I wasn’t going to watch another show about cancer. I had no intention of watching any show about cancer. My sister actually worked the phone lines. I, on the other hand, was pretty uninterested. Maybe I just didn’t want to hear. Maybe I’m done with it. Maybe I hate it so much I want to turn it off. But cancer won’t turn off. Instead it just keeps killing more than half a million people a year. I didn’t know that before I watched the first airing of Stand Up To Cancer.
I should have. I am a two time cancer survivor.
I was 26 years old and pregnant with my daughter Laura when my doctor called me, lost his voice and whispered, “We‘ve found cancer cells. I want you to come in for more tests.” I hung up the phone that night, looked at Stan and broke the news.
At the doctor’s office he tried to be reassuring. He something about mild dysplasia probability . He told me that he was sure the tests would show minimal invasion. Besides, the most he ever had to send to Birmingham for more testing was 2 women a year – and rarely that many. He performed the tests. He told me to get dressed. He sent Stan back into the room. He left to do whatever it is doctors do when tests turn out badly.
Upon returning he knocked on the door, sat down at the desk in my room, his back to me. Finally he turned around and said softly, “You’re going to Birmingham.”
As we drove away it was quiet. Finally I spoke. “I won’t let them hurt the baby, Stan. I can’t.” Tears trickled down Stan’s cheeks. “It’s going to be okay, Stan.”
“I want you to be okay, Renee.”
When we got to Birmingham for more testing the doctor smiled and told me I would be fine for the remainder of the pregnancy. They would monitor me then treat it after I gave birth. My water broke when I was 5months and 3 weeks pregnant. Laura was born 3 weeks later.
I never had to have chemo or radiation. The doctors had discussed a hysterectomy, but after a successful LEEP procedure the cervical cancer was gone. As the matter of fact, one of the nurses said it looked like a miracle because my test results showed no sign that I had ever had any problems whatsoever. A miracle. It seemed I was fine, which is another story for another time.
Three years later I was pregnant with my son Cameron. I was in college majoring in Communications at Auburn at Montgomery, in the studios recording my demos and happily raising my family. After giving birth to Cameron I received another call from my doctor. This time he didn’t lose his voice. “We made a mistake, Renee. The cancer has spread. I’m scheduling you for a hysterectomy next week.”
The brevity of his words didn’t penetrate. I had been here before. “I have exams in two weeks. Can we reschedule that?”
He was perturbed. “You have cancer. Cancel your classes.”
On May 14, 1999 I had a hysterectomy. Both times I was lucky. Neither time did I have to have extensive treatment. But to have a baby and a hysterectomy the year I turned 30 was hard to take. I lived through it. So many more that I love did not.
My step dad had just died of a heart attack on June 6, 2003. He was only 57 and it was so bewildering for my mother who finally had someone in her life who truly loved her. At his funeral I could only think of how blessed I was to have both my parents while my stepbrother and stepsisters grieved the loss of their father just six years after the loss of one of their mothers to cancer. For the rest of the summer my mom sat in her doctor’s office waiting room complaining of stomach pain. Every time he basically patted her on the head and told her it was a need for attention after the death of my step dad.
In September I was awakened from my sleep to hear a voice say, “Isaiah 41:10” I opened my eyes. Stan was sleeping beside me. There was no one else in the room. I repeated the passage reference and promised myself I’d look it up in the morning. It was 2:00am and I was sleepy.
“Isaiah 41:10” The Voice was not going to let me alone. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled to the living room. I flipped through my Bible. Isaiah 41:10 reads as follows: “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I lay in bed for a long time wondering what was going to happen next.
A week later my sister called to tell me Mother was in the hospital. The doctors suspected cancer. She would call me to let me know more when the test results were in. The next day I came home from running errands. Stan asked me to come into our bedroom. He stood leaning against a dresser and said all he could manage. “Your mom has 3 months to live. They caught it too late.”
I doubled over. Stan caught me and held me while I whispered, “No”
Less than a year earlier I had lost my close aunt to ovarian cancer. Before her I lost another aunt to pancreatic cancer. Now I was being told I was going to lose my mom, this health food nut (minus the addiction to chocolate) and avid exerciser to colon cancer? This couldn’t be happening. But it did happen. I lost my 53 years young mom to cancer on December 20, 2003. My story is not unique. I am not alone. I am not the only one with a story.
I’m kind of pissed. We spend so much money on big government spending. We throw dollars at weapons development. We fight male pattern baldness for crying out loud. Yet we don’t have a cure, patients don’t have the funds, and we don’t have an answer for cancer. I don’t know why this is. I myself have no plan, just questions and anger and loss. There’s a certain doctor in Florida whom I would love to meet in a dark alley. There are politicians who inhibit the progress of cancer research and funding whom I would like to tell to screw off. None of it will help.
So I try to maintain my faith in a loving God who tells me He will be with me while I watch my mom die a cruel death and pretend not to question, although I scream at Him in the secret places of my soul and demand that He give her back. Again, I am not alone. There are millions of us who all want our loved ones back.
Because I don’t have any answers, because I don’t have much hope in a cure right now – I will let this end without a conclusion, just like the half million Americans who left this earth this year as a result of cancer. God be with us, each and every one.