Those who haven’t been there might have trouble understanding the impact a simple date on the calendar can have on a person. After all, it’s just a date. It’s not something with substance. But those who have been there understand certain dates have a power to transport a person backward through time, making them relive the hardest, most painful days of their lives.
When the pain of a loss or a diagnosis is still new, it’s easy to travel back in different ways. A week ago today, she was opening presents. A month ago today, he was still here.
But in time, it’s the significant dates that become the ones with the power. For my friend Becky Conrad, whose situation I wrote about a few times in 2007, her dates are Dec. 30 and Jan. 1.
“December 30 was the day I fainted in my kitchen,” wrote Becky in a recent e-mail to me. “It’s what caused me to be sent to the hospital. And January 1 was when I had my brain biopsy and diagnosis.”
That diagnosis was central nervous system lymphoma, one of the rarest and hardest cancers to cure.
“I was told I had a 40 to 50 percent chance of beating it,” wrote Becky. “Even now — a year and four clear scans later — I’m told there’s still a 50 percent chance it will return.”
Immediately after her diagnosis, Becky began a long and intense series of chemotherapy that left her extremely weak, sick and dazed. It had all happened so fast.
“I was in a state of such shock and disbelief that by the time reality set in, I was undergoing chemo. It made me so sick that for a while, I didn’t much care what happened to me.”
While hospitalized for her second treatment, a winter storm interrupted the gas at Becky’s home in Burnsville. The greenhouse Becky operates was filled with young plants and tropical ferns that would have been ready for Mother’s Day sales. Without heat, everything froze. Her loss was tremendous, and not insured. It was nearly too much for Becky to bear.
“Just when I felt like giving up, I began being showered with a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. Even total strangers. It took my breath away to learn there are so many compassionate people in the world.”
Because Becky is blind, she depends greatly on her computer to communicate with the rest of the world, but her computer was too big to travel to the hospital with her. Although they had never met Becky, Jenny Lilly and Lou Ann Johnson of Charleston bought her a new laptop computer with every imaginable bell and whistle.
Wilma Acree of Parkersburg hired a bulldozer to smooth out Becky’s steep, almost impassable driveway. Chris Kuell sent a small cassette/radio player that could easily skip through the tracks on the special recorded books Becky gets from the library for the blind. Cari McComas and Dianna Petry created a Web site for Becky (www.beckyconrad.8m.com). Cards and checks began to arrive in the mail.
“They pulled me through it,” said Becky. “I couldn’t give up. No one would let me. I never really wanted to give up, but it was so hard. And then there was this day in the spring when I heard the birds singing and I thought, ‘It never sounded like that before.’
“I began to notice all these things that I’d just sort of taken for granted before. Scents were more intense. The smell of the plants and the dirt in my greenhouse. The feel of the sun warming my skin. Everything was richer. Sweeter.”
And then around comes the anniversary of her sickness. Of her diagnosis.
“I got so emotional thinking about it, remembering how it felt to spend New Year’s Eve in the hospital, how raw my arms were from all the blood draws and IVs, how confused and overwhelmed and stunned I was. It didn’t seem real.
“It’s been feeling too fresh again.
“It was a hard way to learn that I shouldn’t rush life, that I should slow down and appreciate my world and the people around me. All this has strengthened my bond with my family. It’s brought what is truly important into focus.”
These days, Becky is busy ordering seeds and making other preparations for getting her greenhouse going again. She has big plans for 2008. Along with her greenhouse, she’s going to not only finish her novel, but also write a few articles about her experience with cancer.
And all that it’s taught her.
Karin Fuller can be reached via e-mail at karinful...@cnpapers.com, and Becky Conrad can be reached at li...@citynet.net. Karin Fuller’s columns can be accessed easily online through her blog at thegazz.com.