Wikepedia States: A perfect storm is a confluence of events that drastically aggravates a situation. This is certainly one way to look at the event but I beg to differ just a bit. Perhaps the perfect storm brings together events and circumstances to arrange a cataclysmic outcome which can be drastically worse or better.
From this vantage point I would say that my cancer diagnosis was my “perfect storm”. It brought together a series of events and losses that were absolutely crushing at the moment in time which they occurred. But these losses ultimately saved and made my life.
Anyone who knew me prior to my cancer diagnosis would tell you that my health and fitness were #1 on my hit parade. There was no sacrifice too great or discipline too extreme, if I felt my health or fitness would benefit, I was all in. Thirteen years ago, I gave up sugar and heavily processed foods in order to benefit my health and deflect the possibility of being an insulin dependent diabetic, like my Dad. All I had to hear was the potential of having to go on a pill for the rest of my life and I dropped 60 lbs. I worked out regularly and ate a high protein (a lot of dairy) diet. I was known to consume 2 lbs of cheese a week without thinking about it. I got a little extreme and stayed away from many fruits because of the high levels of fructose in them. I ate plenty of vegetables but there were whole parts of “the pyramid” that I did not consume. I was convinced that I was going to live until 100 and would boast about just that!!
Simultaneously, I had gotten divorced after a 22 year marriage and began dating a man, we will call John Smith, who was VERY high-strung, MOODY and erratic. He was like being on a roller coaster each day, sweet and charming one minute then ugly and at times violent the next. You never knew what was going to be the tipping point but I knew it was always there, just under the surface. I had the daily battle in my own head about the fact that I KNEW he was not good for me, yet I could not seem to get myself free. This went on for a period of 7 years…….I know SEVEN YEARS?? I could not even understand why I would stay in this relationship, but I did. Amazingly, when he would break up with me (which was often) I would date other wonderful men, who were so considerate of me. I would run away from them like my hair was on fire!! I knew intellectually this is what I wanted and yet when John Smith would come calling, I would drop EVERYTHING to be back in his life and good graces. This pattern repeated itself over and over and over. Suffice it to say, this relationship caused me much distress and NO PEACE in my life. The toughest part was, even when John Smith and I were broken up, I was still tied to him. I was trapped and could not seem to free myself, try as I might.
In 2007 John Smith discovered a lump in my left breast. It was small and almost not perceivable but sure enough there was a small pea sized lump at 3 o’clock. I made an appointment with my GYN within the week. A fibroadenoma (a fibrous but benign tumor) was the diagnosis. It was recommended we watch it for the next 6 months. So, six months later, I returned to my GYN and the lump was not to be found. Phew……….now I was off the hook for a year. Within 6 months, the lump was back, now this was the fall of 2008, again they wanted to observe and have me return in 6 months.
Finally, in February 2009, after yet another “final break up”, John Smith asked me to marry him. He asked me on his birthday and proposed we get married 3 days later on Valentines Day. I agreed to do it and for the next 3 days I prepared but also knew…….this was a disaster in the making. He had 2 previous failed 6 month marriages but I convinced myself, it would be different this time. I loved him like no one else ever had and this marriage would be different. And so on Feb 14, 2009 I became Mrs. John Smith.
For a very short time, we were seemingly happy and working in the business we had built together. We were making future plans for the business and getting through the “busy season”. In the midst of the busy season John Smith became ill and had to have a surgical procedure. I stepped up to the plate and ran the entire business and got everything done for the company for almost a month. Simultaneously, I was taking care of him and his post surgical needs. Not long after that, I began to feel really exhausted. At first I figured it was because I was working so hard. But it was a prevailing exhaustion that was not satisfied by sleep or diet changes or supplements. I felt the way I had with each of my pregnancies in the first trimester (but I knew I was NOT pregnant). I took my husband aside 3 times during that summer of 2009 to let him know that I thought I had a problem. He either dismissed my concern or sold me on the fact that I was the “healthiest person he knew”. And so the summer wore on and so did the exhaustion and dread that I was feeling. We had no insurance at the time, so I spent time shopping for health insurance and presenting different options to my husband, to no avail. He did not want to get insurance at that time….too expensive.
