Blog

Konichi wa Nihon

So today is the big day, day one of the IASLCs World Lung Cancer conference! After a few days getting our feet grounded after so so much travel, I’m ready to report! 

So far it’s a busy day (what an understatement). I type this as I wait for my second big session. I’ll be back later with a summary of my day, and a few highlights of the conference’s first day. Until then, you can keep posted by following on Twitter (@thesearemyscars, @iaslc, #WCLC2017, or #LCSM, or Facebook). 

Sorry I can’t live link, but I will later on. Blogging by phone has its limitations! 

Sayonara for now, 

AM

So long Hong Kong

I write this as I am waiting to taxi out on my connecting flight to Tokyo. I am on my way to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer’s global conference, an annual gathering being held in Yokohama this year. In my pervious posts, you will have read about my excitement, so I’ll refrain from repeating myself.

What I will say is, thank you! 

Thank you to all the people who contribute and organize World Lung. Thank you to the researchers, those in clinics and those behind a microscope in the lab. Thank you to the oncologists and their teams, to the nurses and social workers, and the army of people who chose to work in the field of lung cancer. Without you, I wouldn’t be writing this, or writing anything. 

I am so greatful to the IASLC for being an excellent resource and for opening their conferences to patients, but for also having an award that helps patient advocates with limited means attend. If it weren’t for this generous award, I would not be able to attend. I would be at home, glued to twitter waiting for the latest developments in lung cancer research and care. Of course I have a vested interest in what’s going on at a “World Lung” because it tends to be where patients like me, living life line to life line get our info. That is, if we aren’t already in a clinical trial. It may sound weird that I’m excited about exons, translocations, and serum diagnostics, but that’s where all the juicy details are being studied, that is a gross understatement! There is so much incredible research being done in lung cancer. 

So as the stewardess asks me to turn my phone to airplane mode, I ask you to keep tuned here. I am hoping to post a daily summary of the things I have gotten to do (I can’t get to everything, that would require cloning.). I hope to be well rounded and share not only the patient experience, but the science and social events as well. 

Stay tuned,

AM

Look out Yokohama

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 4.14.12 PMIt has been a little while since I have posted and much has happened since the last post. One of the most notable things is, I was selected and awarded the IASLC’s Patient Advocacy Travel Award. This award allows me to travel to Yokohama, Japan for their annual World Conference on Lung Cancer. JAPAN!!! I cannot tell you how excited I am. For one, I get to travel to a country that I have always wanted to visit. I get to soak up the latest information on lung cancer research and practice. I get to network with other patients, advocates and experts in the field of lung cancer research, and I get to go to Japan. Have I mentioned I’m going to Japan!?Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 4.05.37 PM

Seriously though, I want to take this opportunity to share what the IASLC does and let everyone know about their Foundation Cancer Care Team Award.

The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) is the only global organization dedicated to the study of lung cancer. Founded in 1974, the association’s membership includes more than 6,500 lung cancer specialists in over 100 countries. IASLC members work to enhance the understanding of lung cancer among scientists, members of the medical community and the public. IASLC publishes the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, a valuable resource for medical specialists and scientists who focus on the detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.* For their mission statement, more information and resources, please go to their website.

d65f215b-b0b2-48f5-a724-e00757ac569a

Nominate Your Care Team Now!

The IASLC is excited to announce the creation of a new award, the IASLC Foundation Cancer Care Team Award, designed to recognize outstanding patient care and honor multidisciplinary teams working together to provide the highest quality cancer care.

Nominations will be accepted from all over the world. The winning team will select one representative to attend the IASLC 18th World Conference on Lung Cancer, for which IASLC will provide monetary travel support. Learn more and nominate a team for the award. Please contact them with any questions: membership@iaslc.org.

As always, be well.

XO AM

*taken from https://www.iaslc.org/about-us

World Lung Cancer Day

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 9.39.03 PM

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.55.01 AM
The Forum of International Respiratory Societies

Honour, Unite, Inspire. It’s 12:01, the dawn of the 6th World Lung Cancer Day and I struggled trying to write this. I wondered if I should write about numbers and facts, or maybe about how lung cancer is the most common cancer globally*. That of the  estimated 1.8 million new cases (in 2012)*, most (58%) occur in less developed countries*. That it is the most fatal cancer globally*. However, it might be more meaningful to tell you what “Honor, Unite, Inspire”, means for me, a lung cancer patient.

