Teri Simon, a long-time survivor, author and advocate who passed away from stage IV lung cancer in 2012, gave this speech to an audience of medical professionals last year. We are honored to be able to share it with you.
“On December 2, 2009, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Adenocarcinoma of my right lung. It was a stunning diagnosis, mostly because I had NO predisposing factors for any kind of cancer whatsoever, let alone LUNG CANCER. Over the next couple of months, as I tried to recover from that shock and became a subject in a clinical trial for Tarceva (yes, I am an EGFR mutant), I recalled an old, old riddle:
Why did the Flying Elephant crash to the ground?
Because somebody told him that elephants can’t fly.
It occurred to me that perhaps one way to survive this Lung Junk business was to combine just the right amounts of realism, denial, and hope together. Thus, I became a Flying Elephant.
(Teri Simon has written two books, created an active blog and spoke to patients and medical professionals from the viewpoint of someone with stage IV lung cancer)
“In addition to being a Flying Elephant, I am a number of other things: a mom, a social worker, a friend, a writer, and a Jew.
When I was young, my mom was my Hebrew teacher. She taught that the central part of a Jewish prayer service, the Amidah, was broken down into 3 segments: Goodies, Gimmes, and Thank You’s.
Goodies are the sucking up to God part: God is great, God is awesome, yay, God.
Gimmes are petitions: Gimme this, gimme that.
Thank you’s are self-explanatory.
So here are the Lung Cancer Goodies:
Man, y’all (medical professionals/researchers) ROCK! I participated as an audience member in a LUNGevity webinar a few weeks ago. One of the researchers announced that he’d been working in the field for 15 years, but that it’s been in the past 2 or 3 years that advances have been made at lightning speed. It made me think back to when I was first diagnosed. I never asked “Why me?” but I often asked “Why now?”
Lately, I recognize how lucky I am to have been diagnosed now, now when advances and new discoveries are a daily experience, when there have never before been so many treatment options, so many options for personalized treatment. It’s because of YOUR efforts, YOUR imaginations, YOUR drive, YOUR collaborations. Like I said before, y’all ROCK!
Now the Gimmes….Y’all, I have a loooooooong list of petitions, but for the sake of time, here are my top 5 requests:
- Consider taking tobacco OUT of the lung cancer equation. I spent my life believing that if I never smoked, ate right, and exercised, lung cancer would never happen to me. Well, I was misled. I was duped. I was wrong. If I had a nickel for every MEDICAL provider who asked me if I had been a smoker, I’m pretty sure I could pay for a chemo treatment. Sometimes it doesn’t matter WHY we get a disease, especially when it can’t be UN-DONE. Sometimes it only matters THAT we have the disease, and what we’re going to do about it. The smoking stigma doesn’t help, in fact, it hurts. A lot. As if I deserved this….Anyway, please consider taking tobacco out of the equation.
- Appreciate your study subjects, especially in Phase I trials. These people are literally risking their lives to help make a difference in someone else’s. This deserves gratitude, reverence, attention, and kindness. Your advances are spectacular, but they’d be impossible without those brave study souls.
- Collaborate your efforts and check your ego at the door! You’re brilliant and dedicated; that’s undeniable. But if you work in a bubble and insist on things being “my way or the highway,” you will never appreciate the fullness of discoveries that only happen through sharing. Researcher A might have part of a question answered, but without Researcher B, the rest of the question remains a mystery. Work together and ALL of you can get the Nobel Prize you deserve!
- Don’t forget your humanity. You have lives, your subjects have lives, your patients have lives. Those lives now intersect. Lung cancer sucks. It’s scary and painful and deadly. You might be immersed in numbers and facts all day, but your patients, well, they’re only living THEIR lives, so your “old” information is “new” to them. Please try to remember that in your interactions. To you, it may be all numbers. To us, it’s our lives. Your compassion is VITAL. Truly.
- Care for one another. The only way we, any of us, can manage through this lung junk is if we support one another. The day you experience a clinical triumph may be the very day a colleague suffers the loss of a patient. You know it happens like that. I encourage you to support one another, celebrate together, mourn together. It’s how you’ll keep the drive to keep going.
So now, the Thank you’s. This is the really easy part:
Thank you for getting up every day and being willing to beat your heads against a wall of frustration. Thank you for hoping against hope for your patients. Thank you for thinking outside of the box to get the job done.
Thank you for your passion, compassion, brilliance, drive, and ability.
We appreciate you. Please don’t stop.”