Copyright © 1999, Nancy B. Cohen-Cavanaugh
There are people whom you may encounter through life's manyjourneys. Although some may come and some may go, these extraordinaryindividuals somehow touch you in a special way, like kindred spirits. Once they enter your life, you will never forget how they enriched your existencewhether it be through humor, wisdom, insight, or support. I recentlydiscovered a very exceptional individual who would soon follow a path similar to mine. The following is a summary of events, which led to my meeting with ayoung woman named Kate.
I ran across the street at a frantic pace with every intention ofmaking the appointment on time. But it wasn't my appointment; itwas that of a friend. We became friends through our mutual experiences withcancer. I guess you could say we were "war buddies", but our war involvedour fight against cancer. You see, I was only 31 when I was diagnosed withductal adenocarcinoma of my left breast on May 6th, 1997. Kate wasdiagnosed about six months after me. My surgeon asked if I would please call her and let her know she wasn't alone during this terrifying and often depressingjourney. I called her frequently and let her know I was there for her. Sheasked me many questions about what to expect from the various treatments. "Would I be able to move my arm after the axillary node dissection? Should Iseek a physical therapist?" I made it a point to see her in the hospitaland although she was delighted at the sight of a guest, her unbearablesurgical pain made for an uncomfortable visit. I tried in vain to locate myanesthesiologist. I was hoping he could recall the same magic IVpotion which he had infused in my veins. Unfortunately, we weren't able toremember the potent solution, so poor Kate suffered. She was only given adrug for nausea; terrible dizzying nausea which she experienced immediatelyafter taking Demerol, but she had nothing on board for pain. I was angrywith her nurse who was impatient and smirked every time she winced. "I toldyou you would need this!" ("This" was the anti-nausea drug to which he wasreferring). I was infuriated. How could he be so callous, sounsympathetic? I guess he must have also been responsible for fifteen otherpatients and Kate was just another number. (What has happened to health care)?
Thankfully, she recovered quickly from the node dissection with fewside effects and limitations. After all, she was young, relativelyhealthy and an athlete just like me. She went to great lengths in order tokeep herself fit and free of illness. (Another irony). Other questionswhich she posed were related to chemotherapy and its side effects. Wediscussed fertility issues in depth since chemotherapy had the ability todestroy the ovaries. Should she undergo the ovarian retrieval procedure anddelay the chemotherapy for another month? What were the risks of thisprocedure? We spent many hours chatting while comparing notes on my past trialsand tribulations and some of the things she could expect in her future. I shared as much information with her as was within my own grasp.
Kate and I forged a deep bond, not only because we were the sameage, give or take a year, but we had so many of the same issues to dealwith at our particular stage in life. Cancer brought us together and weboth recognized that our lives were worth fighting for. Taking even thesmallest things for granted was now considered a luxury. And nothing madethe diagnosis any easier to swallow, not even time.
I pray for Kate tonight as this is her maiden voyage with chemotherapy. I hope the drugs I recommended will help curb thenausea and worse. Kate's a fighter like me. Neither one of us was able tomake sense of this experience; the whys and hows, and perhaps we would neverget the answers to these questions in our lifetime. Were we randomly chosenor were we picked for some unknown reason? On thing was certain, we wereboth determined to battle this disease like brave soldiers. We wouldfight with every ounce of energy we could muster. We gathered strength fromeach other and our loved ones.
People often told me they thought I was a brave woman for going through this. What choices did I really have? I wasn't about tocower under the covers and let this insidious disease devour my insides. I hada life to live. People told me they thought I was courageous for expressingmy thoughts on paper. Writing provided me with a creative outlet andit would also prove to be an inspiration to other women who may have beenashamed of having this disease or revealing their beautiful bald heads.
I hope in the future, more women will take an active role, create avoice for themselves and fight, not only for their survival, and thesurvival of future women fated for this disease, but for a cure for thisdeadly enemy. This is a "violent" disease that comes on silently and often leavesa "bloody" trail of victims if left undetected. The statistics onbreast cancer are both disturbing and startlingly high. One in eight womenwill develop it in their lifetime. A woman is diagnosed every threeminutes and dies every 12 minutes. As one breast cancer survivor put it, "weneed to kill this thing before it kills us." And I believe in my heart thatsomeday if enough voices are heard, we will put a stop to this killer.
Just an addendum to this piece. Kate finished her therapy in thespring of 1998. She ran the Philadelphia Marathon in November and Irecently attended her wedding in Madison, WI in June. Definitely a happyending!