Hi Karen...great story. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. My first surgery was also on May 5th but in 2005. A date I will never forget. I had squamous cell lung cancer so feel very lucky to be alive. Wishing you much success in your weight loss. Keep posting and keep blogging.
Hello Karen, welcome to the team. You've been through such a lot I hope you can now move forward with life. Your little dog Maggie sounds as though she will be a great help. with the weight loss. Take care.
“Just a cup.” I thought of this while driving in my car just the other day. As the thought dawned on me, my eyes opened wider by the second as the realization set in. “Just a cup” I repeated out loud to myself. “All I ever really needed was just a cup for all the important stuff. But I hauled around a bucket. Why?” The tears ran and the realization sank in deeper still. I started the excuses: I guess maybe I felt like someone important. “Look at me everyone, I have a bucket! A big, beautiful half full bucket! It’s mine…All mine!” Or was it that I felt I had to haul around a bucket? I thought everyone else was so I should too. I didn’t consider myself to be productive to the human race if I didn't carry a big bucket. Having just a cup would have meant mediocrity or worse…Middle Class. Or was it that I just didn't know what was really important in life? I thought I did. I thought I had my head on straight. I started listing out the “have’s” and the “have not’s” in my life: I had a job I loved; three well behaved, highly intelligent children; a wonderful husband; a $100,000 mortgage; two nice vehicles and a dog. I had it all. Very little of that list belonged in the cup. They belonged to the bucket. It was time. I was in need of watching my own bobber and taking a personal inventory. Nothing can center a being like a brush with death, or worse, the realization that life is truly short and the time we are given to be here shouldn’t be wasted on unimportant things. A health crisis was in tall order. Reality needed to check in, and disillusionment needed to check out: “One health crisis coming right up”. A big platter of crisis was set before me. I was so self absorbed, I still didn’t realize how much my life was about to change. No, nothing could have ever prepared me for this.
Five years ago I was diagnosed with stage IIIB Nodular Melanoma: The big "C", cancer. Nodular Melanoma: the most dangerous type of skin cancer known to man. I wasn't too concerned with any of it until I looked over at my husband and saw the tears streaming down his face outside the operating room doors as I was waiting for laser surgery to remove a mole on my eyelid. The surgeon had just given us the news of the biopsy results from the week before when he removed a mole that had been bothering me from my right forearm. I thought “It’s skin cancer for heavens sake. How bad could it be?” Then I turned to him and said “Well, thank God it isn’t Squamous Cell…my Dad died from Squamous Cell last year. Nasty stuff.” He shook his head and gave me funny look. Then I think I cried because I felt I should because my husband cried. Fear was not in my vocabulary when it came to speaking of cancer. IT WAS SKIN CANCER! No big deal, right? Right? Oh, this couldn’t be good. Deafening silence is never a good answer to a heavy question. I was more concerned with how the hell was I going to deal with this and work? As I lay there waiting to be wheeled in for surgery, I made a mental list of all the things I would need to do. I needed to call my family doctor who would need this information. I had a few questions to ask, one of which was “Could this kill me?” My husband was in need of some reassurance. I was alright…but he was crumbling before my very eyes. This man who has never missed a beat was turning into a puddle of goo and starting to scare me. Dr. Remucal, the surgeon who broke the news, would only state we would “learn more the next day” when we went to speak with another surgeon in the Twin Cities Seventy-five miles away. An appointment he set up himself to waste no time. That was his response to all my questions. He could no longer perform anymore surgery at the local hospital because of the location of the tumor… “Too many nerves involved” he said as he grabbed my hand and gave it a quick squeeze and left for the operating room. I wondered if one of those nerves might be his. I knew him on a personal basis. Was he too close to the fire? I pushed the thought back and let denial have it way with me. It was a tiny mole, I’m a big girl. I think in this case, the big girl wins.
