Alison & Kathryn - A Family Affair

The following is an article written by my 16 yr old daughter for out local newspaper - Cancer doesn't just affect one person, it affects everyone who knows the person, and it takes a community to beat it. As I face my last chemo tomorrow, and head toward surgery and radiation, I know that I am a survivor and that I am here because of all the wonderful support that has been given to our family. My daughter's article shows that cancer isn't all bad - there are wonderful things to be learned from it, and a few laughs along the way.

Here is the article:

Lasagna. Layers of meat, cheese and pasta are blended together to create a dish any family can enjoy. It is a comfort meal, designated the place of honor at the table of a grieving or saddened family. And though I love this dish and the garlic bread that usually comes with it, I have to admit that after this summer I am truly sick of lasagna.

Four weeks into what should have been 10 school-free, carefree weeks, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. The word 'shock" comes to mind, and that is what my whole family experienced. At just over 40 years old, with two teenagers and two toddlers, nobody expected my mom to get cancer. And the statistics agree; according to the American Cancer Society, only 120 out of 100,000 women of her age get this type of cancer. That's a meager 0.12 percent.

An out-of-this-world experience is life-changing. So is a trip to a third-world country. Cancer falls right into this category. It isn't simply a visit to the oncologist once every two weeks. It's the radiology and oncology appointments, the endless shots, the evaluations, re-examinations and the trips to the cancer center in Seattle.

My mother's cancer was not caught early and it will not submit to treatment easily. On a scale of nine, it has been assigned an eight for aggressiveness. And it is already a stage three cancer. There are only four stages.

For my mom, the emotional hardships are just as burdensome. I can't imagine taking on as much as she has; battling cancer while dealing with the terrible-twos and troublesome teenagers is one thing, but she also holds our family together.

Cancer doesn't just affect one person. It affects everyone who knows that person. My dad is forever on the lookout, tense and anxious, hoping to provide the best care and support for his wife. My brother's and sister's lives are changing as well. Daycare is now a reality, but something we had hoped to avoid while they were growing up.

And me? I have learned to deal with emotions not previously felt. There's the pressure of the unknown, of what may come and what will happen.

There's the anger, which must often be redirected. How can I consciously hold a grudge against someone who is so sick?

But one thing you learn not to do when a loved one is going through something traumatic is ask "why her?" I know that she's asking the same question of herself, and since the answer will be forever unknown, why spend time pondering it? My time is better spent not on debating why it happened, but on how I can make my mom feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

No matter what the outcome and despite the hardships between now and then, some good can be found in this tough situation. And although many expect my family to be solemn and gloomy during this time, there are several truths that make us smile.

Truth number one. Friends and family are willing to help. The support we have received is overwhelming, and we are now being provided with five meals a week thanks to my dad's colleagues. However, all five meals do not have to consist of lasagna and garlic bread.

Truth number two. I will learn more during the next year of handling my mom's illness than I will in all my years of medical school. There are lessons never taught in med school; I am discovering these now.

Truth number three. Doctors aren't as scary as they look.

Truth number four. Hearing my two-year-old sister yell "have fun!" as my mom heads out for another round of chemo is funny despite the circumstances.

Truth number five. Telling my mom's doctor that she was late because I was helping her fix her hair is not a valid excuse, but always evokes smiles.

As treatment progresses and plans for the future are made, I have made several promises to my mom. No matter what happens, she made me promise to continue working hard. I promised to try my best to accomplish my goals and vowed to keep the everyday routine as normal as possible for my two toddler siblings.

And I also promised that the first word of my column, when I eventually chose to write one on this topic, would be lasagna.

For the next six months, my mom will face at least another four rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatment. Seattle will become a second home and the wigs and bandanas a fixture in our house.

But one thing we are certain of: she will pull through. Because whatever happens, my mom is too important to too many people for anything to go wrong.

Keep fighting, mom.

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