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?
This post struck close to home, Diane. Youngest daughter is a breast cancer survivor (double mastectomy), hubby had prostate cancer, I lost three aunts to lung cancer . . .
Thanks for sharing the quote from Elizabeth Edwards. I'm positive if the occasion should ever arise, you, too, will be strong enough to adjust your sails.
Loralee, thanks for sharing your own family's story. We've conquered so many deadly diseases--polio, small pox. Why can't we conquer this one?
Obviously you're from a family of strong women. I have every confidence you're just as strong. But I'm hoping cancer isn't a battle you'll ever have to fight. My mom's a breast cancer survivor. You're so right about early detection being key. We all need to get those check-ups!
You and I are in the same boat, Diane, in trying not to freak over 'what's this?' Mammograms. My mother lost her battle with breast cancer. Hers was not detected early. I often wonder what if. I am proud she took part in the initial testing of Tamoxifen, one promising weapon in this battle. My sister-in-law and many friends are long time survivors, for that I'm truly thankful. Wonderful, heartfelt post. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your family's story, Diane. Breast cancer is probably the one type that hasn't attacked my family. My mother-in-law died of uterine cancer that went undetected. My father-in-law died of lung cancer that spread to his entire body. Both fought long and hard. My mother had lung cancer but it was emphysema and COPD that eventually killed her. All three smoked. I once read that nicotine is as strongly addictive as heroine. I think helping your dad to "enjoy" his last days was loving and kind. I would have done the same thing, although it would have torn me apart. Like Jannine said, you obviously have strong genes in your family, and I too hope you'll never face that particular challenge.
What a powerful post. I've has skin cancer on a part of my back that I'm not sure ever saw the sun. I've had cancer of the saliva gland, so you can say you know a writer who's not worth spit. Half of my cheek and my ear are still numb from the 5 hour surgery over 3 years ago. As far as I know, I'm cancer free. But I worry about those who get what I call the bad cancers--breast, colon, pancreas, bone and so many more. In one way or another, it's an insidious disease. And I keep asking "why can't we find a cure?"
Jannine, thanks so much. Early detection is certainly the key.
Margo, a fellow freaker. :) I hope we keep getting good-news results.
Leah, thanks for your heartfelt words. After seeing what my dad went through, I agree about nicotine being outrageously addictive.
Vonnie, wow, you have been through a lot. You are quite a survivor.
Cancer is just plain scary, period, and if you've had a lot of it in your family--like you have--it's so much worse. My husband's father died of metastatic lung cancer after 50+ years of smoking, but my own father had kidney cancer and never smoked in his life. The doctors found the kidney cancer early, by accident, from an x-ray for back pain. They removed the kidney and all was well for 15 years. However, right before he died, they found numerous tumors in his brain that they figured were from the old cancer. Cancer is an ugly disease, and one I hope we conquer soon.
Cancer. How I hate the word and it's devastating effect. Friday was spent with my daughter as she underwent a biopsy. We'll learn soon enough and I pray for the strength to walk the path as it unfolds. I fear for all those we hold dear that they may never hear those words. And pray for those who do.
Alison, I agree about cancer being ugly. A cure has to be around the corner
Teresa, prayers for your daughter. The waiting is awful.
What a sad, yet inspiring post. Yes, the women in your family are very strong, as I'm sure you are too. I agree, a lot of it probably has to do with men not getting checked as they should. Cancer is such a frightening, awful, tragic disease. Hopefully, a cure is around the corner. Hugs!
You're doing the right thing by checking for the oddity. We have no cancer in my family and when they found a cyst during my mammogram I was panicked. It turned out pre-cancerous and removed.
Being flexible counts, be a willow not an oak.
Thanks for the heart-wrenching post, Diane. Love the willow concept, Barb. I play golf on a regular basis and find lessons for life in it. You can't putt when you're tensed up. Don't think about the last stroke...just do a good job on the one you're ready to hit right now. I admit I read obituaries...there, I've said it. But in truth, I'm trying to stay in the present and not worry too much about the future...and be loose and flexible in the process :-)
Thanks for sharing this very personal post. Here in Central Illinois we are supposed to be in a "hot spot" for cancer because of all the pesticides used by farmers and the run off from them. It just seems so many are being struck down by this disease. You hear about it constantly.
I love tradition and am always anti-change, but having triplets taught me to be flexible. It was a good lesson to learn. I was too uptight before. ;) Thank you for sharing your stories!
Thank you for sharing, Diane. You come from a strong family of fighters. Cancer sucks. You're right, early detection is key. My father in law was diagnosed last summer when he couldn't take the back pain anymore and had and MRI. He thought he'd pulled a muscle. We were all shocked to discover a tumor had fused to his spine, bladder and kidney. Unfortunately, it was Stage 4 but they couldn't operate because of the location, so he did the radiation which shrunk the tumor and he's able to walk again. But the chemo seems to be taking its toll. Tomorrow I have to take him for an MRI so they can decide whether or not to continue the chemo. It's a vicious cycle, but he's a fighter, and we're all behind him.
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