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.55.19 AM
Pan-African Thoracic Society

I write and share about living with lung cancer is because, I truly feel that if my experience, struggles and joys can touch or inspire just one person, then I have done my job as a good human. I think back to when I was diagnosed, and throughout treatment, I felt so very alone. I think of all the people out there with that same diagnosis, and how they too must have felt isolation and loneliness. I think about all the questions and fears I had, and no one to advise me, or let me know that what I was feeling was normal. I needed blogs like this, connection to patients who have survived and were surviving. Back then, it was hard to find. Now, not so much. Thankfully, but we still have work to do. Its for this, we have a Day like today.

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.55.27 AM
American Thoracic Society

Everyday I am blessed to see, I get to honour those who have given me strength, those who live with this disease, and those I have lost to it (sadly there are so many). Their courage and grace, push me to be better and instil me with passion to advocate for others living with this disease. It helps me channel anger in to action, frustration into hope. One of the reasons I advocate is so that those who are newly diagnosed don’t have to. So that they won’t fall into the cracks, and so that they don’t have to face the stigma of their diagnosis. There it is, the “S-word”, that assumption that lung cancer is our fault. That deadly misconception, that impedes compassion and funding. That idea that adds unnecessary stress

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.56.10 AM
European Respiratory Society

and shame on a patient and their family. It is for this, we need a Day like today.

It has been over 8 years since my original diagnosis, I know that I am alive in part to where I live. I am very lucky to live in a country that has a health care system that is accessible to all of its residents. I know it isn’t perfect, we have problems too, but its still pretty damn good.

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.56.21 AM
American College of Chest Physicians

Therefore, it would behove me if I didn’t point out the disparity between first world nations and developing nations. We are often so focused on our own problems, that we forget to think of those of others. Here, we might concern ourselves with accessing the latest and greatest treatments, there they may worry they will get treatment at all. Many countries don’t have the infrastructure and provide basic care, people may not  get

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.56.39 AM
Asian Pacific Society of Respirology

a proper diagnosis, let alone treatment that costs thousands of dollars a month. Their governments like ours focus PSAs on smoking cessation, the difference it that is their man way to “treat” lung cancer, after all you don’t have to treat the patients you don’t have. Here we concern ourselves with late effects or secondary cancers, there patients may worry they and their family will be shunned by their community, because there they think cancer is contagious. It is for this, we need a Day like today.

Until, we can ensure patients everywhere are being screened or

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 12.56.45 AM
Asociacion Latinoamericana De Torax

diagnosed quickly and comprehensively, are receiving the appropriate standard of care and support, are receiving as much funding as every other common cancer group, and we have either increased the survival rate to above 50%, or reduced the number of new diagnoses, we will need a Day like this.

AM

*Source WLCD Fact Sheet.pdf, http://www.firsnet.org/news-and-actions/86-forum-of-international-respiratory-societies-continues-grassroots-world-lung-cancer-efforts 

 

 

Pride…in the name of life

Today is Pride (at least was a few hours ago) and on a day where everyone is celebrating Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 12.57.39 AMcoming out of the closet, I have gone into mine for a long over due clean out. Both literally and metaphorically.

As I painfully try-on every stitch of clothing I have, I am coming to the realization that there is way too much I’m not wearing, way to much that doesn’t quite fit, and way too much that’s way too small and as I look at the piles that have formed on my bed I realize that I’ve been holding on to these things that don’t serve me and actually burden my life too hard. It dawns on me that when you hold on to something too tightly, there’s no space for anything else. This can be clothes or thoughts or identities.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.13.09 AMThis past year has probably been the hardest I’ve ever had. Harder than when I was diagnosed, harder than recurrence, harder than when my father was sick and dying, and even harder than all the years living through his alcoholism.

This year I have really struggled with my mental health. The following will likely come as a shock to many in my life who care very deeply for me and I want to assure you that I am in counseling and I am on medication, and would never ever actually hurt myself. I am also very sorry you are reading this rather than hearing it from me personally. Some things are impossible to say face to face and can seem easier to write it down, trust me its not. Up until this point I have hidden this admission from almost everyone, including myself.

