Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

A Tribute to Erica August 3, 2012

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:25 pm

20130126-212756.jpgI honestly can’t remember the first time I met Erica. Seriously. It’s only because we were so young when we first met. I was maybe five years old, she a year older. We were on the same softball team, and her dad taught me and many others how to play the sport. The CATS, that was our team name. What I do remember ever since I’ve known Erica, is her smile and laugh. She was always the pillar of optimism and fun, and an even better athlete. As we grew up, she may have gotten older, but she never changed. Everyone that ever met Erica feels the same way. Go ahead, ask them. There was just something about her. We were cheerleaders together and spent many weekends traveling to sporting events. After high school, I didn’t hear much about her only because I moved away. It happened with almost everyone I knew growing up, until the invention of the internet and then Facebook.

She graduated high school in 1992. She then went on to study and graduate from Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. She married her love Kendrell, and has two boys – one who will graduate high school this year and the youngest will start kindergarten. She became a teacher and continued to share her happiness. For the past twenty years, she lived her life, as we all do.

She was one of those that were slow to get on Facebook, this past January to be exact. She turned 38 on May 5th. I reconnected with her soon after. See, Erica was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her treatment was complicated due to her living with Lupus. She was only able to receive one round of chemotherapy. But, as with some treatment, more complications arose. She developed a blood clot in her leg and treatment had to cease. She remained in the hospital where they put stints in both of her kidneys, drained fluid out of her abdomen. Her blood levels were so low that she required blood transfusions. The community came to her aid. They held blood drives, several in fact, to give her what she required. Hoping that it would all make her better, she was scheduled to be transferred to MD Anderson by the end of the month although her family was fighting to get her there sooner. As her dear friend Christy put it, sometimes all we get is 38 years. She held on as long as she could, but those that loved her most knew that when there was no laughter left, that her time come was coming to an end.

Erica passed away last week. Tomorrow, she is being laid to rest. When you read her Facebook page, it’s filled with the same sentiments that I mention above:
“Your smile and laughter will be truly missed!!!”
“I will never forge that big smile and loving personality!!!!!! I love you friend!!!!!”
“Thanks for putting a smile on my son’s face everyday at school. We will truly miss you!!! You were such a loving person.”
“Oh how I will miss my friend Erica!!! Our hearts will always be filled with love and great memories that we shared together.”
“Words can not express how I feel right now. I’ve been crying and smiling all day. Crying bcuz I will miss my friend Erica so very much! But as I sit and think about her I can’t help but to smile. She has touched so many with her energetic personality and bright smile. I love you dearly Erica and will miss u so very much.”
“I will always cherish the time I’ve spent with you. Such a beautiful and loving person. I will miss you, your smile, and your laugh.”
“One of the hardest parts of life is saying goodbye to a dear friend. Erica you were like a ray of sunlight to all the lives you touched..always supportive and willing to assist.”
The time we have is precious. Erica lived the best she knew how, by giving laughter and love to everyone she came in contact with. Nothing hurts more than losing someone who deserves to have everything, including living a long life. As I’ve said before, cancer knows no prejudice. It doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman, a grown up or a child, black or white, or even if you are an amazing person who’s done nothing more laugh and love.

So my wish for all of you this weekend is to take time to be thankful. Whatever your beliefs, we are all here on borrowed time, and it’s what we make of it that matters. Nothing else. Be kind to one another, volunteer, give blood, donate goods. And if you can’t think of anything to do for others, simply smile, because it does in fact go a long way.

Erica Joseph-Rapp (May 5, 1974 – July 28, 2012)

A wife, mother, daughter, sister, and dear friend.

20130126-212751.jpg

 

 

EVERYONE KNOWS CANCER April 11, 2012

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:15 pm

When people ask how the girls are dealing with mommy having cancer, I simply say, ‘Great,’ which is true. They are getting through this, I feel, solely because they’ve been able to see that cancer isn’t a death sentence, or ‘DOOM’ as they’re learning from the Ewok movies. The response is often, ‘well, it’s not.’ My reply every time is that it IS for some. I don’t want my experience or what I say to demean anyone’s story. We are all different, unique individuals that unfortunately (and at the same time fortunately) travel through separate journeys in life. Even though I may have the exact same disease as some, how our bodies react to treatment may not be the same. This disease comes in MANY different forms. It doesn’t care if you’re a woman or a man. It doesn’t care if you’re white, Hispanic or black. It even doesn’t care how old you are.

