Green for a Reason

Updated: Jun 25, 2020


| This is the 500th story of Our Life Logs |

My name is Catherine, and I grew up in a tiny village in Ireland in the 1970s. My dad and brother worked on our farm while my mom owned and operated the local grocery store. Our house was attached to the store, so, naturally, as a child and as a young adult, I spent a lot of time in the store, helping mom. To keep the store looking fresh, mom replaced the vinyl floor every couple of years. Dad raised all our food on the farm, so preservatives rarely made it into our diets. We were a healthy, happy family.

Me, seven years old.
Me, seven years old.
Section Break-Mountains

After secondary school, I attended college in Dublin to study fashion design, where I had the opportunity to spend a summer in the US on a student visa. That summer, I discovered that the fashion industry in New York was way more advanced compared to Ireland’s, so, as soon as I finished college in 1990, I jumped on the first plane to New York to pursue my dreams.

The fashion industry was challenging to break into, but eventually an internship led to a full-time job and my life in New York started to come together. For the next decade, my career thrived, but I realized it was an exhausting time. I longingly thought back to the days of working in Mom’s store and seeing all of the backpackers who came through there. I realized that while I enjoyed my time in fashion, I really wanted to do something else—travel. Shortly afterwards, I quit my job and started backpacking the world.

I traveled every continent except Antarctica, and every place I visited, I stayed long enough to absorb its culture.  In 2003, I visited Seville in southern Spain. Wanting to experience the culture as much as possible, I signed up for a class to learn Spanish. It was through the school that I met Don, an incredible roommate, who would later become my wonderful husband.

Section Break-Mountains

In 2004, after finishing our language studies, we returned to the US together and settled in Austin, Texas, where Don’s family lived. Soon, Don proposed, and of course, I said yes! After years of seeing the world, I was ready to start this new chapter of my life. Little did we know that it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride.

Shortly after moving to Austin, I went for a regular mammogram check-up. I thought nothing of it, of course. Until the exam brought horrible news.

“Catherine, you have cancer,” my doctor told me. “I’m so sorry.”

In that moment, it felt like time screeched to a halt. I was completely blind-sided as there were no warning signs. “How is that possible?” I asked. “I’m only in my 30s! I’m active, I’m healthy…I’m supposed to be getting married soon!” I answered in disbelief.

My panic subsided slightly when the doctor said, “Luckily, we caught your cancer early. If we take you into surgery, we have a good chance of successfully getting rid of it.”

My heart was beating rapidly as the days passed until my surgery. Thankfully, the surgeons were able to successfully remove all of the cancer, and I was given a second chance at life. The recovery was tough but short, and life continued as usual. Don and I finally got married, and we spent the next decade enjoying our new life together, cancer-free.

With Don at our 10th Anniversary.
With Don at our 10th Anniversary.

Looking back, I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of the situation and the gift that life had given me. I didn’t consider that there was a risk of resurgence and that I needed to make some major changes in the way I lived to protect my body. But eventually, life nudged me to learn my lesson.

Section Break-Mountains

At age 45, I went for another routine mammogram. Since the cancer had been taken out all those years ago, I thought little of these appointments. But I shouldn’t have sat in that comfort.

My doctor sighed and said, “Catherine, the news is not good.”

I knew what was going to be said before the words exited her lips. My cancer had returned. And with this news came a deafening silence as I sat in shock, while off in the distance I heard the words, “chemotherapy”, “radiation” and “mastectomy.” My doctor talked and explained, but my mind had checked out from the shock.

I was brought back to the present when she said, “Would you like me to refer you to some doctors?” That’s when I knew this second time was going to be more severe. This time, they may not be able to kill it before it kills me.

I’d been given a second chance at life. I never took that fact as seriously as I should have. Now, my life was potentially ending, and I hadn’t even done all the things I’d wanted to yet. Would I ever grow old with my husband? Would I ever get to retire? I was terrified. I loved my life with Don and I didn’t want it to end. I had to do what I could to fight!

Section Break-Mountains

To help my condition, I started researching my options. Although, it is hard to research when you are in panic mode. MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was closer, but I decided to attend Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was an eight-hour drive from Austin, but I wanted the best possible care. CTCA provided a more holistic approach to treatment and recovery which I thought would give me a better chance at survival.

The first time we drove to CTCA, I had a panic attack in the last hour of the drive.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I cried.

Don was calm and supportive. “We can turn around if you want to,” he said as he pulled off the road.

“I can’t do this. Let’s go back home,” I answered.

Hearing the trepidation in my voice, Don started the seven-hour drive back to Austin. On the way, however, we talked more about the treatment and how it was the best option. Talking about it with Don put me at ease, and eventually, I decided to go through with the chemotherapy.

Over a period of four months, Don and I drove to Tulsa every other weekend. We would leave Austin on