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May 27, 2010

There is No Tomorrow

Patricia A. Kelly

I awoke this morning in my blue bedroom under my blue and white quilt and looked out my window at a beautiful little cumulus cloud against a sky that matched my bedroom walls. In a state of complete calm and relaxation (undoubtedly anesthesia induced) I realized that this was the one and only cloud. Yesterday’s cloud is gone, and tomorrow’s is completely uncertain, so this is my one sure chance to appreciate such beauty.


Last Saturday I was getting ready for surgery for breast cancer. The cancer appeared small, maybe even as good as Stage I, Grade I, and resectable, although cancer is a systemic disease and can always come back.


The other day at work, the wife of a patient, at least my age, very attractive, face lifted and blonde, asserted, “I am in perfect health!” I wanted to grab her by the shirt front and say, between clenched teeth, “So was I, a month ago.” I didn’t. I made a note of that feeling, and thought, “Well, Pat, although you seem calm on the surface, you might be a little stressed underneath.”


Maybe that’s how it is when you’re a nurse. You feel something, and you watch yourself feeling it, as it is as familiar as your hand. In the midst of stress and anguish, you “make a note of it,” so to speak.


You’ve seen a lot, from sudden, shocking illnesses or accidents, to emotional turmoil. You’re less surprised, in a way, when it happens to you.


I was surprised, though. I expected to get atherosclerosis and dementia. I never expected breast cancer. I had few risk factors. I had no family history. I was going to be like everyone else in my family, not start a new trend.


Can you get that my two daughters are now high risk for breast cancer, when, a month ago, they weren’t? Isn’t that ridiculous?


A lot has been said about having cancer. Just recently, I was a healthy person, and now I am one of the people with cancer. Just recently a dear male friend commented on my attractiveness. Last time I saw him, he hugged me and told me I was in his prayers. I’m someone else now. I sometimes mention my cancer out loud just to let it roll around on my tongue, maybe to make it real, because, on one level, I still don’t believe it. On another level, it’s just cancer, and I’m still me.


My biopsy site has healed. I have an ordinary, common, apparently not very aggressive cancer, and, if it’s Stage I, I must feel lucky. (Can you even imagine being excited and thrilled to have Stage I cancer?) I’ve been healthy. I’ve raised my family. I’m not a 38 year old with three young children still in school.


I might have radiation or chemotherapy or hormone blocking therapy to further treat this. We’ll see after the final pathology report comes in. Truthfully, some of the side effects of treatment seem worse than the disease. But, I will do what I have to – in order to live.


People say that life after receiving such a diagnosis becomes a roller coaster of emotion. I can assert that it does.


I’m giddily frightened, angry, sad, grateful, and ordinary at the same time. I do see everything differently. The last thing I need is another possession, or even a trip. Having the people I care about around me is exceptionally wonderful though.


I watch people acting out over trifles, and I chuckle to myself.  We are such a crazy group. So little of what we worry about is important.


I’m not as late for things as I used to be. I’ve stopped procrastinating, or worrying myself over decisions. I’ve improved my diet dramatically, and lost 10 lbs., which I’ve been meaning to do for years. I may be terrified, but my tendency to anxiety is gone. It reminds me of the saying, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.” No need to be anxious when you are in the place of genuine, appropriate fear.


I’m finishing this up with an ice pack under my arm, after successful surgery Tuesday. So far, so good. No apparent spread. I’m awaiting final reports, but quietly rejoicing.


I’ve learned the best lesson. There is no tomorrow. Really.


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