From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
The Cancer Debt

August 23, 2005 1:54 AM

I've never really identified with being a cancer survivor. Never been to a support group, or even focused that much thought on it. And until now, I haven't talked about it much here either. Society views surviving cancer as some heroic accomplishment, but it's not. Sure, it's degrading and dehumanizing, but what was I going to do? Not fight it? I had no other choice.

There's nothing courageous about trying to stay alive. The real heroes were all the people who gave of their own lives, and at great sacrifice, to save mine. The people who did have a choice.

The guy who gave me his bone marrow not even knowing who I was.

The nurse who put her career on the line to save my life because I was shitting blood and the on-call doctor was too clueless to care.

The dad who not only had to deal with my sickness and all the insurance company craziness that entailed, but also the cancer that was killing his wife, while holding down a job so we could both have health care. He had to deal with the possibility of losing both his wife and his firstborn. That is heroic.

But it goes beyond even that. All the drugs I took, all the technologies developed, the training, the processes -- without all of the people behind these things, I wouldn't be here. Countless names and faces; people I will never meet.

Cancer left me with massive amounts of debt. Not of money, but of life. A debt I'm trying to repay with what I do with the life they've given me.

More from the archive in Me, My Health.

The Cancer Debt (08.23.2005)

Next Entry: Bush is at "pre-coup" approval numbers (08.25.2005)
Previous Entry: America's war against secularism (08.21.2005)

Read the 13 comments.



Can you tell us what the nurse did?

I took a coworker to the emergency room, when he had a stroke. An attractive nurse used her ..ahem.. powers of persuasion to bump this fellow to the front of the line for a CAT scan. Later on, she probably got in trouble for ordering the CAT scan, but she seemed to be the only person in the whole place who gave a damn. The only person who still had a soul.

Touching post Jim. When we're ill, we do owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the people who worked for literally decades investigating blind alleys, and eventually happened to strike gold in the form of a miracle cure.

Tue Aug 23 2005 4:35 AM


a debt of life - that is beautiful. i really like the picture of you (i'm assuming it's you) as a boy. you look so very serious. still praying!

Tue Aug 23 2005 6:54 AM

maggie (jim's step-mom):

The word courage comes from the Old French word cuer, which means heart. I smiled when I read that because your heart is too big, probably as a result of all your cancer treatments. Courage is mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

People make cancer survivors into heroes because they give the rest of us courage. If you can get up today and go to work gasping for breath then I can certainly face what the day holds for me. If you can look your own mortality in the face today and then post about other people’s courage, then I can certainly find the strength to do what needs to be done today. Your example gives me courage.

So while you concern yourself with a life dedicated to making a difference, don’t forget about those of us whom you have already touched. Perhaps your debt is not as big as it seems.

Very Big Love,

Tue Aug 23 2005 10:51 AM


As a fellow survivor I am really touched by what you have written. I have felt that way since my first treatment, but never thought about it in those terms. I also feel a debt to all prior and past cancer patients to push for government support of cancer research and to share my story and medical information so others can learn from my experience.

LIVESTRONG - Andrew (3x cancer survivor, recently diagnosed with 17 lung tumors)

Tue Aug 23 2005 12:19 PM

Kim (Andrew's Friend):

Jim -- just found your blog and don't quite know what to say except something similar to Maggie: cancer victims DO have courage. You ask, how can you not fight it, but after so much trial many spirits do stop fighting. You have had the courage to not just let go and wither away, even in the face of death. Sure, you are blessed with other courageous family and friends, but don't cut your own courage short. That's what friends and family are for, and if you didn't have the courage to fight, it would be that much harder on them.

Good luck to you and I will keep you in my prayers as well. Livestrong!

Tue Aug 23 2005 2:28 PM



You forgot one thing:

“But it goes beyond even that. All the drugs I took, all the technologies developed, the training, the processes -- without all of the people behind these things, I wouldn't be here. Countless names and faces; people I will never meet.”

The companies that made it possible for those you mention to do what they do/did to develop all the drugs you took and all technologies developed would not be possible without the vision shared by those companies like: Sandoz, Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., schering-plough.

You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers and I continue to wish you the best. I also ask that you and the fellow bloggers also show their support to who is also battling cancer.

Wed Aug 31 2005 9:42 PM


My uncle is dieing,

The same uncle I wrote about some time ago. He was diagnosed sometime in July 2005 with (stage 4) Pancreatic Cancer that metastasized in his liver, after aggressive chemotherapy and ever worsening side effects (gout, weakness) he got to the point that he would not tolerate continued treatment so the decision was made to suspend treatment (chemo) until such a time when he would be better able to tolerate it.
My uncle was never able to reach that point. A week ½ ago he “crashed” and the doctors @ Slone K. said that they can do no more for him, his color changed, he lost 10 more lbs, he cant keep anything down (food), he’s in pain and his wife gives him morphine it’s just a question of weeks until I attend his funeral.

It now becomes a vicious circle with the cancer and the pain meds – If he is in pain he gets a dose of morphine and depending on his pain the dose is measured, ever increasing doses subdue his respiratory system so I’m forced to wonder will the cancer finally kill him or will the morphine weaken him to the point that he wont wake up.

To see someone I’ve known all my life and thought of as a gentle giant that is: 6 feet 4 in 245lbs waste away to 195lbs w/in a matter of months is indescribable. He is/was in a major way responsible for me joining the military - because of his patriotism, his love and his philosophy, his way of being. My life will be diminished greatly by his passing. This world will be diminished by his passing.

I pray that we (my extended family) are able to keep him comfortable until God finally calls him home.

The love that I have for this man is ONLY surpassed by the love for my father and my family.

Mon Mar 13 2006 10:09 AM

Mike of the Great White North:

Am truley sorry to hear that NJ. I hope his remaining days come with as much comfort as one can be afforded.

And your message has inspired me to attempt to give up smoking.

Differences aside, take care in your time of need.

-hoping for an end to cancer

Tue Mar 14 2006 12:44 PM



Thank you for your kind words.

As you can tell from my last post, this man means a great deal to me and to lose him in this way little by little is devastating, especially to his: wife, children & young grand children.

I spend as much time as I can with him and his family (almost to the point of being a naissance) and remind/reassure that I love him.

I am almost envious of him because of the almost constant stream of: family, friends, coworkers and colleagues that have rushed to be with him, it makes me reevaluate my relationships, makes me ask myself when my life’s path ends, will my last moments be spent with people I love and that love me.

Tue Mar 14 2006 2:29 PM



I meant "nuisance" in (almost to the point of ...)

Tue Mar 14 2006 2:31 PM

Jim Gilliam:

My thoughts are with NJ. Watching someone you really love die slowly... that's what happened to my mom.. it was cancer too. I can't think of anything worse.

Tue Mar 14 2006 11:45 PM


Mr. Gilliam,

I thank you very much for your comments.
I ask those of you who believe, please keep my uncle in your prayers.

Sat Mar 18 2006 7:42 AM


My uncle passed away on Sunday at approx 11:15AM.

I ask that all who read this make a donation the the Anti Cancer/Research organization/charity of their choice.

Mon Mar 20 2006 7:07 AM

Jim Gilliam
Jim Gilliam


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