A Cat, A T-Shirt, And How To Live With Cancer

My Mom was diagnosed with cancer two years and nine months ago. She shared this speech about her journey with cancer at a Relay for Life dinner over two years ago. I first shared her words on my original blog, Beck Far From Home. Two years further into the journey has left her a great deal more sick, the cancer has now spread to her brain, but her words hold true. I’m thankful to be able to share her thoughts and pass on the hope she lives with. Please feel free to spread the encouragement. If you know someone facing cancer or a difficult time pass her story on! And of course we would appreciate your prayers for her journey.

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Mom, in her North Carolina mountains.

Everything I needed to know about how to live with cancer I learned from a cat, and everything I needed to know about cancer itself I learned from a t-shirt.

15 years ago we lived in the metro Atlanta area. It was fall of the year, late October, almost Halloween. The air was crisp. Beautiful fall leaves clung to the trees, pumpkins decorated porches. The feeling of change was in the air. It was in that atmosphere that I stepped out onto my porch and saw a stray cat. He was jet black, had a big, thick Tom cat head, a flat nose like a boxer, a ragged ear that tilted to one side, a crooked tail, bald spots where scars prevented hair from growing, bowed legs, and he walked with a swagger. He was a bad cat with a bad boy attitude. I named him Boo.

Boo didn’t trust people and I wanted to change that. I would call him whenever I would see him, offer him special treats, but he kept his distance. As it got colder Boo started coming into the garage for warmth. That worked to my advantage; I could have more contact with him. Boo had a need he wasn’t ready to admit to yet. He could make it out on his on, the hard way, or make it with me, a wiser choice. Finally he gave in, made the wise decision, and began trusting me. Our relationship was under way. But I knew Boo could not be the great cat he was meant to be until he had an operation. I trapped him in a cage, took him to the vet who did his job and when Boo came home he was a changed man.

He began to pursue me. Boo had not just been physically starved, he had been starved for love. He followed me like a dog, constantly at my feet. If I sat down I had a lap full of black cat. It was Boo’s lap and he wanted in it. As far as Boo was concerned there was nothing else he’d rather do and no where else he’d rather be than in my lap.

I had been struggling with my relationship with God. God used Boo. I was Boo and God wanted me in His lap. Me! In His lap! I made the wise decision. I wanted to be like Boo. Changed. I purposed to yield to the transformation commitment God had made to me in His word. As I spent time in God’s lap I began to feel like Boo must have felt in mine; safe, comfortable, accepted, contented, welcomed, prized, examined, wanted, loved.

Two years ago I began having random symptoms; swollen, painful joints, lost range of motion, and even physical therapy. My doctor referred me to a Rheumatologist but by the time I could get an appointment my symptoms were gone. I had heart palpitations and blood pressure fluctuations. I had a night visit to the ER fearing a heart attack. I had a stress test, EKG, sonogram on my arteries expecting a blockage, but all were negative. I had intense stomach pain and was treated for gastritis. I had fevers and night sweats. My symptoms would come and go but one thing was for sure I was losing strength and energy.

November 12, 2013 I began running a fever. I was treated for a UTI. Two weeks later I still had a fever. My doctor gave me an antibiotic injection. A week later I was still feverish. My Doctor ordered a CT scan suspecting I had an infection in my abdomen. By this time my strength and energy were completely gone. I told a friend “I fear I’m terribly, terribly ill.”

After the scan the nurse at the radiologist sent me directly to see my doctor. I knew something was wrong. I saw the doctor quickly, I didn’t like the look on her face. She sat very close and began her medical explanation. She handed me the printed radiology report. I interrupted her and said flatly, “I have cancer.” She said, “we don’t like that word.” I don’t remember what else was said, I don’t remember how I got out of that room. I went out to my waiting husband and told him, “I have cancer.” I do remember his loud, clear, definitive “NO”.

I had become so dehydrated I was admitted to the hospital a few days later. A liver biopsy said that I had Neuroendocrine tumors in my liver, too many to count. It’s a rare cancer, only 4 in 100,000 people have it. After seeing the oncologist on call I was stabilized and sent home. He called later with more lab results and a treatment plan. We learned it was inoperable and wouldn’t respond to chemotherapy. But, we were assured, there were new medicines. The old medicines used to treat it had been only 20% effective, but the new ones were better. I didn’t like the tone in his voice. He was a great guy, we liked him, a good doctor to be sure, but his arsenal was too small for me. We knew we needed other options.

My husband asked his sister, Jeanne, who had lost her son, Beau, to synovial sarcoma two years earlier, what she would do? She suggested Cancer Treatment Centers of America. We had our first visit to CTCA on December 10th. I met my oncologist who passed me off to an Interventional Radiologist for the preferred treatment. My treatment would be an injection of between 2 to 8 million radioactive therasphers. These are tiny glass beads less than the circumference of a human hair fed through my femoral artery in my groin to be placed in the arteries in my liver which fed the tumors. There are only a handful of hospitals in the country with this new technology. I had “fallen” into the right hands.

I felt like a character in a science fiction movie as I had my first treatment on Jan 19, 2013. After an overnight stay I was sent home to wait for the beads to do their job. Those were long difficult weeks. I was in the capable hands of an excellent caregiver, my husband. He took family medical leave to be with me constantly. Our church and families were loving and supportive.

But you are never the same after you hear the C word. Cancer changes everything. It changes how you feel about time, relationships, possessions, even your own body as it betrays you. I prayed, asking, begging God to enable me to do this thing. Fear could overtake me at times. What if the treatment didn’t work? But, God reminded me of Boo. I had allowed fear to get me out of the lap. Back into His lap I crawled, insisting on being there, finding comfort, rest, peace and trust. In those intimate moments God spoke to me of my fear reminding me that I need to live today, just today. Don’t try to live tomorrow, don’t look at it. He hadn’t ask me to live tomorrow yet, but when He did call me to He would be there with me.

The last time we were at CTCA my radiologist told me that in January my condition had been scary. He didn’t need to tell me that. I knew it. I knew I had been in danger, I had felt it. But, a stray black cat had shown me 15 years earlier how to live with cancer, how to walk the most difficult mile of my journey.

My two treatments were considered successful. At the last MRI I had no viable tumors in my liver. We go back to CTCA Monday the 13th. I’ll have an MRI of my liver and hopefully find out about removal of the primary cancer.

The last time Silver, my little therapy dog, and I worked at Mission Cancer Center we walked past the gift shop window. There hung a t-shirt that stopped me in my tracks. Printed on the front was everything I needed to know about cancer. I know some medical facts about cancer. I don’t understand much of it. I have an oncologist that presumably knows all he can know about my cancer. That’s his job. But, what I learned from the t-shirt is all I need to know and it’s this: “Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love, it cannot kill friendship, it cannot shatter hope, it cannot shut out memories, it cannot destroy confidence, it cannot eat away peace, it cannot silence courage, it cannot reduce eternal life, it cannot quench the spirit.” That’s my cancer. And that’s your cancer.

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Pat Morton lives in a cabin in the hills of North Carolina with her husband Steve and an assortment of animal friends. She’s a native South Carolina girl and a story teller by nature. I’m proud to call her mom.
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