My little sister has breast cancer. As much as I’d like to write that sentence in the past tense (“had”), a dozen more chemotherapy sessions tell me Liz’s fight is very much current. This being Breast Cancer Awareness Month (as though there’s any month we should not pay attention to this disease), consider this a public-service column of sorts. Surely there’s a woman (or girl) you love: a mom, aunt, wife, daughter, sister. These sentiments are for each of them. (As a longtime member of the KISS Army, I’m obligated to remind the fellas that Peter Criss is a breast-cancer survivor. Men are not immune.) With one in every eight women expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer, the odds are more than likely someone you love will someday take on the fight my sister has. And be grateful for the times in which you live: modern medicine — fueled by the spirit of every last breast-cancer patient — is helping win the fight.
It would be hard to live healthier than Liz Gillespie. She’s never smoked, eats colorful food, exercises regularly, practices yoga, drinks kale smoothies, and generally sees days as sunny, even living in Seattle these last 15 years. She’s happily married to the father of her two healthy children (ages 6 and 8), and pays attention when stresses tell her to rest, both body and mind. A lump she discovered not long after her 41st birthday, though, was enough for Liz to make an appointment with her doctor, hoping to rule out breast cancer. (The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram annually for women starting at age 40, earlier for women at higher-than-average risk.) That appointment, I’m convinced, will be the reason I have a sister if I’m lucky enough to hit 60 (or 70, or 80 . . . ) myself.
Liz is winning her battle. A body scan in August revealed no signs of cancer elsewhere in her system. Her energizing spirit is precisely what you’d expect of a valedictorian, a Stanford grad, a professional writer and communicator. I recently asked her about three tips she’d offer someone facing the same fight she’s entered.
1) Seek a second opinion as soon after your diagnosis as possible. Taking the time to meet with different doctors and hear their answers to your questions about the many treatment options available to you will give you confidence in the path you choose. 2) Share your story with your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors so they know what you’re going through and can give you the emotional support and helping hands with meals, errands, etc. That way, you can focus on you. 3) Eat, rest, exercise, and laugh. Focus on living a healthy and happy (yes, happy!) life day after day. The more you get back to these basics, the stronger you’ll feel as you wage your fight.
I’ve long taken pride in the partnership between Memphis magazine and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. (We’ve produced the event’s official program for 18 years now.) If you need a reason to pick up our current issue, the inspiring stories of survivors — fighters! — should be plenty. Honestly, the section makes for a tough act to follow every November. Come October 31st, my family of four (wife, two daughters) will be running the Race as a team (Team Liz) for the first time. This being the second time this insidious disease has attacked my family (my mom is a three-year survivor), I’m ready to do some attacking of my own, if only through the pounding of downtown pavement.