Diagnosis

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.

A Midnight Call for Strength

Let me start today with an apology for not returning to my blog for the last six months. It wasn’t my intention to stop writing. It just happened. All of the sudden, it wasn’t helping me anymore. When I last wrote, I had received a bad PET scan and since then I’ve been struggling with heart and lung problems while continuing my constant monthly chemo. And here’s a shocker … sometimes all the doctors can be so overwhelming!! I’m writing today still without resolving many of those new problems, but I suppose I am moving forward in spite of the unknown.

January, I’ll be sick 3 years. The doctors didn’t believe I would still be here, but I knew I would. And, now, I’m feeling restless. Restless, because I’m just getting sick and tired of the many doctors, all the surgeries and all the pain that is constant in my body. Let me be clear,  I will never give up on me, I will never feel sorry for me, but I will allow me some time to acknowledge the fact that I really hate all this crap. All the doctor appointments and all the time it takes to poke and prod through a diagnosis.

So please allow me to call on all the sick women out there. A new year is around the corner and we need to come together in spirit when the clock strikes midnight. Close our eyes and call to each other for the strength and support women are so good at giving and sharing. We are women on a mission — mothers, sisters, daughter, wives — and we need to push each other through our difficult times. It can be so lonely shouldering this burden alone, trying to be strong for our spouses, our children, our families and friends. But if with stick together, we just might have a chance. The bottom line is that no doctor or other professional has to create our fate or our days spent. We can do that.

So on December 31st at midnight, I’m not gonna waste my time on silly resolutions. I’m gonna use my power to join all the women all over the world to help each other fight this godawful disease. I hope to find some peace in that quite moment. And I hope to share with all of you.

Is it just my imagination? I need to know now

Imagination is a funny thing. As a parent, I’ve loved watching my children at their various stages of development using their imagination in the most remarkable ways. Imagining they are fighting dragons with swords or hosting tea parties filled with impressive people. And as they grow, their imagination grows with them. Imagining they will score the winning goal on the soccer field and be carried off to the roar of the crowd, or playing piano for kings and queens. How marvelous!!!

But for me, not so much. Lately my imagination has been running wild with scenarios no one should have to imagine. A couple of weeks ago, I got a bad PET scan. Not a good thing for a stage 4 cancer patient. Of course, the doctors want to put me through stages of grueling tests to rule out this and that, but I already know. … Or do I? Is it my imagination running wild or is the cancer really back?

I am a fighter not willing to sit around and wait for them to take more tests and compare this to that, so I must find the truth quickly. I don’t have the luxury that children do to allow my imagination to run wild. I must push my doctors to upturn every stone. I need to know what I’m up against.

I realize this is probably not a good thing, but I am in battle mode now. I have my sword out, and the fighting begins again.

Cancer’s Made Me Smarter … In a Good Way

I think cancer has made me smarter. If that’s possible? My mom and I were talking today about nothing particularly special and she mentioned that she thinks I’ve changed. Not in the “oh-my, I’ve-found-God” kind of way, but in subtle ways. I think she’s right, and I like it.

It didn’t start right away. It’s been a slow transition for me. I’m just not so uptight about certain things. Examining it now, I think I feel calmer. So strange. A doctor basically tells me I’m gonna die, and somehow I’m calmer.

I also think that many of my family members have changed as well. My mom and I, who have always had a good relationship, now have a better one. I think we trust each other more. She has been by my side every step of the way. Every step. Every doctor appointment. Slept in the hospital with me. Moved halfway across the country with me for treatment for two months. And maybe it’s because we are with each other so much or maybe because we cut to the chase more. I’m not sure when it happened, but we don’t irritate each other anymore (like so many mothers and daughters do). We’ve been totally together in this fight for my life. And we’ve come to realize that no other fights matter. We’ve become so comfortable with each other, and we look at each other with profound deepened respect. She respects me for my determination, and I respect her for her unwavering support. Cancer has changed us both.

My father, brother and sister have all slowly grown different as well. I think what they all have in common is that they are more open with me. Somehow more approachable. At the beginning, we were all so scared but as time goes on we are still scared but we have insight. We have come together, we make more time for each other. It’s so nice. I think maybe cancer has made us nicer. Wow, how weird is that. Just when you think you should be angry, you’re not. Funny how that works.

I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, and that feels good. Don’t get me wrong, I still worry. But I worry about the right things. Not worrying about the small things is such a relief.

I like me better now.

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.