My internal dialogue this year has been different than in the past. Lately I have asked myself many times “what am doing this for?” (as I take my trial meds) or tell Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.06.03 AMmyself “I just want to crawl under a rock and die” or “I wish I was dead”. Scary thoughts. Logically I do not want to die, I want to live. In fact I want to live in vivid colours, Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.31.55 AMopenly and honestly. Admitting to myself that these dark thoughts are happening is a start. It is the number one thing I will address with my psychiatrist, because I want to live.

So whatever the skeletons are, go into the closet and bring them out. Shine the brightest light on those demons and then let them go. Let them go so you can embrace life.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.01.25 AMTo all my friends celebrating Pride, have a great day and always be proud of who you are and what made you.

To all my friends celebrating Eid, may you have a blessed day.

AM

 

Happy Father’s Day

I’m having a tough day today. I slept most of it away, because I could feel the guilt and sadness building last night. For the last few years, it had been a sad day, one filled with feelings of loss and now feelings of guilt. Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.33.18 PM

For much of my life, I didn’t have a very close relationship with my father. It was often one of conflict and avoidance. I remember as a child I would avoid him, tip toeing by his sleeping frame and slipping by the couch to sit by the TV, sneaking the converter and changing the channel hoping the disruption wouldn’t wake his snores. In my teenage years I was far more rebellious. Alcoholism is a poison and its venom affects every member of a family for a very long time.

By the end of high school, our relationship was almost toxic. If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend at the time, I likely wouldn’t have had any empathy for my father at all. In my last year of high school and just before graduating an incident happened. It was the straw that broke my mother’s back. She gave him an ultimatum. You stop drinking and get help or you get out! He stopped. Cold turkey.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.51.45 PMFor a very short while, I got to see the man behind the booze. He was the kind, funny, gregarious man my mother described, the man she married so long ago, the man I barely knew. Later that year I went off to University in London and moved out. When I’d call, my mother would say your father misses you. When they’d visit, he would kiss my cheek and slip me some money and whisper “don’t tell your mother” while wiping his eyes.

On my first day home of spring break, I entered an empty house. At that time, we had no cell phones, so I called a neighbour who told me that my parents went to the hospital. I Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 10.00.09 PMimmediately called my brother and we went to see what was going on. My father had been suffering from a “cold” for a while and finally had broken down and gone to see the GP. The doctor ordered x-rays, one look told him something was very wrong. He told my parents to go emergency immediately, they did. A week later we were told he has terminal mesothelioma. The months that followed were fraught with joy, sadness and every emotion in between. I decided it would be best to come home and be with my family, a decision that I am so glad I made. We often wonder what could have been instead of what is, I have too. I regret nothing,

His last days were excruciating, he was in so much pain despite the pain pump and morphine, every breath was agony. It was during this time he told me he loved me. It was the first time I heard it from his lips. Shortly after that he was sedated so he could be comfortable. No human should suffer like that. In the end he died peacefully with all of Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 10.06.09 PMus by his side.

Since that time, I have seen my brother become a father. A man who is devoted to his family. A man would bleed and stand in front of a bullet for his daughters. I know so much of how he is was shaped by and sometimes inspire of how we grew up. He is a great father, one who I think if our dad would have been proud of if given the chance.

And now the guilt.

I can’t help thinking that Patrick would have made the best dad. When I see him Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.27.30 PMinteracting with his nieces and nephews I feel like I have robbed him of the gift of being someone’s father. I have told him this and he always reassures me that he is happy and fulfilled with mentoring the kids he works with and that he has his nieces and nephews. Maybe I’m stubborn and can’t let go myself, but I think he would have been so great, and part of me just feels terrible that I can’t give him that one thing. So today is a tough one.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I want to wish all the father’s who are, were, and who want to be out there a day where you are appreciated and loved.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.34.05 PMTo my new father, the dad I married into, I want to say thank you and I love you. Thank you for your love and acceptance, and I love you, for the dad that you are, and for the man you shaped with your love and patience.

AM