Author Archives: Neeraj Shah

What Not to Say to the Parent of a Child with Cancer

My son was diagnosed with brain cancer in April 2006, just a month after his tenth birthday. Even though he was flown from San Antonio to Houston, TX – to MD Anderson Cancer Center no less – it took me a couple of days to get it through my head that my child had cancer. I kept thinking, “It’s going to be a benign
‘growth’ . . . nothing malignant.” Seriously, how could my perfectly healthy son have cancer, right?

Wrong. Keeghan’s tumor was malignant. But after two surgeries, six weeks of radiation, and a year (so far) of chemotherapy, he is tumor free. It will be my daily – hourly? – wish, for the rest of my life, that he stays that way.

One of the hardest things to deal with when your child has cancer is the way in which other people react when you tell them, and the things that they say. It has been proven to me time after time that most people really don’t think before they open their mouths. They’ll say things like, “Oh, I knew someone that had the “c” word. She died.”

The “c” word. I’ve heard cancer referred to that way numerous times, as though actually saying it would cause a person to get it. It’s not contagious people!

At the grocery store one day, with Keeghan standing by my side, the cashier asks me, “Did he have an accident?”

Keeghan has a very large scar on the side of his head. It’s a nice scar as far as scars go. It’s perfectly symmetrical – four inches up on one side, five inches across, and another four inches down on the other side. It’s so perfect that my husband used to joke and say that it looked like a trap door. He’d tease Keeghan by telling people that that was where he kept his wallet.

So to be asked if he had an accident seemed pretty ludicrous. “Yes, he fell out of a tree and landed on a cookie cutter. Hence the perfect scar.”

I wish I had replied that way, but alas, I didn’t. “He had a brain tumor,” I say instead.

“Oh . . . is he going to be okay?” she then whispers.

Keeghan is ten years old. He has cancer. But he’s not deaf, nor is he a complete idiot! And he’s standing right next to me! Don’t talk about him like he’s not there or can’t understand you. He can. In fact, if you talk directly to him, he can answer any questions you might have about his story quite well. Luckily for me Keeghan replied to the woman’s question with a very ten-year-old appropriate, “Yep, I am.”

After the first three months of Keeghan’s treatment was finished, and before he started his year-long consolidation chemotherapy regimen, we moved from Texas to Washington, DC. Not long after we moved into our house, we got new neighbors. The kids and I were leaving the house to head to the hospital for chemo on the day I met the new neighbor Bob. He noticed that Keeghan had no hair, and that he wasn’t looking very happy. Keeghan never looks thrilled when he’s heading for chemo. Go figure.

I am of the opinion that it is better to just tell people up front that he has cancer rather than leave them trying to figure out how to ask. So I told Bob, “He has cancer – we’re on our way to the hospital now for his chemo treatment so he’s not in a very good mood.” 
Bob asks, “What kind of cancer?” I reply that it is brain cancer.

“Oh, wow. My old boss just died of that.”

I can only imagine what the look on my face was. Incredulous I’m sure. I was so glad that the kids were in the car by that time.

Are you completely stupid?” is what I should have asked the guy.

“Well, we’re hoping that isn’t going to happen to Keeghan,” was what I actually said. I’ve come to learn in the few months that we’ve now been neighbors that Bob never thinks before opening his mouth, so it wasn’t just that one incident. But that is the one that sticks in my mind.

What’s really funny to me, however, is how other parents of children with cancer are just as bad when it comes to the things they say. Soon after Keeghan was diagnosed, I ran into a woman at the clinic that I had known at a past assignment of ours, but hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Ironically, her daughter was the same age as Keeghan and had been diagnosed with leukemia a few months before Keeghan’s diagnosis. As we stood in the clinic talking, she asked me, “So what’s his prognosis? Haley’s is 30%. If we hadn’t gotten her diagnosed when we did, she would have died.”

All of that was said very quickly, in a tone of voice that was sort of like, “I’ll bet my kid is sicker than your kid.” Like this was a competition!

“Lady, if this is a contest to you, I hope that you win!”

You’re right, I didn’t actually say that. But I should have.

“I refuse to let the doctors put a number on Keeghan like that, and I don’t want Keeghan feeling like he doesn’t have a good chance to beat this. So I honestly don’t know what his prognosis is. In my mind, it will always be 100%.”

Even though I didn’t say what I should have said, I think what I did say got my point across. But she’s not the only one that has done that. Maybe it makes parents somehow feel better to play comparison, whose-child-is-more-sick, games like that. I can’t do it though. I want them ALL to be well.

Maybe there should be an awareness ribbon for foot-in-mouth disease. What color would it be – flesh? I don’t think that color is taken yet. Or perhaps someday I’ll write a book and call it “What Not to Say to the Parent of a Child With Cancer.” I doubt anyone would buy it though. Everyone thinks they know the right thing to say all the time.

So maybe I should title it, “Hey YOU! Don’t Be Stupid!” That might at least get someone to pick it up and read the back cover.

Maybe there’s no hope at all and people will continue forever to put their feet in their mouths. But perhaps a little awareness can turn the tide of stupidity.

Donice Mitchell – Life and Coping with Breast Cancer

When I take my hair off, my head looks like an egg, said Donice chuckling softly. She then lifted her wig and showed her completely baldhead, which was smooth and did resemble the top of a brown egg.

The tall, medium brown skinned women explained how after her first or second treatment of chemotherapy her hair just seemed to fall out in her hands, making it even more difficult to attempt to comb it. Thinning hair runs in her family, so she started wearing wigs years ago. It doesn’t bother her much not having hair, “I never had much hair anyway,” she admitted.

Losing hair was something that you had to prepare for according to her. She keeps her wigs brushed and curled, so we both laughed as she described some of the ratty, wild, and matted looking wigs she saw some of the women wearing while waiting for her chemotherapy.

Donice Glenda Evans was born the second eldest child to parents Violet and Isador Evans on February 23, 1955 in French Camp, CA. Her father was a preacher, so her family moved a lot when she was growing up, which to her meant constantly learning and adapting to new people and places. Her family settled in San Jose, CA in 1971, when her father became the pastor of the San Jose Ephesus Church.

Donice describes herself as shy, which may be because of the sheltered existence she had growing up. Her father was strict and held tightly to Christian values. She was not allowed to wear pants, at home or at the Seventh-day Adventist Christian schools she attended. Her dresses and skirts were required to be below her knees, she wore no jewelry, and was not allowed to go many places outside of church or school. She had never been one to rebel, so she kept her focus on school.

The rules she was subject to also caused her to be more cautious in all areas of life. Whenever her two brothers and two sisters would attempt to plan something mischievous she was always the voice of reason. They called her sister E.G. comparing her with a prophet of the Seventh-day Adventist church, Ellen G. White who has written numerous books on Christian etiquette, health, beliefs, etc.

Donice attended Oakwood College in Alabama for two years before deciding to finish her degree in communications at Loma Linda University. She was a junior in college when her father died from a massive heart attack. His death was traumatic for her family, especially her mother. Her family felt as if they had been outcast from the group of pastors and their families. Special events that they had become accustomed to attending, they were no longer invited to.

Although her father’s death saddened her deeply, she also felt a since of relief, because all the rules he had enforced for so many years were no longer in place. Though, now her faith in God is still strong, she tends to prefer a more relaxed approach to life and believes some things should be done in moderation.

What many would consider a late bloomer, she lived in her parent’s home until she was married. Donice met Donald Mitchell at the age of 25. The two dated for a while and both friends and family wondered if they would ever get married. After dating for five years the couple said their vows.

Donice confessed that she had always wanted five boys, but after trying several times to get pregnant and having five miscarriages she finally gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Donique.

Donique, now 10 years old hugged her mother tight around the neck before going to the next room to study with her tutor. The brown skinned little girl, wears big frame glasses, and her hair is braided in several ponytails. Although she has special needs she does well in school and takes classes specified for her learning needs. “I just want to do good and help my daughter,” Donice explains.

