On September 14, 2006 I heard the words come out of my vet's mouth as he palpated my dog Shen's abdomen area, "You need to take her to the Univ of Minnesota right away for an ultrasound. I think she may have cancer." Hours later, we got confirmation that Shen had tumors in her spleen - cancer. The next day I opted for surgery, only to find out after two blood tranfusions, that her cancer had spread throughout her body. She was dying and there was nothing I could do for her but to hold her in my arms and to let her go.
And nine months later, Shen's beloved brother Shadow, who was devastated after his sister died, also got cancer - intestinal cancer. They told us at the U that anything we did for Shadow would be palliative. I opted to enjoy the remaining weeks I had with him as best I could. And so we did. We had two beautiful weeks as I did everything I could to keep him comfortable. We slept huddled together on the couch downstairs as I whispered to him each night "I love you Shadow boy ... please just let me know when it's time to let you go." We had good days and not so good days. On good days he was out swimming in the lakes. On the not so good days I held him and covered him with all my love as he heaved and his body gradually started to shut down. Till early one morning on July 2, 2007 he burrowed himself in a hole he dug by a stone where the ashes of Shen had been sprinkled ... he looked at me and I knew it was time. I thanked him for the gift he gave to me of being able to say goodbye and the gift of creating precious memories I will also hold in my heart. Later that morning sweet Shadow joined Shen.
Then in April, 2009 my dear friend Elaine died from breast cancer 17 months after her initial diagnosis. I met Elaine in a writing class in the summer of 2006. A beautiful woman, inside and out. She was an artist and a poet and a woman whose love, radiance and energy was contagious. It's rare to meet a person who lives and breathes love, pure love. Elaine was, and is, love. I was away on a business trip in San Diego the morning she passed away ... my heart still aches to this day that I wasn't able to say goodbye to her. She must know my heart aches because she has blessed me with the gift of visiting me in my dreams 3 times and letting me know she is okay, that we're okay, and that she knows I love her.
As I deal with my own health issues and the words of "you have breast cancer" looming over my own head ... I remember Elaine and how she walked her journey, with courage, grace, acceptance and a will to keep living and loving no matter what. On Wednesday I see my surgeon to review the results of the latest MRI scan showing a new growth. I am also driving down to the Mayo Clinic to meet with a doctor at the breast research center to get a second opinion.
And then on Saturday, my partner and I head off to the Bahamas to swim with wild, free dolphins!! A dream come true. Whatever I am told on Wednesday will come with me to the Bahamas and I will look to the dolphins to guide me ....
~ by Judy Roehm
[From the book The Cancer Poetry Project. Judy was inspired to write about her long time partner Becky after she addressed an American Cancer Society rally in Lansing, MI in May, 1993. Becky had been diagnosed with cancer the year before at the age of 40. She died in 1995. "Seeing how the experience of facing death transformed her, how she lived every day of her life, taught me a lot about courage", Roehm says. Two years later she lost her brother to pancreatic cancer and in 1998 she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer].
At a breast cancer rally she rises
above sixteen positive lymph nodes
to tell the world that cancer is a wakeup call
that resonates to the cell level.
It is a lesson taught to trembling hands
that squeeze from today a second cup of coffee
on a sunny deck with someone you love.
It is a slap that sends you flying from Michigan
to Cozumel because cancer teaches that snorkeling
coral reefs pays greater dividends than a savings account
and mowing summer grass can be postponed
for bike rides past wild flowers and country streams,
and vacuuming the carpet and washing the windows
are low priority items when a friend drops by to visit.
Cancer is not a gift but a lesson
full of seeing now and loving presently.
Cancer touches so many of our lives and in the process transforms us and those around us. I pray for the same courage, strength and grace that my dear friend Elaine had ... and for wise way that my beloved animals Shen and Shadow approached the end of their journey ... I love how animals don't fear death. They live in the present and they live every moment.