Today marked the last day of the year. One year of time that has been spent on an incredible journey of self-reflection. One year since Sarah, The Carcinista, died.
In many ways, this year has been amazing. Our boys and I have learned some wonderful life skills. Not just for coping with the hard things, but for really building a good life in a new way. Many things have remained the same by design. But we have also set out to create a life that works for the three of us. A life that (I believe) Sarah would be pleased with, and proud of.
We all have come to a place of peace about where she is, and how she is still in our lives. That took time, but maybe less time for us than it could have taken. Sarah gave us all permission to come to peace, and to be able to move forward in a good way. We are embracing that as a family.
May 3, 2012 is not a sad day. At least not any more sad than any other day this week or next week or last week. We’ve come to cherish our memories of Sarah and how we were a family. We talk about Sarah at the dinner table, while driving to school, at bed time. Really, whenever it feels right. I often say to the boys how proud Sarah would be to see them with all they have accomplished. They like that. And, of course, I tell them how proud I am of them as well.
I asked the boys if they would like to have a special dinner to remember Mommy on the anniversary of her death. They both smiled, and at the exact same time blurted out, “We want ice cream for dinner!” So, we’re having ice cream. Super Mom is joining us as well. We’ll be spending some special time thinking about Sarah and talking about our wonderful memories. We’ll light some candles in her honor. And, as usual, finish the evening reading some books before the kids go to sleep.
So, if you feel like having a little time to remember our hero. Maybe you, too can eat some ice cream. Light a candle. And settle in to a good book.
Wait, what? The End? What do you mean?
Well, Sarah wanted me to write this. So, I’m writing it.
A year ago, as Sarah was getting ready to say good-bye to our world as we know it, she was coming to terms with what she felt was the most likely afterlife. She had decided that she didn’t really believe in God or heaven. At least not in the way they talk about it in Church. We both used to be more comfortable with something that was closer to “the force” from Star Wars. An energy that bound everything together in a beautiful way.
A friend asked Sarah where she thought she might go after death. On April 27, 2011, Sarah responded with the following:
“I believe that life flows and ebbs and forms beings (trees, fish, dandelions, dung beetles) that get their energy from a giant pool of energy that surrounds everything (don’t ask me to get specific). When a new baby (lion cub, cockroach, seedling) is born, it takes its energy from the same pool, and when it dies, its energy returns to the pool and dissipates into a million(?) (billion?) pieces. I would prefer that our souls get to keep some of their individuality so I can come back and haunt everyone, visit the kids, go places I’d like to see. There are also a great number of people and pets that I need to see when I get there; I’ll be very disappointed if I can’t have lunch with my grandpa sometime! Maybe there’s a special package you can choose when you get there… if it’s merit-based, I certainly won’t win, but I can get a little extra-credit for making people laugh? Even if the jokes were raunchy and politically incorrect?”
Since Sarah died, she has convinced me that while the energy thing might be part of it, she also got the other part of her wish – maybe a bit of heaven on Earth.
Sarah’s nurse called the day after Sarah died, not knowing that she had passed, and asked how she was doing. When I told her she had died, she said, “I had a dream last night and Sarah had taken out her oxygen tube and wasn’t using it. I told her to put it back in so she could breath. But Sarah looked at me and said, Rose, I’m okay.”
We had a birthday party for Sarah in November. 85 people came to the house to remember her and have a nice evening meeting other friends and sharing wonderful stories. The evening was a success and I was happy to get in bed that night. At about 3 AM I woke after an experience that I cannot call a dream. Sarah was there with me before I woke. She was dressed in something resembling a Halloween costume (it was only a few days after Halloween and she loved to dress up). I said to her, “Thank you for coming.” She looked at me and smiled. There was a very warm sensation between us. She never said anything, but she didn’t have to.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, our boys, Sarah’s parents, her sister, our nephew and I went to St. John, USVI and took Sarah with us, too. We had a wonderful week there. On Friday morning, we each took a turn spreading her ashes on the beach and in the water at Francis Bay. A place that was dear to Sarah – where she had wanted to be. It was a somber occasion, but one of great relief to us all as well. Sarah was now “home.”
