by Lila Jane Givens Miller
Miller shares this story about the Angel of Hope who was her inspiration as she battled the Big C.
Wonderful, heartwarming account of a courageous woman!
A STORY OF HOPE
sings the tune without the words and never stops at all."
- Emily Dickinson
When you are diagnosed with cancer you go through a myriad of feelings: Am I going to live? How long will I live? How bad is it? And the list goes on and on.
A year before I was diagnosed, my mother-in-law had succumbed to breast cancer after battling for a year. My aunt on my mother's side had been diagnosed a few years before, but suffered no ill effects and succumbed from Parkinson's disease and not cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, then my mother's other sister was diagnosed, and then my brother's wife was diagnosed. It was as if breast cancer had invaded every aspect of my life. So many thoughts went through my head. I also wondered how this could be possible. Was there more of it in our family that I did not know about?
Yes, there was. I found this out as I began talking with my mother. My maternal great-grandmother died of breast cancer in the late 1800's before there was much known about cancer at all, much less breast cancer. I found out about other cousins on my mother's side of the family who had also been through the breast cancer experience--one was 16 years old at the time but was not defeated as she is in her seventies now.
But there is one cousin whose story has brought me more hope and inspiration than I can ever imagine, for hers is truly what I call a "story of hope."
Emma was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 33 years old. The cancer was in one of her lymph glands, which resulted in a very radical mastectomy.
"There was no chemotherapy back then, only the knife," she said. Talking about her cancer is not something that came easily for Emma. "A long time ago people were ashamed," she said. She said this is why most women died from the cancer--because they "waited too late."
Emma said, "I can remember when I went into surgery there were many young doctors present to watch the operation." She was cut so terribly that she was in the hospital for six weeks. After she had the operation there were no follow-up treatments, only a few x-rays. "I didn't heal for eight months, and I finally had to go to New Orleans. I couldn't do anything with my arm. I had it strapped down to my side, but it didn't bother me."
Emma would not believe the doctors when they told her she wouldn't be able to use her arm again, so she began to exercise the arm herself (and this was long before we had Reach to Recovery volunteers to tell us to exercise our arms). Her husband helped her raise her arm every day, and she eventually regained use of it.
After Emma had the first cancer another cancer was found in her remaining breast, and she had to have a second mastectomy. So then she had to go through all the fears of the dread disease again. In addition, several years later her husband died, leaving Emma to raise their sons alone.
Emma did a little bit of everything from working in the fields, helping run the dairy farm they owned, and finally teaching 4th grade for 40 years. Cancer never got in her way. Emma said she had an aunt die of cancer and credits that for saving her own life. The aunt she speaks of is my great-grandmother whom I spoke of earlier in this article. There have been other cancer survivors in her immediate family since. Her granddaughter was a survivor for over 20 years, and also two great-granddaughters have survived melanoma and Hodgkins disease. I am sure Emma's story has given them much hope too. "I know science will find a cure someday," she once said.
Emma is the one who keeps me hopeful year after year since my diagnosis, for what I have saved till now is truly the best part of the story. Emma was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 33 in 1928, and today in 2001, Emma is 106 years of age and a 73-year Breast Cancer Survivor.
A story of hope? Yes, I would say so, wouldn't you?
UPDATE TO MY STORY OF HOPE: On September 17, 2001, Emma died at the age of 106 and 4 1/2 months. She died not from breast cancer but merely old age. She was ready to go and did not suffer; she just slipped quietly away. Yes, Emma is gone now, but she will continue to be my hope for the future for all my days. Emma has now become an Angel of Hope for all breast cancer survivors. May she rest now in eternal peace.
From: Mike Kingdom-Hockings of Gaborone, Botswana:
Message: Angel of Hope is a wonderful story. My wife Phyllis had a simple mastectomy many years ago. Since she is an Occupational Health Nurse and a Midwife, she spent a lot of time counseling other sufferers. Having been through it herself certainly helped her credibility.
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