Cancer Olympics

The 2020 Summer Olympics finally have arrived a year late in 2021. Tokyo, Japan is the backdrop to host the best of the best in competition. The Tokyo Olympics will be the biggest ever consisting of 339 events and 41 different sports. The four new sports added this year are skateboarding, surfing, karate, and sport climbing.

My sister and I shared a mostly unused skateboard growing up. Our driveway was level but too steep for our blood. I’ve never surfed. I took karate for about a year to feel more confident living abroad. I had no idea what sport climbing entailed. It looks like rock wall climbing, where speed, bouldering, and lead are scored.

Bouldering is a fun word.

What did you do today? I bouldered. I went bouldering. Fun, right?

I posed the question to my sister about which Olympic sport she would do if she were competing. She chose shotput because all you had to do was turn around and throw a weight as far as you could. I chose to compete in a horse equestrian competition. I don’t know how to ride a horse, but it seemed like the physical work rested with the horse and any finesse and skill rested with the rider. Of course, there is much more involved with both sports. Neither of us is overly athletic. I am at best a beginner in the many active things I try.

I’ve enjoyed tennis throughout life. If I get to imagine my expertise in an Olympic sport, tennis would suit me very well. Badminton was a sport I was always good at. I have a lot of fun memories with badminton.

I segued these thoughts into pondering about cancer. If there were a Cancer Olympics, what would it entail?

We have our sprints where we want to get through something as quickly as possible. Maybe it’s a bout with nausea. Maybe it’s intense muscle, joint, or bone pain. Or scans we repeat every few months. It’s safe to say we want to push through cancery things as quickly as possible and get back to living our lives.

Hurdles are high and constant. Scheduling and rescheduling hurdles. Insurance obstacles. Pharmacy barriers in our path. Lab numbers that must be met to qualify for a race. Cancer in general has many hurdles. They are endless if you have a metastatic diagnosis.

Cancer havers run marathons to keep going. Long hauls are measured in time and difficulty. Stamina is an important part of fitness. On the last night of a recent Door County vacation, my sister told me I had stamina. It was a huge compliment. And I believe it to have been true on our trip. I knew I’d have to be prepared to be on the go all day. I conserved energy where and when I could. I ignored how badly neuropathy was aggravating my feet. I plastered on the smile and didn’t complain. I surprised myself how well I did on the trip.

We do gymnastics balancing on a cancer beam as we gracefully walk, leap, and flip along. How do we do it? It looks effortless. We don’t look sick at all! We’re fine, just fine.

Other sports like weightlifting and boxing lend themselves well to cancer Olympics. Remember just because we carry something well doesn’t make it easy. Getting knocked down and always getting back up one more time is exhausting, especially when you don’t know what’s next. Stamina comes into play again.

Research is a team sport like volleyball, basketball, or relay races. I’d like research to work more in tandem with one another when possible. I feel some trials could be carried out across the country and apply to a wider section of people, hence making results and outcomes even stronger. Let’s work together as a team.

Well, I wondered what others thought about the idea of a Cancer Olympics. I asked for input on Twitter and received more answers than I had hoped for. Some cancer havers responded seriously, some added humor, some touched on similar themes and other replies stood out on their own. I’ve made attribution to individuals unless they asked for anonymity.

Question: In what “sport” do you deserve a gold medal?

Treatment and Side Effects

Janice (@JaniceTNBCmets) Gold medal in mTNBC treatment response and duration, although I can’t take credit for it, no skill involved other than enduring toxic chemotherapy & radiation burns. All credit goes to science & pure luck!

Lori (@lori_burwell) Planes, trains, and automobiles. Most transportation ridden to get clinical trial treatment for 2 yrs between my home and NYC.

Anonymous comment: IV pole dancing.

Jill (@missjillo) Waiting. Waiting for results. For tests. For surgeries. For checkups. For appointments. For everything.