John Smith’s daughter stayed with us all that summer and I did my best to entertain, throw her a birthday bash and run her to the Recreation Dept programs etc. but I just was not myself at all. Finally, I made an appointment to see a GP. They did a physical exam, blood work etc and declared me in perfect health. Then why was I feeling so poorly? I went to the chiropractor for pain in the left side of my neck and shoulders all that summer. I thought maybe that I was not sleeping properly because of pain and tightness in my neck.
Then one day while riding in his pick up truck, John Smith poked me in my side and it was downright excruciating. It immediately made me cry and I don’t cry easily. I put my hand on the spot he poked and there it was, a lump……an enlarged lymph node. It was definitely enlarged and sore. Now I was alarmed. I had this lump (a fibroadenoma ) in my breast since 2007 that no one was concerned about and we were monitoring and now an enlarged lymph node. That was it…….I went back to my OB/GYN and showed him the lump again (now with lymph node). He wanted to do an ultrasound guided biopsy to the tune of $5000……holy smokes!! I thought ok, I will spend the $5000 but then I will still have a lump in my breast. Instead, I decided to call my plastic surgeon Dr. Roxanne Guy and I made an appointment with her. I figured at this point, I would spend the money but I wanted the lump GONE!! We could figure out what it was, once it was taken OUT!!
One week later, Dr. Guy took one look at the lump and told me, there was not anything about the lump that she liked. She did not like the way it looked or felt. She told me she would be willing to remove the lump one week later. We made an appointment for August 7, 2009 to remove the suspicious lump in her office under local anesthesia. So, on that day I went to see Dr. Guy to remove the lump from my left breast. John Smith went with me. The lump wound up being much larger than we anticipated but Dr. Guy did a great job and the lump was skillfully removed and sent off for biopsy “just to be sure”.
I went home that Friday afternoon and laid down on the couch, after taking my pain med, and the phone rang. I recognized the number as my daughter Merrill calling, so I took the call. It was her Dad calling me from CT to tell me that Merrill had been in a very bad accident. Bicycle verses delivery truck. It did not look good. She was in Yale ICU and was critically injured. I immediately stopped taking the pain pills and got a flight for the next morning to Baltimore. There I met my sister and she and I drove to be by Merrill’s side. She was in really bad shape and very disoriented when I arrived at Yale on Sunday, August 9th. I spent the night on a chair in her room and was in extreme pain but did not want to leave her side. I spent 3 hours on Monday bathing her, in her bed and washing axle grease out of her hair when my phone rang. It was Dr. Guy, she sounded very guarded on the phone. I told her where I was and what had happened to Merrill. She asked me if someone was there with me…..an odd question? I told her yes, my sister was there with me. She then said the words I will never forget……..Dawn, that lump we removed on Friday was cancer. I am sorry to have to tell you this……….I need your permission to send the tumor to California for further testing. This testing will be important later for how you will be treated. Do I have your permission Dawn? I think I was silent for several long moments as if not answering would change the outcome. Finally, I said yes, send it to California. Then I do not remember what else was said. When I hung up the phone (which I had taken into the bathroom to answer) I sat down on the floor (the germ filled floor) and cried. I sat there until I could compose myself enough to get out of the bathroom and past Merrill, without her noticing. I went to tell my sister Diana in the hallway and we cried together.
About 2 hours later, I called John Smith to give him the news. I was delayed in doing so because Merrill’s doctors came in and we were dealing with her breathing issues etc. When I told John Smith about the cancer, I found his response unusual. He said…..”I got your back”. Even as he said those words, I thought that was a weird thing to say. It sure did not bring me much comfort at all. He then proceeded to scold me for not calling him “right away” when I got the news. As I hung up the phone……….I felt so completely alone and I knew John Smith and I were steering into rough waters. Very rough waters.
