This photo of Lana that was taken last March reminds me of how I felt one year ago..someone so small facing something so huge and powerful.
Last fall I was just fine except I was having trouble swallowing. I assumed it was acid reflux and had simple swallow test that showed nothing, gone to a doctor who had sent some tube down my nose to take a look at my esophagus and said, “Yep, it’s probably acid reflux” but we need to rule out something more serious so I’m sending you for a barium swallow test. And I merrily went on my way, did the barium swallow and got a call from my doctor that afternoon. It was one year ago today.
“It’s bad, Mary. It’s esophageal cancer. You need an endoscopy and biopsy immediately and you need to clear your calendar. It’s going to be rough.”
I remember sitting down, stunned. I had never heard of esophageal cancer. And for some reason, unlike every year when I have a mammo and brace myself for bad news, with this thing I had just gone from one appointment to the next, clueless, totally unaware that it might be something really serious.
After the endoscopy the next day, the doctor sat down with us. “There’s a mass in the esophagus that has gone into the esophageal wall and there’s at least one lymph node involved, he said. “I’m sending you for PET scan and CT scan. That will tell us more. If it’s spread further, chemotherapy will give you a little more time.”
He just looked at me sadly and said, “Let’s see how the scans go. And you need see an oncologist immediately.”
That was a year ago. And it looks as if I’m going to get a LOT more time. But no one really knows, do they? A LOT more time? A LITTLE? All we have is this moment, this hour, this day. I’d love to have a LOT more time, but if I don’t (I could be hit by a truck tomorrow) I am ever so grateful for the time I have had. Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, had less than six months from the time of her esophageal cancer diagnosis to the time of her death. I’ve had that and then some and plan to stick around a LONG, LONG TIME.
I know Thanksgiving is next month but for me, this is MY Thanksgiving day. First, I’m thankful to be alive and kicking. Next, I’m thankful for Jerry who had it way harder than I did last year and never once complained. Next, I’m thankful for Erin and Sean who were with me –physically as well as in spirit–every step of the way. Next, for Anne and Clark, who made it possible for us to go to MD Anderson and not worry about housing. Next, for all of you, family and friends, who hung in there with me through it all. And finally, for the staff at MD Anderson who told me when I arrived that they’d take care of me and send me home to go on with my life and were able to do just that.
It was also one year ago today that a former student of mine, Hannah Seay, posted on Facebook a quote: Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it. Thanks, Hannah. Because of you, I started this blog that kept me sane, kept me connected and reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I can still see you…a tiny little, beautiful child in my second grade and know what a beautiful, smart, competent young woman you’ve become.
I was incredibly lucky. I AM incredibly lucky and I know it. I know most people wouldn’t react to a cancer diagnosis with a “Guess I should start a blog” but it worked for me. It was great therapy and the people who read the blog carried me through the months of treatment and recuperation.
I think people need to find their own way to get through the tough stuff in their lives. Writing might work for some; it does for me. For others, it might be music or exercise or meditation or all of the above. Some people are very private and need to guard that privacy while they go through dark days. Whatever works…and we need to respect each person’s way (even when everything in us wants to “fix” them.) I feel so strongly that it’s important to let people walk that journey with you…to ask for help…but I’ve learned to back off if someone wants to be left alone. As I said, we need to respect each person’s way.
And, finally, Book Notes: I haven’t read a lot this week…had company and loved having good friends to visit with. I’ve started Gilead (about time I read that one) and I”m reading Faye Kellerman’s new one, Murder 101. I like her books more than her husband’s (Jonathan) I think I like her main characters more. Most of my reading time, though, has been devoted to getting some extra info about Five Days at Memorial. (hospital with no power after Katrina) It’s our book club book and I’m moderating the discussion next Tuesday. I read it the first time last winter and while it disturbed me and haunted me, it didn’t terrify me the way it did now after having had surgery and known what it felt like to be totally helpless. Should be an interesting discussion….If you have limited resources, how to do you allocated the resources you have? How do you decide who gets “saved”? Who decides? How do you triage people? Do you triage people? How do you decide which lives have more value? And is there a better way to be prepared for terrible things like this?