I had no idea that being in the same room as someone who passes away can be a "gift." Mainly because that had never happened to me before. And if asked, I would have said, "How awful."
Yet, being with Mom for her last breath, was anything but awful.
Cynics call October "Pinktober." I am not a cynic. But I feel a little sad when October ends only because many companies and journalists redirect their attention to other "seasonal causes" that sell their products and newspapers, viewers and ratings.
Their Pop is the one they saw last month, the last time they saw him. The Pop that was not feeling well that day. The Pop that slept most of the day, but still managed to get up and spend some time with them.
Increased volunteer participation in trials offers patients access to cutting-edge treatments and contributes to the development of better treatments to prolong life and eventually drive those cancers into remission.
When my parents and I first stepped foot inside the Zentralklinik in Bad Berka, Germany, last year, my first thought was: This looks like one of those miraculous places in documentaries where people with impossible medical conditions go, and then come out without them.
Cancer is not a competition. Oh, well, it is if you ask Official Pancreatic Action -- their latest ad campaign features a picture of a woman, with a bald head (presumably from chemo), and next to her is a quote, "I wish I had breast cancer."
BRCA is a difficult gift. Having a hysterectomy and double mastectomy was no picnic, but I've learned so much, gained new insights and made so many friends I never would have met otherwise. It's led me down paths I never expected, but in spite of it all, I love my life and I'm glad I was born.
I have a lot to be thankful for this November. I am a living example that there is hope in beating the odds against pancreatic cancer. I am a competitor. And in the race against pancreatic cancer, I know together, we can win.
This day is also about remembering the heroes who are still here, who touched our lives and held our family up as we struggled to process our enormous loss and rebuild our lives in the years that followed.
With the knowledge we now have in hand, the collaborations underway through this consortium and other initiatives, and the outstanding scientific capabilities of these world-class institutions, there is reason for great optimism in the face of pancreatic cancer's grim reality.
While individual health care decisions in the wake of a cancer diagnosis belong to the patient, there are some questions that my mother asked -- or didn't know to ask until things went awry -- that may be helpful for others to keep in mind when chemotherapy is presented as an option.