Ten Years Ago Today My First Wife Died From Breast Cancer
In some ways it feels like forever yet in other ways it feels like just yesterday. Ten years ago on July 10, 2004, my first wife, Susan Louise (DeSilva) Lawler, died from complications related to metastasized breast cancer. She was only 42 and had fought what amounted to an 8 year battle when she died in recovery from what would have been her last possible surgery to try delay the inevitable. She was only 34 when she discovered her tumor in a hotel room during a trip to visit her family in Los Angles. We were newlyweds and had been married for just two years.
I’m a firm believer that waiting until you are 40 to begin self-examinations or to get your first mammogram is a myth. The Young Survival Coalition posts these statistics on their web site:
- Each year, approximately 70 thousand men and women age 15 to 39 are diagnosed in case in the US; breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in this age group.
- Every year, nearly 1,200 women under age 40 die from breast cancer.
- Compared to older women, young women generally face more aggressive cancers and lower survival rates.
- More evidence tells us that breast cancer before age 40 differs biologically from the cancer faced by older women.
- African American women under the age of 35 have rates of breast cancer two times higher than Caucasian women of the same age.
- African American women under age 35 die from breast cancer three times as often as Caucasian women of the same age.
They also have some great online resources.
Put simply, the problem is that in young women breast cancer seems to be much more aggressive and fast moving. Those in the know don’t know why, but it is.
Looking back I remember a tall, slender, stunningly attractive woman who worked for the Ice Capades, selling time on the ice to schools and children’s groups. I remember my friends kidding me that I must have lied to her to have ended up with somebody who was “…so out of my league.” I remember meeting a woman who would frequent Los Angeles area karaoke clubs each week to sing in their competitions, using her winnings to help pay her monthly bills; I sometimes wonder what would happen if NBC’s “The Voice” had been on the air back when she was alive. I remember a woman who was very headstrong and angry one moment and then as happy as a five year old with a new favorite doll to play with the next. I remember a woman who had to deal with the great physical and emotional trauma of having her life stolen and ripped out from underneath her just as she was beginning to enjoy life for the first time after a very difficult childhood and young adult life. I remember her enduring numerous surgeries and cancer treatments, including an analogous stem cell transplant. I remember Dr. Brian Druker being her favorite doctor (before he focused exclusively on his Leukemia and Gleevec research) and her telling me “…he’s going to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine someday, just you wait and see.” It looks like she might end up being right on that one…
My father found a small photo album just after her death that she had prepared and left in her final days in our home, placed in my home office, the last page having the simple inscription “p.s. I was here!” Because of her karaoke competitions I had hours of audio cassette tapes of her singing stored in boxes. I sorted through them and burned ten tracks on to a CD for her service, to hand to others, and to keep for myself. I used one of the songs to make an online video comprised of her last photo album, set to her singing “The Wind Beneath Our Wings.” I hosted it on my personal website at the time.
That was ten years ago. Since that time I was lucky to have met and remarried to a wonderful woman, Kim, who is very different from Susan. She’s special in many ways, but one of them is that she doesn’t mind or feel jealous of the ghost in my heart, which can peek out at times. I keep it in a small, contained box and I only open it when I want to. It’s been awhile, but today seemed like a good day to open that box and to share.
If you or any of your family members are women under 40, please don’t wait to get checked. Waiting until you are 40 to worry about breast cancer is a myth. Trust me… Trust Susan’s story…