On December 18th, 2010 Marc and I celebrated our 6 month anniversary. We met at Northwestern Hospital's Cancer Research Young Adult Event appropriately called Summer Loving. At the end of the night, after serious coaxing from my girlfriends, I finally got up the nerve to approach him and deliver a horribly unoriginal pick up line. Blushing, I shyly approached him and said, "I am sorry to bother you but you really look familiar." Marc replied, "Are you sure- because frankly I don't recognize you." Luckily the conversation did not end there but rather progressed with incredible ease and comfort. I eventually left the event with his business card and our relationship started.
6 months later as Marc and I were about to begin our celebratory "stay-cation" in Chicago, our plans were abruptly halted when my orthopedist Dr. Ellen Casey from the Rehab Institute of Chicago called to review my MRI results from 2 days prior. When she insisted on seeing me asap in her office I knew something was wrong-very wrong.
Dr. Ellen Casey slowly and thoughtfully reviewed my results. Unfortunately what was originally diagnosed as a pinched nerve was actually a large mass in my neck. She ordered an urgent CT scan for 1:00 pm that afternoon and 4 hours later, over dinner at my favorite childhood restaurant Hole in the Wall, I was diagnosed with Cancer.
When my Primary Care Physician delivered the diagnosis I felt completely paralyzed. I told Marc we needed to wrap up the food and get out of the restaurant as soon as possible.
The nightmare was only just beginning.
As soon as we got out of the door I fell to the ground in the parking lot screaming and convulsing. I couldn't catch my breath and I felt as if I was desperately trying to let the cancer escape from my body. We drove home to my parents and my convulsions continued. I entered the house and saw and heard my parents talking to my PCP- hearing the news for the first time. There faces were blank and all color had left their cheeks. I quickly jumped into their arms wailing, screaming and sobbing uncontrollably.
The nightmare continued.
I kept asking to be woken up but everyone kept staring at each other speechless and helpless. We had very little information and so our imaginations started to go wild. We sat down at the dinner table, I stared at the untouched food, and I started giving my own eulogy. I told my parents and Marc how much I loved them, and I kept reiterating how much I loved my life. I finally felt that I was in a place in my life where I was genuinely fulfilled. I was in love with Marc, my family, my friends, my job, and my home. I never thought that 6 months after meeting Marc at Northwestern's Cancer Research Fundraiser that I would end up being a patient.
A day earlier I recalled driving to pick up Marc and I felt this overwhelming sense of happiness. I felt a level of fulfillment and completeness that I had been hoping to one day attain. I felt that I was in an elevated state of being, a feeling I can only pray I will feel again.
Back at the table, I kept repeating to my parents and Marc, that I wasn't ready to die, that now was not my time.
My shock eventually turned to profound grief and utter despair. My screams evolved into tears until my eyes dried up.
I stared outside at the backyard through the windows in our family room and a flood of childhood memories came back to me. I remembered how my sister Neely and I used to play in the snow for hours. I remembered getting all bundled up to play outside where I would proceed to eat snow when my parents werent looking. I loved the cool taste coating my throat and even today find myself tempted by its taste. The snow covered backyard always reminded me of a big cloud that I hoped I could fall into and be enveloped by.
My mind then drifted to the days that were few and far between when I was sick and had to stay home. Every time this happened, my dad would say to me, "Give me the pain, let me take it all away." He would then reach for my hand, hold it, and I would instantly feel better.
On December 20th, 2010- I turned to him again, this time at the age of 29, and said,"Dad I wish you could take my pain away, but this time I know you can't". We fell into each others arms crying and praying for a sense of relief.
After hours of trying to get our heads around Cancer, I sent an email to close friends updating them. I was so in the moment that I couldn't even think about how my friends would react. I wasnt able to leave my orbit and think about how this news would affect them and those close to them. I would only learn days later how the news became personalized and how their own worlds were impacted.
I invited my best friend Kasey over in the hopes she could wake me up from this nightmare.
My parents opened a few bottles of wine, and for the first time in my life I saw them both drink more than 2 glasses of wine. We tried desperately to numb ourselves but failed miserably. At 1:30 am I eventually crawled into my sisters bed with Marc, and we tried to sleep. I woke up at 3 am in paralyzing fear- wanting to scream but was unable to make a sound.
Was I going to die?
Was this G-d's intention for me all along?
Have I lived a full life?
Would I fight this and win?
Would I overcome this hurdle and be stronger, better, wiser?
Did I have a choice in this? What role did I have in dealing and combatting my disease?
I had so many questions and virtually no answers. I found it impossible to identify with a disease that I knew nothing about. Was the cancer everywhere in my body or was it localized? I felt like I had been walking around with a ticking time bomb that was getting ready to go off.
The body that I had known for 29 years was no longer my own. I felt deeply betrayed by my body and was no longer able to identify with her.