Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Happy Birthday

It's not really my birthday. Every neuro test starts out with "what day is it?" I'd pass that part today: it's December 12. The anniversary of my craniotomy and cancer diagnosis. The milestone that only a minority of glioblastoma patients get to celebrate.

Lance Armstrong marks the anniversary of his cancer diagnosis date, by saying that it was the day he "started living". So I guess it's kind of a birthday of sorts.

December 12, 2005, was not the day I started dying, although it surely gave me a big heads-up that mortality was hovering over me. Not to sound too grim, but we all started dying as soon as we were conceived. We were all born, and we will all die someday -- we just usually hope it will happen later rather than sooner.

December 12, 2005, was the day I started living. I awakened from surgery to the news that the tumor was malignant. It was a strange time. When I first woke up I wasn't sure they'd even started surgery yet, until I felt the big bandage on my head. And then in that initial fuzzy state I (unknowingly) tortured my husband with repeated questions about the biopsy results. It pained him to tell me again and again: malignant. I also remember being thirstier than I'd ever been before, and I would beg the nurse to just squeeze a drop of water into my mouth, and she would angrily refuse, saying I'd throw up if she gave me anything to drink. I started getting feisty, and I guess that feisty spirit has been good for me ever since. Within a couple of hours I was cracking jokes and talking about an episode of one of my favorite television shows. I recognized every person who met with me and talked with me on the phone. I talked shop with clients who came by, and remembered every detail of each project. It felt good to know that generally speaking, I was still "me".

I also knew at the time that "malignant" had a range. It was a couple of days before I would know the tumor staging, so I only felt an initial disappointment that - okay - I guess I won't make it to the century mark. My husband and I won't die together in our sleep, holding hands, while our octogenarian children are being visited in their nursing homes by their great-grandkids. Bummer. But I figured, hey - if the tumor is at a stage that gives me a decade or so, they'll probably have better treatments or a cure by the time I need them. I'll still dance at my kids' weddings. No biggie. It was easy to wave away any thoughts of catastrophe, especially considering the sedatives that were coursing through my veins at the time.

It was a couple days later that I got the big blow: grade four glioblastoma. Typical prognosis anywhere from less than a year to maybe a little longer. Once in a while someone very exceptional hangs in there for a few years. Favorable conditions were my age and the tumor location. My neurosurgeon looked so sorry as he delivered the pathology results.

I remember lying in my hospital bed, digesting this terrible news and weeping. One year to live...maybe. What would I do with that year? And how much of that year would I actually spend being functional, while my brain is eaten away by cancer? When would I become paralyzed or blind? When would I lose my ability to work, lose my personality, forget who my kids are? When would music (a favorite pasttime) become foreign? When would I become scary and disturbing to my family? When would I reach the point where people would discuss what a blessing it was for me to finally pass on, after so much suffering and disability? My imagination conjured up many horrific scenarios.

So what did I do with that year? I lived!

I worked. I sang. I wrote a book and a couple of articles while recovering from brain surgery. I blogged. I loved. I traveled. I clog danced. I played. I made a huge mess in my office. I helped my son learn to read. (To name a few.)

One year later, I can finally chew gum and eat "tall" food again. My jaw finally stopped hurting from the surgical incision.

One year later, I still have more hair than my husband. Some of the mange has grown back.

One year later, I can still count backward from 100 by sevens really fast.

One year later, I sightread music better than I used to.

One year later, my lifestyle is much more normal than I expected it to be.

One year later, everything has become more delicious and miraculous.

One year later, the only thing that could threaten my Messiah solo this weekend is a nasty cold (assuming tomorrow's MRI results don't warrant an emergency craniotomy).

One year later, I am in the midst of a new battle, and tomorrow's MRI will tell me how that is going. But I survived disappointment and avoided discouragement following October's news of tumor recurrence.

One year later, I am here...
...thanks to the favorable conditions of age and tumor location...
...thanks to prior tragedies that identified and prevented potential complications...
...thanks to easy access to good expertise and state-of-the-art treatment...
...thanks to the lifting of daily cares by kind and generous friends...
...thanks to kind employers and clients, who have supported us in numerous ways...
...thanks to family and friends who have surrounded me all year with love, laughter, help, and priceless memories...
...thanks to my husband and children, who provide a constant motivation to stay here...
...thanks to the outpouring of faith and prayers of so many, which have opened doors for miracles and sustaining strength...
...thanks to a loving Heavenly Father, whose good will has been to keep me here for now, and whose plan for me (whatever it may be) is known to be of loving design; and...
...thanks to a Savior, whose priesthood is here for my benefit, and whose sacrifice makes it possible for me to ultimately overcome even the worst that glioblastoma can do to me.

Despite the processes of cancer diagnosis and treatment, and despite staring mortality in the eye every day for the past twelve months, this one year of living has managed to be at least as rich and full and joyous (if not more so) than the nearly four decades that preceded it. So if I can find a way to stick a candle on a Sucrets lozenge, maybe I'll have a little birthday celebration today.

My second year of living (hopefully a full one) will kick off with tomorrow's MRI, so lots of prayers are needed and appreciated. (I'm already hearing a drumroll in my head...)

7 comments:

Ashley said...

Krista,
I am one of the many benefiting from your inspirational group 2ofus4now. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your talent of writing so beautifully and letting us take the journey with you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
Ashley

bryny said...

1 year is a biggie! I'm so glad you made it

Heidi Holguin said...

Happy Birthday Krista! I hope the first day of your next year is full of good news and blessings. You continue to be in our prayers daily!

Anonymous said...

I think every new year for you should start with another plan for the gaggle to get together.

I'll say an extra prayer for you tonight. I'll even keep my fingers and toes crossed too.

Love ya!

Jeri

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

Happy birthday. Best wishes and prayers go with you!

Anonymous said...

I said an extra prayer for you this morning, Krista, and I'm hoping to see you Sunday night!

Faith

WendyLou said...

Congrats on making it a year.

Many more to you. I knew about your test and put your name on all the temple rolls in the Wasatch Front, in the spirt of an earlier post of yours about wearing the Lord with prayers.

May the miracle which is this life and His plan always continue.