Rest now, Mark

A son was buried today.

A husband,  a Dad, a brother, and a friend to many.

Cancer did NOT win.

This was a warrior.

Rest now Mark.

 

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Colon, Leukemia and Bladder cancer, those were the demons who created three widows who will be at my Thanksgiving table this year.

We're all long time friends and our husbands deaths to cancer were spaced apart on different calendar years but close enough that we have felt each and every sadness along the healing path.  The other two widows have kids and they will be at the table too.  Four kids who have grown up without their Dads' and that's just not right.

I think about all the families planning their Thanksgiving this year minus a loved one.  How many tables will have an empty chair because of cancer's deadly blow.

We'll have other family and friends to surround us at this Holiday table and that always helps soften the evening.  I still look over to the left of me, where Leroy sat at the head of the table.   No one had more fun at Thanksgiving than Leroy.  Good food, good wine,  and stories that grew in the telling; a Thanksgiving trifecta!

Now we raise a glass to our three guys and we give "Thanks" for the years we shared with them.  We have to be reminded that we can't be sad because it's over, but "thankful" that it happened at all.

We  three widows at the Thanksgiving table... giving thanks.

 

 

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They call themselves "Team Beban."

They are a mighty bunch except now the team goal has shifted from support for their guy Mark, who had been fighting stage 4 lung cancer for over a year, to his young family of four.  A strong and focused wife, Jenny and  their three small children, who will have only memories in pictures and videos and great stories of how their Dad lived.

He lived "strong."

He died this week at the age of 38.

So now "Team Beban" has an even bigger job to do.  They must rally around this family to lighten their loss.  Meals, car pools, activities: things they've been doing while Mark battled his cancer with warrior-like abilities.  The team will continue these duties, there is no doubt.  It's the new challenges ahead for them that will be difficult.  How to offer a leaning post to the family so the sorrow can pour out without  hesitation.   They will be called upon to tell stories of happier times when Mark was strong and healthy and laughter filled the house.

This  extended family has awesome strength too.  They are living with broken hearts, but they will rally because that's what Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters do at times like this.  It's what they've been doing every single day during this battle with the beast.  They searched and scanned the web daily for the latest in lung cancer research.  They questioned the doctors to make sure Mark was getting the latest treatment.  They reached out to cancer centers around the country to make sure Mark's care was cutting edge: lab bench to the patient kind of care.

They did everything right and they still lost him on the afternoon of November 15th.

Prayers to the family....Rest in peace Mark.

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Balancing Act

Leroy put a ring on it many years ago.   It was a beautiful singular diamond and he chose it because he said it was like the one his Dad gave his Mom.

It was the one and only ring on my fourth, left finger for a very long time.

When we finally decided to get married (he was already pretty sick)  he asked me to go to the safe deposit box and bring home a tiny leather pouch.  When he pulled on those leather strings out tumbled some beautiful lapis stones.  The blue of the lapis was streaked with yellow veins. He'd carried them home from Venezuela many years before with one purpose in mind: they would be used for our wedding rings.

We found the perfect jewelry maker who designed rings that cradled the lapis perfectly.  They were unique just as we were to each other.

One night when Leroy was clearly feeling his cancer had progressed to a dangerous place, he talked about his ring and where he wanted it to go after he was gone.  It was a very serious conversation.

It will be 6 years and 3 months to the day, tomorrow, that I've been wearing his ring next to mine.

It's even more important to me tonight, because for the last couple of days I haven't had the ring on my hand.  After so many hand washings, showers, days in the garden and who knows what else, the lapis had fallen out of his ring.  Thankfully there was more of this precious stone and it's now been replaced and polished and is back where it belongs: balancing the fourth finger on my left hand.

Actually, it's balancing more than that.

 

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She is LIVING with cancer.

She juggles a million balls in the air every day and maybe, just maybe, one takes a bounce now and then, but it's a rare bounce.

She balances family, job, pruning her flower garden and oh, did I mention a chemotherapy session every three weeks, just because she has to?  In fact, it's her second round of liquid unpleasantness and she has made up her mind, it will not ruin her day.  It will not rule her day.

She'll sit quietly and be a good patient while the chemo enters her body and is directed to hunt and destroy her cancer cells but don't get in her way once the therapy is complete.  She has plans for the evening and she is bound and determined not to let the morning interfere with her tonight.

Granted there might be a nap sandwiched in the day but that's only to allow her body to begin to reboot.

She's LIVING with cancer.

She takes it along with her where ever she goes, because she has no choice.

The flip side of that "choice" is not to be defined by her disease.

There's too many balls in the air for that and besides, there's dinner tonight.

 

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Cancer’s Obit

Do you ever read the obituaries in your local newspaper?  I think one has to be of a certain age to do this sort of thing.

I remember when I was a little kid, my Mom would look at this page in the paper and I would tell her how morbid I thought it was and she would tell me one day I would be doing the same thing.  She was right.

In my paper the names and faces fall under the title of "Death Notices."

A big, black border around a particular notice caught my attention today:  The last name of "Swidler" was printed in bold letters, but the words that go with the notification of his passing speak volumes.

