Lessons of Cancer. . .Live the Miracle, Be the Miracle

Every year for many years, four high school friends and I go on vacation together.  Some of us have known each other since kindergarten!  We feel like teenagers again for a brief week remembering our carefree days!  This year we spent our time in the picturesque Upper Peninsula of Michigan driving along the shores of majestic Lake Superior, touring lighthouses with fascinating histories, and viewing gorgeous waterfalls.  Then we ventured to Mackinac Island, home of the legendary Grand Hotel.  Horse carriages and bicycles are the mode of transportation on the historic island.    They are amazing places to visit.  It is like living in an impressionist painting while you are there, but all too soon, it is time to emerge.

Traveling in two separate cars returning from Upper Michigan, three of the gals were in one car as they were going to drop off one of our friends in the Metro Detroit area.  They got a late start from the Upper Peninsula, stopped for lunch, made a wrong turn, got into traffic jams during rush hour in Detroit, and finally got our friend home south of the city.  Then the remaining two friends made a last-minute decision to stop for gasoline before getting back on the interstate.

As they were fueling at the very busy BP gas station in a suburban neighborhood, Linda noticed a young man lying on the ground next to his work truck.  Another young man was putting cold water on him attempting to revive him.  No one else was paying attention but going about their business getting gas.  If anyone else noticed him, they ignored him.

Cathy, the other gal, ran over to see what she could do to help.  Seeing the young man probably in his 20s on the hard concrete floating in and out of consciousness, she asked his co-worker if he was diabetic.  Cathy’s husband has blood sugar issues and that was the first thought that came to her mind.  The co-worker responded that he  was, but he did not know what to do.

Immediately, Cathy ran into the gas station to tell the attendant to call 9-1-1.   The young woman behind the counter handed Cathy the phone as she didn’t want to be involved.  Cathy reached 9-1-1 and another customer in the store helped her tell the Operator of gas station location.  Since this customer had helped Cathy during the conversation with the 9-1-1 Operator, he went and got orange juice to assist Cathy.  The young attendant made him pay for the orange juice before they could take it out of the gas station’s store!

My friend, Linda, was out of her car by this time.  She held the young man up from the ground and put a rolled sweatshirt under his back so he would not choke as Cathy started getting orange juice into him by drop fulls with a straw.  Cathy and Linda were operating from instinct as they had no medical training other than CPR.   But they said they knew they had to do something to try to keep him alive.  Cathy said once she used the straw method on a pet, so thought it was worth a try.    After a few drop fulls, the young man started licking the orange juice and responding a little, starting to swallow and opened his eyes.  By this time a crowd was gathering with onlookers as my two friends were willing this young man back to consciousness and preventing convulsions.

Finally, the paramedics arrived and took over.  The paramedics determined that the young man’s blood sugar had been down to such low levels that in a short time, left unattended, he most likely would have died.   My friends waited until he was conscious and responding.

I already knew these women were heroines.  They were on the front lines when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and remained there for the duration. Within one week they arranged a luncheon for me, showered me with love and gifts, and promised me they would be there for me.  And they were!  ( Linda was the person who sent me the greeting card every week for a year!)   These two women along with many other friends and family  jumped into action and did not stand on the sidelines watching.

I receive so many letters from people who were abandoned by friends and family members during cancer.  It is difficult for them to get over the pain.  One woman told me her friend’s abandonment was worse than her cancer diagnosis.  Many divorces happen after a cancer diagnosis and many other relationships end.  So often cancer survivors struggle with people who now want back into their lives once they are feeling better.

My question to them is this:  ” Before cancer, did you do the majority of the giving in the relationship? ”   One hundred percent of the time, the answer is yes.

The people who run away from cancer patients are like those that saw the young man on the ground.  They had the potential to help this young man live, but they did nothing.  If asked why they didn’t help, many would have excuses like, “I  didn’t know what to do”, “I was giving him his space”, and “I thought about helping, but. . .”

If you are a cancer patient or survivor, you can relate to the young man on the ground.  You felt like your life was slipping away and each act of love and kindness was like that dribble of orange juice into your mouth — just enough support to help you keep fighting.

If you have not had to endure cancer, perhaps it is time for a relationship review.   In your soul, you know the relationships that are not healthy in your life.  Who would let you lie on the ground and only watch, and who would rush to your aid?


  1. Denise, it sounds like your friends are as wonderful as you are—very caring and concerned about others. Love you!

  2. dear denise,

    what a wonderful post to underscore how caring, really caring about our fellow man can be one of the most life-enhancing and excellent examples of our humanity. and the questions you’ve posed, the tests of whether or not one is able to truly care, are very thought provoking. I recently tried to re- connect with 3 sisters, who abandoned me beginning when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. then, when I was diagnosed with ST IV Met BC, I felt I had to cut them out of my life. over the next 2 years, both my husband and I celebrated remissions together, then only 3 months ago, hugh died very suddenly. my sisters sent expressions of sympathy, but they have never again reached out to me, even knowing I have been diagnosed with a 2nd cancer since hugh died. the initial bewilderment and hurt was the wake-up call I needed to reaffirm my sisters’ are not going to be there for me. but I feel relieved that I tried. I just do not have the emotional energy to spend on trying to figure out reasons why; I have so many earth angels surrounding me, I choose to mindfully celebrate our love for one another and just say to the other situation – it is what it is.

    sending you light and love,

    karen. TC

    • Karen, it makes me sad to hear everything you have had to endure. My deepest sympathies to you and the loss of your beloved husband. And having to deal with Stage IV BC of your own – just over the top. You have much wisdom, Karen. And you are so wise to finally be able to accept that your sisters will not be there for you. Really, it is impossible to figure out why. But you bring hope and courage to others by knowing that fact and accepting your other “earth angels” and their love and concern. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Denise

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