A fight until the end
'No Time To Die'
April 22, 1999
(CNN) -- When Liz Tilberis was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she turned her energy to fighting it for herself and others, and published "No Time to Die: Living With Ovarian Cancer." She underwent major surgery and chemotherapy. The therapy appeared to succeed, but the cancer recurred, and Tilberis had a painful bone marrow transplant. She died Wednesday.
I never wanted to be a poster girl for cancer. But cancer has become a part of who I am, along with my big feet and my English accent. I am five feet seven, I have greenish eyes, I was born on September 7 (the same day as Queen Elizabeth I), and I have ovarian cancer. So do almost 175,000 other women in the United States. A lot of them write to me, from all over the country, often addressing me as "Liz" -- there is a camaraderie about a shared experience that seems to supersede formalities and decorum -- and their letters are full of compassion, anger, and hope. A woman in Deatsville, Alabama, addressed me as "Dear Liz, My Sister." A woman in Boulder, Colorado, wrote that two fertility specialists had recommended Clomid, and when she specifically asked about the risk of cancer, she was told not to worry. (The second doctor prescribed it over the phone, never having met her.) A woman in Lubbock, Texas, now designs furniture for cancer treatment centers. And my hospital neighbor during the isolation of bone marrow transplant -- the woman who hallucinated about the nurses having hashish parties in her room -- wrote that those drugs were better than anything she had in the 1960s.
But it's the newly diagnosed women who touch me the most. I remember the emotions described in these letters. They're the feelings I had during chemotherapy, when I would sit at home making photo albums for my sons, in case I wasn't going to be around much longer. Those feelings have changed. If fighting cancer means going to war, then I'm there. Like a samurai strategist, I keep my friends close and my enemies closer. I don't away run from cancer. I study it, anticipate it, confront it, wrestle with it. But you'd be surprised how little time I spend thinking about it. I do not feel desperate; I have found the best doctors and entrusted myself to their care, their wisdom, their energy, and their medicine.
Every woman in a similar position has to decide for herself how to live so that she doesn't feel like there is an anvil hanging over her head. For me it means maintaining normalcy, coming to work each day because I'm in charge. And it means being a mom, because moms aren't sick. My kids will tease, "You're not going to dive in the pool," and I say, "Watch me." I live in my noisy, messy household of men with too much sports on TV, and the toilet seats forever up, and nobody even noticing the newly cleaned curtains in the dining room. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Andrew and I drove Robbie to boarding school last fall with the typical parents' mixed emotions about the firstborn leaving the nest. I could have resisted this move, keeping him close to home, fearful that each year with him might be my last. Instead, I choose to be grateful for each year and to believe that there will be plenty more. It's a decision I make, like other executive decisions. And so far, I'm winning.
I've also reached some decisions about "how" I will grow old, if I get to grow old. I turned fifty on my last birthday, the day after Princess Diana's funeral. Andrew was insistent that we celebrate, no matter what; we both thought I'd never even make fifty years old. But there I was. I'm wrinkling along with the rest of them, and frankly, I don't care if I develop the face of a shar-pei, and my boobs hit the floor. I'm happy to age with my body. I already have a gallery of scars, and I have no wish to add to the collection.
Whenever I have been in the hospital, many wonderful people have gone to their churches and temples to kneel and light candles and say prayers and direct healing white light to me. I was grateful for every bit of it. When I was having my BMT, one friend asked what she could do, and I suggested that she select a beautiful stone for her garden and think of me whenever she saw it. She went to a place in British Columbia where the Indians draw symbols on stones, and brought back one with a frog painted on it. The day she put it in the garden, a real frog came out of the woods to swim in her pool and leap around the stone. It returned every day to swim until I was "out of the woods" and feeling much better. When I had really improved, the frog went back to the forest and never came to swim again.
And that's all I'm trying to do now -- keep the frog in the forest.
Copyright © 1998 by Liz Tilberis
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