We need heroes. Heroes show us light in the darkness, the way to the miraculous and ignite a fire in our soul to survive. They prove what is truly possible, through the fog of the impossible. We mourn the disgrace of Lance Armstrong because he seems to have achieved Pyrrhic victory. Let us not doubt; whatever his frailty as a man, Armstrong vanquished a terrible foe; moreover the path blazed is not bare, for everywhere are cancer heroes.
- The 45 year old RN raising her children while she works full time in a pediatric intensive care unit, celebrates her eighth year in remission from pancreatic cancer, treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
- The grandmother who ignored a breast mass for two years so she could care for four disabled grandchildren, and when the tumor grew to be massive, continues to take care of the children while receiving chemotherapy.
- The hospital chaplain who has suffered from cancer, sits at the bedside holding a hand, sharing a smile, saying a prayer that is heard deep in the heart and to the heavens above.
- The 71 year old with four different cancers, treated with a bewildering mix of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, whose primary worry is the cardiac care of her husband.
- The 64 year old rescue squad volunteer while receiving chemotherapy and radiation for extensive lung cancer, assists 150 people to flee from their homes and escape the wrath of Sandy.
- The national lymphoma expert, who could be wealthy in his own clinic, instead devotes his life to teaching and research, believing he can save more lives by consulting and advising oncologists in communities around the country.
- The metastatic colon cancer patient who despite the stress and pain of revealing personal battles, exposes herself by writing a book so that others may have an easier path.
- The grandfather who designs the timing of his entire chemotherapy regimen, including when he will have side effects, so that he can be at the Chuck E. Cheese birthday party of his five year old grandson.
- The man with 25 years of metastatic melanoma, who baffles the doctors every time they look at his scans.
- The husband who remembers his wife, fallen to breast cancer, by devoting large parts of his life to protecting other women from by raising dollars for free mammograms.
- The hospice nurse with diabetes who leaves the blankets of bed on an 16 degree winter’s midnight to help a family she has never before met, sooth the pain of their father as he lives his last hours.
- The 31 year old with metastatic breast cancer that pushes through treatment side effects to assure that Christmas morn is perfect for her family.
- The chemotherapy nurse who watches her husband die from cancer, but returns to the battle so that others may live.
- The 101 year old cancer victor who complains that, “If I had known I was going to live so long, I would have finished college when I was 70.”
- The oncologist who makes hospital rounds at 6:00am accented with love, intelligence and ridiculous humor.
- The brother who despite a near pathologic fear of needles and doctors, donates his own bone marrow so that his sister has a small chance of cure.
- The 85 year old woman who only leaves her house for only two hours each week, so that she can be home to take care of her husband in his battle with prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s.
- The couple, both with cancer, who year after year insist on leading high school field trips to Disney World.
- The 77 year old woman with advanced chronic leukemia who despite being frail and nearly blind, tells her kids that everything is fine, that they should go on with their lives.
- The daughters of the 77 year old woman with advanced chronic leukemia who do not listen to her reassurance and sacrifice their lives to take care of her.
- The tens of thousands of doctors who volunteer their time to teach medical students and resident physicians, believing they have duty to society and future patients to give back and train new soldiers for the cancer war.
- The millions of men, women and children that march, raise money, volunteer and give of their lives to make us hopeful, healthy and to build a better tomorrow.
They live among us and in their anonymous victories they teach us, lead us and inspire us to glory. They are the foundation of hope. They are light, wisdom and power. These real cancer heroes bless us, every day.
James C. Salwitz, MD is a Medical Oncologist in private practice for 25 years, and a Clinical Professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He frequently lectures at the Medical School and in the community on topics related to cancer care, Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Dr. Salwitz blogs at Sunrise Rounds in order to help provide an understanding of cancer.