If you’re lucky, every once in a while there comes an unexpected moment that profoundly changes you. It breathes fresh air and life into you, reminding you of a simple forgotten truth: You are a part of something much bigger than yourself. This was one of those moments.
My oncologist and I were asked together to share how cancer research has been a part of our lives. We stood in a room of donors, oncologists, researchers, board members and benefactors to share the difference they have made for us, not to the field of oncology or scientific research, but to OUR stories. And it was life-changing.
Dr. Wilky shared about Pamela, the patient that led her to become a sarcoma specialist; and Manny, the patient that ignited her fiery aggression toward ASPS that led to the start of the axi/pembro clinical trial that I’m on. I was able to share about my young family’s long hard journey with cancer, and the miraculous response I am experiencing on this clinical trial, the new life it has brought me.
Before I left for the ASCO conference in Chicago this past weekend, my dad told me to take an intentional moment to take it all in just for memory’s sake (wise counsel from someone who knows my tendency to repress and forget). As I stood on the stage looking at the crowd that was gathered before me, I took time to dwell in the moment. I soaked in the lights and sounds and ambiance. I looked at the faces that were listening to me. And do you know what I saw on the faces of cancer’s big donors as I told them my story? Compassion, pride, joy, excitement. Compassion for me, pride in their work, joy that their donations were meaningful, excitement for a future of more successes.
I was profoundly struck in that moment by the realization that I am a part of something much bigger than myself. I was struck that my story would have had a much different ending if Dr. Wilky had not been funded as a young researcher; if someone in a lab had not spent many late night hours developing axitinib; if someone at a drug company had not championed the approval of pembro; if Pamela or Manny had not crossed Dr. Wilky’s path; if Dr. Keedy had never heard of the axi/pembro trial; if there had not been a foundation to raise money specifically for ASPS research; if a donor had kept their wallet closed instead of giving to my travel fund; if just one of these people had forged a different path… I may not be here.
This story is not just mine, it's theirs. It's Manny's story and Pamela's story and Dr. Wilky's story. It belongs to her mentors, to the research donors, to the axi/pembro phase I trial patients, to Pfizer and Merk, to nurses and pathologists, phlebotomists and techs. It belongs to you for reading this blog.
I am a part of something much bigger than myself. I’ve said many times that my journey is really God’s story that he is writing with life. And I have failed to widen my gaze enough to see that God is not bent over his desk with a pen in hand scribbling out his story for me, but he is orchestrating us all together (not orchestrating our every move, of course, but harmonizing our different gifts and purposes). We belong to the same symphony, our stories resounding together.
I carry with me the sacrifice, generosity, and love of the many many many people who have come before me and along side of me to bring me healing. It's not just my story, it belongs to all of us.
And guess what? Your story does too. Whatever your story, it also carries with it the sacrifice, generosity, and love from the many before you. You are a part of something bigger than yourself. Take time to dwell in this moment and let it sink in that there are many many many people who have come before you and along side of you to bring you to where you are now, your spot in the symphony. It’s inspiring and humbling and compelling.
Over the last three years, the Conquer Cancer Foundation was able to raise over $152 million dollars for cancer research, exceeding their goal by over $2 million. On the night Dr. Wilky and I spoke at the CCF Evening to Conquer Cancer, 6 Young Investigator Awards were funded for young oncologists to begin their research careers. They were hoping for 4.
Our stories are compelling. God's hand in our lives is evident and compelling. And I'm talking about your life too. Let's share those stories. Let's compel each other toward good, toward conquering.
Watch the speech here: