January 14th, 2011 – I remember it like it was yesterday. I received a phone call from my mother at the brink of dawn notifying me that her oldest brother and my favorite uncle passed away after a long fought battle with stage IV lung cancer. There were no words. That moment flashes as a time when everything stopped and all I could feel were the tears streaming down my face. I was outside on a run when I received the call. The sunrise peeked beyond the Texas skies and the eminent darkness that loomed over upon hearing the news seemed to have masked the rising light. It was like a clouded mix of sadness and pain. That was all I could feel. Why had everyone so close to me become a slave of cancer?
My uncle, his uncle, and his uncle—reaching onto five generations back—were all soldiers battling the inevitable – lung cancer. They had all been smoking since they were about 9 years old and though some of them seemed to have passed early, my first uncle did not. He lived a long 70 years, engaging in physical activity every day, always spending time with family, giving to the less fortunate, and making a difference in a community where gender inequality was so prominent. It was like a piece of everyone’s inspiration tore out of their hearts and there was nothing left, but to question why.
This was only one of many personal stories in my family; however, thankfully there have been no lost battles since that fateful morning. The thought of how I handled the death of my uncle still haunts me to this day. Physicians never provided my family and I with resources on how to cope and deal with the repercussions of a death as heartbreaking as this one. There was absolutely no emotional or informational cancer support provided to my family – not to mention the lack of educational resources. My parents had no idea how to deal with the death of my uncle, especially because my mom had just reached remission from colon cancer two years before. Piles upon piles of lost hope, depression, and broken-heartedness filled the bloodstreams of my family and the close friends of my uncle. What were we supposed to do now?
Today, almost 7 years later, marks World Lung Cancer Day. It is August 1st, 2017 and I can now thank the opportunity to not only work at but to have found the Cancer Support Community (CSC) based in Washington D.C. After the death of my uncle, my family and I had absolutely no idea where to turn next. We were unsure of any support groups in our respective cities (Dallas and DC) and whether there was a way to share our cancer experience and receive information from survivors as well. If it wasn’t for CSC – for all of the psychosocial, emotional, and educational cancer support that they provide – I would not have known how to deal with the effect cancer has played in my personal life. From the opportunity to share my personal story as a ‘family member’ standing in solidarity beside the soldiers in my life to the abundance of resources they provide, I am unsure where I might be today.
Sure, I had not discovered the largest professionally-led non-profit for cancer support worldwide back in 2011, but I am still quite thankful to have found them now. My mother was able to join the Cancer Experience Registry, a unique platform to share personal experiences, receive information and answers to any questions one might have, and gain insight into the world of cancer survivors whom have experienced it all. My father is looking into joining the registry as a caretaker, and my uncle’s wife is looking into the resources CSC provides internationally by simply looking at their website and gaining familiarity with the national and international affiliates. The positive cycle that CSC provides for hundreds of thousands of people – families, friends, and patients – is indescribable, and I will forever be grateful to have been given the opportunity to work so closely with the people making a difference in the realm of cancer.
On this World Lung Cancer Day, I would like to commemorate my uncle and many others who were faced with lung cancer in their lives. May we learn and may we love from the experiences of others.