Becoming My Own Advocate: Marcia’s Story
“It was the most terrifying thing that I ever went through.”
Marcia Evans was diagnosed with cancer on her husband’s 60th birthday.
Two surgeries – one to remove her gall bladder after treatment destroyed it. Chemotherapy, radiation, side effects. Her hair fell out.
“I lost my hair in the shower. Great clumps of my long hair. I shrieked for my husband, who stood outside, taking the hair as I pulled it from my head. My hands were shaking.” She holds them out. “Even now, I shake when I think about it.”
But to see her today, vivacious and confident, is a different story. “I celebrate five years in December,” she beams, her red lipsticked-lips parting for a wide smile.
But at the time, when she sat in her doctor’s office with her husband, her cousin and her cousin’s husband, it was different. They were there to be her set of ears. She carried her own tablet to write down everything. Five years later, she still carries a little red book with her doctors’ numbers.
During these years, she has re-evaluated the importance of the things in life. First, she gave up her job teaching language arts in high school. “I used to take care of everyone else’s children. But I wanted to take care of mine.” Then she took the digital camera her husband had given her after treatment ended and began to photograph. She now has two published books she sells online. She began to write poetry. She began to see her grandchildren frequently. “I say ‘yes’ to my family all the time.” Nonetheless, she still worries.
Marcia married at 18, but never settled in one place, as her husband was transferred frequently; in fact, they lived in seven places in10 years. As time passed, she had two daughters and a son, and held a series of jobs teaching aerobics, working in a flower shop, performing singing telegrams. But one day, when she was 35, she enrolled in college, graduating at age 40. For 20 years, she taught. Until cancer.
The diagnosis sent her to the library, the bookstore, and the web, as she researched hospitals, treatments, causes, nutrition. “I became my own advocate. You have to take an active part in what is happening to you because the doctor can’t be there all the time. But it’s not just that. Being an advocate gave me a sense of control.” She waves a pamphlet; it is the recent Cancer Support Community calendar of events—just like the one she had found at her doctor’s five years earlier.
“I would come here daily after radiation. I’d drive over from the hospital. Cancer Support Community showed me that everyone is a survivor. Everyone had such a great attitude.
“We shared little tricks, like what to drink instead of coffee. It’s molasses in hot water. Or Dr. Katz’s Therabreath Toothpaste – great stuff for your gums. I got into drumming, I loved yoga, Qigong, and healthy cooking. This is a great, great place. You’ve managed to personalize cancer; we’re not a number.”
Marcia giggles, “You have to have a sense of humor. You have to laugh at cancer because you don’t want to cry.” Marcia wanted a wig, but they were all too small. Finally, she found a Ben Franklin wig—but it only had bangs and sides, no hair on top. She wore a hat, which she whipped off in front of her students one day when they complimented her hairdo.
“I am grateful,” she says thoughtfully. “I believe sometimes things are meant to happen. I love and live in every day, even when I can’t wait to get through an experience.”
Marcia leans forward. “At the time of my diagnosis, I had four grandchildren whom I loved unbelievably. My son was having his first child. I couldn’t imagine life ending. I wanted to be there for them.”
My first poem – written after the reality of having cancer set in.
As the team of doctors discuss my disease
I sit – screaming inside,
Inwardly reacting to this twist of fate
Outwardly responding – calmly, logically.
screaming inside, a crazy woman,
exploding with fear
A desperate woman,
trapped in a nightmare,
A rational woman, acknowledging my diagnosis.
Trapped in a nightmare no bigger than a cancer cell,
I savagely scream, “Save me, save me.”
Protesting, yet silent
Accepting, yet irrational.
Trapped in this nightmare of reality,
Inwardly reacting to this disease of hate,
I silently protest, yet hope,
As a team of doctors decides my fate.
At chemo sessions, I was always in awe of how calmly others accepted what was going on.
We sit at chemo and discuss…
The weather –
As if this life-sustaining poison invading our veins
Is just a normal, everyday occurrence.
I am surrounded by heroes
in a battle for life,
Accepting this quick fix,
Suffering through their own little deaths,
In exchange for revitalized hope.