Friday, December 31, 2010

Kicking Cancer

This is my friend Bethany.

In February, Bethany was diagnosed with lymphoma... cancer. It was in her stomach, lungs and neck. Her daughter, Tessla Meredith, was three months old at the time. Bethany thought she was a bad mom: constantly fatigued, losing weight (breast feeding will do that to you!), not enjoying time with her daughter. And then she passed out at work. And upon arriving at the doctor's office, she was promptly hospitalized for anemia, malnutrition, and a slew of other things. After much blood work and testing, the dreaded words were uttered: it's cancer.

Bethany smiled.

"I'm not a bad mom. I just have cancer." After a few weeks of receiving fluids in the hospital to normalize her system and the first round or two of chemo that eliminated the giant bulge in her stomach, she was healthier, her spirits had lifted, and her energy returned. The cancer began to die, and Bethany actually got well.

But the chemo treatments continued and Bethany got sick again. And we had the head-shaving party and brought gifts of wigs and hats and hair extensions and fake eyelashes.

And we cooked food and took turns doing dishes and washing laundry and holding Tessla. And Sunday school classes who didn't even know Bethany put her on their prayer list and bought her four months of a house cleaning service and sent money and cards. Bethany's wigs looked good and sometimes she had enough strength to hold Tess. Here they are at Easter.

Seven or so months after Bethany's initial hospitalization, we heard the good news. The cancer was gone. The chemo worked, radiation would seal the deal. We were home free! Bethany and her husband went on vacation. She sported a cute Jamie Lee Curtis look. She was promoted at work. Hooray!

But in November, it was back. In all the same places... the stomach, the lung, the neck.

Cancer is a bitch.

I knew that going into this process. One of my sister's best friends growing up, Johnny Cathcart, a.k.a. Hotpants was diagnosed with cancer in middle school. By then, I was in college, but I heard all the reports. This is him at 12 years old in Memphis.

He went through chemo at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and made three wishes with the Children's Wish Foundation. (You may have seen him in The Cider House Rules - one of his wishes was to be in a movie and since John was sick then, he appeared as one of the orphans in this great film starring Tobey Maguire. You can't miss him. It pans the orphans a couple is looking at adopting and there on the big screen is John's face. Pretty cool!)

And then the cancer came back. And he went through it again. And it was awful. But John lived.

And he wrote a book.

Bethany started a blog too when she thought her cancer was gone. It was titled, I Will Live and journaled the life of a cancer-free, but still healing cancer survivor. And then the cancer came back. Not two months later. And Bethany's blog became a sounding board for a whole new process, living with cancer. And living through treatment.

And this time, it will be much harder. Just as John did, Bethany will now recieve what is affectionately called, The Killing Chemo. Chemo that destroys everything in the body it is injected into. And to save the body? The person? A bone marrow transplant.

If I was scared the first time Bethany got sick, I tried not to show it, at least to her. I cried at church and pleaded with my friends to help out, but I tried to be positive for Bethany.

But I've read John's book. Bubble boy, is what I call the period of time when he underwent the Killing Cancer and the subsequential quarantine protecting his body form coming in contact with any foreign substances or illnesses that it will not have the resources to fight.

I've read John's story and it made me sick the first time though. Don't get me wrong. John is hilarious and his book will have you laughing through your tears. He writes, "My mission is to get my story out, to lift up the spirit of my cat, lift up people that are different, glorify distance running and unveil the joys of breakfast cereal." The Make a Wish Foundation says this of his book, "A simple yet profound message ... an inspirinig story of a young man's journey through cancer treatment... a tale about strength of character and the power of hope."

But now I will have to watch Bethany go through the same thing.

"I will be sick again." She said, remembering what she looked like and how she felt after the last chemo treatment. "But Tessla won't remember." And my hair hasn't yet grown out, so we won't have to cut it again."

"True," I said. Encouraged by her hope.

"And I'm so glad you quit your job," she finished.

I'm nannying almost 40 hours a week for her, or for Tessla, while Bethany continues to work (have to keep that health insurance!) as does her husband. She's glad Tessla has "family" taking care of her and that I can help out around the house and assist with other items that a normal nanny wouldn't do. And I'm glad too. Nannying is easy and fun, and the kid takes a nap twice a day! Brilliant! But I wouldn't say that somewhere inside I don't feel a little scared too.

And I guess that's why I'm writing this. To get it out. Because I believe it takes a community to cure cancer.

Johnny's sister (a friend of mine) dropped out of college when John's cancer came back.

She and her mom moved to Memphis to help Johnny through round two.

I'm writing so that you will join the communal fight against cancer. That you'll read Bethany's blog. And buy Johnny's book. And donate or help out through St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Or help out Bethany's family even. Who knows. I write to create awareness... in case neither you nor one of your family members are one of the 11,714,000 people in the U.S. who has cancer today.

Cancer's a killer. But we can kick it. Together.

I think. I hope. I pray.


Bethany Chance said...

Thanks for that Ann. It meant a lot to me. The way you tell it, it sounds so much more...dramatic, and interesting. :) And just to clarify, it's in my lymph nodes in my abdomen, neck, and lung. I don't actually have cancer in my stomach, neck and lungs. Not that it matters, I have cancer, and because it's in my blood, it's everywhere. I would love to read that book, perhaps it will help my attitude going into this. Currently, my status is "terrified" so I'm not thinking about it. However, I did read a statistic that gave me great comfort. Over 92% of people with my kind of lymphoma under age 40, survive. Yay! I only read the good statistics.

Aaron Sacco said...

That is great to hear the statistics, Bethany! We're all praying for you.

Ann, this is a great post and you've been such a great friend. I'll be praying for you too.

Anonymous said...

Ann, thank you for raising cancer awareness and for supporting my brother. It means so much to all of us. I will not stop praying for you and Bethany. I will keep hoping for a cure for as long as I live. Love to you both... and a big hug... Kristin.