We have all had cancer in our lives, whether it be a family member, friend, co-worker, or self. Tell me one person that doesn’t know ANYONE who’s had cancer and I’ll give them the luckiest person in the world award. And if I’m your first, I’d love to give you a bear hug and apologize for breaking your cancer virginity. For everyone else, try listing all of the individuals in your life that have been affected by cancer. When you come from a large family, it’s inevitable that someone will have cancer. For me, because of my gene testing, the list is long, and I’m able to go back to my ‘great’ relatives. How, after all of this, I still DON’T have a cancer gene, I may never know. So I start with those that have passed away:

  • Joseph Macaluso (maternal grandfather) – 8 years remission from kidney cancer, died of kidney and colon cancer at age 83
  • Ada Brown (paternal grandmother) – died 49 from subdural hematoma while battling breast and lung cancer
  • Elvis Brown (paternal grandfather) – died at 62 from throat cancer
  • Rosemary (maternal great aunt) – died at 48 from ovarian cancer
  • Blanche (paternal great aunt) – died at 54 from breast cancer
  • Gertrude (paternal great aunt) – died at 58 from breast cancer
  • Mom’s first cousin- died mid 50’s from throat cancer
  • Edith (paternal great aunt) – 35 years remission breast cancer, died of a heart attack
  • William (paternal great uncle) – died at 71 from mouth cancer
  • Billie Joe (paternal first cousin) – breast cancer at 36, remission until 41, died at 46 from breast and spinal cancer
  • Anna (maternal great aunt) – 17 years remission breast cancer until 78, died of a bad heart
  • Mike Rokich (Husband’s grandfather) – died 1999 of prostate cancer

Friends, co-workers and loved ones outside of family that have passed:

  • Michelle – college classmate, died in 2004 at the age of 29 of colon cancer
  • Edgar – childhood friend and high school classmate, died 2005 at age 29 of Lymphoma
  • John – high school friend, survived testicular and brain cancer, died 2007 at the age of 31 of lung cancer
  • Anne – Husband’s co-worker, died Jan2012 of lung and brain cancer
  • Judy – dear friend, died Jan 2012 at age of 67 of ovarian cancer
  • Kelly – college accompanist, died March 2012 of Intestinal Cancer

20130126-211745.jpg

On that somber note, you’d think that we’d feel completely powerless. Then think about survivors you know:

  • Dolly (maternal great aunt) – 6 year survivor colon cancer, currently 90
  • Kathleen (mom’s twin sister) – 13 year survivor breast cancer
  • Barbara (business associate) – 12 year survivor brain cancer
  • Steve (Husband’s uncle) – 3 year survivor prostate cancer
  • Tiffany (college friend) – 16 year survivor ovarian cancer
  • Brianna (college friend) – 8 year survivor Metastatic Thyroid Cancer
  • Amanda (college friend) – 7 year survivor Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (diagnosed while 34 weeks pregnant)
  • Grace (daughter of high school friends, 12 years old) – 6 year survivor of brain cancer
  • Anna (friend of the twins, 5 years old) – 3 year survivor of brain cancer

20130126-211738.jpg

Now, think about those currently fighting:

  • I count myself – 36 years old
  • Joyce (father’s sister-in-law) – breast cancer
  • Jamie (4th cousin, cuz in Louisiana you know them) – thyroid cancer
  • Brett (college mentor and advisor) – prostate cancer
  • David (business associate) – terminal blood cancer
  • Libby – 6 years old battling kidney cancer

20130126-211732.jpg

And this is just what I remember. I know there are others that I’m leaving off – a friend’s mother, someone’s sibling, and more. To that, I send my deepest apologies. It’s a disease that affects everyone. You just never know in what capacity. They could have survived, been a caretaker, seen a loved one die, or watch a child battle through. So since I look like cancer, I’m more aware. When I catch someone’s glance, I have to force myself to smile. I never know what cancer has done to them. I know I’m getting through this, but I’ve seen dozens in the hospital struggling, wondering how many times they’ve been there before. Wondering if I’ll return.

I go home each day, passing my neighbors, a Puerto Rican family that has lived with cancer for decades. The youngest in the family is a bright fourteen year old girl with a beautiful smile. I’ve seen her grow from a lively six year old into a young lady, all the while never knowing just how she has been affected by cancer until I was diagnosed. She’s seen her grandfather and uncle die from it. She’s seen her grandmother, whom she lives with, go through two remissions. Now, she’s witnessing her aunt, who has gone through three remissions, die from it. The aunt has had to move in with the family, and sleeps in the same room with her. During the day she sees me living through it as if it’s no big deal, and at night she witnesses her aunt painfully fading away because of it.

Then I hear of the kids. Little Anna was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. But now looking at her, the spirited 5 year old that she is, you would never guess. Jennifer, Anna’s mom, has become a dear friend. Anna has to return to the hospital often for scans and follow-ups. Even though her treatment was at such a young age, she is starting to form memories of it all, seeing other kids living through their various diagnoses and treatments.

And dear Libby, battling at this moment. Six years old, 2 major surgeries in a week and months of treatment. A six year old should be learning how to jump rope, scale the monkey bars or even get lost in a book, NOT develop a fear of life vs. death. It’s not fair. I know all of the adages: “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” “This too shall pass.” “It could always be worse.” In the end, it still simply sucks. Sucks that this happens to anyone, let alone a child, in any capacity.

So when there’s nothing to say, when no words can express the confusion or anger, when all you want to do is just beat the crap out of something, we’re still left with cancer. We’re still left with a disease that robs us of time, happiness, memories and loved ones, even as a survivor you’re robbed of the energy spent fighting. Coming out of it, there is only perspective. You look at things differently. You make sure that at no point do you have any regrets. And not that you may feel an Ewok DOOM, but that you make sure you’ve taken advantage of every opportunity before you. Because in the end, yes, it could always be worse. But wouldn’t the saying be better received if it were “it could always be better.” and it actually was?