Fight With Me!

The first oncologist I saw after my surgery was Dr. Z.W. at UCLA.  He was trained in Tel Aviv, New York and Los Angeles and had a soft-spoken manner that hinted at a tremendous intellect.  In his very posh office that exuded Southern Californian openness and opulence with its massive abstract paintings that adorned the oversized waiting room, Josh and I got the distinct sense that this was a place that served many Hollywood executives and movie stars.  Josh and I spoke with Dr. Z.W. for over an hour about my diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and much more.  What I remember most about that conversation was its philosophical and existentialist bent.  In his opinion, my cancer was a matter of bad luck, a freak occurrence that had no genetic explanation, much in the same way that someone might have been hit by a falling tree because he left the house a minute later than he had intended to.  Dr. Z.W. couldn’t answer the question of “Why?” and in fact didn’t think there would ever be an answer.  He spoke about how big-wig Hollywood execs sometimes came flashing their money, believing that money thrown then and there would lead to a personal cure.  He would have to explain  that that wasn’t how cancer works; it doesn’t discriminate negatively or positively based on age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class; it is an equal opportunity killer that afflicts the entire human race and doesn’t care about the size of any one person’s bank account.   Dr. Z.W. spoke of how cancer had humbled him.  This man who with his considerable intelligence must have entered the medical profession with all the idealism and optimism of youth, believing that by virtue of his brain power, he would be able to conquer cancer.  He has been humbled by its awesome power to rob the young of their futures so suddenly and unexpectedly.  He has been humbled by its tenacity and complexity, its ability to mutate again and again and outsmart scientists and researchers who have developed drug after drug to defeat it.  

I’ve written before about the awesome force of nature that cancer represents, that each of us who is engaged in our individual war must always respect and show humility before it, that each of us must make our own individual decisions about when to evacuate ahead of the storm once its power becomes too overwhelming.  While I believe all of this to be true, I also believe we stand a better chance when we unite our efforts, when we allow one person’s war to become our own, when we view our individual war as everyone else’s, part of a greater global war that will go on and on until there is a cure for all cancers.  An enemy as formidable as cancer must be met with a unified front.  Of course, the executive who decides when he has cancer to throw money at a doctor to find a cure has little hope of being victorious in his own war.  As they say, too little, too late.  There is no time to ask pointless existentialist question; there is only time to accept, move on, fight and stop this non-discriminating killer of men, women and children, to throw the money at the disease now for a cure in the years to come.

On March 1, I will be participating in Cycle for Survival on the team, Where There’s A Wil (a play on the name of one of my favorite cycling instructors, Wil).  Cycle for Survival is a fundraiser sponsored by Equinox (my gym), in which all proceeds will go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center towards research into, and finding a cure for, rare cancers.  So contrary to what you might have expected from me, this particular fundraising effort will not be specific to colon cancer.  Brain and pancreatic cancer, all pediatric cancers, leukemia and lymphoma, just like colon cancer, don’t get the kind of attention and money they deserve (so overshadowed are they by breast cancer).  These are the rare cancers that Sloan Kettering will target with the monies earned through Cycle for Survival.

I’ve been taking Wil’s indoor cycling classes for years and for years I would hear Wil talk about Cycle for Survival and how everyone should participate, and for years, I thought what a nice cause, maybe next year.  I thought this because I didn’t believe that cancer would touch me, not me who was so young, fit and free of vices, not me who has no cancer in my family; I boasted about the incredible longevity in my family with three of my four grandparents still living in their 90s.  Cancer just wasn’t a part of my life and I didn’t expect it to be for a long, long time, if ever.  Other people’s wars with cancer were other people’s, not mine.

But then, I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at age 37 in July 2013.  At that point, cancer happened to me, and my husband and my two little girls.  It happened to my parents, siblings, and all of my many relatives and friends.  I realized then that I was living and breathing post-diagnosis and continuing my personal war because I stand on the shoulders of those who have fought before me, those first children afflicted with leukemia who suffered unimaginably in the early days of barbaric chemotherapy treatments, those doctors who had the audacity and the vision to do the unthinkable by daring to pour toxic chemicals into the most innocent of our race;  I live and fight now because of them.  And all of their efforts were supported by the very early and primitive fundraising efforts of the activists of the mid twentieth century (e.g., think individuals sending ten cents to the American Cancer Society for cancer research).

Cycling was what I turned to in the days after my diagnoses and surgery as I sought to regain my strength.  I turned to it to fight the nausea and fatigue resulting from chemotherapy and the depression that comes from living with an advanced cancer diagnosis.  It was in the darkness of the cycling studios that I would nurture my will to fight, that I would imagine myself strangling the cancer cells in a vicious bloodbath and there that I screamed my battle cry, Die!  God damn you!  Die! 

So on March 1, I will ride as I have ridden for the last seven months, I will ride as a part of my fight for my life.  But on March 1, I will also ride to fight as part of the global war on cancer.  I will fight for your lives and the lives of your parents, children, siblings and friends, for even if you have no cancer in your family, cancer will touch you somehow, someday.  Sadly, it is just an inevitability of life these days.  I urge you to fight with me.  Even if you don’t ride, you can fight alongside me and all the other millions of men, women and children battling cancer.  Fight for your own lives and for the lives of those you hold dear.  Support me in my ride.  Support yourselves.  Support your loved ones.  Support the very prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering, where the brightest doctors, scientists and researchers in the world work tirelessly and stand ready to do more to find a cure for cancer.  Discoveries and breakthroughs made today, tomorrow, next month, next year, will no doubt help me and you and our children and grandchildren one day.

I believe that a cure for cancer can be found, perhaps within my lifetime.  It’s just a matter of time and money.  Cancer has been around since the beginning of the human race.  Evidence of tumors can be found in the mummified remains of those who lived thousands of years ago.  But treatments and understanding of cancer have only come recently due to the acceleration of technological development  seen in the last few centuries.  Surgery to treat cancer has been available only since the mid-nineteenth century and chemotherapy the 1940s.  The actual molecular mechanisms for understanding the growth of cancer cells only occurred in the 1980s and is ongoing.  It feels like a cure is just at our fingertips.  Brilliant doctors and researchers who labored in obscure, lonely labs can be credited with all the progress that has been made.  And now, there is a new generation of brilliant minds hoping to make the great discovery that will save lives and throw them into the history books, their names forever associated with some great breakthrough in the inevitable march towards a cure for this disease.

Give those brilliant minds that represent the true ingenuity of humanity a chance.  Give them a chance to create a lasting legacy.  Give them a chance to find a cure for cancer.

Support them, me, my children, you and your children.  Join with me in the fight.  Please donate whatever you can through the below link.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debbie whitmore
    Feb 03, 2014 @ 21:29:25

    Julie, you always inspire me. I really hope you publish this blog one day. You don’t realize the gift you have in writing, but it’s so powerful. You are helping so many people. Debbie


  2. Trackback: The Decision (And More) | Julie Yip-Williams

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