You see, I knew something about John Smith that had been told to me by more than one person. John Smith’s Mom died of Cancer when he was 19 and he refused to go see his Mom when she asked for him on her deathbed. His Dad, his brother and former girlfriend had all told me the same thing….he refused her dying request. Even more curious, John Smith and his Mom were VERY CLOSE. When asked about it, he explained that he loved her so much, he could not bear to see her “that way”. Since when is a deathbed request about the living? But there was information there…….information about the man I had married and was now facing cancer with.
I went home after spending 5 days by Merrill’s side and helping her to be able to get off the morphine and doing her breathing exercises. She had a fractured skull, a concussion, a pleural contusion (with a tube in her lung) a broken arm, facial bruises and scrapes. I think the entire time I was in CT with Merrill, I was so consumed with her condition, my own did not sink in. I also had her condition to distract me from my own plight. When I got home, John Smith was very distant and was not giving me any type of reassurance at all. There was no physical affection, no hug, no kiss for this new cancer patient. Within days, he began sleeping in the guest bedroom…….I was devastated. I would lie awake for hours and cry and worry and get on the internet and read about breast cancer.
The tumor results came back within a week. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma/ Breast Cancer, HER2 negative, Progesterone and estrogen positive. What in the world did that mean? I googled myself silly to find out more. It meant I had been diagnosed with the most common form of Breast cancer. This was actually a good thing…….no pioneer treatments. The protocol for this one was pretty figured out. But, my margins were not clear. Remember, Dr. Guy removed the tumor but we did not know it was cancer so she took just enough tissue to be rid of the lump. Now I needed more surgery to make sure all the cancer was removed and to test the lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread. Also important information for my treatment.
I called some Dr. Friends of mine to see what to do next. Now that I had a cancer diagnosis, insurance was unobtainable. I still needed another surgery and treatment. What to do? I spoke to a Dr.friend (who will remain unknown per his request) who I had worked with 26 years earlier and was getting his opinion. When he learned I had no insurance and was in need of surgery, he wired funds for me to get surgery at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. What a profound and unspeakable gift (angel sighting) John Smith and I went to the clinic a few times and I was given a second surgery date of Sept 29, 2009. My dear friend who felt I helped him early in his professional career paid for that second surgery out of his pocket and the kindness of his heart. I will never be able to think about this gift that I received and not get teary eyed. This gift still humbles me as I think upon it.
On Sept 29, 2009 I had my second surgery/lumpectomy and clear margins were obtained. John Smith was at the hospital with me but every time I woke up to try to talk to him, he was outside trying to find a place to smoke. He was there but not really there at all. They removed 23 lymph nodes in my left armpit 2 of which had cancer. This is important…….if you have affected lymph nodes, chemotherapy is protocol. So, I found out that I would need both chemo and radiation to cure my breast cancer. I went home from Mayo on the same day as that second surgery (actually on the curb at midnight and in my bed at 3:30 AM). YIKES!!! I had a Jackson Pratt drain on my left side that was draining away the fluid that my missing lymph nodes had done previously.
Meanwhile, things on the home front were going from bad to worse………….I felt very isolated and rejected by my husband. He withdrew from me more and more with each passing day. I spent my days calling and trying to figure out how I was going to get treated without insurance…..it was not looking good. Then 2 weeks after my surgery at Mayo (which I thought was paid for 100%) I got another bill from them for $7000. I wanted to discuss the financial issue with my husband but he would not engage me in the conversation. Mid October, I pressed John Smith to discuss all these issues and he became very angry and left to go to South Florida for work. He did not call or take my calls for 2 days……….I was now feeling frantic. While he was away, I developed a clot in the drain and was beginning to have a big problem. When he came home on Thursday, I told him I needed his help with the drain. He was so angry when he went to clear the drain, he broke the drain bulb in his hand. Now I really did have a problem. In the morning I called Mayo Clinic, they said to come up there (3 hours drive) and they would replace the bulb. I was just not up to it……….I decided to call Dr. Guy. She was so gracious, I thought I would go to her office and just pick up the bulb but no….she brought me in checked my surgical site and replaced the bulb for me. (Angel sighting). Thank God for Dr. Guy!!
