Thursday, September 15, 2011

A HEARTBREAKING TALENT: Breast cancer survivor's power and poignancy draws raves

Siobhan and Dave Sprecace
A great gift, newly discovered 

COLUMBIA, 9/14/11  (Beat Byte) --  "All my life," writes Siobhan Sprecace, "I've put pen to paper when trying to get through tough times.  I write for clarity, for purpose, to find the humor, to find the meaning, and to find the grace in the trials and tribulations of an ordinary life."

Sprecace's ordinary life became extraordinary this May, but not -- her many new fans will tell you -- because she was diagnosed with metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer, named for a protein that makes it highly aggressive. 

No -- the life of this wife, mother, and small business owner left ordinariness behind when she revealed an uncommon gift that my wife Alison -- diagnosed with the very same cancer in November 2009 -- hasn't stopped raving about since she discovered Sprecace's extraordinary prose this Spring.  

The story makes for a timely entry in our Pink Ribbon Chronicle, during this 2011 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Week

A Bridge for Bon

In a mere three months, some 4,100 visitors to Caring Bridge -- a site for people experiencing serious health challenges -- have spent 26 pages praising, weeping, laughing, and catching their breath to tell the world about Siobhan Sprecace's Cancer Chronicles, her personal journal.

"I am in awe of your gift of writing," one reader wrote.  "Rose Saracini said it best when she commented, 'Oh my gosh, can you believe her journals?  Don't read them at work -- it'll ruin your make-up!'"

And another:  "To quote the prose of someone I worship, admire, and love beyond measure, 'your words are so lovely I want to pet them.'"

And a third:  "Who would have thought the girl laying out in Loose Park while the PE teacher was jogging by would be the most talented author around?"

With heartfelt prose, and a vital embrace of her subject, "Bon" -- as friends know Sprecace, a forty-something Denver-based greeting card designer raised in Kansas City -- has weaved the colorful threads of her ordinary life into a touching pink tapestry that challenges a conventional wisdom:  That in its potential for devastation, the Big C is dark and dreadful, no matter how bright the put-up face. 
 
"Is it totally strange and inappropriate that reading your 'cancer blog' always brightens my day?" reader Cathy writes.  "I've been on the pity pot lately about a lot of stupid stuff, and your updates give me perspective."   

"I have been a negative nelly my whole life when it comes to cancer," another of Sprecace's readers wrote.  "But seeing your strength and your progress, I no longer think that cancer holds all the cards." 

Kid lottery

From the anguish of discovering a metastatic spot on her liver, to a bedtime story for her daughter that drew reader raves for a month, Sprecace's take on cancer is something to behold.  

There is death, looming.  "Me, in my melodramatic way, telling [husband] Dave that he COULD remarry -- but only a nice, sweet, beautiful, light woman who would love [daughter] Giorgia like her own mother does (is that possible?) and only after he had mourned my loss for an appropriate amount of time."

And life, recalled.   "Suddenly there were droves of children, trekking down to the appliance store, sweat dripping from their cut-off jean shorts, stops at the candy store to buy jolly ranchers for energy to get the goods home, fort-building plans formulating as the sun beat relentlessly down.  Refrigerator boxes were viewed as winning some kind of kid lottery." 

And optimism, optimism -- even in (quite literally) the very smallest developments. 

Instead of looking at her like "some tragic damsel out of Tolstoy," Sprecace's new oncologist "looked at me like I was a woman who would be living for years -- with what he calls 'micro' metastatic disease," she writes.  "'Micro' makes me feel great.  It's such a sweet, little word.  It connotes things small and manageable." 

God of small things

In a stylistic move her readers have grown to crave, Sprecace ties present to past with a poignant focus on the little things in life. 

"Micro" things, in fact. 

"When I was in fourth grade, I loved this kid named John.  During science class that year we studied things with a microscope and learned the word 'microscopic.'  John promptly turned to me and declared that I was microscopic.  I beamed!   Surely that meant he liked me. Probably a lot." 

A petite, small-boned girl, the word's meaning was plain enough.  But in Sprecace's imagination, "microscopic" grew.  As "John danced around the playground calling me 'Microscopic Bonnie' I imagined our teeny, tiny children and smiled from ear to ear as if he'd called me 'Beautiful Bonnie' or 'Stunning Bonnie.'" 

Recalling how she decorated the word "microscopic" in her notebook, with "stars and flowers and my best curli-cue writing, loop-de-loos and all," Sprecace fast forwards to a June 2011 day. 

"I am delighted that I have microscopic metastasis," she writes.  "It seems so much better than major metastasis."

Diagnosis Day

Within a few days after a mutual friend from Kansas City introduced them, my wife was in awe of Bon's "right on" way of describing all the feelings and sensations of the scariest day of their respective lives.   They counseled by phone, consoled by email, and connected on Caring Bridge.

Diagnosis Day, they each agreed, ended simply enough, with the four hardest words in their English language

"I have breast cancer.  Wow!"  Sprecace wrote.   But then, what seemed simple was really hidden beneath layers of complexity -- second thoughts, regrets, happiness, anguish -- even the process of the discovery itself. 

"Literally one week ago, I would've told you that I was the luckiest woman in the world," Sprecace writes.  "I have wonderful friends, a fabulous family, I've got Dave and Gigi, laughter and love.  And then.  Then, I woke up on a beautiful, ordinary Saturday morning and felt a lump.  Wait, let me backtrack a bit." 
 
A lucky woman 
 
At first, her breast only felt heavy.  "Then I promptly went back to sleep."  But there it was again.  "A lump.  There was no mistaking it.  I kept feeling it and feeling it again, thinking it would suddenly stop being there.  But there it sat, stubbornly pushing back."

Her husband examined it, as I had done with my wife.  His assessment was as optimistic as my own.  "Probably just a cyst."   We assured our spouses, but both women felt what we could not. 

"Something gnawed at me.  I just knew," Sprecace says.  "I knew it was different." 

Still, denial persists on the way to the doctor.  "She'll tell me it's a cyst.  A sign of age.  A simple hormonal thing."  
 
Just like my wife.  Even the rhythms were the same.  A cyst, a sign of age, a simple, little thing. 
 
"But that's not what happened," Sprecace writes.  "A mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy, several frantic phone calls, desperate texts, prayers to please 'for the love of all things holy, please god, do not make this cancer.'  And yet." 

"Two days crying and cursing, raging and rallying, sobbing and sobbing some more."

And yet.

"None of that stopped me from being the person who now has cancer.  I have cancer.  I also have a five-year-old daughter who is the light of my life, a husband I adore, a mother who is my biggest cheer-leader and friends and family who make me laugh, celebrate my triumphs and rationalize my defeats.   I am a lucky woman.
 
"A lucky woman who has breast cancer." 
 

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat

2 comments:

  1. Mike, you made Siobhan's day. I am blessed to call her a friend. She is amazing. Your article is a nicely written tribute to her. It matters.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Was searching for this article on Google and happy to report that typing in A HEARTBREAKING TALENT (no quotes) brought up up 2.5 million hits, with this (thankfully) second from the top.

    What's esp. cool (and very fitting IMHO): Siobhan's story sits a few hits above Dave Egger's story, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."

    ReplyDelete