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!
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. October, AKA “PinkTober”, is the month we think of Breast Cancer. And, apparently November is Lung Cancer awareness month. December? Not sure, but I’m sure there’s a cancer for that month, too. Don’t you think it’s a little ironic we try to remember different cancers on different months throughout the year?
On a Thursday in May 2006, Sarah was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She was blown away. SHOCKED! Maybe if we’d paid more attention to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month she might have checked earlier? Who knows. She used to say that sometimes she was a “stick-your-head-in-the-sand-when-something-bad-comes-up” kind of girl.
So, this September, I want to point out that any cancer can crop up at any time. It’s scary and an unfortunate reality we live with. During the five years Sarah fought her cancer, two other very dear friends died from their cancers – a melanoma and a rare sarcoma.
As Sarah became closer to a much larger community of men and women who were fighting all kinds of cancers, we lost even more new friends. BUT, we also gained many new fiends and most are survivors today. I’m counting our collective blessings for that.
The ovarian cancer thing really gnaws at me. Mostly because there’s stuff people should know and can do about it. The first thing you should ask is “what are the symptoms.” Because knowing them and paying attention to your body can save your life. Did you know that ovarian cancer goes undetected far too long, too often? It can be one of the most deadly cancers for women. Not because it’s not treatable, but because once it gets to stage 3 or 4 it’s much harder to treat and often returns over and over and over. The earlier it’s detected, the better the chances for long-term survival!
Okay, okay. I hear ya! Here are the symptoms:
– Pelvic or abdominal pain
– Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
– Urinary symptoms, such as urgent or frequent feelings of needing to go
– Feeling tired more than usual (not usually listed, but this was big for Sarah)
Early stage ovarian cancer CAN be detected via these symptoms. No doctor in their right mind is going to think you’re crazy for asking, especially if you say you’ve been having more than one of these symptoms.
This summer, after Sarah died, I heard many stories of woman getting checked because of Sarah’s story. Unfortunately, at least one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The good news? They caught it early! And she’s being treated. If she hadn’t been checked she could still be wondering, and getting worse.
I’ve also heard stories of women who got checked and were given a clean bill of health. Taking the worry off their shoulders when they were feeling a little uneasy. Music to my ears (and I’m sure to theirs).
Earlier this spring, I went to my dentist and he saw a spot on my tongue. They said I needed a biopsy to be sure it was nothing dangerous. Whoa! This is my tongue we’re talking about. Kind of important! Yes, it freaked me out a little, but I knew I had to do it.
The surgery was a little painful, because they had to cut a small chunk out of my tongue. (During the painful stuff, I thought of Sarah for strength.) The spot turned out to be nothing, THANK GOD! And, the hole in my tongue healed up very quickly. There isn’t even a scar. Weird. But, best of all, I’m healthy, and not worried.
When you talk with your doctor, make sure you go armed with lots of questions. Ask whatever you want and don’t let them go until YOU are satisfied that YOU got what YOU need to know. Asking pointed questions about this stuff can save your life. If you don’t feel like you’re getting a satisfactory answer from your doctor – or they blow you off (yes, I have heard of this happening all too often) – then go see another doctor. I know! It’s a pain in the butt and takes extra time out of your busy day, but what are a few hours when you could be adding years to your life?
I’m sure Sarah would agree with me. She wished she’d gone to the doctor long before she actually did. She had reasons why she had held off. Things like just not wanting to deal with it. Or saying to herself “well, I’m young, I’m healthy, it couldn’t be anything bad.” And of course she was exhausted and didn’t really want to go see a doctor. I probably could have pushed harder, too. But, hindsight is 20/20.
On a Tuesday in May 2011, Sarah died. It was 5 years after she was diagnosed.
Now, in May or September, or any other month for that matter, make sure you remember the signs for ovarian cancer. Whether it’s you or a loved one, if there’s concern, go get it checked out. Better safe than sorry.
To close today, I would like to share a quick story from a friend, Dawna Leger Phillips, who recently said her own good-bye to Sarah while on a Buddhist retreat. Here are some of her words and a photo:
“The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is located on the 600 acres of Shambhala. It is said, “anyone who approaches a Stupa with a pure heart and the intention to benefit others will receive its blessings.” On my last day at Shambhala, I walked to the Stupa and made a final offering. As I placed the Ovations for a Cure bracelet, which I had been wearing more times than not since Sarah’s death, on someone else’s offering of C3PO*, I spoke these words, “Sarah Sadtler Feather, wherever you are, may you rest in peace, may your heart be open and your body strong” and then I let her go, I let her be… It was not an attempt to forget about her but, instead, to detach myself from this part of my past and to simply let her be on her way and to let myself be more mindful of every present moment. This was one of the gifts given to me at Shambhala. I am learning to let go; to trust; to be gentler with myself and with others; to become more peaceful, tolerant and compassionate; and to be more present in the tiniest of moments that make up my big life… I’m still learning…”
*For those of you who knew Sarah, you will fondly recall her sense of humor and her love of fashion. You might also recall her boys’ love of Star Wars and her naming her home oxygen tank R2D2. I thought Sarah would find humor in the placement of my offering as a sash across C3PO. It is as if he’s saying, “Thank you! So long! May the force be with you!” 🙂
Thank you Dawna! I agree. May the force be with us all!
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.