Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a dark time

candles on our glass dining room table after dinner
This time of year it's hard to get any sun.  The sun sets by 4:32, and will set at 4:32 every day until the 17th of December, as observed by the Updraft Blog.

It's a dark time of year, and a good reason (as well as the holiday season) to hang lights and put shiny sparkling things in places where they'll lift your mood.

This year, we have some additional darkness.  For our family, that is.

We found out last week that Gita has cancer.  She's still young, and apparently healthy, but the cancer had been quietly growing- until she found a suspicious lump three weeks ago, and scheduled a checkup.

They did an exam, followed by a mammogram, then an ultrasound, then a biopsy, with an MRI thrown in just to be sure.  And it turns out that she had very good instincts.  It was cancer after all.

She is brave, and unafraid of the testing and poking and cutting that the medical system likes to subject people to.  I would be petrified if I were in her position.  And she has had more than a few sad moments since the diagnosis.  But she's a strong woman- for the kids, and I think for me as well.

Breast cancer took my mother's life 20 years ago.  Like Gita, she was still young-- 38 when first diagnosed.

One of my greatest fears was- or is- of having to see another woman that I love, like my mother, have to fight this disease and have to endure the 'therapies' that seem to take the patient to the edge of death in order to save her life.

There's really no choice now.  Now she has to fight it, and I have to support her in that.

Of course I wonder what would have caused it.  Gita is a poster child for clean living.  She has never smoked, can't stand the taste of alcohol, and probably eats less than a third of the amount of meat than an average American eats.  Since knowing her, we've gardened organically and use vinegar more than anything else for cleaning around our house.

It's hard to find an environmental cause for it.  Or a genetic one- her family doesn't have a history of breast cancer.

Her family did, however, relocate just before she was born.  They moved from a mountain village to the low-lying plains not far from the border with India.  The area had formerly been known as a malarial swamp, which only the malaria-resistant Tharu people could live in.  A program of spraying DDT in the 1960's opened it up to settlement by others in Nepal, becoming a sort of new frontier for those seeking greener pastures.

DDT is still used there today.  When we visited in 2009, I was surprised at the lack of mosquitoes, given the oppressive heat, and the standing water (we were literally surrounded by rice paddies).  Her father noted that the DDT kept the bugs down- much to my surprise.

It hasn't been used in the US since at least the 70's to my knowledge, but the ban never reached Nepal- as was the case with many developing countries that still use the stuff.

Of course, that's far from proof of causation of cancer. I can only guess at it.  I don't know that it matters much.  It's here now and has to be dealt with.

We head to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion tomorrow.  Our local hospital in St. Paul has been good,  but her insurance will cover most of the cost, and we live not much more than an hour's drive from Mayo- one of the best hospitals in the world.  In her sister's words, "why wouldn't you go?"

She's looking forward to the appointment.  It's giving both of us reason to be optimistic.  I'm trying to be as strong as she is.  I hope I can keep it up.


  1. I feel like nothing a total stranger says could have any meaning, but I wish it did. My very best wishes to both of you.

  2. Sending a long-distance hug for you all. I'll keep you in my prayers.

  3. Ruben and amyjtoo-
    Wishes from total strangers and from old friends are both welcome. I smiled when I read your comments while sitting in a waiting room at Mayo yesterday. Thank you.