Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why you should stop bitching and be thankful

I have another reason for feeling good about life in general right now. (See previous post.) I’m healthy. I may not look healthy, as I’ve got plenty of pounds to shed and stuffing my face with holiday confections and gallons of wine isn’t helping matters. But I have no major health concerns. I suppose I was taking it for granted when my friend Robin, on the way back from Target to pick up one of her prescriptions last week, said, “You’re not fat. You’re healthy. And you’re so lucky for that.” God, did I feel like a pig or what? Robin has pancreatic cancer. The “good kind,” if that even makes sense. She’s at the three-years-post-diagnosis mark and while she has remained cancer-free since surgery to remove half her pancreas (and some other assorted, somewhat unnecessary organs), the past three years have been littered with various health complications. When I was driving her around last week she was one-day post some sort of freaky down-the-esophagus procedure to drain fluid buildup in her liver-pancreas area. The fluid was making what was left of her pancreas miserable (she says, “you would be pissed, too, if you had been sitting in a bath for three years,”) and was pushing against her stomach causing a kind of gastric bypass effect. Essentially, she couldn’t keep much food down. While good for the diet, it was not so good for overall health. She’s lost what I’ve gained these past 10 years I’ve known her. Anyway, she couldn’t drive for 24 hours, and I was ahead on my weekly workload, so I chauffeured her around to two different Targets to fill a prescription while she wobbled a bit and carried a plastic shopping bag just in case she needed to puke what little she had eaten that day.

I suppose being around Robin somehow reminded me of Melisa Waller. I had found her blog while Googling recent news on the blood thinner heparin and cancer for the blogs I write for Beasley Allen Law Firm. Her blog is hosted by EmpowHer and the picture of her shows her lying in a hospital bed. I would read one or two of her posts before heading back to my heparin searches. Melissa started writing in February 2009, just weeks after she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She was 31. Since I had moved on to other subjects from researching heparin for the law firm I hadn’t encountered her blog lately. Last weekend, after my Target excursion with Robin, I thought of Melissa and started to worry about her. Freaky to worry about someone you never met. Anyway, she had said in her blog that the average lifespan for someone with her type of cancer at stage 4 is 14 months. So I think my concern was with merit. When I finally located her on EmpowHer, I saw she had a recent post, so that was a relief. Then I started reading her blog, beginning with the first one she wrote in February. I’ve been reading it these past few days on my iPhone at night when I can’t sleep, in carpool line, and when I have fragments of time during my day that I need to occupy. For someone who’s facing a life sentence, Melissa sure doesn’t seem very oppressed by it. I swear I think I’d cry everyday and then try to blame everyone and everything. I’m not sure what fascinates me so much about her blog (and I went so far as to visit her personal Web site,, but this girl is in quite a fight.

I’m about halfway through her blog and when I catch up to current time, I’m going to send her a message. Not sure what I’ll say. What do you say to someone you’ve been stalking simply because you find her personal story so compelling? Hope she doesn’t think I’m a freak, but since I have stalked her, I feel like I need to, you know, fess up. But also let her know I’m thinking about her, pulling for her. And, frankly, hope never to experience what she is going through. Since February, she has been in the hospital more than a month, maybe more. Had several visits to the emergency room. Been doubled-over in pain, daily. Had two blood clots. Three surgeries to “cement” her spine back together. Fluid drained from her lung. And numerous setbacks in her chemotherapy sessions, treatments that could extend her life but yet are postponed because her life keeps getting kicked in the ass by cancer.

Last night I read several of Melissa’s postings on my iPhone as Rick slept quietly next to me. In the May 26th post, titled “Staying Strong,” Melissa finally expressed what I was feeling for her. “I was talking with Wes today and I was just telling him how I miss my old life. I miss the fast-paced lifestyle that I used to live. I miss planning for the future. I miss being intimate. I REALLY MISS driving! I miss eating a meal without having to give myself a shot in my stomach or taking a cupful of pills. I miss working out and doing pilates and yoga at the Village. I miss being able to go to Postino's and having a couple of glasses of wine without worrying if I am going to wake up the next day. There are many, many things that I miss about my life prior to lung cancer.”

And then she said, “That’s why I hope you as you read this don’t take for granted all the wonderful, daily things that seem simple.”

There. It hit me right at that moment. Reading those words and feeling guilty for bitching about being fat and having to do laundry again and that we have too many Christmas parties to attend this year and not enough time to just sit in a lump of leaves in our backyard. God, I’m so selfish.

I read a few more posts last night before turning off the iPhone. But first, I checked the date, just in case my iPhone cache blanks out and I need to locate my place on her blog. The last post I read was published on June 18, 2009, the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I’m not sure that’s significant. Maybe just coincidental. But whatever. It meant something to me.

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