I Promised One Happy Thing a Day During Cancer Treatment


Surprisingly, there were many reasons to be happy, even throughout my difficult cancer treatments, and I have some awesome memories.

Twenty-five years ago in March, an ultrasound indicated that what I thought might be a hernia was a mass. The first specialist we visited told me to get my affairs in order — shame on him. We found new specialists with help from friends.

In April, surgeons took a biopsy but didn’t remove the tumor because it was so big (the size of my hand). Toward the end of June, when I looked like I had a soccer ball inside me and still didn’t know the pathology, I panicked and started calling for the report. It came from a specialist in Michigan: a sarcoma growing on my abdominal wall, a stage 4 malignant fibrous histiocytoma. My spouse asked my chances, but I wouldn’t let my doctor answer because it was too scary. We aren’t statistics.

I live in northwest Oregon and received wonderfully holistic care. My oncologist told me it would be hard and started chemotherapy immediately after local specialists decided that the only protocol for my cancer should be reordered to begin with chemotherapy rather than excision. She warned that the therapy was highly toxic and that I’d need to wear a pump to spread the infusion over 36 hours, that I should stop working and remain as active as I could.

I couldn’t do much but promised myself one happy thing every day — a promise I kept with help from family, friends and my dog. Surprisingly, there were many reasons to be happy, and I have some awesome memories. I believe we need to forge good support systems and keep close to the people who make us happy, for better outcomes.

The chemotherapy used for me is so toxic that the maximum life dosage is six treatments; that chemo treatment would last only four months was helpful to me. I postponed the last two treatments and we went to the Grand Canyon, that magnificent part of creation that is so much more powerful than cancer. Inspired by a yucca blooming on rock, I came home and finished chemo and then a month of daily radiation. That last month of treatment I lost almost a quarter of my body weight as my digestive system shut down.

I didn’t know if the cancer or the treatment was doing the damage, but my body was about done with all of it. Friends and family looked scared when they saw me. I looked scared when I saw me. A plastic surgeon warned I’d likely never be able to stand or cough or laugh again — how cruel of him to assume he was up to the job.

My oncologist recommended a new surgeon, the only local physician who had seen this type of cancer; he added the area’s plastic surgeon specializing in trauma. It was a very difficult and extensive surgery that would remove all my abdominal flat muscles and whatever else the tumor had impacted.

The friends and family sat vigil. The surgeons gave them reports, with increasing excitement as they found the tumor (about the size of a deflated basketball) necrotic, then found clean margins, then put me back together with all the bad bits excised. I learned then that statistics gave me less than a 5% chance of survival.

So many things went right. Docs and nurses were excellent at their work and committed to the best care possible for me. Friends and family were brave and close, offering amazing support and love. Church friends fed us, drove me around, cleaned house or garden; they stayed.

Then, five years later, one thing went wrong: there were two new tumors at the right margin and no second protocol of treatment. My wonderful surgeon told me not to worry, that he could save me without chemo or radiation. He did. In these years I’ve shared my kids’ graduations, weddings and childbirths. I’ve had a wonderful life and am deeply grateful for it.

A couple years ago I visited that wonderful surgeon before he moved away. We both cried; he still makes me feel safe. I still see my oncologist every year hoping to stay ahead of whatever that treatment may still do to me.

I learned such important things: to find physicians I trust, to let others help me, to make joy however we can, to not waste energy on fear or anger, to be fully alive every day that I am. I hope the same for all of us. Live in hope and look for miracles.

This post was written and submitted by Terri Hoffmann. The article reflects the views of Terri Hoffmann and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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