Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Unsteady Ground in 'Cancerland'

Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014 03:05 PM

By Ronni Gordon

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When you meet fellow cancer survivors, you get to experience a unique perspective — because there are stories that only a another survivor can understand.
 
I was lucky to recently make two friends through the blogosphere. Each had leukemia and each had relapsed; they had gone through multiple transplants, just like me.
 
We have compared notes on side effects of prednisone, on Graft vs. Host Disease, and even the number of teeth lost during chemotherapy. Each of my new friends has a blog that chronicles the ups and downs of they’re going through.
 
One uses her name for her blog: “Anne’s Fight.” The other writes “The Plog” and uses just her initials, PJ.
 
Anne lives in New Orleans. I am in Massachusetts, so I have never actually met her, but I feel like I know her through her writing and the family pictures she posts.
 
PJ, who initially reached out to me after seeing my posts online, is in many ways my double. We both are runners, both have three children, and both were treated at Dana-Farber. I have met her many times, and have become especially close to her.
 
But the ground is unsteady in Cancerland, and through an awful twist of fate, each of my friends has had something bad happen to her at roughly the same time.
 
Anne developed a secondary cancer to which survivors are particularly vulnerable. A squamous cell cancer invaded her lymph nodes, muscles, and jugular vein. She had major surgery and must now undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She will be treated at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Her husband wrote on her blog that she has a 20 percent chance of survival.
 
PJ has not been feeling well either. She thought it might be Graft vs. Host Disease, but it turned out to be even worse.
 
She sent an email explaining that she has relapsed again, and that nothing more can be done to fight her leukemia. She is checking into a hospice.
 
This is all so shocking and sad. Immediately, I wondered what could do.
 
I wrote Anne to say that that she is going to the best cancer center in the country, that I am sending healing vibes, and that she is an incredible trooper. I told her something that I learned through multiple hospitalizations: Always bring a lamp. Because flowers are not allowed in the sterile atmosphere she must have, I will send silk flowers.
 
PJ wrote that she would like visitors to come and “have a few laughs, relive old times and share memories.”
 
I have thought about what to say and what to bring.
 
I might bring a stuffed animal, because a pack of them made me smile and comforted me when I was in the hospital.
 
But basically, all you can do is show up.

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Ronni Gordon is a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written extensively about health issues and her personal journey. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and has written for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other publications.
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