Where The Popsicles Are-17

Hope and numbers.

“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something better tomorrow” –Owen Swett Marden

When it came to Joanie’s attitude about cancer, and what she was going through, it was absolute. Her faith and hope were going to see her through this, and thats just the way it was. She never wavered, and if she ever had any doubts, she never voiced them to me.

After her first implant, and a few more daily sessions, she flew back to Bismarck for the 4th of July weekend, since I would drive her back and would stay for the second of the implants on Monday the 8th.  Any of her friends who saw her that weekend could see in her demeanor, she didn’t come home a cancer victim, she came home as someone who had a disease she was going to beat, and that was that. Of course, Muffin and Peaches couldn’t see that, they were just happy to have her home.

All she wanted to do that weekend was to hang out at home, have coffee with her good friends, celebrate the 4th with more of our friends, catch up on the campaign news and not think about having to go back. So, that’s what we did.

I too, had hope, not only because the woman I loved was so strong, but because of the numbers I was becoming familiar with. While she was in St. Paul, and I was in Bismarck on the computer I began looking at the numbers. Statistics for me were always abstract numbers, but when cancer involves someone you love, the numbers surrounding it become more real. Now, Joanie didn’t give a damn about the numbers surrounding her disease, and I never talked with her about what I had found, and she never asked. As far as she was concerned there was a 100 per cent chance she would survive.

Statistics I found could be helpful. They can show trends in certain kinds of cancer and if the incidence is going up or down. Statistics can show trends relative to long term survival rates of certain types of cancer, and statistics can show trends that reflect progress gained or loss in the battles being fought every day in the treatment and prevention of cancer.

Statistics can show you a small part of the total picture of a particular kind of cancer, but they cannot show you anything of the emotional ebb and flow that accompanies the onset of this disease. Neither can they quantify hope. If they could, Joanie’s attitude would have skewed the results.

In Joanie’s case, the five year survival rate for women diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1996 was 74 per cent, according to the National Cancer Institute. While it wasn’t 100 per cent, I thought it was a pretty good number, and one that provided reason for hope.

The other number that gave me hope, was from the American Cancer Society. Those numbers showed that for women with Stage IIB cervical cancer who received external beam radiation, like Joanie was getting at the University of Minnesota Hospital, had a five year survival rate of 65 to 80 per cent. Again, not 100 per cent, but still a pretty good number to give hope.

What those numbers meant to me was that if you were alive five years after you were diagnosed with cancer and were treated, you were considered a cancer survivor.

Another thing I did learn in the years with Joanie was that even with the numbers, you can’t make a categorical statement about cancer that applies to all. Cancer, I found to be such an individual thing, and every type of cancer is different, and every individual with the same diagnosis will be different, and every treatment, with every individual with the same type of cancer diagnosis, will be different, and that is why hope is such an important part of the process, and why you, as a caregiver, are charged with reinforcing that feeling of hope.

Joanie didn’t care about the numbers, and I doubt that she ever sat around at coffee with her friends telling them she had a 74 per cent chance of surviving this disease.

Her hope was what kept her going, not the numbers. Her hope was what kept her spirits up when she had to lie flat on her back, not moving for almost three days, not the numbers. Hope was what kept a smile on her face for everyone who was worried about her, not the numbers.

The only number she really cared about right now, was the number of days left till she would be done with radiation and could come home.

On the Sunday we left for the drive to St. Paul, while her ritual before leaving was much the same, she didn’t seem as reluctant to get going as she had the other two times, even though she would have her second radiation implant the next day. The end of this was in sight, and she would be back home in about ten days and this would be all behind her.

So, she gave treats to Muffin and Peaches, we stopped to pick up coffee for the road and headed for the Interstate toward St. Paul. She was relaxed, and this time our traveling companions were hope and a number.


About Bob Kallberg

Retired reporter. Concentrating now on recounting Joanie's 12 year battle with cancer, a battle she waged with extreme courage, determination and an indomitable spirit, that, for me, serves as an example.
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