Breaking the News

Telling My Story for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Viki ZarkinDuring my time working on Harrisburg’s Play for P.I.N.K. project, which I wrote about here, I was honored to get to know the people at Blue Cross, one of our event’s biggest sponsors. As our relationship grew, I shared my story with them, and they decided to highlight that story on their website here during Breast Cancer Awareness Month: http://capitalbluestore.com/blog/viki-zarkin/.

I hope you all enjoy it. Blue Cross is a wonderful company and has been very supportive of me. I’m so lucky to have had the chance to work with them.

Living … for the big events and everything in between

Two years ago, right around this time, my doctors told me that I wouldn’t be alive for long. Wow, what a pill to swallow. You see, I was talking to the doctor about my son’s Bar Mitzvah and how it was set for November of 2012 … and he said I wouldn’t make it. He was saying that I wouldn’t see my son on the day he would become a man in the eyes of Jewish law, not to mention all the other things I wouldn’t be here for. But I was determined to prove him wrong. That very day, after I left the doctor’s office, I went home and put down a deposit on a venue for my son’s party.

Viki and Dell on the day after the Bar Mitzvah

Viki and Dell are all smiles on the day after the Bar Mitzvah

And, as you might have noticed, I’M STILL HERE! Last week, I stood on the pulpit with my son and my family and witnessed my son become a Bar Mitzvah. The emotions that I have experienced in the past week are unforgettable. I’m here today to tell the world how proud I am of my son, my family and myself. How surreal is that?!

I will remember that day as one of the greatest in my life. I was surrounded by my family and friends who love me. I could feel their emotions too, pulling me into their warmth and willing me to make my future dreams come true.

I danced!! I did … I danced and laughed and really enjoyed myself. I have been planning this event for two years, and it was everything that I wanted it to be and more. It was such a fun party. Dell had a great time with his friends, and every time I looked at him, he was shining. I think he may have changed a bit himself that day. Today, he seems to walk with more confidence. I think he’s going to be OK. He will make a fine man someday. And no matter what my future holds, no one can take away my part in helping my son grow into the kind of man that would make any mom proud.

Now, as I bask in the warm glow of memories of that day, one thing is clear about the past two years. Having that important event to look forward to gave me huge incentive to drive myself harder and harder every day so I could be there for my son. There wasn’t anything that would prevent me from keeping my promise to my son that I was going to share that special day in his life.

My daughter turned 10 last week, which means her Bat Mitzvah is in three years. The year 2015. I can do this. I know this goal is further away than the first one was, but I’m very capable when I set my mind on something. Besides, I’ve always treated my children equally … why would I change that now? If I was there for Dell’s big day, I must now be there for Bella’s big day as well. So as I write this today, I’m making a promise to myself, my daughter and to my family that I will do whatever it takes to be here on this earth for her special day. Everyone out there who may be reading this, I ask you to help me push forward and continue to keep the inner strength that I know I possess to keep my promise to my daughter.

Family and big family moments are what drive me forward. And it’s also important for me to have a focus within a focus. What I mean by that is, I wake up every day and I walk when it hurts and I take my meds that make me sick and I go about my day with positive energy and joy that today is Monday or Tuesday.

But, make no mistake, I will also wake up and mark my calendar and think, “OK, how many days until Bella’s Bat Mitzvah? Is there anything I need to book or order in advance to ensure her a perfect day? Because her mom is going to enjoy another family moment.” Because her mom is strong!!

I Am a Mom With Cancer

I’m not sure how I should begin or where I should begin. My name is Viki Zarkin. I’m a mom a wife a daughter a sister. I have cancer. Stage 4. I don’t know if my story is any different from others, but I think it will help me to write about it.

I should say I love being a mother and wife. I have two terrific children. A son, Dell, who was named for my husband’s mother, whom I miss very much. Dell just turned 12 and is light personified. It shines through him like rays from a very bright sun. My saddest day was having to tell my Dell that his mom was sick. He understands the word cancer. My beautiful, red-headed daughter is named Isabella. We have no idea where her red hair came from, but it is her lion’s mane. She is my sweetheart and stays close by my side and still thinks I’m terrific. We are the best of friends. When I told Isabella I was sick, I’m not sure she fully understood it, but she does now. My husband and I have been together for 23 years, married for 19 of them. He’s a terrific husband. Jere and I do everything together, which is probably strange to others. We work together. (He is a dentist and I run his front office). We drive to work together and come home together and raise our children together. Jere relies on me a great deal and is having a difficult time with my diagnosis. Sometimes I think this illness is harder on those around us than on those of us who are sick.

