Saturday, April 06, 2013

Fuck Cancer, again

Those of you who keep an eye on this blog would probably be interested to know a rather unsavory bit of personal news.

It seems my dear sister has once again been diagnosed with cancer. She writes an excellent blog about her life, and now, her travails. It's hard to recommend it more strongly.

Johanna, of course, fought and conquered Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was a teenager, just beyond driving age. Her bravery was on full display in that battle. It was never even really a question, for her, if she would beat it. Her confidence proved not only well-founded, but immeasurably therapeutic, to her I'm sure, but most notably to those of us who watched her kick that cancer's ass.

Unfortunately, it was the more traditional therapy - the radiation to her upper chest - that would strike a blow felt after more than a decade of healthy living. Last year, in a routine check-up, they found some irregular growths in one of her breasts. They turned out to be laced with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. It was not full-blown cancer - and being "in situ" had no danger of spreading into her bloodstream - but it was not benign, and far enough down the road that fairly immediate action was required, especially given her history. She did a lumpectomy, removed the bad tissue and was declared cancer-free, again.

Then last week, following another routine exam, they found some more. As Johanna points out, since the original DCIS was successfully removed, and thus cured, this is now the third time she has had cancer.

The only real option right now, in terms of treatment, is a mastectomy. The only question is when, and whether she cuts off just her infected breast now or takes them both off right away rather than prolong that eventuality. The one good thing - or 12 good things, as she has so wryly observed ("Most women want perky boobs. I'd like to think instead about the perks of NO boobs!") - is that once the operation is complete, she will be cured yet again, and it really should be for good this time.

Of course, it's all complicated by a number a factors, not least of all that she's just a few months shy of 30 and wants desperately to have children and, preferably, breast feed them. (If she was 40 and in the same circumstance, she likely would have gotten the double mastectomy last year.) She's also getting married in August and obviously would prefer to fill out her wedding dress. It's awkward timing, to say the least.

I (again) strongly suggest checking out her blog, called Life Meets Ministry, both to get the technical lowdown and to immerse yourself in the raw and heartfelt musings of a woman who has faced the worst and come back smiling. It is very inspiring stuff, especially for the more religiously inclined. She's angry right now, frustrated and pissed, but never bitter. She's gracious and thoughtful and living proof that quitting is the never an option.

Here is just a small passage that kind of perfectly exemplifies Johanna's unmatched spirit in this whole ordeal:

But they still couldn't be sure, so the doctor wanted to do a biopsy - that's #5 for me, folks. Someone jokingly asked if I brought my punch card, so I could get my free one soon. While I waited, Dr. Skinner stopped by to check in with me. It was fun to see her! We gave her a save-the-date for our wedding, as well as one of the nurses - both were very touched.
Note the dramatic shifting of tone within just a couple sentences. That's Johanna in a nutshell: She gets beat down and pops right back up with selfless grace.

This all could not be happening to a less deserving person. But she's also the person I know who will be able to put this in the rear view faster than anyone else. Her story has already inspired thousands. As the plot churns on, so many more will no doubt learn life-long lessons from her tale. I just wish it didn't have to come at so grave a cost to her.

Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

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