Then Friday of that same week, my husband came home from work announced that he did not love me any longer and that he was going to Biketoberfest and he wanted me out of the house by Monday. I was in complete and utter shock as he said these words to me and walked out the door. I collapsed sobbing and I spent the next 2 days staring at a pile of pills on my nightstand and I actually googled to find out if I had enough there to kill myself. There were………I had an escape plan. I wrestled and cried and asked God to show me one good reason why I should not end my life. And in typical “God-style” He gave me two. The first was, my then 17-year-old son who lived with me. I KNEW that if I took my life, I would really be taking two. I would leave behind a devastated child, scarred for the rest of his life. God also brought to mind something else. Back in 1984, when a dear family member ended his life, I vaguely remember someone saying……”suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary situation“. And although I could not see how my life was EVER going to be better, that saying just kept going through my mind. Finally on Sunday, I made the decision that even if I did not have the will to live for myself, I would try to fight the cancer because of my love for my child, Tucker. And so I wept, slept fitfully, prayed feebly for the next day. Surely when John Smith came back home he would relent, he just needed to blow off some steam.
While he was away I also prayed that God would touch his heart, and God answered that prayer too. When my husband returned from Biketoberfest, his heart was hardened against me. He was VERY ANGRY to still see me there. I asked him, where was I to go? He said he did not care where I went but if I was “smart” I better not return after I drove my son to school that day. Considering he had a violent past, I knew he meant business. That was Monday Oct 19, 2009. I made a decision that day that I could not fight Cancer and my husband at the same time. I walked out the door to drive my son to school that day and I never went back. I had the clothes on my back, my son and my laptop………..I chose to fight for my life instead of fighting John Smith.
In the blink of an eye, I lost everything……….my health, my marriage, my home, my possessions, my job/income, facing cancer treatment, etc. But what I realize now that this was the PERFECT STORM. All circumstances and events had been perfectly chosen and accomplished to bring about one thing……………cancer and my road to complete healing. I was finally forced to come face to face with one fact that there was no escaping from……….I CHOSE and INVITED cancer into my life. Through my own series of poor choices that came out of a diminished self-worth, I chose the stress filled life that I had. I chose the cast of characters that were in this cancer drama and the betrayal that I was experiencing. John Smith did not turn suddenly into someone new, he had always been cold and cruel. I had seen it time and again with me, his daughter and Dad but I chose it anyway for myself. What do you do with that? I needed to examine the WHY………why had I not made my needs even a consideration in my relationship with John Smith? Why had I been OK with that relationship being all about him? What did I believe about myself that would allow his mistreatment of me? Where did this bad script come from?
I spent the last 1 1/2 years figuring out the true cancer in my life………….my bad script that was in my head. The negative self talk and diminished opinion of myself. I just wrote about “As a man Thinketh”, a previous post. I will write more about the origin of this bad script later.
I believe that The Perfect Storm came together in my life to ultimately heal me and make me whole. That is why I say that my cancer actually CURED MY LIFE. It was the “Perfect Storm” that God allowed in order for me to be healed. I have such a wonderful and peaceful existence today and I won’t allow anything to infringe upon that peace. I have learned what an exorbitant price was paid for the stress and strongholds that had previously taken ahold of me. I thank God daily for my cancer………..I really do. If I wind up succumbing to this dreadful disease the life I live today is worth 1000 tragic yesterdays. I LOVE MY LIFE TODAY and if I had to go through my cancer journey to get to where I am today…..I would choose it for myself. I know…….I would CHOOSE cancer?? Yes, I would!! I will say it again……..my cancer cured my life!!!