IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
Some people have the mindset that once you hit age 40, you are pretty set in your ways. They think: You know yourself, you know your likes and you know your dislikes. You have after all, had a couple of decades to figure these things out!
Up until recent years, I think I also had that view. Sure there were new experiences I had never done before that would enter my life – but a wholesale embracement of an activity that had been easily available to me to do for many years? Something that I had been exposed to when I was younger and never liked? That seemed pretty unlikely to me.
Until I got cancer.
Cancer does a lot of things to you, both physically and mentally. It does this by forcibly shaking up your previous life in every way possible. In terms of mental impacts, I’m picturing one of those “magic eight balls” – except one that actually works! ha. A survivor is shaken ferociously by the cancer. All previous conceptions of plans, stability, and assumptions are rattled to their core. Then as the interior inky liquid gradually settles, you slowly see what messages start to appear in the window to elucidate your new future.
It wasn’t until after I was 40 that via cancer I stumbled (was thrust into?) one of my current greatest loves: creative writing. Back in my school days I had writing assignments but I finished them as quickly as I could, then I moved on to things I actually enjoyed – like science, music and the outdoors. Writing was a task to do, not something I enjoyed. Partially this is because I can still clearly remember some of my writing from those years. They were horrible! 🙂
My very first blog post, without warning, turned into my first true exercise in creative writing. Not only was it unplanned, surprisingly I loved the results and even more surprisingly I loved doing it! I have always been a voracious reader my entire life. Starting in elementary school, I would often read multiple adult books simultaneously. Perhaps all that reading over the years finally rubbed off a bit in my subconscious. Certainly some of my blog posts are longer than they should be – I’ll blame enjoying pulp fiction from Stephen King starting with The Stand in the 4th grade for that!
After that first blog post in 2015, I started to write more and more. In a continuous fashion, my love of writing grew until now I write, at least a little, seven days a week. It is a part of my life now and I absolutely love it. As the frequency and my love of writing increased, I found new avenues to write and new opportunities presented themselves – one leading to another.
Me, an introverted scientist regularly writing columns for a newspaper with readership in the millions? And loving it???
In a million years I never saw this one coming. Heck, forget a million years – 6 months ago I never saw this one coming!
But only via cancer, it did. And I love doing it.
How do I see the focus and the purpose of my new writing outlet? I see it as complimentary to this blog. A recent component of my advocacy is linking up with Stage IV advocates from other types of cancer – metastatic survivors share many of the same experiences and issues no matter what the anatomical geography of their original tumor – no matter what color their ribbon is. Keeping that in mind, I intentionally write the new column more from the vantage point of a “Stage IV” patient-scientist-advocate than from specifically a CRC one. The newspaper readership audience is also very general – not an audience specifically searching for a cancer blog.
Using my own life as illustration, I hope to illuminate both the positive and negative reality of Stage IV life; to smash preconceptions of Stage IV life; to spread news in layperson terms of oncology scientific progress from the unique viewpoint of a patient-scientist-advocate. Basically, many of the same goals of this blog – but now more succinctly targeted at a much broader audience in contrast to the longer format used & CRC details I go into here.
Since the above goals are very important to me and I honestly feel they need to be done – I am ecstatic and thankful to be given this opportunity!
So far, I have written four columns for The Inquirer and I think all four advance at least one of my goals. The audience feedback has been tremendous with many shares of the columns on social media. The editorial staff have been fantastic to work with. This new project adds to the fact I am currently having the most (unexpected) fun & gratification of my life.
The above photo is from our annual solstice party this year. I LOVE THIS PHOTO! (Thank you Judy Alvara for taking it – you are an awesome photographer!). It captures so much in a single snapshot: joyfully embracing life, having fun with friends like James, Brian and Dave, making waves & breaking the stereotypes of what “Stage IV life” looks like 4-years into a currently incurable diagnosis…
This photo was the basis and anchor for my latest column for The Inquirer “Cannonballing My Way Through Cancer” aka “Living with Stage IV Cancer: I’ve Never Felt More Alive” published HERE. The title changed during the editorial process but I’ll refer to the original Cannonballing one here because I personally liked it 🙂 Please hit the link, read it and enjoy it – because I LOVED both writing it and its message!
Previous columns for The Inquirer include (in chronological order):
- In Seconds, this Cancer Scientist Became a Survivor
- At ASCO, Hope for Cancer Patients Who Need it Most
- A Currently Incurable Summer Vacation
I hope you check them out – they are much shorter than my blog posts (half of my readers sigh in relief ha) and although I am biased, I think they all turned out really well.
For the ASCO-2016 column, although literally thousands of newspaper stories have been written about ASCO meetings, I couldn’t remember ever reading a newspaper story written from a Stage IV patient’s perspective. As key participants in clinical trials (they wouldn’t exist without Stage IV patient participation!) I thought this was something that absolutely needing fixing! As an aside, I also did not like the fact that as far as I know not a single major newspaper covered the huge immunotherapy breakthrough for MSS Colorectal Cancer at ASCO-2016 . So I intentionally changed that fact via this column. That is vital preliminary data for patients and oncologists to be aware of, and it needed broader coverage. As far as I know, my column was the first mention of this immunotherapy breakthrough in a major newspaper. Hopefully this caught the eye of some CRC readers that don’t chose to read cancer blogs!
I now has an updated page on my blog with all my Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper columns organized in one place. I will update that page as columns are published!
My message to non-patient readers – consider reexamining your own activities. Hopefully you can find new loves in life without needing to be rattled by Stage IV cancer first…
For the survivor readers – if you haven’t already, use your new situation to shake things up, push back on your expectations of yourself and others of you. You have cancer – there are few things that can make you more scared or nervous than that. You’ve faced the ultimate in risks, so whatever it is you want to do but haven’t done yet – go for it! Take the leap! Although having cancer sucks, out of chaos and heartache – it is possible for wonderful new things to arise. My current life is proof of that. To life!