Over the past 5 years that breast cancer has been part of my life, I have met and talked to a lot of people this disease has affected. Sadly, some of those people are no longer with us; the disease took over. My heart would break every time I heard about another death, but truth be known, I didn’t have a personal relationship with any of the people that passed away. They were part of my “cancer world”, but not part of my “before cancer world”.
That is, until a few months ago. Someone who I cared about, someone who I spent holidays with, someone who I had a special bond (a bond based on the cancer diagnosis that we shared) passed away. Metastatic breast cancer; liver and brain, she was gone within 2 weeks. Denise, that’s her name. Not “was”, IS her name. Denise is my brother in-laws mother, a woman who lived with METS for 11 years. When originally diagnosed, it was already in her bones. 11 years, she dealt with pain that most people couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Pain that took over her life and made it very difficult to do things we all take for granted. However, besides her inner circle, who were very aware of her pain and anguish, she never let anyone else in on it. I never heard her complain, I only knew about the pain because of what my sister and my brother in-law would tell me, Denise would never utter a word. Too proud, too scared, I’m not sure, but I know she didn’t like to talk about the elephant in the room, that her time here was limited. Anyone who has read anything I have written knows how vocal I have been about everything cancer related, Denise was the exact opposite. I remember her whispering in my ear one holiday, so that nobody else would hear, that she read one of my blogs and she couldn’t agree more with what I said. I thanked her, and we started to talk about something else, because I respected her need to not talk about the cancer. I always followed her lead; I screamed it from the rooftops, and she appreciated it, she told me, but that just wasn’t her. Bitterness is part of a cancer diagnosis, no matter your age or stage, it’s very hard to let that go. And that was the case for Denise; she was pissed she was going to die, she was pissed she was in pain. That bitterness was only shown to the people she loved the most and who loved her just as much.
She was so much more than a woman living with METS; she was a wife, a mom, a grandma, a nurse, and a fantastic cook!! And I’m not talking about a home cook, I’m talking on the gourmet level. Thanksgiving was her holiday to really show her skills and she never disappointed! One year she made Spatchcocked Turkey with anise & orange; the only 2 words I recognized or could pronounce for that matter was turkey and orange! However, it was delicious, as everything she made always was. Another year, the menu included a rye, kale, mushroom & pumpkin seed stuffing. No traditional dishes for Denise, the more complicated & challenging, the more she wanted to do it. She not only made 90% of the food for dinner, but she made most of the desserts also. All homemade, from scratch, no shortcuts. The planning, the time, the effort that went into those meals would be hard for anyone, but for someone like Denise with the level of pain she endured daily, this was an achievement that wasn’t lost on any of us lucky enough to sit at that table with her. Thanksgiving will never be the same.
I’m glad she is no longer in pain & I choose to believe she is truly in a better place. I will never say cancer beat her, in fact, I refuse to say that, what I will say is Denise quit cancer; she had enough. So, now I sit here trying to accept the reality that I have lost someone who I cared deeply for to a disease that has personally affected me. Denise, that’s her name.