A year ago today, Teresa and I were on a train ride to the North Pole. Our thoughts were filled with the joy and magic of Christmastime. We celebrated her birthday watching the wonderment in our boys eyes as they met Santa and received a the famous, “first gift of Christmas” bell. This was 4 1/2 short months before cancer entered our thoughts.
This was before thoughts of hair loss and shopping for wigs entered her mind.
Before gathering to race for a cure. This time not running generically for cancer, but running with a personal vendetta to beat it.
Before the side effects of 18 grueling weeks of chemotherapy.
This was before brunch with best friends was clouded with a double mastectomy that would happen the next day.
During that ride on the Polar Express, we never imagined that a year later we would be celebrating her birthday just one week after finishing six weeks of daily radiation. One long year it’s been for my friend. But today, today we celebrated. We celebrated with pedicures, lunch and martinis. We didn’t talk much about cancer and all that comes with it, but we knew we were celebrating it’s demise. It was a perfect, happy afternoon celebrating her birth. However, after leaving, I sat in the car and cried. At first, I wasn’t really sure why. But I soon realized that they were happy tears. For the first time in almost 8 months, it felt like Teresa was finally starting to breathe again. She seemed happy and lighthearted an SO ready for a new, much better year ahead. There is still reconstruction, as Teresa says of her “body, soul, and mind” and that road is not easy or short but there is a light at the end of this brutal tunnel.
Happy, happy Birthday! The strength you have had to make it through this year and to do it with a smile is incredible. Looking forward to a beautiful and amazing year ahead. We may not be able to run our annual Birthday/Thanksgiving 5k this year, but the race you have won far outweighs any ol’ Turkey Trot.
I love you.
To all of those that have continued to ask about my beautiful friend,
Thank you for the thoughts and prayers and for continuing to check in. As you can tell, she is doing very well but she and her very talented husband do a much better job expressing that than me. Derek’s update for you all is below. Links to Teresa’s blog with her latest posts are also included.
Today, eight earth-trembling months since my irrepressible bride Teresa was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive breast cancer, we celebrate her 38th birthday. Backed by your generosity, your gestures, your faith — we celebrate more than that.
Since that Good Friday phone call that delivered cancer and carved us to the core, Teresa has bravely endured 18 weeks of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and now, six weeks of daily radiation that scarred her body but not her resolve. Her eyes, like always, tell the story. Of pain and triumph. Hardship and heart. Fatigue and faith.
My daily hero, the bravest woman I know, stands tall while what was left of Lola was banished late August into a hospital wastebin. And there was not much left. Quaking like a cold child, I sat in a dim patient-receiving room to hear our surgeon explain that Teresa’s 7-cm tumor had been shrunk through chemo to 3-mm before doctors cut it from her chest with clean margins. Her bilateral mastectomy was a success.
More important, the biopsy of the tumor and sentinel lymph node came back negative. As a journalist, I had to trust, but verify. Sure enough: no detectable spread, a minuscule speck of non-invasive cancer inside the extracted tissue, and no need for an axillary lymph node dissection. Thank God.
Teresa recovered the first week in a downtown hotel with doctor-dad while her mother helped me and the kids at home. Her folks were a Godsend, but T also gamely maintained as mom, ushering Rourke and Emelia through their days, defying the lengthy recovery that included drainage tubes and debilitating pain.
By late-September she returned to work. From early October until last week, she drove across the dark valley every morning before dawn to sit beneath a laser that zapped both her skin and energy. She requested that first radiation appointment so she could still get to the kids and JCC community she adores.
Symptoms from radiation, like chemo, are cumulative. Fatigue ends her day by eight each night. She is wracked by restless leg syndrome, back aches, hot flashes and waves of pain that seem like seizures. And her appetite is schizophrenic.
But Teresa doesn’t complain. She smiles impishly while stroking her newly grown hair. She embraces her good days by playing with our kids in the parks, canyons and cultural hubs. She pulls an all-nighter at the hospital for a friend’s first birth, hosts a kids Halloween party and cooks meals for seniors in the chemo ward. She takes the train to work when possible and always downtown to teach our children about urban realities. Impulsively, she also packed the car for a sojourn to Zion — to hell with the ludicrous government shutdown — so our family could wrap itself in open vistas, stars and red rock cathedrals instead of hospital corridors.
She lives deliberately, unshackled by disease.
Through all of it, we feel your love. Lola has rekindled old friendships, strengthened others and started others still. It has given our lives a depth we will never regret.
Since this week is a time to give thanks, allow us to start by thanking — virtually hugging — all of you. During this impossible year, you’ve managed to help our life feel normal. You’ve called, texted, posted, mailed, offered play dates, cooked meals, entertained — and listened. Our deepest gratitude to Andrea Olson & Michael Yount, Heather & Ken Bird, Nicole & Bryan Jeffreys, Angelina & Todd Johnson, Suriya Grima and Nathan Fahrer.
We are big believers in the healing powers of social support when confronting cancer. Thank you for lending considerable strength. And soul.
Allow me a final thank you to my family’s pillar and our harbor.
Happy Birthday, Golden Girl. Don’t change — you are my world.
p.s. Teresa has chronicled the most profound moments of this fight in her own words. Her blog, with the most recent posts here, is worth a read.