In Honor of My Brother

Recently, my brother passed away from cancer.  I have no doubt many of you have experienced similar situations.  My family is coping with my brother’s death, but like any such loss, we are struggling to fill the void left behind by his absence.  He is in our hearts forever, but that does not change how much we miss him here on earth.  There is never enough time.

My brother was married with children, and they took on his care.  My contribution was to call and give him a pep talk to keep fighting.  During those conversations, we talked a lot about cancer and research, doctors, nurses, doctor’s visits, pain, sleep, and comfort.  We talked about vitamins and supplements, whether he was or was not taking them, how much, and when.  Of course, we talked about love and family too.

Half way through his year long struggle with cancer, I came up with a few notes, a compilation of information gleaned from our conversations and family members.  Based on the amount of information we shared, you’d think he was fighting cancer for a long time – well in fact he was.  You see, his wife had cancer for 3 years, and she was only a few months in remission when he was diagnosed with the same type of cancer.  Two of our cousins also passed away from cancer during the same timeframe.  So, really, he fought cancer for a very long time.

And this is the information I wish to share on my brother’s behalf – HOW TO FIGHT CANCER.  Though he lost his battle with cancer, he became an expert advocate on cancer treatment, and the quality of life as a result:

  1. SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ACTION TO TAKE; FIGHT CANCER AS A TEAM. Build a personal support system to help fight cancer – chances are better if we do.  We know for a fact that two or three sets of eyes and ears at every appointment results in more and better information and treatment.  The team is the watchdog.
  2. GET SECOND AND THIRD OPINIONS. Yep, need to get a second and third opinion.  This increases the probability of an accurate diagnosis and sets the tone with the medical support team that we mean business and will hold them accountable.
  3. KNOW THY CANCER. Make sure the doctor shares everything s/he knows about the cancer diagnosis, then go online and do the research on your own.  Initially, spend hours online asking questions and discovering the nature of the cancer, and continue research as a lifelong project.  Every cancer is different, therefore every treatment can be different.  Require a DNA profile of the cancer so the doctor can develop and apply the appropriate treatment plan.  Doctors are human just like us, and s/he cannot possibly know everything there is to know about cancer.  The best oncologists are open to new information.  If they are resistant, find another doctor immediately.  Don’t forget to have regular scans to keep an eye on the cancer in the rest of your body – cancer is sneaky.
  4. KNOW YOUR DOCTOR AND HIS/HER TEAM. Is your doctor a good fit for you and your type of cancer?  Is s/he willing to learn and adopt new and innovative cancer treatments?  Research your doctor and his/her credentials.  My family prefers an oncologist or specialist outside a hospital setting as the routine physician.  Physicians in an office setting spend more time with their patients because they are not controlled by the hospital or its schedule.  Of course, every doctor must have great relationships and referrals to better hospitals when hospital services are needed.  Whatever your choice, get to know your doctor and his/her team well – by name, birthday, and general preferences.  These people, your medical support team, are your extended family for the long or short haul.  Please remember, these are people, not gods.  They make mistakes just like the rest of us – be patient, but be active in the decisions regarding your life.
  5. SHARE INFORMATION WITH YOUR TEAM. Share research and inquiries with every member of both the personal and medical support teams.  Everyone is a member of the team, and they all bring a different perspective to problem-solving.  Put together a ‘play book’ – track everything.  Don’t be shy when it comes to survival; and don’t be shy when it comes to pain.  If you are in pain, tell the doctor.  It is easier and smarter to address pain when it first starts; otherwise it will become too difficult to manage.
  6. CHALLENGE YOUR MEDICAL TEAM. Discuss alternative therapies with the doctor – motivate him/her to think outside the box.  Cancer comes in many forms, so the treatment must fit your circumstances, not a cookie cutter version of cancer.  This is why it is so very important to keep track of your cancer – get regular scans to keep an eye on the rest of your body.
  7. BE PREPARED FOR AN ASS KICKING. That’s right, family and friends will be there for you to keep you motivated.  Fighting cancer is not only physically draining, it is soul sucking.  You will get tired – of everything.  When you do, you will be kicked while you are down, because people love you, and will do whatever it takes for you to regain that fire in your eyes to take the next step.  So please, yell and shout all you like, but always know those who love you have your best interest at heart.
  8. CONSIDER VITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS AS PART OF YOUR PRESCRIPTION ROUTINES. They help your immune system.  You can find all kinds of great information online – but know your sources.  Check with all your doctor first to be sure there are no adverse interactions with your medications.
  9. BE PREPARED FOR CHEMO – AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Your body will react in ways you never thought possible.  The chemo side effects sometimes cause secondary health issues that will require specialists and more medication than you thought you could possibly take.  Your kitchen counter will look like a pharmacy.  You will feel as if your body is not your own – you may lose your sense of self.  Chemo impacts your mind and body, from “taste buds to toenails” as one family member mentioned.  A good way to counteract this assault is to go big and go better:
    • Prepare the best foods (not expensive) to eat well and eat often – become a grazer (meat and greens) and go organic whenever possible.
    • Take supplements to support your immune system. Drink smoothies and shakes – become a juicer.  See below recipes and list of supplements.
    • Sleep as much as possible – naps throughout the day will be required whether you like it or not, so build a few nap nests with cozy blankets and pillows (silk seems to be a preference for some) minus the alarms and cell phone interruptions. At night, sleep at least ten hours straight.
    • You will get bored, so spend time on your favorite hobbies when you are awake and in control of your body (and mind), but don’t overdo it. You will overdo it, and there will be consequences, so think carefully before you undertake any physical activity that could compromise your recent successes.

I miss my brother along with others who have passed on.  I know I will meet them again someday.  Meanwhile, I will do better at life.  I will take what they left behind in my heart and do better.  I love you, bro.


Additional reading:  Fighting Canine Cancer

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