"My Tiny Pieces of Wood"
By Lisa Samia
It was for me the words we all dread to hear, “You have breast cancer." I was and still am a vegetarian and have been for most of my adult life; work out 5 times a week, no history of breast cancer in my family and the most unlikely person the doctors said to get breast cancer. But, nonetheless, I heard those words on November 8, 2012 and my world as I knew it forever changed. It wasn’t so much that I was facing a mastectomy, reconstruction and chemotherapy; it was the uncertainty of the diagnosis the abject fear that gripped me and the changes in my life that were happening that I could do nothing to stop. So then on December 10, 2012 my left breast was removed and partial reconstruction was done.
I went home from the hospital on December 12, 2012. My parents, who had long since retired, had flown in from Las Vegas to help me convalesce. As much as it was painful for me to go through the surgery both physically and emotionally, seeing the pain in their eyes made me want to get stronger so as to ease their fear. Christmas came and went and it was wonderful to have them with me. However, it was right when they were leaving that something happened that will forever stay in my mind and my heart. My mother came into my room and handed me what looked like some tiny pieces of wood wrapped in cellophane. She told me to “remember my faith” and proceeded to tell me that many years ago when she and my father went to visit the holy land, the tour guide took them to a place where a small humble of a home was revealed. This home the tour guide said, was believed to be that of the Blessed Mother, the Mother of Jesus. She lived here, the tour guide said, until she ascended in heaven. Just outside the humble home was a large tree, my mother, being ever practical in this situation. determined well if that is the Blessed Mother’s home, then that must be her tree. She then proceeded to shave tiny pieces of wood with my father’s pen knife into her pocketbook for safekeeping. Those tiny pieces of wood were what were given to me when my mother left that day to return to Las Vegas.
I was now within a few weeks of my first appointment with oncology for my chemotherapy, and the fear that gripped me was overwhelming. The weeks preceding the first oncology meeting were for me the most difficult I have ever faced in my life, while my body was healing and partial reconstruction was already underway, for me the thought of the chemotherapy and the uncertainty of all that was still to come drew me closer to wanting to find something to hold onto to somehow relieve the fear and anxiety that gripped me. I then turned to my tiny pieces of wood, remembering what my mother had told me. I had put the cellophane in my jewelry box, and lifted the lid many times a day noticing how my eyes went to the cellophane and easily overlooked all that glittered and sparkled in the jewelry box. I took the cellophane and began to pray to the Blessed Mother for help. I was afraid and I needed to be strong. I went to that box and squeezed that cellophane day after day until the day finally came where I had to meet with the oncologist. That was a Friday I remember, my husband Jim took me to the appointment, and when I got out of the car I reached into my purse and squeezed the cellophane and prayed to the Blessed Mother. I then simply said “God Help Me." My husband and I went into the Cancer Center and met with the oncologist. He proceeded to tell me that instead of the eight chemotherapy treatments he had thought I would need, it was reduced to four. The first treatment was to be the following Friday. Well, both Jim and I were ecstatic, as my prayers were answered. We went home that day and celebrated our fortune. How lucky I was to hear that news! However, I really did not know lucky until early the following week.
I remember the following Tuesday late in the day, my cell phone rang and it was my breast surgeon’s office, a nurse telling me about a late test result that my oncologist should see. She said it was good news. I figured it was the news that the eight treatments were reduced to four and thanked her and thought no more of it until that next day Wednesday.I was home from work feeling under the weather when my home phone rang and it was my oncologist. His voice was filled with his usual compassion and kindness, but something more. I began to hear about a late test result, and that the test result revealed my chance of reoccurrence was at such a number as to not need chemotherapy. NOT NEED CHEMOTHERAPY. The appointments for oncology were cancelled. I was speechless and overjoyed; it was only after the doctor said how happy he was to give out the news I would not need it, I knew that many more phone calls were coming giving the news that others WOULD need treatment. The news was so incredulous to me that I called the doctor back to verify it once again. He verified again and it humbled me as I slipped of my bed and bent down on my knees thanking the Blessed Mother for healing me. I knew a miracle had happened to me. I believe this as much as I believe in my faith. And although there was another surgery in March and five and a half weeks of radiation, I knew that as much as I was made to suffer, I was chosen to suffer. I believe this happened as to give me a better understanding to help others and use the gift of compassion that I have within me to give to others. The Blessed Mother made me well.
As for me now, I carry that cellophane with me in my purse and yes I still squeeze the cellophane, not because I am afraid, but rather in thankfulness that my prayers were answered and mindful of the gift of health and a heart filled with compassion for others. The desire I have to help others like me has never diminished nor do I believe it ever will. This past September I went to Las Vegas to see my parents, my family and extended family. My parents had arranged to have an open house for my birthday week so all the family could see how well I was doing. And such a joy that was! My dearest and oldest girlfriend of thirty years came in from California, and as I embraced her in gratitude of her devotion and prayers during my treatment, she looked at my face and said I looked different somehow, just that there was a light in my eyes and a peace about me she had never seen before. I waited a few moments and it was then she told me the light in my eyes was from God having touched my soul.
The result now is that I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. Free from cancer and an appreciation of all the family and friends who love and supported me. Although I was made to suffer, in the same breath I was made well. While perhaps there is a light in my eyes touched by that which I believe is from the conviction in my faith, there was something more at work here. I will never believe otherwise.
Lisa Samia is a Boston native who resides in Avon, CT with her husband, Jim. She is an avid runner and a vegetarian who loves to cook and believes in healthy eating. She has appeared on CT-FOX 61 morning news program, WFSB Channel 3, Better CT and WTNH Channel 8, Connecticut Style and is the author of the book, "Don't Be Afraid of Fifty."