I mentioned in my introductory post that during the past year-and-a-half I’ve immersed myself in a community of homeless men and women who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Initially, I came into contact with these folks because I thought they’d have an interesting story to tell–and in all honesty, I was terribly curious about how somebody with cancer gets by when there’s no place to return after a grueling treatment and no one to help ease the pain of surgery, nausea, mouth sores, and a host of other challenges.
My curiosity quickly turned to passion. I now have friends who at one time or another have “lived” on a concrete slab, in abandoned buildings and cars, or under overpasses throughout Birmingham. You’ll discover that I write a lot about these amazing people on this blog, because they have dramatically influenced how I look at the experience of cancer, survival, health care, and life in general.
Edwina is one of these people. She’s the first person I met from this community, and she’s the one I’m most likely to call (yes, most homeless people these days have cell phones) and to accompany to doctor’s appointments.
Edwina is my age, African American, born and raised in Birmingham (Pratt City, to be exact), and living with stage 4 breast cancer. Despite our many differences, she and I clicked from our first meeting. I don’t usually buy into the idea that having cancer makes people part of the same community–I know it certainly doesn’t put us on an even playing field–but what I see in Edwina is a woman struggling with a diagnosis that I understand while lacking the resources and social support that survivors like me take for granted. The thought of being in her shoes keeps me coming back–not only to help her out when I can but also to remind myself that I’m fortunate to have the knowledge and treatment options that I do.
I published a feature article in CR about my experiences with Edwina and others if you’d like to take a look: http://www.crmagazine.org/archive/Fall2010/Pages/HomelessWithCancer.aspx
Stay tuned, because there’s much more to tell about how my life has changed since meeting Edwina (and Lisa and Charles and Ervin and Franklin and Roderick). It’s been a journey unlike any other.