[ed. note: letters from readers responding to A Silent Killer Takes Out a Woman Who Would Not Shut Up]
Cancer survivors are reluctant to search for old friends with whom they’ve lost touch. We fear what we may find. Eventually, though, curiosity gets the best of us. Sometimes we get good news. More often than not, we get a death notice.
A week ago I found out my friend and fellow ovarian cancer survivor Christie Buckner died back in October, according to a short obit in the New Orleans Times Picayune. Because of our high mortality rates, the ovarian cancer community is used to deaths. But we never take them lightly.
I got on Facebook and posted pictures of Christie, along with excerpts from her 2002 newspaper story in Gambit Weekly. Then it dawned on me that if I was going to do this much crying and writing, I might as well do it for Politics Daily.
It’s what Christie would have wanted. I remember the time she weighed in on a woman whose cancer awareness work fell under suspicion as motivated by ego. Christie was flabbergasted. She said, “Even if that’s true, I don’t care. I don’t care why she’s doing it. She’s doing it.”
More than a few readers of my post, A Silent Killer Takes Out a Woman Who Would Not Shut Up, cried right along with me, including some men. Especially men.
I just turned 75. Male. Both my mother and sister had breast cancer. My 50-year-old daughter had her first “scare.” Yeah, why isn’t there more research? Pisses me off. I have two daughters, six granddaughters and one great granddaughter. I wonder if researchers will catch up. Viagra took no time to get on the market.
For that sentiment, sir, Christie would have draped you in a dozen strands of her prized Mardi Gras beads.
Another man wrote:
If anything bad ever happens to me, I hope I have stones just like hers.
Amen! May we all.
Still another man wrote:
I had a friend like that, long ago. She died of an aggressive form of melanoma. She was just as aggressive, but she could only tread water so long. Near the end, even her closest friends began distancing themselves. She understood the reason for this, and didn’t blame them. Some base fear, perversely tied to our instinct for self-preservation, I suppose. I felt it myself. I just couldn’t let her go alone. And so, a part of me still grieves, and always will. Small price to pay for the privilege of knowing her.
One reader wanted to go to Christie’s favorite Cajun restaurant and drink a toast. I wish I knew the name. All I remember is that the place was informal and not in the French Quarter. Maybe a reader can help?
Christie would want me to point out that pap smears do not test for ovarian cancer. As for symptoms, one reader details them as well as I could:
I lost my mother to ovarian cancer in September 2007 and it still amazes me how often I hear the same stories over and over about doctors dismissing early warning signs. That is exactly what happened to my mother. She had been complaining of stomach problems, bloating and and discomfort for months, maybe years and it was routinely dismissed as gas, indigestion, etc.
The reader then touches on another important topic:
Only by continuing to talk about it will ovarian cancer ever get the recognition and attention that breast cancer does. I know all cancer research helps the greater good, but it’s hard not to be a little bitter when you see the time and energy lavished on breast cancer while many other cancers, including ovarian, take a back seat.
I used to feel that way myself. September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, gets upstaged by “pink nausea.” Breast Cancer Awareness commences in October, but the walks, events and endless stream of pink consumer goods start months ahead of time. Not fair, it seems, to ovarian cancer patients and grieving families.
Then I got to know a few women with breast cancer. No picnic, that. And all the pink in the world could not save them.
Still, the hard truth remains that per-capita deaths for ovarian cancer far outstrip those for breast cancer. Imagine there is no such thing as mammograms. Imagine breast cancer always begins deep inside your rib cage. Imagine by the time you feel a lump, you are stage IV. That’s ovarian cancer.
There seems to have been little — if any — progress in early diagnosis and detection of ovarian cancer in the last 35 years. That’s when my mom’s friend lost her life — and she was a physician’s wife.
It’s true that rates of early diagnosis have not changed. Survival rates have improved slightly, but they’re still horrendous. Roughly two-thirds of ovarian cancer patients will die of the disease.
There’s so much loss. One reader writes:
I lost my sister to ovarian cancer eight weeks ago tomorrow. She was only 50 years old and I deeply miss her.
My 57-year-old “baby” sister survived only two years, and it was a time of great anxiety, interspersed with chemo, three surgeries, lab tests, radiological studies, up days and down days. Before the diagnosis she was the perfect example of health and vitality.
Lost my sweet sister on New Year’s Eve 2004. This article reminds me of some of the stuff she went through. A urostomy. Colostomy was the next possibility of “treatment.” She had been chemo-ed to the hilt and burned with radiation from the inside out. She had a 4-week window in 2004 of no cancer — allegedly. RIP my sister. It must be true — only the good die young.
A Connecticut musician lost his wife in 2006. Thereafter he began working with an ovarian cancer group to raise awareness. “Our next show is Mother’s Day,” he wrote. Along with the musician’s late wife, “Christie will be remembered and thanked.”
Christie had no money to further the cause she’d taken up, and not much time. Certainly not enough support, since her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer just a few months after Christie’s diagnosis. Susan Buckner survived less than a year.
In the end, all Christie really had was herself. That, it turned out, was enough.
I did not know Christie, nor do I know you, but I will long remember this article and the way Christie lived and died.
Christie Buckner won a journalism award for her Gambit Weekly story, but this — how she lived and died — was her masterpiece.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]