Column: The true impact of life with breast cancer

11/18/2010 7:45 PM |

As the last remaining rays of sunlight succumb to the brisk chill of the autumn night sky above my home, a sense of despair signals the end of another day filled with emotional turmoil and frustration. Much attention has been given to breast cancer and the valiant attempts to find a cure. Unfortunately, this insidious disease continues to cause pain and suffering for countless women and their families. October is designated breast cancer awareness month, but for far too many, this evil disease makes its cognizant presence felt far longer than a mere month.
Life, in its own peculiar fashion, has a way of presenting us with the unexpected. Like a wounded soldier retreating from enemy lines, my sister-in-law returned home from the hospital recently. Silently, and with little warning, she has become a faceless statistic. Her diagnosis — metastatic breast cancer. The same disease that took my mother’s life nearly three decades ago. Left with limited options, which include chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she must once again engage in a fierce battle that began in 1995 when her breast cancer was first detected. This time, however, the enemy has proliferated to other parts of the body. Although she is not one who enjoys making her private life public, she felt that her unfortunate circumstance might help shed light on this terrible disease, which strikes one in nine Long Island women.
Living on Long Island, she was greatly aware that the odds were stacked against her. She knew that breast cancer was not a remote threat but, rather, a distinct enemy that could attack with little warning. She was aware that both Nassau and Suffolk counties had nearly the highest breast cancer rates in the nation. Like most women living here, she hoped for the best. She hoped that this life-threatening disease would spare her. Instead, it has come back with a vengeance. She did all that she could do to hold this disease at bay. She never smoked, consumed nutritional foods and made the effort to exercise every day. Despite all her hopes and prayers, she must now deal with the fact that this disease could take her life. Although I commend her for her positive attitude and outlook, I cannot imagine the emotional pain and suffering she must be enduring. As I look into her eyes, I can see the sadness she is trying to conceal. Like her, the pain I am feeling is enormous, but I, too, try to hide it. Unfortunately, like countless families across Long Island, we must deal with the tears and void this disease brings.
My sister-in-law continues to insist that there must be a reason why she got this disease. As she continues to soul search between twitches of pain, she is optimistic that something good can be found among all the bad. She feels that maybe she was afflicted so that she could relay an authentic impact on a disease that has taken far too many innocent lives.

*****
When I originally began writing this piece there was a sense of hope that I refused to surrender despite the intensity of this wicked disease. Once again, I am behind the computer screen telling a story that I wish would never have to be told. Sadly, my sister-in law, Marilyn Hill, passed away on Nov. 1 with her family by her bedside. The sadness that filled her room that day could not be described in words. As she left this unkind world to enter another I am certain is far more forgiving, she left behind a family filled with a void that may never be filled. Now her room is silent. No longer is the sound of an oxygen generator a part of our lives. The portable hospital bed no longer adorns that once-cozy room. She has been silenced. She is gone. Her physical presence has vanished. I am certain she is in a far better place. Death is never easy. As time goes by, I am confident the sunshine will return to our lives. Her smile and laughter will always be a part of our lives.
This is the true face of breast cancer that we cannot ignore.

Mr. Hill resides in Ridge and is a Stony Brook University graduate and freelance writer.