Deep Water: Making Sense of a Cancer Diagnosis

Uploaded by NCIgov on 09.09.2010

[ Background Sounds of Water ]
>> I love water, rivers, creeks,
oceans, lakes.
I can hear all of life
and whatever lies beyond life
talking in the water.
And yet, water also scares me.
I was such a skinny little kid,
I couldn't float.
I didn't even
like to get my face wet.
One day at the pool,
my mom tried
to coach me past my fear
by dunking me.
Her intentions were good,
but all it did was scare
me more.
Mom has always been one to look
at things straight on.
She's far from fearless,
but sooner or later she sees her
way through the mark
to what her truth is.
It's one of the things I most
admire about her.
Over Christmas 2002,
mom went to the doctor
with a little abdominal pain
and came out with a diagnosis
of stage 3 ovarian cancer.
All you want to do is curl up,
rage, and grieve.
But there's no time.
Right away, there are life
and death decisions
to make based on a rising flood
of frightening words you don't
really understand.
I saw my chance to help.
I waded in.
I learned everything I could
about my mom's options,
checked it against her doctor's
advice and tried
to summarize it all
in language my parents
and sisters could understand.
It was all very rational,
except of course, I kept crying.
I was a little girl
who didn't want her mother
to suffer or to die.
But I was also an adult daughter
who could be there
when her parents needed her,
even though we lived thousands
of miles apart.
Finally I called
and got both parents
on the line.
We worked our way slowly
through the summary
I'd prepared.
With my heart racing,
I asked mom if she understood
that a clinical trial might be
her best bet
because only a third of women
in her situation were alive five
years after regular treatment.
Suddenly, I felt
as if I was now the one pushing
her face into the water.
I'm so sorry, mom, I said.
I don't want to hurt you.
Honey, she said,
her voice fragile but so warm,
you're not hurting me.
You're helping me.
And so, here we are.
Nothing has cured the cancer.
It keeps coming back.
But we're at seven years
and counting.
She's busy with her artwork,
travel, a hundred other things.
She's told us
that at some point she won't
want to do any more chemo,
and we've told her
we understand.
My role is to help make sure she
has the information she needs
to be confident
in the decisions she ultimately
makes for herself.
It's not an easy role, but then,
easy's not the point.
When my sisters
and I were little,
my parents used
to take us each summer
to the lakeside town
where they'd honeymooned.
There was a sandy beach
and just offshore
in the shallows was an old
metal slide.
At the end of the slide,
someone had dug a deep hole.
You'd pop off the end
and drop completely under water
for a second, which,
of course, scared me.
So mom would wade out and stand
at the end, waiting for me
to slide down.
I keep thinking of this,
because it's my turn now.
I keep thinking,
don't worry mom, I've got you.
I'm standing right here
in the deep water with you.
[ Background Music ]
>> The whole beginning
experience was just this
incredibly overwhelming thing
of you never think you're going
to be the one, you know,
that's going to hear that,
yes in fact,
you have ovarian cancer.
Anyone that's ever had a cancer
diagnosis knows what this is.
You go in, the doctor starts
talking, you hear
about the first ten words,
and then you just check out.
That's what's been wonderful
about having you to be able
to be there
as my wonderful daughter,
that somehow
or other you are able
to hear the information coming
from the doctor and then be able
to talk to your dad and I.
Working at the National Cancer
Institute like I was
and like I still am,
was an enormous help to me.
I could talk to people,
and I had some understanding
from my work
as a communications person
about the science
and the research.
But even with that sort
of advantage, it was so hard
to pull that all together.
And it's really made me realize,
you know, our personal family
how important the National
Cancer Institute's cancer
information service is,
this 1-800-4-CANCER phone number
that we have staffed
by incredibly caring,
informed people who will do
for other families, you know,
kind of what I've tried to do
for our family.
I'm small and I'm feisty
and everybody calls me
a warrior.
So, I think I guess that's what
I am.
I'm a cancer survivor warrior.
>> And my fabulous mom.
I love you.
>> I love you, too, honey.