Our great friend and fellow blogger and radio host, Mel Majoros, AKA “The Cancer Warrior“, asked me to give her some thoughts about cancer awareness during September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I thought about it and decided to do something a little different: two stories about transformation, turning points and clarity in life – both before and after losing Sarah to ovarian cancer.
For all you Carcinista fans, I think you will enjoy this. See it here.
Let us know what you think!
Sarah and I sat together on the couch looking at her computer, trying to make sense of things. At the moment, she was in a place of clarity, somewhere between waves of a morphine-induced fog and cancer-induced exhaustion.
“Can I help?” I asked. “What other subjects would you like to write about? You said you had more to write.”
Sentences were shorter now. Not always coming as full thoughts. But this one was clear: “Things I don’t have to worry about anymore.” Her words were dry. I helped her take a sip from her glass of water.
“Okay, I understand.” We had talked about this before, and I knew what she meant.
Her body was weak. Her focus waxed and waned. She couldn’t hold anything up without help. She couldn’t type. But she was still Sarah, with big, beautiful smile and brilliant blue eyes looking out at all of us, surveying what, to her, must have been such an amazing picture of life. Thinking to herself…things I don’t have to worry about.
It was Monday, May 2nd. We knew what was coming. There was no stopping it. There were no more doctors. Just family and friends for support and love. And of course those helpful, pain relieving drugs. None of us wanted this, but we all knew it was reality. As Sarah and I would often say, “It is what it is.” It was as simple as that. And she had come to accept this.
Tuesday, May 3rd. Sarah died. All worries were gone.
Over the years, Sarah and I discussed, sometimes argued, about the things we worry about. Our therapist often helped us with these things. Bringing us to a better place. Better as a couple. Better as lovers. Better as parents. Better as friends.
We talked about worry and stress. What if we just didn’t have to worry? Is this what happens when you die? Worries just disappear? Maybe. Or, maybe we come to a place of peace, knowing that all those things we worry about in life will simply work themselves out – one way or another.
Is this what she meant when she said “I know I’m getting the easy way out?” Since she wouldn’t have to be concerned anymore? Worry would no longer exist?
Sarah may have been a cynic (and who wouldn’t be after five years of ups and downs from cancer, surgeries and chemo?), but I believe she became an optimist toward the end – seeing there really is no reason to worry. That our energy is put to better use in other ways.
So, what does Sarah NOT have to worry about?
1. Cancer and all its crap.
Say it with me: CRAP! CRAP! CRAP!
No more cancer. No more surgery. No more port. No more drugs. No more chemo. No more side effects. No more scans. No more waiting for results. No more wondering about the next treatment or trial – or if there will be a next treatment. No more wigs. No more hair falling out. No more hair growing back in. No more trips to the hospital during the day, nor in the middle of the night. No more oxygen tanks. No more possibility of further organ failures. No more catheters of any kind. No more injections. No more feeling like crap.
For the rest of us, cancer IS still here. Some of our friends are battling now. Some will win. Some may not. But, let’s keep hope alive. Sarah had hope. We can ALL have hope. Let’s not worry. Instead, look for cures. Look for ways to stay healthy. The Feathers will continue to send love and healing thoughts to all friends of The Carcinista who are waging their own war. Please stay well and know that love and caring is all around you.
2. Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer
Clearly NOT something Sarah worried about for herself. She caught it, but late. Really late. And this gave her more and more reason to want others to know the signs. Ovarian cancer is much more treatable in early stages. So, to help Sarah not worry, please spread the word.
Here are the symptoms:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
3. Getting a tan
From an early age, Sarah loved the sun. She loved the beach. Loved the pool. Loved being in her bikini. She called this her “happy place.” And she was the sun goddess – flipping regularly and adjusting straps so not have an uneven tan. When young – before the sunscreen craze – she always had the perfect tan during the summer. More recently, she tanned just enough – but careful about burns. And of course, making sure to get a good dose of Vitamin D.
4. Her daily Diet Coke
Sarah’s favorite drink. Loved it cold. Some said she shouldn’t drink it for a variety of reasons. Her response, “Damn it! If I’m going to cut out everything else “bad” for me, I have to have at least one vice. And so she did.
5. Global Warming
One of Sarah’s many sarcastic comments a few months ago while discussing possible directions for this post: “Since I’m probably going to Hell anyway, global warming doesn’t sound so bad.” Sarah cared a great deal about the environment and global warming. She worried about the future and what will be left for our kids. At least she doesn’t have to worry about it.
