Early 2022 was difficult for me, with the death of my dog and some difficult cancer-related situations, but thankfully, I know wonderful people who helped pull me out of my slump.
We all have those ups and downs like a roller coaster in our lives. Frank Sinatra says it best in his song, “That’s Life.”
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet
A pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’
Flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get
Back in the race
For most of us, these highs and lows were exacerbated during the horrible worldwide pandemic. I certainly had my share of disappointments, including canceled plans, the inability to travel to visit friends and family, and losing loved ones to COVID-19.
But my worst month ever came in January 2022 as I was hit with one tragedy after another and forced to make life-changing decisions. To put it bluntly – it all sucked.
I knew my 17-year-old hearing ear dog was a miracle for living that long and could not have much time left. I dreaded making the decision she needed to go over the rainbow bridge. She could see, hear, eat and still jump up and down when she saw me. But her body was slowly deteriorating from arthritis. It was startling how quickly her health took a downward turn. I had a picture of her sitting proudly in front of our church for Advent at Christmas, and by January she was dragging both hind feet and struggling to walk.
I had to let her go and mourned her greatly. This beautiful soul had been there for me when my mother died, when I was diagnosed with cancer and through the horrible pandemic. How would I ever get along without her?
Then the next hammer fell. My cancer, which had amazingly stayed unchanged for several years, took a drastic turn for the worse. I was developing a dangerous variant that was extremely resistant to chemo of any kind. The Cleveland Clinic recommended a bone marrow transplant and initiated a dizzying set of appointments to meet the transplant doctor and genetic counselor as well as perform additional testing and endless blood work.
The next blow was that my local oncologist, who had kept me alive for 12 years, announced she was moving out of state.
I felt shattered into little pieces. I had fallen flat on my face as the song says. I do not remember much about that month as I wandered aimlessly from room to room in my apartment and did not remember what I needed to do next. I would only look at my calendar for that day’s appointments. I felt increasingly numb, and retreated from church, family and friends to lick my wounds.
Somehow, I started to pick back up each shattered piece. I had family and friends take me to doctor’s appointments. I had been told the chances of a transplant working were 50%. I got another opinion, which was more like 35%. I found out there were new treatments for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), but no real cure.
I had a long talk with my oncologist who knew me so well before she moved. When a doctor sees a patient every single month for 12 years, they are good friends. Together we decided to not have the transplant right now and continue my life, which a good one it is! I had already been told in 2010 I had an average of 104 months to live and had beaten the odds at 144 months. I was told by clinicians at two major cancer centers that I may have one to three years left. I did not want to spend a whole year recovering from the transplant and take any more precious time away from living. I was ready to move on.
I contacted the place I got my beloved Sita (my hearing ear dog) and asked for another one. They did not have one trained, but loaned me a dog to alert me at home until they could find a perfect match to help me both at home and in public. I love my new dog, Davina, and know that Sita will always have a special place in my heart, but my heart is big enough to love another dog.
Additionally, my wonderful oncologist was way ahead of me as usual. She referred me to a world-renowned specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, who I clicked with immediately. She is supervising my care and accepting my decision to take the drugs rather than undergo the bone marrow transplant. I explained that I knew there would be consequences to my decision but was willing to accept them. My oncologist referred me to another local oncologist who I admire.
The pieces have started to come together for my once-shattered life. I read one time that when we experience a huge loss the pieces break and then come together to form a new picture. That is what I am doing. I am ready to get “back in the race.”
However, I must never forget the people who helped me along the way. My family, friends and neighbors surrounded me with love. When I lost Sita, my minister came that night so I would not be alone. The church continued to pray and support me. The people at Circle Tail, where I got Sita, are looking for another dog. My oncologist was looking out for me on the way to a new life.
I will be eternally grateful to all the people who remembered me with cards, posts, emails, gifts and transportation during the worst month ever. I am ready now to face a new and different life with each of them.