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Thursday, June 11, 2009

National Cancer Survivors Day

Memorial Day the day we remember those who lost their life serving in the Military. As a member of the Armed Forces I’m proud that our nation remembers those who paid the ultimate price serving this country. It goes without saying that Memorial Day holds a very special place in the life of my family. We spent this Memorial Day talking to the kids and remembering Troy. Ginger and I tried to explain to 5 children the “why” in the tragedy of their lives. We of course fell short for there is no adequate explanations to help an 11 yr old boy understand what happened to the security of his life and sanctuary of his family. I watched our 5 year old, Isabella, cry missing her dad and I knew I had no answer for her tears. Really the only answer I have is that God Love remains an answer that is difficult at times for an adult to understand yet alone a 5 yr old.

Memorial Day is not just a day to cook out, or just the official beginning of summer, nor just an excuse for a day off work. No it is a day for this family to remember we pay that “ultimate price,” words that flow off many a tongue on Memorial Day but few realize the reality of what those words mean to a child or a mother, father, brother, sister or spouse.

But do you know what the first Sunday in June is? A short 2 weeks following Memorial Day is National Cancer Survivors Day, celebrated this year on 7 June. I saw the posters at the base hospital and news stories online. I began to wonder were to those who die from cancer fit in? There is no day of honor, or really even acknowledgement of those who did not “survive.” I guess it takes away the positive spin and may in fact take away the hope we are trying to instill in those who are fighting cancer. Or maybe it is just too hard to raise money for cancer research if you focus on the hundreds of thousands that did not make it. Maybe the dollars we spend might seem inadequate in the light of the cost in human lives this disease is costing us. Maybe.

Here is what is posted on the National Cancer Survivors Day Website:

National Cancer Survivors Day® is an annual, worldwide Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, and other participating countries. Participants unite in a symbolic event to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be a reality.

Who is a cancer survivor?

The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a "survivor" as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.

Do we fear that young men will not join the service or volunteer to fight for this nation if we reminded them that they might die? No I think we instill a value of what it means to serve. We elevate service before self, when we take the time to remember our war dead. We lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and we place flags on every grave in the national Cemeteries. We do this to show the value in the lives that were laid down for the freedom we all enjoy. And rightly so.

But somehow I think there is a shame to acknowledge the price paid for cancer. Maybe because we are supposed to die and somehow dying from cancer is “expected” so the warriors are those who beat the odds and live where death was once the expectation. I really don’t know. All I do know is Andrea is lost in the numbers, just one of the 20,000 women in 2007 who died from breast cancer. There is no day or time to remember those who died. When you go to a Relay for Life, or Komen Race for the cure they always start with a “Survivors Walk,” a time to honor those who are alive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there are more and more survivors each year from this horrible disease. I guess when you are trying to raise money for cancer research you don't want to remind people about the losses. It makes for an uncomfortable feeling when you are representing someone who died. I find myself wanting to tell someone about this amazing woman who never choose this battle, yet fought it with courage equal to any. Yet there is no moment to acknowledge those who paid the ultimate price in this battle.

I remember going to the Relay for Life with Andrea in North Carolina. It was a festive time to walk the track and visit with friends but there were the ever-present luminaries lining the track. Some labeled “In Honor of…” and some labeled, “In Memory of…” As a cancer patient it was difficult to see the lives represented on those luminaries. There were pictures of loved ones, notes from family members all in an attempt to capture a life on this white paper sack. It is all you get as a “Non-survivor,” and it was very difficult. Difficult because Andrea and I knew how close we were to going from “In Honor of” to “In Memory of.” It was a fine line and we were in the fight, and it was as if we were on a raft drifting ever closer to the falls and our only hope was to find a low hanging branch to grab onto. We never found one.

So where does that leave me and the memory of Andrea. There is no national day set aside to honor her, no moment where the nation stops to reflect on the lives taken and families disrupted. Just me and my memories, maybe it is a song I hear on the radio, but those are becoming ever fewer as new songs come out. Maybe it is a sunset I know Andrea would have loved to see, or a flower she would have loved to plant, but they are moments in day, and they happen in the seclusion of my mind. Sometimes they bring a smile mostly a tear, both only known to me. But I would say Andrea was a survivor, because she never let cancer dictate her life. She lived her life, yes she adjusted to the reality of cancer, she dealt with the sickness and the endless doctor’s appointments but she took this on as her new normal and she lived. To me that is what defined her as a survivor.

So happy Cancer Survivors Day Andrea, I miss you.

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