Since I was a young girl, I’ve loved the number 22; that’s because my birthday is March 22cnd; I liked the way the numbers looked and that I had a pair of twos. Another favorite number was 5; that’s because my birth year was 1955. As with the twos, I liked the shape of fives and having a pair in my birthday seemed special. When I learned to write, I’d practice those numbers more than others. It was a fanciful, little-girl thing and followed into adulthood when I had to pick numbers for anything–passwords, in a game, if I had to choose a number for a raffle. I haven’t been one to buy lottery cards–so the twos and fives were never used for that.
This past Wednesday, was June 22, ’22. I looked back at the meaning of that day in my history. Twenty-two years ago on June 22, 2000, at forty-five years old, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It was one of those days in your life when you feel Earth has stopped spinning and left you in a state of shock. Like other such times in your life, you can remember where you were and what time it was; 1:30 in a Chapel Hill radiology office when the doctor gave me the results of a routine mammogram taken during my lunch hour.
That day was followed by eight months of treatment including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. It was the hardest time of my life, not just because of cancer. I was in a toxic work environment with back-stabbing colleagues trying to carry-out ethical clinical research trials. The company’s financial problems and resulting short-cuts were hidden beneath the surface and instead employees were the ‘fall guys’ except in our case, the ‘fall girls.’
It was through my faith in God, my loving and supportive family and friends, that I was able to navigate that time in my life. Every year when I hit that anniversary, I remember the bitter and the sweet, the ways it shaped me and prepared me for the years ahead. One of the lessons of cancer was to value each moment, staying present to the small and large blessings around you– the place you find your daily hope.
Cancer also taught me you can’t predict what you’ll face in life. I had no family history of breast cancer and didn’t realize that is true for many. After the treatment, I was riddled with fear that maybe an errant cancer cell hadn’t been caught by the surgery, chemo, or radiation. I had anxiety, once the doctor released me from frequent follow-up visits, that those destructive cells were multiplying in some dark corner of my body. It turned out, that I was fortunate; the cancer didn’t return in the first five years– the most likely time for my sub-type.
When I had that five-year visit with my oncologist in 2005, he gave me a high-five and congratulated me for making it to that milestone. When I was leaving the exam room, I said something to the nurse about how glad I was to be cancer free.
“Well, that’s good,” she said, but then added, “that doesn’t mean you couldn’t get some other type of cancer.”
Was she trying to ruin my day?
Her voice was more matter-of-fact than sarcastic, or undercutting, or any of those other things that show mal-intent. Maybe it was just her practiced voice of educating patients to keep an eye on their health. I doubted she’d ever been to her own five-year-check up and knew the feeling of finally releasing that breath you’d been holding since diagnosis.
Just like everyone else, I wish that hard times were ‘one and done.’
But that’s not how life is. June 22cnd would come up a second time as being a date with personal significance.
Prior to June 22, 2017, now five years ago, I came to realize that my younger son was having difficulty. As a parent, I’d much rather struggle myself than watch my child struggle; give me cancer or any other difficult thing– but spare my child.
My son, Ross called his father, David and told him he was having trouble with drinking too much alcohol. Ross realized some things in his life had ‘fallen through the cracks’ but it had gotten to the point that others’ pointed this out. David is a clinical psychologist, and Ross had heard him speak about treatment centers he’d visited with his clients. Ross told his dad about his difficulty and said he felt it was time to get help.
Knowing his son’s personality and what would fit for him, David recommended finding a SMART program in the Atlanta area where Ross lived. Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) https://www.smartrecovery.org/ is an international non-profit organization that provides assistance to individuals seeking abstinence from addiction.
Thankfully, Ross followed through with treatment. On June 22, 2017 he had his first day of sobriety and has maintained that ever since. How proud I am of him, for seeing his need to change and for the way he told others his story on social media. Out of his kind heart and bold sharing, Ross has helped others and has a compassion for folks who struggle.
I wish I could stop there with the things that have happened on June 22; but they say that” bad things happen in threes.” I’m not superstitious, but there is one more thing for that infamous day in my history.
Life was moving along, I’d retired from full-time work as a school nurse and was settled into my transitional part-time role to usher out my career. My memoir was published and I’d had my release party in my hometown. It was time to go forward and market my book while working on the sequel. Right when everything seemed to be progressing forward, I was stopped in my tracks; my marriage would be ending, the problems I’d hoped we’d work through were irreconcilable.
On June 22, 2019 my husband moved out. It was a surreal day of watching him load his clothes and other belongings in his car, tearful goodbyes, and forty years of marriage ended. We’ve made it over the past three years, learning how to co-parent, co-grandparent at a distance yet keeping our family together–as much as you can when you’re divorced.
Recently, I was talking with Ross and noted that he was celebrating another year of sobriety. I added that there were other significant things that had happened on that day. He asked what I was referring to and I told him my cancer diagnosis and his dad moving out.
“Oh, I didn’t realize all of that happened on June 22cnd,” he responded. “That is a bad day.”
We were quiet for a bit. Not wanting to end things on a negative note, my attempt in life to make things better, I said, “Well, it was good I learned about my cancer from that mammogram; I was treated in the early stages and I’ve been okay. I don’t know why things had to go the way they did with our marriage–but now we’re doing better.”
I don’t know what days in your life have special meaning– for good or bad. Hopefully, we all learn how to integrate both into a fully lived life, not letting our lives be destroyed by those days of infamy. They can be dates that commemorate new found strength, new directions, new paths that are meant for us.
Peace and Blessings to You All,