For at least eight years now, I have covered the annual Relay for Life events that honor cancer survivors, promote awareness of cancer issues, memorialize those who lost the battle against the disease, and raise funds for cancer research to hopefully find a cure some day.
Both my maternal grandparents are cancer survivors, and one year they happened to be in town during the Relay for Life. They were very impressed.
My paternal grandmother died of cancer. My aunt had breast cancer. A former coworker fought bladder cancer.
Having covered so many Relay events, interviewed so many survivors, having relatives who suffered with the disease, I figured I knew how they felt. I was wrong.
You do not know how someone else feels, you have no idea how it feels to have cancer, until it's you.
My recent experience with cancer i minuscule compared to what most people endure when their doctors utter those dreadful words. As a matter of fact, I can't even think of myself as a cancer survivor. My journey isn't over yet, but I don't think I am going to have to go through what so many people have when they learned they had cancer.
With God's grace and will, I won't have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. I won't have to lie in bed and think about the cancer inside me. Hopefully the surgery I recently underwent eliminated all the cancerous cells in my body. I was fortunate - we discovered my endometrial cancer early.
If it weren't for God's mysterious ways, I might not have known until it was too late.
I love my doctor to death, and have been quite impressed with my "other doctor" who performed the surgery. However, I am not one to go running to the doctor for any little thing - quite the opposite. I have always been a procrastinator, the one who says "I feel OK, I'll go have that checkup later."
Well, later never came, so God stepped in.
I rarely have pain bad enough to seek help, but suddenly I developed sciatica. All I ever knew about sciatic pain was what I saw on those Dr. Harry W. Brown commercials, but after four days of continuous pain, I'd had it.
After helping corral a mule we'd sold, I decided to head to the emergency room to get relief from the pain that made my leg drop out from underneath me. When it buckled, I knew that was that.
But while under the wonderful influence of painkiller by injection, I heard the nurse technician suggest scanning for a blood clot. I cheerfully agreed - at that point I would have agreed to just about anything. Everything is agreeable in la-la land.
Fortunately, the pain medicine numbed the news. I had a blood clot in my leg.
I was still woozy when they admitted me, and the gravity of the situation did not hit me until the next day.
I felt fine, the sciatic pain had disappeared, and why did I have to stay in bed?? Dr. Hand explained the dangers of a blood clot, and began a CSI-style search to find out what caused it. I did not smoke cigarettes, I had not been taking any medicines that would cause a blood clot .... it was a mystery.
But a pelvic exam revealed the need for further study. A minor surgery revealed nothing scary at first, but pathological testing revealed "precancerous conditions."
A major surgery ensued, and once again, immediate lab tests appeared clear. But dang those pathology dudes – or, rather, thank God for them – they found something.
I thought I would be prepared, but nothing can prepare you for hearing your doctor say you had cancer. I thought I was tough, but after the first stunning seconds, I began to cry.
Fear and shock. Anger, too. But mainly I was frightened.
I was blubbering when a friend called, and telling my Mom was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
But ... he said I'd HAD cancer. Not "have." He is highly confident he got it all, but to be on the safe side, I'll be seeing an oncologist soon.
In my heart, I feel I am one of the lucky ones. We found the cancer early, thanks to God and His ways of dealing with one of His most stubborn, hard-headed children. I have faith and hope and know He will take care of me, and I feel my experience with cancer will be brief.
But now I know what all those true survivors felt when they heard the words "you have cancer." And I will never interview another cancer survivor or cover a Relay for Life event again without knowing how they felt. But God willing, I will be there, doing my part to help the effort to educate people and work towards finding a cure.
Holli Deal Bragg is recovering from surgery and hopefully, back at work for good. She can be reached at email@example.com or (912) 489-9414.