Friday, December 17, 2004

Cancer Sucks

The fortnight since my last blog post has been filled to overflowing with shopping, cooking, wrapping, baking, and planning for more of the same as our busy work and college schedules converged. ‘Tis the season for parties that masquerade as meetings. As I raced to meet unavoidable project deadlines, I completely missed the latest "dump Rumsfeld" campaign (Rummy, please don't go). My son tried to condense four months of coursework into a weeklong review before finals. My husband ended the year as he began – expanding his workload to compensate for the shortcomings and goings of others, albeit with ample rewards for his dedication.

At this time one year ago, I was experiencing my last chemotherapy treatment (please God, forever) and all the other “lasts” that accompany it: the last search-and-poke for a decent vein, the last debilitating nausea, the last plunge into an instant flu-like cold, the last of a long struggle with powerlessness and weak-kneed dependence. So this Christmas I will continue to bake and cook and throw parties to celebrate the distance I have traveled, hopefully a one-way trip on a long, unobstructed road.

In my experience and from what others have shared with me, having cancer is like a heavy pendant you wear always around your neck. The shiny side you show the world is the clarity and compassion that a life-threatening illness can bestow. Much of the time, probably most of the time, life is busy and bright. Sometimes, however, the dark underside feels like coldness against your heart, the cold fear of death. Those are times when you have a medical checkup or someone you know has bad health news, for example, and the weight on your heart is too heavy to ignore.

This month, as I performed the mad dance of the modern do-it-all woman, a wonderful co-worker who has become quite dear to me learned that her vicious enemy has returned. Edie’s cancer odyssey precedes mine by five years. She has served as a generous mentor and role model. This year she completed her five-year Tamoxifen regimen, tantamount to graduation from treatment that also marks the all-important five-year milestone for cancer-free remission.

During her annual checkup, a lump was noted, which led to discovery of cancer in at least one lymph node. Her surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, December 29. Not so long ago, cancer recurrence was an automatic death sentence. We are blessed to live in an age of medical research and development in which women can enjoy long periods of remission even after breast cancer recurrence.

About one year before her original cancer diagnosis, Edie’s husband suffered a stroke that changed both their lives. As wife to a man with special needs and mother of young adults, she carries a unique burden that she feels keenly now more than ever. As a Christian, she accepts the wisdom of God that may seem beyond our grasp to understand and appreciates the power of prayer.

If you are a believer, too, I ask for your prayers for Edie, for her family and for her doctors. Thank you and bless you.

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