I cannot help but sit this morning in my relatively quiet house and reflect on the last 5 years of my life. It is a momentous occasion, which requires taking a few minutes (and probably a few pages) to process. I must begin at the beginning. In February 2006, I woke up with severe abdominal pain in the middle of the night. I woke my husband who rushed me to the ER. They prepped me in case I needed surgery. They tested me, and found….nothing. No cause that they could see that I was having what felt like labor pains. They gave me shots that relaxed my muscles, which worked to get rid of the pain and I went home. I had numerous follow up tests including a CT scan. No gall bladder issues. No appendicitis. Nothing. The end result was that the doc didn’t really know what caused my pain, but decided it may have been a ruptured cyst. Case closed. At least according to the doctor I was seeing. However, I was not convinced. I just had this feeling it was more than that. I never had any more pain, but the pain that night was so severe, that I wasn’t ready to write it off.
I changed doctors. I decided I needed a good gynecologist since I had always had my yearly checkups at my family doctor. By the way, I was diligent with those yearly checkups, in fact, it had been only 10 months since my last pap smear. However, with menopause looming in my future, I made an appointment with Dr. Simone in Gainesville. I choose to honor her here because she saved my life. I honestly believe if I had gone to anyone else, that I would be dead by now. She did an ultrasound, among other things, and found three polyps in my uterus. Most doctors would have left them unless I had a reoccurrence of pain. It “just so happened” that she wanted do the outpatient procedure in two days since she was going on vacation soon. Either that or wait two months. Fortunately, for me, I am a teacher, so in the summer the sooner you get things done the better. I jumped at the first available date she had. After the procedure, she told Bill she had found many more polyps that the three she expected. She assured him that she would send them off to pathology…another thing she did that is NOT standard procedure.
I will never forget the phone call from her office on Friday July 7th. “How soon can you get here?” they asked. I thought about that question and knew something was not right. I allowed time for Bill to get home because I knew better than to go alone. They said, “Can you come at 5:30?” I thought… After office hours. Not good. I said, “Yes. We’ll be there.” When Bill got home, we loaded up the kids and dropped them by his mom’s on the way. There was a play that night and they were all in it. Bill was the musical director so our schedule was tight. I told him it was bad news. He said, “You don’t know that for sure.” But I did. The doctor doesn’t call you to come in after office hours unless it is bad news…trust me on this one.
We arrived. She came in and gently said the words. My breath left me as the tears came. It is much like being punched in the stomach…a physical reaction to the news that “you have cancer.” I doubled over, trying to gasp for air. Tears flowing as my kids flashed before my eyes. Bill holding me, a stunned look on his face. Like a slow motion scene from a movie. She waited. Truth be told, I think she was grateful to have a moment to gather herself and dry her tears, while I was sinking into the numb place with my mind spinning. She knew nothing more. You think that the doctors know it all, but they don’t. Not what kind, not how far it had spread, not treatment options…nothing but her home phone number, the first of many. Having the home phone number of your doctor is the first real clue that your world is different. It was surreal really.
I could not face the kids, not before the show…because the show must go on and all that. Bill took me home, and left for the show with the agreement that we would talk to the kids after. No one else was to know before they did, other than our parents. His mom was currently in treatment for breast cancer, so she had to leave the room where the kids were when he told her over the phone. She got them in costume and to the show on time without uttering a word. Bless her. Bill went and performed the entire show without a word to anyone. Bless him. My mom called to find out how it went at the doctor. I said, “Not good.” She said, “I’m on my way.” I was going to be home alone for several hours, so her visit was welcome and much needed. Bless her.
Telling the kids was the hardest thing I have ever done. They were 10, 12, 14, and 16 at the time. I was crying as soon as they walked in the room. Bill had to tell them. Bless him. They smothered me in hugs and kisses. Peter said through his little tears, “I don’t want you to die Mom.” How do you even answer that other than to say, “I don’t want to die either.” You cannot add the part that it is not up to me…or that you do not know the outcome. Trying to be strong in the midst of your worst nightmare is not possible. Cancerland is ruthless from the very beginning.
I will not go through all of the treatment and heartache there. Honestly I’d rather not remember that part. (I am writing a book about the whole thing so you can read about it later) I can tell you that I survived it with the help and support of multitudes of people. I have since found that cancer and cancer treatments continue to claw at you long after you are cancer free. I have many residual conditions because of the cancer. The first being chemo brain. I just do not process information the same. My brain is slower in many ways. I have difficulty finding words or remembering times and dates. Though it has gotten better since the days when we made the game “guess what mom is trying to say,” I still have noticeable lapses. Another fun side effect is the constant urinary tract infections. No reason they can find. They say that my immune system is weak because of my cancer and that will be the first place I get infections. Joy. I have cataracts now. They are growing and my vision is reducing. Evidently, chemo accelerates them, and so my vision is weakening until they are to the point they can be surgically removed. This week I learned that it also accelerates arthritis. My knee is bone on bone. Nothing they can do but shots until I have knee replacement. I am too young for that surgery so I will be limping along for who knows how long. I am still grieving that one. I cannot take a full stride. That cuts out walking, hiking, jazzercise, and any number of activities that I had grown to love as I have taken my life back. It seems to me that cancer is still grasping at me with its hideous claws. It could not take my life, so it is trying to take the quality of my life. The thing is that even though I am having to adjust to the new limitations of my body, my spirit is joyous and ever so grateful to be alive. It oozes out of me to live fully. I may have to reinvent what that means periodically, but this stripping of myself draws me closer to God. I run to him, into his arms for my comfort, for my breath, for my very life. My heart beats with the blood of eternity in my veins. Cancer cannot steal that from me. For that reason, I smile and laugh. I embrace all that I am offered by him. I love my family more completely. I cherish my friendships more fully. I view hardships as temporary and relationships as the central reason I am alive.
After my surgery, I went back to see Dr. Simone. When I told her that they found both uterine and ovarian cancer she cried big tears once more. She said, “We NEVER catch ovarian in early stages…NEVER! Do you know what a miracle you are? You are a walking miracle of God.” I have found out that they only catch ovarian cancer in the first stage in 1 in 10,000 women. 30% of women survive it. That means 80% do not. I am a miracle. Plain and simple. Cancer can try to diminish that fact, but it remains a fact. I am healed. I am officially cured, and I will live fully no matter what!