Speaking Up

Blogs-contributors, Dan Waeger — By on May 27, 2009 at 8:01 am

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give the opening speech at a local Relay for Life in Frederick, MD, an event that raises funds for the American Cancer Society. These Relays are held in communities across the country. People form fundraising teams and then commit to walk continuously from sun down to sun up. Prior to this particular evening, I had never been to a Relay for Life. But Dan had formed a team of friends for the past several years at McDaniel College. He spoke once, and was scheduled to speak last year but an unexpected hospital stay prevented him from participating. Dan was very disappointed that he couldn’t make it, but was impressed that his friends still went & walked. So I think it was only fitting that I was asked to speak… I was able to honor his commitment, and walk a few steps in his shoes

I am re-printing my speech below. Well, it’s actually a combination of Dan’s words from previous speeches and a few of my thoughts. I appreciate these opportunities to tell Dan’s stories and convey the lessons he took from cancer. It’s very helpful for me to have something positive to direct my energy into during these tough times.

My name is Meghan Rodgers. I lived with cancer for the past two years. And I will live with cancer for the rest of my life. Nine weeks ago, I lost my fiancé Dan Waeger to Stage IV lung cancer. He was just 2 months shy of his 27th birthday. It is truly an honor and an inspiration to be here with you this evening at the Relay for Life and share a little bit about Dan and our experience with cancer.

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I cannot imagine what it would be like to be 22 years old in the middle of pursuing a MBA and coaching college golf, basically living out the dreams of a young life… and then have someone tell me that I have cancer. And worst of all, it is stage IV lung cancer. But that was the exact the position my fiancé Dan found himself in May 18, 2005, nearly four years ago.

Twenty-two years old.

Athlete.

Non-smoker.

Lung cancer.

Those are phrases that just don’t belong together when you’re 22.

I would often ask Dan what he thought when he heard those words- “You have cancer”. Of course he was scared- who wouldn’t be? But he also knew that he was facing a potentially life threatening and debilitating disease & he could do 1 of 2 things: feel sorry for himself or stand up and fight………..Dan knew he had no choice but to fight.

And fight he did. Forget what the statistics said. He lived almost 4 years with a disease that kills most people within a year. During that time, he endured almost 50 cycles of chemo, radiation, 2 major surgeries, hospitalizations and every side effect you can name-

He puked. Sometimes in the car on the way home from treatment.

He had neuropothy, edema, throat sores & rashes.

He lost his fingernails.

He lost his hair twice. I even shaved his head the second time.

And eventually, he lost his life.

But that is not the end of Dan’s story. Because there were many wonderful things that cancer could not take from Dan. Cancer did not take his smile. Cancer did not take his willful optimism. It did not take his hope. And it will not take his legacy.

Dan insisted that he never failed treatments. Rather, treatments failed him. He had a good life, and was determined not to let cancer stop him from making it great. So he didn’t stop. During the 4 years he was undergoing treatments, he also graduated with an MBA, started a career as a cancer advocate and founded the National Collegiate Cancer Foundation to help other young adult cancer survivors by awarding scholarships for college and graduate school.

He lived a full life as a son to two loving parents, as the youngest brother to four lively siblings & as an uncle to a growing brood of nieces and nephews. Dan never stopped living his life. And we never stopped living our life together.

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When it comes to cancer, we often speak of people “fighting” the disease. And if someone ultimately passes away, we say that they “lost” their battle. From “winning isn’t the only thing, it’s everything” to “there is no such thing as second place”- we are a society obsessed with winners. But when it comes to this game called cancer, those of us in it know that judging “victory” solely by being cured would completely underestimate the importance of the journey and the day in & day out management of the disease.

Many cancer survivors & their loved ones, like Dan & me, don’t see a cure as the only possible cancer victory. Because the reality is that not everyone is cured of this disease. And even a cure is not a “one-size-fits -all” solution. Many of us would be ecstatic if cancer could be managed as a chronic disease- like diabetes. Or if genetic testing could just narrow down the options to avoid toxic and crippling treatments as a cruel form of trial & error to find the one that works. Or if we could find a way to just to minimize the daily side effects during treatments and beyond.

