My oncologist’s secretary phoned me today and told me not to worry about the ultrasound…. it was not cancer, I would not be needing an MRI or surgery right now, and he would talk to me about it next week during my next appointment. Big sigh of relief, let me tell you.
Today, I would like to write about my friend Maria, whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I met her at Gilda’s Club…everyone calls us the two Maria’s. Just so no one gets mixed up, I’m called Italian Maria and she’s Irish Maria.
This is a woman I very much admire. Let me tell you her story.
Maria has esophageal cancer. Several years ago the doctors had to remove her esophagus and put a balloon there (which is, from what I understand, a replacement for her stomach). I am in awe when she eats because sometimes her neck begins to bulge like a bullfrog. And sometimes, if she eats too much, she ends up puking her meal. She has had chemotherapy and radiation. But the woman is a real trooper. She does the best she can. Even something as routine as eating a meal, can be a horrendous experience for her.
Now imagine coping with having to deal with eating three square meals a day with a very tiny stomach, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she then also developed metastatic cancer. Her esophageal cancer spread to her liver and she had two thirds of her liver removed. Luckily, from what I understand, your liver can regenerate itself; but Maria I am sure, experiences a lot of pain from that surgery even though she doesn’t say much. I see her wincing at times and doubling over and I’m pretty sure it’s her liver that’s giving her trouble, although she doesn’t complain.
Recently, the cancer spread to her lung. Two thirds of her lung was removed a few months ago and now she has a hard time doing anything too strenuous… even walking can be too much. Sometimes when I phone her, I can hear her trying to catch her breath to talk to me. She sounds winded.
In addition to her daily physical discomfort (from many surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation), Maria still has the strength to carry on. Her family life is a lot more difficult than mine. She also has two children, but one of them is autistic. Her son is 10 years old, but he is unable to communicate verbally. Sometimes Maria would tell me stories about some of the things he does and I am silent… not knowing what to say. I just listen.
For example, one day a few weeks ago, one of her friends gave him a ride home from somewhere and he defecated in his pants, took his hand, and smeared it all over the back of the woman’s car. Maria was horrified when she found out what her son had done and offered to pay to have the car detailed, but her friend graciously declined, and cleaned it up by herself when she got home.
And stupid me, I go nuts when Frack misses the toilet and pees all over the place in the bathroom. Maria’s son is still in diapers and you never know what part of the house has to be cleaned on a daily basis. One day Frack will grow up and be independent; but her son will be limited in what he is able of do and will always need help. I don’t know how Maria finds the strength to deal with all this, but she somehow does it. She loves both her kids with a passion like no other. She motivates me.
Maria says I am lucky. That I have found something I love to do… teaching. At first, she couldn’t understand why I wanted to go back to work so much, but now I think she does. She came to my school today to sell jewelry because she wanted to start her own business and get away from all the cancer stuff. I don’t blame her one bit. It’s much more fun talking to people and being anywhere else, than staying at home thinking about cancer. Maria met my wonderful staff and could sense that it was a special place. She told me so.
Sometimes when I look at my situation, I think, “Damn it, if Maria can keep going, even with all she has been though, then surely so can I”.
I wanted to share with you a comment which Maria made which I loved when we were discussing death a while back…. Maria, with her strong irish accent proclaims…. “Oh, those damn Catholics… they are the worst of the lot. If they truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then why the hell are they afraid to die?” Good point. She makes me laugh.
Tonight it was thundering and lightening like crazy over here.
Time for bed.
The kids, the cat, and Bobo all crawled into my bed so we could watch and hear the stormy weather around us. “Look at that,” I said, “The angels are have fun bowling again”. “I know”, pipes in Frack, “The one who wins gets to be “Special Angel of the Day”.
Then Frick starts rhyming off all the names of people she knows who have died, “Umberto (my Godmother’s husband), Yvonne (my friend), Krystianna (my previous student of mine who died of cancer), etc.
Not sure who won the bowling tournament.