Surrender 35: World Cancer Day

I was aware that today was World Cancer Day, however, I didn’t intend to write about it. I didn’t want to write about it. I hate cancer. I pushed the idea of doing anything or blogging about it away most of the day. And yet, the topic of cancer popped up over and over today, partly, I’m sure, because of the day of awareness. 


Although my family has not been as hard hit as many have by this disease, we have not been untouched. 

My sweet daddy passed away after a valiant two year battle with pancreatic cancer. That was almost six years ago. Greg’s brother Ray, my Grandma Mildred, my cousins Bill, Steven and Mindy, Uncle Dale…all succumbed to this disease as well. One of my clients, who is also my friend, just found out his young adult daughter has stage four glioblastoma. One does not have to look far to find someone affected by the ravages of cancer. 

 One of my favorite pictures of my dad, cuddling my daughter Adriel.  

I reluctantly looked up info this afternoon, about World Cancer Day, which launched in 2000 with the purpose of raising awareness about cancer, promoting research to cure and prevent the disease, and improving treatment. This year’s theme is “We can, I can”. 

Thankfully, there was good news from the American Cancer Society. There are 14.5 million people alive in the US who have or had cancer. And while individual cancer mortality rates vary, depending on the type, the five year survival rate for all US cancers diagnosed between 2005 – 2011 is 67%. That’s a 19 point increase since 1977. 

The bad news is that 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year. The leading cancers are lung, breast, bowel and prostate. 

World Cancer Day wants to continue shrinking the burden of cancer, according to its website. In keeping with its theme, organizers have suggested certain goals. Collectively, they said “we can” inspire action, create healthy environments, build a quality workforce and shape policy change. They suggested “I can” understand that early detection saves lives, support others, return to work and make healthy lifestyle choices.


For me to take a “head in the sand” approach to cancer serves no one, helps no one. I at last realized that my reluctance to recognize this day was a way to pretend that the disease doesn’t exist. My resistance clued me in to the fact that I was taking myself out of the flow. I don’t want to do that, or pretend any longer. I checked in with my friend, asking about his daughter. I researched what’s going on in cancer research, discovering there are some promising treatments and possible cures being developed. 

And I found an awareness raising campaign, Talking Hands, in which this year’s motto is written on the palm and a photo taken. The pic is shared on social media with the hashtags, #WorldCancerDay and #WeCanICan. The photos will be collected on the site. I wrote on my palm with a purple marker, for my dad, because pancreatic cancer uses a purple awareness ribbon. 


ESPN anchor Stuart Scott said, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.” 

My dad taught me the truth of this. My dad decided to live every day of his life, doing what he loved to do. Cancer didn’t win. Dad won. He also taught me that how you face death is as important as how you live your life. He faced his with courage and grace and even humor. And he loved us all through the experience, before he said goodbye. Thank you for such an amazing gift Dad. I love you. We can…I can…raise awareness…and beat cancer. 


Day 272: The Fault in Our Stars

the fault in our stars poster

Tonight was movie night! In keeping with my desire to not shy away from movies that tug at my heart and provoke my tear ducts, I selected a film I wanted to see, but would have avoided before this year. I’ve missed so many sad movies during my life. I’ve yet to have a “keep a box of tissues nearby” movie marathon, but I’ve stopped shying away from my emotions. I’m glad. I don’t want to miss any more great movies.

The Fault in Our Stars features Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell and Willem Dafoe. It was directed by Josh Boone and is based on the novel by the same name, written by John Green. This drama romance is rated PG-13, for the theme, brief sexuality and minor strong language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) are teenagers who have fallen in love for the first time. Yet they are anything but typical teenagers. Hazel’s constant companion is an oxygen bottle, while Gus walks with a slight limp, due to a prosthetic leg. And they met at a cancer support group for youth. Their journeys have sharpened their wit and given them a stark perspective on life. Although both have been in treatment and are currently stable, they know, with a solemn certainty beyond their tender years, that their days are numbered.

Hazel shares her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with Gus. The main character, Anna, has leukemia and the story ends, mid-sentence, when Anna dies. Hazel and Gus want closure to the story, needing to know what happened to the other characters in the novel, and embark on an adventure to Amsterdam, to meet the reclusive author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). Although the alcoholic writer is rude and cryptic in his responses to the teens, the trip ignites the love building between Gus and Hazel. In the midst of their blossoming romance, Gus reveals that his cancer has returned.

Although they could wallow in self pity and rail against the unfairness of life, Gus and Hazel instead live all the days that are given to them. Hazel, who is the narrator of the tale, says they didn’t always hang onto their courage and humor, but for the most part, the young adults lived with grace and dignity and purpose. Hazel, for much of her young life, felt a responsibility to remain alive for her parents’ sake (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell). She feels a sense of release when she realizes her mom and dad will feel pain at her loss, but they will live with that pain, much as she has lived with the pain of her cancer.

This was a well done, powerful movie. Shailene and Ansel, who starred together in the movie Divergent, perform wonderfully, playing old souls living short but significant lives. Gus, when asked during the support group to share his fears, says he wants to live an extraordinary life and not slip into oblivion. He wants to be remembered. As his life proves, sometimes embracing the life we are given creates the extraordinary. And being remembered by a few, or even one, is enough. He and Hazel found a way to create a forever, in a limited number of days. He is grateful. She is grateful. I watch a film like this that questions the fairness of life and realize again that life is what it is and by accepting what is, I allow freedom and peace to flow to me, through me. Whether our lives are numbered in days or months or years….many years or a few… we are given that gift of life. We live it. We cherish it. We are grateful to share it and enjoy it.

The film opens with Hazel saying, “I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories.” I was struck by that. I rewound and replayed that segment several times and let the words sink in. I have not wanted to hear sad stories. I have been afraid of sad stories because of the emotional upheaval they brought into my life. I have a choice as well about whether to receive sad stories. They can undo me, emotionally, without unraveling the fabric of who I am. I choose to hear. And be impacted by them. Gus says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world. But you do have some say in who hurts you.” Like him, and Hazel, I am okay with that.

the fault in our stars quote