It Takes A Village

This blog post has been in my mind for quite some time.  When I was asked to speak to the employees of the biotech company that produces my medications, this is the topic I chose.  If you are reading this, you are a part of my village.  I appreciate each and every one of you.  Here is the link to the blog entry about my trip to San Francisco:  Visit to Genentech.

Here are the highlights of the talk that I gave there:

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I also say that it takes a village to care for a sick person.  My village starts with my husband, my primary caregiver.  This man has been my rock, the person I lean on figuratively and literally.  He has come to every single medical appointment I've had.  He has dried my tears.  He has made me laugh.  He has given me strength.  I wouldn't have made it through the hell that has been the past year and a half without him.  He and my boys.  Of course, my sons are next.  They also have dried a few tears, have helped me walk, accompany me to the store for the heavy lifting.  My older son took over a lot of the meal preparation.  My younger son took over some other chores around the house, and he rides with me to work (his school) and carries my bags for me.   Our dog.  So much to say about Benji.  We think that Benji knew I was sick before we knew.  We noticed that he was near me constantly.  He wouldn't leave my side (my left, cancerous side).  One day when my husband and I arrived home, and Benji came right to me, I said to my husband, "I wonder if I'm really sick and just don't know it yet."  A few months later we got the diagnosis.  That dog licked my tears away.  He would sense when I was sad and nudge my hand in comfort.  He would nap with me.  He is simply amazing.

Next in the circle are my sisters and my husband's brothers and sisters.  My sisters came with me to a chemo session, and they took turns babysitting me after my surgery.  My husband's sisters, as well as one of mine, sat with him in the waiting room while I was having surgery; they also helped with some housecleaning, and the switching of the master bedroom from upstairs to down.  My husband's brothers helped out with a few handyman chores around the house, and one took him away for a weekend for a much needed break.  They did so much more than I could list here.  We couldn't have done it without them.

We also couldn't have done it without our extended family and friends who helped.  From the chemo care bags to the meals provided to the gifts, to helping out with our high school senior's graduation party.  We are so overwhelmed by everyone's generosity.  I'm not talking about just the tangible gifts, either.  I'm talking about the gift of time (friends coming over to visit; family enjoying a meal with us); I'm talking about the gazillion facebook and caringbridge comments you posted; I'm talking about the jokes texted to me on chemo days; I'm talking about the pink fingernails; I'm talking about the shooting star that you saw after you prayed for my well being; I'm talking about the card that says, "I haven't said anything to you yet because I just don't know what to say."  That, my friend, was the perfect thing to say.

My coworkers are next.  I can not tell you how I am working at the right place.  I work at a high school.  Staff and students alike have been incredibly supportive.  From transferring me out of the classroom during chemo to the sick leave donations to the meals brought to the understanding of my time off for medical appointments.  My work family rocks.

My new facebook friends.  Since diagnosis, I have joined a few facebook support groups.  These ladies are going through the same thing I'm going through.  They give great advice, and great support.  A wonderful new group of friends.

My medical team is also a part of my village.  My oncologist, my cardiologist, my surgeon.  I trust them with my life.  These ladies, and all of their staff.  The nurses at the infusion center.  Everyone I come in contact with at the hospital when I go for scans, echos, and the like.  There was one picture missing from the slide during my presentation.  The group of people I was there speaking with, the people who make my medication.  Did I tell you yet how surreal and awesome it was to be there with them?

There are a few celebrities who are a part of my village.  They don't know it, but they are instrumental in my health/well being. 
  • Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman.  When I was young, the original Wonder Woman series was on television.  I loved that show.  When I was going through chemo, I checked out all three seasons from the library and watched them all.  I have Wonder Woman sunglasses that I wear for fun.  My nephew and his wife gave me a Wonder Woman water bottle.  My coworker gives me Wonder Woman themed items.  Not only do I love the series, I aspire to be Wonder  Woman; she's empowering.  I want to be brave, and strong.  Sometimes, though, I realize I am not so much Wonder Woman, but her bumbling little sister, Drusilla.  ;)
  • Rick Springfield.  I love 80s music.  Rick Springfield came to the Calvert Marine Museum in concert.  Before cancer, I would have said, "Some day...."  After a terminal diagnosis, you realize that all of a sudden, those "some days" are behind you.  So, I bought the tickets.  My husband and I had a wonderful night out at the concert.  The message here -- Don't wait for "some day".  Do it now, before it's too late.
  • Paul McCartney.  Same a Rick Springfield.  I went with a few friends, and had a blast.  Before cancer, I probably would have passed on the tickets.  Big mistake.  Don't pass on doing anything fun.  Don't wait until those "some days" become "I wish I had...."
Please forgive me if you don't see yourself in what I wrote.  You are all, every one of you, part of my village, and I absolutely love you for it.

During my talk, I touched on what friends and family can do to help.  The thing that comes to mind first is, don't ask -- just do.  The patient and the family are so overwhelmed and exhausted, thinking and making decisions are just too difficult.  Send a text and say, "Is today a good day for me to bring dinner?"  When you get the answer of "yes", text back and say, "Okay, I'll drop it off at x:xxpm.  If that's not a good time, let me know."  


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