Thursday, April 22, 2010

Travel and Cancer Survival, Part One

In the United States, Relay for Life 2010 has just begun, and will continue for the next two months. If you are not familiar with Relay, it's an annual series of gatherings of cancer survivors and friends who work together before the event to raise money for cancer research. Businesses and clubs form teams who raise funds, then go to Relay to walk all night in support of a cure. Survivors are honored, and those who have passed on are remembered. Every year we note the progress that has been made toward curing cancer and eventually putting it in the past, along with bubonic plague, polio, and smallpox.

Great strides have been made, but the fight is not won. I'm a survivor of two different kinds of cancer, which were fortunately common ones that had reliable treatments available--but only because of the research that had already been done. If those treatments had not been available, especially for the type of breast cancer for which I had a form of radiation which was then experimental but now is standard of care, I would probably not be here writing this blog.

As I write, a dear friend with a rare form of cancer is fighting for his life. We still need more research, and not only to save lives. We also need to improve treatments so that they do not destroy survivors' quality of life in order to preserve quantity.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: travel for the cancer survivor. If you have been reading my blog with any regularity, you know that I travel often, sometimes to far-flung parts of the world. You've read about my trips not only to familiar European countries (practically next door) or ultramodern Japan, but also to India and Nepal. My goal is to do what I want to do, and allow cancer to interfere with my life as little as possible.

My first experience with cancer was finding a lump in my breast in spring of 2001. It turned out to be cancer, but fortunately I found it early (it had not shown on a mammogram only six months earlier). Treatment was a lumpectomy and radiation--but for the particular kind of cancer it turned out to be, the recurrence rate was an unacceptable 30%. I started researching, and found that brachytherapy (implantation of radioactive pellets where the cancer had been) reduced recurrence to 5%.

As usual, I had a trip out of the country planned for that summer--this one to Scotland with my friend Lois and her husband Eric. Lois and I wanted to do some research for our children's books about the Loch Ness monster. My good fortune was that Eric was doing cancer research at a teaching hospital, and knew a doctor who was already doing brachytherapy for breast cancer. He managed to get me into the program.

As things worked out, our trip to Scotland fell in between the surgery and the radiation treatment. I had lived a charmed life, and never required surgery before. Those of you not so lucky know how even a very simple surgery like a lumpectomy takes away strength and endurance for weeks and months afterward. Even though I did not yet have the fatigue that radiation treatment produces, on that trip I experienced for the first time the inability to keep up with my friends.

I will continue this blog next week, with tips for enjoying travel even when you are not in the best of physical condition.

In the meantime, if you have enjoyed these blogs, may I ask you to do something for me? Please fill out a survey designed to make you think about how cancer affects your life even if you have never had the disease yourself. It's short--only six questions, and anonymous. You will not even be asked for your email address. Survey Click Here

After you take the survey, you may decide that you would like to do something to support cancer research. If you can't attend a local Relay, then please support a Relay for Life team.

You don't have a team to support? Then please support mine, the 8th Wonders. All of us on the team are breast cancer survivors, and we got our name from the fact that one in every eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. To support my team, just click on this link, and make a contribution online. Your money goes directly to the American Cancer Society, but our team is credited with your donation.

After these two entries, The House of Keon will return to stories of my travels, with lots of pictures.

For a cookbook to complement cancer treatment with nutrition, click here.

Click here for Seven Reasons to Visit India.

The series of posts on my trip to Japan begins here.

The journal of my trip to India and Nepal begins here.

The series of posts on my trip to Italy begins here.

Geezer-Chick's guest blog on York, England is here.

Geezer-Chick's guest blog about a fabulous carousel is here.

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