By Dave Balch
April 22 is a big day for us. We met on April 22, we were married on April 22, and my wife, Chris, was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 22. Interestingly enough, all three events happened at the same time of day as well… 8 p.m.
The fact that we met and married on the same date was no coincidence. I organized the wedding so that we married not only on the same date and at the same time we met, but also on the exact spot in the disco where we met (Uh-oh, did I just date myself by mentioning “disco?”). It was very meaningful to us and to our guests as well. We had to make special arrangements with the club in order to pull it off, and they opened for business almost immediately after we were finished.
19 years later Chris felt a lump in her breast. She went to the doctor on April 11, had a biopsy on April 19, and on April 22 we got a call from the doctor who wanted us to come in at 7:45 p.m. Based solely on the fact that she wanted us to come in so late in the day, we knew the news wasn’t going to be good. By the time we got into the exam room and the doctor showed up, it was about 7:59. There was some small talk and then she just blurted it out. “You have cancer.” It was 8 p.m. on April 22.
How weird is that?
This year, however, April 22 is an even bigger day than it usually is: April 22, 2012 marks the 10-year anniversary of Chris’s diagnosis.
One of the things that her first surgeon told us after the lumpectomy was that she had only a 60% chance of living for five years. Needless to say, that was shocking news at the time; we sure are glad that he was wrong. It has been pointed out to us that 5-year statistics are not very accurate because they are based on the results of 5-year-old medicine. With all of the advancements in diagnosis, treatment, drugs, etc., 5 years is practically ancient history.
Today, Chris’s oncologist says that she is in uncharted territory; they have no numbers for someone who has had three recurrences, including brain metastasis, and is still relatively healthy.
These 10 years have been quite a ride: over 320 medical appointments, more than 33,000 miles of driving, and a LOT of money over and above our insurance. Plus two rounds of chemotherapy, three six-week regimens of radiation, and six surgeries. When she was first diagnosed with brain metastasis one of the doctors told her to “get her affairs in order.” That was eight years ago.
Besides advances in medical science, excellent care, and a helping of good luck, what do I think helped Christine beat the odds? If I had to boil it down to two things, I think they would be these: a good attitude and lots and lots of laughter. Laughter? How do we laugh in the midst of such a difficult journey? That’s the challenge, and it is so very important that it cannot be overemphasized. Find ways to laugh and things to laugh about. Work at it. Make it happen, for it truly can make a difference not only in the short term, but in the long term as well.
Take a moment to think about our story and remember that you, too, may be able to beat the odds. And there are times when laughter really can be the best medicine.