Here is a picture of my beautiful cousin, Jenny, and her daughters Maggey and Abbey. Thank you so much to those of you who have visited her site and left comments for her! I know that she really appreciates the kind and supportive words right now.
Jenny, Maggey and Abbey
I find that all the exercise endorphins and the effects of a healthy diet and my joy at living are easily tempered by the sobering news that I have received in the past few weeks. One day a month or so ago a friend of mine called me to tell me that a mutual friend of ours, Rosemary, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. The moment the words left her mouth I felt the world stop for a minute as I digested the news. Hearing those words brought me right back to the initial words and weeks of my own diagnosis…the confusion and depression and denial and fear. I called Rosemary immediately and have tried to pay it forward a little bit while she has gone through the initial surgeries and planning stages of her diagnosis. I feel so helpless though. I want to make it go away. I know what she’s up against, and I want her to not have to go through it.
Almost exactly one week later, my father called me one evening to tell me that a friend of his and my mom’s was diagnosed with breast cancer after an abnormal mammogram. Marilyn is exactly one week behind Rosemary in treatment so far. Talking to Marilyn about her diagnosis and treatment plan made me feel the same way I did in talking to Rosemary…it brought back some of the emotions that I experienced so clearly and I wished that I could somehow make it better for her.
When I was going through surgery and radiation and chemotherapy last year every single thing that happened seemed so dramatic and I thought that I would remember every detail forever. What I realized as I spoke with Rosemary and Marilyn was that some details have already become foggy. I can’t remember exact dates anymore, and in some instances I can’t remember what happened first and what happened second. I have looked back at my blog several times to refresh my memory, and I realize how thankful I am that I wrote everything down. This blog has become an important record for me.
And then two weeks ago my dad called me again to tell me that the other shoe had dropped for my cousin Jenny. I’ve written about Jenny before. She was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago and had been cancer free for almost four years. Jenny is only 35 years old and has two little girls, the oldest of whom is only a few months younger than Matthew. Jenny had breast cancer in her right breast and went through surgery, chemo, radiation, and then more surgery when she had a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery. And then she found another lump in her left breast. The good news, if there is any, is that this is not a recurrence of the same cancer, but a brand new primary tumor. That is “good news” because it means it is not a metastasis of the original cancer.
Last Tuesday she had another mastectomy on the left side, and will be starting chemo again in July. She found out this week that the cancer had not spread beyond the sentinel lymph node, which is also really good news. Jenny and I talked extensively before her surgery about everything that she is going through. Both of us expressed our dismay at the fact that it came back. (I know I just finished saying that it didn’t really come back, but that’s what it feels like nonetheless.) If you do everything they tell you to do and you work really hard at surviving, it’s not supposed to come back.
When my dad first told me about Jenny, I felt my stomach drop and the ground shift a little bit under my feet. When you have had cancer, you see, this is your very worst fear. Most cancer survivors don’t mention this part of it when you talk to them because it’s all about how well they are doing now. But it is always there. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this possibility. The idea of cancer returning again colors every single thing that I do. When I watch one of my kids swimming in a swim team event or running down the field in soccer or football, when I celebrate their good grades or when I sit down to eat dinner with them or celebrate one of their birthdays, I also celebrate their lives and my life and the fact that I get to do those things with them. Even something as simple as grocery shopping or writing a paper for school or meeting a friend for drinks or taking a trip with Randy or going to work is a cause for celebration for me. I constantly note how happy I am to get to take advantage of these moments in life. And I think about how I need to live fully…in case the cancer comes back. It’s not that I live in constant fear so much as the fact that I try to take advantage of and fully appreciate each moment as it comes.
Hearing that Jenny found another lump meant that it could happen to me. She went through the same treatment that I did, and then some. She did everything the doctors told her to do. It’s simply not fair that she has to go through it all again. If you do what they tell you to do, it’s not supposed to come back. In talking to Jenny about all that is ahead of her, I realize how difficult it would be to face cancer treatments for a second time. On the one hand, you know what to expect so you are not facing the unknown. But on the other hand, you know what to expect and it is terrifying.
As I have struggled with my worries about Jenny, I have repeated my new philosophy of life to myself and to Randy and to anyone else who will listen. Drink the wine, I keep saying. Wear the clothes. Use the china. Don’t save them for a special occasion or for the “right” moment, because you might never get the chance. It would be a shame if I found another lump tomorrow because I purchased four bottles of really good wine two months ago and I haven’t opened even one bottle yet. What if I cross the street tomorrow and get hit by a bus and I never get a chance to wear those new shoes sitting in my closet? And isn’t it a shame that the lovely china I received as wedding gifts sits in my dining room hutch and only gets used for Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Jenny has a website here where she is writing about her journey this time around. I’d like to end this post with a personal message for Jenny:
Jenny, I am thinking about you and rooting for you, and so are every one of your family members here in Illinois. You fought this thing once and survived and thrived, and there is no doubt in my mind that you will harness all that Crum stubbornness and tenacity and do it again. Know that we are all cheering for you and that we stand ready to do whatever we can to help! We love you!