Posted by: Trigger | 5 September, 2008

Stand Up To Cancer.

Modern life is distracting. There’s online shopping, texting, emails, business travel, fall must have fashion lists, workouts to do, the list goes on and on. There’s the Democratic National Convention, the Republican National Convention, candidates to follow, campaigns to slam, you get the idea. We have so much going on in life, sometimes we don’t pay attention to the small tragedies happening to those all around us.

Reno, NV – November, 1972

“Mom, I can’t believe they made my 12 year old baby sister take a PREGNANCY test! That’s so humiliating!” my mother whined to her own mother, my grandmother.

“Listen, sweetie, if that’s all this is, then we can deal with it. I’m afraid of the other possibilities’ my grandmother replied, silencing my mom and showing the gravity of the situation.

It started with a distended belly. My aunt felt a little under the weather, nauseated and vomiting a bit. Off to the doctor they went. During her exam, the doctor determined that her uterus was larger than normal, and harder than it should have been. Just to rule pregnancy out, they did a urine pregnancy test. Unfortunately, my grandmother was right to fear the alternate possibilities. The test was negative. They’d have to do more tests. Elevated blood counts; no explanation of the mass in her uterus. Exploratory surgery was scheduled.

On December 1st, 1972, doctors opened up the abdomen of my tiny, charming, sweet as pie, 12 year old aunt. A few hours later, they wheeled her into the recovery room. They sat my grandmother down. They told her that my aunt’s little frame was riddled with tumors. Malignant tumors. Her uterus was bursting with cancer. Her lymph nodes were involved as well. Her cancer was metastatic, and they could do nothing for her. They didn’t even remove the tumors. They took one look, closed the incision site, and sent my aunt to a hospital room where she would live out the remainder of her too short life.

On December 15th, 1972 my grandmother called home to my mom early in the morning. My mom’s baby sister, everyone’s favorite person, had passed away. On my grandmother’s own birthday. Ten days before Christmas.

My mother’s family was never the same. Her dad fell deep into depression and alcohol addiction. When he was drunk, he was mean. Her mom, already a hard worker, was rarely home after school, or any time, for that matter. My mom’s older brother left for college, and didn’t come back. He loved his baby sister so much, that it pained him to even be in the same house where they grew up, without her. My mom, a Junior in high school, went from a B and A average GPA, popular cheerleader, to a D average student, withdrawn, and solitary. Life was never the same for them, post-cancer.

Fortunately for me, my mom slowly picked herself up, put herself back together. Her parents divorced, and she took that time to leave home for good. She moved to Oregon, to live with her aunt and uncle, and graduate from high school. Living with them, under their amazing influence, she decided to apply for college. She was the first to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in her family (and later, a Master’s degree), from the University of Oregon. Where she met my father. To whom she is still married, 33 years later, with 5 children and a great life.

She always knew that she would name her first daughter after her sister. I am that daughter. It’s a privilege to share a name with someone as unconditionally loved, praised, and missed as my aunt.

She had long, straight espresso brown hair, glossy and thick, like my own. She had a messy room and was constantly irritating her neat parents, also like me. She had wide eyes, a big smile and a cute button nose, which is how I have been described as well. She was happy, always; sunny and bright, witty and engaging. While those are terms I’ve definitely heard applied to my personality as well, I can only hope to live up to those descriptors and her precendent. She loved ketchup sandwiches, pure ketchup and bread! Disgusting, but hilarious to think of – I definitely didn’t acquire that from her. Ew. Her favorite colors were jewel tones, like mine. And when she was out in the sun, our native heritage came through, her skin tanning to a deep bronze, her hair glinting with sun streaks. The same happens for me. Apparently, when I was small, I reminded everyone so strongly of her, that it was hard for my uncle, who still misses her terribly, to be around me without having to excuse himself to cry.