Melissa (@rissiekins) Taken over 5000 pills since diagnosis!!

@_BetsyKate Most beanies, hats, scarves and wigs. (I only ever wear the beanies though!)

Sonya (@sonyagoins1) Gold medal in dancing through breast cancer treatments (chemo, double mastectomy, radiation and ongoing chemo). I’m going on a year and still making moves.

Vicky (@VickyStanton09) Gold in steroid induced insomnia over here.

@ThebigCteacher Changing my PICC line dressing with just one hand. They say practise makes perfect, I’ve had plenty of practise!

@brembles Number of failed port sticks. The day before I was released from my stem cell transplant, three different nurses tried and failed to access my port 8 TIMES. I was already incredibly squeamish about the whole process.

Alexander (@AlexanderVancel) 9 months with a partial bowel obstruction, which required a PEG tube the entire time. I couldn’t eat food, I survived on liquid IV nutrition. Yes, it hurt. A lot.

(@thesaltiestcow) Radiation induced cancer 30 years after radiotherapy for teenage bone cancer. Late effects!

Olivia (@lamLIVJames) Gold medal in chemo brain! I have an official diagnosis of Major Cognitive Impairment from multiple sources (chemo, chemical-induced menopause, anesthetic, hormone blockers, and trauma related to multiple medical errors during treatment. I’m permanently disabled (from age 46).

Noel (@AdvocateRoma) Changing careers twice to stay off disability and remain employed when neuropathy and lymphedema prevent me from continuing successfully in my original field.

Multiple Golds

Kristie (@kkbadger1) My gold medal would be earned in port surgeries. I had FIVE between February and April of 2021 to take out and replace a port. Two more if I include the original surgeries in 2012. I’ve had 12 lines of treatment.

Flori (@CANsurvive) Best Her2+ Breast Cancer-grower. 25 years and still growing new crops with no GMOs. Most body parts relocated to “breasts” (5!). Longest Infusion times for Herceptin: 6hrs 24min. Most Annoying Patient. World Class user of the word FUCK while having Brain MRI.

Silke (@Silke4senate) Recovering my stamina: knocked by lesion pressing on sciatic nerve. Recovered. Knocked by Ibrance. Recovered. Knocked by Piqray. Recovered. Knocked by Xeloda heart attack. Recovered. Knocked out by meniscus surgery. Still recovering. Knocked by bone pain. Hoping to recover.

Ilene (@ilenealizah) Longest plastered on smile, Number of words typed into a text message to explain my condition to a “Normie”, Most losses of family members since diagnosis (same might go for friends), Best economic finagling to get copays and healthcare paid for.

Liz (@lizard817) Not sure I belong on this list just 2.5 yrs MBC. Still on ibrance 125 level. Maybe the number of cancer fractures – all over, all ribs etc… The oncologist 1st PETScan read didn’t use medical terms -“all your bones are mashed, crushed” -teased him about his lack of medical terms.

Linda (@HLindaMahler) I’d be happy for an Olympic medal for “Living with MBC while also sole caregiver of my husband who has Alzheimer’s.” Almost no one asks how I’m doing because his decline is more obvious and I look “fine.”

Gerda (@LoboGerda) I win for recurrences, ya bunch of losers!!!

Big Mama (@BigMama22941275) I don’t need a medal, I’m already a champion. I have won my battles so far, with a huge one ahead. I will not lay down my sword . . . I have a battle to win, even if it’s with my own life . . . I will win.

Patty (@Pattybeatslungc) Perservance, Hope, Faith, Joy

Cancer Centers, Advocacy, Doctors, Scans, and More

@CannotReality I deserve a gold medal for being able to schedule appointments with my oncologist, hematologist, and lab all on the same day. Two of which are in different towns.

Dee (@womenofteal) A medal in reading gyn cancer research journal articles and clinical trial protocols.

@ThanksCancer I deserve a gold in cancer overthinking!

