I’m Maria, and I wear many hats. Mom. Wife. Friend. Daughter. Speech-language pathologist. Traveler. Writer?
I also wear cancer. I wear it freakin’ well.
But this blog is about so much more than cancer. And I hope that comes through.
The “story” below is the prologue to a book I may write one day. Maybe tomorrow.
It’s Thursday afternoon, after a “chemo day” – which is actually just the start of a “chemo weekend”…but we’ll get to that later. And here I am, almost three years into this whirlwind that has become my life, ready to tell my story.
I might be writing for me.
I might be writing for Alexander.
I might be writing for you.
I guess that part doesn’t matter, but I do suppose this story should have a beginning. So here we go.
I don’t really remember 7th grade. I just don’t. People tell me about things that happened that year, and I have almost no recollection. My dad died from prostate cancer in August of 1995, just before going back to school. I do recall one kind teacher giving me a big hug and a Julie of the Wolves book. I remember asking to switch classes so I could be with closer friends in case I needed “support”. I was never hungry. I cried in the stairwell. I did my homework.
I had to write an autobiography at some point –maybe that was in 8th grade. Anyway, after I wrote it, I came to the realization that up until that point (I was 12 or 13), I categorized my life according to when people died. It seemed like life consisted of taking care of someone who was sick, and then watching them die. Not that I did the caring-for. That was my mom’s job (she’s a super-hero).
My dad’s whole family had cancer. And they were all gone in the course of five or six years. First my Nana; I was 6 or 7. Then my Aunt Rose Marie. That was 4th grade. Then Poppop, who lived with us. 5th grade. Then my dad, in between 6th and 7th. The cancers varied; my recollection of their treatments, surgeries, and hospitalizations isn’t great; I wish I knew more of their stories. I do know that I hated cancer. Hate. I hate cancer.
That wasn’t the end of it all. By the time I graduated from college, I had probably been to the viewings and/or funerals of at least 10 people who were close to me, including my cousin Carole, who died at age 45. We all said, “At least it wasn’t cancer,” but who knows? Cancer is creepy and sneaky and it hides, sometimes for years.
I miss Carole.
I miss them all.
Then God gave me – all of us – a break. I graduated from college with a B.A. in Spanish and a B.S. in Speech-Language Pathology. I moved back home, worked as a speech-language pathologist in central Pennsylvania, and re-met Tim, my husband-to-be (we had actually graduated from high school together!). I stayed at home for about eight months, and then was accepted to teach English in Spain under a Fulbright grant. I spent a wonderful 10 months in Madrid, and then came home to go to grad school. Grad school was not my favorite, but I met great people and had some pretty fantastic clinical experiences. I graduated with my M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders in 2009, and promptly started a job in the Harrisburg area. This is where Tim and I settled in – we got married in 2010. We spent a few years working, playing, and traveling (to Belize, Ukraine, Peru, Hawaii, etc.!), and then my beautiful Alexander was born on July 16, 2014. My pregnancy was great, labor wasn’t so bad, and he was healthy and perfect.
My life was beautiful. I loved every minute. It was full of joy, travel, learning, teaching, playing, painting, smiling, singing. (Just so you know, it is still beautiful. And just as full.)
I had my 6-week follow-up with my OB-GYN, and everything looked great.
But about two weeks later, I noticed a lump in my abdomen. Crap, I gave myself a hernia! I had started to go back to yoga, running, and climbing, and I was wearing myself out! Out. Of. Shape. So I went to my OB-GYN and they had me schedule an ultrasound.
That very ultrasound, some blood work, a CT scan, a liver biopsy, a PET scan, and a colonoscopy later, I was given the very specific and very scary diagnosis of stage IV adenocarcinoma, which is a colon cancer, that had spread to my liver, lungs, and lymph nodes.
I screamed. I banged the floor. I cried. For days. Weeks. I wanted to sleep all the time, because maybe when I woke up it would all be a dream. I didn’t want to get close to Alexander because I was so, so scared. I didn’t want to fall in love. Also, by this time, my abdomen had become so distended that I looked a good seven months pregnant again, and my enlarged, tumor-ridden liver pushed on my stomach so much that I could barely eat. My energy level plummeted so tremendously that I could not even stand in the shower. I couldn’t walk more than 20 feet without squatting to rest.
How was this possible? I have always been healthy and active! I ate mostly healthy foods and had been super-attentive of my diet the whole time I was pregnant. I have never smoked. I did drink alcohol on occasion, but not over the past year when I was pregnant and nursing!! I exercised, even during my pregnancy. Heck, I rock-climbed 5 days before Alexander was born.
I went to church.
I tried to be kind to others.
I LOVED my life. (And I still do!!)
What did I do wrong? Nothing. Maria, you have done nothing wrong.
But I do have a mutated gene. Since I was so young at my diagnosis (31), I had a slew of genetic testing done. I have a mutated gene. BRCA-2, as a matter of fact, which is clearly linked to breast and ovarian cancer. This little devil increases your chance of breast cancer from about 10% to 85%. And the ovarian, which is much scarier, is increased to about a 45% chance.
Um, people. Doctors. Genetic counselors. I have colon cancer.
I know, Maria. That’s what’s weird. This mutation apparently can surface as colon cancer.
Well that’s great. Thanks. Thanks, guys. Thanks, God.
I started treatment on November 13, 2014, 10 days after my 32nd birthday. I also started an “informative rant page” that I like to call a blog – on carepages.com. Well, my cousin Maura started it for me, but I did the writing! Fast forward to now, as I transfer all of those posts to here. This website domain that I own (which is cool, right?)
After some suggestions from dear friends, I have decided to share that blog with you. I know it’s going to be hard for me to re-read my story. Sometimes I like to forget, you know.
But maybe it will help me. Or you. Or someone you know. And maybe Alexander will read it one day.