Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Don't waste your cancer" or your life

Almost all of the time, LadySwish is a place to expound on women's basketball, its statistics, its characters, its quirkiness. Today I deviate a bit, a good bit, frankly. A blog is a wonderful place to share ideas that swirl around in your head, and without this forum, those thoughts wouldn't make it to paper - or to cyberspace.

I have met a woman who has endured cancer for the last seven months. Rarely do you meet people outside of your familiar circle who make a profound impact on your life. Libby Ryder has. I don't know if you have ever peeked at her blog titled "Don't waste your cancer." It's an amazing work of inspiration.

My father died of pancreatic cancer on July 3, 1997. I loved my father in a way that is hard for even me, a writer, to express in words. He would have made this incredible grandfather, but I never let myself go there. In November 1996, I was pregnant with my first child. My father got his initial symptoms the next week. By early December, we learned what it was. Pancreatic cancer - tumor, malignant were the words the doctor used. The first time my father heard them he said, "Guess that's how the ballgame ends."

No one expected him to live until the summer. He died 11 days prior to my son's birth. Harry is his namesake. How fun it would be if my dad could see Harry try out for high school baseball this week. Life didn't work that way.

Years ago I spoke with Debbie Ryan about pancreatic cancer. We hear about survivors with breast cancer so often. Not so with pancreatic cancer. The Virginia coach survived and is completely healthy today. As good as her doctors were, as early as they caught it, as much as she prayed,  I remember her saying just how lucky she was. She knew you can pray and pray and pray, but test results inside of an envelope often come back counter to that prayer.

It is hard to be bitter when you have a beautiful newborn that it seems, magically appears out of your body. I know how science and babies work. Looking at my son for the first time, I was blown away by the awe of something that had to be bigger than what the medical textbooks teach. But admittedly, I carried a heavy heart. My father never knew about my baby boy, never saw his face, though I like to think they passed in the heavens. I think of my dad as Harry's personal angel.

Libby got cancer at 26, shortly after her stunningly beautiful baby girl, Ava, was born. The 12 rounds of chemo she has endured have been brutal, each one more so than the last. I talked with her in September and I talked with her last week. The PET scan shows her cancer free. Her blog readers, 5,000 a day on average, know this because they've followed her story since the initial diagnosis. What is remarkable about Libby to me is the unwavering way her faith has carried her through what has to be the most difficult time of her life. At a time when most would question, she hasn't. At a time when many might abandon their faith, hers has become stronger. She handles life and the incredible obstacles you never see coming, in a manner that truly inspires me and leaves me in a similar awe that I had when both of my boys were born. She has found a peace with life - and death - that most of us crave. I didn't have that when my son was born. I don't know that I have it now. But I am a step closer thanks to Libby, whose way of leading her life the last several months is something I hope to emulate one day.

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