Now, a technical writer for Juniper Networks, Donice’s career was always very important to her. While her husband flunked out of the two-year respiratory therapy program at Ohlone, she was excelling in her profession. After he decided to go to another respiratory therapy program, which was more expensive, and he had to quit his job to attend, she became the sole provider for the family. She worked hard and put a lot of time into her job. “I had put all my effort into my career and because of my husband’s sickness I hit a plateau.”

In 1999, after her husband had been working in the field of respiratory therapy for three months he became sick after treating a patient with hemophilus influenzae. Donice came home one evening and her husband was wrapped up in bed shaking and he wasn’t breathing well. After trying to get him to the hospital on her own with no success she called the ambulance and he was taken to Kaiser Hospital. At Kaiser he was given an antibiotic that he took orally, and after a few hours he was sent back home. In the middle of the night he was once again having trouble breathing, so she called the ambulance, which transported him to Washington Hospital in Fremont. During the ambulance ride from their Newark home to the hospital he suffered from a loss of oxygen to the brain, which severely affected his vision and motor skills, also causing him occasional seizures. Later, the cause was found to be acute epiglottitis, which is an infection caused by the bacteria hemophilus infuenzae. It causes inflammation of the throat and can lead to abrupt blockage of the airway and death.

She doesn’t go too many places these days because of her husband’s seizures and after he suffered from a stroke that paralyzed his left side he takes a lot of medications. But she says having gone through so much with her husband has prepared her for her own struggles.

In 2003 around Christmas time she discovered a lump in her breast while performing a self-exam in the shower. She sat on her bed and told her daughter she had found a lump in her breast. The doctor did a mammogram and located the mass in her breast, and then a biopsy was done to determine if it was cancerous. While she was at work one day she received a call from the doctor telling her that the lump was indeed cancer. It took her a while to gain her composure to finish out her day at work. “I thought…I don’t want this load,” she whispered.

She showed me her darkened fingers and fingernails, which were another result of the chemo. She has one more treatment of chemotherapy, which she does for three days and follows up with medication. It makes her feel sick and weak, but she says, “to be able to continue on and to make it despite…you have to thank God for the ability to go on.”

After finishing chemo she will undergo six weeks of radiation. She is grateful to have friends and other breast cancer survivors she can talk to for support. Professional counseling has also been instrumental in helping her cope.

“The new mountain is that now, right in the midst of my chemotherapy, my marriage is breaking up. I helped my husband through all this, but when I’m down, poof…”

She tries not to focus on negative things. She has poured her extra energy into writing poetry, singing with her church choir, and photography. Taking pictures is her secret passion, she showed me over a dozen pictures of brightly colored flowers in bloom and birds perched together. She confessed that she hoped to take a photography class soon so that she can learn more techniques.

“Once I get behind the lens everything is gone, every trial, every tribulation, every worry, every care.”

Showing My Independence from Cancer on Independence Day

Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with Lymphoma, a common form of lymph node cancer. Through chemotherapy I battled and battled. The battle always reminds me of the American Revolution… you know… king plagues dependency, dependency fights back, country wins over king, that kind of story… you all know how it went by now. On July 2, a doctor told me that I was cancer free. It was a surprising coincidence that it was a Friday morning, two days before the nation blew out their birthday candles. Two days before the 4th of July in 1999, I felt as though my own declaration of independence was written, courtesy of a doctor’s notepad, steadily written in Latin with one hand as the doctors scribbled the latest round of cancer treatment and pain medication in Latin on their prescription papers with the other hand.

The fourth of July is supposed to be America’s Independence Day. This year marks the 231st version of this special day in American History. Many people go on vacation, to picnics, to grill out at home, and many go to fireworks displays. I have chosen, as I usually always do, to spend a nice quiet day in my downtown Cincinnati apartment with my girlfriend of 15 months, Elizabeth. After that, I will probably head to Fountain Square for what I am told is going to be an awesome fireworks display. In the past I have gone to barbecues, festivals in my old home in St. Bernard, Ohio, and to various friends houses to have lunch or something.

Ironically, last year I did not partake in anything of that nature. On July 3, 2006, I was standing with Elizabeth, in Virginia Beach, directly in front of the most amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean in the entire East Coact. All of a sudden, we had to grab ahold of eachothers hands for dear life as a 4′ wave came and knocked us into the water (to this day I swear I still have seashells inside of my person). As I was sitting and sipping a drink later on on one of those grossly priced lounge chairs, the victim of near heat stroke (highs in the 100s that day), we began to plan the Monday that laid before us. We had spend a few days previous in North Carolina following around a football team that I worked with, and we were on our way home, but we figured why spoil a good week, especially since neither of us had to work until the 5th. We decided to go to up I-95 and hit Washington. Washington was where I went for vacation twice when I was in High School, and then again just days after my high school graduation. Elizabeth had been to many places with me in the latter half of 2006. Sadly, Washington was yet to be one of them, and I wanted to take her for a tour of the town.

Then it hit me. All of the previous times I walked from the Capitol Building to the base of the Washington Monument. Each trip had its own separate obstacles. My 1999 trip nearly ended prematurely, as I was flu ridden due to a chemo weakened immune system. In 2001, I accidentally went in reverse, a new soccer team (remember the Women’s United Soccer Association) was blocking my path, and I slipped and cut my leg at the top of the steps to the Capitol. The next year my dad was trying to see the Smithsonian museums instead of the monuments. I got my way, but he got his too… that was quite fair. And, normally, my trek would end at the base of the monument, but it ended at the Lincoln Memorial this time…. my Air Force Eurotraveler dad had caught his second wind. Much worse, 9/11 had just happened, and so the Capitol was inaccessable.

Another twist, after we finished the course, we ran into very angry protesters in front of my intended point of origin, the White House. The loudmouths, a league of muslims, angry at Bush for what they thought were anti-arab laws (we were fighting terror, not Islam, people!) were protesting state visit from one of our closest allies, then-Isreali Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. One final obstacle: they had arrested a man who was about a day away from dropping a chemical bomb on Washington (aka Jose Padilla’s dirty bomb). Facing even more obstacles, the 4th of July and the raised terror threat level that the news people keep reminding us about, I decided to introduce Elizabeth to this walk.

The walk began with a train ride to the transport hub of DC, Union Station, where I have caught many a train going out and around Washington. We had to leave the building immediately as there was nothing open. Then, we couldnt find the Capitol. When we finally did… hello there, obstacle #1… the roped off fencing and light blaring police cars filled with gun-drawn security and police.I thought we had to resort to trespassing and possible suspicion of terrorism to get around the building, but we did. Then came obstacle #2: I had forgotten that I saw an ad for a 4th of July concert by the National Symphony. The entire complex was further barricaded… so long jaunt from the stairs. We went around all of the security gates without any trouble. Surely, we didnt mean any harm… we just wanted to walk. Roadblock #3 came up when we came across the National Mall… home of the town’s party central, where everything was being set up for a grand party the next day.

When we had nothing but a 500′ tall white tower in our collective windshields, it took us a half an hour to walk the mile it took to get there. A smaller roadblock occured when we stopped to find water so Elizabeth can take her medicine, but it took mere minutes and we went through the gravel, the grass, and the concrete barriers protecting the Monument. We crossed through them, and a joy and rush came over me. Four trips to this city, four successful passes up and down the National Mall. I felt pretty proud of myself. I felt as though I was Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon. I felt as though I was marching to voice my independence from my hardships, loudly and proudly, like it was when the King George finally accepted our status as a free and independent nation.

The only regret I had being I stopped. I was going to take her to the Lincoln Memorial as well, but it was pitch black and we retreated back to base. But, the job was done. I did not let cancer stop me, and this was just a mere example. This year, after my 8th year, I sit back and had a long think and I can only imagine. If I had not pulled off the defeat, i wouldnt be here right now. If the Americans had not fought their behinds off all those centuries ago, I would be going to Cincinnati Reds CRICKET games… and I cant stand cricket, so im glad we have this day… a day when not only can we celebrate freedom and democracy, we can celebrate our own lives, and have dreams of what is to come.

