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To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we’ll publish a story from our archives every month. Cynthia Nelson Weiss wrote regularly about life with cancer from 2005 – 2008. This was her first piece.


 

I’m thankful for cancer. Well, sort of. I know, cancer is not usually something people are thankful for, and believe me, I’m not exactly thrilled that during the past sixteen months I’ve visited a dozen doctors in four states and had six surgeries, including two laparoscopic procedures and a radical abdominal hysterectomy.

But as cliché as it sounds, I really believe that had I not been diagnosed with cervical and ovarian cancer, I would not have the life I do today.

After I was diagnosed, I had to decide where and when to have my treatment. I was living and working in South Jersey but my family was in Maryland, where I had grown up, as was my gynecologist. I had been seeing him for almost a decade and his partner had delivered me. The doctors were like family, too.

Part of me wanted to go home to mommy and daddy. I was 34 years old but it didn’t matter. I wanted to be taken care of and who better than them? The other part of me wondered how well I’d recuperate being cooped up with my parents for six weeks. Plus, most of my friends were elsewhere and I was concerned about overworking my mother, especially since she already spent significant time caring for my 85-year-old grandmother.

I ultimately decided to stay here in SJ. My mother would come here, as would one of my good friends from college. Between the two of them, and my partner David, I hoped that I would have the necessary care and help to get better.

Up until my surgery on June 21st, I hadn’t really been publicizing I had cancer. A handful of people I worked with knew, as did some of the women I saw regularly at networking functions. But when I came home from the hospital after six days, I realized how generous the people of South Jersey are.

Stacks of cards and notes were piled on the dining room table and the living room looked like a greenhouse there were so many floral arrangements.

Several things struck me. First was an overflowing vase sent by the Tri-State Human Resource Association. I had attended one of the group’s meetings about three weeks before surgery, but I had no recollection of telling anyone there what I was dealing with specifically. Yet somehow they had acquired my home address and sent a beautiful arrangement wishing me well.

Then, when I started going through the pile of cards, I became teary eyed as I read note after note of get-well wishes from people who were friends of my parents. Many of them had also made donations to the cancer society in my name.

When I eventually got to my computer I started crying for real. I had over 100 emails and some were from people I didn’t know. A friend of mine had apparently sent out an email alerting people to my cancer diagnosis and asking them to pray for me during surgery; some of the recipients felt compelled to write me directly. Reading the notes and wishes from strangers, I felt very blessed.

And despite the insane timing of my treatments – most are scheduled for 7:30 am – so many people have offered to drive me to doctor appointments I actually had to create a spreadsheet so I could keep track of who was taking me where, and when.

I really am so thankful for their help – some days the side effects render me completely useless – but I still find that I apologize a lot. I realize I have no control over the doctors or the machinery, of course, but I still feel responsible when my appointments run over or when I abruptly shout, “Pull the car over!”

One Friday, I had to get blood drawn following my radiation. I had informed my traveling companion that we should be in and out rather quickly based on my last visit. I arrived at 8 am at the lab. By 9:30, they still hadn’t called me. I kept questioning the receptionist, trying to find out what the hold up was, but I never did get a straight answer. It was almost 11 by the time we left.

I was antsy and kept checking my watch. My companion on the other hand, rescheduled the appointment she had for lunch and told me not to worry. “I can be here with you all day,” I remember her saying. Her lunch could wait. My health could not. I didn’t know whether to hug her or cry.

Some nights after everyone else has gone to bed and I can’t sleep because my stomach still hurts too much to lay down flat, I find myself just thinking of all the people who have helped me in the last year and a half. I recount with awe the many selfless acts they’ve performed – from simply calling to see how I’m feeling to cooking me dinner to making me a wig. I realize that despite this horrible thing called cancer, many strangers are now my friends.

Yes, I’m thankful for cancer. And I’m thankful for the decision I made to stay here in South Jersey.

Read more of Cynthia’s entries here. 

February 2020
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