This blog is for Jim Marventano's family and friends to review his status and updates while he goes through treatment for Stage IV Colon Cancer. We can beat it together!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Picnic

The Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic holds a picnic for the survivors annually. Actually, it's a national celebration, but every clinic seems to celebrate on a different day. The Vince used to hold it with the other cancer clinic in town, but it got so big that they divided the picnic into two, and were better able to accommodate all the patients and their families.

Two picnics. This year, there were 700 attendees at the picnic sponsored by The Vince. So, assuming the other cancer clinic in town is doing about the same amount of business, that's 1400 people. And that's just wrong for a town Sheboygan's size. It's not all survivors - about half are actual survivors, while the rest make up caregivers, family and friends.

Once again I'm forced to wonder - where's the justice? Okay, so playing the odds, not all of these people are saints. But what about the ones that are? Or were? When do they get a say in how their body is responding to treatment?

The picnic this year was a smashing success. Last year, Jim attended, but by June was already not doing very well. Jim's sister was here - she had to drive him right to the entrance of the park and pick him up there - he wasn't well enough to walk all over on his own. And he got almost claustrophobic with all the talk of cancer and survivors. And I was watching at one point - Jim was sitting there, looking miserable and forelorn, and I saw Dr. Haid looking at him from a distance. And I could read the look on Dr. Haid's face. I knew that he knew Jim wasn't doing well. And I was very saddened by that. And I could see that Dr. Haid was as well. Somehow, that look in Dr. Haid's eye is something that stays with me. I know now, as I should have before, that there were so many hints. So many realities that Jim and I just did not want to face. So many indications that things weren't going the way we wanted. But Dr. Haid tried very gently to tell us - I just wouldn't hear it. Maybe Jim did, or maybe he didn't. But by June we knew things weren't going so hot.

This year, I volunteered to help set up for the picnic. My mom was visiting and watched the kids for me. I went to the Vince at 8:00, and stayed to help set up and worked the picnic until 2:30. (The picnic started for the patients and families at 11:00.) My mom brought the kids over and we had a great lunch. They stayed about 2 hours before Jake started to lose it. This year was very rewarding. I ran a kids game, and all the kids got prizes. And thanks to my mom - the night before the picnic we blew up around 100 balloons and stuffed them with candy. We had an art therapy project that was awesome - Bottles of Hope - tiny bottles that people decorated with clay and other things. They were really neat. That kind of took off slow, but at one point it was impossible to get into the table and see what everyone was working on. I have no idea how many people made bottles, but if I had to take a stab at it I'd say at least 200. It was pretty cool. They had multitudes of gift bags for the patients. They had a full buffet lunch and 5 sheet cakes. All the staff, their significant others/spouses and Patient Advisory Committee worked really hard. I don't know that I've ever been so proud of something I've been involved in.

Missing Jim is a part of every day life. I was very sad remembering him at the picnic the year before. But some people can put up with years and years of treatment and multiple procedures, and some people can't. Jim's body didn't respond to chemo, and I have to remind myself daily that even if it had responded, Jim would have had a hard time with all the procedures and lack of dignity associated with being a cancer patient. Jim just wasn't the type of guy to endure that kind of poking, prodding, and wearing of skimpy hospital gowns. Jim was a very, very dignified man. And that is one of the many reasons I love him.

Congratulations on surviving another day, another week, another year of cancer, people. You are going through the journey of a lifetime - you'll come out a different person. Hopefully a better person with more perspective on life than you ever hoped to imagine. For those of you wiping the sweat from your brow and thinking "Thank goodness I don't have cancer" - let's keep it that way. Get your colonoscopy. Get your mammogram. Do your body a favor and treat it right. You'll appreciate it in the long run - whether you live a dignified life as Jim did, or where it's all out in the open as it is for me. It's better to attend a Cancer Survivor's Day picnic as a friend, or better yet as an employee of the medical facility than as a survivor, caregiver, or widow.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

June 17, 1995

Today is our anniversary. I'm feeling a little sad today. I've been feeling a little sad for the last couple of weeks. The sadness seems to ebb and flow. Jim and I really didn't celebrate our anniversary. We got married in June, and from that date on I knew that he'd be on his annual fishing trip with the Musky Marauders pretty much every year for the rest of our married lives. And I was okay with that. Last year I was just thankful that we made it to 12 years, although by then I had a bit of a suspicion that Lucky 13 might not happen.

And here we are, at no-so-Lucky 13. It's not the day that makes me sad, it's the feelings associated with this month. When it's a beautiful night in Kohler and there's a gentle breeze, I'm sad without him. My peonies are blooming like crazy in the backyard, and I'm sad - that's something we worked on together. Grilling out food and eating Popsicles - all reminds me of Jim. A blazing hot June day reminds me of the day we got married.

June of 1995 was a terrifying and exhilarating time. What we were thinking about when we got married at 22 and 26 years old, I'll never know. I guess we were thinking that we were crazy in love. Our wedding and reception was huge. The wedding was in a little church in Honeoye-Falls - there was barely enough room for everyone. And it was hotter than heck that day. I remember using one of my little white gloves to mop off Jim's forehead when I got to the end of the aisle. He was sweating like crazy - maybe from the heat, most certainly from fear. It was a beautiful garden reception in a tent in my parents' yard. It was fabulous wedding weather. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky...everyone looked wonderful. My parents worked so hard on the yard, and it really looked picturesque. (I'm not sure why they didn't splurge on a landscape company to help them, but I guess sticker shock from the wedding urged them to do a number of things on their own!) I was so terrified I had a hard time eating or drinking anything. We danced and danced and danced. My parents continued to find forks and spoons in their lawn for months after the reception.

We were so giddy with the excitement of being newlyweds. We lived in a teeny little apartment in Buffalo. We were so poor - we had no money starting out. I didn't have a job. Jim had just started his job about a year before the wedding. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again - Jim and I worked for most everything we have. We had a lot of goals together. And we achieved a lot together.

I guess that's really the point in celebrating an anniversary - to look at how far you've come, review your goals together, and press on for many more happy years. Even when I review our lives together now, by myself, I know that we strove for a number of things we were both proud to list in our accomplishments. Whether that be success at work, remodeling a house, giving lots of hugs, having two healthy children, or making time to say "I love you" every day and really mean it.

Since Jim passed away, I've struggled with my emotions - everything from being disgusted when people treat each other disrespectfully to feeling the need to explain why my husband wasn't helping me with the Christmas tree. Now I'm mostly feeling sad - sad for the loss of Jim, sad for my kids losing their father, sad because I'm on my own. I'm still happy for other couples when I see them together, but there's a sting there now that I must have been able to overlook before. I'm happy for them, but selfishly, I'm sad for me and Jim. We wanted to be a couple. That's why we got married. I miss being a couple. I miss our long walks and talks, that inevitably turned into planning sessions for the next several months and years. I miss achieving things with someone I love. I miss feeling pride in Jim, in our relationship, and even in me and how I'd grown in our relationship.

Happy Anniversary, Lambchop. I miss you something terrible. Our wedding day was brilliant, and from it we built a life of happiness.