BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
Once there were and there were not …
Rogue, runaway terror cells can hijack your body and multiply unchecked. They will eventually kill you unless you stop them.
We call them cancer, and for several weeks now, not a day has gone by that I haven’t had to write about cancer at work, interview cancer patients, hang out with friends when talk turns to cancer, or see a movie about cancer.
My cousin died of cancer at 14, my aunts battled it, and a good friend’s father was diagnosed with breast cancer a bit too late, always reminding me that men are not spared when it comes to this specific type of cancer generally associated with women.
During a mad dash weekend trip to Little Armenia to attend a wedding a few weeks ago, I sat with friends at El Cayote on Beverly and heard the story of a young Armenian women. I had met her years ago when she was working to keep others healthy at a hospital. She had recently been married, and soon after her wedding, she found out she had cancer.
My friends plotted about how to help the young lady find a possible bone marrow match, how to raise money, how to get the word out through social media and help her in the fight of her lifetime.
The following two weeks I spent writing stories about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Honolulu this weekend. Then for some R&R I went to the movies, taking a chance on the next movie that was going to screen at Ward Center and being emotionally moved by what turned out to be the powerful cancer drama titled “50/50.”
Only a few days after spending time writing more about cancer, the new Gus Van Sant film opened at the Kahala Mall, and I had to see it. “Restless” turned out to be about cancer also.
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We can’t escape this disease, especially this month, which as been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbons, pink posters, pink banners are everywhere from TV to the grocery store, and for good reason. 230,000 thousand of us in the U.S. alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
Most of you, women, know about the importance of annual mammograms and monthly breast self-exams, and I’m sure all of you know at least one person who has had to battle one or another form of cancer. But knowledge and prevention, eating right and exercising aren’t the only thing we’re all required to do.
As part of a community and the human race, we should all continue learning about all that is happening on the local and global fight against cancer. It’s our duty to read, learn, and do what we can to support researchers and rally for the organizations like the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, which are giving cancer patients a chance to continue their fight.
One of the ways businesses on Oahu are helping fund cancer research and helping local cancer patients is by selling pink products. The dollars raised here are going to a number of programs that help hundreds, including Lani, a Wai’anae woman I met for one of the stories I had to write.
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After she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went under the knife, Lani had to endure three rounds of chemotherapy over the course of one long year.
“There were times I just wanted to quit,” she says. “I didn’t want it anymore.”
She had trouble sleeping, experienced hot flashes, dry mouth, and everything, she says, tasted metallic. Even Lani’s skin began to bruise.
“The traumatic moments is when you start losing your hair,” says Lani. “You start swelling up, you look pale, and you look really, really sick. That was more traumatic for me. It was hard physically and emotionally.”
What made things even more difficult for Lani was losing sensation in her fingers and feet and accidentally burning herself around the house.
They call it neuropathy, and patients undergoing chemo tend to suffer from it. Nerve endings are damaged and they can’t feel the hot water from the tap or in the shower. They can’t tell whether a pot they’re picking up from the stove is too hot to touch. Lani talked story with me, telling me about how she kept burning and scalding herself, wasn’t able to feel the buttons when putting on her clothing, and she couldn’t feel the sand under her feet and she and her husband would take their five kids to the beach.
And why I wanted to share her story with you is because at every level in our collective fight against cancer, there is hope. There are solutions. There are remedies, and only by reading and educating ourselves can we be aware of them ourselves and share this knowledge with others who may end up benefiting.
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Lani, the mother and wife from Wai’anae, saw a sign in the oncology waiting room at the local hospital that was promoting acupuncture sessions, free of charge. The treatments were being made available by an acupuncturist who had applied for a grant from the Susan G. Komen foundation. The poster promised help with the symptoms of chemotherapy and radiation therapies like nausea, hot flashes and insomnia.
“It really is effective to alleviate or reduce the symptoms for cancer patients, and not just breast cancer patients,” said Jane Tsuchiyama, the acupuncturist who had applied for the grant. “Breast cancer patients tend to be treated with platinum based chemotherapies, and these seem to create neuropathies. That’s one of the areas I’m really interested in, because the results are tremendous.”
Lani, who had always cringed at the idea of needles and acupuncture before, decided she had to give it a try. Her doctors had said the tingling and loss of feeling in the fingers and feet may be permanent, but she had to take a chance.
“I had my first acupuncture treatment on a Friday,” she says, “and Saturday and Sunday, we went to the beach. Saturday, I could feel a little bit of temperature change on my fingers, not my feet.”
The following day, when her bare feet touched the sand, this breast cancer survivor could again feel the grains. Lani says she knew she had beaten the rogue, terror cells in her body. She was getting her life back.
She looked out at the ocean of possibilities, started to cry, and then exhaled.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.