September Is …

My mother loved the autumn. It was her favorite time of year. From warm cider to the brightly-colored falling leaves, she thoroughly embraced the season. I always think of my mother, when September arrives. This year is no different. September, in all its glory, is a time for many things. But none are as important as its role in awareness. September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. That too reminds me of Mom … and others.

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Three members of my family have been diagnosed with a form of Blood Cancer. I lost my mother to a rare, Blood Cancer in 2008 (Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma primary to the bone). So, I take awareness for this form of Cancer personally. I know what it can do.

Blood Cancer affects children and adults. In fact, every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a Blood Cancer. Survival rates have improved greatly, in the last two decades. Yet, every nine minutes, a patient will succumb to the disease. Over 600K are expected to die from Cancer, in the U.S., this year. Nearly 10% of them will have a type of Blood Cancer.

Most of us know what Cancer is, or we have a pretty good idea. We associate the disease with terms like mass, tumor and malignant. But what exactly is a Blood Cancer? Blood Cancers affect the production and function of the body’s blood cells. Most of these cancers will start in the bone marrow, where blood is produced. There are three main types of Blood Cancer:

  • Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
  • Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system.
  • Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells.

To date, there are no effective screening tests for the early detection of Blood Cancers. But there are warning signs that we can share and make others aware of:

  • Unexplained fever.
  • Persistent fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath during normal activity.
  • Sweats, especially at night.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Persistent cough.
  • Abdominal pain, fullness and/or swelling.
  • Lymph node pain.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I encourage you to see your doctor immediately. 

If you have been diagnosed with a Blood Cancer, take a moment to just let the news sink in. Cancer treatment can be complex and often times overwhelming for the patient, caregiver and family. Tests and treatment approaches can vary. But there are many materials available that will help to explain each step, in terms that you can understand. There are support groups available, in many areas. Online chats and podcasts are offered on various cancer-support websites, i.e. the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, etc.

Your Treatment Team (usually comprised of primary care physicians, a medical oncologist, surgical oncologist and radiation oncologist), can not only answer questions, they can help connect you with the materials and support you need. Once you are in remission, or your disease is under control, good follow-up care is critical to your well-being. Some hospitals offer Survivorship Clinics that give cancer survivors comprehensive monitoring and support. Yearly exams are part of this clinical approach, as well as regular visits to your primary physician.

Since 1960, the five-year relative survival rate for Leukemia has more than quadrupled. Patients are fighting Blood Cancers, every day. Many are winning their battle. Medical breakthroughs continue to be made. And one day, God willing, there may be a cure.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. It was designated as such, by Congress, just two short years after my mother passed. If Mom were here today, I think she’d like the idea. No. Scratch that. I know she would like the idea. As someone who worked professionally in healthcare for over 40 years, she would be tirelessly involved. We can do more to fight Blood Cancer! We will do more! The lives of millions are depending on it! 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.nfcr.org/blog/7-facts-need-know-blood-cancers/

http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Cancers/

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/lymphoma/default.htm

http://www.lls.org/blood-cancer-awareness-month

https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/september-blood-cancer-awareness-month

*Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

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On Eagle’s Wings …

Most of us grew-up with the notion that when you were sick, you went to the doctor and you got well. Life returned to normal. But once you are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, that simple concept goes out the window. In your new normal, you regularly go to the doctor/s … you regularly take medications, sometimes therapy, surgery, exercise, dietary changes, etc., but you are never where you once were. The symptoms remain. Pain is often times as common as breathing. And being well translates to effectively managing your disease. Despite your best efforts, there are setbacks. Those with a Chronic illness will tell you that it’s inevitable. And with time, the struggle can take its toll. Some become anxious and/or depressed. Others just want to give up. Medical science has accomplished a lot, but courage and strength can’t be prescribed. These essential tools must come from within.

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“… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  — Isaiah 40:31

Often times, a patient wonders, “Why me?” They may look at their life and try to find where the mistake was made. While lifestyle can contribute to some Chronic illnesses, there are many patients who have a long history of maintaining a healthy one prior to their diagnosis. Genetics and environment also play a role. In essence, there are no guarantees in life.

