Healthcare

ISSUES AND IDEAS

Breast cancer: deadly and apolitical

 

The Thomas family’s story is a reminder that breast cancer should not be a partisan issue, but a health issue.

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IF YOU GO

What: Susan. G. Komen Race for The Cure. Registration is $32 online.

When: 7:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 20

Where: 301 N. Biscayne Blvd. at Bayfront Park

For more information: 305-383-7116 or info@komenmiaftl.org.


The Thomas' family story




Video by Lorin Finkelstein

atorres@MiamiHerald.com

Five-year-old Niomi Tyler Thomas recently learned that her beautiful 39-year-old mom is probably going to die of breast cancer this year.

Her mommy’s blog, pictures and videos published on the web for all to see are not a morbid tale about a young woman’s tragic death. They are about the value of time, the importance of having a zest for life and not taking the ones you love for granted.

“Live each day to the fullest, laugh at the stories from your past, laugh at something at least one time that day, and hug those you love,” Niomi’s mom, Meredith Israel Thomas, said in her Caring Bridge blog.

The story in her blog is a reminder that breast cancer is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It does not discriminate between those who are religious or those who are atheists. It doesn’t care about your position on abortion. It is a disease that targets one in eight women in the United States, and it needs to be cured, so that little girls like Niomi don’t have to grow up without their mom.

Niomi was almost 2 when her mom had just celebrated her 36th birthday in 2009 with a tandem sky-diving jump and doctors told her she had cancer. The invasive cells had traveled from her right breast to her lymph nodes, ribs, spine, hips and liver.

In a YouTube video last year, Niomi’s daddy, Gary J. Thomas, a hotelier from South Africa, talked about their dealings with the disease. He said the initial news “came out of nowhere” after the family had bought a new house in Miami. He described a conversation Meredith, a former publicist who was born in New Jersey, had with her doctor.

“Am I going to die?” she asked. “Yes you are going to die, absolutely,” her doctor said. “Are you going to die today? No. Are you going to die next week? No. Are you going to die next month? Probably not. Can I tell you any more than that? No. Will I do the best I can to make you comfortable? Yes.

“But ultimately, ultimately this disease will kill you.”

It has been three years since the count-down began for Meredith. William Shakespeare’s worded it finely in Hamlet: “Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die. Passing through nature to eternity.”

What would you do if you knew what was going to kill you? Meredith has focused on creating special memories with her daughter.

They have gone to the Eloise Room at the Plaza in New York City and to the beach in Miami. She has watched her bike riding and has danced with her as much as possible. Their last trip was last month. They went to South Africa.

Niomi’s mom recently found out that her liver was leaking, and that it is only a matter of time before it shuts down.

Her Facebook update Sept. 19: “The liver has new spots and new lymph nodes activity. Now onto my 11th protocol whatever it may be. Know more next week. Must get my head on and celebrate with the family this weekend. That is what matters... Family. I don’t think prayers are working but I’ll keep trying! Cancers sucks!”

She went to the hospital for treatment and the chemo nurses hugged her. At home, Niomi could tell that “something was up” and was very confused about the adults’ whispering and about why her mom was going to be bald again.

The doctor warned Meredith that she was going to be in pain and tired. And the drugs can only do so much. She recently described a frightening episode in her blog.

“My legs wouldn’t lift over. I was screaming in pain.” Gary “wrapped me in a towel and picked me up but the pain was excruciating … I just looked at him and I knew this was only going to get worse.”

No one wants to lose their autonomy and dignity in their 30s, but it happened to Meredith. Her body is weaker. Fluids are building up in her system. She is dealing with diarrhea, a form of facial paralysis and is losing skin pigmentation.

“It hurts. My stomach, the spasms, everything in my body,” she wrote. “But seeing Niomi run around with her cousins is the biggest joy.”

The painkillers make Meredith sleepy when all she wants is to be “awake for Niomi doing arts projects and finding laughter with her.”

Meredith has been trying to prepare Gary for his new job as a single dad. She has been reminding him that he has to sign her up for camp and book gymnastics. There is a sense of trust and peace in her posts.

“I have a husband who loves me more than anything in this world with Niomi,” she recently wrote.

Meredith and Gary recently decided it was time to tell Niomi the truth, so they took their little princes to a private room.

“It was the hardest most painful conversation that Gary and I will ever have to endure,” she wrote Oct. 10. “Our hearts were and are broken.”

On her Facebook page, friends and family have been saying goodbye.

She protested: The “fat lady isn’t singing yet people!”

One of Meredith’s last wishes is for scientists to find the cure for breast cancer, so that Niomi doesn’t have to suffer like she has.

In 2009, when she was healthier, Meredith and Gary walked the Susan G. Komen Race for The Cure with Niomi wearing a little pastel pink T-shirt that said “Find A Cure Before I Grow Boobs! Support Breast Cancer Awareness.”

Niomi will not be able to participate in this year’s event.

We should not allow our views on a women’s right to choose to hurt our resolve. Niomi needs us, so let’s stop politicizing the issue and focus on finding the cure.

The author, Andrea Torres, is a breast cancer survivor.

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