Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27, 2012 – Back from Bermuda

Claire and I have now returned from the Kick Cancer Overboard cruise to Bermuda.  Many thanks to those who contributed to the organization so we could have this opportunity!

Kick Cancer Overboard is a plucky little non-profit that’s taken on a rather unusual mission: giving away free cruises to people who have been affected by cancer.

Lest this sound to you like a frivolous mission, consider this.  When people have been through a struggle with cancer, either as patients or caregivers, often the last thing on their priority list is their own recreation and relaxation.  Cancer very often drains its victims of energy, enthusiasm, and – especially in this dysfunctional healthcare-funding system – of financial resources. Who can afford a vacation, under such circumstances?

Yet, often, a vacation is just what the doctor ordered (or would have, had he or she known about Kick Cancer Overboard).

You can view a video about Kick Cancer Overboard here.

(Passing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, outbound.)

On the cruise, Claire and I met a young couple, just married a few days before, after she had completed surgery and chemo for breast cancer.  Their wedding was a hurried affair at City Hall – rather than the church wedding they’d planned – so she could receive much-needed healthcare benefits from his employer.  This cruise was their honeymoon: the only one they could afford, I’m sure.

We had a lengthy conversation with a woman and her twentysomething niece, both of them grieving the recent loss of their sister and mother to a rare brain cancer.  The niece, daughter of the woman who’d died, felt exhausted and drained from having been her mother’s caregiver during her final illness.  The cruise was a Godsend to them both, and a way for them to reconnect with each other after their painful experience of loss.

There were whole families on the cruise, accompanied by their young, cancer-survivor children, some of the kids still showing the hair loss and facial swelling that come from chemotherapy.

Claire and I volunteered to conduct a brief, Sunday-morning worship service in the stunning chapel on our ship, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.  I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the group attended, even though it was 8:30 in the morning on the first full day of the cruise.

I read the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic from Luke 5:17-26 – the one where the man’s friends cut a hole in the roof to lower him down to receive help from Jesus.  I spoke of how important it is to assemble a posse when we’re facing something like cancer, for these people will do whatever needs to be done so we can get the help we need.

I also spoke of how Jesus’ instruction to the man is “Take up your bed and walk.” We need to assume the role of partners in our own healing.

All in all, I was impressed by the folks behind Kick Cancer Overboard – who for this year’s cruise  managed to donate themselves, or raise corporate and service-club contributions for, something like 45 all-expense-paid trips.  Their goal, they say, is to fill an entire cruise ship!

Given their energy and commitment, I think they just may get there eventually.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

May 3, 2012 – Cancer Changes Everything...and Nothing

Saw a perceptive blog posting today on the New York Times website by Suleika Jaouad, a young woman who’s undergoing a bone-marrow transplant for leukemia.

She makes the usual observation – something I remember well, after going public with my diagnosis – that she’s experienced a whole range of reactions from people.  Some seem able to process the news, others get flustered.  Some friends are right there for you, others go AWOL, at least for a while.

Cancer’s a big, big subject, and it calls forth a range of emotions.  Suleika admits being surprised and troubled by this at first, but then when she got a little distance on the situation, she became more philosophical:

“But in the year since my diagnosis, my feelings of hurt have given way to understanding. How can I expect anyone to produce the perfect, reflexive response to such sudden and unpleasant news? Cancer can catch even the best of us off guard. Sometimes the emotions come pouring out. Sometimes they stay locked inside. I've realized that it's nearly impossible to summon the ‘right’ words while simultaneously processing the news that someone you love has a life-threatening illness. I find myself counseling my friends and family that there is no perfect thing to say – but that they just have to say something.”

I’d want to add, “Sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all, just be there.” But I think that’s what she means.

What is it that makes us yearn for a script to bring to our most significant human interactions?  We seek the perfect words, whatever that means. Sure, words are important, but in the last analysis, it’s seldom the words our friends and family say that’s important.  It’s who they are, and how their loving presence intersects with ours.

Cancer changes a lot about our lives, but that’s something that doesn’t change.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

May 2, 2012 - Are You Running for Me?

A few months ago, our friend Thelma – also a cancer survivor – told me of a local organization called Kick Cancer Overboard, that has an unusual mission: offering free cruises to cancer survivors and their families.  Thelma told us she’s going on one of those cruises, in this case to Bermuda.  About a hundred other survivors and family members would be joining her.  What’s more, she wanted to recommend my name as well.

“OK, why not?” I said to her, not thinking it would amount to anything.

Well, come to find out, Kick Cancer Overboard is offering a place on the same cruise to Claire and me.

Not only that, a friend of Thelma’s by the name of Ginny is running in a half-marathon this weekend, and is doing so to raise money for Kick Cancer Overboard in my name.

Our cruise tickets are already paid-for by other donors, so – strictly speaking – Ginny’s not raising money so we can go. It is true, though, that the money she raises will replenish the organization’s coffers, allowing others to take advantage of the organization’s kindness in the future.

Ginny’s set a goal of $2,000 in pledges.  Already, Thelma tells me, $600 in gifts have come in.  Never before have I asked readers of this blog to make any financial contribution, but in this case I’d like to extend the opportunity to honor Ginny’s efforts this Saturday and support Kick Cancer Overboard.  If you like what I’ve written here over the years, it would warm my heart if you’d be willing to make a gift – small or large, it doesn’t matter – to allow other survivors to get a little respite from what they’re going through.

There’s a special web page devoted to Ginny’s efforts, where you can make your gift.

I realize that, in the great constellation of efforts out there to support and heal those with cancer, giving away cruises may seem trivial and even a little wacky.  Yet, having been through the cancer experience twice now – first lymphoma, then thyroid cancer – I know very well how unrelenting this all can be.  Taking a little break, a little sabbath, in the midst of it all, can be therapeutic in itself.

I’d love to see Ginny reach her goal, and am honored she’s doing it in my name, a person she’s never met.

At the end of the day, there’s still a lot of kindness in this world.  Why not perform a random act of kindness and make a contribution to extend some kindness to another cancer survivor, who can enjoy this sort of break in the future?

Thanks for even considering it!