Lawn Cancer

It’s been two years since I’ve thought about my Uncle John and his lawn. After his death in 07′ my mind it seems, had closed the door on the terrible events of that day in September, locking the memories up like a murderer with a life sentence. But how long could I really keep them stashed away there? After all, they weren’t buried so deep. All it took was one phone call to throw the door wide open, and as I sit here on the couch in my tidy little apartment in Bridgeton, I’m finding that I remember it all as if it had happened yesterday rather than over two years ago. The mind has a disturbing way of putting the bad stuff to sleep I’ve discovered, sorting through it like a postal worker at the Dead Letter Office. But it’s still there, and all it needs is a nice jolt to wake it up and get it talking.

Before I fill you in on just what happened that day, for now I feel that I must, there is something you should know. My Uncle John was not crazy, and neither was he senile. And although his last days were spent in a tremendous amount of pain, not once did he slip into that drug induced stupor that always seems to befall the sufferers of a terminal sickness in it’s final stages. The last time I saw him alive he was still possessed of all his faculties despite the cancer that was ravaging his body and I still believe he was quite sane right up until the time of his death. Just as long as you know this, I can begin my story.

It was hardly a gentle September day. The temperature, which had been on a steady rise all week, had made it to ninety-three degrees by noon. The heat wave that had smothered much of Southeast New England for the past eight days was nearing its peak and we were all praying for that final break when the temperature shifts gears and autumn comes along to usher in some kind of relief. I had decided to wait until mid afternoon to go to Uncle John’s in the hope that maybe the temperature would drop a little, sparing me the torture of cutting his grass in such unbearable heat. By the time I arrived at his house around three, the old Coca-Cola thermometer tacked to the porch in the back of his house had peaked at ninety-seven degrees. I remember exiting the cool interior of my Pontiac and being assaulted by the heat, the thick humidity clinging to my body like a wet, itchy sweater.

Uncle John was already waiting for me on the porch, sitting in an aluminum lawn chair and holding a can of ginger ale. He wasn’t even sweating, I noticed, as beads of perspiration collected at my temples and began to run down the sides of my face. He didn’t look so good, but that was no longer a shock to me. The pain had been getting worse for him lately and the Morphine tablets he took several times a day seemed to be no help. Even standing for an extended period of time had become difficult for him and he certainly wasn’t in any condition to push a mower around the expanse of his lawn for two hours. As stubborn as he was, when he realized he couldn’t open his garage door without help, he wasted no time calling me. When it came to his lawn, even pride did not stand in the way of having it tended to.

The process was the same each Saturday. After a few words of greeting, (there were less and less of these words, I noticed, as the Saturdays came and went,) Uncle John would follow me across the back yard to the shed, ambling behind me in a slow, determined gait. I had taken to slowing my own pace so he could keep up, but it did little to lessen the guilt I felt for being young and in good health. I wondered how many more Saturdays would pass before he wouldn’t be able to make it out of the house, much less the thirty feet to the shed. I knew where everything was, of course, and I knew exactly how he wanted me to cut his lawn. Still he insisted on coming with me, relaying the same explicit instructions each week. It was the closest he could come to doing it himself, I figured, so I didn’t mind the supervision as long as he was up to it.

I lifted the door to the shed and the heat hit me along with the mingled smells of oil and gasoline and the faint odor of dry grass. Every item in the shed was in perfect order, rakes and shovels and various gardening tools hung in their respective places, lining the walls of the shed like well-trained soldiers ready for battle. I dragged the mower out first; a huge Bessal Lawnmate that had once been painted in gleaming red enamel and was now covered in a thick layer of oil and dirt. Uncle John had owned the machine since as long as I could remember and as a boy the thing had seemed evil and monstrous, a nasty conglomeration of steel and moving parts that devoured grass and spat out smoke and fumes as if angry with its purpose in life. Over the years the paint had begun to chip away on the front rim forming a grinning mouth of sinister, hungry looking teeth. I couldn’t help but feel a little silly that the thing still gave me the creeps after so many years.

Once the mower was out I got the gas can, a seventy five yard length of garden hose and the sprayer that I used the to water the lawn. Uncle John walked to the rear of the shed and came back with three jugs of chemicals that he used to fertilize the lawn. I never knew what was in those plastic jugs, but according to him it was better than any Miracle Grow or Scotts Turf Builder. He had to order it special from a company in Ohio and it cost him a small fortune, but it kept his lawn green nearly eight months out of the year.

The shed was located to the right of the house on the opposite side of the driveway. There was a small spot of lawn in the back of the house, no more than ten or fifteen square yards of dry dirt spotted here and there with struggling patches of crabgrass. After a condo development went up nearby the back four acres had been reduced to a swampy woodland dotted with a few ailing pear trees that were losing their battle against the steady onslaught of encroaching vines.

It was the front lawn that really mattered to Uncle John. If you stood at the corner near the road and walked to the opposite end you would have traveled almost a hundred yards. Follow the side down to the house and you’d have gone another fifty. The lawn was completely flat; no rocks, no trees, not even a sidewalk leading up to the concrete steps at the front door. Nothing but green, beautiful grass.

The lawn was the only thing Uncle John had ever taken a sharp interest in. This interest had grown into something of an obsession after retiring from the textile mill he had worked at for almost forty years. The rest of the house could have fallen into complete disrepair and the lawn would always remain full and green. Even though I had been taking care of it over the past few months, Uncle John would still be sitting there on the front steps, watching me carefully, making sure I did everything right. As I look back, maybe he was keeping an eye on me for my own good, the way someone would spot a pipe worker at the bottom of a deep ditch, watching for signs of a possible cave in. The fact was, he wanted to be a part of his lawn right up until the end. And as it turned out, he was.

Looking back I think that he knew his lawn was dying. I remember clearly the day he had told me the doctors had found a tumor in his stomach. We were sitting out on the front steps just before dusk, drinking from cans of Coors and looking out at the lawn. As I sat there, mulling over the revelation of my uncle’s illness, I noticed the brown patch of grass, perfectly round, right in the middle of the lawn. I said nothing about it. I could tell by the hollow look in Uncle John’s eyes, the way he stared at the lawn with a look of hopelessness, that he knew his lawn was dying with him.

In the weeks that followed more and more of the brown circles began to appear. Some were the size of dinner plates, others were as big as those kiddy pools they sell at the local Wal-Mart. Uncle John’s cancer was growing progressively worse; new tumors were popping up throughout his body and the doctors pronounced his condition as terminal. They urged him to stay in the hospital and undergo treatment, otherwise he could begin a regimen of pain medication and try to stay as comfortable as possible for the next three to four months. He opted for the pills, left the hospital and never returned. After that he would only leave the house on Saturday when I came to cut the lawn. Sometimes I would stop by his house during the week. I would let myself in and find him in the living room, sitting there stoically, his old Lay-Z-Boy turned away from the TV and towards the bay window that looked out front, his gaze fixated on his failing lawn.

‘This must be the last time,’ I thought as I pushed the Bessal up the driveway to the front yard. I knew the lawn would never grow again after this cut. The dead grass, in their oddly circular shapes, had spread quickly over the past week. They were now covering nearly half the lawn. ‘The lawns dying,’ I thought with a sickening dread, my head spinning in the heat. ‘It’s terminal.’ Uncle John followed me up front and waited at the mower while I got the rest of the things from out back.

“Looks like this is it Tommy,” he said upon my return. His voice sounded strained and tired and somehow complacent. “Won’t be no more after today.” 
He looked at me then, his face thin and skeletal, the flesh hanging from his cheeks like a loose fitting mask. His eyes were yellow and bloodshot, floating in their sockets like solitary vegetables in two tiny bowls of pink broth. Those eyes, which had looked out over the lawn so many times when it was at it’s greatest; they looked at me, actually met my own for the first time in weeks. They were trying to tell me something. They were telling me to run.

“Go ahead and give her a cut,” he said, looking away from me and down at the mower. “Do it low this time Tommy, as low as you can get it. Then we’ll talk while you mix those bastardly chemicals.”

