My Cancer Framily – Jo Ann Madigan

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Happy birthday, Jo Ann! You mean way more to me than any peak into our story can say, but here ya go anyway… 

Stepping out from the bone marrow transplant clinic at UCSF into the jam of bodies crisscrossing Parnassus Avenue, there was only one thing on my mind – everything.

Should I just get back to work and let the cancer run its course? How long could I live in this body and off my savings? Should I move now and lower my rent? Where?? … I wanna quit treatment so bad.

“Where did you go?” Jo Ann asked. “What are you doing up there?” she jokingly sang at me as she twirled her finger up for effect.

Jo Ann knew where I went … inward and down. She was the only person that I let see me like that.

I was deep in treatment for my second cancer diagnosis and had fallen into the necessary habit of masking my fears behind an endless shuffle of younger cancer patient caricatures – the assertive but still-laughing patient, the struggling but ever productive co-worker, the wise youngin in a crowd of elderly patients, or the sensible dying friend who makes you feel guilty about your petty nonsense – people basically saw me however they needed.

Jo Ann was the only one who saw the full range of what cancer did to me.

Stem cell aphaeresis“What he said was that you shouldn’t give up …” Jo Ann said, repeating what my oncologist had just told us after another exhausting failed attempt at extracting stem cells from the painfully unyielding catheter in my neck. Her measured words staked the pros and cons again. But then she came to an abrupt full stop. Seeing that my face had fallen, she ditched what she was saying right there on the sidewalk, fixed her big compassionate eyes on my face, and wrapped me in a hug that pulled me in to set down my worries for a minute without trying to smother the truth. Continue reading →

Stayin Woke with “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation”

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#WomensMarchLA-Sistas Staying WokeWas this really just one week ago? As the horror of the 45th president unfolds each day, the punishment of being forever banished to a high-risk health insurance pool due to my cancer history brews thicker on the horizon … along with many other personal fears.

I’ve been looking back on these photos of protest as a reminder that we can and we will resist. Let’s not forget that 750,000 of us in Los Angeles marched for #WomensMarchLAwomen’s rights in an unprecedented day of protest ignited by the Women’s March on Washington. It spread like wildfire out into cities across the world. We can and we will resist everywhere.

Thanks so much to Jeff Chang for inking his timely new book, We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation. If you want to stay woke, lock down some sanity, and know how social progress can still move forward, this is it. I read it this week, and highly recommend if you’re into credibleWe Gon' Be Alright by Jeff Chang insight and non-alternative facts. Super grateful that I got to hear Jeff speak on it (on my birthday) and grab his autograph on my copy … I wonder if this is the first time he’s signed a book out to a dog?

Facing Chemo Project in VIEWFIND

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Facing Chemo "Tania"Sparking the Facing Chemo project as Robert Houser’s photographic subject, watching him grow it to large scale international reach, and subsequently establish the Facing Light Foundation, continues to be a personally transformative and humbling experience.

“In 2008, photojournalist Robert Houser was nearing the end of a routine magazine shoot for Associations Now when his subject, Christabel, disclosed something that would alter both the assignment and the course of Houser’s career. She said that it was advantageous the shoot was happening now because she was about to undergo chemotherapy and would soon lose all of her hair.

Houser wanted to be able to give her a token to help her get through the experience so he offered to photograph her journey. It wasn’t until five years later, in the middle of her second battle with chemotherapy, that she called him back asking if his offer still stood. Two days later, the two spent a rainy afternoon in her San Francisco apartment drinking tea, eating chocolate and taking photographs.

The experience was so powerful that Houser decided to continue this series, reaching out to a number of cancer support groups and oncology offices in the Bay Area …”

Check the full VIEWFIND feature entitled, In Sickness and In Health.

[Warrior Wednesday] Thanks for the shout, Stupid Cancer!

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Stupid Cancer #WarriorWednesdayName: Christabel Cheung

Connection to Stupid Cancer: I’m a two-time cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and a doctoral student at UCLA doing research on young adult cancer survivorship.

Guilty Pleasure: Escaping to the beach with my dog, Malcolm, and Mint Galactica Coconut Bliss ice cream.

Super Hero Name & Power: My superhero name would be Jade Gangster, because that’s my cancer-blogging alter ego (jadegangster.com)! My cancer gangster superpower would be that I don’t need lungs – kinda struggling ever since I lost half my lungs to cancer.

Favorite Quote/Saying: “Keep finding the courage to be who you are everywhere.” – Mark Nepo
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Diagnosed at 32 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – and then again at 34 – Christabel “trolled the Internet nonstop for answers to [her] questions” only to find, like so many young adults facing the haze and hurricane of cancer, her searches were met with information for “geriatric patients.” That is, until she found Stupid Cancer.

“When I was in the deep with cancer treatments, it helped to know that someone with a similar situation came out the other end, and not just came out alive, but loving life again.” It is this example of “life gets better” that Christabel chooses to embrace and it is these “badass patient-turned-advocates” whom she loves to advocate alongside.

The thing is, cancer is never really ‘over.’ Especially not for those who face cancer as a youth or young adult. “Cancer keeps popping up in different ways as I get older, and it’ll probably keep doing that until forever.”

“It’s important for the young adult cancer community to respond to the wide range of social and cultural diversity within this population, so that more young adult cancer patients, survivors, and families can benefit from the movement – and the fun.”

Thank you, Christabel for raising your voice for this movement. “It takes courage to be a ‘cancer story.’ It takes courage to expose [your] wounds and scars, and be a perpetual example of ‘how life gets better.’” Thank you for sharing your story and being that example. #WarriorWednesday

Save your spot for #OMGWest at omgsummit.org (space is limited)