The Big C

A journey through Stage Four Cancer

The New Normal

on August 16, 2010

In my dream, I am running barefooted down the beach. I am not running from anyone, not toward anyone. I am running just for fun. My strides are long, stretching my legs to their limit. It feels good. My hair streams out behind me, caught by the wind created by my own speed. I run, and I am never tired. I am smiling. I am whole and healthy.

When I wake, reality hits. I ache when I sit up in bed. Always, some part of me has an outright ache or a pale shadow of one. My hair is no longer glossy and smooth but frizzy and extremely curly at the ends. On a humid day, it sticks straight out. I can be the hair double for Marge Simpson! When I put on my socks, they always feel like I have a good half to a full cup of beach sand in each one. And I am probably more quietly happy now, than I have been in my whole life. I am grateful, for life itself.

You see, in the last half of 2008, I was being treated for hyper thyroidism. The pills made me tired, and feel sick to my stomach. It was the expected side affect, and I learned to live my life around the symptoms. Then one night in February of 2009, I had pain in my stomach and I asked my husband to drive me to the emergency room. Only one of my children were up at that late hour, so we told him where we were going, and I kissed him goodbye. I didn’t kiss any of my other children, what was the sense of waking them when I would be back by the following morning? In the car, I felt a surge of adrenalin and I thought ‘how silly.’ The only other nights I’d gone to the emergency room with stomach pain was to give birth. This time, there was no happy purpose.

The Emergency Room personell took a long time to even sign me in, and even longer to see me. Even when I went into the bathroom with a strong urge to urinate, and the inability to, no matter how long I waited. Not even when I came out of the bathroom and vomited on the floor. When they did finally see me, I was shaking from fever. But I had no fever. What I was doing was going into shock. I remember them giving me a johnny coat to put on, and a bed to lay on, but I don’t remember putting on the johnny coat, or getting into bed.

I don’t remember any whole thoughts of that time. I remember an ambulance ride to another hospital. I remember waking up and not really being aware of where I was. I remember being in a bed, in a room with other non-responsive people and only being able to blink my eyes and try to smile in order to communicate. I don’t remember any of the treatments, although the smell of French Vanilla anything now makes me sick.

I remember being conscious, I don’t know what month – February, March- and realizing that I couldn’t move my arms or my legs. I remember the word “cancer” and “hospice” knowing that you only get sent there to die.

“Well then,” I thought. “At least I’ll get to see my children before I die.” I didn’t realize how many times or who, had stood vigil at my bed while I “slept.”

A doctor I didn’t know, saved my life. When I was finally conscious for a few hours at a time, he came in and told me that they hadn’t expected me to live through the night. Or the next day. He said I had an incredible will to live. I think I had an incredible will to not die. I went into the Emergency Room wearing my worn brown scapular. I remember praying a few times as I waited in the ER “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for me, who have recourse to thee.” Once I had asked God to not let me die daughterless; that night I asked God to not let my children be motherless.

My prognosis wasn’t good. My ovaries were filled with cancer, and had been removed. I had stage 4 colon cancer, which had traveled and attacked the ovaries, and some lymph nodes.

I remember many nurses, but not their names, and their kindness, that I remain comfortable with my legs that were so swollen and big, I knew they couldn’t have been mine.

I thought for sure, I would never be able to walk again, but day by day, my legs did move when I wanted them to. I relearned how to walk, and gained a new sympathy for babies just learning how.

Then, just after my birthday, in the lasts days of April, I went home with a walker. Me. The person who used to drop down to rest my butt on my heel, to be on the same height level as children as I talked to them.

When I was strong enough to sit at a computer, I looked up all I could about stage 4 colon cancer. And then I cried. Only 8% of those diagnosed will be alive 5 years from the diagnosis. I had chemo and radiation treatments, that left my exhausted. They left me depressed.

“If I’m going to die in 5 years anyway, why am I taking these treatments?” I asked myself. “Without them, I can do more with my kids with the little time I have left.”

Being body tired, but mind alert gave me so much time to think. I thanked God for still being alive, instead of allowing me to die that night without having gone to confessions for months previously.

I counted the five years, and compared them to my youngest daughter’s age. She would be in her last years of high school, and although she would still need a mother, I knew her older sister would be mature enough at that time to help fill the gap. The rest of my children would be adults. They would be able to live life easily without me there.

Right now, I am fine. Well fine, except for my new normal. I go for testing every few months. My doctor said that I can never really consider myself “cured.” Cancer is like having a stalker, you never know when it is going to strike. On a bad day, it gets to me and I cry. I don’t want to have cancer. I want to die from old age.

I realize, I probably won’t die of old age. I realize that I probably will never retire with my hard working husband. There are projects, like writing a book, that I will probably never have the time to do.

Sometimes I talk to my totally down to earth cousin Tara when I get too down. Once she said to me “Holy Cow Mary, you could walk out your door tomorrow and get hit by a car!” I laughed.

Jesus never promised us a long life, He promised us Eternal life. So I’m happy for today. The todays when I get to cook for my family, and eat with them. The days I get to brush my daughter’s hair, and get my toenails painted by her. I’m even grateful for the nights that I sit in front of the television with them and fall asleep.


5 responses to “The New Normal

  1. lily says:

    Oh dear, Sweet Mary, I had no idea. No idea at all. None. Not really. Prayers are being quadrupled for you, my friend. ❤ ❤ ❤ Love you!

  2. Hi Mary, I came here through Lily’s blog. Wanted to let you know that I am storming heaven for you. Your story has touched me deeply.

    I have several loved ones who have cancer and it is hard to watch them suffer through treatment.

    God bless you.

  3. Angela says:

    Lily sent me your way from her blog…Will be praying for you…What you wrote was quite powerful…

  4. Petty Witter says:

    Saw you mentioned on Lily’s blog and thought I’d stop by to say hello. My best wishes to you and yours.

  5. Peggy says:

    Blessings Mary… a new normal. May God hold you up and help you along this new journey, give you favor and lengthen & strengthen you. I read another person’s “C”journey though different than yours (Stacy @ His Way…Not Mine) over here:
    and marvel at her strength as she deals with this and God’s hand upon her.

    May His hand be upon you & keep you lifted up as well.

    My heart aches as I read this. My own sister is a cancer survivor and now in her 60s.

    I came over here from Lily’s blog… but wanted you to know that we will keep on praying for you. You are always welcome to request or pray over at The Lighthouse of Prayer 24/7.
    Just cry out… He hears you… He’s always there. Praying for you.

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