Tammy, my lymphedema specialist who I love and adore and
look forward to visiting, asked me a simple question yesterday:
When’s your reconstruction? I told her that the two surgeons’
offices (Dr S and Dr Spiegel) are supposed to be coordinating their
schedules and issuing a surgery date this week. I told her this
Monday afternoon, which for all intents & purposes, is this
week. In fact, this conversation took place in the afternoon of
this week, therefore in the far reaches of said time period. I
thought it was perfectly reasonable to expect to hear back from
those docs with my surgery date. After all, they’ve had since
Thursday to work on it. That’s plenty of time. Giddyup. She laughed
at me for being impatient. Good thing I love
and adore her, or else that might have made me mad. She’s gotten to
know me well in the last several months, and we’ve become friends.
She has educated me on the human lymph system and has schooled me
on how to (hopefully) continue unleashing a wicked forehand
(repeatedly, with great force, and multiple times a week) without
ending up looking like the “after” picture in the lymphedema
textbook. She knows I’ve been to a second surgeon and have decided
to venture forth toward yet another surgery, and I thought she knew
that I’m a very impatient patient. I don’t even know why the word
patient, meaning a person who requires medical
care, has be a homophone to the word meaning “the bearing of pain
or difficulty with calmness.” And I might even quibble with that: I
can bear pain & difficulty with calm, I just want to get
through it fast. Anyone who’s been a patient knows it’s hard to be
patient. If you haven’t learned this first-hand, trust me. I know
of which I speak. Lots has been written about patience. Everyone
from Shakespeare to Guns ‘N Roses has addresses this fragile human
condition. My favorite allusion by the Bard to the patience
principle is in Othello: “How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” I feel like Shakespeare
has been peeping in my windows again. I could show him color photos
of a wound healing by degree (but won’t gross y’all out by posting
them here). I have a bar graph, too, showing the wound dimensions
and how they changed, by degree. I’m serious about the photos and
graph. Alexandre Dumas, perhaps the most famous French writer of
the 19th century, knew enough about patience to utter this: “All
human wisdom is summed up in two words — wait and hope.” I’m good
with the latter, not so much with the former. And if it takes
patience to gain wisdom, forget it; I’m out. Not that I’m
particularly impulsive, but once I make a decision and set my
course of action, I’m ready to get to it. Now, not later. Leo
Tolstoy wrote that “the two most powerful warriors are patience and
time.” Egads, I’m double-hosed. We’ve all heard time & time
again that patience is a virtue. I don’t quibble with this ancient
wisdom, I just don’t happen to possess that virtue. I’m sure Dr S
is still laughing at me begging him to let me go home from the
hospital the day after my mastectomy. I was ready to get outta
there and get on with my life. Not so fast, lady. Ben Franklin
wrote that “He that can have patience can have what he wants.” I
always though he was kind of a smart-ass. And why can’t I have what
I want without being patient? Where’s the Burger King motto in all
this? I want to have it my way, and my way is now. Right now. St.
Augustine was probably very patient. He too linked patience to
wisdom: “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Whatever. I
understand all these ancient guys speaking about patience: the
world moved at a much slower pace back then. They’d probably flip
their wigs if they knew of the modern world and all its speediness.
Imagine those guys seeing a bullet train, or the Autobahn, or even
Loop 610 in Houston, and not even at rush hour. What about a
conveyor belt flanked by factory workers, producing goods from
digital watches to cars in a hurry? Or drive-through food or pizza
delivery? I don’t think any of the pizza chains offers “30 minutes
or it’s free” anymore, but still, when I order a pizza online, Papa
John has it ready in 2 shakes of a lamb’s tail. (such a cute little
expression, right?) The point is that these esteemed writers,
thinkers, and movers & shakers can blab all they want about
being patient, and I will listen (impatiently) and consider what
they say (as I rush off to do the next thing on my list). But I
still want it my way, which is now.
I just read, yesterday morning, that Elizabeth Edwards announced that “future cancer treatment would be unproductive” and that she had only months or maybe even weeks to live. And then she died. That same day.
I’m so sad. For her. For her kids. She’s suffered a lot already (let’s not even mention her jackass husband and all the suffering he brought into her life). She wrecked up my childish yet dogged desire to believe in a limited amount of suffering in one person’s life. I wanted to believe that losing my mom would be the worst thing to ever happen to me. So far it is, but when I look at Elizabeth’s Edwards’s life, and the fact that her 16-year-old son was killed in a car crash, I am smacked in the face with the reality that there is no limit to the amount of suffering in one’s life.
Obviously, I don’t know her, but she seemed to have a lot of class, regardless of politics or religion or her jackass of a husband. She lived most of her life in relative obscurity, practicing law and raising the family she vowed to create after Wade was killed. My heart breaks for her remaining children. Cate, who is in her late twenties, will likely become the mama to Emma Claire, 12, and Jack, 10. All three of them will have to navigate the treacherous terrain that is life without their mama. No matter how old you are, you never stop wanting your mom. Former press secretary Jennifer Palmieri said about Elizabeth, “Any room she walked into, she made it a home.”
That’s a real talent.
Elizabeth faced her breast cancer publicly and bravely. She was diagnosed in November 2004 and made headlines when she urged her jackass of a husband to continue his presidential campaign despite her Stage IV cancer.
Stage IV. That’s as bad as it gets, and the fact that she wanted him to continue his dream despite the tumor in her breast and the spots on her rib, lung & hip, is the epitome of selflessness.
She was brave, and she was a fantastic example to cancer patients everywhere that life goes on. Despite diagnosis, life goes on. Despite treatment, life goes on. Despite surgery, life goes on. Despite complications, life goes on. Despite John Edwards making a fool of himself and a mockery of all that his family held dear, life goes on.
And life did go on for Elizabeth. She worked hard: raising her family, writing 2 books, advising President Obama on health care reform, and doing her best to make a difference–for her family, for countless cancer patients, and for herself. Although she was all these things: attorney, author, advisor, advocate, she said often and proudly that her job was to be a mom.
She knew her cancer wasn’t curable, but treatable. She did all the right things and tried to stay strong, despite life on the campaign trail.
Her final statement reflects upon the kind of person she was and the sheer strength she embodied:
“You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.”
In a 2007 interview she spoke realistically about her cancer, saying, “When I was first diagnosed, I was going to beat this. I was going to be the champion of cancer. And I don’t have that feeling now. The cancer will eventually kill me. It’s going to win this fight.”
Her cancer did win, but she is a champion nonetheless. Rest in peace, Elizabeth.