Thursday, July 30, 2009

Northwest Cancer Convention 2009

We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Seattle to visit our "cancer" friend Yanni and her "special friend" John**. She was diagnosed with CML in the fall of 2008, then with Lymphoma in the spring of 2009, and most recently with TIA (basically mini strokes). If anyone is qualified to say "I'm fucked" it's her.

We've gotten to know each other quite well over email, instant messaging and a brief meet up in San Francisco last winter. She's an extraordinary individual with the spirit of a fighter. She's always a delight to talk with, even when things are going poorly for her (which is pretty much the entire time I've known her).

We were treated by our gracious hosts to 3 fabulous days of pacific northwest culture and scenery. The highlight of our trip was something very simple but very special. On Friday we had a group lunch with 2 other individuals who also had CML. At one table, in the suburbs of Seattle, sat 4 cancer survivors. Each shared the common thread of cancer and yet each had a unique story.

Too Much Cancer
Clockwise from front: Marissa, Yanni, Tyler, Hans,
Han's son, Han's mom, Matt, Wendy.

Tyler recently underwent a bone marrow transplant and is doing excellent. His friend Hans plays on the same soccer team and was diagnosed mere months after Tyler. Hans has failed Gleevec and is now on Sprycel. Yanni has been diagnosed with more illnesses than should be present in the population of a small town. And of course, you know Wendy and I. (For the record Marissa raised money with Team In Training and ran the Seattle Half Marathon. Thanks Marissa!)

We enjoyed a long lunch sharing stories about bone marrow biopsies, radiation, chemo-therapy, nurses, needles and doctors. We also talked about death and those we've lost to cancer. Much of the conversation was macabre, frank, open and blunt. It's so refreshing to be able to let down your guard, tell it like it is and not worry about how people will react or whether you'll make them uncomfortable. We joked that the waitress probably didn't even know what was going on. Even though the topics of discussion were heavy and necessarily dark you'd never have known by the laughter and smiles all around the table. After all, we're still here.

On Saturday we were treated to a whirl-wind tour of Washington. We did a little hiking around Mt. Rainier, drove out through Yakima and visited Leavenworth. Washington is indeed a beautiful place.

Matt & Wendy By The Lake
Matt and Wendy at Shadow Lake
in Mt. Ranier National Park.

We'd like to thank Yanni, John and Ryan for showing us such a wonderful time and being such gracious hosts. My toast to Yanni before we left: "I'm sorry I met you, but I'm glad I know you." In other words, if we didn't have cancer we never would have met, but I'm glad to have found such a good friend.

** Yanni could supply enough material for a reality show and soap opera. This is an inside joke that no one but Yanni, her family and John will get (or the paramedics in Snoqualmie, Washington) but I can't resist putting something up about it. Maybe in time she'll let me share the story of the paramedic visit to her house on Sunday the weekend we were there. You won't be disappointed.

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