Luck and Cancer – guest post

Reprinted from LUNGevity, a Linked-In group:

What is Luck?

March 17th, 2011 – by Jill Feldman

I have a wonderful husband, loving children, supportive family, thoughtful friends, a roof over my head, food on the table, great health insurance (very important in my family), etc.   For all that, I consider myself to be very fortunate, but am I lucky?

When it comes to lung cancer, people tell me all the time that I’m lucky. I’m lucky that my cancer was caught early, I’m lucky that I was able to have surgery, I’m lucky that I was armed with knowledge about lung cancer, I’m lucky that I had the lung cancer world at my disposal, etc.  Am I lucky?  What does it mean to be lucky? According to my mom it can be a chance happening, like winning the lottery.  Or she would say that it’s the way that we treat setbacks and how we choose to look at them.

I first faced adversity at a very young age.  I often asked my mom, “Why do bad things always happen to ME,” or “Why are my friends so lucky?”  My mom, who was a very compassionate woman, would tell me that I was going to lead a very unhappy life if I continued to think like that.  She would say, “Your life and your luck are not defined by WHAT happens to you, but rather by what you do with it.”

My mom also faced a lot of tragedy throughout her life, but she always held to her belief that she controlled much of her own luck.  Just six months after my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer we were told that she had a month to live.  I was 28, had a 15 month old, was pregnant with my second child and really didn’t think I could, nor did I want, to live my life without her.  I was hysterical and I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t.  I asked her why she wasn’t more upset and why she didn’t feel cheated.  She insisted that she was very fortunate (or in the broader sense, lucky), and continued to say the following:

“Jill, in the 54 years that I have lived, I have lived the life of an 80 year old, both joyous and tragic. Of course I would love to live to see your baby be born, and I would love to live to see Jack have his bar mitzvah.”  But, she said, “What’s most important, and what I am grateful for, is that I lived to raise my children… which is more than your father was able to do.”

Wow!  Only Susie (my mom) would look beyond herself at that moment and respond with something so selfless and so profound.  She always had an answer like that for everything, and it usually incorporated some kind of lesson!   As devastated as I was and as cheated as I felt, there was such truth in what she said.  At that moment I felt lucky, I felt lucky to have had my mom for 28 years – which was 15 years longer than I had my father.

As far as being lucky that my cancer was caught early… the jury is still out.  My cancer was caught early because I was being screened – we all know that if it weren’t for early detection my fate would have been different.  I was being screened because my mom, dad, aunt and two grandparents died of lung cancer. So, does that mean I am lucky that they all died from lung cancer?  Or, did I look at those losses as an opportunity to be proactive with my own health and create my own luck?   What about the knowledge I had and the relationships I had with the medical community when I was diagnosed?  I learned a lot about lung cancer and developed relationships with doctors and nurses in the lung cancer field through my involvement with LUNGevity.  I was involved with LUNGevity because my mom, dad, aunt and two grandparents died from lung cancer and I needed to try and gain some control over the disease that wouldn’t leave my family alone!  Again, does that mean I am lucky that they all died from lung cancer?  Or, did I decide I wasn’t going to stand back and let lung cancer win; I was going to fight back and use LUNGevity as my vehicle?

What is luck? Is it a chance happening? Is it when knowledge and preparation meet opportunity? I’ve never won the lottery and I’m never in the right place at the right time, so for now I have to create my own luck.  In terms of lung cancer, my luck comes from the way I look at my experiences with the disease and what I do to make sense of them.  But, I will say that I am very lucky to have had a mom who wouldn’t allow me to be a victim and who taught me that much of my own luck is something I can control – my perspective.

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About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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