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A Tale of Two Columns

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean

headshot of Karen Shirer
When I sat down to write this month’s column, I was torn. On the one hand, program business plans have been on everyone’s minds, and I’m no exception. I’d been reading the 13 program business plans submitted February 24 and thinking about the implications for our center. On the other hand, another, more personal date and topic was on my mind.

Two years ago, I completed treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. As a cancer survivor, I have frequent medical appointments to check my progress and address the lingering side effects of the treatment. Last week's appointments for a CT scan, lab work, and a visit with my oncologist, however, were different. They marked the two-year anniversary of the completion of my treatment. Getting to a two-year anniversary is an important step for any cancer survivor, and I'm no different. For the kind of cancer I had, my chances of long-term survival would greatly increase if I reached that milestone without a recurrence.

Before my appointments last week, I was distracted and anxious about what I might learn. Cancer, like any chronic disease, requires constant vigilance and demands constant attention. No one is ever truly cured of cancer because of the risk of sleeping cancer cells in the body that could awake at any time. A friend and fellow a cancer survivor, shared that cancer leaves a "notch" in our brains where we can never truly escape the anxiety of cancer returning.

At the same time that I wrestled with not knowing what my future might hold, I also began to see and feel the importance of what is happening in the here and now. On the Thursday before my appointments, I met with a visitor from Ireland, who is working with Jenifer McGuire, Ph.D., on research related to transgender youth. We had a rich discussion of the issues transgender youth and their families face and how we can support them through our work. I realized how much I value these kinds of opportunities and hoped for many more in the future.

We all have these rich moments in our lives. But how often are we so busy “doing” or worrying about the future that we lose sight of the joy and meaning of the here and now? Yes, cancer left a notch of anxiety in my brain. That same notch also provides a heightened awareness of the beauty and goodness of life.

Then the appointments arrived. And... the news was very good. I remain solidly in remission and my oncologist used the word "cured." He did qualify his statement, reminding me of those sleeping cancer cells that may still be in my body. My husband calls it "cured with an asterisk." I call it "cured light." However we describe it, the news is good, and for this I am very grateful. Thank you to many of you who have been on this journey with me, for your support and kind thoughts. My family and I greatly appreciate it.

Program business plans and the changes they are bringing to our center's programs are still on my mind — and on yours, I’m sure. Look for an update in two weeks from Director of Programs Trish Olson. In the meantime, take some time this week to examine the rich beauty and goodness of the here and now.

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