June 23, 2011
I don’t remember what night it was but this night was about three years ago.
I was in treatment for my cancer. I was very sick, my body was worn down and finally feeling the effects of my aggressive chemotherapy. I was admitted into the hospital, a nine day stay and this set my chemotherapy schedule off by a month; that alone created an unnecessary anxiety.
Test after test after test and no diagnose or name was given to my illness. I dreaded the fevers that inevitably came every early evening. I could feel the fever coming on, my body was hot and I felt a dull ache. I told my nurses another one was starting. The doctor’s orders were to not give me anything for the fevers until I peaked and then, finally, Tylenol was administered and brought me relief. The nurses placed ice packs over my body to help keep the fevers down. I can still feel the melting water trickling down my back as I dozed on and off . . .
It was hard for me to breath and my oxygen level was dropping. I was slow and sluggish, it took all my energy just to shower. The young men, called transports, would come to get me anytime of the day or night for more testing. At first, I could walk to the radiology lab, then I needed a wheelchair, finally, they took me in my bed for testing. What was wrong with me?
It is an odd thing . . . the mind. For many days I survived not realizing the seriousness of my unknown illness. I was naïve; I blindly obeyed the nurses and doctors believing they were going to make me well again. And then one night . . .
I remember which way the head of my bed was on the wall, I remember sleeping on my right side, and I remember waking. And then it dawned on me, this was serious. Many times cancer patients don’t die because of their cancer, they die due to secondary illness like pneumonia – and I had pneumonia–like symptoms. It was a sobering moment and for the first time the reality of the past months hit me, I could die.
I felt for my IPod, I needed distraction from my thoughts. Playlist, “Dancing River”, Alberto Rivera and friends. The music began its good work in helping me envision another place in a future time. The music captivated me and took me away to Flathead Lake. I was sailing, I was sailing on the Questa with my family. I felt the wind on my face, I heard the sound of the hull cutting through the water and at times, I even felt the spray of the water. On and on I sailed. My mind would drift back to the present and I would concentrate even harder to continue living in this sailing experience.
I was on the bow of the Questa facing the wind head on. Listen to the sounds, the wind through the stays, the chattering of the sail, the slapping water – and I vowed to myself, when I get home I will do whatever it takes to sail this boat on Flathead Lake with my family. I will do whatever it takes . . .
What was odd, my nephew, Will, was there with me on the Questa. When my mind began to drift away from sailing, I would think of Will and his calm demeanor, his strawberry blond hair, his serious green brown eyes. He anchored me that night in pressing me through with a will to live and to finish all my treatments – and when I get home, we would sail together . . .
I got through that night. I was finally diagnosed with pulmonary edema; fluid was building around my heart and one lobe was enlarged. When I was released from the hospital, I had to take home an oxygen tank to help with my breathing. I hated that cannula!
I survived that night but my most critical time was ahead of me. The last of my chemotherapy began in earnest preparing me for my autologous stem cell transplant.
I think of that night often. And since coming home for good, my dream of sailing on the Questa with my family is always on my mind. I still listen to Dancing Rivers and that music evokes deep emotion that catches my breath and chokes my throat.
A month ago, Dale and I attended a benefit dinner for a woman from our church who is battling pancreatic cancer. Her illness has drained away all their savings which was meager to begin with. The evening included a pig roast, a silent auction and a live auction. As I looked at all the silent auction items I couldn’t believe it, the Questa was one of the bid items!
I began my bidding. I kept returning to the table to see if anyone outbid me and if someone did, I bid again. Towards the end of the auction, another couple who was bidding against me was standing near the table to put in a last minute bid. I told a dear woman from our church what I was bidding on and why it meant so much for me to win a charter cruise on the Questa. She stood right in front of the bidding paper pretending to read the brochure and at the very last moment, I was able to write my final bid. I WON!
Yesterday, I went to Flathead Lake Lodge where the Questa is moored. I booked the sailing vessel, party of twelve, my family and in particular, Will. I am fulfilling my dream, a dream that helped me sail through a very dark night.
Both of my families played an important part that very critical night. You read how my family inspired me as we sailed together on Flathead Lake but my family from Long Beach was ever present, too. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, the “Heath” family rallied and gifted me with an IPod. I listened to my IPod often. My music selection calmed my mind and soul as I endured the most extreme testing in my life. Thank you to all my family as they were my foundation support team!