The boys and I returned to St. John for another week this March to spend some time there, just the three of us. We wanted to be close to Sarah and feel her with us. And we did. The weather was perfect. We spent lots of time on the beach, we sailed a few times, we met new friends. It was fantastic. Then on the way home, Sarah spoke to me in a way I could not have ever even made up.
It turns out that Harry Connick, Jr. and his family were on St. John the same week we were there. I didn’t know, but I’m sure Sarah was all over it. When we were leaving to fly back State side, we found out that Harry Connick and his family were on the same flight we were taking back to Newark.
Before I go on, if you have not read the story about Sarah meeting Harry Connick, Jr. on April 28, 2011, then you have to read that first. Otherwise, read on…
The boys and I boarded the plane knowing we had three separate seats around the plane. I had hopes of getting people to move so at least the boys could sit together, but with a full flight I was not feeling very good about it.
Sarah stepped in, and made it all come together.
Seat #1 was in row 7. A nice woman and her 6 year old daughter had an empty seat for my youngest. He was thrilled and very happy to have a playmate for the flight. Of course, my oldest said, “Dad, I want to sit with a kid, too!”
Seat #2 was in row 11. A nice woman and her son with the empty seat next to the window. #2 was happy. So was I. Stress relieved! Now back to my seat.
Seat #3 was in row 29. I arrive at my seat to find an empty row. Oh well. The boys are happy, no sense in dragging them back here. And, I’m sure someone will end up sitting here anyway. I sat and waited.
After the plane was almost full, a man ended up standing next to me. I looked up and it was Harry Connick, Jr. I played it cool, but was in complete shock. He and his younger daughter ended up sitting next to me for the flight.
Harry was really nice. We talked for maybe 15 minutes, but that was all I needed. I really just wanted to be able to thank him for what he had done (unknowingly) for Sarah. He was honored to hear the story and was very thankful. When we got off the plane, he introduced me to his wife, Jill, and his older daughter as well. To be honest, they all were wonderful and asked about Sarah. It was a very nice experience.
Good Karma? Crazy coincidence? There are chance things that happen in our lives, but I firmly believe that this was Sarah, in a higher power, intervening and saying, “Ed, thank you. I’m doing great. And so are you and the boys.” Funny, now that I think of it, maybe she was also saying “thank you” to Harry at the same time. Two for the price of one. Nice work Sarah.
So, is this “The End”?
No! The Carcinista is to be continued…
On Monday, April 16, 2012, I will run in the Boston Marathon as part of the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team.
While this will be my third Boston, it will be the first without Sarah cheering me on from the sidelines. I last ran in 2009, and I remember running through Wellesley close to the half-way point, seeing her there with our boys. I yelled out as loud as I could, “I love you, Sarah.” I remember the pride and love I felt as I saw them there together. And I remember my tears, knowing we had a battle ahead of us that was not going to be easy.
As I trained throughout this winter, I’ve thought long and hard about Sarah. I’ve thought of things we used to talk about, or things we did together. The way she used to encourage me. There were so many wonderful things she did for us. An integral part of our family that made us whole.
I’ve also thought of her strength and how she just kept going, on and on with all the surgeries, chemotherapy and trials to see if we could find something that would work. She never gave up. And this is a lesson that I take to heart. She’s with me every day. Every time I go running I find a deep strength knowing she is there.
I made a short film about running and training for Boston over the winter. But, it’s really not about me. It’s about Sarah and all she did for our family. It’s about that amazing strength she gave us.
When I run on Monday, I will be running for Sarah. I will be running for our boys. I will be running for all our friends and family. I will be running for our friends who have died from cancer over the past year. I will be running for our friends who are still fighting and surviving. And I will be running for a future without cancer. If you would like to support my run, please watch this short film. It’s only 3 minutes long. And if you can make a donation to the innovative research program at Dana Farber, please visit my donation page. 100% of funds raised go directly to cancer research programs.
Lastly, please share this with your friends. Let’s remember Sarah, the Carcinista, as we approach May 3rd.
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!
For spring break in April we visited a friend’s beach house on Buzzards Bay. Originally, we were to visit our happy place in the USVI, but Sarah’s breathing was constricted so badly she could barely walk to the car. She was on supplementary oxygen 24/7 and the amount she needed was increasing weekly. Travel by plane, let alone a trip with a 9 hour flight, followed by taxi, boat and truck rides would have been impossible. Not to mention having to walk up and down almost 200 steps every time you wanted to go to the beach or have a meal. For the fit, it was fun. For Sarah, it would have been hell.