I positioned the mower at the corner of the lawn and pulled the cord. It started on the first try, coughing out thick blue smoke that hung in the still summer air like oily fog. I began the straight line down the front of the house, going over tufts of lush green grass that were spotted here and there with those odd patches of brown. The heat seemed to intensify ten-fold as I pushed the aging mower over what was left of Uncle John’s lawn. The humidity and the fumes from the mower permeated the air, encompassing me in a sickening atmosphere of carbon infused heat. About halfway through the lawn, I looked down at the grass and what I saw nearly stopped my heart.

The grass was moving. As I pushed the Bessal towards one of the brown patches color would suddenly rush back in, turning a dying piece of turf back into a thriving spot of lawn. The brown seemed to crawl out of the mower’s path as I went over it and I watched, horrified, as the individual blades actually began to stiffen and stand up as green flowed back into them. As I trudged across the lawn in a terrified daze I looked back and saw the brown wash in and gradually take up residence, bringing the section of lawn back to it’s withered dying state.

I continued up and down the lawn, thinking I might be suffering from the early stages of heat stroke, or that I was quite possibly losing my mind. As I overlapped the paths I saw the same thing. The patches of brown would retreat from the mower’s path just as I was about to hit them and then return after I had passed by. I suddenly felt as if I was being watched. Actually, targeted, is a better word. I was almost sure there was something following me, waiting for the perfect moment to rear up and pull me under the dying grass. I cast a nervous glance at Uncle John but he seemed not to notice. In fact, he wasn’t looking at me at all. He sat on the steps, looking thin and fragile, staring at his lawn like a sailor watching his homeport disappear under the horizon.

Suddenly I didn’t want to be on the lawn anymore and I began to push the mower faster. I realized that I hadn’t even refueled the thing and I knew that if I had to stop now there would be no way that I’d finish. The feeling of being watched, that something terrible and sinister was lurking just behind my back was stronger than ever. I concentrated on the driveway and I pushed. If I were to look back over my shoulder I was certain that whatever was out there would surely be waiting, ready to grab me and pull me under. I sprinted over the remaining few yards of lawn, not caring if it got a proper cut or not. When I reached the driveway relief washed over me as I stood there drenched in sweat, my breath coming in short, uneven hitches. I let go of the safety catch on the mower and it shut down with a choking shudder.

I looked at the lawn. There was no movement, no sign that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. All I could see was a once impeccably maintained lawn in the final stages of death. Uncle John was standing now and I watched in horror as he stepped onto the lawn. I could feel the terror rising up, a scream about to escape from my mouth. But nothing happened. Uncle John crossed the stretch of lawn to the driveway in a slow, casual stride. He approached me, quiet and solemn, his skeletal frame looking like a stick figure under clothes that were now too big on him.

“Gotta mix them chemicals,” he said looking down at the Bessel. “May be our only chance.”

I wanted to tell him no. I wanted to tell him what I had seen out on the lawn. I wanted to tell him that there was something going on here that was scaring the shit out of me and that it might be better just to leave it alone and call it quits for the day. There were a thousand things that I wanted to tell him as he stood there staring down at the Bessal, his eyes drooping with a combination of sadness and defeat. But I could not bring myself to utter a word. After a moment Uncle John turned and began his painful shuffle towards the shed and the awaiting chemicals. I followed obediently, throwing an apprehensive glance over my shoulder at the lawn.

I knelt down in the driveway and unscrewed the cap on the first jug. The word XENAL was printed on its label in huge block letters. I poured the viscous, ivory-yellow liquid into the sprayer’s reservoir up to the first mark. A tart, acrid odor wafted up into my face, singeing my nostrils and causing my eyes to water.

“This used to be your Grandpa’s house Tommy,” Uncle John began suddenly. “Of course, you’re to young to remember him. And before that it belonged to his Dad, my Grandpa. And before he built the house back in ’23 that lawn out there was one great big green field that spread out over a road that wasn’t there yet, stretching right up to a thicket of oaks that hadn’t been cut down and replaced with tract housing. From the time he built this house my Grandpa always had the best lawn on the street, in the whole town for that matter. And it’s stayed that way ever since I was old enough to remember.

“When Grandpa died in ’57 Grandma was already two years in the grave. There was really no one around to take the house so my Dad got it by default. We moved in right after the funeral, Mom and Dad and me, your Mom and our baby brother, your Uncle George. Your Grandpa, well he was just as obsessed with the lawn as his Dad and he kept it nice and green right from the day we moved in.

“Years went by and your Mom took off with your Daddy,” he chuckled slightly at this memory, the first time I’d heard him come close to laughing in months. “Boy didn’t that raise a stink in the family, and your Uncle George joined the Navy when he was eighteen and got stationed out in San Diego. Your Grandma died a few years later, Angina, the doctors said. And after forty years of smoking your Grandpa joined her soon after. Lung cancer.”

Uncle John paused now to catch his breath, which came out in a raspy, labored rhythm, and I suppose, to sneak a quick glance at his lawn. I started on the second jug as he continued.

“I was the only one left in town so the house became mine the same way my Dad got it. I could’ve sold the place and moved over to Hopedale and be closer to the mill but I didn’t. I felt an obligation to stay, to look after things. To look after the lawn.”

I looked up from the sprayer and Uncle John was glaring down at me. “It was still the best lawn in town, Tommy,” he said, his eyes fixed and serious. “And it was my job to make sure it stayed that way.”

He drew in a deep, rattling breath, coughed a bit, and spat out a wad of pink phlegm. He turned and looked at the lawn. “But now…now I just don’t know if we can save it.”

“The lawn is kinda like your body,” he said dryly, his weakening breath scraping over sandpaper. “If you neglect it it’ll turn on you. And it can get mean.”

I tore myself from his haunted gaze and poured the contents of the final jug into the sprayer. I thought of the grass and how it had changed color, how it seemed to move and shudder as I ran the mower over it. I thought of Uncle John’s Father and Grandfather. Of them maintaining the lawn over the generations with near religious zeal, battling the weather and the seasons and some malevolent force that existed beneath those once green and flourishing blades of grass. I wondered who would be taking care of the lawn after Uncle John died and realized with dread that the only one left was myself.

The sudden, sharp odor from the third jug snapped me into reality like a dose of ammonia salts and I had to crane my head back painfully in order to avoid the fumes rising from the sprayer. When it mixed with the other chemicals in the reservoir the liquid coalesced into a dark crimson that looked all too much like blood. My mind filled with images of mosquitoes and leaches and thirsty looking vampires.

“Screw the hose on and drench that lawn Tommy,” Uncle John said as I finished pouring. “A treatment might actually save it for Christ’s sake.” He turned and walked across the lawn to the front door.

“Pain’s getting’ bad,” he said, making his way gingerly up the steps. “Gonna take a pill and hit the sack.” He opened the door, stopping just inside the threshold to look back at me, his face a grim portrait of concentration fighting through worlds of pain. “Be careful,” was all he said before disappearing inside.

I stood at the edge of the lawn; my feet were planted safely on the paved surface of the driveway, the sprayer gripped in my hand like some alien ray gun. The garden hose trailed out behind me, long and green and snakelike. I squeezed the lever and water rushed out of the nozzle in a fine maroon mist, drenching the dead grass at my feet. I watched closely and waited, not knowing exactly what I was expecting to happen. I didn’t have to wait long.

When the water hit the grass the lawn shuddered then heaved up as if reacting painfully to the chemicals. Green replaced brown and the blades shot straight up, reaching towards the cascading water. I swung the sprayer back and forth and watched as the brown color raced beyond the range of the stream. The green patches in the lawn, untouched by the fertilizer, began to wilt and fade to a pale yellow, as if the sickness in the grass had opted to retreat to a safer location. But in a distant part of my mind I knew it wasn’t on the run. I knew it was searching. Searching for the source of its pain.

Without thinking I stepped onto the lawn. The moist grass was thick and spongy beneath the soles of my sneakers. With each pass of the sprayer new life poured into the grass in front of me. My head was slowly filling with a subtle electric static that clouded my thoughts like bad radio reception. Spotted images of my great Grandfather, a man whom I’ve never seen even in a photograph, flashed in my mind with lucid clarity. I saw a sea of grass, bright and green and thriving, flowing into the horizon. I watched as it rose and dipped lazily in huge oceanic swells. I could hear no birds chirping, no barking dogs; not even the sound of a passing car. Uncle John’s house was no more than a hollow phantom, replaced by a limitless emerald pasture that stretched into eternity.

