Good News: Putting the Past behind Us
Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Trust no future, however pleasant! Let the dead past bury its dead! Act, in the living present! Heart within and God overhead. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Kitch loves this quote from Longfellow. She memorized it when she was a child.  To this day, she has the book of Longfellow’s poems her mother gave her.  

On this day of good news, Longfellow’s words are most appropriate. Let me explain.

One month ago, Kitch and I were presented with one of the biggest challenges of our life. The day before we left for our screening in North Plainfield, New Jersey, we heard three words that changed our life forever. Invasive Duct Carcinoma.

During our many conversations that followed, Kitch voiced two requests. She wanted to keep the details of her condition private until after the holiday, and preferable until after the operation. Equally important to her was a statement she made only once, but it was central to all of our discussions and everything she did. “I want to deal with this is a way that will enable me to be proud of myself.”

In my opinion, she has done that and more. She was in Longfellow’s words “a hero in the strife.”   I am not alone in this opinion. Recently, her surgeon told her she handled the situation better than most patients who found themselves in her situation.

How did she do this?  She remained positive. She did not dwell on the six-letter word.  She preoccupied herself with the good tidings and great joy of a very special Christmas. Our home was filled day after day with former students, family and friends, people who genuinely cared about us. We honored all of the invitations we received to have dinner or lunch with friends. We packaged special homemade Christmas gifts for people who helped us during our journey.

Our grandchildren filled our home with the beautiful noise of happiness and energy. We spent an afternoon with a former teacher who fifty years before showed a boy how to become a man. We helped a dear friend who is battling cancer with little acts of kindness and consideration. We continued working on our Face of America project, and we finished the ninth chapter of our book about America on its best days.

We did everything together, and I did everything I could to help Kitch in every way that I could.

Yes, there were many days of worry and many sleepless nights filled with anxiety. But throughout the darkness of the moment, we had hope. We were convinced that if we spent too much time worrying about endings, we would lose precious time for living.

We drew strength from the example and the words of Jack Rushton and Brooke Ellison.

It’s good to be alive. Jack Rushton

Do not let adversity define who you are. Brooke Ellison

Our surgeon, Dr. Dan Kopen, is a physician of great competence and compassion. He is the personification of everything Dr. Stephen Post teaches at the Stony Brook University Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. Dr. Kopen gave us confidence that everything would turn out well. That became our mantra. Today, we have evidence to prove that he was right.

The treatment we received from the nurses and technicians at the Surgical Center where Dr. Kopen does surgery was first class and from the heart. From the moment we met Nurse Diane Mucha, we felt very good about this place of healing.

Being reunited with a childhood friend, Jerry Flora, the nurse anesthetist for Kitch’s operation, lessened our fears.

The post-operation care Kitch received from the Erwine nurses who came to our home was about as good as it gets in the nursing profession. To be honest, we looked forward to their visits. They were polite, respectful, understanding and their attention to details like hand hygiene was impressive.  With every visit they brightened our spirits.

So here we are on the evening of our most important visit with Dr. Kopen. His words spoken with conviction and joy filled our hearts with a kind of gratitude that defies description

As we passed him in the hallway on our way to the examining room, he smiled. He raised his right hand, pointed his index finger and said, “I have good news.”

When he joined us in the room, he offered a detailed explanation of the lab report. Then he spoke three words that we will never forget.
“It’s all gone.”  

Kitch smiled and sighed, “What a relief.”

Then he explained the radiation treatment he is suggesting and several other nuances of treatment for breast cancer.

Just before we left, Dr. Kopen said something that speaks to the essence of the man. “The greatest reward for me is being able to share this news with you. You have nothing to lose any sleep over tonight.”

The treatment Kitch received from Dr. Kopen and the members of his team was simply wonderful.

At the end of the month, Kitch will begin a regime of radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks. We will do it together as we have done everything during our journey.  This is a battle we can win and we will win. This is a story that we never wanted to tell and an experience we never wanted to have.

Some would call it a burden, and there is truth in that. We look it as an opportunity to grow closer together, to help one another, and to become more appreciative of the things that matter most in life.

As for tomorrow, the words of Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life apply:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,–act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;–

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

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

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project