May 27, 2002
Sadie, Sadie, Dying Lady
Sadie, Sadie, Dying Lady.....Have I become Sadie? I spent a good part of a morning asking myself that question last week. You know Sadie. We all do. Every family has a Sadie. She is the woman who rolls right from one physical problem to another. If you dare to ask, "How are you", be prepared to cancel anything else you had planned for the next hour or so. She can immediately recite every drug she takes, every test result, the entire history of her ailments.and will at the drop of a hat. She is the person who, instead of simply declining a certain entree when you eat out, she will spend 20 minutes telling the waitress WHY she can't eat artichokes, rare meats or whatever. When you meet her for breakfast in the morning, she will line up her pills next to her plate, and then tell you at length what each one does as she pops it into her mouth. She may be a hypochondriac..or, she may have a debilitating disease. After a while, it doesn't seem to matter. She is so self-absorbed that you don't even care, no matter how much you love her.
For a long time, I, like most family members, found our own Sadie to be amusing at best and tiresome at her worst. Then something happened. I got cancer. For seven years I have lived with the shadow of cancer hanging over my head. During that time, I have become obsessed with the importance of regularity, learned that my normal body temperature is 96.7 and began to immediately interpret the usual aches and pains that come with now being in my 50's as proof that the cancer has returned with a vengeance. I have been in and out of treatment that would bring a horse to it's knees several times, and heard the words cured and remission tossed around along with the less positive aggressive and rapid progression. I have discussed the seven drugs I tried for chemo nausea and the five different stool softeners. I have learned to use terms like mets and actually know the meaning of thorocentis. I have also bored the hell out of family and friends. I allowed something that should be a part of my life to entirely consume my life.or what is left of it. I was becoming Sadie.
Don't misunderstand. I believe in knowing everything there is to know about this disease. I believe it is my responsibility to understand every possible treatment available and the medications I receive and why they are right for me. That, along with the grace of God, is what helps to keep me alive. I believe in honesty. I especially believe your family deserves to know exactly what is happening to you and why. But I also believe that many of us allow ourselves to become a victim to cancer in more than just the physical sense. We allow it to take over our minds, our lives and our souls. We let it kill the person we are deep down inside long before it kills our actual bodies. Instead of being a part of your life, it becomes what defines you as a person.
I will continue to speak out about my cancer, and I will share my deepest feeling with my loved ones, but I will save my lengthy discussions of diagnosis and treatment mainly for my support group. We are in it together, and a conversation about our own problems can turn into a lifesaving solution when we put our experiences together. We are the women who live with this disease every second of every day. We are the women who see our sisters disappear, one by one. I will still never stop pushing to have those of us with metastatic breast cancer given the same recognition as newly diagnosed patients and survivors. We are the ones who get lost in the discussions of cures and statistics..the ones for whom the pink ribbon is tarnished. We are the ones who are hidden away in the rush to proclaim breast cancer a chronic illness rather than the killer it truly is. But I will also pray that my initial denial of this disease becomes the faith that sustains me through the bad times, and hope my moments of acceptance will be the force that drives me to seek treatment. to live each day as ME, not as a survivor or a victim or a statistic.
What I will not do is allow cancer to turn me into Sadie. I am not Cancer. I am Sharon. I was born Sharon, and I will die Sharon, whether from breast cancer or old age. Ask me how I am. I will tell you about my children. I will bore you with talk of my garden. I will give you my favorite recipe. I will ask you to lobby for more cancer research money. I will be the queen and wear my tiara to sip tea with you. I will make you laugh and expect the same in return. But what I will not do is give cancer the starring role in my life without a fight. I am still Sharon.