Family

One Year at a Time

Wahoo! It’s 2012 and I made it through the year!!! One year down and, hopefully, many more to come, but I’ll take a year at a time.

Boy, what a relief to see 2011 come to an end. I sure do hope this new year is less stressful. I realize I will be on chemo and cancer drugs for the rest of my life, but the current drugs I’m on are not as debilitating as the treatments I’ve endured this past year. The bottom line here is (just like the song by the Dixie Chicks) I have a Long Way Around, but, dammit, I’m gonna look forward to a new year.

As a mother, I strongly believe I owe my children hope and a positive attitude, no matter how long I may have on this earth. Children are vulnerable and need love and continuity, no matter how long we are given to provide it. I’m getting stronger, and I’m going to start walking outside no matter how far I can walk. Going outside in nature is important. I want to breathe the air and know I’m alive. Forget that treadmill.  I need to get outside, listening to my favorite tunes. Or just listening to my thoughts.

One step at a time.

Just like with this disease … one treatment at a time, one positive thought at a time, one favorite moment with your family at a time. If I can say this with my stage 4 diagnosis, anyone can believe it.

It helps that I’m feeling better now than I did through most of the holiday season. In November, I ended up back in the hospital with another infection. Yuck. So many powerful antibiotics! They sure can do a number on you. They made my November and much of my December miserable.

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Throughout the ordeal, my Jere was so sweet. Back in November, he’d driven me the hour-and-a-half to my doctor to check out the redness spreading across the left side of my chest, but we weren’t so prepared for the doctor to say I needed to go check into the hospital for surgery the next day. I was so upset to be there and missing my daughter’s 9th birthday party, but Jere made it OK.

And after surgery, the nurses on the floor were so kind to us, so unlike my previous hospital experiences. (Jere and I think it’s because we were on the trauma floor, where many of their patients couldn’t even speak!) One nurse was so sweet … he found a chair that pulled out to a bed, staked a claim on it, and pushed it into a room for Jere before anyone else could take it. It was like we had a six-day vacation. Jere moved in, they gave him a hospital gown to wear (since he hadn’t brought extra clothes with him) and waited on him with drinks and snacks. What a character my husband is! I know we were there for scary reasons and there was pain, but it was surprisingly fun. Jere held my hand at night and ate all my hospital food. I will always remember that hospital stay with a smile … all because of my Jere!

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I know things don’t always go my way, but I’m so lucky. I have a great family and unbelievable friends. (Remember, my friends fed my family for a full year!!! 365 days. That’s a lot of love!) And now I’ve got a new year to look forward to. Wow, that’s so corny but somehow OK.

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.