Ten years ago today I heard the words from my husband “It’s cancer”. He stood in Recovery Room with tears in his eyes and had to tell me my biopsy was positive. I was in shock and scared out of my mind. For about a day. And then we went into fighting mode. Not that I wasn’t still scared. I was. Every single day. As a former nurse, this wasn’t supposed to happen to me. This was the thing that happened to someone else.
The Hardest moment came a week later when I sat in the “Cancer Center” waiting room at our local hospital. Here I was with my husband, who is a cancer surgeon, and I really wanted to run out of the room. I wasn’t scared of seeing the oncologist, or the treatments, but sitting in that room with others who were struggling, some who were clearly fighting a much larger fight than I was — that was the thing that I didn’t want to see. Was that my future? It felt too real at that moment, and I was at my most vulnerable.
I wrote my boys letters in case I died. My extended family came for holidays, worried what the future held. I began to realize I wasn’t afraid of dying as much as I was of leaving, leaving my children, missing graduations, weddings, grandchildren, and life with my husband. I was afraid of how they would do.
As the next 4 months went by, and I had chemo, turned 50, became a grandmother, and had radiation (in that order!) I began to see another side of “having cancer”. My husband and boys were scared, but because my husband was upbeat and positive (on the outside), they were not afraid. I would only find out later how shaken my husband was, but he didn’t let me see it when I needed his strength. My friends were as shocked as I was. They rallied to my side. A dear friend offered to cut my hair when it started coming out in clumps as my husband couldn’t bear to be the one to do it. I am in a women’s group called P.E.O. and my sisters in that group brought me meals for almost three months. (I remember my family wishing that they would just keep coming even when I could cook again!) Friends made me gifts, another dear friend collected t-shirts from my best friends and sewed me a quilt from them with my new grandson’s darling face in the middle. I received cards that I have to this day, and e-mails that were long, and vulnerable. I treasure them.
Once I knew my hair was going to be history, I bought wigs. We laughed hysterically at some of the styles. But I found a few that worked. I remember being petrified it would blow off. I talked to one of my son’s teachers who had faced ovarian cancer and she gave me all her scarves for the days when wearing a hot wig just didn’t cut it. I learned you can’t cook in them or they melt. (as in don’t open the oven and bend over to check what’s in it unless you take your wig off). People who didn’t know me well thought I had a new haircut and told me “you look great”. I smiled, unable to, in a social setting, tell them what was really happening. And sometimes it felt ok to be “not sick”, even if it was in someone else’s eyes.
And I survived. And if you follow my blog, you know that my cancer was just the first red flag that something was amiss. I believe we all have miracles that come into our lives that we cannot explain. I had fallen off my bike earlier that year, and broke my arm. I also had smacked my left breast pretty hard, so that September, what probably showed up on my “questionable mammogram” was the old bruise. But my surgeon, trained to do his own physical exam, felt something else there. And the next day, in the OR, when the biopsy of the “questionable area” came back clear, he knew he had to biopsy the area he’d been worried about: and that was where my cancer was. That attention to detail saved my life. And I was lucky, we caught it fairly early and it had not spread.
As I look back on the last 10 years, I marvel at the things God placed in my lap: a perfect grandson when the chemo was the worst — there’s nothing better than a sweet bald baby to smile at your bald head to make you feel ok! Then, a year later, finding Mark Hyman’s book “Ultrametabolism” that started me questioning my own health, (you can read that story here), figuring out my toxicity piece, healing myself slowly, and patiently, learning how to love myself and all my imperfections, learning how to play, worry less, and be vulnerable to those I love. And having a husband who not only loves me, but supports my wellness journey, but lives it with me.
My son just posted on Facebook . My Mom has been cancer free for 10 years today. Congrats Mom, I love you.
There were tears 10 years ago, and tears today. But today’s tears are very grateful and happy.