My husband and I were living less than 10 minutes from the beach in Venice, Fla. I was on the beach every morning for yoga with friends and each evening for a sunset walk. I was substitute teaching at the local schools, doing volunteer work, participating in a book club, meeting friends for lunch, welcoming visitors who escaped the cold winters in the northeast, and heading to the Dallas area every few months to see the cutest grandchildren on the planet.
But then everything turned upside down.
An esophageal cancer diagnosis
I had been having trouble swallowing and assumed it was acid reflux. When the call came that I had a much bigger problem, I was stunned. It wasn't acid reflux, but rather esophageal cancer symptoms. Esophageal cancer? I had never heard of it.
This was serious. This was scary. The statistics were terrifying.
"Do you know what scares me most?" I said to my husband, Jerry, shortly after things began to sink in. "What scares me most isn't that I might die. What scares me most is that I might die because I didn't get the best treatment possible because I didn't want to leave home, because I couldn't give up the beach for a few months."
I knew the local oncologists were good. I also knew I needed to explore all my options. I called my daughter, Erin. In less than a day, she got back to me.
"You're going to MD Anderson in Houston," she said.
"Do I have to? " I said slowly.
"Yes," said my daughter, who had suddenly taken charge. "Your cancer isn't a common one, and you need to be in a place where they've done lots of it and done it well. MD Anderson is the best."
She told me I could stay with my sister and in brother-in-law, who live in Houston, and promised to come visit.
"I'll make the appointment," she added.
"Never mind," I said, sighing. "I'll make the appointment. "
My son, Sean, flew in from New York to be with us during the initial consultations. He isn't as bossy as Erin, but he told us that based on a friend's experience with cancer, he agreed that MD Anderson was the best place for my esophageal cancer treatment.
Deciding to stay at MD Anderson for esophageal cancer treatment
I thought we would travel to MD Anderson, hear what they had to say and head back home to begin treatment in Venice.
But months later we're still here. It just didn't make sense to leave. From the moment we walked in, I think I knew we were staying. There was no way I could walk away from an opportunity like this. The knowledge base, the expertise, the equipment, proton therapy, induction chemotherapy, clinical trials. Why would anyone choose to be someplace else?
Life is good. We lucked out. My sister is here so we're not paying for housing in Houston. My niece and nephew aren't far away. My grandchildren are five hours away. I can go to a world class treatment center and have a support system in the area. As many have said to me, "It was meant to be."
I know I am getting the best care possible in the country. Yes, it's hard to be so far from home. Yes, it might have been OK to stay and be treated right down the road. Yes, it's hard on Jerry, too, who gave up his life in Florida to walk this journey with me.
But this is where I need to be right now. And it is a very good place to be. I am lucky.