In her final 18 months her faith shone even brighter.
One day while home visiting my Mom, I suggested I give her a massage as I’d become a qualified Massage Therapist and wanted to give her a treat. We were chatting softly as she let herself relax – something she struggled to do. Both my Mom and I have quite spotty skin – a combination of freckles and moles which she used to attribute to our Norwegian heritage. As I was working on her legs that day, I saw a mole that didn’t seem quite right. It had all three “C” signs outlined in dermatology brochures; color, contour and change. I asked her to go get it checked out but didn’t hold my breath as she was very averse to seeing anyone in a white coat.
To my surprise, Mom followed my advice and later told me the biopsy had come back positive for melanoma. Mom had the mole removed, as well as some lymph nodes but didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation as it was localized only in the spot where the mole was. Her doctor told her at the time that should it ever return she didn’t have much chance of surviving. Mom never told me until years later how scared she was during this time.
Nine years later while I was living in South Africa, Mom called me to let me know the melanoma had returned – in the very same spot as before. She asked me to come home and be with her while she underwent surgery. Before the surgery however, the family would travel to Santorini for vacation. This was typical of my Mom who loved to travel. My sister Heather, who was in a surgery residency in Texas at the time, made sure Mom was seen by top surgeons.
The last few days of our holiday, I slipped and fell on a marble staircase and fractured the transverse process of 3 lumbar vertebrae. Instead of supporting her, Mom, my step-Dad and sister accompanied me to the hospital for x-rays and the resulting advice to keep still to avoid pain. This was fairly impossible as two days later my sister and I had to fly to Texas for Mom’s surgery. It was a comical sight as I hobbled down the hospital hallways to see my Mom as she came out of surgery, hallucinating that there were crowds of people walking around her bed.
Mom’s surgery was a success, and life soon went back to normal where she filled her days running a publishing house, traveling, enjoying theater performances, and Garrison Keillor cruises. She and her husband had a lively home where people from near and far felt welcomed and well-fed.
Although Mom had regular bloodwork which showed that her cancer marker cells were normal, some years later she began to complain of increasing discomfort on her left side. Because her pain was so localized, she thought she had shingles and put off going to yet another doctor. When my step-Dad finally convinced her to get the pain checked out, she was immediately sent for a PET scan.
I was home from Nairobi for Christmas so got to be with my parents when they visited the doctor to find out the results. The doctor’s face said it all, and Mom immediately made up her mind. Looking at the small tumors spread throughout her torso that lit up the computer screen, she told us she was NOT going to undergo chemotherapy. I asked the doctor now that the cancer had metastasized, what we should be aware of as a family, and he indicated that Mom had another 18-24 months.
Two weeks later my sister found out that she also had stage 4 cancer – but one that was very treatable; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She didn’t know how to tell our parents who were still reeling and asked if I would let them know. I didn’t get much sleep until I was able to sit down with them some days later and let them know Heather’s news. Mom, fortunately, was around to see Heather’s full recovery after finishing chemotherapy.
Mom always lived up to her name, but in her final 18 months, her faith shone even brighter. She told us that she had lived a very full life and faced death completely on her terms. It’s been just over two years since she passed away and my heart keenly feels her absence, though it surprises me how alive our relationship remains. Faith Annette Sand was a feisty, force of nature who faced her battle with cancer full-on, and as a friend of ours commented, ultimately won.
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