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The hardest news: “I’ve got cancer”

The hardest news: “I’ve got cancer”

Picture of Debra  Sherman

I remember how strange I felt making the introduction for the first time, “This is Mark, my husband.” Stranger still, a bit later, were the words, “This is my son, Alex.”

Now, 14 years since Alex was born, I am now uttering a phrase that is scary and life-changing: I have cancer.

It’s been difficult to get accustomed to saying it; it can’t be true. Even more frightening is my diagnosis: I have Stage 4 lung cancer, meaning the cancer has spread.

As a Reuters journalist I have been writing about medical technology and healthcare for more than a decade. I’ve covered the major medical meetings, including the big one on cancer. I’ve written stories about new cancer drugs and treatments, about how many more survive the disease (true for breast, colon and some other forms, though not so much for lung cancer), and how a diagnosis can lead to bankruptcy, even for those with health insurance.

I wrote those stories objectively and never imagined any would ever apply to me.

The morning of my 50th birthday last year, I looked up at the August sky — a soft blue with puffy clouds — and thought how lucky I was to have good health. I stopped smoking 15 years ago and became a vegetarian decades before that. Up until my diagnosis in March of this year — discovered after I suffered terrible pain in my rib, from the cancer spreading to the bone there, I would learn — I was a regular runner, cyclist, tennis player, skier, and struggling yogi. I loved them all and hope to resume some day.

If there has been an upside to this dreaded disease it is that people are so kind when they find out I have cancer, even nicer than when I was pregnant with my two children. Loved ones seem to love me more, or tell me so more often. Everyone wants to do things for me and offer help. The love has come from some unexpected people and warms my heart in indescribable ways. At times, the outpouring feels as if it could actually cure me.

With this blog, I have decided to take what I know and try to give back, in a way. I will share my experiences, and when I use my reporting skills to satisfy my curiosity about new treatments, the ups and downs of the disease, feelings of mortality and so forth—I will use the blog to tell the stories. The blog will report on the latest cancer research from the perspective of a patient.

After all, I have been writing health stories for years. There seems no reason to stop now that my health is so compromised.

Stage 4 lung cancer is incurable. I know the odds of long-term survival are not in my favor. I am undergoing treatment at one of the top cancer centers in America, M.D. Anderson in Houston. The hope is that it will extend my life and improve the quality of what’s left.

The days ahead will be filled with uncertainty, but I know I there are at least a few truths that will not change. I will always need an oncologist. I can count on my family and friends. And I will never stop wondering how many August skies I will get to see.

This article has been reposted with permission from the Thompson Reuters blog "Cancer In Context."

Image by Hey Paul Studios via Flickr

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