The four-week wait to see an oncologist after being told was the longest and darkest time in my life.
Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer, after being sick for almost 18 months. The four-week wait to see an oncologist after being told was the longest and darkest time in my life. My husband and I had three children ages 7 to 12. I’d already decided, after watching my much-beloved grandmother die from cancer, that I didn’t want to leave the world in fear or regret. And most of all, I wanted my children to have some form of reconciliation before the end if the worst happened.
There’s a great sense of betrayal when you’re facing cancer. It’s as though your body has turned against you. You know that there’s a painful road ahead. You’re in a life-threatening situation where you have very little control. Instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do, I decided to seize control of what was mine to determine – my attitude and how our family processed this unfortunate turn of events.
I focused on my family. It was important to me that they be as okay as possible under the circumstances. I refused to cry around them. That wasn’t the image I wanted burned in their mind’s eye. Turning my anxiety and nervous energy into tangible evidence of love became my mission.
No Words Left Unsaid
We often wait too late to make sure that the people we love, know that we love them. We assume they see it in our actions and deeds. My first project was to make sure my love was articulated and preserved for members of my immediate family and close friends.
I wrote very personal letters to my parents and friends. The good and the bad. I gave thanks for their love and friendship. I asked for forgiveness and reciprocated it for the imperfect times in our lives. My wish for all of us was 360-degree closure. My husband and I were at a low point in our marriage when I was diagnosed. He’d always been a fantastic father. I acknowledged it let him know point blank, that he had my complete trust and faith in raising our children. For my children, still young and impressionable, there should never be a moment in their lives where they had to wonder how much I’d loved them. To be sure they understood how much, I wrote each of them a unique book of poetry. My favorite memories of them as babies, toddlers, who they were now and my hopes and dreams for their future.
After encouraging all of us to face the worst possible scenario, we put away the pain to make way for fresh memories. I strove to create a new bond with each child on an intimate level, fostering images that would hopefully overshadow the pain. Big, bright and of this moment. Just us – nothing that had to be shared with a sibling.
For my son, who loved fantasy stories, we took a thrilling journey into the world of online gaming. At the time, this wasn’t as common as it is today. It was a bold new adventure for the two of us. We bought a second computer, subscribed to an online fantasy game and hopped in a fantasy setting as digital avatars. I can still remember the very moment we materialized alongside each other in a virtual world. We created stories about our adventures using screenshots from the game. I still have the screenshots and the stories. In fact, my oldest daughter created a decoupage gift out of my favorite images a few years ago. The journey with my son birthed a family tradition of gaming online together that eventually included my daughters, nieces, and nephews that continued all the way through college.
My youngest daughter was a real girlie-girl who loved dolls. We took up sewing together. The blind leading the blind, we made outfits for her favorites. We sewed decorative items for her dollhouses and bedroom. We sewed gifts for others because she had a giving heart and was delighted by the idea of creating something with her own hands that someone else could enjoy. Today, she’s one of the best no pattern sewers I’ve ever seen. We have side-by-side sewing machines in my loft.
My oldest daughter was terrific with crafts. She loved to draw and paint. I could hardly do either. We took local classes together and setup up a small crafting space in the den. My husband made a built-in L-shaped craft area where she and I could work. We made cards and a series of personalized picture frames into which we placed our favorite family photos. She still enjoys crafting to this day and does weekend crafting classes for kids.
For myself, I started a blog called Him, Them and Me, where I whispered my fears and anguish out into the void. There I met others who had been touched by cancer in some way. They became my support group and where I could shed my tears and articulate how I felt during the process. I think I wrote some of my best poetry during that time. The anonymity allowed me to say what I felt without worrying about how it would be perceived.
I was lucky to have slow-moving cancer, Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma. After two surgeries and three months of treatment, I’ve been cancer free for 15 years. I took control where I could and defined how my condition was dealt with and perceived within my family. When I think back to that time, instead of tears, I have smiles. I vividly remember the effort we made as a family to redefine the moment on our terms, and the traditions it set in motion. By asking God to give me the strength to help them, it laid a healing hand over all of us.
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