My uncle was diagnosed with Hypertension, around the age of 30. He successfully managed his condition, for years. In his late-50s, he retired … sold his home in the suburbs of Chicago … purchased a farm near Nashville, TN … and left the Big City grind for an easier gentry. He had chickens, ducks, horses, a well-stocked fishing pond, etc. When he and my aunt chose country-living, they went all in. Gardening. Quilting. Relaxing on the porch. It was a peaceful existence, surrounded by natural beauty. Admired. Perhaps, envied. Yet, a year later, he was stricken with a massive stroke. Left with partial paralysis, he found himself in a wheelchair. And, as he confessed to me nearly a decade later, he wondered, “Why me?” The really wondrous thing was that, according to him, he heard a voice say, “Why not you?” Was this a Divine conversation? Maybe. But, in that moment, he realized that he wasn’t alone. He had his faith to sustain him — to help confront his situation. There were millions struggling with medical conditions, the loss of body function, etc. His new normal wasn’t a rarity. It was a curve-ball in life. And he chose to make the most of it, which is exactly what God wants us to do.

Consider, for a moment, the Book of Job. It details the long-suffering of a good man. In my humble opinion, the diagnosis of any Chronic illness isn’t a matter of punishment. It’s a part of life that eventually finds most of us. It’s a time of change, like the seasons. But it is also an opportunity to inspire, to grow, even to thrive. My faith has taught me many things. One is that the Lord will not give me more than I can handle. So, even when a setback comes, I am comforted in that knowledge. Prayer has been a vital part of my daily living, for decades. Through it, I have been uplifted — strengthened emotionally, physically and spiritually. Inspired. And, yes, guided. I have been given the courage to confront my fears, work through my frustrations and move forward. Through the worst of times, prayer has led me — allowed me to soar. And I thank God for that.

Many religions rely on the power of prayer. They believe in the use of prayer for comfort, healing, strength and peace-of-mind. They know that it works, though the how and why may remain a mystery. Buddhists use meditation. Roman Catholics use the rosary. Protestants have individual prayer and Prayer Groups. Muslims use Du’a (personal prayer for healing). Jews turn to dovening and the Mi Sheberakh (a healing prayer for the sick). All are united by the belief that comfort and healing can be attained through sincere prayer.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of medical studies involving prayer. Even the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has funded one. Thirty years ago, the idea would have been unheard of by the scientific community. But time, as well as data, has a way of changing things. Even those who are not devout, can understand positive results. Prayer, in its various forms, has the ability to relax the patient. Stress is lessened, or eliminated. This in turn promotes healing. The limbic system of the brain, responsible for basic emotion, instinct and mood, is also positively effected. This aids the patient’s mental health. Who exactly gets the credit for the healing remains a matter of debate. Still, the facts remain. Prayer can play a significant role in a patient’s health and well-being.   

When you are diagnosed with Chronic illness, you are in it for the long-haul. If you are a religious person, you will probably turn to your faith for strength and courage. You may even find yourself struggling with it. That too, I think, is natural — human. So, set your hesitation aside and talk to your clergy about it. You won’t be the first, or the last. Others, overwhelmed and searching, may find faith at this time. You too are neither the first, or the last. It might also be the perfect time to join a a Bible Study group, volunteer at a Food Bank, etc. Sometimes, when you see the difficulties of others, it lends perspective. And many religious organizations even have support groups, for those who are living with Chronic illness. This is especially helpful for patients who live alone, or lack a solid support system at home.

Despite your affliction, or your views toward prayer, always embrace optimism. On the difficult days, I know that’s a lot to ask. But remember … an optimistic mindset is a key component for managing your condition. It’s uplifting. Encouraging. Motivating. Optimism is a confidence — a sheer hopefulness — that allows you to fight another day. One that somehow strengthens your body as well as your resolve. If you are anything, as a patient who is living with a Chronic illness, you are a warrior. We all are. Keep fighting the good fight!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-cancer-patients-with-strong-religious-or-spiritual-beliefs-report-better-health.html

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/dec/30/power-of-prayer-healing-and-therapeutic-prayer-in-/

*Photo by Keo Mowat on Unsplash