When I was a schoolgirl here in Texas back in the 1960’s, one of my favorite class assignments was usually doled out in September. The usual excitement surrounding new classroom, new teacher and new friends was augmented by the prospect of writing that quintessential essay: what I did this summer. How I enjoyed preparing for that pouring out of my thoughts onto paper (usually with No. 2 pencil), the joy of a girl who dreamed of becoming a poet or novelist or journalist. I would expound for paragraphs about driving on family vacation to the sorority conventions Mom attended or sights along rural, Texas roadways as we motored to funerals for Daddy’s kinfolks. Sometimes the essay featured recaps of sewing classes or summer enrichment programs participated in by my big sister and me. Here’s what I would write today:
This summer, I made certain to spend quality time with my family. From babysitting our toddler grandson in Mississippi to hanging out with my daughter and son on a relaxing weekend, my husband and I were determined to reaffirm our connections to the young’uns we had nurtured all those years. We also wanted them to have good memories of me as I journeyed through cancer, so they could see I was not curled up in a corner, merely awaiting Death’s siren call. They would witness that I was prepared to go kicking and screaming all the way! I also kept up with relatives and friends far away so they, too, would know I cherished the connection.
This too-hot summer, I started a support group at my local church for those who walk this cancer road. My experiences with support groups across the nation via Zoom have been extremely positive and cathartic. I realized one day that many of my church members —Black, predominantly female and over 40—were not connected to such therapeutic resources, and yet they confronted the same issues that most cancer patients/survivors/caregivers faced with far fewer safety nets. The one solution I could offer was providing a safe space for us to interact and share. Thankfully, the new minister assigned to our congregation is an enthusiastic, compassionate young clergyman who understands the unique needs of an aging, underserved flock. He did not hesitate to lend his support to the idea. And I feel as if I have done my small part to advocate for other cancer patients in my community.
During this 66th summer season, I have confronted the stark reality of metastatic cancer while maintaining my drive to survive this battle. I was deemed NED in late January, yet six months later, digestive disturbances, decreased appetite, bloating and abdominal pains signaled something was amiss. Indeed, a scan revealed the return of my synchronous uterine serous malignancy, but this time to my peritoneum. (My cervical cancer has not returned) Two rather weird procedures to drain the abdominal fluid build-up (definitely not a process I plan to consent to do ever again!) were eerily reminiscent of a scene from the old black-and-white Frankenstein flick, with tubes running from my tummy to beakers filled with discolored liquid. And I lost 20 pounds and 5 dress sizes, triggering family and friends to suspect the worst despite my assurances that I am still ready to do battle.
Thanks to my pro-active oncologist, I started a new treatment regimen immediately after the diagnosis, daily oral chemotherapy pills and immunotherapy every three weeks has become my routine. I am gaining about one pound weekly and my doctor prescribed an appetite stimulant. Abdominal pain has greatly diminished, I can eat with much less discomfort and physical exertion is less weakening. As I explain to others, I am on the journey I first began in April 2022; this is just a fork in that same road.
What I did this summer resulted in some very key life lessons. I reassured my husband, children and cancer posse that it ain’t ever over until it ends; until then, this warrior trudges on down the road. I also discovered that even the smallest step forward is progress and my church community deserves every move to resolve health inequities. Most importantly, this summer’s travails revealed the true nature of the journey we cancer patients make every struggle should not be seen as a set-back. Indeed, I continue to awaken each morning to don God’s impenetrable armor, to lift up the prayers of those who support me and to bravely plod on over the next crest, down through the next valley along the road.
What I did this summer was persevere.
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