Our block in San Francisco could start its own cancer support group! Within 100 yards of sidewalk, we’ve got two breast cancer survivors, one lung cancer patient and one bile duct cancer patient.
A couple days ago, I noticed all three of the other cancer patients chatting on the sidewalk. After a few minutes, one of them came up to me. He’s a retired dentist and used to be friendly with my Dad before he died of lung cancer almost 16 years ago. We’ve never actually spoken, but he came up to me that day with a smile, and said, “We have something in common.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that you have cancer,” I said. “How are you?”
“Not good,” he said in a very tired voice. “They only gave me a few months to live, but it’s been three years. My cancer is very rare, but I went back to China to get both traditional Chinese medicine treatment, and modern treatment.”
We chatted for about half an hour. He’s never been in a support group. He doesn’t really have many people to talk to about his disease. As he continued on his daily walk, I noticed how gingerly he stepped down the sidewalk, how washed out he seemed. And yet, he must have steel within to survive so long.
How different it is to have had an obscenely common cancer. Here we are in the Pink Month of Breast Cancer Awareness and everyone is walking, running, signing petitions and making symbolic gestures of support. The teenage daughter of an old friend shaved her head in solidarity this month. As cynical as I am about pink ribbons, I think that’s pretty cool.
But no one is running for bile duct cancer, this neighbor’s affliction. I can’t imagine anything more isolating than having a rare form of cancer: Little research, no community, only your own strength to sustain you.
I suggested he look for an on-line community, but he said most people with his kind of cancer don’t live more than a year. Not much time to link up on the Internet.
How alone my neighbor is. I hope we talk again soon.