One thing is for certain, your heart will be broken. It will break many many times when you lose the people you grow to care about...so why would you do it? People have asked me dozens of times over the last 11 years why did I chose this path of supporting people with lung cancer that sometimes leads to loss and sadness.
I feel like the moment my dad was diagnosed my path was chosen for me. Everything in my life changed and I changed with it. I also chose to make something out of my situation and experience. I wanted to make my losses meaningful in someway and I knew I could make a difference and honor and remember the people I cared about at the same time. As a cancer survivor myself, I felt an obligation to give back to others and help clear a path for those who were diagnosed after me. It's taken me a very long time to accept that not all people feel the way I do.
I've met many people who say they want to make a difference, but their actions speak louder than words. They don't do anything. They aren't proactive. They don't seek opportunities and sometimes they make commitments or promises they just don't keep. I've also seen families, survivors and advocates walk away. I've seen energetic and motivated people whose dedication-light was extinguished with the loss of someone they had grown to care for.
I've even seen members of my own support group at the hospital disappear because they didn't want to "be" in that space emotionally...they choose to put cancer out of their lives and out of their heads and move on with their lives. That's not wrong..to each their own. We all have heart limitations. Still, I can't help but feel a little disappointed and let down when I see that happen.
What continues to inspire me are the hearts of some people I've had the honor of meeting and working with. These people are actually fueled by those losses to DO more, CARE more and reach out to MORE people. All in the hopes that one day the scale will tip and there will be more survivors than not. And in the process they have made the lives of others, however cut short, better, easier and more peaceful.
There is the advocate I know who lost her mom to lung cancer. She could have donated money in her mother's name to an existing charity. She could have started an event or foundation in her mothers name. Instead she collaborated with organizations and built the largest lung cancer organization in the nation to fund research in the hopes of stopping the disease, finding more treatment options and saving more lives. I know she is driven by her loss and her mother's memory. She could have written a check and walked away. Thousands of people do.
There is the accidental advocate. She never wanted attention or to stand for anything. But she was diagnosed with a late stage lung cancer, and amazingly she survived. Out of an obligation to make her life and survivorship meaningful she volunteers, she leads a support group, she speaks out whenever she gets the opportunity. She could have walked away when she got her clean bill of health. Thousands of people do.
There's the grief stricken advocate who was robbed of his young wife. He could let his anger and despair dictate his path, but instead he reaches out to others, holds their hands as they lose the loves of their lives. He speaks out to politicians and tries to use his experience to raise awareness and make real changes in our world. I know he wouldn't wish the pain of his loss on anyone. Sometimes that pain is so heavy he finds it hard to breathe. He could have escaped, made large life changes, disappeared into the single scene and emerged a year or two later a different person who never thinks twice about cancer again. Thousands of people do.
These people I've just described aren't like those thousands of other people. They've chosen to make a difference in the lives of others. Because they are reminded of their losses daily, their joys are so much sweeter and everyday lives so much more meaningful. They make the lives of others better just by being there.
Are you one in a thousand or are you one out of a thousand? People impacted by lung cancer need others who can raise awareness, advocate on their behalf, offer support, guidance, information and friendship. I always think to myself when I meet someone new: What if this was you? What if it was your loved one? Wouldn't you want someone to be there? So I am.
Lung cancer can be ugly. Supporting those with it- either as a medical professional, advocate or caregiver, can be incredibly beautiful.