Tag Archives: cancer

Coloring all my days

Stop counting crayons, just drawYesterday we got the news we were dreading. Last week, I waited anxiously by the phone for the call that would give me the “all clear”, that our Sammy Beagle had pulled through surgery and was OK. I was supposed to hear from the vet at noon, maybe 1 at the latest, but I hung my hopes on noon. Noon passed. I checked my phones, both the cell and the home line. Ringers were at full volume. 12:30… 12:45… 1:00… 1:15…

I received a couple of Facebook messages from concerned friends, “Had I heard? No, but I’d share the news as soon as I heard.”

1:30…1:45… There is a very distinct sound a clock makes when you’re waiting for time to pass. The second-hand drags and the minute hand seems to moan as it is pulled from one minute into the next. I now understand the appeal for digital clocks, but my home is filled with good old-fashioned analog clocks, each of which seemed to mock me last week.

Finally, just as I was preparing to call, the phone rang at 2 minutes to 2. He was out of surgery and doing as well as could be expected. I was told they pulled 7 teeth (at which point I buckled with doggy mom guilt but was reassured there was nothing I could have done or missed), and I was warned the incision to remove the tumor was large. It had grown in the 30 days since we began this journey, but the doctor took wide margins as a precaution. She said something about knowing more when the pathology report came back in a week, but knowing our old man had pulled through surgery left me grateful for that day, that moment, and the future call would be a worry for another day.

Because Sammy needed to recover a bit longer, my husband stopped on his way home from work to bring him home. I pulled into the driveway just as they arrived. Carefully, he was placed in the living room, and I examined his incision and looked into his pleading eyes. He was confused and in pain, but he was home. My daughter graciously agreed to be the one who slept on our (miserably uncomfortable) couch for the night. With Sammy situated on the Aerobed, she would give him his late night pain meds. She repeated the routine the following night and aside from his occasional potty breaks, Sammy did too.

On the third day, Sammy seemed far more alert. His appetite had returned, though we were still splitting his two meals into four. He allowed us to carry him up the stairs to sleep in his usual bed in my bedroom. By the 5th day, his tail was wagging and he returned to his sentry post (the window by the front door) to survey his domain. Life with Sammy Beagle was returning to normal in less than a week, and I began to let my breath out.

Yesterday was day 6 post-op. Though not completely back to being his “Old Man” self, everyday we see more of our Sammy, by whom you could set the clock at mealtimes and looks at you with love in his eyes when you walk into the room. And yesterday, I received the call I thought I had prepared myself for, but realized I was playing a fool’s game as the word “malignant” echoed through my ears and stabbed my heart.

I don’t have all the information to know his prognosis, only enough to know we have only 2 options as a “next step”: do nothing or put our 13 year-old through another surgery, the margins weren’t clean.

I don’t like either choice, and last night I went to bed with eyes puffy from tears and resentment towards adulthood and the decisions that come with it.

Cancer sucks. Plain and simple. No one goes untouched by cancer. No one. I lost my father to lung cancer 13 years ago. He left behind a wife, 9 adult children, a sister, and many more who loved him. I lost my best friend to colon cancer 11 years ago. She left behind 3 children, 9, 7, and 5, her husband (my brother), her parents, and her siblings. My husband lost his mother and I my mother-in-law to liver cancer roughly a year later. And, each time, from the moment I heard the diagnosis and prognosis, I worried about the days.

How many years left? Months? Days?

None of them lived a year past diagnosis. And, still, with each, I spent too much time worrying about counting the days, not living the days I had with them. Yes, there were memories created up until the last moments with each, memories I cherish; the touch of my father’s hand in mine and the brightness in his eyes, free from the fog of morphine,  as he called me his Little Mary Sunshine one last time; sharing our girls’ chat about the small joys of matching bras and panties and manicures on the night my sister-in-law passed; and a soft whisper of thanks from my mother-in-law, for loving her son well. Each memory etched into my heart but shrouded in regret.

I regret the moments I saw the illness before the face of the person I loved. I regret not living every one of the days we had together and instead worried about the next day or the day after that. I didn’t color all of our days, I worried about stretching them out, wrongly thinking counting them might extend them.

Breaking crayons doesn’t create more crayons, it only gives you broken crayons. Crayons were made for coloring and life for living. I don’t know the number of days we have left with our Sammy Beagle, and I won’t count, for I will be too busy living them with him.

 

The ripples of your actions.

As I wrote last week, I’ve been sick. Though better, this junk has lingered longer than I’ve had patience for, but as I also noted, I view this as an opportunity to practice patience with myself and the world around me. However, I won’t deny that I’ve whined here and there, and even on this blog. In the last few weeks, there have been times I’ve felt lousy–really lousy–but truthfully, it’s just a cold and it will “run its course.” I take my Sudafed and find relief until that magical day I awaken virus-free.

But, for some, the cold doesn’t go away. It progresses into something bigger like pneumonia, because maybe, underneath the cold, there is something bigger.

