Saturday, February 28, 2009

When A Day Isn't Just Another Day

What's so important about a day? A day is just another day until something significant happens (good or bad) and then that day becomes one that we never forget, like 9/11, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the day you got married, the day you retire. But other things can also happen that make a date become one you never forget.

Today is one of those days. Four years ago, on this date, I got the news that I had cervical cancer. So now, 28 Feb 2005 is a day I will always remember. Saint Patrick's Day, 2005, is the day I had surgery to confirm my diagnosis - a day I will always remember. 2 May 2005, the day before my 51st birthday, I had a radical hysterectomy done - a day I will always remember.

I was in total shock when I was told that I had cancer. I was just getting ready to retire from the military and had hardly been sick a day my whole military career (over 22 years). Then this happens. What a way to spend my terminal leave....

I, like so many others, wondered "Why, me?", when I got the diagnosis. I didn't cry, I didn't scream, I just asked the doctor, "So what do we do now?" As you can tell by the dates listed above, I didn't waste any time getting things done. I wanted to get it done and over with so I could move on with the rest of my life and try to enjoy some of that terminal leave I was on. The hardest part was telling my friends, family and co-workers.

After recuperating from my surgery, I underwent six weeks of radiation therapy and chemo therapy as a preventative measure. Today, I continue to be in remission. I can't say "Cancer Free" because no one is ever "Cancer Free." On the day I was diagnosed I became a "Survivor".

For years I had been involved with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, never knowing that someday I would become a survivor and that the Relay would become even more important to me. I was a Relay team member, Relay team captain and even a Relay committee member. I still have all my Relay T-Shirts. I spent hours walking the track and raising money - one year I was even there the whole 24 hours. My husband and I have participated in Relay every year for the last 12 years or so, I was even able to participate in the Relay in 2005. I created a spot on a wall of our house to display all of our Relay for Life Survivor medals, not only to remind us that we are "Survivors" but to remind us of those we have lost to cancer - friends, co-workers, and family.

My husband's mother died of lung cancer in 1979, my mother died in 2002 and supposedly had undiagnosed stomach cancer (with unknown origin), my Aunt Shirley died of pancreatic cancer in 2004 and in 2001 my husband was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on his left tonsil. There have been so many people we have known who have died from cancer, that I've lost count.

My husband started out with radiation therapy on his neck. In Apr 2002 he had a radical neck dissection because the radiation didn't completely eliminate the tumor. By late 2002 the cancer had spread to the lymph glands in his neck. He had another radical neck dissection in Jan 2003, followed by more radiation therapy. He had a total of 65 radiation treatments. Things were looking good until Jun 2007, when he found out that the cancer had metastized to his lung, aortic arch and right chest wall. The bad news is - it's not curable. The good news is - it's treatable. So shortly after his new diagnosis, he started chemotherapy treatments. And, he continues to get chemotherapy every Tuesday. He will continue chemotherapy until he passes away. Of course, we are hoping that will be a very, very long time from now. He tolerates the chemotherapy pretty well, but it does take a lot out of him. The day of treatment and for a couple of days after he does a lot of sleeping. He doesn't have a lot of energy to do things, so he will be a very unhappy camper this spring and summer when he doesn't feel up to golfing. He loves to golf! His last CT scan showed that the tumor around his aortic arch had shrunk .7 cm and the one in his chest was stable. The one in his lung has been gone (or at least not big enough to show up on a CT scan) since Jun of last year.

Doing mine and my husband's genealogy has identified a lot of family members who died of cancer, so it does kinda make you wonder if it's in the "genes".


  1. What an amazing post Kate. Thank you for relating your story and the issue of cancer. I am glad that you are still here to tell the story.

    Thomas MacEntee

  2. I must echo Thomas' comment - thank you for posting this. A reminder to us all not to take things for granted. I wish you and your husband the best.

  3. Kate, I had no idea all that you and Jon have been through. You're both strong and are living a very full life. I've added you both to those I pray for every day!!!! Thanks for posting this--we all need to be reminded how blessed we are when we have good health and that we always have HOPE!

  4. Katie, your post was wonderful, I agree with Becky and the others, I am so glad you are here to share it with us. As we have said before, our lives are changed forever for what we have been through, my date is coming up in May, it will be 9 years, I am still amazed, I remember how I felt back then and wondered if I would still be here, I am so grateful and happy that we are both here and strong survivors! We can truly celebrate life.