Saturday, May 23, 2015

In Memorium

Soon after I was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, I started following the blog of a young mother who was also battling melanoma. Alisa and I shared some similarities - we both lived in Utah, we were both mothers, we were both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with firm testimonies and faith, we were both patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute and were both being treated by Dr. Grossmann. During the past four years, I've read Alisa's blog entries regularly, always curious about how she was handling some of the same issues I was going through, and marveling at her bravery and determination to try every treatment available, no matter where she had to go or how difficult it would be for her. She continually amazed me with her medical knowledge; she was trained as a nurse, but she also explored all her options to the fullest extent to understand the procedures, the side effects, and the long & short term outcomes. We both tried to qualify for trials & experimental drugs for the best results to fight our tumors, but I always felt Alisa suffered far more than I did, spending agonizing weeks in the hospital receiving chemo treatments in far-off cities that took their toll on her body and her appearance. Her most recent treatments stole her beautiful hair, but did little to diminish her love for her Savior, her family, and her home. In January, she was hospitalized with severe pain from tumors that continued to grow, despite aggressive chemotherapy. When she was too weak or sick to type, her blogs were often "voiced" by her good husband, who did his best to give updates to all of us followers who hung on every word. When days (and sometimes weeks) would go by without an update, there was a clamor for even a snippet of news about our friend & sister--how was she handling the pain meds, would she be coming home soon, how were her boys & husband managing, etc. Some days I was afraid to read the latest, afraid for the worst news. About two weeks ago, she went in for scans and found that the tumors were invading nearly all her major organs. One of her last blog updates was simply, "We are going home with hospice care." Unfortunately, I've come to recognize that cancer rears its ugliest head when pain becomes unbearable and can't be sufficiently managed with medications and hospice has to be hired. When that time comes, it isn't the spread of tumors or the fear of the effects of chemo that brings a fighter to their knees, it's the terrible, searing pain that can't be erased. I saw it happen with my friend, Dov, who for years put on a brave face & used every bit of energy to ease the hurt of others until his own pain robbed him of strength & hope. I saw it in the writing of another melanoma mama's blog who went from supposed cancer survivor to cancer casualty within a matter of months, when pain drove her to long days and nights in bed and away from daily life with her sweet, young family. And then finally, blessedly, last Tuesday I opened Alisa's blog to see an update, which was also her beautifully-written obituary. Today was her funeral and I've thought about her all day. I read online that the elementary school her sons attended decorated the funeral route with balloons and ribbons, and then stood at silent attention as the hearse passed. It made me cry again. I've been sad all week for those of us left behind...

In four years, I've followed three wonderful people who shared their trials & triumphs in fighting cancer. They each had a different story to tell, yet their words were similar. They all had hope, they all inspired other cancer fighters, and they all came to realize how very important the moments we have with our families & friends are. 

I pray that someday I can embrace Kathy, Dov, and Alisa and tell them how much they influenced my life for the best during our shared time battling cancer. I learned sacrifice, service, and the importance of love from each of their written conversations and documented experiences.They are my heroes, my friends, and my fellow warriors. Thanks from the bottom of my heart... You will never be forgotten.
(Picture posted by Alisa's family the day of her passing...)