Update 10/7/15: Norma passed away in September 2015. Below is a blog post she wrote for LBBC.
On Super Bowl Sunday, The NFL Countdown crew aired a tribute to late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who passed away last month from cancer of the appendix. Hear My Voice blogger Norma Pitzer-Kelly writes about the sports anchor’s decision to share his cancer experience with the public, and how his words can guide those living with stage IV breast cancer.
Stuart Scott died on January 4th, 2015. If you aren’t into sports or have friends and family who watch Sports Center on ESPN, you may have no idea who he is. Stuart was a sportscaster and host on that show. He was a pioneer in sports broadcasting and was well loved by professional athletes, celebrities, co-workers and friends. He was also a cancer patient.
Stuart fought this disease for 7 years. It started in 2007 with an emergency appendectomy which turned out to be cancer of the appendix. Did you even think cancer of the appendix was a thing? I didn’t. Cancer is an insidious monster and it will attack you anywhere – I know that, and yet I didn’t think about the appendix as being susceptible. I was introduced to Stuart while watching Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts interviewed him last spring. During that interview, he told the story of his diagnosis, talked about his daughters and his refusal to give up hope.
Stuart was a devoted and loving father, he was an icon in the sports community, and his style and catch phrases will live on, but he, unfortunately, will not. After fighting like a champion with strength, grace and a quiet dignity the monster took his life, and those daughters he was so devoted to will have to live the rest of their lives without him.
I didn’t know Stuart personally, of course. I can’t even say I watched his show on ESPN – I didn’t. But after following his journey with cancer, I feel sadness at his loss, as if he had been a friend. Having cancer gives you membership into a club you never wanted to join and camaraderie with other “members” that make you feel like old friends even if you’ve never met. As a metastatic breast cancer patient, I have felt this connection to others first hand many times over.
These celebrities and public figures like Stuart, Robin Roberts and Elizabeth Edwards who take their fights public and bring awareness of the disease with strong, inspirational faces and moving speeches are to be celebrated. Not because they are celebrities, but because of their bravery, because of their dignity, and because they inspire hope in others. This is a private fight, and taking it “to the streets” as it were is pretty stinkin’ brave and important.
Breast cancer is the most promoted type of cancer out there. All the walks with their sea of pink are all about awareness and early prevention – and that is great because awareness is important…but what about metastatic disease? Not as glamorous as the early stages. Treatment doesn’t end generally and the effects it has on patients and families are long-term. Getting the word out about this aspect of breast cancer or any type of cancer is so important. The celebrities who do this, as well as the patients who blog or talk openly to a support group or the public, are equally important in bringing awareness and inspiring hope in others, and that is vital. For those of us who are stage IV, every month is breast cancer awareness month…
Damn this disease – this monster – for taking him, damn it for taking husbands and wives from each other, parents from their children, damn it a million times over for taking children and babies who never got a chance to live their lives, and damn it again for trying to take me. Damn it for taking so much from us that we end up a shadow of what we used to be; shriveled, in pain, broken, sick and alone. Damn it for hanging a cloud over our lives that even if we survive it, and the treatment and the rotten side effects that go along with that, we are always looking over our shoulder for it to come back – so we are never truly at peace.
In 2014 Stuart was presented with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. He had just gotten out of the hospital where he had four surgeries in 7 days. They didn’t think he would make it to the ceremony but he did. In his speech he said, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
I understand about side effects, I understand how utterly debilitating they can be. I have been blessed that except for some tiredness after treatment, I have been spared these types of maladies. But you must make an effort to get the most out of your days. I don’t mean go out and climb a mountain or run a marathon – unless you’re into that stuff – but go to your kid’s baseball game, or go to lunch with a friend. Because staying in bed day in and day out is no way to live. And as Stuart said, we beat it by how we live.
Let his words be our mantra. Let his example be our guide. Let us all never give up.
Diagnosed in 2010 with stage IV breast cancer with metastasis to her spine, Norma Pitzer-Kelly became a widow just 4 short months later. She steers clear of negativity, blogs at a friend’s breast cancer website, www.breastinvestigators.com, and speaks to other people diagnosed with cancer at support groups, fundraising events, or even the grocery store. She and her story have been featured in five different publications, and she hopes that by going public with it, she will motivate others to stay positive and never lose hope. She lives in Sarasota, Florida, and loves to read, write, and spend time with friends and family.
To read other inspiring blog posts about metastatic breast cancer, check out our Hear My Voice blog series.