Matters of life and death

I spent yesterday obssesed by the story of Laura Laken, whose obituary appeared in Thursday’s Gazette.

Laken was a 39-year-old choir teacher in Parchment who died of breast cancer last Saturday.  She had been keeping a cancer blog since June 2008, which I read yesterday in its entirety.  She sounded like someone  I would have liked. A lot.  She was devoted to her job and her family, but she also had an edge and made lots of wry observations about cancer and life. (I especially appreciated her rant on the whole pink-ribbon/pink everything movement.)

Her story also was a cautionary tale. Like me, she was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and put through the standard paces of surgery, chemo and (in her case) radiation, with lots of assurance from medical folks that her prognosis was good.

Last July, five months after she finished her final treatment, a PET/CT scan showed her cancer had spread. At that point, she was told her cancer was “treatable but not curable” although it was possible she would live for years. In October, she went to the doctor with what she thought was pneumonia. Turned out the cancer had spread to her lungs, and she was told she maybe had a year to live.

She lasted another three months.

Her story is particularly tragic because Laken has three young children — a 12-year-old son and 6-year-old twins. I will say that my cancer diagnosis is SO much easier to bear knowing that my children are pretty much grown. Even if the cancer kills me, I’ve been able to raise my children and I’m hugely grateful to have had that. And I’m truly impressed with how Laken seem to have handle her own situation, with lots of grace and humor and a minimum of self-pity.

What I also took away from reading her blog was the cancer really does defy easy predictions. It’s hard to know exactly what course the disease will take;  the worst really can happen, and it can happen quicker than you anticipate.

It’s a reminder of how important it is to really appreciate each day. In that spirit, I suggested to Harold that we have a get-away weekend, which he quickly arranged. He’s already in South Bend, and has arranged for us to have dinner at a jazz club there, followed by a night at a luxury suite at a luxury hotel next to Notre Dame. I’m off to the train station now …

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