If the title of this post offends you, sorry. Cancer offends me. I hope you’re more bothered by cancer than by the word damn.
I’m a 25-year breast cancer survivor as of this writing, and I thought I was finished with cancer. My tumor was very small when diagnosed and there was no spread to surrounding lymph nodes. My treatment was relatively easy: six weeks of radiation treatment and five years of Tamixofen. I got off light; I know that.
Until two days ago. Damn cancer. Again. I had just endured the (awful, y’all) colonoscopy prep and went to the outpatient center to have the exam, thinking I would come home, eat breakfast, take a nap and get on with my life. Nope.
I remember nothing past the point that the nurse told me to roll over. I don’t even remember riding home in the car. At some point, Jim told me they found cancer and it would be seven days before we know anything. I don’t even remember him telling me, just know he did. The doctor gave him that diagnosis over the phone, which I think is extraordinarily crappy. It’s all so foggy except that one word. Damn cancer.
I’ve seen this terrible disease kill too many friends and too many loved ones of friends. For the second time in my life I wonder if it will kill me.
I’m still processing this — just starting to, really. But I think right now I’ll focus on what I’m grateful for, in no particular order.
- A husband who meant it when he said for better or worse. In our nearly 37 years of marriage, he’s already been through cancer with me once. He’s been through numerous surgeries, hospitalizations, a difficult diagnosis of a chronic condition and now this. He’s the kind of guy who went to our girls’ cheer booster meetings when they were in high school, every pregnancy doctor visit, and every mammogram appointment after my breast cancer diagnosis.
- A family support system. I not only have a tremendous support system within my family and extended family, I’ve got my own army of doctors — four of them — in my family. One of the MDs, my sister Sara, has been an outspoken and strong advocate for me at times when I’ve been too weak to question medical authority and unnecessary procedures. My father-in-law, Jim Sanders, Sr., came with me to my first appointment at West Clinic all those years ago, and gave me a bottle of my favorite wine after the visit. All of my docs have been supportive and none would hesitate to call BS if needed. The non-MD members of my family are just as supportive in their own way. My two girls, though they don’t live here, are constantly checking on me and are pretty pissed off at cancer right now. That makes me feel a lot better. I cannot imagine going through this alone. I received a beautiful text message from my sweet nephew Elliot that choked me up, and messages of support from my nephew & niece in Little Rock. I’m so blessed.
- My Mom, formerly an RN (and nursing professor at Arkansas State University), still has her nurse’s manner even after her stroke. She has tried countless times to do things she shouldn’t try to do with her walker in order to take care of me. I deeply appreciate and treasure the heart from which this comes.
- Access to excellent medical care. Yes, I know I’m in a small town in Arkansas, and Memphis’ West Clinic did a great job getting me through breast cancer, but I have total confidence in the medical staff at St. Bernard’s here in Jonesboro. My family knows a good number of medical professionals here in Jonesboro, so I know who not to go to. Our town of just shy of 80,000 is a medical hub for northeast Arkansas and boasts numerous specialists and sub-specialists.
- Things to look forward to. I’m going on a trip this December with my Mom and sister. We’re cruising the Caribbean and I’m so excited. I’ve been working on both my and Mom’s cruise wardrobes and having a great time with that. We have many happy Saturdays in my sister’s pool and great meals together. Jim and I have our regular Thursday nights at Omar’s Uptown here in downtown Jonesboro, with all the friends we’ve made there.
- My church family. We are a member of the sweetest church community I have ever known. We’re small, but mighty in love, care, concern, and acceptance. Our pastor is a kind, caring man I met first by phone during the pandemic. I had had a breast biopsy and had to wait seven days for results — an agonizing seven days. He sat on the phone me for more than 30 minutes, prayed with and for me, and gave me overwhelming peace.
- My faith. I hope this cancer is as easy as the last one. It may not be, and I’m prepared for that. I’m prepared for the worst. One thing that facing death gave me so many years ago is the knowledge that I’m in God’s hands and whatever happens He’s with me. As much as I want to live longer as see so many more things, I’m at peace either way.
And that, friends, is where I’m at these days. In a few minutes, one of our two exceptional Visiting Angels caregivers will be here to stay with Mom while I have some much-needed alone time and Jim and I enjoy our night out together.
Consult for surgery Monday morning, so I’m going to enjoy my weekend, y’all. Life will go on.
The image I’ve used for this post is a special one. Years ago I took a painting class at our former church. It wasn’t the usual painting class, but they taught us to paint our feelings with paint and Q-tips. I painted this in the midst of grief after a family tragedy. On the left is a dark, black hole of grief and laid over that is the white symbol of infinity and my hope in God.