I got a phone call out of the blue today, while I was driving home from Nashville, where I’d been with colleagues at our state public health association’s annual meeting.
I didn’t know the gentleman on the other end of the line. He heard me speak at an event earlier this year. He was calling seeking my advice.
His son had just been diagnosed with bladder cancer, he said. All they really knew was he had form of the disease that was so rare only 61 other people had ever been diagnosed.
He had forgotten I had rectal cancer, but wanted to know about my treatment regimen, where I had surgery and who was my surgeon. I shared the information, and also recommended that he reach out to the teaching hospitals, like Vanderbilt, because someone there may have had experience treating his son’s rare cancer. I also let him know about the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Nashville, where his son could stay during treatment.
Our call ended and it hit me that there is an awesome responsibility that comes with putting myself out there and sharing my cancer journey. I’m not only sharing inspiration and motivation, I’ve become someone people can lean into for information and advice.
The call today wasn’t the first time. I’ve gotten emails, texts, even messages through Facebook.
Not all of the questions are medical in nature. Most are practical: how much do I share about my cancer journey and how? (Answer: as much as you’re comfortable sharing.) What can we do for someone undergoing chemotherapy? (A basket filled with practical items like lotion, an iTunes or Kindle gift card, Lemon Heads candy, etc.) What do I say to a friend who has been diagnosed? (Say you’ll be by their side and mean it.)
I believe sharing my story is important. I want to demystify cancer, and share the importance of prevention, early detection and advocacy, and share practical advice for surviving and thriving.
It’s a mission I don’t take lightly.