Sunset Under the Poet's Tree
When I see and hear the ubiquitous hype and media coverage for celebrities receiving acclaim after facing their ordeals with breast cancer, I hear words like bravery, stamina, devastating disease, how well they are handling the diagnosis, and how heroically they are getting on with their lives. Most of these same celebrities are alive and well after their diagnosis because of the work done by women like my late wife, Lois A. Anderson. Yet most people have never heard of her. If you want to read a book about real bravery, real stamina, and the power to make real changes that matter to the breast cancer story, you need to take the time to read this book. Lois came from a poor family, coming from conditions most of us would never ascend from, and made her mark upon the world. I do not want to be forgotten, she told me after being diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at the age of thirty-nine. She lived eighteen years after that diagnosis and, in many ways, changed the world with her knowledge, support, and political advocacy. Many throw money at research in an effort to move breast cancer out of the ranks of an incurable cancer into one where most will survive it. Lois didnt have money. She didnt have the media to tell of her many battles. What she did have was a spirit of hope, which she used to battle breast cancer on all fronts. This is the story of a remarkable woman who, in spite of the odds, not only survived but also turned an ordeal that would have devastated most of us into a shining example of what one person can do even when they are facing death. Sometimes you get the chance to change things, she often told me. In her short lifetime, even with cancer raging through her body, she took the chance and did that very thing. She not only fought her own personal battle with breast cancer but also fought the war against it. Lois pursued such an astonishing life from the moment she came into the world, overcoming many obstacles in her quest to rise above the ordinary, many conquered before breast cancer entered her life. I felt her story had to be told. She lived her short life, coming from very humble beginnings, rising from all of it, making changes she hoped would better everyone, when it ended on January 17, 2011. At the time of her death, she was considered a great breast cancer advocate known at the national level. She was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at the age of thirty-nine, six days before her fortieth birthday, in 1992. Signs that could have cautioned her remained muted by an unsuspicious bruise she sustained from an injury several months before her fortieth birthday. In time, she was treated for the initial breast cancer and remained cancer-free for almost ten years, until cancer returned in 2001. Then when the odds seemed stacked against her, she fought the disease as a stage IV breast cancer survivor (metastatic breast cancer) from the time of that dire discovery until she died in January 2011. She lived eighteen years from the time she was diagnosed, against all prognostications allowing her only five years of survival. Over the last six months of her life, I began writing a story where I escaped the realities of losing my wife to something I had no control over. In a way, it transitioned into a metaphoric fable, a parallel story of her life. Between the lines, I allowed myself the chance to create an alternate world where the real trials Lois and I experienced on our last road together eventually made some sense to me in our unpredictable world. After she died, I began the long process of chronicling her amazing biography and believed I could finish the fictional one. Both stories represent a process of coming to terms with her death and a promise I made to not let her be forgotten. I began writing her real life story in late February 2011. After I started, I found stories and journals Lois had written about herself tucked away in boxes and old folders throughout the house.