If I were to share with you my families plights with cancer, I doubt you would believe me, or you would say “Where did you grow up? It has to be environmental”. Well, yes, I do believe some cancers are environmentally induced. I also understand too well the mutations of genetics. My family has two gene mutations. TWO! When I was being treated at Mass General Hospital with breast cancer I was tested for HNPCC (Lynch syndrome) to which I was negative. Well, that’s a saving grace for my sister and I. My brother? Not so lucky. Anyway, the genetics counselor said “Did your parents meet at a hereditary cancer convention”? Which was really a stupid question because it wasn’t until the 90’s when these two were identified to the world.
The past couple of months have been challenging, at best. My mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She had one kidney removed six years ago for cancer. This is another primary, all total THREE primaries for her. There has been delays here and there, and my sister and I are grateful that her grade is 1 (slow growing). It has been one thing after another in what should have never happened. Finally, she has an appointment tomorrow at Mass General Hospital, a consult with a doctor who specializes in a certain treatment that is not available locally, including Dartmouth Hitchcock. I cannot go. My brother is bringing her as I have a class to teach in Massachusetts. This will be the first time I have not been with her through her appointments. I’m told by my sister, close friends and therapist that this is okay.
Tomorrow will we find out treatment? Dates? I’m not holding my breath. With 9 rounds of battle against cancer, I have learned not to expect answers when you want them. It doesn’t happen that way, at least not for me and my family. I also made another difficult but important (for my future) to continue with my plans to go to CA for a convention. I have no idea where my mom will be, hospital? home? I won’t go any further than that. I have been handling all of this well, living in the moment. Today, however, not so much. It began last night actually. I sat in a meeting at the local hospital and on the white board was a drawing of a person and certain “parts and fluids”. The words, lingo came right out of my past. I didn’t realize until today how much it bothered me. I just knew I wanted to bolt, but yesterday. Today I am very unsettled, anxious and struggling with it all.
We are talking about TWELVE primary cancers in my immediate family. Fucking TWELVE! My youngest and oldest sisters lost their lives to ovarian cancer, an insidious awful disease that unless its caught early, and there really isn’t measurable tests like there are with breast cancer for early detection. It’s a savage cancer. Not that any cancer is great. I FUCKIN HATE CANCER.
I have a fairly good perspective on things. As I’ve watched both of my parents age and deal with health issues, I remind myself how fortunate I am to still have both parents. I am 52. I still have both parents. My sister only lived 38 years and even as difficult as that is, there are much worse cases. Children whose lives were shortened by infliction of this disease. I remember one chemo treatment with my sister. Obviously, upset, anxious, we walked into the chemo ward and there sat a child getting chemo, no older than 6. We looked at each other and said “Guess we don’t have it so bad”.
Notice I refer to “we”. I believe there are more “survivors” than the patient. I consider those who are left behind, caregivers, family, friends, those close to the passing of a loved one who has succumbed are also “survivors”. It isn’t easy to walk this difficult trek with those we love. I found it easier to deal with my own battle with breast cancer than my other siblings battles. I think somehow I felt I had control over it, I don’t know. None of it is easy. It’s hard to walk beside them, sometimes carrying them, and being strong for them, being hopeful, encouraging when sometimes, in the circumstances of both sisters, there really was no hope. Not for survival.
It’s so important to have friends, family, and probably a friend would be best, when they/we are going through treatment. I heard entirely different things than my sisters heard, my mother, my brother. Even with the future pictured on a scan hanging on the wall in front of you, you grab onto hope. Hope changes. And for those who don’t understand what I’m about to say, I have to say, good for you and I hope you never understand this. Hope can be debilitating. Pessimist? I don’t think so, not at all. But for many, myself included, hope can be frightening, paralyzing. That’s as far as I’m going with that explanation.
So, if you will keep my mother in your thoughts and prayers as she embarks on new care now in Boston, MA. If you will keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we embark on the latest cancer diagnosis, thus battle I know we would all appreciate it.
I know this isn’t about me. This is about my mother, her options, choices. Much more immature when we went through this with my kid sister, I was brokenhearted and I was in the throws of my own pain with it. I was there for her, I did right by her, but I so wish I could go back and say some things to her now as I look back on it all. But we can’t go there, we can’t get back our yesterdays. If only.
Now I shall go and get busy again. I’ve vented, I’ve purged, and I am quite confident that this will be a sleepless night for my family. What tomorrow brings, we know not. What we do know is the opponent is a fucking awful disease that has taken so much from us already. Is that the right attitude to have? No, I know this. But for today, for the first time since we learned about this diagnosis, I am angry. I am very angry.
I do want to end this blog with a plead to all. EARLY DETECTION SAVES LIVES. Get your mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopy, endoscopy, and whatever other test keeps you in the know. Knowledge is power. Empower yourself with knowledge.
Did I say I fucking hate cancer?