Our dear friends offered their house, and we gladly accepted. It was perfect. Only one flight of stairs. And, with it being less than two hours from our house by car, we could take the kids, the dog, and all we needed for the week. Even a portable oxygen concentrator.
While Sarah slept most afternoons, the kids and I were more adventurous. Kayaking to the playground further down the bay. Visiting the local zoo. Walking the dog down to the point. Or just playing on the beach.
Sarah stayed inside the entire week, never leaving the house. She was comfortable and safe. Reading. Writing. Sleeping. Breathing. She watched her boys through the large picture windows as they ran along the beach, looking for sea glass and shells. Playing with the dog. Enjoying their youth.
We were together. We had this one week to be a family again. Just the four of us. No one else to help, or interrupt. Just us. Together each day and night for meals. Together for reading, playing games, watching movies, talking and snuggling. It was beautiful. We discovered that this vacation was about one simple thing: love.
It gave Sarah the strength to do what she had to do. It gave us the strength we needed for our journey forward.
Before she died, Sarah asked me to write a post called: “All you need is love.” I’ve been thinking about this now for more than two months. In the early days, just after she died, our love was the cause of the deepest pain I have ever felt. Such an incredible sense of loss for me and our boys. But I embraced the pain, accepting that she had reached the end of her amazing voyage. She and I had come to a place of peace long before she died. We knew the destination, just not when we would get there.
Now, the rawness of her death is gone. The deep, searing pain is gone. The frustration and sense of “what now?” has passed. Sarah would be pleased. I’m where she wanted me to be.
What’s left? The good parts of love. The part I remember when she was there by my side. When we held hands. When we ate dinner together as a family. When we would all hold hands and shout out, ONE… TWO… THREE… FAMILY!!!!! The beauty of being a family; it’s a really good, strong feeling that fills my heart every day. It’s not hard – all I have to do is look at our boys. I believe they feel it, too. I can see it in their smiles.
This week, we’re back at our friend’s house on the beach again. I had to work, so Supermom came back up and spent the week with us, taking care of the kids like the champ she is, while I made the long slog in traffic to and from Boston. It’s been really nice having her here. We all miss Sarah, but being here together makes it all okay.
As I think about all this love and how important it has been to our family, it has made me think of Sarah’s friends; OUR friends. So many people have grieved for Sarah and miss her in their own way. Yes, it’s different from how the boys and I miss her, but there are so many who loved her – and for many different reasons.
Over the past months I’ve discovered that different people express their love in different ways. Some send cards. Some make donations. Some call, email or post on FB to say “hi” and see how we’re doing. Some post on Sarah’s or The Carcinista’s FB pages to say they miss her or are thinking of her. Some ask us over for dinner or to spend the weekend with them. Some make things and/or sell things to honor her and make donations to her favorite charities. Some are running and biking great distances to honor her by raising money for cancer research and aid. Many are there for us whenever we need a little boost. And every one of those friends is taking time out of their busy lives to show their love in their own way. What works for them. What makes them feel better. And that’s okay.
So, no matter how love comes or is shown, sarah was right: love is special. It is the power that keeps us together when things get really tough. Sarah’s love will always be a part of our family. And we are glad that we’re able to share a bit of that love with you, too. And glad that you are willing to share a bit of your love for Sarah with us.
All you need is love.
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
Last week when I met with my therapist, I landed on a theme that keeps coming up for me:
I feel guilty that I’m putting my family and friends through the stress of having to deal with my illness. I feel guilty when my mom drops everything and comes to town to run my life for a few days when I’m having tough treatments or procedures. I feel guilty asking people to stop at the store for me because I know how busy everyone is already, without having to do my stuff, too. I feel guilty when my husband gets home from a busy day at work and then cleans up the kitchen and does two loads of laundry while writing business emails and presentations and I sit on the couch watching Hoarders. (Those people are nuts — look how normal my life is by comparison!)
I know, I know. It’s ridiculous. There’s nothing I did to bring on this disease or its side-effects; guilt is useless. My life “is what it is”, and everyone does what they need to do to live with it and help us all get through it. No one feels that I’m taking advantage of them, or being lazy so I can lie around with the cat and nap all day. Why am I so wrapped up in the guilt?