The sprayer jerked suddenly in my hand and I turned, horrified to see that the hose was actually being pulled under the lawn. Not much time now, I thought, this lawn is getting mean. I ran the length of the hose, spraying the grass in front of me with the strange chemical solution. The lawn coughed it up like wad of tubercular mucous. I pressed further across the lawn spraying wildly to my left and right. The brown patches were now confined to the far right corner. Could I be winning this terrible battle with the lawn cancer? I had the mad idea that by ridding the lawn of this ferocious disease I could simultaneously cure my Uncle John of his illness.

I closed in on the remaining portion of lawn. Looking at the sprayer I noticed the once opaque liquid in the reservoir was turning a pale pink as the water diluted the chemicals. As I aimed the stream at the dying grass a terrible screech arose in my head, blotting out the world around me and sending an electric shiver down my backbone. The sound was distinctly animal, primal and stupid and full of frustrated agony like a wolf caught in a leg trap with nothing to lose but its life and its mind. It filled the air with a sharp, rending vibration that blurred my vision. Through the haze of my invaded mind I could see two children across the street playing on their front lawn. Surely they could hear this awful screaming, could feel the caustic energy that was surging up out of the ground in endless, nauseating waves. They did not seemed to notice though, carrying on as if the grass beneath them was no more dangerous than a passing wind.

The vibrations grew in intensity as I struggled to keep the stream trained on the last bit of grass. My legs were weak and the sprayer felt like a concrete block in my right hand. The pink hue of the thinning chemicals was fading to the sparkling silver color of pure tap water. I prayed there was enough left to finish the battle.

Without warning the grass in front of me rippled violently then surged up in one last, desperate heave as something beneath the surface struggled to get out. I stepped back as two tendrils of blackened lawn snaked out and whipped towards me. I doused them with the sprayer and they recoiled back into the lawn in painful, stuttering movements. The grass began to deflate, sinking slowly into the ground until suddenly I was standing over an abyss that reached not into the earth but into a world that seemed to exist just beyond my thinning plane of reality. A small trace of yellow light appeared in the abrupt blackness and began to rise toward me. As it neared I could see it was an eye, strange and horrible and unblinking, racing up through the ground as the sun reflected off of its gleaming, solitary cornea. It was yards from the top, then feet, then inches. The scream in my head grew to a fevered, kettle-whistle pitch. The fiendish eye crested the mouth of the pit. There was a sudden, piercing snap and the world around me was drowned in green.

I opened my eyes to a clear summer sky that glared down at me with crystalline brilliance. The placid blue held me, flooding my mind with it’s subtle, cleansing radiance. The dull throbbing in my head faded quickly as I gazed skyward in complete rapture. I felt as if I could lay there forever, letting the tranquil beauty of that sky inundate my exhausted body and mind with absolute serenity. Then I remembered the lawn.

Instantly I was on my feet, the feeling of calm obliterated by sheer terror. The sprayer was still in my hand and I held it to my chest like some enchanted talisman. I looked all around me, expecting to be surrounded by a horde of Lovecraftian beasts intent on dragging me under the grass and devouring me alive. But I was alone, standing on a once ravaged lawn that was now an exquisite landscape of green, healthy grass. I scrutinized every inch of the lawn, keeping a wary eye out for any sign of those peculiar brown patches. As far as I could see there was nothing, no brown grass, no unearthly movement, not even so much as a wilted blade. I lowered the sprayer with cautious reluctance, the fear inside of me fading like the residual images of a terrible dream. I inhaled deeply, taking in the humid air along with an overwhelming sense victorious accomplishment. The battle was over. I had won.

As I made my way to the front steps I noticed a plate-sized circle of brown grass about ten yards to my right. It had not been there a moment ago, of this I was positive, and the sight of it froze me in my tracks. I stared at the circle with a dreadful sort of fascination as it began to move across the lawn in my direction, leaving a trail of scorched grass in its wake. I raised the sprayer instinctively and squeezed the lever. The diluted chemicals had little effect but to slow the things progress and it inched towards me with steady determination. More circles began to appear all over the lawn, taking shape with frightening speed and making their way in my direction. I dropped the useless sprayer and sprinted for the front steps, cursing myself for being so stupid.

You cannot cure terminal cancer. Denial and ignorance had blinded me to this fact, making me believe I could save the lawn and rescue my Uncle John from a painful, undignified death. But cancer in its progressive stages, especially one so widespread, is impossible to treat. I know this now. I also know that sometimes, when all seems well and you think you have it beat, there is always the chance of remission.

I reached the house just in time. The discoloration washed up to the concrete steps and I felt them shift slightly under my feet as the menacing force within the lawn tried in desperation to reach me. The entire lawn had turned a sickly, pale-brown with not a single blade of green to be found. I watched as the sprayer was pulled under the lawn. There was a sharp, metallic PLINK as the hose snapped from the spigot on the far side of the house and was sucked into the grass like a long, green piece of spaghetti. Sheer exhaustion assaulted my body and my legs began to tremble, threatening collapse. I nearly sat down right there but suddenly even the steps didn’t feel safe anymore. I opened the front door and stepped inside.

The first thing to hit me was the heat. Even in the ninety plus heat the air from within the house felt like a blast from a furnace. I recoiled back a step or two but I did not go outside, knowing full well what my fate would be if I set foot on the lawn. A repulsive odor of mold and stale urine invaded my nostrils and I gagged involuntarily. Every shade in the living room was drawn and as far as I could see so were the ones in the kitchen. I heard the central air running and checked the thermostat, stunned to see that it was set at ninety-five degrees.

‘How long had it been like this?’ I wondered in horror. ‘How hadn’t I known?’ But it was surely possible. I could not recall going into the house last Saturday or the weekend before that. Live snakes of guilt slithered in the pit of my stomach.

I tiptoed cautiously across the living room floor, taking a shocked assessment of the room around me. An oily, gray fungus was growing on the fabric of the couch and most of the furniture. The wallpaper had faded and was peeling in places and the finish on the hardwood floors had flaked off right down to the wood. Gauzy curtains of cobwebs hung from the corners of the ceiling. The entire room had an aura of great age and abandonment. It was hard to believe that Uncle John or anyone for that matter had ever lived here.

Uncle John’s bedroom was at the extreme end of a long, narrow hallway. I made my way down the corridor, the tight proximity of the walls augmenting my fear as I struggled to take in air the consistency molasses. I approached the bedroom, noting how the door was rotted through in places and sagging on its hinges. A new odor came to me as I stood there, overwhelming the lingering scent of age and advanced decay. It was a familiar smell, sharp and pungent, and I struggled to put my finger on it. Grasping the tarnished brass doorknob, I covered my mouth and nose with the collar of my shirt and gently eased the door open.

The temperature inside the bedroom had to be well over one hundred degrees. It was a miracle that a fire hadn’t started. A clear plastic pitcher sat on the nightstand slumping to one side, melted by the intense heat. Two empty candlesticks stood on the dresser, liquid wax pooled at their bases. The Panasonic television in the corner of the room had a huge zigzagging crack running through the middle of its screen. A thick canvas blanket covered the window, tacked to the molding with industrial sized staples. Uncle John, or what was left of him, was lying in the bed.

He was dead, there was no doubt about it. He had stripped down to his underwear before lying down; his skin was pale and gray, like a thin leather sheet that had been draped over a pile of crudely laid bones. His eyelids were sunken in, his lips pulled back over his dentures in a morbid grin. Clutched in the gnarled fingers of his left hand was a plastic jug with the word XENAL on its label. The floor next to his bed was littered with perhaps a dozen empty jugs and I realized in horror why that tart, biting odor was so familiar. He’d been drinking the very chemicals I had used to treat the lawn.

My head began to spin and I felt a bubble of nausea rise in my stomach. I stumbled out of the bedroom, barely making it through the back door before my breakfast came spilling out of my mouth. Over an hour went by before I could work up the stamina to go back into the house to call the paramedics. I waited for them in the driveway, far away from the lawn.

