Friends. Family. Brothers. Sisters.
There is a special bond between fellow cancer patients and survivors that is the deepest bond outside of a nuclear family that I have ever seen.
In general, friends are brought together by some sort of common experience or characteristic. Cancer is no different. It is unifying as a shared experience. Once you are in that club (a club no one wants to join), you are in it for life. You know the secret handshake.
That is especially true for those of us with Stage IV disease, no matter the type of cancer. We are actively thrust directly into the presence of the grim reaper. We've all stared death directly in the face and we're still breathing. That is about as powerful a unifying force as there can be!
And that's why this past week was very special for me. One of the reasons I decided to have my lung biopsy done in the Midwest last week was that I knew I would not be able to fly afterwards, and we had pre-existing family plans to vacation in my Michigan hometown. There was a week between my biopsy and the start of this family vacation, so how did I fill that time? By having another type of family vacation! I became a vagabond and drove around the Midwest visiting friends from my Stage IV life.
Some of them I had met before. Some I had only known virtually -- including a friend I had exchanged texts with multiple times a day. We spent hours together with laughs and tears like long lost friends.
Still others were close friends from the Colondar 2.0/Colon Club, an advocacy group for young colorectal cancer survivors diagnosed under the screening age of 50. We try to meet whenever possible – and tears always flow when we leave each other again.
The meetings this week were emotional, exciting, fun, inspirational. We celebrated a birthday, which is a huge deal for someone with early-onset Stage IV disease. (There is no complaining about getting another year closer to wrinkles in this group.) One way or another, we have all been surrounded by cancer life and death, but we have all persevered and we were together -- even if only for a moment -- embracing and living life. Words can't describe the depth of shared experiences we have had, and because of that, we have bonds beyond belief.
I absolutely LOVE the photo above and I think it illustrates those bonds perfectly. The photo shows a group of us from the Colondar 2.0/Colon Club, towards the end of a Stage IV brother's wedding reception last May, sad that we were about to go our separate ways.
What a special day in May is shown in that photo – what a special week this past week was. A band of Brothers and Sisters with ties that can't be broken. I'll never forget either trip. I can't wait for the next family reunion.
Dr. Tom Marsilje is a 20-year oncology drug discovery scientist with "currently incurable" stage IV colon cancer. He also writes a personal blog on life at the intersection of being both a cancer patient and researcher "Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic," a science column for Fight Colorectal Cancer "The Currently Incurable Scientist," and posts science and advocacy updates to Twitter @CurrentIncurSci. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 800,000 patients and caregivers.