My family and friends have been so concerned and supportive of me. I guess for a long time, I just needed to process and just fight step by step. It felt funny walking out my door sometimes. Like everyone was staring at me.

I can talk about the facts but not really my feelings. I don’t like to be touched by people other than my children and husband. I just don’t want all the hugs … and I know people really need to give them. I just need to do what I need to do to get by. To survive each day. My good friends have been very supportive of that. Keeping the well-wishers at bay. It sounds so disrespectful when everyone is just being kind, but I have a mission to get well and I can’t get distracted by making others feel better all the time.

I’m so determined to get well. Early on, I reminded my children that I am a Zarkin and very strong. I promised that I would do everything I could!! I will do everything I can do.

I just can’t believe this is happening. I’d always been so diligent about my mammograms, and then I miss one year and I have cancer all over my body. Stage 4. Really? Are you kidding me? What the hell? How does this happen?? In the beginning, every day I went for more tests and every time they told me they found more cancer. Just when I thought I had my answers and it couldn’t get worse, it got worse. To look into the eyes of my children, my husband, my family and friends. My mom is so upset. I feel terrible because, for the last 15 years, really all she has done is take care of people and now there is me. I’m really glad she’s here. I think Jere and I both feel better when she’s around. I’m glad she comes to the hospital all the time. We sort of have fun when we’re together. We eat a lot of cheesecake.

Speaking of food, my friends are feeding me. They have put together lists and lists of people who have lined up and are feeding my family. I can’t believe they have been feeding me for a year. I haven’t given up on me and I realize, with all these meals, they haven’t given up on me either. So many people, many of whom I don’t even know, are reaching out to me. I find it hard to believe that anyone has been given the kind of support I have been given. I mean a year of food, really … can you imagine?? Can you imagine my friends organizing something that grand? Can you imagine everyone actually standing in line to cook for me and my family? They also send gifts and flowers and cards. It’s just unreal to me. They tell me I would do the same, but I wonder. How can it be that my story has rallied so many well-wishers? I think it’s something I may never understand.

The kindness of others can really make a difference. With such a dire diagnosis, I wonder if I would be doing as well today if I hadn’t had so many people praying and cooking for me. I never thought too much about prayer before, but I ponder it now. It’s not that I didn’t believe in it before now, it’s just that so many people do believe in it, I think that’s what makes it so uplifting to receive.

My awesome radiation oncologist once said to me, the patients who do the best are always the ones that have someone waiting for them in the waiting room. I always have someone in the waiting room. It’s strange to think you are lucky when you are so sick but i do … I think I’m lucky. I can’t stop feeling that this is unique. That this community and the overwhelming outreach I’ve received is special. That’s it … it’s special.

It’s been a year now since I was told I have Stage 4 cancer. It’s kind of strange to look back to when I was told and how my year has played out. I guess I’m writing about it now, so that’s a big step. Just didn’t want to do that before. Now I’m starting a blog. Me … how strange. I finally feel like I can offer something. I feel like I can break it down, where I just couldn’t do that before. What a trip this year has been. I know It’s been a long road, but some good has come out of it. My parents can actually be in a room together. They do that for me. My brother, who I almost never got to see before, has been traveling in to visit me every two months. So has my sister. I love seeing them, spending time with them. Having it not be just for a holiday or family occasion. I get to spend real time with them. It’s really terrific.

I feel like I have something to share with mothers out there. Mothers that are juggling their illnesses but still have their family responsibilities. We still need to get our daughters to gymnastics and our sons to soccer. There is homework every night, lunches to make, bedtime stories to read. There are wounds to heal and tears to dry. Children are afraid and don’t understand fully. Mostly they just want their mom.

I saw a TV show last year when I was first diagnosed that really stuck with me. These two girls had grown up with their father having cancer their whole childhoods. Now they were young adults and their father had three months to live and they were angry. Their whole childhood was lost to them. Their father was sick throughout, their mother was not dealing with it and they felt lost. Lost for what they missed, guilty for feeling that way when their father was so ill, and just not sure what to do. I ask myself, my children are now 9 and 12 and I have Stage 4 cancer. This is going to be my children. Will they respect me for fighting so hard? Will they resent me for being in the hospital when they have a birthday? Will they be lost and never be able to trust or fully love? I’m so worried about fighting to be with them that I wonder if I’m missing something. Maybe it’s easier to be gone and let them move on. My daughter asks me when I won’t be sick anymore so I can do the things I used to do. How do I say I’ll never not be sick anymore. What’s more important? I can do different things with her. Maybe not the same, but different. Does different have to be so bad? I still do lots of nice things with my children. I’m proud of that.