Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Doctor, How long will I live with cancer?

I have a great story of human strength in tough times.

My sister in law, Wilma came down with a terrible form of cancer. She was around 40 years old. when the floor of their family home and her life collapsed into a basement of torn rubble, pain and intensely personal family distress.

What was so bad about it, was that Wilma can trace her cancerous journey back into her childhood.
She was the daughter of Dutch immigrants to Canada. And, as little girl of about 9 or ten she would help her mother with family chores. The family pitched in to survive. Her dad, Tony found work, and her uncle moved in with them to contribute. It was teamwork all the way.

Wilma helped her mother with the family laundry a lot. They would pull the bedding off beds and take it to the laundry room. They took soiled work clothes and washed them. They washed her uncles work outfits, bedsheets, towels and all that sort of thing.

Wilma was innocently drawn into a situation which was cruel and tragic beyond all imagination.

Nobody knew, then that her uncle had a life threatening job.  He worked for an asbestos manufacturing plant on the eastern edge of Toronto, and he was unwittingly carrying home deadly asbestos fibres on his clothing. No one understood such a danger back then.

Wilma got hit with an  asbestos cancer in mid life. Her mother didn't.  Was it because Wilma was a little girl and she would pick up his bedding and sheets and because she was a little girl she held it closer to her face then her mother would have?

When Wilma approached her 40th birthday, her health began to fail and she was hospitalized and she learned that she had asbestos cancer (mesothelioma) all over her body and in particular in her intestinal lining.

Wilma had her first medical protocol.  They took samples, studied and CT scans and all the good things  the medical profession does. When the results were given, Wilma was given an "end of Life message".

Her response. "How much time?"
The doctor shifted on his feet. There was a lot of discomfort. There was some hemming and hawing and clearing of throats.

"Wilma, you have 2, months, 6 months, I don't know"Wilma dead eyed her doctor and said.,"2 months..6 months, a year.....I don't know?" Good.

I will take the "I don't know."

Wilma received the bulk of her treatment from Dr.Lorne Chabot in New York's Sloan Kittering Hospital.She came in as part of a team of patients, each of whom had mesothelioma.  He was their presiding specialist and caregiver.

I am unsure of how many patients were part of that mesothelioma team. A dozen..15 more?  I have no idea.

Are you ready?

Wilma grabbed her "I don't know and ran with it.   The entire mesothelioma team of patients is dead today. Wilma is the longest surviving female mesothelioma patient in the  world.

She is our family winner.,

I learned a great lesson from Wilma. My life is my life. I decided early in my journey to grab the "I don't know and run with it."