Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Good News…and the Bad News…and the Good News…and...

When my sister Becky called me last May and said the two of us now belong to the same club (Breast Cancer), I had no words. All I could do was cry as she told me of her diagnosis that day, and that it was in her lymph nodes, and now what? We spent hours on the phone every day as she made it through tests and scans and consultations and the mind melting process (where you feel like you are drinking water out of a firehouse) of trying to get answers and figure out what to do next but you never can get an answer that tells you exactly what it will take to make this all go away. And then she went over every concern about telling Mom that another one of her children had cancer, then telling the other siblings.
In June my sister Jennifer skyped me from Australia and said she had good news and bad news. When she said that the good news is that her breast cancer was not in her lymph nodes I managed to find a word. After I screamed it for about 10 seconds I moved on to the crying and listening to what was next.
Good news – Skype.
I am really grateful the three of us could be on Skype at the same time to share what was happening, and support each other through it.
Bad news – some of the treatments Jennifer needed were not readily available in Australia.
Good news – Jennifer was able to return to Utah for additional treatment. All three of us were able to have some time together while she and Becky were going through treatment.
Bad news – How to tell Mom that nearly 12 years after Dad died of cancer, three of her daughters are fighting breast cancer.
Good news – Mom is tougher than any of us can imagine. And when we have room for miracles, they are there to get us through. Thank you Dad, for being so near.
Bad news – Becky had a type of cancer that had mutated.
Good news – Becky is married to a great radiologist, and has friends who are great doctors, who spoke very frankly with her about her options. There are treatments available now that can work on this mutation.
Bad news – Becky had cancer in her primary and secondary lymph nodes.
Good news – Beyond the tumor and lymph nodes, there was no sign of cancer anywhere else in her body.
Bad news – Chemotherapy sucks. There is no other way to put it. It hurts, makes you sick, fries your brain, takes all energy, kills your hair, destroys your skin, takes over your life, the one it is supposed to help you keep.
Good news – Sometimes, the chemo really does what it is supposed to do… kill the cancer.
Bad news – Becky had to go through 5 months of intensive chemotherapy before having surgery.
Good news – It worked.
Bad news – It was hard for family members to find out 3 of us had cancer.
Good news – I have the most amazing family. My kids and nieces and nephews have handled this well, and are paying attention to what it could mean for their health. My siblings and in-laws overwhelm me. Their patience, love, prayers, understanding, just being there, is beyond what I could have hoped for.
Bad news – It was hard for my adult kids to hear about my diagnosis. But Becky and Jennifer have younger kids at home. I can’t imagine.
Good news – We have a heritage in our family of knowing that the prayers of children have an impact on all of us.
Bad news – The week I stopped taking the cancer medication because the side effects had become intolerable, was the same week I had to have surgery to remove a basal cell tumor from my eyelid.
Good news – The surgeon was able to remove the tumor and reconstruct my eyelid without needing to do a skin graft.
Bad news – I look at my left eye and see evidence of the surgery (scars and no lashes on the lower lid).
Good news – Mike says he can’t see any difference. But I think that is because he has male pattern blindness.
Bad news – Lots of medical bills, deductibles, patient payments.
Good news – We all have insurance and excellent medical care.
Bad news – It is a terrible, frightening thing to hear that your wife has breast cancer.
Good news – My sisters and I have husbands who take this fight on, each in their own way. Bless them.
Now I will concentrate on the good.
What a journey this has been, and will be.

I would have given anything to be able to take this away from my sisters, and go through treatment in their place. But I have seen everyone in the family share the burdens in whatever way they can. When Becky went to get her head shaved before her hair fell out, Mike and I were invited to come and take pictures. Her husband Jordan got a sympathy head shave, and Mom and other sisters were watching it on skype. It was a community event. Becky was laughing as we cheered her on. When I suddenly walked out because I didn’t want to cry in front of her, Jordan comforted me. What a guy.
My daughter Charlotte was training for a marathon during all this, and decided she wanted to run one dedicated to us. She dreamed of crossing the finish line and seeing the three of us there.
But she didn’t know if that would work with how Becky was feeling and when I might be in Utah, and when Jennifer would be done and returning to Australia. But when she ran it, we were all there. She wore a shirt that said "Running for 2nd base, because my mom and my aunts fight like girls". Becky had rested up so she was able to cheer Charlotte on part way through the course, and be at the finish line with me, holding a balloon bouquet. Charlotte worked and trained hard, and took on something that required enduring through something difficult, to show love, empathy and support for us.
I am so grateful for her. It was a bit of a love fest at the finish line.
When Jennifer was in the hospital after surgery, Becky and I were there with her on a Sunday. I asked at the nurses station if there was a chapel in the hospital where I could attend sacrament meeting. Right then a couple showed up to bring the sacrament to those who wanted it. When they came into the room and the husband began preparing the bread and water, the wife gave a message about the healing power of Christ’s love. I felt as if the bread and water were spreading throughout my body, bringing peace. It was a moment of grace in the midst of difficult pain and worry.
On the day of Becky’s surgery, after she had completed 6 rounds of chemo, she asked that only Jordan be at the hospital with her. The hope was that the chemo had shrunk the tumor, and hopefully diminished the cancer in the sentinel and secondary lymph nodes. Mom and I were at one of our rental properties, painting some rooms. We called and spoke with Jordan several times, up to when Becky was taken into surgery. It was hard to stay away, but we estimated how long it would be before surgery was over, and the tissue tested, and results known. I had to keep Mom (and myself as well) occupied to keep from pacing, or freaking out. Then Jordan called. No cancer cells in the tissue or lymphs nodes. The chemo had done its job. Her oncologist calls it “extraordinary results”. If you are going to be invited to be a part of a medical study, you want it to be for that reason.
I will always be grateful for the moments where Becky or Jennifer and I would hold each other, bless each other, and pray together. When we would share our pain, our fears, and believe each other when we promised we would make it through this, no matter how things turned out, and we would be there for each other, and those we love.
The Good News: I never know how miracles, help, strength, answers, grace or love will come in my life, or to those I love. Sometimes it comes with the ability to endure for one more day, to find hope in a moment after I felt none, to suddenly be overwhelmed with love and sweet memory of one who is gone, to have someone unexpectedly be there to help or comfort, to feel connected with something that is stronger than death, to have faith. Sometimes, there is miraculous healing.
The Good News wins.