Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Letter to WhyMommy

My friend from the blogosphere, WhyMommy, just had a rather unwelcome moment of insight. Maybe it's because the holidays are looming and that always opens those lonely places in our heart that long for the warmth of family and acceptance. Or maybe she is just now, with the end of her cancer treatment in sight, thinking thoughts that her subconscious was too protective to allow her to entertain before. Either way, it has just occurred to my friend that she has a terminal illness, Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Her post is raw. It's an "Ah ha!" moment of the worst kind. For that clear view of her open wound, I send her the biggest cyber hug I can muster - even as I disagree with her as politely as possible.

WhyMommy - I would like to point out that you are in no way, shape or form to be considered "terminal" at this point in time. That card has most certainly not been played yet, my dear. You have cancer, yes. A disease that quite often is terminal, but nearly as often is not. You are early in the fight. Round one is not over yet. It is far, far too early to throw in the towel.

You're probably thinking right now that I have missed the point of your post entirely. That I am turning a blind eye to those feelings - maybe on purpose. Eh, there could be some truth to the last bit. However, I clearly "got" your post - perhaps too well. I vividly remember my own "Ah ha!" moment when I looked the possibility of a very early death in the eye.

I've always envied you your bravery in facing your cancer head on. While generally I am a research fanatic - knowledge is power- once I was diagnosed I stopped my internet research altogether. Statistically speaking, statistics have not been my friend. Ectopic pregnancy with no risk factors, son born with a genetic disease effecting 1 in 50,000 boys, breast cancer under the age of 40, Inflammatory Breast Cancer that is less that 5% of all breast cancers... need I go on? I tend to fixate on figures like those so I knew looking up the odds of survival, etc on the internet would not really be in my best interest. Yet I still feel cowardly for not doing so.

At any rate, I was sitting in my oncologist's office feeling the very picture of health. I had already finished my chemotherapy and had my mastectomy. At last, I thought, I am officially "cancer free". Bolstered by this new lease on life I felt confident enough to ask the question I had never dared to ask before, "What is my risk of recurrence?" Without hesitation or apology she looked in my eyes and said, "90 percent."

90 percent.

Just like that and my life was over. 90 percent. 90 percent? WTF? Why had I gone through all this? What was all the chemotherapy and the neuropathy for? The hair loss? The radiation? The surgeries? I was still just going to die. It couldn't be helped. I would leave my little boys without a mother. 90 percent. I knew I shouldn't have asked.

I don't really remember what I said exactly or what she said. I know she explained that it was 90 percent for ME because after 8 rounds of chemo I had still had 7 positive lymph nodes. Whatever. It was still 90 percent & I was much happier before I knew that.

Terminal. That's how I felt that day. She might as well have told me to go home and get my affairs in order. I mourned my life that night. You know, the life I used to have - before the diagnosis. The life full of health, vitality,and that air of indestructibility. The life I will never have again.

Before my next appointment, though, I had come to realize that life is terminal. We start dying the day we are born. Cancer may very well be the way I die but the when has yet to be decided. So when I walked into my oncologists office the next time, I laid it on the line. "That 90 percent recurrence risk. That's not working for me. What are we going to do about that?", I said. And we've worked from there ever since.

There is no reason I can't be one of the 10 percent without a recurrence. Statistically speaking, that's how my life has been going. WhyMommy, don't borrow trouble. This could be your first and last run in with cancer. Sure, you'll spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. So will I. You may even tiptoe so as not to wake the beast. But that doesn't mean you have to carry that burden around forever. They may not know how to cure cancer. But sometimes we get lucky. Either way, it beats the hell out of living in fear. Take it a day at a time, a month then a year at a time. Make it past the one year mark like I just did, then past two and hopefully five. Soon, you're home free. There's nothing terminal about that. That's just life.

Everyone visit WhyMommy and give her a bit of emotional support. It's a hard time of year to face your mortality.

6 comments:

whymommy said...

Thank you, Stella. You're a good friend. A very good friend indeed, and I am so lucky to know you.

Sherry said...

This is beautiful Stella. We do face the fact that we are immortal. And we have to face the fact that cancer is at it's worst a terminal disease. But it is also now in my opinion and that of many others (professionals) a chronic disease. We never know how this hand will be played out...but we play it with courage and with grace and with dignity. Most of all with hope, with spirit and with honesty.

Love to both of you...we are sisters on this journey and we embrace one another in the beauty of our lives.

Stimey said...

This is a lovely post. I have nothing but hope and good wishes for you and WhyMommy.

ptesinge said...

Stella, I am speechless. What a beautiful post. If I knew how to give "blog bling" I owuld give it to you right now.

you are awesome.

(killerboob)

Imstell said...

Smooches to you all.

canape said...

Thank you, Stella. Thank you for saying the things that only someone with your experience and wisdom could.

I know it made WM feel better, but it made me feel better too.