I woke up today knowing that she didn’t. On August 24, 2009, this immortal trend began. Last Christmas, Deborah Susan Handy LeGette was diagnosed with Sarcoma, a very rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the connective tissues of the body. After four months of hip pains, testing confirmed that a large tumor was imbedded in her pelvis near the spine. Further testing determined the malignancy of the growth, later learning of its Sarcoma breed. Cancer itself is an insufferable word, inflicting undefeatable fear into those associated; however, Sarcoma provides these same attributes, yet on a scale which far surpasses that of any ordinary cancer. This was her diagnosis.
For the next 8 months, Debi battled her opponent. The typical approach to disease defeat is specimen removal; however, this could have possibly resulted in a permanent limp or even paralysis due to location. Initial treatment consisted of 3 week cycles of high dose chemotherapy followed by equally high dose radiation. At first, the tumor appeared to be submitting to the treatment. An arms race seemed to be the case initially, which is acceptable with Sarcoma. When dealing with this disease, complete elimination is occasionally unrealistic and a settlement of controlled maintenance is acceptable. However, her challenger began to confidently gain strength, this including her meek body. The opponent had won this battle. The cancer had aggressively metastasized to her lungs, where the tumors rapidly grew. Such growth rates almost made it seem as if the chemotherapy was acting as a fertilizer, quickly consuming her lungs without reservation.
Despite this setback, hope was not lost but triggered. This mountain will be climbed. As a final tactic, a clinical trial was pursued. The last battle was commenced. A fight unlike any other, David and Goliath was the scenario yet the cliché outcome was not. The doctors reviewed the scans which indicated that the treatment was not working. Over a dozen large tumors had taken refuge in Debi’s lungs, to the point of being irreparable. The doctors advised her husband and daughter to take her home and make her comfortable. Little did he know of the impossibility of that task.
Hospice was prescribed, in addition to her own personal pharmacy to control the pain. As time passed, an indirectly proportional functionality of her lucid state and the drug dosages became apparent. At first, scattered words, hallucinations, and confusion were the case, yet as time progressed, intensity heightened and communication became challenging. Eventually she was unable to speak, limited to primitive activity to express her thoughts and feelings on matters. Have you ever seen a grown woman kick and scream like a child? No one could make her eat. A personal Holocaust allowed herself a mere few sips of an Ensure Supplement Drink daily. The nurses frequently visited towards the end while Debi’s state rapidly declined, eventually having to be there around the clock. Her daughter assisted the nurses with bathing and feeding. No child should have to bottle feed their mother. Hospice made euthanasia seem like a blessing. Surroundings suddenly all became synonyms for hell.
Despite this fatal verdict, fight was not a forgotten philosophy. Those surrounding Debi knew the excruciating truth, yet she ignored it. Tomorrow was still an option. She was in the pool everyday up until a week before she died. With that smile.
Friends and family flocked to her side at an incredible rate. One comes to find that those who need to be there simply arrive. Pain increased, so the drug dosages followed while her body weight and condition did so adversely to the point of being incognito. Her behavior dwindled to that of purely primitive activity and a nonexistent speech. The doctors advised that Debi be moved to the hospital, where nurses could better manage her pain. Her daughter stayed with her every night. Three days. 72 hours. 4,320 minutes. Too long, Debi survived the hospital. Her state continued to decline, for the drugs had induced a comatose state. With her husband, daughter, dear friends and family at her side, those three days were that of pure love. The truth of the matter was nights on the Hospice floor were unlike any other. The first dark, two people passed. One can never truly understand tears unless they are of losing another.
On the third evening, Debi’s husband decided to stay along with their daughter. The hours passed and her husband opted to go to sleep, after a final “family meeting”. I believe all can appreciate the honesty in his comment, “this was the only time I spoke without my wife interrupting me”. A final prayer was said before he slept; the world stood still during that one. Debi’s daughter, however, stayed awake with her, sitting by her side. Music was a passion that the pair shared. Mother daughter relationships are that of a unique bond, which seeds the growth of mother and child to mother and best friend. Debi was not only with her daughter, but with her best friend. They listened to music together, and naturally enough, the duo shared songs which were featured that evening. The final track started playing. Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin. Appropriate in so many ways, that song had been their song. Their last moment together was with the angels. When the song ended, her daughter left the room to prepare for bed. When she returned, Debi’s eyes fell upon her daughter as she gasped once more. Stairway to heaven had become her reality on the night my mother died.
Research suggests that the human body loses 21 grams within 30 minutes after death, claiming a relationship to the soul. Ironically enough, I felt lighter too. I found myself in limbo. Uncomfortably numb. It was just so quick. I’ve never been one to cry, yet now I find myself in random bouts of tears inexplicably. It’s almost as if I can stay numb for only so long before my muscles just collapse under the pressure. The tears seem to help their reestablishment. Have you ever missed someone so much your heart physically hurt?
On February 7, 2010, the “First Annual Dash for Deb, Debi LeGette Memorial 5K Walk/Run for the Cure” was commenced at Auburn University. As a senior here at Auburn, I reached out to every resource possible to encourage this movement. Tasks of mass proportions were put into action. The event had grown to nationwide awareness, for all four corners of the country were involved. Runners met in Oregon, Florida, and Alabama on that Sunday morning to unite for one reason. Granted the primary race in Alabama was comprised of approximately 66 people, and the other two runs were of small proportions as well, Dash for Deb raised ($5,370) to be donated to the Sarcoma Foundation of America. Even more so, our philosophies were pronounced.
The run was in her honor, but an additional goal was to raise awareness of the fact that caner is not just a disease, but a plague. This epidemic is our kryptonite. Since the beginning of time man has sought ways to cure or prevent illness and to endure the elements of nature. As time progressed, the evolution of these tactics has changed from primitive sticks acting as spears and mixtures of herbs and berries for medicinal purposes, to advanced weapons, machinery, vaccinations, and medicines formulated in laboratories. The sophisticated adaptation of survival skills that this generation and society strives in is no longer funded by the harvests of trees, bushes, and animals, but by a currency which sponsors the research and science necessary to understand, cure, and prevent disease. The greatest fear for this generation is that of a disease without cure, for this is our battle. Our species has acquired the knowledge and abilities to prevent our own extinction, yet it is our duty as citizens of humanity to pursue the application of these skills. The supplemental aim of the event was to advocate and support this truth.
Superficially serving as a memorial and fundraising event, the internal drive of the run was simply the start of the journey that this emotional force has triggered. I’m living for two now. When she died, a part of me died as well. I lost 21 grams that night, yet I recently gained 42 grams. A personal renaissance and metamorphosis has begun with more life than ever before. I can’t deny the pain of not having her here, but I must accept the ambiguous understanding of the meaning of love, knowing that I have been and will always be a recipient of such. I will always weigh an extra 21 grams.
I understand that this essay is rather unorthodox in regards to answering the intended questions. Frankly, cancer is not just a disease but an experience; and I’ve come to find that no two experiences are alike. You asked what I would do if I were to be diagnosed with cancer. My experience enlightened me to the fact that when one is sick, all are sick. Therefore, I’ve already been diagnosed.