Purple Is My Color: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Purple is my color…in November. Well, except on the Saturday of the Alabama-LSU game (which was this past Saturday). Other than that day, purple is my color in November, because the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has adopted purple as the color for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

My daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February of 2006. He died less than seven months after his diagnosis, on October 2. Our hearts broke when he was diagnosed, continued breaking for seven months, and shattered on October 2. But he was finally at peace, after a lot of suffering.

I remember exactly where I was when my parents told me Daddy had pancreatic cancer. I was driving up Colony Road, near the intersection at Carmel Road, in Charlotte, going to meet my friend, Wendy, for dinner with her, her husband, their son, and my daughter, the night before Wendy was scheduled for a C-section to have her daughter, Madison. I was devastated at the news from my parents, but I didn’t want to ruin the night for Wendy, so I dried up my tears and put on a brave face. Apparently, I was a better actress than I had ever realized, because they suspected nothing over dinner. We celebrated the upcoming birth of Madison (though she didn’t have a name yet, at that point).

I knew the prognosis for pancreatic cancer patients was not good. I knew my time with my daddy was limited, so we tried to make the best of it. We were fortunate to have a condo near my parents’ house in Alabama, so we moved down there for the last couple of months before he died. My brother came down as often as he could, and even though it was bittersweet, we had a lot of quality time together. We made the most of it, but we knew we were losing our daddy.

Daddy was brave. He even maintained his sense of humor. He worried about what would become of us after he was gone. He was sad he wouldn’t see his beloved grandchildren grow up. He encouraged us to stick together. And he often said, “I’ve lived a full life, and now, I’m spending lots of quality time with y’all.”  He was finding the silver lining till the end. Throughout life, he looked for the good. And in his final days, the good was that he had a family who loved him and loved each other. He knew it. We laughed. We cried. And then we laughed some more to keep from crying.

And here’s the thing. In the 12 years since we lost Daddy, not much has changed for pancreatic cancer patients. Most patients don’t survive one year after diagnosis, and very few survive five years…roughly 95 percent of those diagnosed die from it. It’s very difficult to diagnose, and it’s usually too late when it is diagnosed. It is considered by many to be the deadliest cancer, based on the general prognosis, but it gets very little press. Every time a friend calls me and tells me someone they know has been diagnosed, I don’t know what to say. The only thing I can do is offer prayer and refer them to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, also known as PanCan.org. We need more awareness, more funding for research, and we need more trials, and PanCan raises money for those things. They also raise awareness and on behalf of patients and families, contacting Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to support bills that offer funding for research.

So, every year, since 2006, I wear purple in November. It might be just a purple handbag, purple pendant, or purple earrings, but I try to wear a little piece of purple every day…except the day Bama plays LSU…Daddy would understand.

***If you would like to donate to PanCan.org, please go to the website here. Call or write your Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research.***

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Photo: pancan.org

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Why Write Now?

 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

–Anne Frank

Yesterday, it occurred to me that it has been two months since my mother died. I remember when Daddy died, when things would happen, I would think, “And Daddy’s missing this.” Now I’m doing the same thing, “Mother’s missing this.”

I started my website/blog about a month ago…a month after Mother died. I find myself wondering what she would think. She loved to read blogs on Facebook…especially Sean of The South by Sean Deitrich. If you haven’t read his blog, you should. You can find it on facebook here.

Looking back at my posts, I know which ones she would have enjoyed. She’d have loved the one about Sunflowers, for sure, but she would be especially happy about My Favorite Rescue. Of course, that story could not have happened if she were still with us. I like to think she is smiling in Heaven about her dog’s homecoming. I know Sam (the dog) misses Mother, but she sure is happy to be home, and she loves living with my nephew. Thank goodness my brother agreed to bring her home.

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Mother loved stories, and she loved to laugh, so she would love any of my blog entries that made her laugh. Pee in my shoes during the kindergarten play? She would have remembered it, and she would have laughed out loud about it.

The story about the cute waiter in Boone would have made her smile. She always rooted for the underdog. We would have discussed that one a hundred times by now, as each of us made up different stories about what might have happened to Ricky. Did his day get better? Did he marry the out-of-his-league girl? Is he traveling the world, leaving great tips for servers everywhere he goes? The possibilities are endless.

What I find myself wondering, though, is WHY did I start my blog after Mother died?! WHY didn’t I start it sooner? She would have given me honest feedback, so why did I wait?! I had wanted to do a blog for a long time, but I was hesitant. Why now?

