It's been quite a month for so many of us that have had the privilege of reading fellow blogger Mary Tyler Mom's heartbreaking story of her beautiful daughter Donna, lost at the tender age of 4 to as she calls cancer - "the beast". And a beast it is. In so many ways I can't express in words how I feel about the affect it's had on all our lives. And I mean all our lives. That's you who may be reading this and every single person you know.
The beast was introduced to me when I was 14 and it took my precious grandmother. Kitty Schorr, born in London, came to America with the same hopes and dreams all immigrants come here for. She had no guidance from her own mother who was taken by the beast, so it was a journey she made alone. She married young and had many miscarriages before my mother was born prematurely. She worshipped my mom, welcomed my father as her son, doted on us grandchildren. When my grandfather passed she came to live with us most of the time. And then the beast came for a visit. Despite surgery and cobalt treatments, widely used at the time, she was gone. She was 62.
Kenny was a dear friend who I had met in Mexico while vacationing. He and his wife took me under their wing as I was traveling alone. Once we discovered that they were as close as Detroit, we continued our friendship. Kenny played piano as did my brother. I introduced them and best friends were born overnight. He became Godfather to my niece and nephew. He had a sense of humor as dry as a parched desert; was quiet and unassuming. Then the beast called upon him. Gone at 52.
At the same time Kenny was ill my mother had been diagnosed with non-hodgekins lymphoma. She and Kenny shared a bond; they were living with the beast at the same time. Mary Tyler Mom is so right when she speaks of "it" and how there is no rhyme, reason or caring about who it takes. Young and old, weak and strong. It doesn't matter. It was terrifying for my mom when Kenny passed. For us too. Was she it's next casualty?
We didn't have time to think much about it as I suddenly found the beast knocking at my door. Or at my breast I should say. Why should he spare me? Why would I be immune to his wrath? There is no time in the place MTM calls Cancerville to feel sorry for yourself. You fight, you vomit, you watch your hair fall out in clumps on your pillow, you spend all your time in doctors offices, hospitals and treatment centers. He is intrusive that way. He is a mean son of a bitch, he does his best to take the living out of your life.
Yet, I survived. I have no idea why me and believe me, I had much survivor's guilt. When I read stories such as Donna's I wonder why it wasn't me and not this beautiful little life just starting. Yet I had little time to think back then as the beast felt that lymphoma wasn't enough for my mother. After a horrible car accident and an early chest X-ray of what was diagnosed as a bruise on her lung, that bruise was changed to oops, a tumor. She was now battling a double dose of the beast.
My mother in law was the type of gal that at 70 would ride the "Giant Drop" at Six Flags and laugh her head off, wanting to do it again. My husband grew up without his father so he and Mama were as close as could be. Always healthy, one day she called to say she had been to the emergency room for abdominal pain. Her Dr said she must have been eating too much cabbage. Yes, you read correctly. Definitely off the mark as a rare form of liver cancer was ravaging inside her body. 90 days, gone at 79.
Shortly after, mom took a turn for the worse. I think as I have read MTM's story and her honest and head on facing of the beast that I have lived in denial of this monster all along. At my mother's bedside as she took her last breath, I still somehow wasn't looking the beast square in the eye. A year later when it took my brother in law, one of the most vibrant people I have ever known, I still did not. A few months ago when it suddenly claimed the life of a beautiful lady my father had found companionship with- solace with - I still did not.
But Mary Tyler Mom has brought me into the real world. Her writing, her Donna; everything she has said in the past month has changed me forever. I can no longer pretend that cancer is not every bit the life sucking, life altering bastard/motherfucker/son of a bitch that it is. I can also no longer pretend that while I see every type of technological toy being updated that I am not wondering why a cure for the beast is not found. I can say however that every little girl I see from now on will be Donna. I will see her hopeful blue eyes.
WIth all the cancer that I have seen and experienced first hand, It is Donna who has opened my eyes the widest. I can only hope that every single person that has read her story will reach out and help in some way. Be a volunteer. Make a donation. Make a difference. And as MTM says, let's make some noise. Let's beat this bastard at his game. We all have too much living to do and deserve our time to do it.
For any person living with cancer or someone who has it, there is a beautiful book called "There's No Place Like Hope" by Vickie Girardi. It's true. The person that gave it to me shared a chemo room with me during treatment. She was fun, young and vibrant. And she too is gone.