I would love to be able to say to you that I was brave and strong as I faced a diagnosis of late stage ovarian cancer. The truth is, as soon as we got home from the hospital, I collapsed in my husband’s arms in a flood of bitter tears. I stayed in a depressed state with little interest in anything for several days. Then I began to climb out of the pit of despair. Within another two days I resolved to fight the cancer and fight it hard.
I bristled at those who sternly advised me to pray for strength. I do not practice meditation, or yoga. So, why the turnaround? At age 60 I did have a very nice life–a husband who loved me, a learning disabled stepdaughter who needed me and a rewarding career advocating for policies I strongly believed in as a lobbyist for nonprofit public health organizations in Washington, D.C. I also had something else that was very special–Naked Mountain, a rural Virginia property we bought for weekend getaways that allowed me to become immersed in nature. It always refreshed my soul.
All of that was worth fighting for.
I was otherwise healthy because for three decades I spent every other day working out in a gym, and took daily brisk walks in our neighborhood. I also prepared healthy meals with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, and only low-fat meats and dairy. We rarely ate processed foods, and never snacks or soda. I looked and felt great. So my body was prepared. I would use this healthy platform to fight the cancer as long and hard as I could.
It worked. After eight months of multiple surgeries, nine cycles of chemotherapy, painful repeated life-threatening infections and debilitating fatigue, this prepared body won the war. I learned this when, shortly before my last chemotherapy, my oncologist said he was optimistic I might be cured.
Then, just a few days after celebrating this good news, my wonderful world that I had fought so hard to regain fell apart. My husband Tim suddenly fell ill. He had sharp pains in his abdomen, threw up coffee ground-like material and passed out. Although weak myself from months of chemotherapy, I helped him into the emergency room of the nearest hospital. After an endoscopy showed his digestive system was completely blocked, emergency surgery was performed.
The next day I drove alone from our home in Reston, Virginia to Johns Hopkins Hospital, 60 miles away in Baltimore, for my last chemotherapy. As I was being infused with cancer-killing drugs for the last time, I called Tim recovering in the intensive care unit from surgery to re-open his digestive tract. We didn’t know why it had been blocked, but surprisingly the surgeon had found an ulcer in his stomach. It took a few weeks for the pathology report, but we received Tim’s definitive diagnosis at Johns Hopkins, just a little ways down the hallway from my oncology clinic.
The surgeon told us something unimaginable. Tim’s blockage was due to cancer, advanced pancreatic cancer.
So we went into battle again to try and save our wonderful life now threatened by Tim’s even more aggressive cancer, a type that leaves just six percent of its victims alive after five years. But after four months of chemotherapy and radiation, we learned that Tim’s cancer had not subsided, it had spread. We had lost. He died in hospice with his beloved daughter and me by his side.