June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.
This is Part III of the July 20 post, "My sister's treatment at MD Anderson."
Joan was in the hospital until the end.
On Wednesday, March 19, 1975, she slipped into a coma. It was then that I had to accept she was dying. I placed my chair next to her bed and sat there all day, only leaving to bathe and change clothes.
My father stood at the foot of the hospital bed and when her physician came in, he asked, "Mr. McArthur, please let me know if there is anything you all may need." My dad answered, "I want my girl to get well and come home to her family."
Part of me is gone
Her breathing was loud and death was imminent, according to her physician. You could hear her taking breaths at the nurses' station. About 4 a.m. on March 23, 1975, her breathing was slowing down. It reminded me of a kitten purring very softly. On that beautiful Palm Sunday at 6:50 a.m., with Sammy, my parents, Arthur and I standing near her bedside, she entered the Gates of Heaven.
With tears pouring down my face, I stared at her. She had only a few strands of hair on her head, no eyebrows or eyelashes and her face was as round as the moon. I literally heard my heart break at that moment. One half of me was gone.
I had no idea just how ill she was, and it is difficult for me, even today, to realize how I thought she would be OK. Being a twin makes a tremendous difference in how your thought process works. I didn't realize that at the time.
I had prayed to God to let her live. Her daughter and two sons needed her. I could not live without her. We were the same.
When we met at the funeral home for the family visitation, I looked at her. Oh my goodness she was beautiful; her makeup was flawless and her favorite wig was perfect.
Her face was so peaceful and I knew then that God had given me my miracle. Joan and I never had to say goodbye. We were too close and there was no way she or I could have discussed her dying. She knew that. I knew that.
God will make a way for each one of us. We sometimes may have to remind ourselves that the path may be long and winding, even if we may not understand why she had to leave us. It was His plan.
Almost 25 years to the day after Joan died, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on March 31, 2000.
The technology used in 1975 has changed and there were so many more choices I could make for my own treatment. I don't have the answer to why I have lived 12 years and she lived only 2½ years.
I know that strides have been made in the field of research, and MD Anderson has so much more to offer.
I have learned that breast awareness is so vital, and ovarian cancer can be cured if we recognize the symptoms at an early stage.
Joan and I had a wonderful life and I thank God almost daily in reflection for this companion that I was blessed to have for 38 years. We had everything you could want for a perfect life, with the exception of time, to grow old together.
It has been 37 years this past March that she has been in heaven. I think of her every day. And through counseling with Michael Fisch, M.D., and Marlene Lockey, senior social worker, from March 2001 to March 2003, I came to realize I must remember how she lived, not how she died.
I know that using the experimental drugs did not let Joan live longer, though I am sure it helped many other young mothers become cancer free in ensuing years. That was Joan's gift to them.
I thank the research done at MD Anderson and know in my heart that lives have been saved and many, many 38-year-old mothers or daughters are cancer free. I thank God that my beloved Joan participated in the trial therapy so others could live.