Even casual sports fans are aware of an annual event when Major League Baseball hosts Stand Up To Cancer. The play on the field stops briefly and almost every person in the ballpark stands up holding a placard honoring someone in their life dealing with the scourge disease or the memory of someone who has passed. It is a broad sponsorship effort that has raised $746 million for coordinated and innovative research. The campaign’s sponsored research has led to nine new FDA-approved cancer treatments.
Yes, there is hope.
A new book offers a matter-of-fact view of cancer treatments and living life to the fullest despite the disease as seen through the eyes of an India native who is now a San Francisco Bay Area company executive.
It is My Race Against Death: Lessons Learned From My Health Struggles by Shoba Rao, (2023, Indie Books International).
Rao, from a middle-class India family, came to the United States on a temporary work visa and also pursued a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
Health setbacks followed her almost immediately. She had already had a kidney transplant back in India due to kidney failure. Three separate bouts of cancer –ureter, bladder and liver followed. The suppressed immune system after the transplant made it all the more challenging.
Through it all, Rao never looked back to see if death was gaining. She has job-hopped up the corporate ladder, reaching the level of director, volunteering her time with cancer-victim support organizations, co-founding a side business, mastering cooking skills and traveling the world with her husband.
Her career has passed the 26-year mark with no major break in service. In fact, many colleagues never even became aware of her health challenges. Close friends, however, have begged her to share her story.
In Race Against Death, she does. New medical diagnoses are ticked off simply, both in formal medical name and what the layman would call it, and the implications to someone just told she has it.
Rao sprinkles pearls of wisdom along the way:
- Every major surgery deserves a second opinion (and how to get one).
- Schedule your surgery on Monday and complications or nagging questions won’t arrive on weekends when everyone is gone.
- Do your own research and you can be your own advocate. (She was the one who spotted that the blood for her transfusion was not what was ordered.)
- Prospective medicines are dosed on fully grown males, rarely on a petite Asian or American woman. (Be prepared to quickly cut back the dosage.)
As a bonus, the book includes several vegan recipes she perfected with presumed anti-cancer benefits listed and the source documented.
You do want a cancer patient you are attempting to comfort respond with: “No, you don’t know how I feel or what I am going through.”
Rao offers a number of tips on how to talk to a cancer patient:
- Don’t ask me questions about my tests. If I want to talk about them, I will.
- Refrain from physical assessments. Don’t comment on how those with cancer look.
- Don’t compare. No, I don’t want to know what happened to your friend’s friend.
- Share encouraging stories. Yes, do tell about long-term cancer survivors.
- Show them you care. Give them a hug. Surprise them with books, magazines or music.
- Don’t trivialize their experiences. Any type of cancer is a major challenge.
- There is no good cancer. Repeat: any cancer is a major challenge.
- It is not about you. Don’t put the focus on you.
- Think before you speak. Avoid clichés.
- Don’t ignore them. Just stay connected.
A key takeaway: “The most important lesson I have learned over the last decade is not to let any disease define my life but to live life to the fullest extent, with the disease as a blip in a corner, albeit traveling with me,” says Rao.