Jessica (@jessicaestes) My 9 year old can sit completely still as a needle comes at her – both her arm for labs and her chest for chemo through the port.

Amber (@tinybuddhamom) Sparring with Doctors.

Nancy (@Nancy_Deol) I would gold medal in constant cancer news reading (Feedly) and hyper vigilance. Or maybe hyper vigilance covers it all.

Chris (@gotthegistofit) Timing my breathing/holding my breath for MRI scans. I’ve got it down to split second perfection.

Diarrhea Dash and Related Races

Rafael (@rafaelmarquez) 15 yard waddle to the bathroom with zero leaks.

Donalyn (@cpddmack) Likely lots of contenders for medal in the pertuzumab dash (with chemo induced anemia – an extra special feat!) and the neratinib dash.

Hilary (@sbl365) Sphincter gold medalist right here.

@MalignantM Fastest time to the toilet.

Family Gold and Other Relationships

Kelly (@stage4kelly) Gold medal in eye rolling at all the people who tell me I’ll beat cancer. Gold medal in making cancer muggles uncomfortable with my chirpy “not dead yet!” answer to “how are you” (with sad eye head tilt).

@FollowHeidi Parenting toddlers and working full time while going through chemo. Also; pregnant at the same time.

Addie (@AddieDvorak) Watch and Wait gold medalist son over here.

Amy (@AmyDemilt) Gold in making everyone else feel better. Saying “I’m fine” and that makes them feel good. Gold for family that doesn’t talk about anything important, especially illness.

Tabby (@tabbypotter) Winner of pretending it’s all ok when most my family on both sides pretends it doesn’t exist.

Chris (@ChrisinMass) My brother’s profanity . . . he would be for sure a gold medalist.

Faking It

Michael (@bodagetta) Pretending I’m ok when I’m really not.

@LBSamuelsson I might be the “I’m fine” gold medalist.

Tracey (@GrinterTracey) Uncurling my fist, instead of putting it in someone’s face, when they say “but you look really well.”

Elizabeth (@ElizCLT) Managing strangers’ feelings.

There is so much involved in Cancer Olympics. Kristina (@kristinabaum) commented she kind of wished there was a Survivor Olympics. She lists on her profile she is a distance runner and a triathlete. Best wishes to Kristina in her competitions. I get the feeling she could kick ass in any competition she enters. I wish I had that athleticism. (This is a good time to picture me trying to clear a hurdle.) I can’t speak for Kristina, but my feeling was she wanted the opportunity to prove that a person can come back stronger or just as strong as before diagnosis and completed treatment.

I get it.

But there are too many survivors, too many who have died, and too many who are living with metastatic cancer. We ALL deserve gold if we have heard those chilling words, “You have cancer.” We could fill Ft. Knox. Fund a cure. Not have a Cancer Olympics.

Terri (@6state) had a similar comment about affirming what her body could achieve after cancer. Rowing is her sport where she’d medal as she did it in college. She wrote she now rows at the gym to maintain her health after 6 surgeries, chemo, and radiation. I love that she acknowledged how I often feel when I exercise or have to prove to myself I can do something. She wrote rowing “gives me affirmation after that assault, my body didn’t betray me.” Terri does not have metastatic disease. I unfortunately do. In the metastatic world, my body betrays me a lot, and yet I’m lucky I still have it.

Robin McGee (@TCOrobin) has written an award winning book titled The Cancer Olympics. I may have to check it out. The cover features a photo of those continuous hurdles. Tony Collier (@ethansgrumps) blogs about living with prostate cancer. He replied his gold medal would be in perseverance. Thanks to both Robin and Tony for sharing their related work.

Endurance and stamina come through in all the responses. Somehow, we keep getting through unimaginable things where all our training is in the moment with new situations. I am grateful to everyone who shared their thoughts and part of their cancer experience. I am touched by your honesty and still laugh at those touches of humor.

Thank you.

We are all gold medal winners.