Victory in our cancer battle isn’t a straight win/loss scenario. For many of us, the ultimate victory is living a normal life, no matter what the odds are. That is the win we are looking for. We want to fall in love. Play on the work softball team. Maybe even just go to work. We want to have a few beers with friends on the weekends and take in a baseball game. We want to take vacations and celebrate holidays with our families. We want to be like everyone else. And that it is Dan and I wanted. And that is what Dan & did.

I met Dan two years after he was diagnosed. Many people often say that I must have been a brave person to date someone with cancer. I honestly have no idea what that comment is supposed to mean. Because those of who love someone with cancer just know them as the people they are meant to be, not as a statistic to be cited somewhere in a study. We love them, not the averages or odds they may represent.

In our life, Dan & I demanded as much normalcy as possible. But how do we do this when faced with cancer? Especially if statistically, we aren’t facing good odds?

It all starts with the right attitude. One of Dan’s favorite stories was about Pete Rose’s pursuit of the baseball’s all-time hit record. During Spring Training, a reporter asked Pete how many at bats he would need to get the 78 hits to break Ty Cobb’s hit record. Pete matter of factly replied “If I need 78 hits, then I need 78 at bats.”

The reporter laughed & said, “Come on, Pete…you can’t be serious. You’d have to bat a thousand”

Pete replied- “You know, if I don’t step up to the plate believing that I’m going to get a hit every time….then I don’t deserve to get up to bat at all.”

This story resonated with Dan because if he didn’t wake up every single day…

if ALL OF US here tonight don’t get up every day…..

Thinking that we can do it, that we can succeed, we don’t deserve to get up to up at all. This goes for the cancer survivors, and those that are beside them in their journey. And for those like me that lost a loved one, it means believing that we can make it through even though our loved ones are no longer here.

But even the best attitude and medicine won’t take us all the way. We may have the “What” on board, but we would never get anywhere without the “Who” on board. When I heard that tonight’s theme centered around The Wizard of Oz, I smiled. Because it’s the perfect analogy for a cancer journey. Dorothy couldn’t make it back home to Kansas without the heart of the Tin Man, the wisdom of the Scarecrow, the courage of the Lion and a great pair of shoes. She couldn’t make it alone.

We need a team to survive cancer. And that team extends beyond the hospital and our families and friends. It’s a community effort. From the neighbors that help with errands or food, to the co-workers who donate vacation hours and the bosses that let us work flexible schedules, to the volunteers at great organizations like the American Cancer Society…We need all the help that we can get.

But it’s not only cancer that joins us together tonight. Our unifying bond IS HOPE. For those of us in the land of cancer, the doctors, nurses, (the wonderful nurses), the friends, the families, the cancer survivors…some days, it may seem that the challenge is too big, too tough.

We hear about another friend, parent, or co-worker being diagnosed. We hear about those that make it, but a lot of times…we unfortunately hear about those who don’t. In difficult times, we must remember that life’s challenges are not suppose to paralyze us and bring us down, but help us discover who we are and the changes we can become.

We know that once cancer enters our lives, we will never be the same. There will never be a day when we don’t think of cancer. It will always present some sort of physical or mental challenge. So if we’re going to sit and think about cancer everyday, we need to realize that we can do something about it. We can do something positive. We can live our lives. And we can make a difference. We can HOPE.

Earlier I spoke about the definition of winning when it comes to cancer. Sometimes, it’s important to remember that we win when we don’t quit, we don’t give up, when we simply choose to keep moving. We win when we choose HOPE.

I know that you have a long night ahead of you. And we all have a long road ahead of us on this cancer journey. But I know that the reasons that brought you all here are the same reasons that won’t let you quit this Relay or quit this fight in the future. And one of those reasons we will never quit is Hope. It is Hope that will carry us through.

Because in the presence of HOPE, anything is possible.

Everyone here has a story. And I know that mine is no better than anyone else’s.

So from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for allowing me to share mine.

Please read the complete article and let us know what you think below.

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