Saturday, June 6, 2009

The LIVESTRONG Chronicle

Today is DAY 109. Day one was Monday, February 16, 2009. I could wax poetic, or draw on a few obvious cliches to describe what happened that day, but I'll keep it simple: My heart broke that day. And just as quickly, it scabbed over. Two months earlier, Jamie had been diagnosed with Stage 2 bladder cancer, and no matter how many questions we asked, nor how many people we asked, the answer was the same: to save his life, his life would be forever altered. The prognosis was good, but the journey was not predicted to be pretty. A radical cystectomy, prostatectomy and ileal conduit construction was needed. For those of you not fluent in cancerese (a language nobody picks as an elective), I'll break it down for you: the entire bladder, prostate and all the tubes, canals, connective tissues with names that you'd recognize but would make you blush? Gots to go. "All of them?" Gots to go. "All the nerves?" Gots to go. "So how will he, you know, go (insert-your-favorite-clinical-vulgar-childish-term here) ... 'cause, you know, well, he's gots to go ..." Yeah. In a bag. Connected to a hole. In his tummy. Hmmm. Okay. "But that will get the cancer?" Yup*. "All of it?" Yup*. "And you'll take the lymph nodes, too?" Yup*. Lymph nodes are one of the universal elements of cancer that everyone seems to recognize: "Oh! It wasn't/was in the lymph nodes -- that's great/terrible!" I don't know that anyone knows why those frisky nodes are so important, they just know that they are. Yup*. I know you've noticed them. Those little asterisks attached to each of the seemingly breezy "yups." I think asterisks are deceptively perky. They sit there all happy-looking, like stars, or fireworks, when they really are little bombs with a fuse hidden in the fine print. Good things are never connected to asterisks. If the fine print were good news, it wouldn't be all tiny at the bottom of the page, just begging to be read at the mind-numbing speed of a radio announcer on crack who gets paid in rocks according to the number of words he fits into a 15-second spurt. If the fine print were good news, it'd be in a big honking look-at-my-fabulous-self headline. Like this: BASED ON THE INFORMATION WE HAVE NOW, I AM ANSWERING "YUP." WE WILL NOT KNOW THE FULL STORY UNTIL I ACTUALLY LOOK AROUND INSIDE, TAKE EVERYTHING OUT AND HAVE THE GEEKS IN PATHOLOGY CONFIRM WHAT I'M PRETTY SURE I SAW WITH MY EXPERT EYES WHILE YOU WERE SPLAYED OPEN. "And we can ask all the questions, pose all the hypotheticals, 'what-if' you until we're all annoyed, but it really comes down to the fact that we just need to trust you and let you do what we all agree you are an expert at doing?" Yup. No asterisks. Which brings us back to February 16. The big, bad surgery had been a success. Dr. C was looking like a god. Jamie was, in just four short days, impressing the staff of the 3rd Surgical Ward who were discovering that a 46-year-old man with a 70-year-old-man's disease is not to be pitied, but enjoyed. I was tripping along in the rhythm learned only by those who have their other half living under a separate antiseptic roof, and happily listened to the nurses tell me what a good night and morning was had by all. In walks Dr. C, and with one short utterance, dropped the turd in the punchbowl at our Party de Denial. The pathology reports were in. The cancer wasn't Stage 2, but Stage 3. Yes, the lymph nodes were removed, but there was evidence of carcinoma in one of them. No, it hadn't spread to any other organs. That accompanying thud? Just the sound of my heart hitting the floor. But this is a story about the scab, not the stab. After a deep breath and a promise to myself not to pass out (no small feat, I'm sad to say), I found my voice: "Stage 3 is not Stage 4. One lymph node is not two. No spread means no spread. Tell us what we have to do." I'm not going to pretend that at that moment I found an impenetrable strength and forged ahead with a singular vision of healing. No. I sat with Jamie while he ate his lunch, accompanied him on his midday walk and watched him take his pain meds and start to drowse. Then I kissed him and said I was going to go out to get some fresh air while he napped. I walked down the hall, turned the corner, called my best friend, told him where to find me and had to wait no more than 10 minutes for him to arrive at my side. And I sobbed in his arms. The rest of the day went by in a numb blur. I returned to the 3rd floor, picked up my rhythm right where I stepped out of it and then headed home to curl up with my sister Chrisie who had driven 90 miles so I didn't have to have to be alone that night. Jump ahead to eight o'clock that next morning. I logged on to Facebook and posted: "Cathleen thinks cancer has no idea who it's dealing with and has grossly underestimated Jamie Wedding. DAY 1 of OPERATION SURVIVAL, here we come. LIVESTRONG!" And we haven't looked back. Today is DAY 109. And I'm starting this blog about 90 days after I said I would (yeah, procrastination is an evil bitch) but I intend to nurture it with the same dedication that has fueled the uninterrupted LIVESTRONG messages. With them, I have connected with old friends and family, made new friends from across the country and across the ocean, and -- most importantly -- preserved my own sanity by reminding myself each day that we are still here. The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) is the source of the ubiquitous yellow bracelets and LIVESTRONG mantra. LAF's motto is "Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything." Huh. Jamie and I both have been told that we each have plenty of attitude; indeed, sometimes, bad attitudes. Well, cancer was getting ready to see our badass attitude.


  1. Cathy, your words have moved me to tears. I am sitting here in awe of your (and Jamie's) strength and determination. I appreciate your candor and humor with the Big C (which up until now I thought meant Chuck) and wanted to say keep blogging, and I'll keep logging in. I think about you guys all the time and often wish you were close enough to give a big hug. I love you bunches, and although I can't be there, I'm only a phone call/facebook/email away. Jen

    p.s. Bubba Pie says to give you a big wet baby kiss too

  2. I love you, too, sweets! keep reading & spread the word! :-)


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