Keeping Time

by Karen Tollefson

The Time Keeper for Karin Tollefson's Blog 2014

The Time Keeper

This painting hung in our favorite southern California gallery and it drew both my husband and me to it each time we visited. Soon it became a favorite part of our collection.  The Time Keeper, as it was titled, was nothing more than a special piece of art hanging on the walls, until one day the irony of trying to “keep time” finally caught up with us.

A cancer diagnosis will do that to you; change your point of view.  Time is not something to be kept; it can’t be stopped, preserved or reclaimed.  When you are told you have cancer, time becomes a privilege, and with my family being handed two cancer diagnoses within a few short years, this painting became a poignant reminder that every moment matters.

When my mother was told she had lung cancer, it was as if time stood still and was racing all at once.  There was an urgency to act, start therapy, fight for her life, but all we could do was “hurry up and wait.”

Life as my mother knew it was gone in an instant, but it took time for her journey as a cancer patient to commence.  It was three months from when I first suggested her persistent cough might be more than allergies to when her treatment would begin.  It felt like a lifetime and it felt like no time at all.  Now, it strikes me that one month about lung cancer means something entirely different to a person living with cancer.

This month’s recognition is an important milestone, raising awareness, creating advocacy and generating momentum.   Lung cancer is gaining much-needed attention. For me, having lost a husband to leukemia and a mother to lung cancer, I am proud to speak out for those who can no longer advocate for themselves.

Long before I was ever personally touched by a cancer journey, my career was in oncology research and development. And now, with the lines of my private and professional life irrevocably crossed, my career has become all too personal.  I am reminded daily of the urgency for what we do and although continuous innovation has resulted in dramatic improvements in patient care, we still have far to go.  Oncology research is not a simple endeavor and by its very nature, cancer research has proven to be a cumulative process, with each advance building on that of a previous discovery.  It takes time.

As November’s spotlight on lung cancer comes to a close we should acknowledge the progress made in understanding the underlying biology of the disease and recent treatment advances.  Still, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer related mortality in the world and we have far to go to develop innovative treatments, improve early detection and eliminate stigma. We must keep the urgency- people living with lung cancer need us, far beyond November.  After all, there is a lot of living that can occur in a month when you have the gift of time.