Have you seen what the celebrities are doing to themselves these days? Botox and all sorts of other weird things. Sarah was not keen of the idea of wrinkles, but I think she would have taking them, and worn them with pride.
7. Finding the perfect outfit
Being the fashionista she was, Sarah always cared about how she looked. She even dressed up for Chemo. And why not? It made her feel good. I have to wonder what the fashion is in Heaven these days. If togas are in vogue, I’m sure she’ll be sorely disappointed (she already did that in college).
8. Being cold
Sarah was ALWAYS cold. Well, except in the middle of the summer, or on the beach in the Caribbean. But, there was a silver lining. She used to say, in stark contract to her chili side, I was more like a furnace. And this called for lots of snuggling. We kind of balanced each other out – keeping just the right warm.
9. Nap time
The afternoon nap was a cherished time. When we were younger, both working full time, Sarah enjoyed them on weekends. When she began working at home, afternoon naps were an enjoyable part of her day. After having kids, almost essential.
Then, cancer came. Naps were no longer just a “nice” part of the day, they were a necessity. And Sarah did worry about not getting enough. If the kids were anxious and made too much noise, or the dog was being a pain – sleep didn’t happen. If I called from the car on my way home and got a short answer, I knew her sleep had been restless.
But now, I’m sure she’s resting when she wants to, on her favorite beach. It’s warm. There’s a nice breeze. She’s got a great tan. Eyes closed. Sweet dreams dancing in her head.
10. A replacement
Sarah often talked about my “next wife” and how I should find someone just right. She even wanted to help. But, I’m glad this is something she won’t be worrying about. I’m not. If it’s meant to be, I’m sure it’ll happen. If not, that’s fine too. When I met Sarah, I knew she was “the one” just three days after meeting her. And while our relationship was not always perfect (who’s is?), I’d take our 18 years together and enjoy them again in a heartbeat.
PS. If and when I do find someone, there is no possibility of a replacement. Sarah will always be one of a kind.
11. Her three boys
She worried, and she didn’t. She knew we were well prepared and have a great support system. I remember the first time I heard her say something about a support system. It was before our oldest son was born. She wanted to stay on the East Coast because it was close to her family, her support system. This was a foreign term to me at the time, but have grown to love it and all that it means. Our friends and family are truly amazing. I know Sarah is not worried at all.
12. Dust bunnies
There are many parts of life that are just that, life. Dust bunnies and all. So, stop worrying. Make sure you live each day. Take some time to enjoy the little things – and the big things, too.
We miss you Sarah. Thank you for helping us see and know what is important in life.
- Mr. Wonderful
Isn’t it sad how most women fear getting older? How much money we spend on facial treatments, personal trainers, Lycra undergarments, and hair dye to avoid the appearance of aging? Like the bimbos on Jersey Shore are really having any more fun than actual grown-ups.
Today is my 39th birthday. If you’d asked me three years ago whether I’d see 39, I might have said no. And I know there are a lot of people out there who will quake at the impending doom of the big four-oh, worrying that it symbolizes the fading of youth, the approach of pop-culture irrelevance, the relegation to “old-person” status. (Okay, maybe not Dara Torres.)
Not me. I’m thrilled to be having a birthday at all. And if I get the chance to go grey, to get (more) wrinkly, I’ll be excited about it. Not just because it’ll save me a fortune in blonde highlights, but because it will advertise my success. It will broadcast the triumph of will, love, modern medicine and good nutrition over the evil cancer monster. It will announce to the world that I am more interesting than I was at 25, more complex, a better friend, partner, and parent. I will have wisdom to share, stories to tell, funnier jokes. (I’m willing to let the bikini go for funnier jokes.)
I know I come back to this analogy frequently, but I feel like aging adds more and more intricate pieces to the mosaic image that is my life. The pixels get smaller, the details crisper, the image sharper. More interesting.
Old people are cool. Bring it on.
About six months after my heinous surgery for my first recurrence, Mr. Wonderful, needing to DO something about this, hit up amazon.com for a box of Cancer Nutrition cookbooks. While I spent some time leafing through them when they first arrived, much to his chagrin I didn’t actually implement any of their eating plans, nor did I run out and buy the ingredients for the seven different varieties of kale-and-cauliflower soup. I eat veggies, but couldn’t stomach the thought of vegetarianism or macrobiotic whacko-ness…if these were effective cancer-beaters, wouldn’t we all be living on broccoli by now? Surely there would be a press release, and someone would be trying to make money on it.
