by Dan Applegate
President, The Arlington Memorial Gardens
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and throughout this month we have posted information on early detection and various steps that should be taken to help ensure that every preventative measure is taken to ensure that breast cancer is diagnosed in its very earliest stages. Caught early enough, breast cancer becomes very treatable; ignored and left untreated, it becomes a killer.
We have our own breast cancer stories in our company which highlights the enormity of early diagnosis. Perhaps coincidentally, early in this month of awareness and detection, the wife of one of our employees was diagnosed with breast cancer and is in the very initial phase of treatment. Fortunately, she was almost instinctively alert and aware of the early signs of breast cancer and also proactive in following-up with her doctor. Consequently, while these things can never be taken lightly, we’re very grateful that early detection has been awarded with an incredibly optimistic diagnosis.
This past May, I celebrated being a breast cancer survivor of 15 years. It’s a long time from that very scary time in my life but as I reflect, there is a singularly poignant moment that always comes to mind.
We were living in Chicago at the time and like so many others, we were immersed in our jobs and with raising our family. I owned a small advertising business and life was a whirlwind. I’d found a suspicious lump and had gone to Northwestern Hospital and was awaiting the results of a biopsy and mammogram. I was rattled. The thought of cancer entering my life was surreal and almost instantly, everything else lacked the importance that just days earlier had seemed momentous. As we continued our daily activities, fear was my companion and background noise.
We planned our family vacation but…I might have cancer.
My son has a soccer game next Saturday but…I might have cancer.
My daughter needs braces but…I might have cancer.
I’m planting my garden but…I might have cancer.
Our anniversary is next week but…I might have cancer.
The “what ifs” and “maybes” were overwhelming.
The day I received the call confirming that I had cancer is vividly etched in my memory. I was in my office by myself. I answered the phone; it was my surgeon asking if I was alone. Knowing what was coming next, my heart sank. My doctor hesitated, so I helped her. In a hushed voice, I somehow forced out the words, “I have cancer, don’t I”? And in a hushed tone that matched mine, she said, “I’m sorry, but yes you do.”
My worst fears confirmed, I sat silently in my office for a long time considering this savage blow and what it meant to my future. Do I have enough time to raise my children? If not, who will? Will my husband remarry? Will I get to see my grandchildren? And as I sat there, dumbfounded at what this new reality might hold for me, something surprising happened: a unique serenity settled in.
“Yes,” I randomly thought, “I’m terrified, but I’m also grateful for all of those things that I do have in my life…my family, dinners together after busy days, soccer games to go to, a glass of wine with my friends. All of these singularly simple things suddenly took on new significance.”
Among many cancer survivors, there is a general belief that having experienced cancer provides them with what is often called the “Gift of Gratitude.” It’s not something magical or mythical; but the experience seems to strip away the minutia and the trivial things of life giving the survivors laser-like focus on those people and things that really hold meaning.
Following the phone call from my doctor was, I believe, the precise moment I received the “Gift of Gratitude” and when my life began changing. I was lucky, I beat my cancer and along the way developed an entirely different perspective on what is and what isn’t important in my life. In my case, as in so many other cases, early detection and great medical care saved my life. And, for that, I remain eternally grateful.
Daniel Applegate became part of The Arlington Memorial Gardens organization
in 2001 and has worked in the cemetery industry since 1981, including
serving as Secretary/Treasurer and then as President of the Ohio state
cemetery association. He was appointed by Ohio Governor George
Voinovich and served two terms on the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution
Commission, Ohio's cemetery oversight agency. He is a graduate of The
Ohio State University holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political