OPINION: Cancer sucks, and here’s what you can do when it affects someone you love

Yesterday, Nov. 21, was World Pancreatic Cancer Day.

In time for this year’s World Pancreatic Cancer Day, and in collaboration with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, “Jeopardy!” game show host Alex Trebek created a video to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer. He revealed in March that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Since he began hosting “Jeopardy!” in 1984, Trebek has been a constant presence on the TV sets of millions of Americans every night. For “Jeopardy!” contestants and viewers alike, the announcement of his cancer diagnosis was upsetting.

When Trebek made the announcement, he quipped, “I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease. Truth told, I have to. Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host ‘Jeopardy!’ for three more years.”

And he has kept true to his word: Though Trebek will be entering chemotherapy for the second time, he is still continuing to do his job.

During the Nov. 11 episode of “Jeopardy!”, a contestant wrote “We love you, Alex!” for his “Final Jeopardy” answer, after hearing that Trebek would be re-entering treatment for pancreatic cancer. Upon reading the contestant’s message, Trebek became uncharacteristically emotional, and choked up as he said, “That’s very kind of you. Thank you.”

Cancer is terrifying. It represents the unknown, and often seems like a death sentence. It’s scary.

And it can happen to anyone.

Yesterday wasn’t only World Pancreatic Cancer Day. It also marked two months since my friend passed away from cancer this September. She was 17 years old, and had been battling leukemia for the past year and a half.

When my friend was first diagnosed with cancer, she was a member of my section in my high school’s newspaper. When she told me that she had cancer in January 2018, I didn’t know what to do. I said things like “I hope you feel better,” and “Get well soon,” but those felt like empty statements. 

I told her that I was there for her if she needed anything, but in the face of her cancer diagnosis, I didn’t know what else I could do.

For the first year, she kept the knowledge of her cancer confined to only a few people. She didn’t want to be known as the girl with cancer, and she wouldn’t allow the disease to define her.

At the end of that school year, she succeeded me as opinion section editor. But earlier this year, in January, she had to leave for the hospital for a bone marrow transplant, and was unable to return because of her weakened immune system. 

Even when she was in the hospital, she continued to contribute to our newspaper, writing stories like a review of the movie “Paddleton,” which highlights the friendship of two neighbors, one of whom is diagnosed with cancer. While fighting her own battle with cancer, she wrote a moving story about a classmate who had survived cancer.

Inspired by the care given to her by her nurses, she realized that she wanted to become a nurse and began applying to nursing schools so she could help others in a similar way.

Like Trebek, my friend continued to do what she loved, despite her struggles with cancer.

We hoped that she would come back to school in spring this year. But she never did.

It still feels unreal that she’s gone. 

I wish I had been there more for her when she was still here. I wish I could have shown her that I was by her side. I wish I could have known what to do when she was alive.

Billions of results turn up when I Google, “what to do when someone has cancer,” but I guess, in hindsight, my answer to that question is pretty simple.

Supporting someone who has cancer doesn’t require a large, selfless act. Sometimes, the little things are what matter the most. Just being there with that person, and for that person, can mean a lot. Cancer is rough, but even more difficult when someone has to go through it alone. 

If you know someone with cancer, show them that you care. Visit them if they are in the hospital or confined to their homes.

Bring them their favorite books, albums or movies. Remind them that they haven’t been forgotten. Remind them that they are still very much part of the communities they’re in. 

Remind them that they aren’t alone, and that there are people rooting for them. Even something as simple as saying, “I love you,” or “I am here for you,” can help.

And like how my friend didn’t want to be known as the girl with cancer, sometimes, all someone who has cancer may want is to be treated normally.

I’m thankful to have known someone as incredible as that friend, who filled up every corner of each room that she entered with so much light. I’m grateful to have grown up watching Trebek brighten households with “Jeopardy!” every night. 

I admire both of them so much for their resilience, strength and grace in their battles with cancer.

We love you, Alex. We love you, Belinda.

Michelle Lum HM ’23 is from San Jose, California. Every day, she misses her friend Belinda, who lost her battle with leukemia in September. She hopes that Belinda is at peace, and knows that her memory lives on in the pages of the Epic, the Lynbrook High School student newspaper, as well as the people who were touched by Belinda in her lifetime.

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