Living well after 10 years of Cancer
“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.” – Voltaire
Leave it to a French philosopher to give us a quotation that could be so vehemently argued for and against. I’m guessing that when he wrote this somewhere back in the 1700′s, Voltaire wasn’t speaking of a wife who had cancer, and then proceeded to beat the crap out of it over the last 10 years. Ten freaking years. It’s left its scars. It reminds us daily of what once was. But it also offers us the ability to focus on the fact that we have the power to control what happens to our happiness today. And that makes life so very wonderful.
It was April 15th, 2002 that my wife Traci was diagnosed with cancer. It was before I knew who she was, but as she tells the story, it was something that was taken with the attitude of “I’m not worried. Just tell me what I need to do to beat this.” And she began the process of Chemo and eventually getting a bone-marrow transplant later that year in October. Doctors ruled her “Cancer free” which simply meant that the fight against cancer was won, and now it was time to battle the fight of all fights. The fight to live, and live well.
Meeting Traci was one of the greatest blessings that I’ve ever received. But learning how to live life with her has given me more joy than I can express in a silly little blog. The last few weeks have been trying to say the least, both physically and emotionally taxing. But the worst is now past, and it seems as though the best times are ahead.
10 years of being “cancer free” also means 10 years of post cancer pills to pop, and countless other medications, treatments, and side effects (too many to list without looking at the book that is one’s medical chart). But the long and short of it is, there have been countless appointments, for a long time several per week which involved sitting in hours of Los Angeles traffic to see doctors, oncologists, surgeons, and a bevy of nurses, who have all seemed to have become family more than they have become a team of people looking to provide a cure.
A few months ago, years of meds destroying her teeth finally came to a head and immediate action needed to be taken. Traci’s post-cancer meds had basically corroded her teeth so terribly that they began to rot in her mouth, some of which began cracking and falling out. She needed to have something done to fix them because they were such a lightning rod for infection, which would lead to so many life-ending possibilities. So the best solution presented was to simply remove all of her teeth that were rotted, and replace them with a denture. The process alone took months to setup, and in February we finally got the ball officially rolling at the UCLA School of Dentistry. Traci had a few appointments where they took X-ray’s, created molds for the new teeth that would be created for her, and a few other tests to get ready for the day, which was supposed to be on Monday, April 9th.
The dentist would need to knock Traci out to extract the more than 20 teeth that would need to come out which posed a problem. Traci’s veins no longer respond to IV’s, thanks to years to IV’s, blood draws, PICC lines, and various other procedures which have rendered her veins unusable for anything other than to get the necessary amount of blood to her limbs. So to remedy the problem, a trip to Radiology was in order to have an access line surgically inserted. So on the Friday before her teeth were to be taken out, the line was scheduled to be put in. The trouble was, after trying for about an hour and a half, digging into Traci’s arm proved fruitless, and a different approach needed to be taken. It was a crushing blow that had more emotional pain than physical associated with it. No central line meant no dental procedure. The teeth extraction and denture insertion would have to wait util May 18th, as that was the next available date.
But the next Tuesday, Traci’s dentist called and said “We have an opening this Friday if you can make it.” We got on the phone and booked another procedure to this time, have the line inserted in her chest, and then run under her skin through her neck to gain access. The procedure was much more invasive, and much more painful, but it was eventually successful two days before the extractions, and on Friday the 13th of April, 2012, Traci had twenty-five of her teeth removed during a 4 1/2 hour procedure, and then another 2 hour procedure to have her new teeth put in.
I will never forget the look that she had the moment that she held up a small mirror and took her first look at her new teeth and said “Oh…they’re so pretty!” as she teared up. In ten years, cancer has taken away her hair, the ability to walk, and finally just about every tooth that was left in her face. Cancer has taken too many hours in car rides to the doctor, too many hospital stays, and too many days to count simply “dealing” with the medical necessities of staying alive. But 10 years after being diagnosed with “The Big C”, Traci had a great day.
Today’s visit to the wound care clinic had her nurses say “You’re done coming in. Your legs are healed.” Ten years of cancer crap, 4 years of weekly visits to wound care every single freaking Monday, to have the dressings on her damaged legs dressed under heavy drugs and countless tears….all of the sudden….done. Just over….just like that.
The news of course brought tears of joy, and we said our “goodbye” to her nurses with hugs. Probably out of the ordinary for virtually every other patient that ever walked through their door, but it was the appropriate send off. They will be missed, and likely visited again just to check in on them, and see how they’re doing. They are after all, family now.
So that has been the last couple of weeks. Even though cancer has taken away so much, it has effectively pushed the reset button on life with a new smile that has my wife glowing like the day that we got married. Traci and I have had our share of experiences since the healing of her legs has began, and it’s a happy beginning to our story together. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen with the two of us in our adventure of life together, and as that French Philosopher put it, give ourselves the gift of living well.