of the intricasies of human biology than the generations before us could have dreamed existed. We are at a place in history when making drastic strides toward cures is more possible than ever. We might not find one big "magic bullet," but we sure can find lots of little ones.
We've already found some. Let's keep going. As long as cancer is still leaving empty places, we don't get to stop. Other people like Chuck, and their families, are counting on us.
Chuck's fight has ended. Ours still has a long way to go.
We watched him fight. Now it's our turn.