December has arrived, and with it comes the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Many scramble to find just the perfect gift or to cook the perfect meal. Parties are planned and attended; drinks are had and toasts are made. It’s one of the busiest times of year for many families. It’s often difficult to find the time to stop and think about the past year, to reflect on events that have happened and to look ahead to the upcoming year. It is important to take that time for yourself and for your family.
I don’t usually have a theme for my holidays, but this year, I have adopted reflection, remembrance and hope. So much has happened this year, and it’s a way for me to honor it all. Little did I know that, when I accepted a position with the Savannah River Cancer Foundation in February, cancer would play a huge part of my 2013.
My main goal when I came to the Savannah River Cancer Foundation was to spread awareness of our mission to both cancer patients and to funding sources. I was excited to have this task ahead of me, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
One afternoon, while folding our cancer fact sheets, words along one of the folds starting popping out at me: “colorectal cancer,” “affects both men and women” and “change in bowel habits” stared at me from the fold. Sure, I had had some upset stomachs and cramps since starting this job, but it was a new responsibility for me and offered more stress. I wouldn’t bother my doctor with a call to check out my upset stomach; she was much too busy for that, I thought. Still, my symptoms persisted, and I made that call.
After four weeks of trying different things to alleviate my symptoms, they were still persisting. My doctor told me that, although the normal age for colonoscopies is 50, she wanted one to just “rule out” some concerns. She referred me to a specialist to have it done, and a week later, I was in his office.
I sat there in his office with my husband and listened to the doctor tell me that, at 37 years of age, I was way too young to be sitting in his office. He went over my list of symptoms and assured me that he didn’t think I had much to worry about, maybe some inflammation or a stubborn virus, but the colonoscopy would give us some answers.
Two weeks later, I was sitting back in his office, anxiously awaiting my results as the doctor gave me the news. I sat there and listened at how very close I had come to having colon cancer. He explained to me the precancerous stages and informed me that I was one stage away from having full-blown colon cancer and how that, had I let my symptoms go unchecked or waited until age 50 to have my colonoscopy, I would have probably been in the advanced stages of the disease or might not have even made it age 50.
I have to have another colonoscopy this time next year to evaluate my condition, but it is a small price to pay to have the ability to extend my time with those I love.
Looking back and knowing how close I came to having cancer makes me even more determined to spread the awareness about the disease and how important early detection and prevention can be to saving lives. It made me more determined to empower others to talk with their doctors. It made me more dedicated to living my life to the fullest and experiencing as much as I can.
Soon after learning of my close call with cancer, I received a frantic phone call from my aunt telling me that my 35-year-old cousin, Jonathan, had just been diagnosed with leukemia. My heart sank. Jonathan was much more than my cousin; to my brother, sister and me, he was more like a sibling. Jonathan was an only child. We spent so much time together growing up, and, as adults, that didn’t change. He was my daughter’s favorite hide-and-seek playmate, and he was one of my biggest cheerleaders.
In the weeks to come, we found out that his leukemia was sub-typed to be Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and he had tested positive for the Philadelphia Chromosome, a genetic abnormality making his recovery even more difficult. Though each piece of news was challenging, Jonathan faced his battle with positivity, faith and courage. Each lumbar puncture and chemotherapy treatment was surrounded by love and encouragement. His mother never left his side, and he was showered with warmth from family and friends. After losing his hair, you could often find him in a Georgia Bulldogs hat or wearing his newly-bald head with pride and a smile. The smile was Jonathan’s armor, and he was rarely seen without it.
One of his last smiles went to my daughter as he gave her a small wave on his next-to-last night. Late in the night on Nov. 5, his mother, other family members and I held him as he took his last breaths and his body was finally at rest. Jonathan is an example of courage in the face of unimaginable odds. He is an example of love and devotion, as that is what he gave his friends and family each day of his short life. He is an example of how a smile can last a lifetime. Pausing to remember can do wonderful things to the heart and spirit and give strength to make it through the holidays while dealing with an unimaginable loss.
There is no stronger weapon in the battle against cancer than hope. Patients cling to it; family members nurture it. Hope is essential. Without it, there is no vision for the future, and with no vision for the future, there is no will to battle to survive. On days of sickness, weakness of body and spirit and pain, hope keeps us going.
Hope is the theme for Savannah River Cancer Foundation’s signature fundraiser, Tree of Hope. Donations are made in memory of a lost loved one or in honor of someone still fighting their battle. These donations fund our assistance programs; without them, we would not be able to be a source of hope for area cancer patients.
It’s an awe-inspiring moment to see relief flood over patients faces when they find out that they won’t have to worry about transportation costs and monthly medication costs after they’ve been told that they have cancer. To see that worry replaced by hope often takes my breath away. If I could bottle that moment and share it with the public, there would be no shortage of funds, because everyone would be inspired to donate to our foundation to help us continue our mission.
As long as there is cancer, there is a need for our foundation. As long as there is a need for our foundation, I want to always be able to offer assistance – to offer hope – to those who need it. As you’re planning your gift-giving this holiday season, please remember Savannah River Cancer Foundation. Show local cancer patients that you care about their struggles and have hope that they can continue to fight. Give a most invaluable gift – the gift of hope.
To make a donation to Tree of Hope, make checks payable to SRCF/Tree of Hope and mail to: Savannah River Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 3694, Aiken, SC 29802. Please include whether your donation is in memory of or in honor of, the name of your honoree, and include the name and address for an acknowledgement letter to be sent. You may also make a donation through our website: www.savannahrivercancer
foundation.org. Every donation is appreaciated, and no amount is too small.