Cancer… it’s everywhere!
10 years ago, I was at my first National Conference with Partylite. We had been raising money for the American Cancer Society. Not long before that, I realized that one of my Team mates was battling cancer. I think she was seriously the first person I knew (personally) who had it. Before they announced how much money we had raised so far, they started asking the crowd of 10,000 or so, to stand up if they had personally battled cancer. A handful of people stood up. Then, they asked anyone with a relative with cancer to stand up. A lot more stood up. On and on they went, until pretty much every person was standing! It was amazing to me how many people were affected by cancer in such a close and personal way! I felt lucky that I only knew of one person with the disease… Well, the past 6 years or so has sure changed that!
In 2004, I was hired as a School Readiness Teacher in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. I was hired on as a long-term Sub for a woman who was battling cancer. Her prognosis was not good, but she was determined to fight it, and thought she might be back after Christmas Break, but they weren’t really sure when. Even thought Janette thought she was ready to come back, they kept me on. Janette came back to help in a class that needed a little extra support, though I really think they had us working together to mentor me a bit. She was one of the most amazing people I had ever met! She had a genuine love for life, and for other people! She was not going to let cancer get her down! She lived every minute to the fullest. Janette brought joy with her wherever she went, and to every person who came in contact with her!
We worked together the second half of that year, and almost all of the following year. I was so blessed to have that time with her! She brought me to a whole new level of a love for teaching. She showed me how joyful life could be! She always made us laugh! She wore a wig to school, only because she didn’t want the kids to freak out. Right before Spring Break, the second year, she told the kids she was getting her “summer haircut.” After that, she didn’t wear her wig any more. She said she felt free (since she rarely wore it anywhere else, anyway). She proudly wore her peach fuzz… until she came back with no hair, no one even knew she was sick (except for those of us who knew her well). She was not a person that went around telling everyone she had cancer or looking for a “pity party.” Janette was happy with the life she had lived, and said when it was her time, it was her time, but she fought that cancer until the end. She fought with prayer, she fought with medicine… unfortunately, right around the same time she stopped wearing her wig, the cancer was consuming a good part of her body. Her skin tone was starting to change, showing that her liver was failing. She was losing weight, and was tired all the time. A couple weeks before the school year ended, Janette went on Hospice Care… I have NEVER been someone who is good at visiting people in the hospital (unless it’s for a new baby). I went and saw Janette at her house in those last couple weeks. I’m SOOO glad I did. I sat with her for a couple hours, as she poured out some more of the teaching wisdom she wanted me to know. We talked about the kids in our class, about families, about our Faith… She made me laugh about as much as she made me cry. I got to say good-bye, and it was wonderful! Janette passed away the night before the last day of school. That last day was SO hard!! We were having an ice cream party to celebrate the end of preschool, and prepare for new beginnings… at the same time, inside, my other two co-teachers and I were crying for the loss of our friend and mentor…
At the same time that Janette was battling her cancer, a long-lost friend had called me out of the blue. He had been one of my closest friends from Summer Camp at Trout Lake. We talked on the phone all the time from about 8th grade until 10th grade (or so), when he moved to CA with his Dad. Even then, we would write letters, and talk on the phone as often as our parents would let us – those days, you still had to pay for long-distance calls. He’d call me about his girl problems, I’d call him when my life felt like it sucked… we’d occasionally call each other to celebrate accomplishments too! Eric was that guy, who at some point, we said, “If we’re not married to anyone else by age 30, we should just get married, since we are such good friends anyway.” We stayed in touch until 1999, when I got married. The last couple of years of our friendship were a bit strained, due to a trip I made to CA to visit him and to go to a kung fu tournament. Long story short, I spent most of the week at my hotel, and missed the tourny completely. To top it off, I could only spend a half day at Disneyland…
So, I hadn’t heard from Eric in about 5 years or so, and I get a call from my brother that he had contacted him, and wanted him to give me his number. I was shocked, and of course, called him right up! Turns out, his life had been beyond crazy since we had last talked. He was in the military, then out… had been married, then divorced… now, he was back in MN, living with his Mom and Sister – battling cancer. I was in total shock!! We were only 29, and he was battling cancer!!! He blamed himself. He said the last couple years, he had gotten into drugs pretty bad, and he felt that this was God’s way of punishing him. He was doing chemo, but was so sick, he wanted to quit. He didn’t want to do treatments any more, because he felt so awful afterwards.. Over the next several months (I don’t even know how long), we talked on the phone almost daily. I would get so angry with him for wanting to give up – he had his whole life ahead! I think my frustration was so high, not only because he was such an important part of my life for so long, but also because I worked with Janette who battled pretty much the same form of cancer, was hardly ever sick, and was so positive… After not talking for so many years, my opinion was still important to him, but he just wanted to be done. He asked me to come visit him before things got too bad… I was afraid to, because I didn’t know how I would respond. I didn’t want to spend the whole time crying, which is exactly what I probably would have done. I know he had seen/heard my cry a million times before, but never because of him. I didn’t want him to see me like that! My family demands, mixed with that fear, kept me from going to see him. He moved into a nursing home, so he could get the care he needed. A day or two later, his Mom called me to tell me he had gone into a Vegetative State. Just like that, he had given up… I felt like somehow it was my fault. If only I had gone to see him. I was going to go visit, but before I was able to make it, he passed away.