About this time 3 years ago, (or was it 4 now?), I received a call from a friend as she was leaving the doctor’s office with her teenage son, D. I could hear the slight tremble in her voice as she spoke. D had been sick with a “bug” he hadn’t been able to shake for almost 2 months. They had worked all the homeopathic treatments she knew of (and trust me, she knows them all!) and for a while, he would bounce back, but never completely. And though she and her family have insurance, she never took the kids to the doctor; up until that point, she had really had no need.

After a routine exam, the doctor ordered a chest x-ray and CT scan to be done immediately; the doctor had already called the radiology department at the hospital to let them know she was on the way. Alarms went off, but the voice of reason remained loud as she left the office and called me. She knows my medical history and wanted someone who could help her navigate the doctor’s terminology, the tests, and the antiseptic halls of a hospital, but above all, to simply hold her hand as they took her son in for the x-ray. I dropped everything and met her in the radiology department 20 minutes later.

That was the beginning of the journey I took with her, D, and the rest of the family. That afternoon, she received the call with the unthinkable diagnosis; her son had lymphoma. I know she wanted to run, to hide, to keep her son away from the doctors and their needles and tests and medicines that poison. I understood, and I also understood D’s prognosis if she/they did that. I knew I was placed in their lives to help them walk this part of their journey. I was in the room as D underwent his CT scans and could joke about the utter coolness of the stickers on “his CT machine” that were never on mine. I sat with D and my friend as the oncologist explained the diagnosis, the process and the post-surgical treatments. To diffuse tension, I teased as he settled into his private “spa retreat” room at Children’s Hospital, with its X-Box, movie library, and pool table one floor down (I was lucky, I told him, if I was given an extra Jell-O during my hospital stays.) I reassured her as we left him at the hospital that day, unexpectedly, so they could do a lymph node biopsy the next morning. And, on the day of D’s “big” surgery, I came alongside a family in fear and disbelief, walking the halls, asking for warm blankets as D waited in pre-op, and offering words of encouragement.

Though follow-ups are still required, this story ends well. In two months, D will graduate high school and set his sites on the future. I can’t count the number of times my girlfriend and her husband have thanked my for being there with them during that time. I know there is no other place I was supposed to be, nor would have wanted to be.

Last month, I revisited D’s journey in my mind. I had offered what I could to help a family facing an unthinkable diagnosis. Then, I thought about another little fighter, Natalie, only 2, who I came to “know” through a friend. I have followed her story of diagnosis, surgery, treatments, and recent follow-up scans through the CaringBridge blog beautifully written by her mother. Though I don’t personally know Natalie, I offered what I could, my prayers.  On this date last month, I added my voice to a group of bloggers who posted about Donna, a spitfire little girl who liked to dance and read and eat popscicles. (Donna’s mom, Mary Tyler Mom, shares her very personal story here and the origins of Donna’s Good Things.) I wrote and I donated for Donna’s memory and for children everywhere with pediatric cancer. I offered what I could for the little ones that can’t speak up for themselves.

In the last few days, as I’ve bemoaned the dregs of this cold bug, I’ve had my attention brought once again to the children whose colds won’t disappear because something more sinister lies beneath. On the 24th of this month, three of the bloggers who introduced me to Donna last month will stand together in solidarity with children fighting cancer to help raise awareness as well as money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation. They will give their time, their money, their hair (yes, ALL of it–zip, zap, nada left), and above all, copious amounts of compassion for those with the smallest voices at the Donna’s Good Things at Candlelite Chicago Event. The Blissfully Bald team was formed by Chris (of the blog …from the Bungalow) and his wife, Karin (of the blog Pinwheels and Poppies.) They didn’t know Donna or Mary Tyler Mom, but Karin was moved to action when she read her story. (You can read about their journey to form the Blissfully Bald team here.)  The newest member of the Blissfully Bald team is young adult author, blogger, lawyer, and giant heart, Deborah Bryan, who once swore to never wear her hair shorter than chin length. Deb lost her mother to cancer. She knows well of the hope cancer steals. Her son will stay home with his daddy as she boards a plane to join ranks with Chris and Karin on Saturday, the 24 in Chicago. All three members of the Blissfully Bald team have been unassuming in their campaign to help; there have been humble requests for support (of all kinds, not just financial) made through their blogs and Facebook pages, with only slight mention of their involvement; the focus has remained on the kids.

Last month, when I wrote about Donna, I asked my readers to donate their money or their time or to simply say a  prayer to help those whose energies are best spent slaying the dragon. Yesterday, I wrote about the lesson my mother taught me about speaking up for those that can’t speak for themselves; she lived that example as she helped strangers in her neighborhood and children halfway around the world. And in the last week, I have watched the swell of activity as three amazing bloggers live that lesson out loud, with humble voices. In doing so, they have inspired me and others to do the same. Acts of kindness (regardless of size) beget kindness, and we can all make a difference in this world if we help those in need with what we have to offer, be it time, money, or prayers. Just give where you feel called to give. The ripples of your actions will travel farther than you can imagine.

(And though the team has officially met their goal, it never hurts to be an overachiever, especially when raising funds to fight a demon. Donations can be made here: Blissfully Bald – A St. Baldrick’s Team.)

Thank you for reading.