First Person / Cancer strikes back
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It has been 10 years since I had breast cancer and wrote a column for the Post-Gazette entitled "In Rough Times, Positive Thinking Is the Only Option."
I re-read it recently.
I had almost forgotten the surgery, a lumpectomy, except now and then when I'd catch sight of myself in the mirror after a shower. But it was in the past. It made me a survivor, a word I'm not fond of, but it didn't control my life.
Now it's back.
I went to the doctor due to fatigue and weight loss, both unusual for me. And on Dec. 6, I was diagnosed with secondary cancer, which had metastasized in my lungs from a primary cancer elsewhere.
It was a day short of the 69th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and somehow the date seemed significant. I thought of my family, my father going to war and the fact that nothing would ever be the same. This felt like that.
It had been a rough couple of weeks waiting for confirmation from all kinds of tests, but the results are the results. To put it in perspective, albeit with great fear, knowing is better than supposing.
A biopsy of the nodules in my lungs showed the old breast cancer to be the source. Now we go to work.
Each time I go to Hillman Cancer Center I am reminded that I am not alone. The disease affects millions of people -- patients and families and friends.
It is difficult to have a stiff upper lip. It is hard not to think the worst and plan accordingly. Yes, and feel sorry for yourself.
I found myself seeking my car title, my house deed, my living will, writing down the name of an attorney who handled my insurance, my IRA, when my bank loan is due and when the house will be fully paid for.
I began looking at my garden, wondering if I would see my new dogwood bloom. I insisted my dog sit on my lap so I could hug him extra hard and wondered if I should send Christmas cards. (I did.)
I have been sitting in my living room looking at my possessions. They represent several generations and have meaning for me because of my parents, my sister, my travels, my interests ... so many things I love that mean so much to me but nothing to someone browsing an estate sale.
None of us lives forever. Visit any hospital, any cancer center. Listen to the news as people shoot people. Don't they know how precious life is? Why do we always need to be reminded?
Read obituaries and death notices, which I often do. Sometimes I am so inspired by the lives so many people have lived, without notoriety or celebrity, just lives of good deeds and purpose and extended families who will remember them.
I began by writing about hope. And there is hope.
"There is treatment." Perhaps these three words are the best you can hope for after hearing the words "malignant" and "metastasize."
I've Googled every medical term and drug and cancer prognosis. I've been in several hospitals and walked down more long corridors these past few weeks than in the rest of my lifetime of 81 years.
I read the words of Elizabeth Edwards during her last days, which she handled with great dignity and grace.
At my son's urging, I watched on YouTube the late basketball coach Jim Valvano's stirring speech at the ESPY awards back in 1993 as his death drew near. It was so gutsy, so honest. He passed away from cancer a month later at age 47, but his message was to live large each day, even in the face of pain or fear.
My hope was hormonal therapy, involving injections once a month that would attack the critters in my lungs and allow me to get on with my life. But that didn't work, I learned this week, so now it's on to chemo.
I am scared.
But I see the faces of my granddaughters, both under three years of age, and marshal on in hopes of staying around long enough to make certain they remember their Nana.
I also try to enjoy everyday things I've taken for granted. We often talk about living each day as if it were our last, but we seldom do it.
My friends are phenomenal. My son Drew could be named to sainthood he has been so loving and supportive.
But at the end of the day, I sit with my own thoughts, influenced by all that I have known and experienced. And I am forever grateful. It is my battle and how I choose to take it on is personal.
I read a quote recently, and saved it for some reason. Google tells me it's from Virginia Satir, a notable author and psychotherapist who died in 1988:
"Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way we cope with it is what makes the difference."
First Published March 12, 2011 12:00 am