Monday, September 25, 2017 – I received a call from my oncologist in Houston. He was reading the results of my Pet Scan. I could hear the concern in his voice.
“It’s worse than we thought…” He continued, “It originally appeared (in the x-ray) that your tumors were shrinking. With the more thorough Pet Scan, I see that you have two new growths in your lungs, two new tumors in your neck near your spinal cord, and hot spots in your hip and pelvis—which explains why you are in such pain.” He released a deep, exhausted, defeated sigh.
“Ok, thank you. Thank you so much.” I wasn’t sure why I was thanking him. He had just given me terrible news. I always feel the need to be overly polite. Like good manners will somehow make things right, and maybe change the outcome. Three days before, he had given us great news (based on an x-ray.) Will, who spent fifteen years playing baseball, didn’t want me to celebrate or share our good news. The superstitious baseball player in him didn’t want to jinx the situation. But, I felt confident. And, I shared our positive report on social media. Big mistake. I feel so foolish. Now, I’m eating my words.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017 – Will and I met with my oncologist in Baton Rouge. She reiterated the findings of the Pet Scan. Bad news. New tumor growths. The chemotherapy just isn’t working.
I stared at my doctor. She is my age. She is intelligent. She is a mother. We have so much in common. But, our lives are so very different.
“Is it time to ask the big question?” I asked. “Is it officially time for me to ask how long I have left?” Tears welled up in my eyes.
She stared deep into my soul.
“I think it’s time to talk about the potential outcomes.” She nervously cleared her throat. “So, Veronica, when we deal with Metastatic Breast Cancer, we typically see 50% of patients live more than one year after diagnosis and 50% live less than one year after diagnosis. With your new developments, we have reason to believe that you would fall into the ‘less than one year’ category. Chemotherapy is not working in your body. Your cancer is progressing at a rapid rate. And, that is very concerning.”
My heart was racing. “How long to do I have left?”
“In your case, we would estimate 3-6 months.” She kept it together. Then she didn’t. “I’m sorry…” Her voice trailed into a whisper. “I told myself I wouldn’t cry.”
Then the doctor in the white coat wrapped her shaking arms around me. Mother to mother, we cried. We cried because we both knew the fight and the struggle. We were on the same team. We cried together for my daughters. For my husband, who sat beside me, his face buried in his hands.
“Dr. Z, I’m not sure why you decided to be a doctor,” I said between sniffles. “But, thank you. You are such a warm and compassionate person in a field that needs compassion and love. Thank you.” I said. I had a vision at that moment of a little girl, hair in golden blonde braids. She wants to be a doctor. She follows her dreams. She learns to save lives. But, she can’t save them all.
The rest of the conversation is kind of blurry in my mind. She recommended that I research hospice facilities. I needed to start getting my affairs in order. I have to start making big decisions regarding “end of life” care. Just typing this makes me want to puke.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 – Will and I are on our way home from a long day in Houston. Today, we met with the Clinical Trial team at MD Anderson. They told me about a clinical trial that involves immunotherapy. Rather than fighting the cancer cells, immunotherapy focuses on building the immune system. Side effects are minimal. And, I would only have to go to Houston once every three weeks. I have to wait for two weeks to find out if my cancer is the type of cancer that qualifies for the study.
I am in excruciating pain because of the tumor that is growing around my pelvic bone. It hurts to sit, to lie down, to cough, to breathe. So, I will receive radiation next Wednesday to target the groin area in hopes of getting some relief.
In the meantime, people send me all kinds of information on cures and miracle regimens. Cottage cheese, vegan diet, ketogenic, camps in Germany, etc. Essenial oils, magic mouthwash, Chia Pets, mushroom tea. My brain spins thinking of it all.
So, I’m doing what I know how to do best. I’m eating salads with the occasional cheeseburger and cold beer. Balance and prayer. Lots and lots of prayer.
How are we doing? Ask ten times and you’ll get ten different answers. When I see my babies, I am filled with joy (and sometimes exhaustion.) They bring me so much love and laughter. They shine so much light into this painfully dark situation.
I see the hurt in Will’s face. He’s afraid. Neither one of us were ready to hear “Three to Six.” I just want to hold him close to me. I want to dance on the beach with him just like we did the night we got married. I want that innocence back—where the world was our newly-wed oyster.
Our parents are so generous. They will do anything to keep things normal in our home. Piano practice, homework, gymnastics all revolve around mommy’s naps and daddy’s work. And, my parents and Will’s parents never complain. They are so good and kind and loving.
I have moments at night where I will be a few words into my nightly prayer. I’ll look at Natalia and I’ll lose it. Tears streaming down my face as I whisper the simple word “why.” I think of Nina. She’s only two. She may not remember me. I’m recording videos and writing letters for the girls. But, I want her to remember the way I look and sound and feel. And, I’m afraid that may not happen. And, that is so painstakingly difficult.
One of my dearest friends came to visit me last weekend. She dropped everything, booked a flight from NYC, and showed up on my doorstep. We laughed, reminisced, had a few great meals. We danced. Then, we sat (out of breath) laughing at how we used to dance for hours. She, my sister, was such good medicine. She is such a blessing—a beautiful sister in Christ who reminded me of so many things I needed to hear. As she left, we had a hard cry and maybe a last goodbye.
She reminded me that as we pray for miracles and healing, we must remember that these prayers may be answered in ways that don’t make sense right away. I have a very strong feeling that I am being healed. And, that I may be living a miracle already. I choose to believe that brilliant things are happening in my life—things that I don’t even realize. And, that gives me great peace.
As we move forward, we can’t help but watch the calendar. I pray that as time moves forward, I will not suffer. I pray that this doesn’t drag out into some sad long story. I pray for mercy. I pray that my children and husband don’t have lasting memories of mommy being immobile or in excruciating pain. I pray they are spared. I pray that if cancer does take my life in 3-6 months, it doesn’t happen at Christmas. My oldest child was born on Christmas Day. I pray that I don’t ruin this beautiful time of year for the people I love the most. I pray that 3-6 is some bunk estimate. I pray that I will be here for Mardi Gras and family vacations, and summer time, and more and more and more life.
So, now we are going to just keep living… to keep praying… to keep experiencing God in the obvious and not-so-obvious ways. No skydiving. No bull named FuManchu. Maybe a few extra servings of dessert and a couple of fun family trips. That’s the plan. Please keep praying. God is listening. And, beautiful things are happening. We can’t give up hope.
Love, love, love,