The ambulance came. So did the police. They asked the usual questions and I answered them with forthright honesty. They asked me when last time was that I had talked to my Uncle John and I told them this morning. They said that was impossible because the body looked like it had been there for days, maybe even a week. They asked me if I was positive about the last time I had seen him and I told them I was. They looked at each other, then at me, then they closed their little notepads and left. As they walked up the driveway to their squad car I heard the younger of the two officers say, “Shitty lawn, huh.”

And that was it, up until now of course. After talking with my doctor earlier today I’ve been thinking about what he had to tell me. That he would like me to come down to his office tomorrow and discuss the results of my exam in person rather than over the phone. But mostly I’ve been thinking about Uncle John and his lawn, and the strange and terrible burden that seems to have been passed down over the years.

He left me the house in his will, you see, and by doing so I guess I’ve inherited a whole lot more than just a three-bedroom ranch style on four and a half acres. I drove by the place after work today, something I haven’t done in so long. The lawn is there, dead and quiet but still menacing after all these years. As I passed slowly by it looked to me like a rusted, forgotten trap waiting for someone to come along and place an unsuspecting foot into. The For Sale sign, placed by the realtor almost two years ago, had sunk into the lawn up to it’s lettering. I know that even though I haven’t set foot on the property since the day Uncle John died, the house and the lawn are still mine and always will be. I also know that it wasn’t only Uncle John who lost the battle with the lawn cancer that day. It was me as well.

What to do When the Cancer is Back

The worst news someone can get that has been fighting Cancer: it’s back. My Father was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, brain cancer, March of 2007. It was devastating news. There is no cure for it and most treatments only buy an average of a year. The tumor was removed and he made it to February of 2008 with out any growth but then he had a seizure and we all knew what the next MRI was going to show. Sure enough it shows a tumor the size of an orange on the right side of his brain.

So where do you go from here? What happens when you are told the Cancer is back? Well you have to figure out what all your options are. That isn’t all; there is more to consider than just what can be done about the cancer. You have to consider the state in which you or your loved one is in. Cancer can be a devastating disease. It certainly tries the love of your family and your faith. Research what all can be done if anything to fight the regrowth of the cancer. Surgery may be an option or there may be some new treatments. There also may be nothing that can be done. I believe fighting or removing the Cancer is an important option but it may be too much on you or your loved one. Cancer wears on you in so many ways.

My father doesn’t have the strength he used to, he is tired all the time and very depressed. It is almost like looking at a completely different person. He doesn’t even hold a conversation like he used to. He has the option of having surgery to remove the tumor again. We carefully considered the risks and gains from having the surgery. There are always risks having a surgery. You need to weigh them very carefully against the best outcome of the surgery. In my Dad’s case the best outcome is time. The Cancer will definitely come back; it is just a matter of when. The risks are certainly there but not quite enough to pass on the surgery. The best thing I can recommend is make a list with pros and cons. Write down everything you can think of good and bad about the surgery, life after surgery, life without the surgery, and life now. Know exactly what you are getting into before doing anything.

If surgery isn’t an option and it is only about treatments you need to be very careful and do as much research and question asking as possible. Sometimes there is more risk in the treatments than there is in the benefit. Do not go into any experimental treatment without feeling completely comfortable and have done all your research. You may end up regretting your decision. I am in no means saying all treatments are dangerous or risky but there are some out there. I don’t want you to be one of the bad ones. Fighting Cancer is all about doing your homework and knowing as much about it as possible. Search the internet for support groups, chat sites, and wonderful people that have created websites dedicated to your type of Cancer. I have found www.virtualtrials.com to be a wonderful site for Brain Cancer. Finding people that are going through the same thing is beneficial not only to you emotionally but a great wealth of information.

Your doctor will most likely never tell you to look at homeopathic options. For some reason medical science and homeopathic remedies do not go together. I think it is definitely time for change that. I would look into this as an option for you. I’m not saying you’ll find a cure but you may find something to help in the fight. I will mention to things you should look up more information online. Look into Cat’s Claw and a pill called RM-10. When it comes to homeopathic remedies you will have to make your own decision. Your doctor will most likely not support the idea or think it is pointless. I have told the doctors upfront that I am not asking for their approval but want to know if there is anything that will interfere with the medication my Father is already on. It is important to do that because there can be drug interactions.

I wish you and your family great strength during these trying times.

My Lung Cancer Scare!

My family and I had just finished our meal, with strawberry shortcake for dessert. Afterwards, we decided to watch a movie called, “Devil”. We were waiting to see who the devil in the elevator would kill next. The turn of events that happened shortly after, led me to believe that I may be the one who was going to be next.

After I finished dessert, I lit up a cigarette. Two puffs and I had a coughing attack. I was coughing up something red, and I didn’t know if it was strawberries or blood. Then I drank some coffee, and the coughing stopped. In the meantime, my family had called an ambulance. When it arrived, I went with them to the hospital as a precautionary measure. The doctor in the emergency room said I had pneumonia and bronchitis. Therefore, he gave me several prescriptions and released me. But I was still worried because I knew that coughing up blood was a symptom of lung cancer. When I drove my car to the pharmacy, I had another attack. I was scared and disoriented, but I made it back to the emergency room.

I was admitted to the hospital, and the nurse told me that it was definitely blood that was spattered all over my blouse, and not strawberries. The staff hooked me up to an IV. My fear of choking resonated when I continued to cough up blood for the next 2 days. Then it finally stopped. In the days that followed, they gave me blood tests, ex-rays, MRI’s, and every test imaginable. By the fourth day, I was given my test results, and they were all negative. There were no blood clots, and my TB test showed no infection.Then I overheard the nurses saying that my lungs were diminished, which upset me. Now I was really worried about having lung cancer. My family doctor made a special trip to see me, and explained to me that I just had very minor damage to my lungs because of my emphysema diagnosis two years before.

Later that day, the nurse came into my room and said that I would have to be isolated in another room until they found out what was wrong with me. In spite of my test results, they still thought that I may have TB. Since I was claustrophobic, I was hysterical. The female pastor in the hallway heard me crying and came in my room to comfort me. She held my hand and assured me that she would come and visit me in isolation. She said that legally they could only keep me for a minimal amount of time in there.

Ten minutes later, the nurse came back in and said that I didn’t have to go into isolation after all, because the doctor on call said that he knew that I didn’t have TB. Relieved, I told the pastor that the isolation situation reminded me of one of the contagion movies that I had watched where the government wouldn’t let the people out of the building and the zombies ate them. That was the only laugh I had in that hospital room.

Next, the hospital staff informed me that the doctor wanted to put a tube with a camera down my throat and take samples to look for cancer cells. Consequently, I took the test.

The next day, my family doctor came in personally, and told me that the tests were negative cancer cells. He confirmed the emergency room doctors first diagnosis, and said that I probably just had a bit of pneumonia and bronchitis. He said I would be released that day.

During those six days in the hospital; I believed that I had cancer, and that I would be told that I was going to die. I am home now, and recovering from the stressful stay in the hospital. And I am NOT smoking. I am confident that there is nothing seriously wrong with me. But I do hope when it is my time to die, that I do not know ahead of time. I hope God surprises me, instead. 

Breast and Uterine Cancer

The Politics of Medicine


There are over 211,000 new cases of breast cancer that occurs each year in the United States. Over 40,000 women die of this disease each year as well if it is not caught early enough. Unfortunately, the risk of surviving breast cancer today is the same as it was over 50 years ago. Why have we not advanced enough in breast cancer treatment and other types of cancer in the past 50 plus years? The politics of medicine in the health care industry itself has a faint reality to what needs to be accomplished in the direction of advanced treatment of cancer on a whole. The only two main options for breast cancer treatment is a mastectomy which is the removal of the entire breast and a lumpectomy in which part of the breast is removed. With a lumpectomy, there is a 40% chance of the breast cancer returning even with radiation treatment. Many women who opt for a lumpectomy receive radiation treatment. They must remember though there is that 40% chance the breast cancer can return with a lumpectomy along with the radiation treatment .The radiation itself can cause the cancer to return. I don’t understand why this treatment option is even offered because more than half of the breast is deformed and the danger of radiation can be significant if given in high doses. However, each breast cancer patient has a right to their own preference of treatment upon their doctor’s diagnosis of treatment.

