I’ve never been a big fan of comedian Fran Drescher, just another of those unable to get past that voice. But it was that voice that caught my attention one afternoon in March 2013 as I aimlessly flicked through TV channels. She was on a talk show discussing what she called the gifts of cancer. Mona had been diagnosed a few weeks before and we were back from the first round of treatment at MD Anderson in Houston.
Despite my initial impulse to click on through at such ludicrous words, I listened as the comedian and uterine cancer survivor explained what she meant in saying the best gifts sometimes come in the ugliest packages. Her cancer had given her a look at the world through new eyes and a more profound appreciation for life and loved ones. And while I would have given anything for a different outcome from Mona’s cancer, I can’t deny the gifts that came from her diagnosis.
Confronted with an enemy that threatened the heart of our family, the distance between a father and his sons vanished, at least for a while. Everything except Mona’s health was suddenly petty.
Mona talked about the freedom the diagnosis gave, her words more than just bravado to allay our concerns. After a diagnosis of stage four ovarian cancer, she asked, really what more is there to fear? What worries are greater? She faced her cancer with the same grace and strength with which she lived her life and with the same concern for others that was such a hallmark of who she was.
The greatest gift for me, and I think Mona as well, was the transformative power the diagnosis meant for our love, a love I could not have imagined growing deeper, but did. All couples have their songs, songs that sustain them, empower them, see them through hard times. Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time” was one of ours, no words more moving than her lament that “Life gets mighty precious, when there’s less of it to waste.” Love, too, can grow precious beyond words or measure when suddenly faced with a radically altered concept of time.
I told Mona I loved her often those last six weeks. She’d always respond, “I know,” with a voice and expression that was peacefully resolute, followed by an “I love you, too.” While she had been freed from worry and fear, she knew a universe of both had suddenly engulfed her family. And while I had no doubt she knew the depth of my love for her, she still thought I needed to hear “I know.” And I did. In a reality so suddenly changed, she knew I needed any morsel of reassurance I could find, especially reassurance that not everything had changed. She knew I needed those words to bolster my spirits and keep my hope alive. And every time she said, “I know,” I knew she was still looking after me, right up to the very end. That was just who she was.