This month holds an anniversary which I generally choose to ignore, but it is the very reason I am still alive. For, it was 12 years ago this July, when I had surgery for cancer. I had been diagnosed in June, 1998, only nine months after my husband had been found to have an incurable, recurring cancer. Our children were way too young to have to deal with such life changing diseases,but I was too young, too. It was such a devastating blow when I was already devastated knowing that my husband was dying.
I know now that I literally became totally numb emotionally, physically, and mentally in order to handle my daily routine. My husband could barely take care of himself due to the continuous radiation and chemotherapy treatments, yet, he vowed to care for me as I had for him. Good intentions but the reality was that we couldn’t do it alone. It was enough just caring for each other and our children never mind the dog and house. So, my aunt moved from her home and happy life to care for all of us and the terror that threatened us. We must have been a mess, but I don’t remember. I remember my son calling to ask if it would be all right if he came home to see us and I know he came, but I don’t remember any of it. I remember comforting others who called to comfort me and studying an entire weekend searching on the computer for everything I could find about breast cancer.
After talking with innumerable women who had dealt with breast cancer and my own research, I determined the course of medical treatment that was most correct for me even before seeing a doctor. I remember meeting with my oncology surgeon and questioning him thoroughly before letting him know that I wanted a bilateral modified mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I remember him asking after the surgery if I wanted to use the same oncologist as my husband. When I asked what he normally recommended in such situations, this surgeon who had years of experience replied that he had never run into a situation where both spouses had cancer. I opted for my own oncologist which was a very good thing. Trying to comfort me, a co-worker softly said, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” and I snapped back, “Oh, yes, he does!” Now, I know that he does sometimes give you more than you can handle, but he also gives you the elasticity to deal with everything until your world becomes manageable once again.
Truly, that is all I remember until the recovery and chemo began. I remember the needle going into my arm knowing that within 20 minutes or so I would be violently nauseated. I remember being stopped by a cop for speeding on my way home from work so tired that I could barely move. He thought I was drunk or drinking, but the cup only had tea from lunch. I remember picking up from the floor all the hair that had fallen out during the work day before going home. I was embarrassed by it. I don’t remember not telling the office that I had cancer, but they were stunned one day when I came in for work with this really short Afro hairdo. The women loved it; men hated it as did I. Answering their question of why I would go from a sleek bob to an Afro, I explained that it was my chemo hair and not my choice. I also remember that 1999 was a horrible year physically since I was sick most of that year from one cause or another.
So, I choose not to discuss or remember those days. It is still very painful. My husband would live only 18 months more. Our family was left severely damaged by losing him, but we pulled it all back together and are now doing fine. For that I am thankful. I also appreciate that I have lived to see grandchildren both of whom are very dear to me. I see my own children as successful, thriving, striving adults and it warms my heart. Life does go on. You have to fight to make life right again, but the results are worth it.
So, thanks to all of you who have made these 12 years worth living; I look forward to many more.