Cancer Zero & Martha One

In October of 2009 Dr. Jeffrey Wayne at Northwestern said there was a good possibility that I was looking at just one more year of life. I remember him quickly flipping through a notebook that his nurse, Jennifer had put together for me that showed the various stages I would probably be going through shortly.

I was looking in the general direction of the notebook but I was making a point not to really look at any of it. My brain was stuck back on that part of ‘most likely one more year’ and I was thinking about how fast a year spins past.

My son, Louie, who was 21 at the time, was sitting right next to me. We had recently reconnected on a day-to-day basis in August when I moved from NYC to Chicago where he lives.

My whole body was shaking on such a small scale it felt like a deep hum and I don’t know if it was visible on the outside but I couldn’t be sure of any of my movements.

Louie took one look at me just after Dr. Wayne and his nurse left the small, windowless room and said, “You weren’t listening. He said there was hope.” I could feel part of me instantly relax and not because I was able to grasp that concept just yet. I could see in my son’s face a determination to believe in something better.

We say that someone, Cowboyed Up in the South and he had done a great job at it. I knew in that moment that no mattered what happened he’d be okay.

The day of the surgery he had my iPhone and when I got it back it was filled with gun apps so not everything had changed. It gave me a good laugh even while just coming out of the sedation. I left them there for months and yes, it was partially because I didn’t know how to get rid of them.

That first night in a drug-induced haze I called everyone in my phone to let them all know with a lot of enthusiasm how much they meant to me and how great they were doing. I was a human exclamation point.

It was surprising how many people got back to me and knew it must have been pharmacologically aided but they still liked the sentiment. It’s also nice to know that when out of it I’m pretty nice and very, very cheerful.

Here we are, 18 months later with two extra bouts of the same disease (thankfully unrelated) and I’m not the same person. It feels like a door was opened to a possibility of dying and I just can’t squeeze it shut again.

However, I’ve also learned to listen more, let a lot of things go much more easily and I admire my son all the time.

Here’s one last strange thing that’s come up a few times lately about that whole timeframe. There were some very tense moments that I can recall if pressed but on the whole all I easily recall are the people at my backdoor with soup and casseroles or my neighbors spending time with me, whether it was just watching TV or patiently helping me to learn how to walk again.

Q: What big event have you had in your life that could have been seen as a dark moment but you were able to spot some blessings?

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