"It is announced that on November 7, 2014, Mark Swidler and his cancer died."

"While Mark would have loved for this outcome to have been the result of a strong and mutual fight to the finish, it is actually the end of a five year period of a near continuous series of capitulations on Mark's part.  An attempt was made to negotiate a settlement, perhaps subdividing the body in a manner that would allow both to live.  While the cancer could see the logic in this approach, it felt a compromise would be a clear violation of its "Oath of Malignancy."  Although the negotiations failed, perhaps such efforts proved a distraction for the cancer and contributed to the lengthy period from prognosis to death...."

It goes on to say, " If there is any consolation in Mark's forced intimacy with cancer, it is that while they will forever be buried in the same grave, the cancer will get no mention on the headstone."

Mr. Swidler's obit goes on to describe his loving family and friends and that he lived a good, satisfying life.

I didn't know this man, or who the author of his obituary is, but I do know this: His cancer may have played a role in his death, but not his life.

 

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Dreamcatcher…

I almost never dream of Leroy.

I've had friends tell me he's in their dreams a lot.  Not mine.

Last night was one of the rare times where he was so real, I woke up wondering where he was.  It was 3 o'clock in the morning, when I lifted my head and looked over at his side of the bed.  His pillows were there, like they've been forever, and I'm not sure what I expected to see, but the dream was so real, I wasn't quite sure.

I remembered in detail, he was wearing his jeans, and one of this old "war" shirts, the ones he took with him to the badlands of the world.  He had on his cowboy boots and he needed a haircut.  The hair on the back of his neck was curled up like it used to be before he'd given in to the barber.

I saw his smile.  I don't remember any words or hearing his laugh but the image was crystal clear.

I didn't go back to sleep for quite a while.  I didn't want to lose the image in my head.

It was so nice to see him again.

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Here it is, in all your responses, the constant that is cancer.

Whether it's a newly discovered tumor, caught in time, or an anniversary of a loss so heartbreaking that it's "crippling" in its power.  It's a remembering in a group gathering that brings comfort but still tears, and it's described like the ebb and flow of a powerful ocean as the tide washes up with a crashing wave only to be pulled back again, catching us in a weak moment and then releasing us again.

These are our "stages" of grief, maybe not exactly like the experts describe it, or maybe because we've gone through all of that in some way.

It never really ends, it just changes.  We have the ability to pull the strings on the little purse most of the time.

But when those important days come around every year, or something as simple as a passing thought brings on a memory, our hearts open and allow us to feel what we had once upon a time.

Here it is, this thread that is woven through all our life tapestries.....an unbreakable thread.

 

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It was a question that wasn't easy to answer.

It came during a conversation with a woman who had lost her husband to cancer a couple years ago.   She was a little younger than me and she talked about going through all the stages of grief.  She called one of the stages her "straight jacket stage" because she said she was so grief stricken she could hardly breathe.  All she wanted to do was cry and stay in bed and she didn't want to see any one or do anything.  That was her "straight jacket stage."  She's moved through that part but now she's trying to figure out a way to stop feeling so lonely.

Loneliness, she said is scary because she doesn't see an end to it.

She goes out with friends.  She travels a little too.  She's not locked in her house, afraid to go out, but she can't shake the "missing him" part.

I told her I'm six years away from my loss and I still feel lonely.  I still miss Leroy in so many ways.  I told her it's not an "every minute of the day" kind of missing, but there are times when I wish so hard, that he was a whisper away.  There are still times when something happens in the day that only he would 'get.'  He'd be the only one I could call or share it with and get a reaction.  Now, I just cringe a little instead and move on.

I guess that's how I handle the loneliness too.

That little pocket of "Leroy emotions" that I keep in a  draw-string purse next to my heart, sometimes leaks a little too much loneliness and I have to deal with it like a grown up.

She told me where loneliness is concerned, she's not ready to be a grown-up just yet.

So, she moved around the room asking the question, "How do you deal with loneliness?"

 

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We've talked about the lab dwellers.  The men and women who sit at their benches day and night hoping for an outcome that will change the course of cancer care.

I was in the company of such men and women yesterday and I left the Kimmel Cancer Center with renewed hope that this beast of a disease will meet its match some day soon.

The brain power dedicated to stopping the spread of this disease filled the room.  These researchers don't have conversations like the rest of us.  I sat there trying to decipher the vocabulary and finally decided to just sit back and listen, knowing that eventually they would get around to speaking "English."

I got the basic meaning of their words: they were working on vaccines and therapies targeted to specific cancers.  Personalized medicine in cancer word is the trend because each patient's case is so unique.  Looking at cancer in the future as a chronic disease, where relapses don't mean death, but new advanced treatment means kicking it into remission and allowing the patient more life, quality life.

These wizards of cancer world lean on each other to share information and discover new ways to attack this disease that has taken so many of our loved ones.

We 'lift' from a care giver's perspective.....These brilliant scientists are doing the heavy lifting from behind those heavy laboratory doors.

Keep those lights on....Brain power rules!

 

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