On July 1

Eric Heggem

On July 1, 1996 Aleceia heard the words she feared most. No matter how many times she reassured herself it was nothing, or reminded herself what the doctor had said one month earlier, "it is most likely a cyst that has become infected, go through another cycle, and it will probably go away." When the lump in her left breast did not go away, but instead grew bigger, and the bump under her left arm also was enlarged, Aleceia was scared. Her husband did not believe any thing like Cancer could happen to her. All of the women in her family live to be very old, she does not smoke, she is in good health, we eat 'right,' and besides, Cancer like all the bad things in life, happens to other people, not us. Wrong.

On July 1, 1996 that same doctor said, " I am worried about this, I want to do a mammogram right away, and I am going to refer you to the breast specialist here, she will see you when the test is over." Later that same day, the breast specialist said, "Aleceia, we won't be 100 percent sure until we do a biopsy, but I am 99 percent convinced, based on all of the tumors I have seen, that you have breast cancer. We need to do more tests before surgery to see if the cancer has spread any place else, other than the lymph nodes. My nurse has you scheduled for an MRI, X-ray, heart study. Aleceia only heard one word; the same word that had been swimming in her head ever since she had found the lump in her breast, "CANCER."

When Aleceia called her husband Eric a few minutes later, he sought to console her, and convince her that everything would be okay. He assured her that everything would be okay, "Aleceia, you are young, and healthy, my mom had breast cancer, and she is okay. Everything will be fine. I promise." On the way to get Aleceia from the doctors office, Eric had completely convinced himself that there was no way this would be a big deal, nothing worse that a bad flu, she will be fine. Wrong.

Aleceia was my wife. The last year of her life can only be described as hell. She endured more tests, procedures, and general discomfort than I ever imagined possible. She had the best care, in the best hospitals, from the best providers. We live in the most medically advanced country in the world. And she is no longer living.

Aleceia died four days after our eighth wedding anniversary. We were together for fourteen years. I am 30 years old, as she was when she died. I spent nearly one half of my life with her, and the loss is so immense, that I cannot begin to explain it. I am not alone in my loss, however. Aleceia is one of the 20 percent or so diagnosed with breast cancer that do not live.

Sometimes when we hear about all of the success stories, we forget how devastating cancer is. After Aleceia's diagnoses, I went to nearly all of her appointments. I saw a girl that was afraid of needles give herself shots. I saw a girl that was rarely sick become more sick than I thought possible. All the way through, she kept her spirit, and her faith. She saw a girl upset in the radiation oncologists waiting area, she told her to be strong, she touched , she smiled, she helped. After she threw up for days during high dose chemotherapy, and a stem cell transplant, she told a lady about to endure the same thing it was, "no big deal." I thought I was proud after she gave birth to our son. When I told Aleceia that her kidney's had failed, and the doctor did not expect her to live more than a couple of more days, she said, "okay." The world lost more than a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and all the other things Aleceia was to all of the people that she touched, and believe me she touched a lot of people. We lost so much more, we lost an icon. One of the last things Aleceia said to me was, "never forget me, and don't let anyone else forget me either." She felt that the only real death was to be forgotten.

Aleceia, no one that ever met you will ever forget you, many people that never knew you will know you, and you will never die. I promise.

Eric Heggem

You can send email to Eric at: [email protected]
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anniversary date 06-24-97
date of post 12-14-97

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Crisis, Grief, and Healing: Tom Golden LCSW