If you watch any TV, you know that there are aliens, werewolves and vampires among us. To most of us, they look like ordinary people, but a few have special powers to see, like a Grimm’s power to see the Wesen in Portland.
I never had any of those powers. I never met a vampire, werewolf, an angel or a witch (that I knew of). But increasingly, I do see kidney cancer survivors today when I wouldn’t have seen them in the past. We recognize one another and bare our souls, while others engage cocktail chitchat or debate the pool temperature.
It happened first in an American Cancer Society Walk for Life in 2008, when a coworker told me her story, something from her health history she had not shared with anyone else from work. As I did more advocacy, I met more survivors, all with remarkable stories. And I began to know them before the story came out.
A few weeks ago at a physics meeting, I told my husband Gary’s kidney cancer story as an explanation of why I did temporary work. I was talking with a young man I’d just met. When he looked at me intently and asked, “Has how you view time changed?” in an instant, I knew he was a survivor.
His whole story was amazing, Stage IV testicular cancer, six lines of treatment, including a failed bone marrow transplant. And for 10 minutes, we were the only people in the room while we talked about time and how our perception has changed with prognosis. He relayed wondering if he or the squirrel crossing in front of him would live longer. We talked about how working felt, and I shared the tentative way in which Gary and I had returned to a profession we shared and finally began to miss. I suspect the connection he and I had in that few minutes was something neither of us could have had with anyone else in the room.
Today, I overheard a woman talking about triathlons at the pool, and I approached her, since competition in a triathlon is emerging as a goal for Gary. I mentioned his health history, and she touched her port scar and told me briefly that she had her own history. We stood and talked about how survivorship changed people, making them tougher and kinder. The story she related of her 12 year old standing up to her peers when a classmate was belittled for a health problem touched me deeply. The young woman told her mother sympathetically about her classmates, “Maybe they never had to do anything hard.”
I believe now I always met survivors, but I didn’t take the opportunity to say, “How has it changed you?” Opening my eyes and asking that question has changed me.
One reason we post on this blog is to help you get to know survivors. We created KCCure to help make more of them.