Sunday, December 30, 2007

Survivor Angels...

I wanted to share with all of you a great organization for those affected by cancer. Its founder is Jonny Imerman who at the age of 26 was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. During his own cancer battle Jonny never met anyone his age who was going through the same experience. Isn’t that true for most of us young adult survivors? I know it was for me. I think it is all too common. Jonny took action and did something about it. He started an organization called Imerman Angels where you can be connected with a cancer survivor who is the same age and had the same type of cancer. Jonny wanted everyone fighting cancer to be able to connect with a survivor who would be living proof that they too can beat it. Isn’t that a great idea? I wish I knew about these angels when I was going through my cancer treatment.

Jonny founded his organization in 2003 and has accumulated a huge data base of angels from all over the country and the world that can be connected with a cancer fighter. So if you are a survivor who wants to help out and be an angel or if you are a fighter going through treatment now hop on over to his website and contact them. I have had the pleasure of speaking with Jonny personally and I can tell you that he is an amazing spirit and just a really cool guy! I am very glad that I found is organization and am excited to have recently volunteered to be an angel myself.

I know all too well as do most of you that connecting with other young adults with cancer is so very important to recovery. I hope you help me to spread the word about Imerman Angels so that no cancer fighter has to ever feel alone…..

Friday, December 21, 2007

Remembering Grandma...

Six years ago today we had to say goodbye forever. I had yet another chemo treatment that week and I always wore my wig when I saw you so you wouldn’t know I was sick. Mom and I didn’t want you to worry. I felt like I had lied to you. That broke my heart. Losing you would break it even more.

I got the call from mom that morning and sobbed till there were no tears left. They said they found you dead when they went in to give you your morning medication. I hated seeing you in that nursing home. Everytime I came by to visit you begged me to take you home. I wished so much that I could do that for you. For all you did for me. For all the love I had for you.

I remember when I was a little girl you would give me a pretty cup just like yours and put a teeny bit of coffee in it with lots of milk so I could feel like a big girl drinking coffee in the afternoon with grandma. I remember all the trips to the Bronx zoo chasing after Tom as he ran way ahead of us, so far we couldn’t keep up. I remember how safe and loved I felt around you, how you always had a warm hug and a big kiss for me no matter what. It made up for all the times my parents didn’t.

I remember when you told me I would be ok after Paul died. You loved him like your own grandson. I hope you know how much he loved you. I think you did.

I miss all of your stories. I could listen for hours to you talk about growing up during the Depression, one of 10 children and your parents who were off the boat from Italy struggling to make a life for all of you. I saw you cry each time you lost a sibling wondering how you ever got through it. You outlived 8 of them and I wished you could have been the one to live forever.

I can still smell the gravy you made every Sunday. Pasta was always my favorite and still is. I loved helping you cook. It was how I learned. The first time I made your gravy you took one taste and told me exactly what was missing and by how much. I thought about how I would never be as good.

The day you died I wondered how much more I could take. I wondered how much more I would lose. We buried you on Christmas Eve. It was the second worst Christmas of my life. I had your gift wrapped but had to return it. It took awhile before I could bring myself to do that. I didn’t want to let go.

I felt guilty for all the times I didn’t come visit you. For all the things I didn’t say. For not telling you I had cancer. I wondered if you knew. Because you always seemed to know in a psychic kind of way. You were always in tuned to the spirit world. I believe that is where I get it from, my heightened awareness of the other side. Sometimes I still feel you around me or I smell your Sunday gravy somehow and I just smile knowing that you are still watching over me.

This picture was taken on Christmas Day 1999. It is my favorite of us together. Who knew it would be the last…….

Friday, December 14, 2007

Survivor's Guilt

If you are a cancer survivor then you are probably all too familiar with survivor’s guilt. I myself have felt it many times over the 6 years I have been cancer free. Each time I would hear about a coworker, friend, or anyone connected to me that didn’t make it I would wonder about myself. All those recurrence fears reared their ugly heads from the all too close by place they were hiding. All those thoughts about why I was still here flooded through me. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that made me different and worried would I be next?

There was a coworker of mine that helped me alot when I was diagnosed. She had finished her treatment for breast cancer which included a lumpectomy, chemo (the kind where you don’t loose your hair- I tried to bargain for that and lost!) as well as tamoxifen which I did not take against my oncologist’s advice. You see, on paper she looked much better than me. Her tumor was smaller and her cancer was not invasive like mine was.

After I left that job and moved on I had gone back a couple of years later to visit and I found out from a friend that she had passed away from a recurrence of her cancer with mets. I almost couldn’t breathe. I thought about her and about her kids who would never see their mom again. I thought about how she took her tamoxifen and did all the stuff she was told but still didn’t survive the second time around. I wondered what made her different than me. I wondered why I was still here and why she had to die. I wondered when it would be my turn.

Since then I have also watched my husband’s sister die of cancer at only 27 years old. My husband’s aunt passed away a year later. This year in April my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And the question still remains……why am I still here? My dad’s recent diagnosis has hit me like a ton of bricks. I can barely write the words let alone say them. I can’t yet fathom the idea that another of the four of us in my family has the big “C”. Like we hadn’t suffered enough with my cancer stint. Like surviving his alcoholism wasn’t bad enough. And losing my husband, and the list just goes on….

At this point I really don’t have a concrete answer to my question. All I can come up with on a higher level is that I have more work to do here. I am not done learning yet. But dam it I am gettin pretty tired!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tears Over Rudolph

The other nite I was channel surfing and I stumbled upon the airing of the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on CBS. It was the last fifteen minutes but I was glued to the TV. As a child it was my very favorite Christmas special and I couldn’t wait till it was on. Back then Christmas was my favorite holiday. I loved decorating the tree, baking cookies, and my grandma’s lasagne dinner which was a Christmas tradition.

As I watched Ukon Cornelius and Hermie the wanna be dentist searching for Rudolph and his family who were captured by the Bumble I heard my mom’s voice circa 1978 saying to my brother and I “Rudolph is on tonite!” I heard us respond with “Yeaaaaaa” as we clapped our hands. It was like nothing else mattered in that moment then. As those memories came flooding back my eyes started to well up and tears began to fall. I thought to myself what an idiot I was for crying over Rudolph! But then suddenly realized what the tears were really about. I felt sad about the loss of innocence. I longed for the days before I knew what dying was, before I ever lost anyone close to me, before I even knew the word “Cancer”. I thought about how simple life was then. I thought about how exciting Christmas was when I believed in Santa, how excited I was as a child to leave my letter to Santa with some milk and cookies on the kitchen table. And even more excited as I came downstairs that morning to see all the presents he left under the tree. I remembered what it was like to go to Christmas mass and have dinner at grandma’s later that day with all of us together. It was before I realized what all the yelling and arguing was about, it was when that was just a part of the day.

Today the holidays are harder because I can’t help but think about all the empty chairs around the dinner table. I can’t help but think about what could’ve been….what my life would be like if I hadn’t gone through the tough times that were thrown at me.

But then again, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am now. I just wish I could figure out how to get back some of that innocence. To get back that ability to live so freely. I remembered what that was like for just one moment as I shed tears over Rudolph…..