2017. A year that began with utter shock, fear, tears, and uncertainty. A year that began with cancer.
On the morning of Jan. 10, 2017, I was delivered the news sitting in a blue reclining chair, with my husband next to me. The gastroenterologist extended his hand to me and said “I’m sorry.”
Many words followed — sizable growth, adenocarcinoma, biopsy, Lynch syndrome, colorectal surgeon, radiation, chemo, genetic testing, your children’s risk, colorectal surgeon, referral— a mixture of words one is never prepared to hear.
After the initial shock, reality sunk in. Overwhelmed with questions, my mind raced.
How did this happen? What did I do wrong? What am I going to do? How am I going to tell my family? Am I going to make it? Am I going to be able to work? How am I going to pay my bills? What was I up against? Why do I have to have rear end cancer? Now, everyone is going to think butt when they think of me. Why can’t I have a sexy cancer?
The answers were unclear.
Cancer had stepped in and threatened my happy, comfortable, normal life. Cancer was a reminder that anything, at any time, can happen to anyone. And it happened to me at age 39. I couldn’t help thinking, “I knew my diet coke addiction was going to get me. I’m not sorry, it was cold, refreshing and calorie-free.”
The proceeding days and weeks were a whirlwind of appointments, phone calls, referrals, consultations, labs, scans, and genetic testing. Anxiety built, waiting for results.
When I finally met with a team of specialists to get my results, the oncologist asked me if I wanted to freeze my eggs. The team of specialists continued to question my interest in having children. As a mother of three, fertility was far from my mind. In a moment of comic relief, my husband and I exchanged glances, and both said no.
The conservation quickly moved forward to discuss “the cancer.” I listened to each specialist explain I had a large tumor by the rectum, stage III. Three localized lymph nodes were involved but there was no metastasis. I’d have to undergo four months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation to shrink the tumor.
Everything was set. It was time to fight the enemy, time to kill the cancer. I did not go to battle alone, my faith was my strength. My army was made up of the best Massachusetts General Hospital specialists, the most supportive husband, mother, family and friends. My soldiers were on the front lines. If chemo and radiation weren’t strong enough, cancer would have to meet the wrath of my mother.
The weapons were engaged. Chemo, radiation and more chemo. My soldiers were on the move praying, sending positive vibes, driving me to appointments, paying parking garage fees, picking up my medications, making my meals, cleaning my house, caring for my children, doing my laundry, walking my dog, accompanying me in waiting rooms, visiting me at home, advising me on the best “Netflix and chill” playlists.
Everyone at work accommodated my needs with flexibility, time off, telework and assistance. My friends and coworkers demonstrated their support wearing blue “B” ribbon pins. They provided words of encouragement, sent me messages, and comforted me in so many different ways. I couldn’t appreciate enough the love and support I received.
Life did not stop because I had cancer. Cancer taught me the strength of faith and kindness. And, it taught my husband how to do the laundry.
2017 delivered many ups and downs, including one of my sons having a car accident, another one fracturing his back and getting into some trouble a few months later. They’re both doing fine now. My dog got diagnosed with testicular cancer, but luckily had the tumor removed and he is doing great.
In the spring, I received an employee of the month reward and a promotion. My daughter Drewanne received was awarded the YMCA “Character Rock Star of the Year Reward.” The spring and summer months brought many enjoyable moments with family and friends.
In August, I turned 40 years old and my husband threw me a surprise party. My friend Lisa took me to a 90s Dance Party concert, and the fall brought celebrations of love with my 10-year wedding anniversary and my son’s engagement.
My story might sound like a country song. I assure you, it is not. My story is not over, it only continues. I have my faith, my soldiers and an HMO. Currently, I am cancer-free and scheduled to reconnect my colon.
I may have a lot of baggage in my life, but at least I will have one less carry-on bag.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, ask questions, cry, laugh, pray, let your feelings out. Embrace love and support from those who want to help.