When I was a girl, it was never said out loud for it was so terrifying. “The big "C” was what my father called it. Cancer. That’ll scare the b’Jesus out of even the big guys, even Bogart.
I’ll admit the anticipation alone is a killer. I’d spent several weeks going from doctor to doctor trying to find out what was going on with me. No diagnosis as yet. Next step was a C/T scan. I’d never had one and was fascinated. The technician said they’d send the results to my primary care physician. I got in my car and was driving home in heavy traffic about 5pm when suddenly it was pouring rain, unusual for Seattle—we usually just drip. Out of nowhere, I was overcome by a feeling of absolute terror.
Where that terror came from, I had no clue. The morning after the C/T scan my doctor called to say they suspected the tumor was malignant and serious. She then told me what the next steps were, but I hardly heard her. My mind was frozen in fear.
But I am a most fortunate woman. (Some of my friends think the angels take care of me.) My writing critique group met weekly at my home on Tuesdays. This was a Tuesday. I had told no one, not even my family as I was still dealing with the terror. It was too late to cancel, so I composed myself and prepared for the meeting. I read the chapter I’d written that week. Then Jeanne, who was writing a paranormal adult novel called Dark Breathe, read one of her chapters. In it, a high priestess is speaking to a young woman: “Halah, there is a long road before you but it consists of a single moment. The one you’re in right now…If you reach for time behind you or try to arrange things for the future, you are stealing time from this moment. And this moment is the only moment in which you can effect change.” Tears came to my eyes, for I felt she had written it for me.
The following day, I still had told no one. My dear friend Judi sent this quote in an email. Christopher Robin is speaking to Pooh: “Promise me you will never forget. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
In very mysterious ways, God was letting me know I was okay.
Well, that took care of the terror so I told my family. They were wonderful. Then gradually told friends. More goodness.
When I finally finished the chemo sessions, my friend Craig, from Southern California, took me out to dinner. “So,” he said, “what lessons have you learned?”
There were lessons aplenty. But here are my top six.
#1. People are wonderful.
#2. I always thought taking care of my body was a “nusomes” (as Dylan said when he was little). Now I know I have to take care of it, as if it were my child.
#3. I learned about teamwork. When meeting with the oncologist who would do the surgery and set up the chemotherapy, I was in the frame of mind that if it was my time to go that was okay. I’d had a great life. After he told me all the horrible things that could/would happen, he cocked his finger at me and said, “It’s not your time!” A wake-up call. I had this incredible medical team assembled and all ready to go. I’d better get with it, and so I got on the team.
Virginia Mason is an exception hospital, one of the safest in the country. It’s not the incredible machines that make it safe. It’s the people. During one of my procedures, the doctors and nurses explained everything they were going to do (insert a port into a blood vessel above my heart). They bundled me into this amazing contraption and said they’d be doing a lot of fussing over me. After a bit, it became strangely quiet. The doctor said it was time for the “pause.” One by one, the nurses introduced themselves and told what they would be doing. The doctor did the same. Then he said, “Are you ready?” All loudly said “yes.” He put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “Are you ready?” I felt my body relax and realized I was also on the team. The procedure began and was successful.
#4. The biggest lesson was in the area of language. My eldest son John had flown up to take me to one of my chemo infusions. He asked about the procedure. I explained and then said that two days after the infusion I “crash and burn.” I saw a look of horror cross his face. I quickly amended the statement. “No, no. I just have a couple of crummy days. Everyone has crummy days.” I would NOT crash and burn.
On another occasion I was talking with a friend and said something about the poison they gave me. She paled. And I saw again the damage we inflict with our words. Not only for others, but for ourselves. Never again did I say “poison.” It became “strong medicine.”
#5. It’s okay to ask for and receive help. I will never be able to thank all those wonderful individuals who fed me, drove me to appointments, shopped, sent cards, made phone calls, prayed, and cared. All those hugs—even the long-distance ones. Wonderful.
#6. My last lesson was to find out that I am only one of thousands who have survived the cancer capers. As I went about with a turban covering my baldhead, strangers stopped me in the market, restaurant, or street to say they were recovered and to never give up. I can’t yet say I’m cured. That takes five years, but I am in complete remission and feeling great.
To any of you with anything that is of great concern, let me join with your family and friends to say hang in there. Life may not be always be good, but it is can be very interesting. And you can make lemonade out of almost everything.