Over half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer opt for a mastectomy over a lumpectomy. Why? Well, there are many reasons. However, this is a personal decision each breast cancer patient must make for themselves along with their doctor according to the advancement, outcome of their disease as each treatment is different for each breast cancer patient. In other words, it’s all a matter of personal choice when given a choice between a mastectomy and a lumpectomy upon the doctor’s diagnosis of treatment. A mammogram is recommended each year for women 40 years of age and over. If there is breast cancer in the family it should be done earlier as recommended by a family physician.

Breast Cancer Treatment

In addition to radiation for breast cancer treatment, there is also chemotherapy and medication prescribed to each breast cancer patient according to the advancement of their disease. Some women may have one or two of these treatments or all three combined together depending on the advancement of this disease. For medication, there is tamoxifen which is routinely prescribed for most breast cancer patients after surgery. Doctors view this drug as a extremely peculiar drug. Why? It blocks estrogen, but in other organs of the body. It acts like an estrogen which is linked to uterine cancer. About 3% of breast cancer patients who have used tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment have developed uterine cancer as a result of this drug. This is hotly debated among doctors. However, doctors have now slowly moved away from this drug. They now only prescribe tamoxifen for extreme, advanced cases of breast cancer. There is also what is called, aromatase inhibitors, introduced in the early 1990’s for breast cancer treatment. Aromatase inhibitors involves three separate drugs, Arimidex, Aromasin and Femara. Aromatase inhibitors is classified as the enzyme found in the adrenal glands which is fat and muscle that converts testosterone as well as androste-estrogen in pre-menopausal women. While the side effects of aromatase inhibitors seem far less invasive than tamoxifen, there is still a dim reality towards the effectiveness of these drugs. Although, the aromatase inhibitors are far more effective than tamoxifen in breast cancer treatment, there is still the faint reality of its effectiveness that silently lingers with most doctors in the back of their mind, overall. One of the main side effects of these drugs is bone pain. Women taking these drugs should have their bone density closely monitored by their doctor.

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer includes both the cervical cancer and endometrial cancer of the uterus. There are two main cancers of the cervix, the first one is located in the lower part of the uterus. This is called the Squamous cell carcinoma which makes up 85-90% of these cancers. The second one is called the Adencarcinoma which makes up 10-15% of these cancers. The symptoms of uterine cancer can include watery vaginal discharge and painless bleeding. Over time though, the bleeding becomes heavier and most frequent, therefore, the pain becomes more noticeable. We must remember, most cervical cancers increase slowly and may not give any visible symptoms in the early stages. About 49,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with uterine cancer each year. The good news is the five year survival rate is 71 percent. And if this disease is caught early enough, the survival rate is increased at 91 percent. The single most risk factor is infection, thus known as the papiloma,(HPV) virus. However, other factors include sexual partners before the age of 18, having many sexual partners and cigarette smoking.

Alternative and European Treatments for (Breast) Cancer

Edited by Dr. Thomas Moss, MD Only Amer. Dr. “Full Member/ National Herbalist Assoc. Of Australia”


Some prefer to call it ‘Nutritional Healing’ for the body. However, there are specific vitamins and herbs which have proven to be successful or at the very least helpful in the treatment of all cancers.

As an example, researchers have found that patients with cancer of the breast, lung, bladder, colon, and skin have levels of vitamin A that are lower than normal. So, start by taking your ‘Vitamin A’. 


The Latest Information on Immune Support:

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine ‘Astragalus’ supports the body’s defensive energy, and modern scientific study is beginning to bear this out. While Astragalus is gentle enough to take daily, it can help normalize the immune systems of cancer patients after chemotherapy. This is very important! ! !

Astragalus is recommended for abnormally low white blood cell counts, which usually follow treatment with anticancer drugs or steroid medications.

Breast cancer patients taking Astragalus and the immune-enhancing plant ligustrum (L. lucidum) during radiation treatments experienced a statistically significant higher survival rate. 

“The active ingredient in Astragalus resembles the chemical structure of Echinacea and larch,” explains Robert Roundtree, MD, a complementary medical expert in Boulder, CO.

Your Personal Program for Recovery and Healing

Everyone of us is unique, so we each need to work out our own program for recovery and healing. Included is my personal diet and vitamin regimen to give you some ideas. Please for your own sake, find a reputable homeopathic doctor in your area if your medical doctor does not use alternative treatments. The majority of doctors don’t, since they are given only one-half hour on nutrition in medical school. How do I know this? My nephew is a famous doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

Begin by Detoxifying! 

The first thing to do is to try to cleanse your system. I started with capsules of the herb, ‘Burdock’*. There is also an herbal tea, ‘Flor-Essence’ that contains Burdock for further cleansing. Continue using for two weeks. The original version of this tea is ‘Essiac-Tea’ popularized by Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse as early as the 1920’s. There are several very similar teas such as ‘Prairie-Tea’, a much weaker version and ‘Vitali-Tea’ sold through individuals.

*Burdock Root is one of the finest blood purifiers in the herbal kingdom. It helps the kidneys quickly filter impurities from the blood. It soothes the kidneys and relieves the lymphatics. It is soothing to all mucous membranes. A big help in cleansing the system.

After the cleansing one will start to use ‘Milk Thistle’ daily to help cleanse the liver of all the chemicals we are putting in our bodies. Take one 1,000mg capsule with each meal.

Daily: 

A Good Multiple with Lutein for the eyes, but without iron. Try Wal-Mart for good but lower priced vitamins. 
I use one and a half vitamins. (One-half with each meal.)

‘L-Lysine’ or an amino acid complex. 500mgs Taken before each meal. Helps absorb calcium and controls canker sores, or as they call them, mouth sores. (3 x’s a day)

Vitamin A, or Beta-Carotene 25,000IU As an anti-oxidant to combat infection, also helps your eyes.

Vitamin E As an anti-oxidant and also thins the blood.

MSM taken with breakfast. For relief from joint pain and to keep it from getting worse. Esp. for women who have been taken off hormones.

Quercitin an anti-oxidant that binds to type II EBS receptors better than Tamoxifen. It has been shown to block cancer cell growth in Ovarian Cancer as well. (Take one am & pm, 20 min. before meals.)

Calcium & Magnesium Citrate w/Vit.D For nails and bones. One can only absorb 600mgs at a time, so take when you are not having dairy products with your meal.

Milk Thistle! Just a reminder to take it with your meals. This is most important!

Melatonin: There have been 8 studies in Italy which have proven that Melatonin is as beneficial as many of the treatments for breast cancer. Take 5 tablets, of 3mgs of it at bedtime (15mgs) and it is said that you will sleep better and feel better as well as help you ward of any additional cancer according to those who ran the studies.

My Personal Diet & Recommendations: 

Drink Only Bottled Water 
Distilled preferably. In Europe they have stopped putting fluoride in the water. They found that it causes cancer.

Drink herb teas. Eliminate coffee. 
Coffee is hard on the system. The acid and caffeine are detrimental to one’s health, even if you don’t have cancer.

Try to eliminate all beverages with caffeine from your diet. Do this slowly or you may develop headaches. Have you tried Postum, a beverage made from grains that is similar to coffee.

Eliminate ‘Red’ meat. An interesting bit of information came to light. Only 13% of vegetarians get cancer. In the United States, all meat is full of hormones and antibiotics unless otherwise specified. If you prefer to eat meat, find a place that sells range free chicken and range free beef. (free to roam, not in a cage) Fish is good and comes in many different varieties.

Eat Salads Everyday. If you are not a salad person, start now. Combining fresh fruits and nuts in a romaine salad with a citrus dressing and sprinkles with Feta cheese is delicious. You will find many interesting combinations including those with beans and rice, thus giving you more than enough protein.

Eat a minimum of three fruits, and four vegetables daily. You will feel better and your health should gradually improve.

