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Messages of hope

I had an anniversary of sorts this past week. Since many of you have been along on this roller coaster ride with me, I wanted you to know about this special day. Last Monday (March 5) was the five-year anniversary of the day I heard words none of us ever want to hear. They were words that rocked my world and changed my life forever. Three simple words whose meanings were anything but simple: "You have cancer."

That's right. On March 5, 2007, I became a member of a club nobody ever wants to join. While my diagnosis was clear, the impending days that followed were anything but clear. Instead, they were seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months of worry, fear, anxiety, stress ... you get the idea. You've heard the words "a living hell?" As a writer — more importantly as a member of the human race — I can't think of any better words to describe the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma that took place.

But now five years have passed ... While five years might have seemed like a dream in 2007, it's a reality today, and my heart flip-flops with the very mention of the words "five years." Those five years represent more than I can ever convey in words ... for once, this old writer who's never short on words is rendered speechless. Five years. The words — the milestone — keep playing over and over in my head, sometimes quietly, sometimes shouting so loud it stirs my soul and causes the tears to teeter.

While a positive attitude probably had a lot to do with my ability to say "five years," I know there is so much more, including Dr. Tracey Weigel — the No. 1 cardiothoracic surgeon in the nation; a cancer treatment center in Freeport that didn't allow you to give up; Dr. Allan Vukov — our local oncologist who continues to steer my ship in the right direction; and equally important, the love and strength of family and friends who braved the battle right by my side. For all of those people, I will forever be grateful.

But there's more to this anniversary story — an important element that has touched my heart so deeply. You see when I was going through the throes of treatment and decided to be very public in the newspaper about my illness, many of you embraced me in your kind arms, sending me the most wonderful cards, emails and letters. Inside that correspondence, you spoke of strength, God, prayers. Many of you opened your hearts and told me very personal stories of you and/or your loved ones who were also members of my new club. In a very dark and dismal time, you gave me reason to smile, to persevere, to look toward the future.

Just so you know, every card, every email, every letter was saved and ultimately, they now comprise four, three-inch binders filled with hundreds of cards and messages. On Monday, as the words "five years" were bouncing around my head, I sat down with all four binders ... I swallowed hard, and I reread every single card and message you sent ...

I don't mind telling you the tears flowed freely as I read your kind and encouraging words. I hadn't looked at your messages for five years, and I was so moved with your kindness. Some of you sent card after card ... some sent a single email or note ... some were sent from people who have since lost their own battle with this ugly disease ... some were sent from people who have since become a member of the club ... My heart twisted and turned as I read your words — clearly they were testaments to your kindness, which offered me so much in my time of need.

Each and every one of you were instrumental in helping me say "five years," and this column is about thanking you for your support then ... and your continuing support five years later. Your messages of hope will never be forgotten. Thank you, my friends.

BCR Editor Terri Simon can be reached at tsimon@bcrnews.com. You can also follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bcrnews.tsimon.

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