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Long Days but Short Years

by Sabrina Rawson

Driving to my endocrinology appointment, I was sitting at the stoplight before the turn to the office thinking, I should reschedule this appointment. I am missing too much time off from work not feeling good, but I am in the wrong lane to turn back towards the freeway. The light changed and I was surrounded by cars so switching lanes wasn't an option. I decided to go through with the appointment.

The doctor asked what brought me there. I said that I felt like a popcorn kernel was stuck in my throat. She said she couldn't see anything visibly and wanted to do a scan. I lay there waiting for her to begin moving the ultrasound wand she placed on my throat, but she never moved her hand.

She stared at the monitor for a minute, and leaning close, she said, "If it were me lying there, I would not leave this office without a biopsy." She then told me what to expect from the procedure, saying there were no guarantees the growth she found in my throat was malignant and that I would have to wait two weeks for the test results; in most cases the growths she found were cysts.

The procedure, which I endured twice in the span of a few minutes, was very painful, a shock to my psyche. I never returned to work that day and had to pull over on the side of the road, collecting myself, thinking about how I almost ditched the appointment.

She called two weeks later with positive test results. "You have cancer," she told me, and recommended immediate surgery. For the next four months, I was in and out of hospital care, in and out of hospital care daily beginning with surgery, followed by a close call with heart failure, which required a four-day hospitalization. One month after surgery, I had to ingest liquid radiation so high I was required to post warning signs outside my home and bedroom door warning anyone I was a bio hazard. My radioactive levels forced me to send my children away, along with seven days of isolation where side effects of my treatment became my private hell.

I lost myself in books during those months of severe sickness, garbled thoughts, raging emotions of despair. I felt like some omnipotent being had found my personal life file and stamped an expiration date on it.

But my standard phrase to people was "It is what it is. The cancer was there before I went to the doctor's. The only difference now is I know and have the opportunity to fight it." I feared that people would find out I was a fake. Inside I was secretly depressed, hiding my feelings from my caring family and friends. I had tremendous support all around me but no one to whom I could relate these mortifying feelings of expiration. When I went back to work, I became my own "Groundhog Day" movie. I got up, got the kids off to school, went to the office, chatting with everyone; I poured everything I had left into trying to look fabulous when all I really wanted to do was lose myself in another novel, buried deep in the blankets of my bedroom.

I needed help and went back to the hospital looking for support groups, but no one had any listings of places I could get help. One kind nurse told me to wait, returning with a torn piece of paper in her hand. She said it was all she could do and it wasn't covered by the hospital but she knew they could help me. I hugged her with tears in my eyes. I will never forget her.

One month later I attended a newly formed support group for women under the age of forty-five. I wanted to learn how to live in the present. I kept going to the group for five months and one day on the way to group I received a phone call from my oncologist, saying I had relapsed and my next round of radiation was scheduled to start in two weeks. I had relapsed in less than a year. I managed to get to my group on time, sobbing I didn't want to do it again, the pain and sickness, on the chance treatment might not work. I was so angry, making a mental note to break every clay pot in my front yard just for the hell of it.

Then I talked with Jessica, who was a younger woman who sat next to me who was dealing with relapse herself for the third time. I couldn't imagine being in her shoes going through experimental treatment that was more life threatening than any treatment I had been through. She said how scared she was and pulled me aside after the meeting. "Having cancer means long, long days but very short years." She told me to enjoy every day; the good, the bad and the ugly and shrug your shoulders to all the rest.

She died two years later; I have never forgotten her words.

Since that first relapse, I have had to have multiple surgeries removing tumors from my body, sometimes with the organs they'd adhered to. But I've never allowed fear to bury itself within me again. Instead I get up from bed in the morning. I tell myself, Never surrender to fear. Put one foot in front of the other, and when I can't physically walk, I will skip in my dreams.

Sabrina Rawson lives in Sonoma County, California, heart of the wine country, enjoying life in the rural land happily married to a wonderful and supportive husband. You can often find her reading a book, cooking a meal for their children, or playing with the family dog, Taylor. Her dream is to retire from the corporate industry to write full time.