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

Tags: Cancer | cancer | relapse | blast | leukemia

The Words Stay With You

By    |   Wednesday, 12 November 2014 03:53 PM

Certain words, although benign in and of themselves, can assume a second, negative meaning to people who have had cancer. The most obvious example is “relapse.”
This came to mind recently when I thought of how I had relapsed when abandoning my good intentions to do strength training. Even saying it to myself caused me to shudder. Relapse is a bad word for cancer survivors. It happened to me twice.
Another, less obvious, word that rings a bell for cancer survivors is “blast.”
"A blast from the past," a college friend once wrote to me.
"I had a blast," people say.
For me, blasts are anything but. Because blasts are the immature white blood cells in the bone marrow that spill out into the bloodstream of patients with leukemia, preventing the formation of normal blood cells.
When I look at my blood test results, I want to see a zero after the word “blasts.” Thankfully, that number has stayed at zero since the day my donor, Denise, saved me: January 31, 2009.
For a while, when the word "pending" came up after the word “blasts,” I would be on edge until all the results came in. So “pending” became another word that I associated with cancer.
And then, maybe strangest of all, there is “chicken pot pie.” You might think this word would have a good association because it was a staple during my hospital stays, when so much other food was unappetizing or just too hard to swallow. But I ate so much that I would be happy to never set eyes on chicken pot pie again. Even saying the word makes me feel uncomfortable.
Granted, these associations are not as intense as the sound of a gunshot a war veteran or  the squeal of tires for someone who has been through a bad car accident. I can deal with them. It’s fine.
But they’re always going to be there, reminding me that although my cancer is thankfully gone, the reminders never really go away.

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Certain words, although benign in and of themselves, can assume a second, negative meaning to people who have had cancer. The most obvious example is “relapse.”
cancer, relapse, blast, leukemia
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 03:53 PM
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