Tribute to another hero — a cancer fighter

I first “met” Catalinni (all names herein are changed to protect the innocent… and the guilty) back in 2001. I was a new participant in the Catholic Online discussion forum, and this woman posted a prayer request for her son, who was going through a divorce, and for his children. I think I may have sent her an email; anyway, we began corresponding.

I learned she had recently undergone a complete hysterectomy for uterine cancer — endometrial adenocarcinoma. In the fall of 2002, eighteen months after her hysterectomy, her cancer returned. This time she underwent chemotheraphy, followed by radiation therapy.

While she was undergoing her radiation, she began to branch out into a new life. She wrote of her cancer support group and what a fun group of women they were. She wrote of the funny hats she was wearing to counteract the “Sinead O’Connor Look” of chemo-related hair loss. She even wrote of going to the gym, where she did some MAJOR WORKOUTS — Body Pumping, bellydancing, Pilates, and 1/2 hour on the treadmill!

Catalinni was 66 when she started taking those classes.

Then all hell broke loose. A phone call from her ex-daughter-in-law, Gina, put her already fragile world into a tailspin. “I think you need to know,” said , “and I know they won’t tell you. Gramps was questioned by the police today, and he’s confessed to molesting Caty.” Caty was Catalinni’s son’s 8-year-old daughter. The nightmare unfolded during the succeeding weeks as Catalinni learned the details of her husband’s betrayal and her granddaughter’s suffering. “Gramps,” who had not been incarcerated pending trial, never spoke of it to her; so far as he was concerned she knew nothing, all the information came through her son and his ex-wife.

Catalinni herself had been molested as a child by more than one close family member. Her memories resurfaced. Her rage at her husband’s betrayal and abandonment — there had been no intimacy between them for years — knew no bounds. She poured herself into her gym classes and her cancer support group. She began seeing a therapist. She renewed her old love of writing.

She slipped off to visit her beloved granddaughters away from their home, and she looked for every way she knew how to help her granddaughter recover from her trauma.

“Gramps” underwent sentencing for molesting his granddaughter a little more than a year ago. He’s due to be released again in less than two weeks. Catalinni doesn’t know where he’s going to be taking up residence, but she’s adamant about one thing: he ain’t comin’ back home.

While he’s been incarcerated, she has remodeled the apartment and her life. She continues with the cancer support group — a major “remodeling job” this past October due to vaginal cancer has been followed by still more cancer this spring (she’s undergoing chemo now). The doctor said at one point that he would chase it around as long as she wanted him to. She’s had to give up the Pilates for the time being, maybe permanently — even with the present round of chemo, doctors suspect her cancer is spreading. The culture on her bladder comes back next week. She’s pretty much decided she’s tired of being cut on, and the doctor agrees.

In the meantime, the raucous emails keep on pouring in. If laughter is a weapon in the fight against cancer, then Catalinni is a Ranger or a Green Beret. She’s collecting and forwarding all sorts of humorous emails to those of us rooting for her from the grandstands — and the puns we had to bear when she had her vaginal cancer surgery last fall (she also lost much of her colon and her rectum as well as her vagina — that’s why I called it a “remodeling job”) were wilder than I ever could have imagined. This is one gutsy, feisty dame!

And Caty, her sister, and their cousins are once again frequent visitors at Catalinni’s home. They watch movies, pop corn, and party all night long. Catalinni says the only thing she really wants is to be able to see those kids grown to adulthood. With the ongoing tests and suspicion of spreading cancer, however, she may not get to do it quite the way she wants.

So say a prayer for my friend Catalinni, and for her family. And remind me, next time I whine about some minor adversity, or want to crawl under the bed from low spirits — how immensely blessed I really am.

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