We Can Be Heroes

What makes a hero?

There is some debate in the cancer community… is it right to refer to cancer patients/survivors as heroes? A burning building/emergency responder argument is sometimes used.  If a person wakes up in a burning house and struggles their hardest to try to find a way out safely – that person may be a survivor but he or she is not necessarily a hero.  They found themselves in danger and they are just trying to survive.  An emergency responder on the other hand that intentionally runs into a burning building to save someone is most certainly a hero due to that conscious choice – to put themselves in danger in order to help someone else to survive.

The analogy to being a cancer patient is obvious.  We don’t chose to be in our “burning buildings” of cancer, we just find ourselves in there one day – and we do everything we can to get out of it alive. So are we automatically heroes?

That burning building analogy aside, most cancer patients/survivors (and related caregivers!) I have met are in my mind heroes!

Why?  Although the hero moniker may not be automatic, I think how you approach a situation, even if you are there without choice, can designate you as a hero.  And I see evidence of that every day… every direction I look… in the incredible ways I see fellow cancer patients/survivors/caregivers approach their “burning building” of cancer and how it brings out the hero in them…

My thinking through of this topic this morning was caused by a text I read when I woke up.  It told me I was a hero for the advocacy work I do while being a patient myself… I read the text immediately after waking up at about 4AM (all semblance of circadian rhythm has left my body) and in my continued half-asleep state, I wrote the text back below.  It explains, in a way I think I have never written down before, my viewpoint of what I am doing when I do my scientific and clinical trials advocacy.

Looking back at it, I thought it was closer to a blog post than any 4AM text should be – so here it is (with editing for non-4AM improved clarity sake):

I may be doing some heroic things but I think so many people I have met are no less heroes.

I have been blessed with an incredible scientific background & knowledge to help myself upon diagnosis. My initial thought a few years ago was: how could I not share that background & knowledge with my cancer friends who are in need? What kind of friend wouldn’t?

And then my next thought was: how is it fair for me to share just with some people in need (my friends) that “just happen to know me by chance” & not any other fellow cancer patient-survivor-caregiver (everyone) also in need?? How was that fair?

So by logic & basic human empathy, there was only one choice I COULD make – and that was to try to transfer my knowledge to AS MANY fellow cancer patients/survivors/caregivers AS POSSIBLE.

BUT… I am a strict believer in the basic good of the human race… I believe if other patients were in my shoes, if they had my background & knowledge, most people would do the exact same thing. Specific activities aside (not everyone is a writer), they would use their knowledge to help others.  People are intrinsically good.

So am I a hero? Maybe in some ways I am one — by being in the right place at the right time (my unique scientific/clinical trial knowledge in the midst of a fellow patient/caregiver community in need of it) — but I am a hero no more so than the multitudes of fellow patients/survivors & caregivers I see every day.

Many of them are acting as heroes in their own way, based upon their own unique backgrounds when this awful beast called cancer entered their lives.

As an active member of the CRC (and the larger cancer) community, being a member of that community has reaffirmed my faith in humanity on so many levels.  I see so many fellow patients/survivors/caregivers, from all walks of life and backgrounds, approach the disease as true heroes, just of different flavors – from undergoing extreme acts of bravery to medically survive and not give up (acting as a positive & hopeful example for others to follow)… to more directly helping others (in whatever way their background sets them up to).  It is truly an amazing thing to witness and seeing it is a real blessing of my disease.

Looking back at that text… I immediately thought of David Bowie (a cancer patient hero of mine!) and the line from his iconic song Heroes “We can be heroes”….  Although I am not capturing the original intent of the song, thinking about the word heroes, these hijacked lyrics jumped out at me in my very sleepy 4AM mind – except as cancer patients/survivors/caregivers – we are most definitely not just for one day…

We can be heroes, just for one day

We can be us, just for one day

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever

Then we could be heroes, just for one day

9 Comments on “We Can Be Heroes

  1. Tom, you captured the essence of HERO with such realness, your heart of love for others, is always so evident, I am so appreciative of your writings, and am thankful for people such as yourself who use your knowledge not just for science, but to take it into the community and help others on such a personal level. I truly hope you are getting some good rest, and enjoying life with your family. Just so you know, I am a sister to Inky, Marc’s mom. Be blessed! Nancy


  2. Thank you for this post. I love your writings and feel blessed that you are sharing it with us. Today in particular I was feeling sorry for myself and your post helps reaffirm the walk we are on.


  3. Tom I often think of you and the wonderful gift you have given and continue to give to us. I do believe you are a hero. While I would have never wished to have cancer and particularly stage IV cancer, I have learnt that I am tough and brave. So yes, I agree we are heroes. And like you, I believe people are basically good (with a few key exceptions).


  4. AMEN Tom. I feel like you are a “hero” in being able to discuss, help and change people’s lives while fighting this nasty disease. You’ve touched so many lives and have brought out the good in people. We don’t get to witness this everyday but knowing there are folks like yourself out there, makes those of us who are caregivers grateful and appreciative of the opportunities to learn, love and live life. Every day is a true gift and we are to be grateful for this gift no matter how difficult it is. Thank you for your additional gift of sharing!


  5. Thank you, Tom, for continually inspiring us all. That makes you a hero, in my opinion. We just got some not-so-great news from a scan and we are struggling to put a brave face on right now. I am so grateful that your blog post was waiting for us this morning. It helps.


  6. If only I were so coherent at 4am! Anyone who puts their life on the line is a hero and the trials so many participate in not knowing whether or not they will ultimately benefit but knowing the knowledge gained will help us all one day by inching us closer to unravelling the mystery and misery of this disease is truly heroic.Today I shall go home from work feeling, rather than as a incurable stage IV colon cancer patient in her 4th year of chemo and itching to feel normal for a while, like a hero just for a little while.Thank you for your inspiration


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