Successfully living with a chronic disease like CLL requires waging the fight at a lot of different levels.  Organizations such as Patient Power, CLLPAG, LLS and others provide information, resources and other support.  Medical, nutritional and therapeutic aspects are addressed by our healthcare teams.  I am also fortunate to train under a former Olympic cyclist turned sports physiologist who keeps me physically fit.

However, these are only part of the community network needed to contend with chronic disease.  With the holiday season right around the corner, many of us will be spending time with friends and family in the upcoming weeks. Family and friends are another important component with as much giving as drawing emotional and spiritual support.

As an appetizer of sorts, I went home recently to spend time with family and to attend my Aunt Tillie’s 90th birthday.  It was a great visit with my parents, sisters and “cousins.”   In actuality, neither Aunt Tillie nor my Aunt Sis are, or were, relatives but were parents in many other respects.

Growing up, I really had three sets of parents and siblings in what amounted to an extended family.  Regrettably, Aunt Sis passed away earlier this year, and it was really important to get back home for Tillie’s birthday.

These women, their husbands and families, as well as mine and others, were part of an incredibly tight-knit group of lifelong friends.   Although in a modern city, this group really defined the best of being in a shtetlShtetl’s were small towns in Eastern Europe where the community really took care of their own.

For example, as a kid in this modern day equivalent, I would often knock on Aunt Sis’s door across the street or Aunt Tillie’s house a few blocks away, head straight for their refrigerators, and generally hang out.  Their kids were routinely in our house doing the same, typically raiding my family’s legendary cookie drawer.

Another funny example was when my future wife came home to meet my parents for the first time. This would be stressful in the best of circumstances.  When we pulled up to my parents’ house, cars were parked up and down the block. I had forgotten to tell her that my parents were having a “small” holiday party involving maybe 90 or 100 people!  Ooops, bad C.J. In the evening’s chaos, Tillie and Sis were among the first to greet and make her feel welcome.

Similarly, Tillie’s birthday was a day-long affair ending with a smaller evening event back at her place.  True to form, the “small” party involved about 40 “cousins,“ siblings and kids packing into a two bedroom apartment with food everywhere.  Some things just don’t change!

Although CLL came up in various conversations, it was a passing detail rather than a central theme.  Although my physical health has been relatively stable, I sorely needed to be with people who know me just as C.J., and not some random person who has chronic, incurable cancer

All of this highlights the importance of community in general, and particularly when dealing with a chronic disease.   When you are in a community, you don’t feel alone, and the collective experience of others helps you deal with things.

Please share how “community” has helped or enabled you in your fight against cancer and chronic disease.   Your posts and comments really do help and inform others.

I hope all of you have a great holiday season!

Thank you for reading!

Always hope. Never quit.

-           C.J. Chris