This was going to be my second funeral in about a month. Both died of cancer. Both had completely different experiences! While Janette’s Memorial was a celebration of her life, and all the people she touched… Eric’s was much more sad. He was so young, and everyone seemed to feel the need to point it out. His Dad started speaking, and lost it, his sister started speaking, and played Sarah McLaughlin’s “Arm’s of an Angel.” I went to his Memorial alone. When his Mom saw me, she was introducing me to members of his family as his best friend, Sarah. I got some very interesting looks as people said, “Oh, you’re THAT Sarah… the one that got away… you were the love of his life…” It was so bizarre! First of all, I had NO idea. I thought we were just really close friends – after all, I looked at him like a brother! I just wanted to be there to mourn my friend that I couldn’t even see in his last days, and they were loading this on top of it… it was too much for me to handle! I had to leave… I still get upset that he just gave up at such a young age, but I am not him. I didn’t feel what he felt. If his quality of life was so horrible, then why would he want to continue? I wonder what I would have done if I were in his shoes.
Some time went by, and I reconnected with a friend from church. She had been the leader of a Spiritual Journaling group I had been a part of for several years. I also watched her children in the church nursery every week… Anyway, since the last time we had talked, she had been divorced, and had found out she has lung cancer. I was shocked, about both things! This woman was one of the healthiest people I knew! She was always trying to eat right, exercise… she never smoked, how could she get lung cancer??? Apparently, 2nd hand smoke?!? Well, following her on her journey has certainly been interesting. Suzy has a positive outlook on life. She is holding fast to her faith. She has been remarried, and is living every day to it’s fullest! She has not beaten the cancer yet, but continues to fight – trying different treatments, and going with the flow. She has the “it is what it is” attitude, and keeps living. She never looks for pity, but she is honest about what is going on… Being the writer she is, Suzy wrote a book about her Cancer Journey so far. It’s called, “One Foot in the Joy.” I bought it, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. She’s an amazing person, and I bet her book is too!
My Mom had a scare with Cervical Cancer a few years back… after biopsies and other tests, they decided to do a hysterectomy, “just to be safe.” A co-worker of mine is also dealing with a similar situation.
A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine online. She used to be a neighbor who I spent a lot of time with, and I used to Nanny for her children. We haven’t seen each other as much since they moved to the other side of town, but we still chat and get together here and there… anyway, she told me that she had recently found a lump under her armpit. She went in immediately, and they discovered it was about the size of a golf ball! They biopsied it, and found it to be Stage 3 Breast Cancer! Talk about a shock!! Another early-30′s woman, otherwise healthy, suddenly dealing with this! Luckily, they surgically removed it, and feel as though they got it all! Prayers have been answered!!! While she has a long road ahead of her, this was great news!
Another ex-co-worker ALSO recently had “spots” discovered on her lungs. We are all still praying for her and her family. It is unknown if these spots are cancerous or not…
Why??? That’s the question I ask about all these wonderful people??? Why did God choose them to battle cancer (or have pre-cancer that leads to invasive treatments)??? Why does the number seem to be spreading by the day???
We can’t predict the future… we never know what lies ahead on our journey of life. I vow to try to live each day to the fullest… to enjoy every moment of every day, just in case!!