My diet isn’t perfect, but we eat very well: lean poultry and fish, with the occasional hamburger or pork tenderloin; plenty of unrefined carbs and whole grains, vegetables, etc. We don’t eat out often, maybe once a month, and when we do, it’s usually a salad for me (but I’m happy to pick fries from my kids’ plates – no calories if I didn’t order ‘em!). I drink only occasionally, eat a healthy breakfast every day, get plenty of exercise, etc. etc.
But oh, the sweet tooth. Raised by a woman who didn’t see the need for dessert after dinner every night, when I reached the age of independence, I started supplying my habit, and haven’t looked back. Now that I have discovered how hard it is to control my weight through exercise alone (thank you, menopause), I do limit myself to the single afternoon diet Coke, and I’ve trained myself to like black coffee. I can go nearly all day without naughty snacks, yet once the kids are in bed, the trolling begins. What am I craving tonight? Four marshmallows (25 cal. ea.)? No, those didn’t do it. Handful of Cinnamon Oat Swirls (130 cal. per 1/2 cup)? Nope. Keep looking… Peppermint Joe-joe? Heavens, no, those are 75 cal. a piece! Maybe a chocolate truffle (60 cal.). You see my issue.
Last week I read yet another (unconfirmed but footnoted with journals) article on the relationship between tumor growth and sugar. Upon further research, it appears the scientifically-reliable, journal-publishing, study-backed community is still unconvinced that cancer cells gain their evil powers from dietary sugar. But for some reason I felt as if I had crossed some threshhold, some point of maturity that gave me the strength to actually take this final stage of control of my diet. If I cut out refined sugars and carbs (table sugar and processed sweeteners, not honey or maple syrup; white bread and pasta, not whole-grain), maybe I’d give the Avastin a leg up and really knock those tumors down. What harm would there be? I’d still be eating carbs, fruit, veggies, etc., just more of a caveman diet. Not far from where I started, but without the useless sugar. Sure, go for it. You can always quit.
Seven days later, I’m shocked. Not only am I not feeling like I’m making any great sacrifice, I don’t even miss it. See you later, sugar. I started eating completely unsweetened cereal (used to eat Barbara’s Shredded Oats), and found myself, on Thursday morning, noticing the natural sweetness of a walnut. A walnut. I’m having a grapefruit with a drizzle of honey after dinner, and being satisfied, even full, and not looking for more. And some of you will argue that I didn’t have any to lose, which is false, but my (admittedly not bulky) layer of energy stores seems to be fading away FAST. Could it be this easy to keep my weight steady?
WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME THIS BEFORE??? (I’m looking at you, Ed and Mom.)
[I'll keep you posted on further developments, including the results of my upcoming 2/11 CT scan.]
P.S. Ed, sorry about the cookbook thing. And not doing this in 2008.
P. P.S. Mom, I’m just kidding – I know you’ve been telling me this for years. Would you stop being right all the damn time?
If’ you’d asked me in 2006 whether I’d turn 38, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say “yes”. If you’d asked me in 2007 whether I’d turn 38, I would have hesitated.
When I was first diagnosed, I was so certain that my cancer was a one-time thing, a fluke, something to be excised, poisoned, and recovered from. Dust my hands off, grow my hair back, return to my regularly scheduled life. But once the first recurrence showed up and we scheduled my scary surgery for October, I was convinced I’d be gone by that Christmas. Started mentally divvying up my couture, regretting that I’d never get to embarrass my boys at their rehearsal dinners, wondering who would let the lonely cat sleep in their bed. So when that round was over, I was totally flummoxed. And we all know how much I loooove uncertainty. How long do I have?
No one on my medical team is willing to even take a stab in the dark at a prognosis. They all say we have lots of tools in my treatment arsenal, and plenty more coming down the pike. (Have I mentioned yet how much I adore being treated at D-F?) Since my lungs are now showing signs of (tiny, glacially-progressing) tumors, I’m starting to get an inkling of the way it’s going to go in a long-term sense. But how long?
These days, when someone’s diagnosed with Stage IIIc like I was, they have a 45% chance of living longer than five years. And with each recurrence, your percentage drops. So I have to admit that while I have never exactly been morbid, I am trying to be realistic. I certainly stopped worrying about the health of my IRA. (See? A little gallows humor never hurt anyone.)
Anyway, here I am at 38. In another 18 months, I’ll be one of the 45%. Since statistics-busting has been my m.o. from the start, I’m happy to keep the trend going. And maybe if I keep kicking ass I’ll come to really regret my adolescent sun-worshipping habits in my fifties and sixties.