For America, November 11th is Veteran’s Day. For my family and me, it’s also D-day—the day in 1992 when my mom finally lost her battle with cancer. Unlike Veteran’s Day, there are no parades to commemorate my mother’s life. The day usually passes with some quiet reflection on her life while fondly remembering the things that made her so remarkable. A few standing traditions have developed over the years, such as re-reading the letter she wrote a few days before she died, sharing deep, motherly thoughts and melting the heart in a way that could transform even the coldest soul into a blubbering mess. Even after 23 years, it still takes multiple attempts to get all the way through that letter. And yes, even after all this time, the tears still flow. But there’s also laughter as my siblings and I will share a few favorite ”mom” memories over the phone, along with an occasional “do you remember that time she…” story.
Let me be clear about something. I hate cancer. I have ever since mom died. Over the years, I never really did much with that hatred other than make annual donations to the American Cancer Society as well as occasionally supporting a friend’s mom or sister in one of the local run/walk breast cancer fundraisers. I always told myself I was too busy with my job and personal life to do more. And perhaps that was true. But I can’t use that excuse any longer because now it’s my job to hate cancer—and to help others understand that they should hate it as well because the odds are that, one day during your lifetime, someone close to you will be attacked by this monster. So my primary objective is to raise funds that, quite simply, will help save lives.
When my mom was diagnosed in 1989, this country was just beginning a new and long overdue effort to better understand the disease through groundbreaking research. Organizations such as Colorado Cancer Research Program (CCRP) were still in their infancy and we were diving headfirst into a new frontier. We really had no idea what we might find or how that effort might change the landscape of how we look at cancer and how we treat it. I often wonder how my mom would have fared had such an effort started 20 years earlier.
Mom had stage 3 multiple myeloma, a rare type of cancer that attacks the plasma cells in the bone marrow. In ’89, funding and research focused on only the most common cancers. Unfortunately, something as rare as multiple myeloma was barely even a blip on the radar and, as a result, a diagnosis was akin to a death sentence, regardless of what stage a patient was in. She was given three to seven months to live—that’s months, not years. That’s a hard pill to swallow. That means no more Christmases, no more birthdays. Not even one more. Initially, she was shell-shocked, not at all surprisingly exhibiting a mix of anger, desperation and even self-pity. But then she managed to find a strange sense of peace with it all. She said, “At first, I was angry and asked God, ‘Why me???’ The answer I got was, ‘Why NOT you? Why anyone? Cancer doesn’t care. That’s just how it works.'” Fortunately, my mother had a strong inner spirit that, when the right buttons were pushed, could be rather indomitable. Because of that, she lived almost three years.
One of the most touching moments with her happened near the end of her battle. She and I were sitting on the front porch engaged in the kind of trivial chit-chat that covers an array of topics and includes random, often-meaningless thoughts verbalized as they pop into your head. During a momentary lull in the conversation, I felt another emotional wave hitting me—something that had become more and more frequent as time with mom grew shorter. I reached over to squeeze her hand as a tear streamed down my cheek, and I said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever hated anything as much as I hate cancer.” She looked at me with that one-of-a-kind reassuring smile that is so precious, life only allows it to be given by the most loving mothers and replied, “Honey, that’s OK. There are only three things in this world you’re really allowed to hate—war, prejudice, and cancer.”
In just the six months I’ve been at CCRP, I’ve learned so much about the field of cancer research and about how far we’ve come since my mother’s death. Multiple myeloma is no longer the ignored step-child that lacked attention simply because it only affected a handful of people, compared to the numbers of those diagnosed with lung, breast or colorectal cancer. Life expectancy has increased dramatically and in many cases, patients live well past the 20-year mark. And that’s the result of the research we do at CCRP, research that leads to cutting edge clinical trials, groundbreaking new treatment protocols and patient successes that we could only dream of when my mom was diagnosed in ’89. But such life-saving innovations cost money—and that’s where our hatred for cancer can actually be a good thing. We’ve come so far in the last 20-plus years and we’ve built a momentum that has us on track for actually making cancer survivable—even curable—within our lifetime. And I hate cancer enough to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. That’s my job. Your job, in regards to cancer, is much simpler and I can sum it up in one word: SUPPORT. Your financial support is the key to getting us to the finish line even faster.
Nothing will bring back my mom. But we have the opportunity to ensure that your mom or someone else’s mom—or dad, or sister, or brother or best friend—has a much different outcome than my mother did and, when the day comes that you are faced with a loved one hearing the unfathomable words, “You have cancer,” it won’t be followed with, “three to seven months.”
Finally, there are two things you need to understand about my mom. First, she was very charitably-minded, no matter how tight the family budget was. Second, she always had little sayings, maxims and proverbs that she’d toss at you from time to time. Two of her favorites come to mind right now. “Nothing feels quite as good as knowing you’ve made a difference” and “Never put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today.” Today, you have the chance to make a difference, to be a part of the process that saves lives. Don’t do it tomorrow. Do it today.
Yep, my mom was a wise woman. I think she’d like what I’m doing. You can make a donation to Colorado Cancer Research Program right now…with just a click right here.
It’s OK to Hate Cancer – By Dave Sevick