I’ll break it down a little: I feel guilty because I feel like I’m not pulling my weight. I feel guilty that my disease is making other people make changes in their lives that, if I weren’t sick, they wouldn’t have to make. I feel guilty when, for example, they shower me with Christmas cards and mad money, because “normal” people don’t have that happen to them, and why should I deserve it any more than any other stay-at-home Mom who’s working part-time and keeping a household running? (Which I’m not even really doing much anymore.)
And (here’s the really ugly part) I feel guilty that my husband and kids are going to have to deal with life after me. Not this month, hopefully not for a few more years, but they WILL have to deal with it. And I know they’re resilient, and we’ve laid good groundwork for sharing emotions and feeling strong and loving themselves and coping with bad stuff, but every time I think about “my mom/wife died of cancer” it makes me crazy. Like, life is hard enough to be a kid/tween/teen without that baggage added to your cart. (At least they’ll have something to write about for their college application essays.)
What’s the solution? I know (and hear from others repeatedly) that my guilt is wasted. No one places any of this responsibility on my shoulders. No one thinks I’m being a manipulative slug. And life is like this: just when you think you’ve got everything under control, something goes all catty-wumpus and you have to readjust. Do I just “get over it”? But I’m a mom, guilt is my JOB.
I think it has to go back to my last post: change the guilt to GRATITUDE. Gratitude that I’m still here, despite the odds. Gratitude that I have such a supportive and energetic family. Gratitude that my friends aren’t sick of hearing about Sarah’s Cancer after nearly five years. Gratitude that I still have such a good relationship with my mother that we don’t kill each other after 48 hours (and Mr. W does, too!). Gratitude that we have thoughtful neighbors with snowplows and -blowers. Gratitude that I can still put on every stitch of clothing that I own and take the dog for a walk in the freezing, snowy, beautiful woods. Gratitude that I live in Boston and have access to the most cutting-edge treatments that have been saving my life for months now. (I’m such a proponent of dump-anything-that-is-a-waste-of-energy (i.e., “Why ME????”) that this should be easy.)
Gratitude that anyone out there is still listening!
Alright, stop harassing me, I’m back.
A couple of items before I jump in:
- I don’t know who the 100+ people per day are who have been re-reading my last post over and over for the past month, but thanks. Your dedication is astounding.
- I hate winter.
The past month has been really insane. From the fabulous boots to the non-existent nephrostomy bag to the fact that my trial drug seems to be working. Yes, you heard me, it appears to be working.
I felt like death-warmed-over the week before Christmas, and Mr. W and I were having the tough discussions about what music to play at my memorial service, how pretty his next wife was allowed to be, etc. etc. I had aches and pains, took Dilaudid to get to sleep at night, had trouble with a flight of stairs. I was pretty out of it.
Then all of a sudden, with that fabulous news about my hugely resilient kidneys (and the onset of the action of my new Celexa prescription, coincidentally), things sorta turned around. Okay, I did spend 24 hours in bed with a stomach bug, but I wasn’t huffing the inhaler all the time; I wasn’t taking narcotics to sleep, and my symptoms (full all the time, pain in the cancerous nodes in my neck, groin) seemed to fade away.
Which brings us to the news, delivered last Monday, that my CA-125, previously in the 200s, had dropped to 79. Seventy-nine. Holy crow, is there a light at the end of this tunnel? And even if there isn’t, if the CT scan scheduled for the end of the month shows not stability but merely slowed progression, so what?
That’s right, I’m feeling grateful. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but if all I get from this clinical trial is an extra two months without symptoms, I’ll take it. It has been an opportunity to feel like myself again — well, the latest incarnation of myself, with two-hour naps and no muscle tone — and to read out loud to my kids without getting winded; to not only have the energy to make dinner but to go to the grocery store and have the presence of mind to think of a recipe to make, collect all the ingredients, then move down the aisle and see another idea pop up. (And to be grateful as well for the freezer full of lovingly prepared casseroles to thaw and bake on the nights when I’m beat.)
And to feel gratitude that my hair is too long and desperately in need of highlights, but sprouting from my very own head.
Without this two months of feeling better, I might have missed this:
Tomorrow: Part II.