Last fall, I had trouble swallowing. I assumed it was acid reflux and went to the doctor for some swallow tests. My doctor also suspected it was acid reflex. That afternoon, he called to say we were both wrong.
“It’s bad, Mary. It’s esophageal cancer. You need an endoscopy and biopsy immediately, and you need to clear your calendar. It’s going to be rough.”
I remember sitting down, stunned. I had never heard of esophageal cancer. While I always go into a mammogram braced for the worst, it hadn’t occurred to me that the swallowing tests could reveal something equally serious.
After my endoscopy the next day, the doctor sat down with my husband and me. He said there was a mass in my esophagus that had gone into the esophageal wall, and that at least one lymph node was involved. “I’m sending you for PET scan and CT scan. That will tell us more,” he said. “If it’s spread further, chemotherapy will give you a little more time.”
“Wait,” I told him. “I need a LOT more time.”
Giving thanks after esophageal cancer
That was a year ago. And, it looks as if I’m going to get a LOT more time. But no one really knows, do they? All we have is this moment, this hour, this day. I’d love to have a lot more time, but if I don’t, I am ever so grateful for the time I have had.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but my true Thanksgiving is Oct. 29, the anniversary of my esophageal cancer diagnosis. I have so much to be thankful for on this anniversary.
First, I’m thankful to be alive and kicking. Next, I’m thankful for Jerry, my husband and caregiver, who had it way harder than I did last year and never once complained. Next, I’m thankful for our family and friends, who hung in there with me through it all.
I’m thankful for the staff at MD Anderson, too. When I arrived, they told me that they’d take care of me and send me home to go on with my life. They did just that.
Blogging to cope with esophageal cancer
I’m also grateful I found a way to cope with my cancer. Inspired by a former student, I decided to blog about my esophageal cancer journey. Blogging kept me sane and connected, and reminded me I wasn’t alone.
I was incredibly lucky. I AM incredibly lucky, and I know it. I know most people wouldn’t react to a cancer diagnosis by starting a blog, but it worked for me. It was great therapy and the people who read the blog carried me through the months of esophageal cancer treatment and recuperation.
I think people need to find their own way to get through the tough stuff in their lives. Writing might work for some; it does for me. For others, it might be music or exercise or meditation or all of the above.
Some people are very private and need to guard that privacy while they go through dark days. Whatever works. We need to respect each person’s way. I feel so strongly that it’s important to let people walk that journey with you and to ask for help, but I’ve learned to back off if someone wants to be left alone.
I’m thankful I found my own way to cope, and thankful to be reminded to respect each person’s way. But perhaps most of all, I’m thankful to be here to celebrate the gift of more time.