Oh! What a day!
I suppose I shall remember this day as ‘Opening Day’ in my campaign to battle cancer. The good news is that we’ve started the season with a victory. Celebrate with me!
It takes a village to raise a child; and it takes a team, a big team, a team of all-stars to take down cancer. Today’s victory is not a victory for myself alone. In every possible way it is a team victory, and all of you are irreplaceable members of the team. Horay for us!
In sports, they award the ‘game ball’ to the best player of the day and today I’m going to present a game ball to the wonderful Chuck, my new best friend, who’s a radiation technician at the Brigham and Women’s. There are four radiation groups at B&W — the blue, the green, the yellow and the red. Chuck is part of the red group. I must have an angel on my team, an angel who got me assigned to the red team. I am truly blessed to have the best cancer fighting team in the universe. No kidding. I really, really believe it. In addition to Chuck and the red warriors, I’m blessed with a kind, loving, intelligent neuro-oncologist, Dr. Lee and a kind, loving, intelligent neuroradiologist, Dr. Arveld. They lead a staff of top-notch nurses and fellows who are a part of my care. To say that they are competent, and experienced and hard working to to understate the point; and topping off all those qualities is the fact that they are all adept at the ‘human touch’. I never feel as if their attention is directed at the cancer, it’s me they’re thinking of. It is such a supportive environment!
As I said, the star of the day is Chuck. Right after introducing himself to us, Chuck led Paul and me into the waiting area outside the treatment room and sat me down for a talk. No sooner was I sitting but I was crying. Crying, bawling, weeping — face wetting, snot dripping, headache inducing tears. Never in my life did I imagine I’d be spending my fifty-seventh summer filling my head with toxins in the hope of outwitting a tumor that came upon me faster than a South Florida rainstorm.
Summer is for cookouts, for trips to the beach. Summer is for standing in line at Woodman’s waiting for the best clams in the world. Summer is for making a restaurant tour of Cape Cod. Summer is for pretending to listen to Paul’s interminable comments about the the Red Sox (Oh, who am I kidding? After twenty-two years of marriage, I’m long past feigning interest. When is he going to get past talking about it?) Summer is definitely not for centering every minute of every day around serious health concerns.
I suppose, though, that God had different plans. The summer of 2012 is my ‘special summer’.
The summer of 2012 is also my summer of being showered with love and attention from people more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. People like Chuck. Chuck listened. Chuck consoled. Chuck reassured. Chuck explained. Chuck figured out how to get me past my fear long enough to take the long walk into the treatment room. And then, almost as soon as it began, the treatment was over. When Chuck led me back to the waiting room I was able to greet Paul with a smile. I smiled because — who knows why — my heart was overflowing with hope.
We are going to beat this thing — you and me together.
For the next six weeks it will be radiation, and chemotherapy and the new and (hopefully) miraculous drug SAHA. Six weeks of treatment followed by a four week ‘vacation’ and then, sometime in early November, the moment of truth: a follow-up MRI to determine how effectively we’ve been able to shrink that tumor. Stay tuned!
Just one little side note — a couple of weeks ago they fitted me with a radiation mask. I finally saw it today. Between the scars on my skull and the odd tatoos on the mask I feel ready to frighten anyone on Halloween. My last day for radiation is October 3, so I will get the mask for “my own uses” because I’ve been assured that no more radiation is planned for the year. So, get ready to be terrified on October 31.
You know, while I was getting the radiation, I visualized that the power of the radiation was killing tumor cells, one by one — but not just the power of radiation, the power of prayer as well. A team of cancer warriors needs a team of supportive prayer warriors.
I can’t speak of prayer warriors without telling you about my women of faith group. At the beginning of 2011 I made a resolution to strengthen my commitment to spirituality. My good fortune was to be asked to join the planning group for our parish’s annual women’s retreat. I have never gotten to know a better group of seasoned believers, each one dedicated to God. What better plan could there be for strengthening my faith than to follow the examples of these fine, fine women?
Learning faith is like learning anything — you have to overcome pitfalls and obstacles. My obstacle was utter confusion, “I don’t know what to do in this journey.” I certainly knew how to be an ‘organizer’, and I put my organization skills to good use when I helped plan last summer’s retreat. For me, organizing is easy; the hard part was learning how to live with faith, with hope, and with a developing relationship with God. While we were planning the retreat, I would come home after our meetings, which were always so fun and so productive and I’d say, “I don’t get it. What am I missing?” I kept on hearing the same message, “You’re not listening. How do you develop a relationship with someone? You can’t develop a relationship with God if you’re not speaking to Him.”
So, I started paying more attention. Paying more attention, and praying more. I started listening, I started struggling to overcome my habit of trying to control everything and I still struggle. For my entire life, I never truly allowed myself to have a relationship with God. Why should I ask for help when others need help more than I do? Let’s just see what I can do on my own. That was how I thought.
But witnessing these women demonstrate faith week after week, and finding out how full of joy and hope their lives were, made me start to think, “There’s got to be more to this, something I’m still not getting.” But then, of course, life comes along and you find out you’ve got to become a ‘quick study’. Life came to me in an odd, odd way this summer; but these beautiful women also came to me. They walked into my hospital room to offer me so much hope in those scary moments before my surgery. “Trust God,” they said; and because I love and believe in them, I believed what they said. Now I can ask God for His help. Guess what? He really is there for me!
To my beautiful, wonderful friends: Eunice, Lisa, Shelia, Maryellen, Sue, Beverly, Mary, Molly and Linda — thank you, thank you for the most wonderful gift ever.
Life is good — but it’s better when you have wonderful people in your life — like each and every one of you!
Time to go to bed!