Commentary: Enjoying Life In The Second-Chance Club

By Ellen Foley Special To Channel 3000

We decided to celebrate by going to get some pie.

My husband and I drove in silence out of the lot at University of Wisconsin Hospital last week and pushed west onto University Avenue into the sea of cars heading home for dinner.

Tom had just completed his quarterly scan for cancer and he was still in remission two years after treatment began for a very rare form of a very rare form of cancer that went to his brain. We were so relieved we could not talk.

The hum of the car conjured up a recent program on PBS called “This Emotional Life.” Reporters interviewed a former prisoner of war who had been tortured and kept in solitary confinement during the Vietnam War. His story and many others like his demonstrate the human capacity for resilience.

One researcher said that people who have survived raw tragedies such as torture and debilitating illness say even if they could relive their lives, they would not choose to whisk away their painful episodes. They have been have changed for the better because of lessons learned from surviving horrific sadness.

As we passed the lights of Hilldale on our dusky drive to Middleton, I wasn’t so sure that I could be as generous as the prisoner of war. Could I, would I volunteer to go through this trial again?

We motored past the funeral home where we had said goodbye to Tom’s uncle, Dr.Tony Richtsmeier, and the upscale grocery where we began buying organic fruits and vegetables after our first post-diagnosis nutrition lesson.

Without notice, a lusty voice from no where hoarsely whispered in my ear: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

What was the lightning-spewing forest goddess from the 1970s margarine commercial doing in my head on this Good News Day?

After some thought and a few deep breaths, I realized that “imaginary” Mother Nature was reminding me not to get too cavalier about the certainty of life or the miracles of modern medicine.

“Real” Mother Nature programs all of us to self-destruct. Yet, many of us live as if it will never end. Those of us in the second-chance club have learned to treasure the joy of family and friends. We have had the chance to audit priorities, make new friends, renew old friendships and pull those we love closer.

Mother’s taunting voice that came to me on our pie-seeking mission was not so much of a warning but a challenge. “You can fool me for awhile but make the most of it,” she was trying to tell me.

Tom will not be declared cured until he completes scans for the next four years on his quarterly or semi-annual visits to the hospital. Four years sounds like a long time unless you take it day by day.

Our little field trip last week made me resolve that we will make a habit of eating pie at places like the Hubbard Avenue Diner, a treat we would never have given ourselves on a work night before cancer.

We will savor every bite — Mother Nature willing.