Stay away from white foods. This is the hardest one for me. I’m working on a great oatmeal cookie recipe. White foods are bread, white pasta, white rice, and white potatoes. White sugar & white flour are included as they have no real nutritional value.

Incorporate whole grains in your diet. All nutmeats contain protein. Did you know that even ‘oatmeal’ has a small amount of protein in it. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber will be beneficial whether or not you have cancer.

*** This is a strange one! Apple Seeds. Eat three apple ‘seeds’ two times a week. They contain the same laetrile that you get from apricot pits – only a lot easier to come by. Laetrile has been thought to help fight cancer for years. There are also small amounts of laetrile in almonds and apricots.

Dairy products. ‘Yogurt’ is good for you if it has Acidophilus in it. ‘Eggs’ are high in protein, but if you have a cholesterol problem, use egg-whites. A moderate amount of cheese is fine. Avoid the over processed kind.

Avoid Fat. Try to use only olive oil or canola oil.

Why are we doing this? 

We are trying to regain and maintain ‘optimum health’ so that cancer does not return. I consider my vitamins part of my food. I carry them in a pill case when I go out. After a while it becomes automatic.

If you decide to use vitamin therapy you will find a system that works best for you.

Ultimately: This may seem like a lot of work to began with; but, I have known people how were stricken with cancer that completely turned their lives around using nutritional therapy, along with creative visualization and meditation. They were either cured or their lives improved dramatically.

It takes time, but it is interesting how adaptable to change we human beings really are.

The most important thing for you, is to not loose hope. As long as you can keep the spirit of hope alive, it will help you accomplish just about anything you set out to do.

Remember, you are not alone.

To the Reader,

This book was written to try to help you on your journey. I am a breast cancer patient whose cancer metastasized to my spine. That was three and a half years ago, and I am still alive! Therefore, “I know what you are going through.” 
If you would like more information from my book please send an email and I will try to answer your questions.

With Love & Understanding,

JoAnne Gullickson

Stage Two Invasive Cancer: My Cancer Challenge

Part I


My personal motto is “Count Your Blessings and Not Your Problems Daily” this became very apparent for me on December 15, 2005 when I was diagnoised with Staqe 2 Invasive Cancer Of the right breast. It was a blessing because it was caught early enough to be treated. After my diagnoisis, I had decisions to make. I was told that a mastectomy of the right breast is the best option. I then became concerned about the left breast because I had a history of fibrocystic breasts. My surgeon sent me for a needle core biopsy of that breast on January 10, 2006 which revealed no lumps of concern but there was a fibriodanoma. I made the decision to have both breasts removed so I wouldn’t have to deal with cancer of the left breast in the future.

I had a strong faith in God and had the bilateral mastectomy done on February 8, 2006, my surgeon also removed some of my lymph nodes under the right arm and 6 of those were cancerous.

After a few days in the hospital, I was sent home with a wrapped up chest and 2 drains. A few weeks later, I went to see my surgeon who removed the drains and the wrap. I saw myself for the first time without breasts and to the surprise of the nurse she replied I handled it very well. I felt no need to cry, I was ready to move on to the next step. I was then referred to an Oncologist, who prescribed chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It was explained that this was a normal course of action because of the cancer invading the lymph nodes. In preparation to have chemo administered, I had a muga scan to determine if my heart was strong enough to tolerate chemo and I had minor surgery for the insertion of a port. The port made it easier to administer the chemo.

My chemotherapy began a week after the surgery for the port insertion on March 13, 2006. I was told to expect the loss of my curly hair. Now this was a sticker shock, because after the second treatment, I began to lose my hair. I’ve always had a thick head of hair and this was the first time I would be without any. I didn’t realize how much air I was missing until I had no hair. Now I understand why some men just go around bald. It’s just easier to put on a cap and go about your business. I preferred wearing a baseball cap rather than fussing with a wig.

I don’t wish chemotherapy on anyone because of the side effects. I had to deal with vomiting. There is medication to help with the nausea however, chemo is poison and the body has to expell it from your system, so throwing up is a way to do just that. I had mouth sores for Easter, so I couldn’t enjoy eating my Easter dinner, let alone an easter egg. The oncologist prescribed a magical mouthwash for me. I’ve no idea what was in it but it worked its magic. The mouth sores were gone in a week. There are several side effects to chemo and not everyone experiences them all. I had my last chemo treatment on June 29, 2006 and right after that, I developed another side effect known as neuropathy of the fingers and toes. This is a condition that numbs the aforementioned areas. This is common to diabetics also. To this very day, I still have some numbness in my fingers and toes. The oncologist tells me, it will eventually wear off on its own.

My cancer challenge has inspired me to promote awareness that “Cancer Doesn’t Have To Be A Death Sentence” by having OnLine Talk Shows. My first show was held on June 24, 2006 and it was successful. On June 23, 2007, I am having a show to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of my OnLine Talk Shows. I plan to increase the 1 hour shows to a monthly venture to continue to be an inspiration to others who may be facing a cancer challenge. I will be discussing, “Surgery Because Of Cancer” on the upcoming show. I am always in search of others who are willing to share their experiences.

On September 13, 2006, I completed my radiation treatments. I thank God for walking with me through this journey. Be on the lookout for part 2 of my journey in the near future. In the meantime, remember to “Count Your Blessings and Not Your Problems Daily”

Colon Cancer at 21

It was the end of a great year in school. I had spent the previous summer at University of Michigan working on research and had won an National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledgment for my work, I had met the greatest guy in the world and I had gotten a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) at the end of the semester. I was on top of the world! After all, isn’t that what we all expect when we turn 21? I would have to say that the answer is yes. I did expect to be on top of the world. At 21 I felt invincible, I thought I was going out into the world to get my dream job, dream wedding, dream house, in the end, I thought I was living a dream of a life.

Soon enough reality knocked on my door. It was no longer time for “La Vita Bella”. It was time to learn a new life lesson…nothing is forever. My diagnosis, colon cancer! Imagine, colon cancer at 21 years of age! Colon cancer is something I thought affected people over 50 years of age. Surely, I started questioning the validity of statistics and probability. Within a short time I was having surgery and being scheduled for chemotherapy. To my surprise I did not cry and I was not scared, not because I am made of stone, but because I have faith. Not only do I have faith, I have a family that supported me like you would not believe and I have friends that crowded my room so frequently the nurses where starting to wonder if I was some sort of celebrity. To tell you the truth, I felt like one.

As I started chemotherapy I decided that I wanted to stay in school and continue my school year as normal as possible. I went once a week for my treatment and got back to school as soon as I was done. No one knew, except for my roommates. I was tired and nauseous all the time, and my skin was so dark from toxicity that a classmate thought I had become a surfer…yeah right! I kept living my everyday life like nothing was happening. I refused to have cancer lead my life. I never lost my hair (a blessing for which I am thankful still to this day), a strange fact, but explained by my doctors as an effect of my positive attitude.

Time went by and after eight months of chemotherapy I was cancer free. I finished my degree with a 4.0 GPA which earned me the medal for highest GPA in my concentration and I had been accepted to the Medical Technology school of my choice. I was on the right track again, and after much thought I realized that I had actually never gotten off track. Yes I had cancer and yes I had to go through surgery and chemotherapy, but I never let any of these things dictate what my life should be. Cancer was never my life, it was just a small part of it. When put against all of the positives in my day to day life, cancer became a smaller and smaller negative spot in it.

It is now almost ten years later and I am blessedly healthy. I keep my family and friends close to my heart since they are the therapy no psychiatrist can provide. I’ve had seven invasive colon exams and other numerous tests on a yearly basis to make sure I keep healthy. Do I love it? No! But to live my life with peace of mind I do it all. It has been a long journey and for the rest of my life it will be. There is not one day where I don’t look at what I am eating and wonder if this meal will be the one to give me another tumor. There is not one day where I don’t think about cancer. But, there is not one day in my life where I forget to live it because I am too busy thinking about cancer. I married the wonderful man I met in college on my return from summer research in my dream wedding, I have my dream job and my dream house. Thanks to cancer I realized that being alive is the dream and that I am therefore living a dream of a life.

My name is Michelle and I am a ten year colon cancer survivor.