Maybe I was afraid of her honest feedback. Maybe that’s why I waited.

Well, here’s what I think: I used to talk to Mother every day…mostly in the car, because that was the only time I was alone and could actually converse without interruption
(except my husband has some sort of phone radar and ALWAYS calls when I’m on the phone…Mother and I used to laugh about it). I can’t talk with her anymore. I think this blog started as a coping mechanism. Writing, for whatever reason, helps me deal with grief. That’s what I think. I just realized that yesterday as I sat down in front of my laptop again. I’m channeling some of the conversations I would have had with Mother into this blog.

When Daddy died in 2006, I didn’t cope well at all. I was younger, of course, and while I’d lost grandparents, losing Daddy was huge. Oh, I struggled. Thank God I had good friends and family around who helped me. My daughter was almost three when Daddy died, and I was 39. Fortunately for me, I had some great friends and family, near and far, and we had the very best playgroup ever. They were the people with whom I had daily interaction after coming home from Daddy’s funeral.

Our playgroup was full of kids about my daughter’s age, and all the moms were in their late 30s. We were a hodgepodge group from all over the country. Lots of states were represented: Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland…we were all different, but  we rallied around each other. In talking with my friend, Jenn, recently, we laughed about our playgroup, because it was really for the moms. The kids got to have REAL unstructured playtime, because for the most part, they were free ranging wherever we were. People talk about how kids don’t get to have unstructured playtime anymore; well, ours did. My daughter is an only child, so I feel like those friends in the early years of playgroup felt like siblings to her, so she experienced that to some extent.

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Most of the time, we were at Wendy’s house, because it was most kid-friendly, and frankly, Wendy can cook. Jenn can cook really well too, but back then, Wendy always had something on the stove or in the oven. Her mother is Italian…from the North End in Boston…real Italian…she can cook. So while our kids played, the moms gathered in the kitchen and talked and sampled dinner. Recently, Jenn and I laughed about just how unstructured the kids’ play was. Usually, they were in a playroom, while the moms were gathered in another room. If anything happened, one of the kids would come get us.

I think the loss of my daddy was one of the first big crises we had experienced together as a group of friends. My coping skills were less than great, but my friends rallied and got me through it. I remember being at Wendy’s house one day soon after he died. Jenn was there too. I’d had a headache for DAYS. They talked to me about the stress I was dealing with and sent me upstairs to bed…in Wendy’s house…before noon. They fed me and my family, and they helped ME.

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Playgroup moms, children, and a couple of aunts and grandparents gathered for Halloween Birthday Party for Wendy’s dad. I dressed as Hester Prynne.

We’ve been through a lot together. One mom suffered a late miscarriage before Daddy died. Several members of our group moved away. A few have survived divorces. One lost her mother to ALS. Some of their husbands lost their jobs during the financial crisis in 2008/2009. One almost died from an allergic reaction at lunch with me in California Pizza Kitchen. My husband had two brain surgeries. One studied for and passed the NC State Bar Exam. We got all our kids enrolled in school…some at public, some at private. Broken bones. Surgeries for children. Sleep issues. And one friend from our group has battled cancer for years, but she is one tough chick. She moved away years ago, but we wish she were in Charlotte, so we could help her. Fortunately, she has a very supportive family in Boston, but we miss all of them in Charlotte. We are all still friends, and those of us who remain in Charlotte still try to get together with the kids a few times a year, and every time, the kids are thrilled to be together.

I’m fortunate to have great friends in Charlotte and elsewhere…lots of friends who recently sent me cards, letters, and food when Mother died, and friends who called or visited. I have friends who have listened to me cry and tell story after story. I have friends who came to the hospital and sat with me and held my hand, and I have friends who honored Mother’s memory by placing her cup of Bailey’s and coffee on the bar when a group of us gathered. I have friends who know when to stop by for a cup of coffee. People are kind. Every single person and every single gesture has been a part of learning to face life without my Mother.

So maybe I’m writing to cope. I have a degree in journalism, and I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I haven’t been doing a lot of writing in the past few years. I know Mother would be proud that I’m doing something related to that degree she and Daddy financed.

If you enjoy the blog/website, please invite friends to read it. So far, I’ve loved sharing ideas for different things, and I’ve laughed (and cried!) while telling stories. Grief after Mother’s death led me here.

Mother would be proud that I’m writing and proud that I’m coping.

Thank you for helping me cope.

Kelly

NEXT POST, WEDNESDAY: Fun provisions for a stay-in weekend with a friend or friends.