By this time tomorrow evening, I'll be just like the rest of you. I'll be making another trip to the grocery store. I'll still be cleaning the house. I'll be making last minute touches to the Thanksgiving table.
So much to do and so little time.
So tonight, I'm wishing you all a Thursday filled with harmony, happiness and warmth.
Happy Thanksgiving in every way you decide to spend it.
It's rare that I identify with the word "widow." I know I certainly fit into that column but it's never felt comfortable. The word itself screams "you're different, something bad happened to you that didn't happen to me."
When I'm talking to someone I don't know and for whatever reason it's shared that I am a widow (although I rarely use the term) their voice drops, the tone changes, their body language turns into a pity pose. What is it about posture that allows a person to pity another without having to say anything?
Nope....not going there.
So, that brings me to the table: The Thanksgiving table at my house on Thursday night will be crowded with cancer widows. Three of us will raise a glass to our husbands, all of whom lost their lives to cancer. Colon, Leukemia and Bladder, in that order. One a few years over 60, the other two no where near it. These were YOUNG MEN. Four kids were left behind too. Lucky for them, they have strong, smart, loving Mom's. Mom's who are widows, but who don't dwell on that label and instead work hard to get their kids through another day, every day, without their Dad. That is one extra layer of parenthood that no one should have to take on.
The rest of the chairs at the table will be filled with friends and relatives, but I think it's fair to say, we exceed the cancer average of widows at a Thanksgiving table.
We will survive the night, like we have survived the years since our loved ones have been gone. We will raise a glass to their memories and there will be a twinge of sadness in our hearts. But cancer widows at the table will get through this night too.
The leaves have just about finished falling so my trees are now silhouette's against the slate blue sky. No doubt they are napping now, the winds pick-up and the sun makes a short cameo appearance as the daylight hours shorten by the minute.
Fall will turn into winter before we know it.
Where has the year gone? We are just a few days away from Thanksgiving.
Are you beginning to feel it yet? The 'missing your loved one' part of the holiday? It happens every year, no matter how many years they've been gone.
I write this tonight because I want you all to know I'm feeling it too. I'm feeling it for those of you who are experiencing this for the first time and also for those of us who are going through it or the fifth time, tenth time or what ever year it is where that chair will be empty at the Thanksgiving table.
I'm decorating the table with old photos this year. Since there will be two other cancer widows at the table with their kids, I'm asking them to bring family photos. Our table will be covered with family memories. I've chosen a few classic shots of me and Leroy too.
That's what Thanksgiving is all about, right? Giving thanks for what we have and in our case, what we once had.
That chair might be empty, but we have an unlimited supply of memories.
I've heard from some other cancer caregivers and it seems reality is in the telling. So many of us lived double lives: sadness and stress on the inside and strength and courage on the outside. We were the faces of hope and positive thinking to our loved ones.
We got up in the morning filled with positive thoughts. Today was going to be a good day. This was the day that the cancer in 'our' house would be chased away. We weren't going to allow this disease to rule our lives, let alone change it forever. And we were successful many of those days, weren't we?
We tried to keep things 'normal.' Even on the days spent in the chemo room, we sat there calmly, deep within our thoughts, willing that poison to kill cancer cells with every drop. And we gently nudged our loved one to drink fluids and rest, assuring them that tomorrow they would feel stronger, if not better.
Did our own health suffer along with way? Maybe we didn't exercise as much or watch our diets the way we should have?
Did we age along the way? Where did all those wrinkles come from: those bags under our eyes?
Do we regret a minute of it?
The heart never gets wrinkles.
There we were, two cancer widows in a discussion about whether or not we let our cancer stricken husbands see us stressed when we were in full 'care giver' mode.
I was saying how I tried so hard not to let Leroy see me as a worried, tired, stressed-out care giver. My friend Michelle said she tried to do the same thing, but it kind of back-fired on her, when her husband got upset that she wasn't sharing those kind of feelings. She certainly felt the same way I did, but didn't want her husband worrying about her. Clearly she was able to hide her emotions, because he got the impression, she wasn't feeling any of the pressure that comes with being a cancer care giver.
Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of bad days where I cried, barely spoke because I was so sad and tired, but I tried to stay strong, not just for Leroy, but for me because it helped me hold on to the hope that I so desperately needed during his illness.
Pushing forward through our cancer crisis was the only way to go. I tried to stay educated about any new discovery in colon cancer. I tried to stay informed about Leroy's treatments. I tried to offer encouragement on the days when he needed a little extra push and most importantly, I kept my eye on my patient; every waking hour. Cancer isn't a constant disease, change happens fast and noticing that change quickly can mean the difference between life and crisis.
Care giving is no easy job. Hiding the stress of it all is part of the challenge.
They kept walking up the stairs. The faces of a staff of the most talented producers, editors, correspondents and TV techs ever assembled.
They were the past, but they certainly made the present a fun filled night of remembering and catching-up too.
It was a "Nightline" reunion of sorts. Many of those assembled had been to listen to Ted Koppel talk about his new book, 'Lights Out." It was the perfect plan to keep the party going by gathering at a near by watering hole in Washington, D.C.. The room was buzzing.
