Annette is my oldest daughter and her sister Jenn arrived six years later. They are both precious to me. On January 22, I was driving to visit Jenn who lives in Eau Claire where I also live when Annette telephoned to tell me the final diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer. I pulled over because a cancer diagnosis of Stage 4 is not the sort of thing you casually chat about while driving. My reaction was to go numb. I have no idea what I said to her. Later on that evening, the realization of what the diagnosis meant hit me squarely in my heart. I didn’t want to lose her; she shines a light into my life. I love her dearly and fiercely. A few days later, I drove to St. Paul to spend time with her and accompany her on medical visits. The first thing I did was wrap my arms around her and hold her tightly in my embrace for a very long time.
Gradually over these months of post-diagnosis life, I’ve become hope filled. She is receiving very powerful chemicals designed to kill the cancer cells. As the weeks pass and the doctors and nurses adjust the drug dosage to lessen their painful side effects, she has begun to start living her life under the “new-normal”. That’s the thing about human beings: we adjust to whatever our current circumstances are. That’s called resilience, and we humans are a resilient bunch, including my daughter. The doctor when he gave the diagnosis didn’t mince words, but didn’t cast gloom and doom either. “There is no cure,” he said to us, “but there is maintenance. Don’t think of your life in terms of weeks or months, but in terms of years. You can certainly live a long and fulfilling life.” I believe that. And I believe that life bought back through medical care can be as happy as any of our lives are, and perhaps even more so.
In February of 2020, Annette and her husband Fred joined me, and my travel companions, my sister Nancy and her husband Mike, on a vacation to Tucson. I had been planning this vacation for a year and rented a cozy duplex in a residential neighborhood for the time there. Annette and Fred planned to fly down and spend a week with me at the duplex. Mike and Nancy planned to move to a hotel during their stay. We were on pins and needles for weeks; would they still be able to come? The fact that Anne must receive chemo once a week for two years made it clear that the time they spent in Tucson would have to be shortened, but I still hoped she could come. I knew it would be good for her and good for me to do something fun, something not connected to cancer, and I thought a little sunshine and warmth would help too. I was never so happy as the day Annette and Fred flew in and drove to the duplex. It wouldn’t be a week, but it would be five days.
The first day Annette and I visited a salon and had our nail done. She found a salon nearby that carried vegan and non-toxic manicure supplies. This was only my second manicure and Annette’s third so it was special for both of us and we were doing it together. The next day we set out to see sights and also explore the wide range of food available in a city the size of Tucson. We ate Sonoran hot dogs, Mexican, Italian and Ethiopian food, and much acclaimed cooking “like Mom’s” at Bobo’s which really was! One of our most enjoyable activities was touring the Botanical Garden in Tucson where we spent a lot of time in the butterfly room where hundreds of species of butterflies from around the world flew. Annette and Fred went off alone on their last full day in Tucson to hike a canyon.
I held back tears when I had to say goodbye. But I was grateful that we’d had this time together. Anne reported to me that on the flight home, she enjoyed looking out the airplane window and watching the sun set. It reminded her that she was still able to experience the beauty around her.
For all of us, time is short. None of us know how much time we have left. We need to make the best of our time here on earth, cancer diagnosis or not.