My Dance with Cancer

I'm one of the luckiest people I know.

I have cancer.

A very rare and aggressive cancer called thymic carcinoma.

The doctors first discovered it a few days before Thanksgiving and I was told I only had a couple of months to live.

That was in 2008.

It turns out they were wrong. I'm still here. But it was still scary.

I had a tumor that was wrapped around my trachea. It wasn't operable, it was getting larger and it was cutting off my breathing.

And then I learned that it had metastasized to my left lung.

I immediately went into intensive chemotherapy followed by 35 days of radiation treatments. And that shrank the tumor in my neck.

But nine months later, I learned the tumors were growing again in my lung and I've been on and off chemo ever since. I've just started a new round of treatment and I'm starting to lose my hair for the third time.

I'm telling you all of this because through this experience, I've learned two things.

First, that having cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And I really mean that. This has been one of the happiest times in my life.

I know that sounds hard to believe, but there's nothing like a life threatening illness to tear away a lot of the garbage in your life. It's been quite an adventure, and very often a time of deep peace that I didn't expect.

I've also been reminded through this illness what an extraordinary daughter I have. And that's really why I wanted to talk with you today. Because I don't know how many more chances I'll have to tell you about her.

Her name is Laura Ruderman. You might know her as a candidate for Congress. For me, she's always been my little girl from the moment I first held her to when I used to hold her hand to now, when she holds mine.

If you know Laura, you know that she never gives up. From the first day of my illness, she started organizing and researching my cancer. She helped me find the best doctors and then navigate the world of insurance and hospitals and treatments.

It can be overwhelming, but not when you have a daughter like Laura.

Laura can tell you a lot about cancer. In just the last few years, her mother, her father, her sister and two sisters-in-law have all battled cancer.

One sister-in-law recently died of it.

For Laura, this is a deeply personal issue.

She knows that those in our family have been fortunate to have access to the best of care.

And while sometimes even that isn't enough the joy and ease with which I face life wouldn't be possible if I didn't have Medicare and supplemental insurance to cover
the huge costs of my treatment.

But it's not that way for millions of Americans. I can't imagine living with cancer and not having the money to pay the medical bills.

But I know that many people face that. Laura knows that, too.

As a state representative, she was ahead of her time. In her first term in the legislature, she passed a law to help low-income women get breast cancer treatment.

She took on HMOs and their power to literally dictate life or death for a patient.

And in Congress, she'll never stop fighting to protect President Obama's health care law which prevents insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get sick.

That's something that protects all of us.

Without health insurance, I could not have experienced this deep peace for myself during my dance with cancer. It's allowed me to slow down and appreciate every day.

And slowing down is something that's precious in a world where everyone is moving faster and faster all the time.

Laura has lived this with me. Every step of the way. And she's determined to make this good fortune available for everyone.

If there's one last thing I could tell all of you it's that the best thing you can do when you have cancer is to reach out to as many people as possible and to receive the love that comes flowing back.

I am truly grateful for the time I've been given. I don't know how much longer I have left. When you're in this dance, you don't know when the music will end.

But I know that when I'm gone, my story and millions of others like it will live on in the lives and life's work of our children. And for that, I am truly grateful.