It might sound strange, but after I heard so many people remark on how alike we are, I’ve always kept her in mind when choosing how to conduct myself. When I was a young girl, on a competitive summer swim team, I would look up at the clouds during lap after lap of backstroke, find a particularly beautiful, puffy cloud, with sun streaking through, and imagine she was perched there, looking down on me, cheering me on, swelling with pride. I don’t have a particularly strong attachment to the Christian afterlife, but I’ve always known I had to make her proud. If I could be on this earth, and she couldn’t, then I had better make something of myself.

I’m older now than she ever was, by 13 years. I’ve outlived her by longer than her own lifespan. I’m still trying to better myself, to better the lives of others. It’s part of why I do the work I do, part of how committed I am to health care, and clinical and translation research. It’s part of why I sign up for every cancer supporting event I can, why I choose to volunteer with the Livestrong Challenge & Lance Armstrong Foundation, and also why I’m writing this post today.

One in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime. Two in three men will be diagnosed in their lifetimes. (from the American Cancer Society) This is something that affects us all. More people in my family have been diagnosed with cancer since my aunt passed away: a grandfather – prostate cancer; a cousin – a rare sarcoma that almost ended his life; another cousin – late stage melanoma. Fortunately, treatment has been successful thus far for all of them, and they are all still living, with cancer either in remission or held at bay long enough to finish their lives un-threatened by their disease.

Today, an amazing group of entertainment industry professionals (actors, producers, news anchors, and more) are teaming up to launch a great fundraising effort. Stand Up To Cancer. They are fundraising for dollars that will go directly to “research dream teams” made up of doctors, nurses, scientists and support staff to make clinical and translational research a reality. I’ve been a part of translational cancer research, during my two year stint in a prostate cancer lab. Money is tight. Way too tight. Funding for research should happen now, and it should go to those people dedicating their lives – through small salaries, long hours, and tedious work – to making cancer a thing of the past.

Here’s how you can get involved. Tonight, three of the major television networks will broadcast a telethon. tune in to CBS, NBC or ABC at 8:00 pm Eastern/Pacific. Donate now. Add a star to The Constellation – in memory of someone you may know who passed on. Join The Stand on Facebook. Write a blog post. Show your support, or share how your life has been touched by cancer.

If you’re not already moved to do something, I’d like to leave you with the manifesto of Stand Up To Cancer:

We used to have such crazy dreams.
The kind of dreams that brought us together, made us not mere mortals, but a movement.

We used to dream we’d get to the moon.
And we were crazy enough, fanatical enough, relentless enough, to get there.

We dreamed we’d split the atom.
Make smallpox and polio whispers from forgotten history books.
Make technology infinite, individual.
Connect the world.

All the unbelievable and the impossible,
all the can’t do and the never will, we overwhelmed them, we overpowered them, we conquered them.
They said no and we, well,
We said yes.
We stood up.
We stood up and changed the world.

Stand up when everybody else sits down
Stand up when it’s easier to turn away
Stand up for everyone who can’t rise anymore

When the answer seems impossible, stand up
When the dream is right within our reach, stand up
When the powerful refuse your call, stand up

The moment is now and the time has come to stand up.
One out of every two men
One out of every three women
will face these diseases we call cancer.

Our sisters, our brothers, our fathers, our mothers,
our husbands, our wives, our children.
Our very best friends and those we’ve yet to meet.

One person every minute, one person in a moment gets lost, gets stolen, gets taken away.

We are a tapestry of lives touched and brought together by a terrorist we can actually find. And in the time it’s taken to read this, three more Americans have died.


This is where the end of cancer begins.

When together we become a force unmistakable.
A movement undeniable.
A light that cannot dim.

When we take our wild impossible dreams
And make them possible
Make them true

When together we rise as one
When we stand up
When we Stand Up To Cancer.



  1. I like ketchup sandwiches!

    And this was beautifully written. I think at this point, cancer has touched just about everyone.

  2. Your post says more than I could ever hope to and far more elegantly and yet with strength.

    I’m already supportive and proactive, but this more than doubles my engagement to this issue.

    thank you.

  3. This. is beautiful.

  4. Really touching.

  5. […] – Tough Trigger’s Stand Up To Cancer […]

  6. Thank you all for reading. 🙂

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