Saturday, October 4, 2008

Are You Tuff Enough?


"It's cancer."

That has to be one of the hardest phrases in the world to utter. And even harder to hear. That phrase can send your world, your head, your gut spinning.

My own precious sister has had to hear that phrase twice in her 65 years. In November of 1993, we found out she had stage four breast cancer. By December, she'd had a radical mastectomy and the fight was on. Chemo took her hair and brought so many tears. Radiation burned the flesh off her chest. And then, she was better.

Ten years of check ups followed. Every three months for two years, then every four, then every six. At the ten year mark, she was released to yearly checks and taken off Tamoxifen. She credited that drug with keeping her alive and confessed to me she was terrified of stopping it.

And for one precious month, we breathed. That great communal exhalation of "maybe, she's fine now." And then she wasn't.

Her new puppy kept sniffing one spot on her neck. Strange. And then she fell out a van - being a klutz runs in the family - and her neck started hurting. One thing led to another and finally we heard those terrible words again. "It's cancer."

Her breast cancer had returned as a tumor in her neck and it was wrapping around her spinal cord and choking her nerves and if she didn't do something NOW, she would be paralyzed from the neck down! Yes, I know she had a PET scan ONE MONTH before and it was all clear but now it wasn't.

Because of the proximity to her spinal cord her only option was a type of miracle radiation known as Proton radiation. In 2003, there were only two facilities using this revolutionary treatment that can get radiation into the body with pin-point accuracy. And one was Loma Linda Medical Center, 70 miles from my home.

I was recovering from my own surgery when my mom and sister moved in. For over three months, we made the daily trek to Loma Linda. I was so privileged to witness miracles there. I saw a blind person's vision return. I met many, many wonderful men of all ages dealing with prostate cancer - proton was the only treatment option for many.

Daily, my sister was strapped to a table by a custom made mask. The mask was placed over her face and screwed down to the table to keep her from moving during treatment. She was x-rayed and the techs would move the table across several axis' to ensure proper placement of the proton beam. Then they left the room and zapped her and it was over. They had it down to such a science that often, I would still be looking for a parking spot when she would appear, ready to go home.

When my sister first arrived in L.A., any bump in the road would cause her to scream at the top of her lungs! She was in so much pain. I drove with a constant cringe on my face, waiting for her to scream. And after only five treatments, I hit a huge pothole. I crouched, waiting. And nothing. I looked at her...half afraid I had paralyzed her. She was just sitting there.

"You OK?"

"Yeah."

"That was a big pothole. Did it hurt?"

"No."

I knew then, she was already getting better.

She just had her PET scan (five years and counting...) and she's still all clear. And yet she knows, we all know - This is what will take her from us...one day.

So with that, I urge you all to go get your yearly mammary-gram. It's October. Breast Cancer Awareness month. Do it. NOW!

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my Lest Beads Team is hosting a special beady event called Are You Tuff Enough to Wear Pink? Each of the team participating members have special items in their Etsy shops and part of all of the profits will go to selected Breast Cancer charities. Here's the thread on Etsy where you can link into participating shops.

Buy beads and fight cancer, how cool is that!???!

And go get your boobies squished! NOW!

4 comments:

Kim said...

I'm not Tuff Enough to read that! A truly amazing story.

Jennifer Cameron said...

Thank you for sharing that amazing story! Your sister is one tuff lady and lucky to have you to be with her during the 2nd round.

Studio Marcy - Marcy Lamberson said...

Your sister's story brought tears to my eyes. I'm so thankful that she's still here and you can enjoy her.

I lost two sisters in law to cancer. Each left young children.

Thank you for writing such a poignant blog.
Marcy

Robin said...

Hi,
What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing. I'm featuring Mallory's Pink Cupcake lampwork pendant on my blog... proceeds go to Susan G. Komen. Hope everyone checks it out and supports the cause.
Robin
cinnamon & honey