This was published in the spring of 2001 in Touched By Cancer for the Anoka Area Relay for Life. To find out more information or to purchase a copy of either Touched By Cancer Vol. I or Vol. II, you can visit the Touched By Cancer website.
In my life, I have been both remotely and closely affected by cancer. As a pediatric nurse, I experienced too many (for even one is too many) children having cancer of one type or another. I even experienced the loss of two of my patients to cancer. This is difficult when you have only known the children because of their illness, such as those precious oncology nurses, but even more difficult, I think, when you work in the clinic and have known these children since their birth. They are like a part of your family.
My personal experiences with cancer have, by far, affected me more than anything else in my life, with maybe the exception of the birth of my children. When I was fifteen, I lost my best friend to cancer. She was a beautiful girl, Amy, who had the most striking long chocolate brown hair and matching chocolate drop eyes. We were best friends for as long as I can remember and when I heard that she had leukemia, it was as if someone had punched me in the stomach. She had a very good chance of survival with a bone marrow transplant from a related donor. Amy probably would have done well, but as sometimes will happen, her body rejected the foreign matter and ravaged her body until she could no longer survive. She was only fourteen at the time and she didn’t live to see her fifteenth birthday. She died four days after my fifteenth birthday. I was with her and her family when she died and we sang her to sleep. I have missed her everyday since. The one thing that I learned from Amy was to never be afraid to say, “I love you”, and to always cherish your friends.
Cancer came into my life again more recently and touched me in the most painful way when last year my Dad suffered and succumbed to the disease. When everyone was celebrating the fact that the world hadn’t ended on January 1, 2000, mine was ending, at least as I had known it to be. My Mom called me on that morning to tell me that Dad was feeling very sick and could I please meet them at the hospital. I knew if Dad was willing to go to the hospital, he must really be sick. In all of his 55 years, I am sure there were only a handful of times that he had been to the hospital for himself. I said that I would meet them and quickly drove to the hospital. After several tests that day and a call to his regular physician, the ER doctor set Dad up for some ultrasounds and an appointment with his regular doctor on the next business day.
The day of the tests, Dad’s pain was increasing and he was not really a man to complain, so for him to be saying that he was uncomfortable must have meant the pain was excruciating. (He was a construction worker and always had one injury or another. Once he even stabbed himself in the stomach while cutting some wire with a utility knife and just butterflied it together and finished his day.) While Mom and Dad were at the visit with Dad’s doctor, I made the mistake of calling the radiology result line (which I had access to because I was a nurse) and heard the words, “mass on the pancreas…multiple lesions on the liver…consistent with pancreatic cancer with probable liver metastases.” It took me several times to listen to the report. I have never before, or since, experienced such a state of shock. I knew that when this horrible year ended, I would no longer have a Dad.
Dad spent most of the last six weeks of his life in the hospital, mostly for pain management but also for numerous types of chemotherapy. Dad suffered a great deal during those six weeks and one of the hardest things to watch is someone you love suffering. After two liver biopsies, the doctors were still unable to determine the type of cancer that they were looking at. We had the best oncologists, pathologists and other specialists working on Dad’s case and still they couldn’t figure it out. From this I learned that only God has all the answers and we are not meant to know everything. Dad died in my arms on February 15, 2000. My heart will forever have an empty spot in it and my life will never be the same. After his death, upon autopsy, they finally knew that what he suffered from was pancreatic cancer which had indeed metastasized and affected over 95% of his liver.
Cancer robbed me of a life long friend. Cancer robbed me of the privilege of a wonderful, ever-developing relationship with my Dad and of the chance to watch him age peacefully. Cancer robbed my children of their “Grandpa”. Cancer could not take away the things that remind me of those two wonderful human beings nor could it take away the parts of my heart that belong only to them.