Living with Cancer

On December 16, 2014, my older (by 3 years) sister called me. Earlier, I sent an email to get the addresses of her two sons, one who recently moved. The other, I simply never had. I thought she was calling to give me the addresses. At the time, I was shopping for Christmas cards. I asked if I could call her back. I had nothing on which to write. After my purchases, I went to my office. I then called her back, but couldn’t get her. Finally, she reached me.

“I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you but I figured you were calling to give me the addresses.”

“Lucy, I need to tell you something about my health.” My brain screamed no. No one ever calls to tell you how good their health is. “I’ve just been told I have ovarian cancer.” Freeze. Brain keep moving. Tears, don’t spill yet. What? WHAT? You’ve never had surgery, no serious illness. WHAT?

“Okay, how did you find this out?” I’m calm as tears are popping out on my cheeks. I don’t want to hear this.

“I wasn’t feeling well for several weeks. I went to my GP. He sent me immediately to the oncologist last Friday.” Because you were tired for a few weeks? WHAT? “They called today to let me know that it is Ovarian Cancer. I have surgery next Tuesday.” NO NO NO.

“We’re leaving tomorrow morning for Park City, Utah to go skiing. I can cancel the trip.”

“Please don’t do that. Go on your trip. There is nothing for you to do.” There must be something I can do. I can cry and curse God. I can come up there and lay on your floor and scream. There must be something. “I really don’t want to have to deal with any other people’s emotions right now.”

“Okay. I get that. I won’t be emotional.” I may lose my mind and cut my wrists but I won’t be emotional. “Okay. Let me give this some thought and talk to Jeff. I will call you back later. If that’s okay. Have you spoken to Gretchen, Mark, or Andy?” These are our other siblings.

“No. They are at work. Do you have Mark’s cell phone? I did speak with our mother.” Holy shit. I don’t even want to imagine that conversation.

“I think I do. Let me check. I may have to call you back. No…wait. I can get it here.” We exchange numbers and love, and I go roaring crazy. Running to the bathroom, crying my eyes out, talking to my husband and son, calling my other sons. This is unbelievable. My older sister, my 2nd mother, cannot possibly have ovarian cancer. Whoever invented the internet should be burned at the stake. Statistics suck. I stop reading. The one that sticks out the most is that the average age that white women get ovarian cancer is 63. She’ll be 63 in 3 weeks. Holy shit.

I go to Utah. Kind of. I read 2 1/2 books just to get my mind off of worry. I discover quizzup and play 250 games on my phone. I’m fairly good at Modern History. I really suck at US States, and get beat repeatedly by competitors from other countries. My concentration is shot. I do wish I could tell you what the books were that I read. I buy a journal and don’t write in it. I ski two days, and I’m done. I have dinner with my husbands cousin and partner. They are extremely nice. At night, I hide in the downstairs and watch horrible movies. My social skills have completely disappeared.

This is a dark new world that I don’t care for. I want my healthy world back. But that is not a choice I get to make. The flight home begins fairly uneventfully. We left Salt Lake City for Dallas. There our flight is delayed by 1 1/2 hours. My plan was that we’d arrive home in Greenville, SC, by 11:30 PM, and I would leave by 8:00 AM the next morning for Chapel Hill and be there during the surgery. The gods had different plans. We got to Greenville, where we flew and we flew and we flew. The pilot notified us that a very odd thing had happened. A pilot forgot to cancel his flight plans to the downtown airport. All flights were now being diverted to the international airport. We were 20th to land at that point. It was 1:00 AM.

We flew and we flew and we flew again. The pilot made another very odd announcement. We had begun running low on fuel, and now had to land in Knoxville to refuel. It’s getting close to 2:00 AM. I’m ready to pull my hair out and begin throwing people off of the plane. I called the stewardess in a voice a little lower than hysterical that I had to return to Greenville to leave for my sister’s surgery for ovarian cancer. Could she please speak to the pilots? I have no idea if she did, but he shortly announced that we would be leaving for Greenville in a few minutes. Thank you to those pilots! I wish I could send you a thank you card.

We made it home at 4:00 AM. I climbed in bed, slept til 10:30, rose, bathed, packed, and left at 11:00 AM. It was December 23. Before I got through Charlotte, my youngest son called to let me know she was out of surgery, a much shorter time than they had expected. I flew on, hoping not to hear sirens behind me.

When I got to the hospital, my brother in law and younger sister were there, along with a close friend of my older sister. The doctor came by the waiting room, and let us know she was headed to her room, and coming out of the elevator. We raced to the elevator. She opened her eyes, looked up at me, and said, “You look so pretty.” Astounding. This is a trip I’d rather not take. But I’ve learned so much, and not the least of which is why my sister is so loved. It has a lot to do with that statement she made when she opened her eyes.