Several weeks ago I met a woman named Janet, a friend of a friend who, like me, is a young mother with metastatic breast cancer. There are about a million other things that would likely have led us to friendship anyway, but unwanted intimate knowlege of the particular agonies, fears and triumphs of life with metastatic breast cancer is a pretty powerful common ground to share.
Janet has been at this cancer thing for a few years longer than I have, and she really knows her way around. I thought I was informed and self-advocating? Next to Janet I look like a bit of a slacker. But the great thing is she’s a natural mentor, with an indomitable nurturing streak and a determination to empower other people. She simply can’t stand the idea of cancer bullying anyone, and she does what she can to stop it from happening.
To me it seemed as though she appeared right out of the clear blue sky just when I most needed her, and so I started calling her my guardian angel. It’s true: I write “Flap Flap” in the subject line of my e-mails to her, and I swear when she sits down at my kitchen counter for a chat I sometimes see tiny downy feathers floating through the beams of sunlight in my kitchen. Probably not auras.
Anyway, back before we went to Detroit, Janet was at my side making sure I knew that there were lots of ways for me to keep actively fighting this cancer, even if I wasn’t yet enlisted in a clinical trial. At a time when I felt abandoned by the hospital and health system, Janet offered practical, tangible things I could do, people I could contact, steps I could take so that I wouldn’t feel helpless; like a sitting duck in cancer’s crosshairs.
And one of the greatest gifts Janet gave me was to introduce me to Constantine. He’s been one of Janet’s secret weapons in her own uphill journey with this beast, and if she’s a guardian angel, he’s a superhero. She found him on the peer-to-peer cancer support site No Surrender where (under the web name “Edge”) he acts as resident medical researcher. What that means is that Constantine responds to cancer patients’ questions about treatment options and myriad other confusing matters with clear summaries of relevant cancer research compiled from innumerable credible sources around the globe. Constantine himself is not actually producing the research in question – which means he remains an impartial and unbiased third-party. What he does is gather, evaluate and present findings to people who would otherwise be unable to find and make sense of the facts they need to make informed choices about their survival. And Constantine does all this for free.
So, while I haven’t actually seen the cape, I think it’s fair to say that there’s some pretty superhuman generosity of spirit at work here. The sheer volume of information that he compiles is in itself overwhelming to contemplate, but that he then examines case-by-case requests for specific information is giving to a degree I can barely fathom. And not just because I suck at research and statistics and would rather have my toenails pulled out than have to do it myself. Anyway, I’m deeply grateful to Constantine for his continued guidance, and always to Janet for taking me under her gigantic wings.
I’m telling you, angels and superheroes… they walk among us.