Aphorisms for a Cancer Patient and Family

Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

It’s Over, Hallelujah. Kitch Loftus-Mussari

The Last Day of Chemo

On June 2, Kitch had her final chemotherapy infusion. It was a moment we will never forget. Like all of the previous visits to Medical Oncology Associates, we were apprehensive and fearful.  With chemotherapy you never know what to expect.  There are so many variables both psychological and physiological.  It is never a pleasant experience for the patient, and it is always an unnerving experience for the caregiver.

During the past six months, we have seen the heartbreaking and painful consequences of cancer.  It is not a pretty sight. It is both humbling and transformational.  

The major tool in the arsenal of oncologists fighting this dreaded disease is chemotherapy.   Our friend, Dr. Richard Loomis, described it with these words: “Chemo is an itinerant intruder. It takes over your body and it tries to take charge of your life. It is barbaric and it has consequences.”

On this the last day of chemo, Kitch and I experienced several family moments. A woman named Kathy who we met at a session in May sat next to Kitch. They exchanged stories about their experiences, and they enjoyed one another’s company.

The woman, who occupied the recliner on the other side of Kitch, asked if the television set at her station was too loud.  When we replied yes, she apologized and immediately turned the volume down. “I appreciate your need for peace and quiet,” she said.

Our special friend arrived and we spend some quality time with her answering questions and filling in the blanks as it were.  We agreed to stay in touch by telephone.

One of the receptionists who has always been considerate and kind offered her best wishes in a genuine and thoughtful way.

When we arrived home, we were greeted by a surprise from my cousin, Kathy, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from a dear friend of many years, Patricia Brown. My daughter sent a package of cosmos seeds with a note of congratulations, and wonderful cards from my niece and godchild, Teresa, lifted our spirits.

For the rest of the day our home was filled with feelings of accomplishment and relief that are hard to describe. Kitch has every right to be proud of herself.  She had a very heavy and aggressive dose of chemotherapy chemicals to rid her body of any rogue cancer cells.  Now she can say with confidence she is onto the next step in her journey to recovery. After an operation to remove her portacath, and some tests, she will begin six weeks of 30 radiation treatments.

Recently someone asked me how Kitch is doing. I answered the question with these words: “She is a profile in courage.”  If truth be told, every cancer patient we met deserves the same description.

There are many things we learned during the past few months which can best be summarized in these 20 aphorisms of a cancer patient and caregiver.

Aphorisms for a Cancer Patient and Family

1. Don’t let cancer define who you are.

2. Connections matter. The energy from family and friends can light the way to recovery.

3. Forget the “if onlys” in your life. They only bring regret.

4. Focus on the “next times” in your life. They bring hope.

5. Accept the fact that you can’t do everything you want to do, and that’s OK.

6. Make time in your day to laugh, talk, complain, and plan. Laughing at yourself and your fate is liberating.

7. Chemotherapy is difficult, disorienting, debilitating, frightening and an inconvenient experience. It has a “use by” date. It doesn’t last forever, thank God!

8. Don’t preach to patients. They won’t listen.

9. Don’t talk about a positive attitude. Model it.

10. Compassion and caring will make all the difference.

11. An unexpected act of kindness is often the best medicine.

12. Caregivers must be available, and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

13. Be patient with yourself and the process.

14. Be vigilant, ask questions, get answers and never give up.

15. Little things mean a lot. Do the little things joyfully.

16. Don’t poke the cage. There are days when the patient wants to be alone.

17. Give yourself time to be angry, frustrated, sad and weary, but don’t lament forever.

18. This is a time when everything in moderation takes on new meaning.

19. Losing your hair is distressing, but other side effects are much worse.

20. No matter how bad you have it, someone has it much worse. Gratitude always saves the day.

During our dark moments of disappointment, depression, fear and uncertainty, we were rescued by people who took the time to help, to encourage, to do the unexpected, and to lighten our burden.

Terry Tempest Williams spoke words that say it all: “An individual doesn’t get cancer, a family does.”

To everyone who volunteered to be a part of our family, who understood our need for privacy, who found a way to connect and help us without intruding, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are our heroes, and we will never forget you.

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

Tony & Kitch Mussari

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