Upon leaving the hospital that day, I realized the one mole to be removed on my eyelid turned into over seventy-five on my face, neck and shoulders. Dr. Remucal made sure no leaf (or mole) was left untouched. I looked like I had been shot in the face with bird shot. Each little red dot was where a mole had once resided. My back was sore so we headed directly for the Chiropractors office in a neighboring town 20 miles away. Once there we had a spare fifteen minutes so I called the family doctor on my husband’s cell phone. I told the front desk what the diagnosis was and asked he call me back. Upon hanging up the phone I said to Dean “He’ll call back sometime later this afternoon. He always does. Don’t worry, Dean… Dr. Murphy will have some guidance for us.” And at that precise moment the cell phone rang in my hand. I answered “Hello?” “Dr. Murphy here, you called?” Okay, I thought, that’s weird. He called no less than ten minutes after I placed the call to him. I stomped down the red flags waving before my face and ignored them, helping denial up off the floor and holding it tight. “Dr. Murphy, Dr. Remucal removed that mole on my right forearm last week and today he told us the biopsy results showed stage IIIB Nodular Melanoma. How serious is this?” “Well,” he replied, “You need to take care of this right away. Everything else in your life needs to wait.” Denial tripped and fell and I helped it off the floor again holding it closer still. “Okay,” I stammered, “Could this kill me? How serious is this?” “Serious. Yes, Karen, it could kill you.” Denial disappeared, obliterated by truth. Mortality was looking me squarely in the face, and it had blue eyes, just like Dr. Murphy. I felt sweat start to run down my back and neck. I don’t remember much of the conversation after that. After I hung up, I turned to Dean and started to cry…for real this time. I was, in that single moment, facing my own death. I couldn’t breathe or think. I could only cry and gasp for air that didn’t seem to come. In the days and weeks to come, I prepared myself for three months of chemo and my hair to fall out. When the first oncologist looked at me and said it was a one year treatment option that would make me sick, I looked at him in disbelief and said "Excuse me, did you just say one year?" Jesus, I was prepared for option one. I never thought there was a different option. And come to find out, option one was never an option anyway. Yep, says I, this is MY life. Why should I be surprised now? I guess I keep hoping things will turn to my favor one day and yet it feels as though it never does. But I try to keep a good sense of humor about it all. The oncologist says "But you won't lose your hair." Like that should be an upside. I really didn't care if I lost all my hair. I had to work. I had to help pay the bills. Who would do my job? In one felled swoop, my whole life changed. I was about to be vacuum packed by life.
Did you ever have the mind set of something being one way and when you find out it's another way, it just won't register because your sucking wind from the slam into your gut? Yeah. That's what that felt like. I was sucking wind. I couldn't even begin to comprehend what this would mean to me. For us. I was 39. I had three teenagers. I was about to embark into a world and onto a journey I didn't expect to begin until my sixties. I say "expect" because both of my parents had cancer by age 65. I used to tease them that they were jinxing my goal to live to be 100 because genetics said I really wouldn't make it. I wasn't too serious when I said it.
My Dad died the year before I was diagnosed. He died March 14, 2002 of throat cancer. He was a long time smoker. I was diagnosed in April of 2003. His death was a very spiritually enriching experience for me. It has been one of the greatest gifts my Dad could have ever given to any of his children. The experience of facing death, embracing it and falling safely into the arms of his maker. His struggle was brutal. If he feared, it wasn't an obvious fear. He was a believer. When I went to see him a month before he died, when we parted, I hugged and kissed him and whispered in his ear "I love you Dad, say hello to grandma when you get there." He couldn't speak because they had removed his larynx. But he said to me, "thank you." He said I would never know how much I helped by getting him in touch with Hospice. I guess he would never know how much I felt like I betrayed him by giving him over to them. By letting him go. We were fighters and survivors. I never wanted to see him quit or suffer. I only wanted him to have peace. And rather than see his final days be filled with agony and illness, at least he would have the comforts Hospice could bring. This would be one for the cup. This was important. When I returned home from that visit, I went to the local fabric store and bought the fabric to make a Lovers Knot quilt for him to have. My family and I wrote on the back of it so he could feel us near when he slept under it. I also made it for Mom. After he was gone she would need some part of him with her and I hoped the warmth of the quilt could bring her the warmth of his heart after his departure to the Church Triumphant. I think it did. When I gave it to him, I wanted him to know how much we loved him. I hope he knew. Yes. This was one for one for the cup.
My own diagnosis one year later really threw a tailspin on us all. On May 5, 2003, I had the first of many surgeries. As of this writing, there have been a total of 19 in the last five years. The generosity of friends and family, the gift of two church families, the prayers, kindnesses and concerns of those around us. Cards and calls from total strangers. I was so busy hauling around the bucket I never saw the cup. Never knew the cup was running over with love, outreach and compassion. The bucket covered the cup. It was only a half full bucket. I never realized there was an overflowing cup. I have to tell you, I cannot say that this has been a negative experience. I have gained so much more than I have lost. It has enabled me to put all that is really important into perspective. I thought what was important was in the bucket. Little did I know, I only needed a cup. Because when it comes right down to it, there are only a few things in life that are truly important. The rest is just weighing us down. To know it is one thing. To feel it is another. Like love.
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