April 2001 at times seems like yesterday to me, and is a point in time that I reflect on often. Early that month, Aunt Lee (mom for Grant, Carter, and Kendall) was diagnosed with cancer, and began a battle to save her life. Obviously, she was successful as she is here today, and we are all blessed as a result, but I think her journey will shed some light on why I selected her story as one of the best examples of courage that I’ve experienced firsthand. So, let me tell you a lot more about the story.
Early in March 2001, we found out that Lee was pregnant again, and we were very excited that Grant and Carter would have another brother or sister. At the end of March, Lee was in a lot of pain, and we went to the emergency room to find out what was causing the problem. After a couple of days of testing, we were introduced to an oncologist – a doctor that specializes in treating people with cancer. I remember thinking why did they bring an oncologist to see us as we thought this was related to Lee’s pregnancy. He told us that he believed Lee had a type of cancer called Leukemia , and the likelihood she would be in alive in five years was about 25% (he obviously said it a lot better than that, but remember I’m summarizing how I remember the story). In addition, we would lose the baby as a result of the cancer treatment. It was a VERY difficult day, and Lee and I were both devastated. I went home to check on the kids, get some rest, and pray for God’s healing.
The next day, I got a call from my brother at the hospital with Lee saying to get to the hospital, because the doctor had some good news. When I arrived the doctor explained that Lee had a rare form of Lymphoma instead of Leukemia and instead of two years of treatment she’d have two months if all went well. And the best part – her chance of surviving within five years had jumped to 50%. He was thrilled, and I was shocked as deep in my mind I’d hoped this would all just go away. While it was great to have a final diagnosis and final treatment plan, how could a coin flip chance of being alive in five years be great news?
So hopefully, you have the context now before I get into the specifics about courage. From the initial diagnosis, Lee exemplified courage to me, her doctors, family, and friends. She gave no importance to survival rates as she was convinced from day one that she was going to do whatever it took to beat this deadly disease. To this day, I’m convinced that a big part of her beating cancer was her attitude that this will not beat me, and you could see this daily if not hourly in how she acted and the determination she had to do whatever it took. Most people that visited would comment to me that Lee cheered them up vs. them cheering up Lee, and they walked away with a sense that she was going to will her own recovery.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Lee had a lot of really tough moments along the way. Being so weak she couldn’t get out of bed or even take a couple of steps. The side effects of the cancer treatment were anything but pleasant – non stop nausea and vomiting, her digestive tract being so raw that all food felt like it had thorns on it when she swallowed, losing feeling in her hands/feet, and of course losing her hair. She became a bandanna model to cover her head, set goals for walking around the hospital floor or climbing stairs at home, and agreeing to eat and drink even though every fiber in her body was likely screaming – are you kidding me given her nausea.
I went through “why us, why Lee, why now” and a million other questions, and Lee helped me stay grounded during this time constantly reminding me that her life was in “God’s hands” and we needed to focus on completing the treatment not on worrying or complaining. I constantly reminded her of the not complaining part as Mimi and I were not the best of nurses as we “pushed” Lee hard to set higher goals (walk two laps on the hospital floor) and then meet the goals. I remember on one walk in the hospital that Lee threw up in a sink in the hallway, and I encouraged her (Lee probably has a better word than encouraged) to finish the second half of the walk versus returning to her hospital bed.
I could probably close here as I think you get a sense of how brave Aunt Lee was during this time both in terms of facing the fear, pain, and threat of death associated with her battle with cancer, but as Paul Harvey once commonly said, “there is more to the story” so let me continue.
Lee made a miraculous recovery, and we knew we’d been truly blessed. We were frequently reminded of the baby that Lee was carrying when cancer struck from left field. Two years after Lee was in remission from cancer, the doctor pronounced she was healed fully from the cancer, and Lee immediately rejuvenated the discussion of having another baby. I thought she was crazy to have any such thoughts given the medical ordeal she had endured, and I thought it would add way too many risks to her and the baby, and I was confident that the doctor would confirm my well placed fears which he did. Lee however is a much clever negotiator, and asked a pinpoint question “do you know for a fact that my cancer will cause issues to me or the baby,” and the doctor had to admit “no.” Happily, Lee got pregnant again, and we (mainly me) were on pins and needles through the nine months worrying if everything would be all right. I say me mainly, because Lee was as confident as the sky is blue that everything would be OK. Sure enough, Kendall arrived into this world on May 1, 2004 and we’ve been blessed with a little princess that has made our family complete.
Very cool story – huh? I’ve probably told it hundreds of times, and I constantly reflect that if Lee was able to do what she did that I and others can have courage to take on any of life’s challenges with a “can do attitude.” I also believe more strongly that God has plan for each of us, but he also expects us to work hard executing the plan!