It's been about ten years since the show, as we remember it, went off the air and even earlier than that when Leroy's staff started to part ways with the broadcast. It was such a sad time around our house. 'Nightline' was Leroy's life. He worked hard, putting a strong, savvy show on the air very night. He was proud of his work and was heartbroken when the decision was made to change the broadcast into a tabloid, glitzy magazine show.
So this night was a night for the "newsies" to reconnect.
We all told stories from years ago. Old newsroom 'war' stories always grow in the telling, but they're still so much fun to remember. And at it's loudest, I would stop and look around the room, like an old habit, and listen for his big laugh and hope to catch a glimpse of that 6-foot 5-inch frame towering over every one else. Where was he? He should be here somewhere?
He loved these people. He admired their skills, not to mention their heart; they put so much heart into their work.
The room was filled and yet there was room for one more.
She always looked so cool holding that cigarette.
Her voice was low and smoky, her clothes were chic on her slim frame and she was always so nice. To a kid, she was a role model. I was that kid. She was the wife of a first cousin of mine and I always liked hanging out with her.
Her kids were close to the same age as my sister and me, so we'd do fun things together too. But I'll always remember how that cigarette some how complemented her total outfit.
Who knows how many packs she smoked a day? She was what they used to call a "chain" smoker. Back in her 'day,' smoking was very common. You smoked because you wanted to stay slim or maybe lose weight. It was a substitute for eating. You smoked because you wanted be a part of the crowd. You smoked because everyone else smoked. My gosh, even the airlines reserved the back of the plane for those who needed a smoke in flight.
We've learned a lot since then.
There will be a memorial service for my cousin this weekend. She was fortunate enough to live a long life before the lung cancer advanced and ultimately took her life. But it was a long and tough fight along the way.
You've heard the words "You have cancer." Now what? The questions swirling around in your head need answers and getting to those answers quickly is key. So why is it, when time matters the most, it moves the slowest?
Scheduling tests or procedures to determine what the cancer is and where it's taken up residence in your body, seems to take so long. Shouldn't this be urgent? Shouldn't this part of the process be as important to "them" as it is to "you?"
And once the biopsy is done, then what? Why is it you're told it should ONLY be a week before results are back? A week is a very long time when you've been suddenly launched into cancer world. A week is a lifetime. And if you're lucky, it's a week. And if it's not, you don't want to appear rude, so you patiently wait and don't call to ask where you results are, right? But then it's two days more and still no word, so you politely call the doctor. Still no word and now you're a little bolder: a little stronger push to find out why those results aren't back.
All I can say to that is "GO FOR IT." Shake the tree. Step up and let them know it's been long enough and you need to know NOW.
And this is just the beginning.
It's all about the waiting...
This one goes out to the cancer doctors and nurses who take such good care of us, patient and care giver.
This one is all about the simple explanation that can go miles in helping the patient heal faster and the care giver improve on their care giving.
Speak ENGLISH! Simple, easy to understand instructions following treatment or surgery or a simple explanation of what's to come following treatment or surgery; it's so important to those of us who don't live in the medical world of cancer.
A friend just had surgery. It was laparoscopic surgery, so the healing time should be a little less challenging, but it's still surgery.
Her doctor told her how well he thought it went, but once the pathology report was complete, the real results would be known. She said she understood a few words in his description of the X's and O's of the procedure, but instead of asking he to translate, she decided to wait for the lab report.
There was no follow up on how important it was that my friend take precautions and stay hydrated. No one suggested that she take short walks to promote healing. I guess they handed her a sheet of paper that mentioned these things. Who reads those papers stuffed in a folder when you leave the hospital?
Besides the importance of this, it's also a good way for doctor and patient to strengthen their relationship. Clear, easy directions from doctor to patient says "you care." It opens dialogue and promotes conversation at the next meeting.
It's so simple. And, it means so much. When you're in cancer world, your doctor or nurse becomes your lifeline to living. Communication is the key in all of that.
The waves are still very vivid in my memory. The color of the water, the blue sky, the rainbows in their mystical splendor seem to carry a message of serenity and peace as they grow brighter as the sun shines through the rain upcountry on Maui and splashes over the Pacific for just a brief moment.
This island of tranquility is my friend. It gives me a connection to Leroy: to a life I lived so long ago: to my beginnings.
When ever I return to the tall trees and canal walks, I'm always different. The time change is enough to make me a little loopy for a few days, but somewhere deep inside me, I'm different. I see the world differently. I look at the cancer patients at the cancer center and I see them differently too. My compassion for what they are going through is deeper. I relate to their ordeal and how their lives have changed. I know they come to the center not just for treatment, but to keep HOPE alive. This is where they look to their doctors and nurses, hoping they will have the magic formula that will keep them alive.
We; Leroy and I, were there once. I remember so clearly how our HOPE evolved just like the cancer evolved.
Maybe that's part of why I make my journey to Maui every year? I'm seeking HOPE too. Not the same kind of HOPE I looked for at the cancer center, but as we all know, HOPE shows itself in many different ways.
Maybe that's why those rainbows are so special.