It is tough not to feel as though cancer has besieged our community.
There is a little boy waiting for a miracle. There is a football star in a hospital bed.
We have bathed the Central Terminal, the Electric Tower and the Peace Bridge in blue for Ben Sauer. We have sent letters, cookies and tweets to the Kellys as they comfort the Hall of Fame quarterback through his pain.
Their stories have gripped our hearts. They have let loose the flood of support that helps define our community. They have brought tears and hope.
They have brought out the best in our community.
But there have also been some who wonder, with so many suffering silently with terrible illness, why so much focus on one famous man?
There is intense interest in Jim Kelly’s story, but that does not lessen the love for all those who are sick.
It’s shocking when someone who has made his career on health, vitality and strength struggles so openly.
“It makes us way more aware of our own mortality,” said Sue Sharcot, a senior medical social worker at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “That, gee, if it could happen to someone like that, it could happen to me, too.”
Sharcot has worked with countless patients affected by cancer in her 30 years at Roswell Park. She is part of a team of workers that helps patients navigate not just the tough logistics of care – “How do I get back and forth for my treatment?” – but also the sometimes unanswerable questions – “What’s going to happen to me?”
Cases like Kelly’s can make the rest of us see the reality people like Sharcot see every day.
“It heightens the awareness that this touches so many lives – that cancer is a terrible disease,” Sharcot said. “And yes, while these are high-profile, it’s going on in the lives of people all around us.”
For each patient, there are parents, children, siblings – entire support systems, sometimes of hundreds of people, affected by the disease.
“A high-profile case, you’re talking about thousands of people, maybe millions of people,” Sharcot said.
The prayers and the worry for those in the news do not diminish the concern for all those stricken by cancer.
Pastor Jerry Gillis brought that message to congregants at The Chapel a few Sundays ago when they prayed for the Sauers and the Kellys – both part of their “church family.”
“What I mentioned to them was, look, we’re praying for these two families because the eyes of Western New York are on them, and we want Western New York to see what Christian people do when they’re walking through difficult times,” Gillis said. “We pray that that will be a great testimony of God’s faithfulness in Western New York when people see this.”
“But,” he went on, “I reminded them, that for all the rest of us who maybe are suffering in silence or in relative obscurity, that we have that same responsibility.”
There is a message for everyone in the prayers, the blue lights for Ben, the tweets for Jim: We stand behind you.
It’s a message for Ben. It’s a message for Jim.
But it’s also a message for everyone who is sick with cancer.
For those just focused on getting through today. For those who have beaten the odds.
Well-wishes are like love. There are no diminishing returns.