Time for Reflection: First Anniversary of my GIST Diagnosis

by Darlene Rigg


Today marks the first anniversary of my GIST diagnosis, a perfect opportunity to reflect on life.

Always, I have seen myself as being the personified definition of "average." Plain in looks, I envied anyone with physical beauty; my heart bled for the very few people even less attractive than me. Someone not as intelligent was to be pitied; more intelligence, and there walked genius! Someone nicer than me was a Heaven shoe-in; less nice, and it was the other place, guaranteed. Ditto all other attributes. The cowardly lion’s courage was greater than mine; Attila the Hun had more grace of spirit. I always felt that while I could go either way in the balance of things, I would likely end up on the negative side.

Luckily for everyone else, there are very few people inferior to me. Luckily for me, in reality I’m probably not teetering at the edge of an abyss, reaching out for beauty, brains, a heavenly reward, or anything else. It’s all in my imagination (I hope).

Looking it over, my life has been very ordinary. I went to college, married, raised four children and still live in the same town where I was born. I’m with the same man I married over 30 years ago; our children are mostly grown. Kim, our quiet nature-lover, is out of college and on her own now. Sam, our sociable, self-confident son, moved to Arizona only a week ago, sure to find fame, fortune AND love. Ernest, our youngest child, is a philosophy major and dreamer in his senior year at college. Maria, adopted in Brazil, is proud that she’s an all-American girl with a job at a local bakery.

When they first told me I had a massive tumor, I was the personification of the painting "The Scream." And in my head, the words continually streaming out of the mouth of the screaming head, like so much machine gun fire, were "I’m going to die! I’m going to die!"

Maria, physically disabled and mildly retarded, had no inhibitions about voicing her thoughts last October when I found out I needed surgery. The first thing she said was "I hope you don’t die, or then I won’t have a mom again." It was a real tear-jerking Hallmark moment — until five minutes later, when Maria brought me a basket full of her mending and asked if I could get it done before the next day’s surgery.

Since that time I have experienced many emotions. At first there was an immediate feeling of surprise that, although I didn’t want to die, I wasn’t afraid (to put it indelicately) that I would go to Hell. Unfortunately, being free from worrying about an afterlife in Hell didn’t negate the fear that if I lived, cancer pain could make this life a hell on earth.

What a surprise, then, this year has been for me! So far early fears of pain and agony remain unfounded. And along with being able to live in the "now" rather than wasting time fearing future demons that may never materialize, I’ve discovered that life’s joys boost my spirits higher than ever before, while disappointments aren’t too very upsetting. I awaken most days looking forward to what will happen next and am an infinitesimal bit closer to living with grace and courage.

I would be lying, however, if I said there have been no tears or worry. I think of Kimberly refusing, even as an adult, to see a movie or read a book in which someone dies. She has always called them "pointless stories," and I wonder if memories of me will be relegated as more of the same. I see Sam’s amused tolerance when I drag him outside to admire a newly emerged butterfly or a plant that has bloomed for the first time in 15 years. I wonder what Ernest plans to do with a degree in philosophy, a subject that baffled me so much in my college days that I dropped out of the class. I hope that Maria has enough coping skills to handle whatever the future brings.

Then I reassess my life and realize that there is also much cause for joy. I’m still madly in love with my husband. Our children, although so different from each other, are best friends. And I realize, upon reflection, each member of this family has strength of character.

For the most part, life now is pretty much the way life was before GIST. I feel healthy and put in 40-hour workweeks at my library job. And now that I’ve put the half-acre home garden to bed for the fall, it’s time to concentrate on my greenhouse full of orchids, cacti, bromeliads, and the occasional tree frog.

Tomorrow I will pot the two dozen orchid seedlings that are growing in a tiny jar. It will take five to ten years before they bloom. I know I will be here to see the flowers.

Life is good,

Darlene in Indiana

35x20x14 cm. GIST surgically removed one year ago
No Gleevec; No Evidence of Disease