Q: Why did the flying elephant crash to the ground?
A: Because somebody told him that elephants can’t fly.
By Kathy Carlson
The book is Perspectives of a Flying Elephant. Its author, Nashville’s Teri Simon, is a mother of three, Congregation Micah member and living with lung cancer.
Simon remembers the exact date and time of her diagnosis, Dec. 2, 2009, at 8:20 a.m. She remembers feeling “dazed and confused and cannot believe this is true.”
She had never smoked, there was no history of cancer in her family, and she had no other risk factors. There are no readily available and accepted tools for diagnosing the disease in an early stage, especially for people with no risk factors.
Initially, Simon emailed news of her diagnosis to about 20-25 people. Then, she started the blog that’s the basis for her Flying Elephant books (there are now two) because “it wasn’t a story I could tell over and over. Little by little it became an opportunity for me to express myself and educate others.”
Soon, 160 people were reading her blog, then more than 200 at its peak.
“It’s helping me deal with my situation,” Simon said one reader wrote.
“I understand what my brother went through,” another said.
And, someone said, “Thank you for speaking the words I was only thinking. You need to put (it) out in the public.”
Simon began talking about living well with cancer, starting with a Hadassah group in Oak Ridge. She also became active with the nonprofit group LUNGevity after speaking following its first Breathe Deep Nashville walk and fundraising event last year. LUNGevity is dedicated to lung cancer research, education and support for patients and caregivers.
“She’s just an incredible person,” said Andrea Stern Ferris, LUNGevity’s board chairman and president. Teri is “so eloquent and open about her journey. She’s living with lung cancer and doing everything she can to live with lung cancer and it’s important to highlight that.”
Simon helps with LUNGevity’s online lung cancer support efforts, by acting as a LUNGevity LifeLine phone buddy with others and writing blogs. People with lung cancer often feel isolated, Ferris said. “We’re creating a community for people to belong to and Teri is part of creating that.”
Lung cancer is more prevalent than many other types of cancer, Ferris said. Thirty percent of cancer deaths each year stem from lung cancer, and it kills twice as many women as breast cancer, she says. “It’s hard to communicate that and say, ‘By the way you can survive it.’ … We’re trying to send that message for them – (that) there are people out there living with it, like Teri.” And with the investment in research and early detection, Ferris says, there will be even more survivors.
Through LUNGevity, Simon connected with a literary agent. There’s a second Flying Elephant book, Turbulence for a Flying Elephant, which includes her second year of blogs. Both are available online, and 75 percent of all proceeds benefit Gilda’s Club Nashville, LUNGevity, and The National Lung Cancer Partnership. Micah member Kim Phillips designed the books including covers, and Micah Music Director and Cantorial Soloist Lisa Silver provided illustrations.
Simon continues to blog each week, at http://flyingelephantbook.wordpress. com, although she doesn’t plan a third Elephant book. She has developed the curriculum for a workshop that teaches patients how to advocate for themselves within the health-care system, how to set up a care community, and how to provide care for caregivers. She will speak at LUNGevity’s Hope Summit in Washington, D.C., in early May and is volunteering to help at LUNGevity’s second annual Breathe Deep Nashville walk on Sat., Nov. 17.
“I’ve always been a writer,” Simon said. Writing her blog “turned into (something) cathartic, therapeutic. For lack of a better word, this is my ministry.”
“It’s so important to be around people who understand without having to over explain.” Do you know that it hurts when hair falls out from chemo, she asked? “They told me that at Gilda’s Club. … If you shave (your head) it won’t hurt. They get it.”
“It’s hard – a hard disease. It’s not without its challenges,” she said. “It changed life – ruined life in a lot of ways. … On the other side, generous, wonderful, kind-spirited (people) help me. There’s nothing more beautiful than that.” •
Editor’s Note: Simon’s blog is at http://flyingelephantbook.wordpress.com. The Flying Elephant Q and A comes from her blog.