She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails. ~ Elizabeth Edwards
My niece posted the above quote on Facebook last spring, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though we live far apart, I’ve followed the journey she’s taken over the past year via emails and Facebook. Double mastectomy and reconstruction, chemo, radiation. All to conquer this disease that has hit so many women in my family—my aunt, her daughter, and both my sisters. The men haven’t had it easy either: my dad and two of his brothers with kidney cancer; the same brothers, bladder cancer; grandfather, lung cancer. Plus my cousin with breast cancer also had uterine and ovarian cancer.
The women are all survivors. With the exception of one uncle, the men have died.
Why is it that the survival rate of the women outpaced the men? Granted, the men were all older. Then there’s my aunt who is still living at 93. I wondered if it was early detection. If the women went for regular checkups and mammograms. If the men weren’t as attuned to their bodies and/or didn’t go to the doctor when they first noticed symptoms. Besides kinship, the men had one thing in common. They were all long-time smokers. My dad actually survived kidney cancer but succumbed to COPD. None of the women, my niece included, were smokers.
No matter the cause, I think women know how to be flexible. When life throws you a nasty curve, you either give in/give up or you adjust your sails. Change is hard for everyone. Learning to adjust to change makes one stronger. My dad never changed. He smoked right up to the end. The hospice nurse just said to turn off his oxygen before helping him light up. Geez, I can’t believe I’m telling you that I actually helped my dad light his cigarettes then made sure the ashes didn’t fall into the bedclothes. At that point, why deny him that little pleasure as he was dying?
Years earlier when my dad used to visit, I wouldn’t let him smoke in my house. Not only did cigarette smoke irritate my eyes and nose, my young son had asthma. No way would I expose him to second-hand smoke. So why did I change my attitude when my dad was dying? I could have said no way. Could have insisted that not smoking would prolong his life. That I wouldn’t help him kill himself quicker. I rationalized that if I helped him I prevented him from burning the house down—with my mother and me inside. Not to mention what fire would have done to him.
With all the cancer in my family, whenever something odd shows up on my mammograms, I try not to freak out. I’m not always successful. In the last couple of years, something odd has shown up. Not always the same, either. As I go through ultrasounds and/or biopsies, I worry that I won’t be strong enough if it is cancer. Then I think of my sisters, aunt, cousin, niece, and Elizabeth Edwards. Life dealt them a crappy hand, but they made the best of it. They adjusted their sails and moved on. Can I do anything less?