Roberts: Trials and tribulations
July 7, 2016
When my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer in April of 2008, doctors told us we were looking at maybe two more years with her. We got the "get her affairs in order" speech and the brochures on grief. We were told to enjoy every minute and make memories. The facts were not very encouraging. There is no cure; everyone with brain cancer eventually dies from it. The most alarming statistic was the one between diagnosis and death. It's rarely more than a couple years — the disease isn't just cruel; it's quick, too.
Remarkably, more than eight years after her diagnosis, Heather continues to beat the odds. The past few weeks, however, the odds have stacked up against her — again. It's been one setback after another: a trip to the ER, a stay in the ICU, she can no longer drive and has had to move in with my parents. And while she continues to handle the news with grace, dignity and humor, the rest of my family is trying to balance anger, grief and, fear with some morsel of hope. Hearing a family member has a fatal disease knocks the wind out of you; being told "it's getting worse" brings you to your knees.
She is now in the trial phase of trying to beat this. Her tumors are inoperable, she cannot have any more radiation, and her chemo options are no longer working. Heather's attitude toward her disease, and all of the challenges that have come with it, has been nothing short of amazing. Every day she continues to inspire me. She has never once felt sorry for herself. She has never once stopped dreaming of the life she wants to live. She has found the positive in the most trying and dire setbacks. Last month, when her neuro oncologist said it was time to consider a clinical trial, we all knew what that meant. But Heather told us to quit crying because, "Penicillin was once a trial medication too, and that worked out pretty well for mankind." It's difficult to justify your worry when the person actually living with the disease tells you to keep your chin up.
Throughout the course of my sister's journey, my family has made a concerted effort to be as optimistic as Heather. But when you hear the words "clinical trial," there's just something about it that makes you want to scream, "UNCLE!"
I suppose I always assumed nothing would be worse than hearing my sister has cancer. But I think watching my parents grapple with their daughter's mortality is equally as difficult. My mom and dad have always been fighters — feistiness is in my DNA. "It's time to consider a trial," seemed to suck the fight right out of them. When clinical trials were first mentioned, there was shock, denial, and anger. How can the tumors be growing again when she's already been through so much? Then anxiety, grief and guilt set in. Why us?
Those feelings were short-lived. Heather called a "family meeting" this weekend — conferencing me in via Skype — and told us all to pull it together. "Brain cancer messed with the wrong person," she reminded us. "I'm going toe-to-toe with this thing and it would be nice to have my cheer squad back. Get it together people."
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Once again, my family is humbled by Heather's strength, courage and resilience. Once again we are learning from her. Once again, she is encouraging and inspiring us. She believes this trial will work, and she believes she will beat brain cancer. She just doesn't allow herself to believe anything else. At the end of our conference call she offered this: "We always only ever have two choices: Fear or faith. Why not choose faith?"
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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