Today marks the fifth anniversary of my first chemo treatment. I am cancer free and I am 5 years since diagnosis. Thank you, Lord!! I thought the most difficult conversation I would ever have with my daughters was on Sept 19, 2001 when I asked them “where do you think Daddy is right now?” Actually the most difficult conversation I would have with them would be right before Christmas 2007. when I had to tell my daughters that I had breast cancer. I had decided not to tell my daughters or most of my friends anything about the lump in my breast until I had a diagnosis. I knew that everyone would worry and it was Christmas and maybe this lump was nothing. The cancer journey would start in November of 2007. Very few people were privy to the situation. It was my way of believing it would be okay.
On December 13, my good friend, JK would drive me to Middletown for the needle biopsy. I remember having to keep my left arm up over my head and the nurse holding my left hand through the whole procedure. I was so thankful for her compassion. JK and I would come out to a snow storm and lots of voice messages on my cell phone. Which seemed strange as the person who left them knew I was having the needle biopsy. My partner in crime and best friend, CM would leave messages apologizing for calling but she needed to speak with me. As I was having the needle biopsy a car had driven into our dancing studio. Thankfully there were no classes going on. An elderly woman was going to get her hair done at the hair salon next to our dancing school and had “jumped the curb and crashed into the studio.” She took out the front window and door. She would be uninjured and since she was already there she had her hair done. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Thankfully the snow caused classes to be canceled and after the initial shock, dealing with the accident became a good distraction.
On December 17, I would be in the Dollar Store ( strange the things you remember) and my cell phone would ring. It would be my doctor’s office calling to say that he had the results and did I want to come in that day to hear them. The original plan had been for my sister to go with me later in the week for the results but they had the results now so I went right then. My sister and the two friends who knew would be annoyed that I went alone but I have found that there are some things that you have to do alone. As I drove home, I stopped to buy gas at the Sunoco Station in Chester, NY and I called to tell my best friend that I had breast cancer. Well, actually I didn’t tell her because I couldn’t say those words to her. Thankfully her husband answered the phone and I told him and asked him to tell her. I said it quickly and hung up and she called back immediately. Every time I pass that gas station I think of that conversation and how blessed I am to have such good friends.
The conversation with my daughters was spoken around our kitchen table a few days later. My younger daughter and her boyfriend had gone to the airport to pick up my older daughter and her husband. While they were gone, I thought, pondered and prayed about how to tell them. There was no great line to ease into it, no perfect scripture verse to quote. My daughters will tell you that I am worst person when it comes to telling bad news – I just say it. I remember sitting at the table and saying something about I had some bad news. My older daughter reached over and grabbed her husband’s hand. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone. I don’t know what I said. I know my younger daughter jumped up and said “no”. And I took her in my arms and said “this is not September 11. I am right here. I am not going anywhere. This is not a death sentence. I am right here.” I explained a little of what the treatment would be. I informed them “that E was going back to WA with her husband. And M was going to Ghana for J term.” After more questions and discussion, M said “Mom, I am sorry but I can’t shave my head to make you feel better.” Laughter, the best medicine.
I would read and learn about breast cancer so I could become the CEO of my treatment. Scott Hamilton has a great site about chemo drugs and their side effects. JK’s brother-in-law, who had lost his wife to breast cancer, would spend over an hour explaining so much to me about treatment and things to ask. I had wonderful doctors and nurses but I can tell you that medicine is an art not a science. I had people praying for me, people doing my grocery shopping, people cleaning my house, people sending me cards. One friend send me a card, article or cartoon every day for the 40 days of Lent. I was fortunate that I was home alone because the only person I had to worry about was me. I may have been in my house alone but I had friends who had a schedule of calling me – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Someone always went with me for the chemo treatments – 8 treatments over 16 weeks. I had a little calendar which I wrote how I felt – good, bad, really bad. there was only one day that said really bad. My chemo treatments were on Fridays. I would have a treatment then be at home until the following Thursday when JK would drive me to the studio to “teach”. We would go out for dinner. I would have a turkey club not sure why but turkey was the food of choice. The following week I would usually feel well enough to drive myself to teach on Tuesday and Thursdays. CM picked up the slack on my off Tuesdays and one of my alumni, KH, who just happened to be available was my substitute and legs for the other classes.
I can tell you that it is easier to pray “your will be done” when you are praying for someone else. But I can also tell you that God is faithful. Life is meant to be lived one day at a time and sometimes life is meant to be lived 10 minutes at a time because that is all you can do and God is okay with being there for this 10 minutes and then the next 10 minutes.
Five years ago I had 8 rounds of chemo over 16 weeks, one year of herciptin, a lumpectomy that wasn’t a lumpectomy because the lump was gone, 32 rounds of radiation which is a whole different beast that chemo. And because God doesn’t waste anything I have been able to shed a little light into other people’s cancer journey. And it isn’t fun but it is doable. Five years ago, I lost my hair which was okay because I never liked my hair and for a while I got good hair. And to be honest it is just as well you have no hair because really you don’t have the energy to take care of it. Maybe your body or someone knows that and that is why you lose it. 🙂