How a Common Diagnosis Makes the Miles Disappear

July 26, 2013
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Having a serious illness can make one feel alone, but doesn’t have to. A common diagnosis can lead to new relationships that make long distances mean nothing and help you build strong new friendships.

I‘m writing from Cape Town, South Africa where I’m on vacation with my wife, Esther, and where my daughter Ruthie works for a nonprofit. This city is 10,200 miles from my former home near Seattle and 5,300 miles from where I now live in Barcelona. In either case, it’s a very long way.

Having a serious illness can make one feel alone, but doesn’t have to. A common diagnosis can lead to new relationships that make long distances mean nothing and help you build strong new friendships.

I‘m writing from Cape Town, South Africa where I’m on vacation with my wife, Esther, and where my daughter Ruthie works for a nonprofit. This city is 10,200 miles from my former home near Seattle and 5,300 miles from where I now live in Barcelona. In either case, it’s a very long way.

As many people who read this know, I am a loyal member of the ACOR.org (Association of Cancer Online Resources) listserv for CLL, chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I began reading it nightly and regularly posting messages on it in 1996 when diagnosed with CLL and was guided by other members to world renowned CLL expert, Dr. Michael Keating at MD Anderson in Houston, and I believe his care and a novel clinical trial have allowed me to be alive and writing this today. There are many other list members and all have their stories, united from around the world with a common bond, CLL.

cancer

South Africans Christel, Nadia and Andrew Read at Nadia’s university graduation.

When I began planning this trip to Cape Town I posted to the “CLL List” that I was coming and low and behold another “Andrew” wrote back, Andrew Read. Soon we were speaking on Skype and right after that Andrew invited my family to lunch at his home. That event happened a few days ago in Haut Bay, South Africa just outside Cape Town and it was like hanging out with an old friend.

Andrew is 65. I am 62. He was diagnosed in 1991, me in 1996. Both of us have long ago beaten the original predictions on our life expectancy and we certainly toasted to that at our lunch! Andrew and I also have some other things in common. First, we both did not take the advice of the initial doctors we saw. They were generalists and we were not confident they were knowledgeable in state of the art CLL care. Second, our research brought us both to Dr. Keating who then guided our treatment and, we both believe, the best result. This just reinforces the lesson of how one must be a “powerful patient,” advocate for the best care and seek a provider who inspires confidence.

Once Andrew and I dispensed with the stories of our diagnosis and treatment we were on to talking about our careers and Andrew’s fascinating stories of years living in the “bush.” Our families loved being together too. CLL was the initial bond, but living life is the glue that sticks.

I never expected CLL to help me build friendships. But it has and continues to do that. Today, no one should feel alone because, around the globe, there are others who have faced the same fears and, in more and more cases, have overcome them and moved on.