Bleeding for a worthy cause

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on September 28, 2012

the family at Yellowstone Park, 1958

Having blood drawn isn’t my favorite pastime, but yesterday I was more than happy to bleed for a worthy cause. And my dad has a lot to do with it. (Yes, that’s my dad in the photo at left, along with Mom and my two older brothers, circa 1958.)

Let me explain. Yesterday I enrolled in the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3, which will involve hundreds of thousands of people in communities throughout the United States.

Here’s what the American Cancer Society website says about the study:

The [program] is inviting men and women between the ages of 30 and 65 years who have no personal history of cancer to join this historic research study. The ultimate goal is to enroll at least 300,000 adults from various racial/ethnic backgrounds. . . . By joining CPS-3 you can help us understand how to prevent cancer, which will save lives and give people more of their most precious resource: time. More time with their families and friends, more memories, more celebrations . . . and more birthdays.

The study’s goal “is to better understand the factors (lifestyle, environmental, genetic) that cause or prevent cancer and, ultimately, to help eliminate cancer as a major health concern for future generations.”

So what does my dad have to do with it? He died of cancer on Father’s Day eight years ago, and if he’d lived, he would have celebrated his 86th birthday on Sept. 11. More birthdays? Yup, that’s a vision I can support.

Getting involved in the study was easy: about a month ago I responded to an e-mail invitation from my local YMCA, then filled out a thorough online questionnaire. Yesterday I completed another questionnaire, had my waist measured, and had a few vials of blood drawn.

This is a long-term study, so participants agree to fill out future surveys every two years for at least 20 years.

Good life, good death

I miss my dad—especially on Father’s Day, his birthday, the holidays, well, and whenever else I see his picture or think of him. Until he got sick, I wouldn’t have thought I could have respected, loved, or admired him more.

I was wrong.

During the last months of his life, despite agonizing pain, he showed incredible grace, kindness, patience, and above all, deep love for us kids and for our mom.

My dad and I are (were?) a lot alike, and as a young man he could be driven and impatient. He had been one of those old-school dads who believed that working hard to provide for his family was the highest form of love. One-on-one time? There wasn’t always a lot of that to go around.

But like many of us, he mellowed as he aged. He was no longer driven to make his mark or fueled by ambition. He could just be our dad: a retired university professor who loved woodworking (making sawdust, as he put it), rose gardening, and mystery novels and who wrote poetry in secret. And I know there’s nothing he wouldn’t have given up—including his own life—to help his family.

I have four unforgettable memories of those last months before cancer ended his life . . .

Watching him walk down the hall of the medical center during the last appointment I drove him to. The cancer was in his bones by then, and I can’t imagine how much he must have hurt. No complaints, no grimacing—just determination.

The last Easter we spent together as a family, when he walked into the restaurant using a walker for the first time but dressed to the nines, with a beautiful smile on his face. There’s nothing he wanted more than to spend that day with us. He knew it would be his last earthly Easter Sunday.

A couple of days before he slipped into a morphine-induced coma, when we were together in his home office. He said, “Oh, darling” and looked at me with the greatest tenderness I’d ever seen in his eyes.

And the day before he died, when I sat by his bedside and was awestruck by the mystery whose threshold he was about to cross. I can’t describe what I felt, but I could sense his approach to the next world.

He died what people used to call “a good death.” He was at one with God and man, and he passed into eternity with courage and a peaceful spirit. His experience of an unending Easter had just begun.

But as beautiful as his death turned out to be, my dad had been a healthy, vigorous guy. His mother and father had lived into their late 80s. And if not for cancer, Dad might still be here.

Lend a hand

my ID for the Cancer Prevention Study-3

My identity with the Cancer Prevention Study-3

So yes, I care about cancer. I could regale you with stories of other friends and family members of mine whose lives it has blighted or taken. You could tell me the same stories too—about your mom, your dad, brother or sister, husband, wife, or dearest friend.

Nobody gets a guarantee on the number of years she’s allotted. And nobody can say who will and won’t get cancer. Lots of us will.

But it’s also true that the way we live can stack the odds a bit more in our favor.

We already know what to do (even if it isn’t always easy):

  • eat our fruits and vegetables
  • exercise regularly
  • get to and maintain a healthy weight
  • reduce our stress.

I don’t think most of us want to live forever or necessarily to live as long as possible. We want quality of life—to be able to stay active, contribute to the world, and spend time with those we love. And yeah, we want some more birthday celebrations.

So maybe if 300,000 of us lend a hand and get involved in this cancer-prevention study by giving up a little time and a little blood, we can make a difference. Maybe someone’s dad, mom, brother, sister, husband, wife, or friend won’t have to get cancer 20, 30, or 100 years from now.

Enrollment continues until December 2013. So there’s plenty of time for you to join us. Find enrollment sites here.

How has cancer touched you or your family? Let me know in the comment box . . .

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