As I work on a holiday drawing, the coyotes are howling outside, while inside, my cat and I are reminded of my wife who died of breast cancer.
The coyotes are howling loudly tonight.
The commotion has sidetracked me as I’m working on my rough sketch for my holiday art project for CURE®. Inspired by the wildlife that visits my backyard, I have an idea for something a little different. An artistic activity for the readers and contributors here that hopefully will be shared outside the cancer community as well. But the yotes’ cries have stirred many memories and strong emotions and interrupted my creative focus.
I put down my drawing pencil and open the shutters. Looking out the window towards the darkness where the coyote pack is yipping, I see the silhouette of a nearby desert mountain. My late wife and I often hiked and watched many spectacular Arizona sunsets together there.
Staring into the night sky, I begin to think about my wife and her hereditary breast cancer nightmare. A short string of letters and numbers pops into my head. Her BRCA2 mutation. I can recite it from heart. The very same mutation that I now know is so prevalent in her family. The thought of how a single piece of paper that spelled out that mutation and its risks, that sat unshared for years, could have saved her life haunts me tonight.
One of the cats jumps up on the chair next to me and distracts me. It’s my wife’s sweet, plumpish calico — a rescue cat. She was just a shy scrawny kitten when we brought her home at Christmastime just two short years before my wife’s cancer diagnosis.
I lean over to the cat and sigh.
The cat lets out a little peep of a meow and nudges my arm softly as if to say, “I know. I dearly miss her too.”
Outside, the coyotes are still barking and yelping. They sound closer now.
It seems fitting that there are coyotes out howling tonight. Earlier, I made arrangements to drop off dozens of copies of a children’s book to the Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children. It’s a Southwestern Desert Christmas tale that I illustrated featuring a coyote as the main character. I’m hoping it will bring a moment or two of delight and wonder to the children the foundation serves.
It is also sadly fitting that I’m giving that particular book to a cancer organization. My wife was seemingly doing OK after finishing chemotherapy and having surgery for her cancer when I accepted the illustration assignment. But that soon changed as my wife’s cancer spread; caregiving took priority. How I found the time and energy to work on the book and meet the deadline I’m not sure. It’s all a blur now.
“I ------- hate cancer!” I say to the cat that’s now playfully pawing at my pencil on the table. She’s gotten used to my rants about cancer and continues undeterred.
A solitary coyote is now baying, and my thoughts turn to my adult child. My previvor daughter. She has shown incredible maturity and courage for someone so young. Not only did she have to face the trauma and sorrow of losing her beloved mother to cancer, but also the tough life-altering choices that come with having the same BRCA2 mutation as her mom.
Needless to say, like every holiday, I will be celebrating that my daughter is a previvor. That thanks to science and surgery she has a chance at a full life cancer free. Precious gifts can come in many forms. I only wish her mom was here to celebrate life and previvorship with us.
It’s getting late and the coyotes have quieted down. Time to pick up my drawing pencil again — if I can only find where the cat took it.