Laughing with Cancer

by on September 3rd, 2010
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November 18th, 19th, and 20th: on the surface, these are just dates. However, they are the dates that a very courageous woman will be walking 60 miles, for the eighth time.

She walks for the women in her family. She walks for you and for me. She walks to Save the Twins. She walks to save lives. If you want to join her team, she’ll welcome you with open arms, but she’ll warn you in advance… “This is how we walk: We walk fast. We get it done. Then we all go back to the hotel, sit in the hot-tub, and we drink wine.”

In September of 2003, the same year Cindy turned fifty, she was blindsided with the news that she most likely had a cancerous tumor (found during a routine mammogram) which would require surgical removal. As one would expect, she was overcome with fear and thoughts such as: This can’t be! What will I do? Will I lose my breasts? I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve…

One incredibly long week later, the surgeon informed Cindy that the tumor was completely removed and confirmed that he was able to get all the margins.

The good news came just in time for a very busy weekend. And in typical “Cindy” fashion she thought, Great! Now, let’s move on and get the house ready for our family gathering.

All was well… or so she believed.

The doctor called back four days later asking to see Cindy right away (never a good thing). He had, in fact, gotten all the margins, but the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, and her hormone receptors were positive. Oh, no… here we go, Cindy’s heart dropped as she was once again filled with fear and dread. The road ahead would be long and uncertain. And she had calls to make. The hardest ones, Cindy knew, would be to her own children.

She endured six months of Chemo and radiation, which she finished in April of 2004. Now she follows up with her doctor once per year.

Sounds like the story is over, right? Well, it’s just beginning. When the difficult times come, we all have a choice to make: Can I find the good in this situation? Cindy’s story isn’t about the horrors of her disease; it’s about facing the real fears, physical agony, and emotional turmoil head on, and coming away with a brighter perspective. And it’s about laughing… even with cancer.

As the doctor was explaining the treatment plan, Cindy looked him in the eyes and said, “Don’t you dare let me die… I’m way too young. And there is no way I’m having another woman enjoy spending my life insurance… or, sleeping on my side of the bed!”

When Chemotherapy made her hair fall out in chunks, she took them from her head and placed them on her front lawn. Why, you might ask? “I wasn’t using it, so I thought the birds could use it for their nests.” Afterward, her husband looked at her and said, “You look just like your brother Bill now.” And they laughed together… because it was true.

While still on Chemo and trying to shop at her local grocery store, she was prevented from entering by the picketers. To their horror and surprise, she whipped off her wig and said in a what-do-you-expect manner, “I have cancer, okay. I have to eat.” She plopped the wig back on and walked right on through.

She didn’t wear the wig long because it was hot. Of course, people would stare-she was a six-foot tall bald lady who looked like a guy named Bill. When they would stare, Cindy wanted to say, Yes. I’m one in eight-I have cancer! But instead she would just smile. “If they want to look, let them look. At least I’m walking around and I’m alive.”

Her sister, Cheryl, joked that Cindy looked like a character from Deep Space Nine. Cindy calmly replied, “I don’t know what’s more sad, that you are telling your sister… the one who has cancer, that she looks like somebody on a space movie… or that you actually know what someone on Deep Space Nine looks like.”

In all seriousness, Cindy sees her cancer as a blessing that many people never get to experience. Sounds strange, right? Cindy explains, “I am a lucky woman because I am one of the few women that have really gone through something tough, and now I know how much my husband, friends, and family really love me. The cancer brought our whole family closer together. As a family, we are more aware and compassionate toward others… and I got to find out who my true friends were.”

Her oncologist once asked her who would take her to her chemo appointments. “My friends will,” Cindy replied. Hesitant to burst her bubble, he warned her, “People always say that they will, but they rarely follow through.”

But Cindy’s family and friends never let her down. She set a goal to walk the four and a half miles from her home to her last chemo appointment. When the day finally arrived, it was raining. Just as she was about to leave, her friend, Britta, showed up at Cindy’s door. “I’m walking with you,” she said.

A similar thing happened later in 2004-Cindy heard about a walk to raise money for the Susan G. Komen foundation and was going to walk alone; when her friends heard of this, they formed a team called “Save the Twins” and all six walked sixty miles over three days; they crossed the finish line together. Now, with a team of nine, it’s tradition.

The team raises money all year playing “Bunco for Boobs”. Cindy’s husband shares in the fundraising efforts with his own version: “Texas Hold ‘em for Tatas”.

As far as the future is concerned, Cindy says, “I wouldn’t change a thing. Even if the cancer comes back, I got a chance to really live. I’m still living. I’m happy in my life, and I’m satisfied. More than satisfied… I’m gratified. I used to long to travel the world, but I don’t anymore. I just want to enjoy being alive for my grand kids, my kids, and my husband… I couldn’t ask for more.”

When she finds the fear creeping in, Cindy holds on to the words engraved in a bracelet given to her by her daughter: If God leads you to it, He’ll bring you through it.

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