A young black man walks through a series of dark doorways until he reaches a warmly glowing one at the end

Grieving Over Cancer

On November 22, 1963, most baby boomers remember what happened that day. I was practicing my printing in a second-grade classroom at McKinley Elementary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Our principal's voice came on over the intercom and said, "Boys and girls, please give me your attention. Listen carefully, I have some sad news. President Kennedy is dead." You could have heard a pin drop in that room. I still remember his melancholy tone, our teacher's shocked face, and the boy's tears in front of me. I remember thinking, Poor Caroline and John, Jr. They have lost their daddy. Our country grieved along with the Kennedy family.

February 9, 1964, is another date most baby boomers will remember. My cousins and I were seated on the floor in front of the television. Our grandparents had invited us over to watch a new singing group on the Ed Sullivan Show. You could barely hear those four young men singing because of the screaming teenage girls in the audience.

Grandpa joked that England sent those Beatles to America to get back at us for winning the Revolutionary War. I thought watching the Beatles was a lot of fun. Just a few months earlier, we had watched President Kennedy's funeral procession on that same television. In my eight-year-old mind, I thought England sent us the Beatles to cheer us up!

June 2, 2017, this is the date that I will always remember as a sad day. My oncologist pulled up her chair closer to mine and said, "I was surprised by the results of your recent bone marrow biopsy." I learned a new word: myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). I had to learn how to pronounce it, spell it, and explain it.

What is MDS?

Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of disorders in which a person's bone marrow does not produce enough functioning blood cells. This might interfere with producing red blood cells needed for oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection, or blood platelets needed to help blood clot.

The five stages of grief, according to the Kubler-Ross Model:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Some people may not experience all of these stages, and they are not always experienced in the same order.

Denial

Most doctors encourage patients to get a second opinion after a cancer diagnosis. I'm glad I had a second bone marrow biopsy at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas because I would still be in the denial stage. Why would I get something rare like MDS? They must have made a mistake in the Tulsa lab.

Anger

I think most people with a cancer diagnosis understand the anger stage. It is frustrating for me when people want me to volunteer for a position in an organization, but I know I don't have the stamina.

Bargaining

I am okay with people who ask if they can pray for me (I need all the help I can get!), but it is uncomfortable when they act like they just performed an exorcism. I have never believed that God wanted to punish me, so I don't think I need to bargain with Him.

Depression

Yes, depression is real. Feeling down at times is a normal part of life. However, if you feel miserable and hopeless consistently, please talk to your doctor.

Acceptance

What do I do now? I can no longer work because of my diagnosis. What is my plan? For me, learning all I can about MDS gave me some control. The better I understood my symptoms, the better I coped. I try to keep busy on projects, so I can keep my focus off of being ill.

Grief is a part of life.  I think about the people who were in the room watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964. There were nine of us then, now there are only four. My grandparents, uncle, and aunt, and my father have passed away. We will always miss them. My mother is the only adult from that night still living (age 91), and now my cousins and I are senior citizens. I think the next time they visit I'll play some Beatles music.

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