Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Day to Reflect

Today isn't just another day. Today is December 15th, 2009... the 18th Anniversary of my Grandma Darlene passing away from her battle with cancer. I never knew cancer until she was diagnosed. Every year, December 15th makes me stop and reflect. When I hear her name, I immediately think of her last few years battling the disease. Although I was only 14 when she died, I still have plenty of positive memories of her from my childhood... yet I think about the difficult days filled with chemotherapy and her uncomfortable wigs. It bothers me that I don't automatically think of the good times. It makes me sad to think that I could someday hear someone speak of my parents and my mind would take me back to cancer, yet again.

This week I found myself day-dreaming about my Grandma and comparing her battle to that of my parents. I think about her external port that hung outside of her chest and how difficult it was for her to keep it clean. She often needed the help of others to ensure it was functioning properly and kept clean so she wouldn't get an infection. Medicine has come a long way in the past 18 years. Both of my parents have internal ports that don't require cleaning, and certainly don't hang out of their chest as yet another reminder of their daily battle with cancer.

My Grandma experienced extreme nausea from her chemotherapy and from what I remember, very few drugs were available to help keep her sickness under control. In 3 1/2 years, I have never seen either of my parents vomit from their nausea. They experience discomfort, but medicine has advanced and there are numerous drugs that help them live a normal life.

I don't remember seeing my Grandma without a wig on once she began to lose her hair. I guess it's possible that I did, but I certainly don't remember it. Back then, nobody seemed to talk about cancer. You didn't have the pink ribbons on everything at the grocery store and you didn't hear about cancer walks or other fundraising events. Whether it was because she was self-conscious about losing her hair, or because it wasn't especially encouraged by society to walk around with a bald head, she always took the time to style a wig before leaving the house. When my mom started losing her hair, we got out the video camera, opened a bottle of wine, and had a head shaving party. My mom had professional pictures taken with her beautiful bald head exposed to the world for all to see. Although it was no doubt a shock for her to see her hair falling out, she embraced the moment and viewed it as a stepping stone to recovery. As medicine has changed, so has societies view of the disease.

My dad had chemo today and he learned that his CEA count has risen to 93. That means his cancer is active. He looked exhausted tonight and he seemed a little down. My mom was scheduled to have a procedure on Friday to help resolve her acid reflux problem and help her to control her cough, but it has been cancelled. She has decided to give her body some time to react to the new drugs before she chooses to operate. Everyone seems to agree with her choice to lay low and relax for the next few weeks so she can enjoy the holidays.

As my dad and I drove to the cemetery this evening to put roses on my Grandma's grave I thought about my dad and how he must be feeling. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that he wasn't much older than me when he lost his mom back in 1991. He watched her fight for her life with grace and strength and rarely complain about a thing. I wonder if he is scared. I wonder if he thinks of her everyday and wishes he could just pick up the phone and call her. I watch both of my parents going through this difficult time and I am so proud of them for not giving up and continuing to truly live. I have no doubt that they inspire people every day.

So, as we reflect on the past and think of the loved ones who we've lost, it's also the time to appreciate the present and be grateful for the advances in medicine and the advances in society as a whole. We have come a long way in 18 years but we still have a long way to go.

Wishing on the big bright star in the sky,


Barry Lund said...


It was nice to read your recent blog. You certainly have a way with words. Your parents can be very proud of the kids they have raised. I wouldn't have expected any less from them! I knew your grandmother quite well. My mother worked with her at the post office. She, too, was a wonderful person. I think of your parents daily. I have known them both for over 45 years. You can take comfort in knowing that they both have quite a following. Her's hoping that the Schmitt's have a truly wonderful holiday season. I am sure the only thing on the Schmitt Christmas wish list this year, is a cure for cancer. I hope you get your wish!

Anonymous said...

You are a beautiful person, a beautiful daughter and a beautiful writer. Such gifts.

Anonymous said...

That was absolutely wonderful to read and you are correct, your parents inspire many people every day, even people they have never met. Merry Christmas to your family, as you ALL are an inspiration!