6 Weeks

I just finished reading the excellent book Unbroken, a biography of WWII POW Louis Zamperini. It struck me how many details of his ordeal Louis remembered, which made me wonder if that’s normal with traumatic experiences. I remember well my own smaller scale experience, an eventful six weeks in early 2004. I had finally told my doctor of symptoms so mild I had ignored them for over a year. “Let’s get some scans to be on the safe side,” she said. They weren’t normal, nor were the second round routinely ordered to confirm the first. I distinctly remember arguing with the surgeon, telling him I was too busy right now for surgery, couldn’t it wait a couple of months?  After all, I was in a new role and it was budget time. (Yes, I realize now how stupid that sounds). I’ll never forget the look on his face when he kindly but sternly said, “You need this done now.”

I tried not to worry in the three weeks until surgery, only half succeeding and wondering what they would find. It wasn’t a long wait. The day after coming home from the hospital, the surgeon called me himself:  a rare form of stomach cancer, only 50 cases in the U.S. per year. My husband was running errands when the call came; I hobbled to the computer to research the prognosis. The outlook was bleak:  90% mortality within 5 years, no treatment options upon recurrence. I don’t remember telling my husband. The next three weeks waiting for the visit to the oncologist was difficult, an emotional whirlpool running simultaneously with a challenging physical recovery. I mentally began the letters to my two young children, to be given to them when they grew up. I planned how to ask my sister, who had traveled with me to China, to be the keeper of my daughter’s cultural heritage. We began discussing financial planning options, since I am the family breadwinner and have always managed our finances. The oncologist’s waiting room was memorable:  two other couples were there. Though we had never met, we all knew one deeply personal, crucial fact about each other. I said a prayer for them and wondered where their stories would end. I don’t remember the oncologist’s face or his name, only that he got straight to the point:  “Good news, we made a mistake! We reran the results, and your tumor was benign.” I fought a ridiculous urge to run from his office, afraid to hear anything else, but I forced myself to stay and ask the necessary questions, including the all-important one:  “How do you know which result was correct?”.  It appears the answer was the second time, since I passed the 5-year milestone several years back with a quiet, internal celebration. While those 6 weeks were deeply painful (Russ still can’t talk about that time), I now see them as a profound gift. Few people have the privilege of having a death sentence lifted. I got to see how much others cared about me. The experience moved me to becoming a recovering workaholic. I no longer get stressed over many of the silly things at work. I have become a better wife, mother, and friend. I invest energy in others, and my life is infinitely richer for it. I wouldn’t give up those 6 weeks for anything.

“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson


About Kelly J. McCleary

Wife and mother of three, author, financial professional View all posts by Kelly J. McCleary

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