Friday, October 23, 2009

First Connection

One of the things I do as a volunteer for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is First Connection. We are in a national database for LLS, and when someone newly, or even not so newly, diagnosed with a blood cancer calls LLS and wants a First Connection contact, one of us is contacted by LLS to give that person a call. They just want to talk with someone who has been through it, who has had to face down that beast that we call cancer. And as a survivor, it feels great to chat with someone and maybe help lesson their fear at bit.

So tonight I was asked to call a man with Hodgkin lymphoma. He is in a state far away, and is almost done with his treatment. For privacy purposes, I will call him “Joe.” This is the first time in perhaps a year that I have been asked to call someone. Talking to Joe, and hearing about some of the things that he has gone through, reminds me of how difficult it is to go through cancer. He is doing pretty good, and just got back to work. Like me, he suffered lung damage during chemo, although it sounds like his might be more permanent. Unlike me, he never lost his hair or got really nauseous from the chemo, although he said he got very tired. He said “I guess I am not really a cancer survivor yet.” I told him that he sure was, and that you are a survivor from that first diagnosis. It was nice to talk with him, and I think he appreciated the call.

I’ve probably called about 7 or 8 people now as a volunteer over the past few years. Some of them were doing great, others were in a terrible position – no health insurance, too sick to work and no disability insurance. Some were very upbeat, others much more discouraged. Some had great support from family and friends, others had virtually none. I got in contact with one man the night before his first chemo, and at the end he told me something that made me feel great, and that I have always remembered. He told me that he had been terrified about the next day, but after we talked he felt calm, and that his fear was gone. He said that he just needed to go in there and do the treatment, but that it would all turn out in the end. Another man I called wasn’t home, so I identified myself as an LLS volunteer to his wife, and she was desperate to talk to someone who had been through this. We talked for a good half hour, and she was so fearful about what her husband was about to go through.

Bottom line – this is a really good program that LLS provides, and it helps people out, if they request the call, at a really tough time. Because I can tell you from personal experience that when you hear those words from the doctor – “You have cancer” – it is like getting kicked in the gut. You wonder how long you will live. You worry about losing your job. You worry about leaving loved ones behind. You have hundreds of thoughts racing through your head all at the same instant, and you can hear the doctor talking but you can’t really understand for a few seconds. If from my experience seven years ago, I can help someone out now, to make the road even a little less fearful, then I am glad that I have the opportunity to do so.

So if you, or someone you know, are diagnosed with a blood cancer, contact LLS and ask for information, and for a First Connection volunteer. We are there to help you.


Cheryl said...

Hi Art...that is just such a fantastic thing to do. Like all illnesses unless you have experienced it, it is very hard to understand.
As I told you in a past comment my husband had cancer......and won the battle.....watching and supporting him through those years is something that will stay with me always. I felt honoured to take the journey with him......

Wonderful scheme.....

Racn4acure said...

Thanks Cheryl. That's exactly the idea, that someone new to these often scary illnesses can learn from talking to someone who has been down that road.

I remember you telling me about your husband. I am so glad that he continues to do well. I know that it is a rough fight, and having the support of loved ones helps tremendously. Art