Being sick is one thing and then administering the sickness is another

A little over a year ago, I took time off from work to accompany my wife to a doctor’s appointment. I'd been to plenty of these over the years (we have three kids) but somehow I knew this one was going to be different.

Sure enough, the doctor wound up telling us my wife had stage-one breast cancer. That was a life-changing visit.

When I heard the news, I didn't flip out or anything. Turns out stage one (later they determined it was really stage two) means the cancer was discovered early. That means, if you are lucky, some kind of treatment like chemotherapy or radiation will work. But, even at this early stage, I just felt that somehow my wife would get through this. She's tough.

It was determined that chemotherapy would be needed. To facilitate that, "minor" surgery would be needed to install a port for the injections. This surgery supposedly has a 1-percent failure rate. However, during the procedure, they punctured my wife's lung, which required a long and painful hospital stay. No surgery is ever really minor.

I had heard of chemotherapy but I never really knew what it was until seeing it up close with my wife. What they basically do is inject you with poison in the hope that it will kill the cancer without killing you

My wife was scheduled for four doses, but could only manage two and a half as it was literally killing her with general pain, nausea, neuropathy (extremity pain), and more. Fortunately, it looks like the process still worked, as here we are a year later and she is currently cancer free. Notice I said currently. "Aye, there's the rub" to quote the Bard.

My wife says we all have cancer to some degree — it's just a question of how much it grows. As a "survivor" now, she just has to keep getting checked and hope that it doesn't come back.

Survivors talk about being "clean" for five years as a goal, but cancer can return at any time; it's a wicked beast for sure. We had a counselor who had been a survivor herself, but then her cancer returned with a vengeance.

Her funeral was a real tearjerker as she was a terrific person with many great friends and a loving family. That's why, when you have cancer and are supposedly cured, you always have to be realistic and stay focused. Sad but true.

One of my responsibilities during this trying time has been to update my wife's Caring Bridge web page. This is a site where you go to follow up on people undergoing various treatments.

For a while, I was updating it all the time, with information on the chemotherapy infusions, the many doctor visits, and her overall wellbeing. I did get in trouble a couple of times for putting too sensitive information out there.

I mean, I was trying to deal with it as a real journalist would, but, as you can imagine, there are a lot of intimate personal details involved with breast cancer. Overwhelmingly I've been told I did a good job, and it sure saved making a lot of phone calls. I hope I won't have to do much more of it.

As if having cancer isn't bad enough, there's the added struggle of trying to keep your main doctor, your oncologist, your breast surgeon, and your plastic surgeon all on the same page, along with keeping track of all the medications, appointments, and related paperwork. It's a cliché but it's truly adding insult to injury.

Fortunately, my wife is very organized, but, as she'll tell you, having "chemo brain" doesn't make the endless record-keeping any easier. Truly, being sick is one thing and then administering the sickness is another.

And be sure to sit down when you look at the bills! We have good health coverage, thank goodness, but it still takes your breath away.

Lance Armstrong has fallen out of favor for his lying and cheating over so many years, but the organization he founded for cancer patients, now called The Livestrong Foundation, continues to do great work for cancer patients.

My wife got into an exercise program the foundation sponsored, and it was terrific. The instructors really cared and really knew what they were doing so it was just tremendous. Big "props" to Livestrong.

Another group my wife has found great comfort in is Bravehearts. This group for female cancer survivors goes on retreats to the ocean and the mountains where the ladies get pampered and supported by people who care.

My wife has gone on several of these weekends and has had a great time every time. If there's one good thing about cancer, it's that it brings out the best in so many different people from all walks of life. A friendship made through cancer survival is like the lovely silver lining on a dark gray cloud.

By far the most difficult aspect of the whole ordeal for me has been accompanying my wife to her infusions. If you've not been to something like this, you should be told it's quite a reality check: There are many people in that room hooked up to chemotherapy drips who may or may not be there the next time you go.

Most have no hair (my wife still looked beautiful even when bald) and many are so gaunt and frail you wonder how much time they could possibly have left. Still, the staff at our place, New York Oncology and Hematology, were always upbeat and competent.

You could even say it was a pleasure to see them each time; that's how nice they all were. Once my wife found a comfy, heated recliner and started the process, she could look out windows with picturesque views, strike up a conversation with a fellow patient, or just read or pray.

Mostly it's quiet and serene in there (except when a loud personal cell-phone call lasts too long or the always-on TV is too loud). Being that you have to be there whether you like it or not, it means al lot that it's as nice as it is. Again, something about cancer just brings out the best in people. It's very inspiring.

Getting cancer later in life is one thing; you've lived for a while so there's that. What really unnerves me is cancer in children.

Sadly, it's not that uncommon. Seeing little ones, bald and attached to a chemo-drip, is enough to make even the toughest of us melt. It just gets me right in the gut. All we can do is hope the researchers keep working hard on a cure.

None of us who are cancer-free can really know how those who are suffering with this dreadful disease truly feel. They may put on a good public face in trying to do their normal routine but inside they may be tired, or in pain, or just feeling drab.

You know when you're not feeling good it's hard to get excited about anything. I still have to check myself, as there are so many things I want to do that I don't give a second thought about, but for my wife or my mother (she has a form of cancer, too), these things are not so easy or not doable at all. I need to just be happy they are both still around.

Recently, we had a combination cancer survival and birthday party for my wife with lots of friends and relatives attending. What a good time we all had. My wife thoroughly enjoyed catching up with everyone, running around all day to meet and greet and give hugs.

If you'd seen her, you might have found it hard to believe she was ever sick at all. How great is that. Miracles do happen.  A life saved is a wonderful thing.

Let's hope my wife's blood tests keep coming back negative. There's a lot left we have to do together. With any luck at all, we'll be able to do them, and for a long time to come.

The next time you see a pink ribbon magnet on the back of a car, or a big burly football player wearing pink sneakers, just stop and think about what it really means. I know I do.