Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heaven Can Wait -- But Not for Carla

My recent PET scan revealed that my body is free of detectable cancer cells. My future today looks far brighter than it did a year ago. And I certainly feel a whole lot better than I did back then. It looks as if I may live beyond the reach of those diabolical renegade cells.
    An article in the New York Times recently reported that throat cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) Type 16, which is precisely the virus found in my (now gone!!!) cancer cells, is becoming “a major epidemic.” Throat cancer is on the rise, although still relatively rare. There are fewer than 10,000 new cases a year. Most people with HPV don’t develop cancer. Researchers now believe that infection from the virus is usually fought off by the immune system. In an unlucky few, like me, the virus causes cancer. My husband is certain that my immune system was gravely injured by the stress of watching my mother die a slow and terrible death from a brain disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
    When Mom died, ten days after my final chemo treatment, I was relieved that her suffering was over. Her disease, which to me resembles Lou Gehrig Disease in slow motion, is uniformly fatal. My disease is often not. In fact, median survival in HPV 16 throat cancer patients who manage to make it through the horrific treatments of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, is 131 months. That means I’m probably good for ten more years on the planet. Old age, here I come. Heaven will have to wait.
Carla Zilbersmith was a singer, comic, writer, actress, teacher and mother. She had a whole lot of living going on. Then she became ill and died, in May 2010, of Lou Gehrig's Disease. She was 47 years old.
    In the meantime, I have been inspired deeply by Carla Zilbersmith, a funny and adventurous woman who, before she died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, created this bit for you and me. Having had the experience of watching a loved one die from this type of brutal and humiliating illness, I have deep empathy and profound respect for the courage exhibited by Carla, who is beautiful, energetic and gutsy enough to prepare this video to be shown at her funeral. See you soon, Carla and Mom. Meanwhile, I've got some living to do.

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