I met Cheryl in December of 2003, shortly after she'd been diagnosed with stage IV small cell lung cancer. In part one of her account, Cheryl's Story of Courage and Caring, she detailed what it felt like to get the diagnosis every smoker fears, and all of the tests that followed. Part two takes you through her cancer treatment in more detail.
It was Cheryl's wish to help others avoid her fate by reaching out with her story. I'm sure that she accomplished her goal many times over. Her account has been read by thousands of people all over the world, and many have found the inspiration they needed to stop smoking for good after reading what she had to share.
Sadly the world lost a courageous and loving woman when Cheryl succumbed to her cancer on June 30, 2005.
Please read her story, and take her words to heart. What happened to Cheryl could happen to anyone.
Smoking is a deadly addiction, and it will kill you, given the chance. It has nothing of value to offer you. Nothing.
I came to live here after I was diagnosed with limited small cell lung cancer and squamous cell 3rd stage B cancer on November 19, 2003.
Now, I wasn't aware of this place, nor did I realize I had already become a participating resident for about three weeks. Every time I heard a statistic, or the time, date of this or that, I closed off my hearing and speech. I let my family do the hearing for me as we traveled back and forth to doctors and meetings for days on end. It took me a bit of traveling blindly to get here, but finally the wheels came to a stop.
The cigarette smoke and the clouds of denial and confusion finally lifted before my eyes, dry from radiation. I wanted to see the truth. I was raw and weary from the trip, but I was finally ready to learn what I needed to do in order to survive. I was ready to be in control of this particular cycle of my life.
I watched and observed others in my condition. The experienced ones in the treatment rooms helped me along the way. They were kind and honest. Slowly, slowly, layer by layer, my old life's needs, wants and priorities were being stripped away. Those layers were useless to me now.
One day I looked in the mirror, and what I saw was me, being as open and honest as I had ever been in my life. In reality, I was bald and ill, but in my mind's eye I was beautiful and my spirit soared. One side of my being wanted to Go! Live and love for all the days that were left!
That side said, "Be greedy and don't look ahead."
The other side of me said, "Get out there. Fight! Know thine enemy, cancer. Pay attention. This one is for the BIG test!"
Ok! I get it! I am here 100 percent. Cheryl is here for her new class on Life 101.
A day in my life...
I am up and at 'em at 4am in order to get to the big city by 7:30 a.m. I grab my meds, coffee, my nicotine gum, my crystals, my ACA book, and Bernie Siegal, M.D.'s book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, and head for the car.
I ride through my beloved, foggy morning bayous to get to the hospital. By the time I get to the second floor of the hospital, the nurses are turning on the blinking, popping florescent lights at their stations, thereby erasing all of the darkness of yesterday.
For one tiny second, we are all the same. Just people beginning their work day. Not patients, not nurses, just people. But it's just for a tiny second.
As I walk into the chemo treatment room, I first look around to see who isn't there. I make a mental note to ask the nurse or others about the missing person later. Then, and only then, will I focus on the faces who are there. I find a splendid beauty in every single face I behold on these days. I think I am finally getting it. Only God could have created man. I see humanity and caring shining through the pain and fear when I see these people helping each other.
In the room, I look around and am happy to see friendly faces and warm smiles. We exchange our special looks and we are glad to be where we are "understood" and "accepted, as-is". Sometimes, when it's tough and painful, we pray for the pain to go away together. Sometimes we feel the need to touch hands and pray silently.
Sometimes I make a special point of sitting by a lady who has no children, husband or family. She has a very beautiful, peaceful face and a demure manner. She has the prettiest teeth I have ever seen.
"I will be fine", she says to me. "I have My Lord and my friends."
She has had two mastectomies and now the cancer is in her lungs and lymph nodes. I believe she is the bravest woman I have ever met. I asked for her phone number. When I called, it was busy. That made me feel good. That means that someone else had called her. She has someone who cares. Wonderful!
There's the older guy who sat and listened to my endless chatter with a patient smile for an hour one morning. He had the bravest smile and attitude about his diagnosis of any I have seen, even though he was in the final stages of throat cancer.
Then his wife came in and told me he could not speak, nor did he hear well. He grinned at me even bigger when he heard what his wife was saying. Hmmmm...maybe he hears better than she knows? *smile* I felt like he and I had a really good chat anyway. Words or no words. He always has a special smile for me when we meet. We had a good laugh over it. I hope I never quit seeing him.
Laughter is golden in these rooms. Tears are diamonds.
Sometimes the earth person (the one without cancer) does the talking for us. There isn't always enough energy left when we need to talk after our treatments. There are some patients who just need to have their own space. They deserve respect and understanding for their choices.
Sometimes someone has heard of something new in cancer cures. We all want to hear about it and discuss its merits. We get excited. Sometimes we talk of new treatments in hushed reverence.
Anyone can have the floor, and we will all stop and listen. This place is a true democracy. Personal courtesy, politeness, and respect for each other is an unspoken law in this world. Whatever the race, politics, income, or education, we are all equal now. Cancer has no color.
One day I realized I wasn't in my usual tense, hurry up and get back home mode. It was on that day I finally understood the words "control" and "choices".
It takes a certain amount of time to complete these cancer treatments. No more, no less.
It takes a certain amount of time for every individual life to be completed. No more, no less.
I have learned to "Fear Not" in these treatment rooms. I am now trying to learn how to "Live" with "Dignity" in these rooms. I know and understand that when I have learned what I am supposed to learn, it will be my time to teach another new world member. Then I will be able to bring another frightened cancer patient through the cloudy mist and confusion that they feel bogged down in.
Later on, I'll lead her to the preparing and healing side, just as was done for me. I will be sorry and sad to see her come here, but I will help her, with all that I am able, to win this very important war.
Healing comes in many forms.
Diagnosed with Small Cell Lung Cancer - Part One of Cheryl's Story