July 6, 2021
I’m back to being a cancer patient again. That permanent addition to my identity that took shape in 2018. I have often referred to this cancer “journey” as a detour. But the optimistic part of me now sees it as more of a passport—a way of seeing this life through a new lens.
It’s always a little stressful to present for cancer follow up appointments. I don’t get scans, which is a relief—-in some ways.
My follow up relies solely on an interim history and physical exam to see if there is any indication of recurrence.
Yet, despite the reawakening of cancer worries, I always do look forward to seeing my oncologist. I count him among my favorite humans. The good news of the day: NED (no evidence of disease.) Semi-good news: my osteoporosis is no worse, but I will still need my third (and last) Reclast infusion. I’ll have another dexascan in 2 years. (Assuming I’m still here then:)
I told my oncologist today that since my husband has now been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he has to help keep me alive for my caregiving responsibilities☺️. He assured me he would do his best….
Reflecting on what has happened since my initial diagnosis in 2018, many wonderful things have occurred, softening the many challenges:
- being referred to Cancer Care Connection and my inspiring oncology social worker
- getting a lifesaving second opinion
- being treated by a wonderful team of health professionals who care about me
- retiring, but still leveraging my experience for the greater good
- overcoming the multiple physical limitations from treatment
- staying connected with health professionals and friends and family through technology during COVID
- being able to travel to the UK and The Channel Islands and Vienna during treatment pre-pandemic
- engaging in advocacy work—at the individual and legislative levels
- helping others find their way to second opinions and excellent care
- adopting a malnourished lost but rescued cat, my resilient fur buddy
- (finally!) getting vaccinated
- being able to see family and friends in person again, and sharing hugs….
- celebrating the engagement of our daughter and the college graduation of our son in the same month
- riding my now fully recovered horse
- having a small but mighty network of friends and family who “get” what I’ve faced
- finding so many ways to express my gratitude, and doing so as often as possible.
- never taking life for granted—ever.
This weekend I joined many others in New England celebrating the life of my husband’s beloved cousin.
A terrible loss, but one marked by an outpouring of support from those who knew him across the many phases of his talented life.
His sisters, his partner, and his two grown children and two grandchildren survive. I got to see them all.
And I was able to spend that most precious commodity—TIME—over the next few days, with beloved relatives and friends as we continued our travels into the beautiful Berkshires of western Massachusetts. A place where my parents lived (and I called “home”) for twenty years.
Having dinner with my mother’s good friend and her husband was a major highlight of our trip. It’s hard to explain how wonderful it was to reconnect in person once again with friends who knew my parents. We last saw them in December 2017, (before cancer and pre-pandemic!) when I happened to see a post on FB that they were in Vienna, a city we were going to visit in the next few days. I inquired if they would still be there the following week, and the answer was yes! Which is how we ended up together in a restaurant in Vienna marveling at the improbability of such a get together…..and now on this trip, four years later, seeing them in their home in Lenox after 18 months of pandemic prison….and 3 years into my cancer patient status.
This trip, in which I returned to old haunts including my now departed parents’ home that I’d not seen in over a decade, the church where we got married, Tanglewood, historic sites, Edith Wharton’s Berkshire home, and cemeteries with graves dating back to the 1700s, helped me see more clearly than ever before how our time here on earth is really but a speck in the cosmos.
Sitting on the lawn at Tanglewood, the newly reopened summer home of the Boston Symphony, under a light, misty rain, was a perfect spot for reflection. Music would soon fill the air after a pandemic induced absence. And the grateful outdoor audience of socially distanced groups would be brought to their feet in a collective standing ovation—-a rousing demonstration of shared appreciation—- of recovery after loss.
And it reminded me that each and every human interaction while we are here is filled with the possibility of soul feeding kindness, if we get it right.
I experienced example after example of that during my travels over the past few days. From store clerks to hotel managers, from waiters to cashiers, to ticket office personnel and other “strangers” I had never met—a whole series of supremely pleasant human interactions, that left all of us smiling.
There is so much that can get in the way of kindness. My fervent hope is that in the time that remains, I add to the kindnesses and challenge those who would do otherwise to reconsider their actions.
We finished our journey with a trip further east in Massachusetts to visit my uncle —my mother’s brother—who has pancreatic cancer—the same disease which took the life of my husband’s cousin whose celebration of life gathering prompted this trip.
The pandemic had prevented an in person visit since my uncle was diagnosed almost a year ago. How grateful I was to be able to give him and my aunt (and my visiting cousin ❣️) hugs, spend some time together, and help them all navigate the complexities of the care that he is experiencing. It slowly dawned on me that in the room were three cancer “survivors”—my aunt, my uncle, and me.
I hope when it’s my turn to depart, that the sentiments expressed below may help those who are left behind. They are helping me already as I navigate the grief that accompanies each of the five family and friend lives lost this year—all in my own generation or younger.
I would just change the “or”s to “and”. Because the sadness of loss and the joy of remembrance are not mutually exclusive—they are often inseparable and can peacefully co-exist.
“You can shed tears because they are gone, or you can smile because they lived. You can close your eyes and pray they will come back or you can open your eyes and see all that they left for you. Your heart can be empty because you can’t see them, or you can be full of the love they shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember only that they are gone, or you can cherish their memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind and feel empty, or you can do what they would want. Smile, Open your heart, Love, and go on. –Elizabeth Ammons (in lessonslearnedinlife.com)
Dedicated to my mom, who was felled by cancer far too soon….
Someone To Remember Me https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gPqzxOaqBzs