Cancer is a Bastard. Let’s just get that out of the way right from the start. My family has more than it’s fair share of experience with this terrible disease. In 1998, my father died from brain cancer after a 6 month bout. Cancer also claimed my older brother and my oldest sister, just a couple years apart. Both were in their mid to late 50s. Way too young to die. For my brother it was round 2, having beat Hodgkins disease when he was a young man. My one remaining sibling’s husband, my brother-in-law for some 30 years also died in his 50s from cancer. My sister had her own cancer scare as well. My mother managed to live 88 years cancer free before she died from complications to a heart valve surgery. I’m pushing 57 hard and as far as I know at the moment, have not been attacked by this vulgar poison yet.
My oldest daughter, however, was not so lucky. While giving birth to her first son, the nurse discovered a suspicious spot on her back and encouraged her to get it checked. She did and bad news followed: Melanoma. Surgery was performed while we waited nervously in the waiting room for a call from the surgeon, telling us either it was contained and all was well, or that it had spread. We got good news. That was 6 years ago. All but forgotten, except for that nagging in the back of your mind that it could someday return. In fact, earlier this year I even asked Kristin, my daughter, if she was still getting regular checks, which she confirmed.
And then the call came. Kristin had been having back pain for several months beginning last fall/winter. She saw several people but no real diagnosis was produced. Eventually she went to see a spine specialist and a new MRI was performed. I was sitting in my office at work when she called. “It’s not good Dad.” That’s all it took. Instantly that knee weakening fear ran through my body as if I had been struck by lightning. “I have a tumor near my spine.” I admit, I immediately thought the worst. How could I not, with the horrible history and track record my family has set.
What followed was tortuous waiting, as Kristin arranged to see a spine specialist in Indianapolis. I met her and her husband at the doctor’s office. From there we were sent to an Oncologist. He acted fast. He made a call to the hospital across the street and arranged for a surgeon who was about to leave on vacation to perform a biopsy. By the end of the day we had see 3 doctors and had a biopsy performed. Doctors can be the most compassionate and amazing people
Then we waited more. When the answer came it was even worse than I feared: Cancer, Stage 4. I can only imagine how my daughter felt when she was told she had cancer. 34 years old, a husband, two children, a new home and a good life. Devastated I’m sure. I can’t imagine how her husband felt either. But I know exactly how I felt. I felt like someone reached into my gut, grabbed hold of everything inside and just twisted, wringing the strength right out of my body. I was depressed. I was angry. I was just walking through my days.
Fortunately for us, the doctor was very positive. He told us about a medicine that was recently developed that had good success for people just like Kristin. The tumor was of the size and location that it needed to be shrank before removal, which would then be followed by radiation. She went on the meds and like most powerful drugs, they didn’t really like her body. She had chills, sweats and high fevers that sent her to the emergency room. She grew tired and stayed tired…her highly active 6 and 3 year old sons notwithstanding! She needed help that I was not able to provide, living 250 miles away. Fortunately she has a network of wonderful friends.
Week before last she went back for new scans to see how the tumor was reacting to the medicine, with the hopes that surgery could follow soon. Last Monday she went to the Oncologist in Indy for the results. I was tied up in a class I was teaching at work and could not attend. I was hoping for good news, that we were headed in the right direction. Somewhere around Noon or so, my wife (who works for the same company as me) appeared at my classroom door waving her arms, telling me to come out. I apologized to the class, explaining I was anticipating some important news, and stepped out. My wife grabbed me, hugged me, tears in her eyes, and said, “I heard from Kristin. It’s good news! The tumor is gone!” Wait! What? Gone? Let me say that again…THE TUMOR IS GONE! We both pretty much lost it at that point. Then I gathered myself and walked back to my class. I shared the story and was met with an emotional ovation from the class.
We are not out of the woods yet. Kristin will have to live with this medicine for the rest of her life. She will have to deal with it’s side effects daily. She will have to monitor her health and body closely. But…to contemplate the “rest of one’s life” is a wonderful thing! To those of you who have wondered why the blogs and the riding have been so scarce and sporadic this year, now you know why. My good friends at the bike shop even sent a note of concern because I haven’t been by to chat for months. For those of you who knew what was going on and were lifting my daughter’s name up to whatever greater power you believe in, I cannot thank you enough. Today I am a grateful man. I am thankful for modern medicine and the men and women who dedicate their life and intelligence to its research and practice. And I am thankful for people who still believe there is a God and take the time to ask for help when hope seems all but lost.
I saw Kristin and her family yesterday in one of those rare moments when most of us are able to gather at once. I told her she had been responsible for both the worst and best news of my entire life. We laughed and shared a hug. You know, sometimes it seems like you just can’t catch a break. Life just keeps kicking your ass and doesn’t let up. But don’t give up because sometimes…sometimes you win.
Yeah, I still believe.