Graduation Blues


Babies were born, ever more refugees sought safety somewhere on our globe and all kinds of other big and small moments happened the last week of August and, I (drumbeat please), Marcy A. Westerling, was graduated from the Phase One Five-Round Autologous OC-DC Vaccine treatments of my clinical trial. Graduation was an understated affair. Nothing happened. I was exhausted between the travel, chemo, vaccines and two days of visiting nonstop with my best friend from high school whom I have only seen two times since college.

Graduation was a nonevent. Imagine your last day before retiring and knowing you agreed to keep showing up to do whatever needs to be done at the job site. It’s odd but it’s just how they do it in this trial and I do not begrudge being allowed to stick around even as I await my graduation bling.

Now this I like!

Now this I like!

But still – I did it. Our goal was only ever to get me this far. And we did. (Thank you, mighty team with Holly at the helm!)

Some dream team members

Some dream team members

But before I could make some small celebration happen, I awaited the chemo malaise to lift and lift it did on Saturday morning and then, “whoa”, I was miserably sick with some secondary virus that had me tossing in my bed like the baby I truly am. I was so, so sad Day One. Even sadder Day Two and then by Day Three, the final day of Labor Day Weekend, I was pissed, sad and miserable. Really?

Some useless tools employed

Some useless tools employed

Now, I am not one who spent a lot of time sitting with anger when I got my diagnosis. I bypassed any, “why me?” stage and settled in to sheer terror. For the next two years, every day I would have at least one, “holy shit!” moment as I wondered how I had walked into this script of metastasized cancer but it was not a, “why me”. But I am all about the, “why me?” with this virus and every other virus that tracks me down.


I will live on chemo. I will toss my old life aside and build a new one. I will accept my reality but I will accept no more secondary pain. No to viruses and the cycle of migraines that they generate. Secondary pain is wrong. (Is anyone listening?) I don’t state this in jest but I do have an accurate sense of the degree of control I have. None.

For the most part I have been spared secondary illness since diagnosis but I have not done well this past summer. I wear a mask on the plane. I get acupuncture and shiatsu twice/week. I avoid shaking hands and babies and still, it seems, I will get sick and that is the terrain of life. My pledge is to stay unreasonably grumpy over every secondary illness I get. It is just more than I can sign on too.

Misery again. Really?

Misery again. Really?


About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

13 responses »

  1. I’m with YOU! NO secondary illnesses for you! Enough is enough for one person to shoulder. You continue to inspire me in so many ways. The person you are (strong, vibrant, hopeful) shines through in every post and gives me a perspective that makes me so grateful and undeservedly content in my life. If only we could share our excess burdens and our excess blessings. A very communist view, wouldn’t you say?

  2. I was just telling Holly last night that I was about a quart low on inspiration. Thank you for filling that void with your post. I have stated my wish to the Universe that anything even remotely associated with secondary illness just pass you by. And, I didn’t even say please, but I did say thank you.

  3. Congratulations, graduate! And I’m giving the finger to secondary illnesses for you! Thank you for continuing to share your journey Marcy. You inspire me with every posting.

  4. Wow huge congrats on graduating! That must feel like such a relief. As for the virus, I totally hear you on that one, don’t the health Gods know you’ve got enough junk to deal with? Without adding insult to injury. Huh. There is no justice in this world sometimes. I wish you a speedy recovery from the virus and everything else if at all possible.

  5. Congratulations on your graduation, Marcy! Here’s to better times ahead. You may want to consider taking Astragalus to keep illness at bay, unless you are already taking something. My oncologist knows that I take this and is ok with it. It has really helped me stay healthy through all this, and I haven’t been very careful. I traipse around in public constantly because I have kids to shuttle here and there. Just a thought.

  6. It seems to me that at this graduation that you should be awarded something. I mean, at my last graduation I got hooded and after I jumped through a few more hoops folks suddenly started calling me Dr, or in Arabic- doctora. Now, I earned that darn thing through lots of tears and sweat and maybe even some laughter, oh and a trip to Palestine!, but I think you have gone through as much as I have to get to this point. I’m not creative, but you are, so I think you may outta come up with some groovy title for folks to call you. Okay, founder of the ROP and executive director emeritus of the ROP is pretty darn groovy, but too long. So, I’ll put it in more capable creative hands for your groovy new title- whatever it is many congratulations on it. You should be very proud of yourself and your lovely team of supporters, medical personnel, etc.. 🙂

  7. Damn! You get to whine as loudly and long as you want. It’s not fair that any person with cancer should have to put up with secondary infections. In fact, I firmly believe that one should only get one type of cancer in one’s life (I’m counting on that). No discomfort. Always to the front of the line. and lots of chocolate.

    I never got a graduation ceremony at Dana Farber — and boy was I disappointed! I saw others get them and was so looking forward to mine. But it was just ‘bye, like any normal ol’ chemo day.

    Hope to see you soon — and hope to hell that virus takes a hike pronto!

    xoxoxo j

  8. What, no bling? Congratulations anyway, Marcy, on making it this far! And you should be pissed about the bumps along the way. Let’s hope the universe sends no more secondary infections. You are in inspiration and keep me from whining!

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