In April 2008 I was in Washington, DC for a weekend with Wounded Warriors of the 173rd, 2-503 and great friends. On Saturday night as I was walking a cross a parking lot towards a restaurant to have dinner with friends I received a phone call telling me that my father had died. It was TOTALLY unexpected and more of a blow than I could ever explain.
I flew home the following morning and, with my brothers, began making arrangements to bury dad. I can't remember a time when my brothers and I have ever come together so well and effortlessly.
On the day of Dad's funeral my brothers and I sat together on two front pews of the small country church that Dad had grown up in. As a child he took us there every Sunday. On a "good" day there were 40-50 people in attendance. OK, I'm probably stretching those numbers. The pew wasn't long enough for me, all of my brothers and their wives. I'm not even sure how or why I ended up on the front row next to my sister-in-law Cheryl. Actually, at the time I didn't even realize why Cheryl was sitting on the front row.
The service began. I can't remember any order to the service but I will never forget when Cheryl stood up , took a step and turned to the congregation. Recorded music began to play and then Cheryl's angelic voice filled the sanctuary. I wish I could remember the name of the song but I cannot right now. There wasn't a dry eye in the house by the time she was half way through. It wasn't just the words to the song; it was her voice and her love for Dad that came through as she sang. I don't know how she made it through. I didn't know she was going to sing but am so thankful she did. Cheryl was a single mom when my brother met her and fell in love. She worked long hours to raise her daughter on her own. When she and my brother married he adopted Tiffany. Cheryl never had the opportunity to attend college until a few years after she and my brother married. For 3 1/2 years she drove 1 1/2 hours each way to attend university majoring in vocal music and graduating TOP of her class. We could not have been more proud of her.
After we buried Dad we were all on "remote control". Or so I thought. Cheryl and David weren't. They were making and keeping doctor's appointments AND keeping a secret from all of us. Two weeks after Dad's funeral they shared devastating news with us. Cheryl had been diagnosed with late Stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. We were beyond devastated. The original prognosis was MAYBE 6-12 months but only if the chemo held the cancer at bay. The thought of remission or cure was never even discussed. Although the cancer had spread throughout Cheryl's body the good news was that it had NOT attacked any organs. The bad news was that scans showed tumors on her bones throughout her body including on her skull. The Oncologist told David to make the most of every day; to take trips they had wanted to take.
Cheryl began chemotherapy in May 2008. She has been on WEEKLY treatments since then. TWENTY SIX MONTHS of weekly chemotherapy sprinkled with blood transfusions at least once a month and often twice a month. Her first course of chemotherapy was called "Red Devil". It more than ravaged her body but not her spirit. "Red Devil" is so harsh it cannot be given more than, I believe, 6 times. Over the past 2+ years her chemotherapy drugs have changed. She takes handfuls of pills though out each day. She has lost her hair 2 or 3 times, lost any sense of feeling in her feet and fingers. Has had a mastectomy. The drain from that was in for months. Since she had to continue on chemo her body wouldn't heal. She has endured infections that required hospitalization and intrevenous antibiotics. And she even had to have her gall bladder removed. I have NEVER heard her complain.
I had the privilege and pleasure of taking Cheryl to several chemo treatments. It was always a long day. Four hours drive each way along with the treatment time. On the days she required a blood transfusion the days often stretched into 20 hours or longer. But I enjoyed EVERY trip with her and miss not being able to go (work has me geographically too far away). Cheryl told me from the start that she was going to beat this. Even on her worst days she ever gave up and never allowed any of us to. Her mother, sisters and extended family along with our family and her church and friends wrapped her in love and support. There were so many days when she encouraged us.
At each treatment we met with the Oncologist after her blood was drawn and analyzed. Cheryl was diligent about writing down her "numbers". Her memory came and went depending on the type of chemo treatment but she always remembered to write down those numbers. After treatment we would often go to a favorite restaurant of Cheryl's. She didn't always eat so much but we had tons of fun. Many times we would stop at The Fresh Market - one of our favorite places. I remember one time when we stopped at a bakery and bought more than either of us needed to eat. Then we shot across the interstate to Starbucks. For an hour and a half as we drove to her house we ate and drank and laughed. We tried the confections each of us had chosen. And we laughed like school girls.
Cheryl's a shopper. Am am NOT! One day she required a blood transfusion after the chemo treatment. We drove over to the hospital for the type and cross match. Our cousin Jane brought us sandwiches. Cheryl was finally put in a room but the blood took hours to be delivered to the floor. We decided to stay the night because it was getting so late in the day. The first unit of blood arrived and was hooked up. A cot was brought in for me to sleep on. And THEN Cheryl announced, "Oh! Dillards is having a shoe sale. We can have breakfast then go there before we go home tomorrow." Uh oh! That would take up the entire next day. I love her dearlybut I don't shop with ANYONE! I made a bee line for the nurse's station and asked if there was any way they could push the second unit of blood in faster so we could go home that night. They looked at me like I was crazy. I dropped Cheryl off at 12:30 a.m. and made it home around 3:00 a.m. Several months later I told Cheryl why I had done that and we still laugh about it.
So many have done so much to help out from cooking meals to taking Cheryl for her treatments. Twenty six months folks. EVERY week. It has taken a toll on David and Tiffany, too. Last November while David and Cheryl were at her mom's for Thanksgiving we drove over and decorated their house for Christmas. On Christmas David smoked a turkey and the rest of us made way too many other dishes, packed the car and went to their house. Tiffany and her husband came and brought Cheryl's and David's precious grandsons and we had a wonderful day. Cheryl wasn't feeling so well but was such a trooper - as always.
About two hours ago David called as he and Cheryl were on their way home after today's chemo treatment. God has truly blessed us and answered the prayers of so many on behalf of Cheryl. When all of this began Cheryl was given two sets of numbers called "cancer markers". I don't really know the scientific explanation but I do know that for one set the normal number is 35. Cheryl's number was 162 when she was diagnosed. Today it was, drum roll please..............30! The other set's "normal" number is 4.5. Cheryl's was 38 when she was diagnosed. Today? 4.3.
Cheryl isn't cured. She's not even considered in remission yet. But now, more than ever, I am convinced that she WILL beat this. Prayer, positive thoughts and miracles. I believe in them all.
David said they called Tiffany on the way home tonight. She told her oldest son the good news. He's 6. He asked, "Momma, does this mean Nana can ride her bicycle with me again? Will she be able to go on walks with me? Will she stop being old?" We all laughed.
For those of you who have kept Cheryl in your prayers - THANK YOU! It's been a long haul and it's not over but for once we see that light at the end of the tunnel and it's so bright.