Timely Awareness

Occasionally, unexpected and unplanned things happen in your life. Some things are good, others are not. My blood cancer diagnosis was one of those “not so good things.” Out of the blue, it was just there. One day I was OK and the next day I was hosting an unwelcomed guest. Sadly, it was not my first run-in with cancer. Years before, I experienced defeating cancer through the joys of undergoing surgery, hormone therapy, and eventually, 8 weeks of radiation. I soon learned that evicting my new unwelcomed guest was going to require a journey into the brand-new world of chemotherapy.

If you had mentioned blood cancer to me in June of 2020, my reaction would have been – "Thank you, but that’s not my focus as I have this other thing I am dealing with. It’s that 'good cancer' that only men can get."

A new sense of urgency

Thirty days later, July 4th proved to be a challenging and confusing day that was filled with conflicting projections on what caused my significant chest and abdominal pain. In the weeks that followed, I found myself entering a new world of testing, retesting, scans, biopsies, more scans, the installation of a chemo port, and finally, the start of chemotherapy. Wow, suddenly my interest in blood cancer took on a new sense of urgency.

Perhaps I am a bit odd, but prior to my diagnosis I had little to no interested in the topic of blood cancer nor could I come close to pronouncing things like Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia nor could I keep up with the meanings of the many abbreviations like, AML, ALL, APL, CLL, CML and the endless alphabet list of blood cancer abbreviations that go on and on. I eventually did learn that NHL did not stand for National Hockey League. It turned out those 3 letters would forever change my views on the need for awareness when it comes to blood cancer.

My prior exposure to blood cancer was limited to an incident 40 years earlier when my brother-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia. For me, that was what blood cancer looked like. I never thought of the many other types. When I learned I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, I mistakenly presumed it was a tumor in the lymph nodes that would be treated with surgery or radiation. It never occurred to me it was a form of blood cancer.

How can we raise awareness for blood cancer?

So here is the question: how do you go about raising awareness of blood cancer in September, or for that matter, any time of the year, if people do not think it applies to them? You can shout it from the rooftops to anyone who will listen (and I do) OR you can chat about it on social media and write articles (and I do), but the question remains how do you get people to ask you about it?

One surprise happened recently after I changed my watch band from dark gray to red. At the time I just was having a fun fashion moment. The number of people who noticed the color and made comments was surprising. On a whim one day I said it reminds me of my bout with blood cancer. Since then, I cannot tell you the number of times that red watchband has opened a discussion on blood cancer awareness.

Is this a mind-blowing or earth-shattering awareness breakthrough? Nope, but occasionally and unexpectedly those unplanned things just happen in life are hard to explain.

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