Friday, December 17, 2010

Peace for Cathy

For those of you who follow this blog, you'll know right away that it's not being written by its founder and CEO today. I'm Deb.

Cathy was blessed with a gift of writing.  Me?  Not so much. 

My siblings Tom and Mary, my stepmom Kris, and I headed for Omaha at 6:45 am.  We had no idea how the roads were going to be after the ice and sleet the night before.  I prayed before going to bed the night before that the weather would not prevent us from being with Cathy on her surgery day.  Cathy had been there for Terri and me every step of our journey. It would have been devastating to have not been able to send her off to surgery with a big hug and to let her know how proud we were. 

Thank goodness I didn't hear my cell phone ringing.  Cathy and John left for Omaha 45 minutes before we did this morning.  Cathy didn't care for the conditions and seeing cars and semi's in the ditches didn't help.  She called my home phone to tell me not to chance it.  However, my daughter Sydney informed her that we had departed.  That's when Cathy placed a call to my cell phone which I didn't hear. Good thing.
The interstate improved and Tom, our driver, got us all to Omaha safely.  But first we made a stop in Lincoln to pick up Terri, and for the rest of the way, we all wondered how Cathy was doing, what she was thinking, and how her spirits were holding up.  We couldn't wait to get to the hospital to see her before the nurse wheeled her off to surgery. 

As we entered her hospital room, she was smiling and seemed calm.  "Johnny", as she affectionately calls her husband, at least acted as though he really might be happy to see us.  John is just a big ol' teddy bear once you get past the growl. Even though he gets "Browned" out easily, his term for spending too much time with all of the Brown family, he makes Mary and me lunch every other Tuesday.  It's one of our favorite days.

Cathy was so relieved to see we had made it safely.  Amazingly, John said Cathy had slept most of the way to Omaha.  I was pretty sure she wasn't going to get much if any sleep the night before. 

"Were you talking about your world history class in the car?" Tom teased John.  "That'll put her out faster than any meds."

Seeing Cathy in that hospital bed was so surreal.  That had been me just three weeks ago and Terri three months before that.  We were so ready to get Cathy to this day and so glad it was finally here. Shortly she would be "on the other side" of this journey - the recovery side, the healing side, the side where a huge burden has literally been lifted off  her chest. 

Cathy looked so angelical lying in her hospital bed.  For those of you who believe you know Cathy with her warm smile, keen sense of humor, the sincerity in her voice and heart when she's talking about somebody who is ill or hurting, or the hundreds of rosaries she has said for so many - well, there's another side.  And now, after every family secret she's blabbed about me, it's my turn.

We were all growing up together in Denver when, one afternoon, Cathy helped my brother Rick, age 7, and me, age 5, into our swimming suits. 

"Walk on down to the convent," she told us. "The nuns got a brand new backyard pool, and if you just ring the doorbell and ask, they'll let you swim!"

Rick and I were excited beyond belief.  Our little legs carried us down that block so fast. We could not wait to jump in that pool!  A nun, covered head to toe with a black habit and veil as was the custom, answered the door and stared at us rather strangely. 

"We're here to swim in your pool!" we burst out.

That good sister looked at us as if we were lunatics

"There's no pool here," she regretfully informed  us.  "You need to go home now."

Then we heard the snorting. Across the street and behind a bush were Cathy, Joe and Mick, gasping for air because they were laughing so hard.

 Yep.  That was our sweet Mrs. Howard.

Cathy came through her surgery just as Dr. Grange and Dr. Montag had hoped.  There appeared to be no surprises, and everything went very well.  Cathy and John's youngest son Tommy was able to join us after his semester finals.  When Cathy was out of recovery and John, Tommy, and the rest of us surrounded her, I detected a new twinkle in her eye - a twinkle that indicated she knew how much she was loved.  But the biggest part of that twinkle was the freedom she felt.  She was finally free -not just of breast cancer - but of all the worry she carried for me, my sisters and herself.  Cathy always felt it was her mission to protect us from breast cancer.  As the oldest of  ten, she witnessed and comprehended the battle our young mom fought more intimately than we did. 

Cathy has been such a gift to us and others. I am so happy that she has given herself this gift of peace.  Welcome to the other side, my dear sister.  I love you so much!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Almost there...

The presents are wrapped, the laundry’s done, the bills are paid.

And Thursday is it.

I don’t have to go through with this, I think.  Maybe I’ll call Dr. Grange. 

“I’ve changed my mind,” I’ll say.  “I’ve decided to take my chances.”

She’d understand.

The trouble is I had to go and start this damn blog.  I’ve been milking sympathy from everybody I know for months.  Some things, like secret elopements and double mastectomies, you just don’t back out of.

My stomach is turning over like a baby in utero when it rolls over.  But I’m forcing myself to be calm.  I’m not losing arms or legs or kidneys or any thing useful.  I’m getting rid of a couple of pockets of fat.  Is that so awful? 

People talk about “losing your femininity” with the loss of your breasts.  But my boobs barely put in an appearance until I became pregnant.  Even then, I never used them to breastfeed.  The truth is, my boobs are nothing to write home about.

But Terri and Deb said something that saddened me.  They have no sensation in their chests.  It’s like your jaw, Terri said, when the dentist squirts novacaine in it.  You touch your mouth and feel the strangeness of your own skin, but it’s as if you’re touching another person.

I’ve realized, in the last few months, what I really like to use my boobs for is hugging.  It has been a joy to hold my husband, my sons, baby animals and heartbroken students close to me.  When I hug people I love, I suppose my breasts feel like an extension of myself.

But it’s a silly thing to whine about.  What would Mom have given to have 40 more years with her family?  Breasts or no breasts, I still have long arms, and I’ll use them to hug every member of my family all at the same time if I want to.

I’m putting the fear in a little compartment off by itself today.  Instead, I will think of my husband John and how he will fold his six foot, seven inch body into a tiny little hospital recliner to nurse me through the night.  I will think about Kenny and Tommy coming home for Christmas and all the Christmases to come with my grandchildren.  I will think about the 60 members of my family squeezing into my brother Joe and his beautiful wife Stef’s house, and how the little ones will belt out “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!” with all their might, and how someone besides me will open up the Bible and read the tender story from the Book of Luke this Christmas Eve.  And I’ll think about next Christmas when breast cancer is so far behind my sisters and me, that no matter how hard we look, we can’t see it anymore.

That’s the secret to all of this.  You just have to think about the people you love.

So I will not be afraid.  My sisters, Terri and Deb, and my mother Patti have given Mary and me a great gift.  It is because of their breast cancers that we are allowed to have this operation. 

And having the chance to grow old is a pretty good Christmas gift.

I’m almost there.