The first time I watched the movie Auntie Mame, I was particularly struck with one line. "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death..." The more I thought about it, the more I loved it. I soon adopted it as my motto, since I felt it reflected who I am, funny, but deep, too.
On November 21, 2005, it took on new meaning when I was diagnosed with a malignant pleural mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. I was distraught, terrified. Life had been going so good, with my first baby just three-and-a-half months old and the Christmas season coming. It was a very difficult time, but it opened my eyes, too. My greatest fear had come, but I found I could face it. I discovered that I was stronger than I ever imagined.
I was referred to Dr. David Sugarbaker, at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s clinic. As one of the world's leading mesothelioma doctors, he told me that the statistics on mesothelioma are grim, with only 2% living beyond five years after diagnosis, but he gave me hope, too. I knew that someone had to be that 2%, so I decided my daughter's mother would be that person.
The next year took everything I had to fight the cancer. I traveled 1,900 miles from my home to Boston to have the surgery that removed my left lung and the lining around it where the tumor was. It was difficult for me to leave my daughter behind with my parents, just beginning so many new adventures in her life at six months, but I knew I had to do it so that I could be with her for the rest of her new discoveries. Friends and family supported me during the next months while I underwent chemo and radiation therapy. They enabled me to spend that year close to my daughter and give everything I needed to overcome my battle. By my daughter's first birthday, we were able to throw a celebration, not only for her life, but also because my battle was coming to and end.
My last radiation treatment was just one month from the anniversary of my diagnosis. I vowed for my daughter to stay cancer free. I vowed for all of the people I met through mesothelioma, the fellow cancer fighters, many of whom didn't make it, the families that watched them suffer, the caretakers who helped us, that I would fight to help create awareness and find the cure.
|Heather and her happy, healthy family|
My cancer gave me a new perspective on life. I know I can't take anything for granted, can't let it slip by without appreciating it. I am determined to savor every morsel of my beautiful life. Even on tough days, I know there are many things to be grateful for. Cancer opened my eyes to this, and I promise never to close them.