Constance Alexander: Book detailing recovery from cancer provides a message of hope to McCain family

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Thanks to complicated surgery, aggressive chemotherapy and rigorous rehabilitation, Lisa Reisman survived a deadly glioblastoma multiforme when she was 32. GBM, as it is called, has a median survival rate of one to two years. Nonetheless, 19 years later, she has defied the statistics.

Her book — “5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours” – covers the details of her devastating diagnosis and chronicles her recovery, including competing in a marathon and three triathlons.

For a long time, Lisa did not share the story of her battle against GBM, but as she wrote the book, she learned to resist giving in to dread and despair about what the future might bring. It was time to start living her life.

“Honestly, now I only think about it when I talk about my book. Even when I get a headache,” Lisa says, “I don’t think ‘I have a glioblastoma.’ I think I should take an aspirin.”

To recover and regain what she had lost through surgery, Lisa created a regimen to support a sound mind and body. Besides exercise, she memorized poetry, did puzzles, and challenged herself intellectually.

“It gave me a sense of control over something out of control,” she explained.

Recently, when she learned that Senator John McCain had a glioblastoma diagnosis, Lisa wanted to share her experience with his family. She sent a copy of “5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours” with a handwritten note to Meagan McCain: “I was diagnosed with GBM 19 years ago, in 1998. Here’s my book about it,” it began.

“I would not be here without the strength and support of my family. You understand that, of course. Which is why you and your father and your family will get through this. Stay strong. My heartfelt regards, Lisa Reisman.”

Lisa wanted the McCains to know that she had learned there is always hope, an important lesson.

She remembered the sobering information that accompanied her own diagnosis, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. But Lisa likes to remind people that such bleak statistics are about as accurate as a 10-day weather forecast. Nevertheless, when presented with such a timeline, every day after that can bring dread, despair, and fear.

But when she reflects on her family’s role in her recovery, Lisa recalls that sometimes the simplest reassurances helped her to calm down at difficult moments.

“I remember my mom saying, ‘You’re going to get through this, and my father sitting through 3-hour treatments.”

She also counts the support and encouragement of her sister and brother-in-law as invaluable.

“That relentless, positive drumbeat that I was going to be okay propped me up,” she said.

Throughout her recovery, Lisa found that it helped her to act like a well person. She described watching Senator McCain cast his decisive vote against health care repeal, and commented that at that moment he was not a sick person.

Remembering her own experiences acting as if she were well, she said, “It gave me a sense of control over something out of control. That got me through a lot of crises.”

So far, Lisa has not heard if Megan McCain received her missive.

“I’m sure she’s getting advice,” Lisa admitted, but she hopes her message might be of help. “Knowing someone has defied the odds brings a tiny bit of light in the darkness.”

As far as her own health, Lisa has forsaken triathlons for boot camp workouts. She is doing all sorts of high-powered exercise and high impact training.
Her enthusiasm for fitness is contagious, she inspired her 78-year-old mother to join a gym and increase her upper body strength.

“She tells me she never felt so good,” Lisa said.

More of Lisa’s coping strategies are featured in her article, “Denial: An Unorthodox Strategy for Dealing with Cancer Diagnosis.”

More information the author and “5 Months 10 years 2 Hours” is available on her website: www.lisareismanauthor.com.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

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