The Star-Herald

Support for cancer survivors and research can take many forms

Dale, my beloved husband, used to gently advise me that I wrote and spoke way too much about my experience with cancer. I have to say, I truly did not take his advice; rather, I continued to speak openly about my own cancer journey and to write about it in this column from time to time.

Oddly enough, I have never been a cancer crusader. I attended one Relay For Life in the summer of 2012 and I could feel the love and the energy all around me. It was an experience I will always cherish, but I have not returned. I am just not ready.

Like so many of us, I do indeed donate monetarily to all of these gatherings and I offer up multiple prayers constantly to a God who I know listens and responds. I must add here that my license plate is pink — in support of early detection and each time I hear of another beautiful soul who is about to go into battle with the ferocious monster we know as cancer, my heart  aches all over again.

I will share with you now that Dale, my strong and brave husband, ultimately died of leukemia. Our goldendoodle, Barney, also was plagued with a mass cell tumor that was cancerous and surgically removed. The three of us have all been ambushed by cancer.

One would think I would be shouting from the tallest building in Aroostook County and marching in the front row of every Relay For Life, but instead, I remain quietly on the sidelines. Make no mistake about it, my friends, I am fighting right along beside you; just in a much different way.

The first time I received radiation therapy, was the loneliest and most desolate 15 minutes of my life. The first time I was injected with chemotherapy, I held my breath and waited for my body to implode. When I went into surgery to have the tumor removed, I did not expect to awaken.

I look back now upon that summer of 2011, reliving those warm and rainy mornings we traveled to TAMC in Presque Isle, where I received radiation five days per week for a total of five weeks. Our morning journey to Presque Isle was always warm and misty.  I would close my eyes all the way to the hospital, the fingers on my left hand entangled in Barney’s ivory fur. He sat in the backseat of the truck, breathing easily and staying perfectly still. When Dale pulled up to the doors of the hospital, I would smile at the rain streaked windows and tell myself that God was weeping for me.  When I would finish my treatment, the sun would be shining and I would smile again. God and I were counting down and soon, this would all be a distant memory. I would live to be 90 years old, with pink hair and a sound mind and Dale would be right beside me, taking care of everything, including me.

When I began chemotherapy after the surgery, Dale would accompany me, sitting for hours in one of those pink chairs and holding my hand. I would sleep through most of the day, but he would remain awake; my sentinel and my spokesman. And when I would come home with lobster red, aching hands, he would give me soft, brown jersey potato picking gloves; the only thing that would give me some relief. When my hair began to thin, he would convince me that there was no visible change and that I was just imagining it — even when I would go to him every morning with a handful of auburn hair that I had gathered up from the shower floor of our peppermint pink bathtub.

The surgery and the treatment were successful, and I have been cancer free for nearly seven years now. I was left with many side effects; neuropathy in my feet, bladder and other organ damage, but I am alive. The type of cancer I had was rectal cancer and when it was discovered, it was a Stage II with no lymph node involvement. If I can offer you any advice at all, it would be to have your first colonoscopy at the age of 50 or even before. I had very few symptoms, though I knew there was something terribly wrong. I was right.  

It is my belief that cancer never wins. We are so much more than this disease that has destroyed so many lives and caused such tragic grief. Cancer has no filter; it hits at birth or at the age of 95. There is no income guideline and no prerequisite; we all are eligible. When it comes swinging at you in the middle of the night, you can do nothing but face it head on and fight for your life. In the course of your lifetime, you will either know someone, love someone, or experience its wrath for yourself. Please, please have annual testing done. The sooner cancer is detected, the stronger your chances of survival.

Cancer has changed my life profoundly; and not all are good changes. Though I do not worry about trivial matters as frequently as I used to, I am forever looking over my shoulder to see if I am being stalked yet again by this most aggressive predator.

No, my friends, you will never see me waving a banner or shouting or dancing in victory; but that does not mean that I do not support those who pledge their lives to finding a cure and who work tirelessly to raise money for more research and the provision of comfort to cancer victims. Regardless of whether you spot me in person or feel me in spirit, I am always somewhere in that crowd, cheering you on. I promise.   

Belinda Ouellette lives in Caribou with her Goldendoodle, Barney. You may email her at: barneydoodle34@gmail.com

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