In May of 2012, I received the news that I had Stage O Breast Cancer. That same month I walked in our local Relay for Life in support of two angels, my best friend Rachael and my new best friend MaryLou. I did the walk to support these two lovelies, but was in complete denial that I myself had cancer. This is not something you just accept and say - hey, yeah, no problem. It frightens the life out of you, literally.
Rachael's Dad, Joe passed away at the end of May last year succumbing to brain cancer which was discovered only two short years before after he was in an random accident. They did a routine examination looking closely at his head and discovered an aggressive tumor. They gave him only a few years to live, and live he did until his body could no longer survive what was happening in his body despite surgeries, chemo, etc. It was the saddest thing to watch. My heart breaks every day for Rachael. She's heartbroken and will be until she's reunited with her "Padre".
MaryLou, a divorced mother of 3 has Stage 4 Breast Cancer diagnosed several years ago. Ever since I met MaryLou she has been having one surgery or another, undergoing constant chemotherapy all the while smiling. She says 'it's because of my kids, I have to be strong for them'. And that she is.
After the Relay For Life last year, I had my own battle to wage, and as you've read in past posts, surgery, radiation and the like was the order for the day and now, I'm home with pneumonia thinking long and hard about reality. It's as if this whole year was a blur - by the way, not quite a year. Just a mere eight months.
A few months ago, MaryLou contacted me. She said she 'needed to get her God on' and reached out to me to help her spiritually. I was more than willing and Rae and I met her for lunch. She told us she was organizing the Relay for Life this year. She said she was Chairing the event and she knew that I have planned many events, have done lots of PR work and have lots of connections with regard to sponsors and the like. She felt like I was the perfect candidate to work with her. Me?
I was more than happy to lift her up in the Spirit. Offering her prayers and advice on how to get God back into her psyche more than anything. She kept saying 'I know this', and 'how did I forget'? But how can you not forget when the throws of life have you face down on the concrete and you're facing your mortality. We all know millions of people die of cancer every day. The reality can be overwhelming and it was especially for me, as I am only now realizing.
These two woman have become a beacon of hope for me encouraging ME to fight the good fight.
This past Friday was the Relay for Life which I did not help coordinate. I did the best I could encouraging MaryLou, but participate? Coordinate? Get involved? How could I? I was still fighting.
That being said, when I realized the walk was Friday I couldn't miss it. As sick as I am, I managed to get out of bed, put on a pink shirt in support that Rae helped me embellish and I registered at the event but this time as a Survivor. I didn't know that Survivors wear purple not pink. That revelation brought me to tears instantly. The organizers who gave me my purple Survivor shirt asked me what type of cancer I had, when I was diagnosed, and I told them that and that I was there despite my pneumonia. The tears were flowing but the compassion and empathy that these strangers yet kindred spirits gave me was deeply moving. They hugged me. They told me it was okay.
It was then I realized that I had a special place of honor among the Survivors. They had chairs set up in the front row. Purple shirt cancer survivors, of which I am now obviously one, took their seats and the ceremony began. MaryLou took her place with the microphone and read her testimony. She held it together as she described her journey, her mastectomies, her chemotherapy's - which she was still undergoing even only a few days earlier. Her children and her friends, even the Mayor of Rutherford were all there in support. After several more speeches, what came next caught me again off guard.
Had I been sleepwalking all this time?
They announced the Survivors by name. They called my name and I had to go and receive a purple cancer survivor medal. MaryLou was called right after me - we basically got our medals together and what an honor to have her right by my side - she's so incredibly strong. When I look at my struggle vs. hers, and I'm not comparing, she's the warrior. I'm just a little squirrel trying to get a nut. She's an amazing woman with the courage of an army of women. She never faltered. She was, however, so very happy to see me there and we hugged and shed a tear of hope between us.
Then we walked our Survivor lap. Together. Right in the front row holding the Relay for Life sign. It was surreal. I realized at that moment that I am a cancer survivor. All the needles, poking, prodding, scans, tests, biopsies, lumpectomies, radiation - none of it was real until that moment. I could barely get through my lap. At the same time, the caretakers are also walking their lap in the opposite direction. I could see my bestie Rae off in the distance. She took her caretaker lap last year in honor of her Padre, and this year she took it for both of us. She was an amazing caretaker to me. She still is.
When we got closer and closer and the the two groups came together, MaryLou and I both lost our breath. The support from family and friends that rallied round was gut wrenching. I realized besides Rae, I was alone. There was really no one there for me, except the entire Relay for Life community, and that was enough.
After the second lap, I was so completely winded, overwhelmed and frankly so sick I had to sit down. I couldn't walk another step. I am still fighting. I am still sick. So I sat and let Rae walk around a little more. She wasn't done yet. She needed to be there a little longer for her Padre, for MaryLou, for herself and I'm guessing for me. Her reality is just settling in also. It's all a lot to accept. Acceptance is key, as I now know. I couldn't feel my pulse and felt like I would faint at any moment, but I didn't. I got through it. WE got through it.
I called MaryLou the next morning to thank her and to apologize for not helping her with the organizing and of course, she said 'don't be ridiculous'. She said that when she saw me there she was ecstatic because she knew how empowering it was. I was embracing the reality of what I had experienced, not poking my head into the ground but looking around and knowing that yeah, I got cancer, I am fighting back and I am a part of something so much bigger than just myself. This is not something that goes away. You have this experience and it becomes a part of your life forever. There is no 'getting over it'. That's not the way cancer works. Perhaps a splinter works that way, but not cancer.
I told MaryLou that I am getting involved next year. MaryLou suggested that I Co-Chair the event with her. Can you imagine? What a place of honor. What an opportunity to give to this community all that I have to offer and for such an amazing cause. Not for some self glory but for the help of humanity. MaryLou, of course she's planning on doing it again. She'll live forever that one. I told her I would absolutely do the very best I can to organize, promote and fight this deadly disease from the Survivor front line holding my head up high and owning who I am. I am fearless today. I've been educated, I've been through it - but know this - if you've not walked in my shoes do not judge me. Do not have any preconceived notions about what this feels like. You have no idea, and even after going through it, I still had no idea.
Today is a different day. Today I will rise to the occasion giving all of my energy toward that which is profitable and that which will yield a harvest of righteousness. If I can put a smile on just one person's face, if I can help diminish the fear from just one person's heart, if I can raise just one dollar or one more persons awareness that we can find a cure then that's my purpose in life.
If you would like information on the Relay For Life, please visit www.relayforlife.org. Give, educate yourself, get involved. It's not just about you, it's about all of us and if one of us is sick, we're all sick. There is life after life (my new favorite saying) and I will hold your hand. I promise I will be there.