Gift of Life: Canton mom celebrates 5-year milestoneBy Jay Turner
Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present. –Eleanor Roosevelt
Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and Jill Thomas, like most moms, is eagerly looking forward to the kisses and hugs and whatever other nice things her family has planned in her honor. However, the real treat for the Canton mother of two will come a few weeks later, when she gets to watch her younger daughter Taylor graduate from preschool — five years to the day after Thomas was diagnosed with cancer.
“I feel like she’s graduating from an Ivy League school,” confessed Thomas in a telephone interview last week. “It’s just a really, really big deal to me.”
The anniversary itself is also a big deal, of course. In America the five-year mark possesses an almost mystical power and has become, as many can attest, the yardstick by which survival from cancer is measured. In Thomas’ case, with a diagnosis of stage 3 kidney cancer, her chances of reaching that mark had been pegged at somewhere just north of 50 percent — roughly equal to the flip of a coin.
At the same time, having now made it this far, Thomas understands that it is “still not over,” nor will it ever be unless and until a true cure is discovered. And yet there’s something about the intersection of these two particular milestones that has brought on a flood of emotions in Thomas over the past few weeks.
For these were the moments that she had always feared losing the most — the birthdays, the graduations, and all of those “tiny little milestones in your life that add up to be your future.”
“There was a huge part of me after I was diagnosed that was so scared and so sad,” Thomas explained, “and I don’t think I realized how much I was until I look back now.
“To think about all of the things I’ve been so blessed to go through and have with them — just to be able to take the kids to and from school every day — truly words can’t explain the feelings that overwhelm me.”
All is well in her household at present, but there was a time when Thomas was terrified about the thought of dying and of not being there to watch her children grow up.
Diagnosed with two malignant tumors on Memorial Day weekend in 2007, Thomas, who was only 30 at the time, was completely blindsided by the news, and the same was true of her husband, Mark, and their family and friends.
As she told the Citizen in 2008, “It was just a devastating, devastating time for myself and my family.”
Making matters worse, she had a type of cancer that did not respond well to chemotherapy or radiation, leaving surgery as the only viable alternative — and a risky one at that.
Literally out of options, Thomas opted to have the surgery just a few weeks later. The doctors completely removed all of the cancerous tissue as well as three of her ribs, and although she didn’t know it at the time, Thomas now believes that the surgery was her ultimate cure.
Two months after surgery, she agreed to take part in a brand-new, double-blind study in which patients received either an experimental drug or a placebo for 56 weeks. To this day she does not know which of the two she received, although her instincts tell her it was the placebo.
For a while it bothered her to think that she might have been missing out on a potentially life-saving medication while others in the study received it. Yet she eventually came to terms with either possibility, realizing that she could be helping future generations of patients, if not herself.
Inspired by the chance to help others with the disease, Thomas soon put her energy into fundraising, and in the fall of 2008, right around the time that she wrapped up the study, she hosted a “Casino Night” in Boston, raising more than $35,000 for kidney cancer research at Mass. General Hospital.
As Thomas now approaches her five-year anniversary, there is a part of her that wants to downplay the milestone, yet another part that wants to jump for joy.
“In some ways, [the anniversary] is just another number, because it’s not over,” she said. “But at the same time, every day that goes by I feel stronger about the future.”
At this point, the only physical reminders of her illness are the regular screenings that she must endure every 12 months. (Until recently, they were every six months, and they are both physically unpleasant and emotionally draining, she says.)
Beyond the dreaded scans, however, Thomas is now fully recovered and filled with happiness at the life she now leads — one that is focused almost entirely on her family, especially her two daughters.
Having had a chance to reflect on her diagnosis and treatment, Thomas now feels lucky that her children were so young at the time. As a result, Taylor, who was an infant, remembers nothing of the ordeal, while older sister Samantha, who was 2, remembers only bits and pieces.
As for Thomas, getting cancer at such a young age has certainly changed her, and most of it has been for the better.
“There is a big difference in my personality for sure,” she said. “I definitely feel as if I’ve lost a lot of spunk. But then again there are so many more good things that have come in our life since then, and there are so many things that do not bother me in the least that definitely would have.”
And while it may sound like a cliché, Thomas has learned to stay focused on the present and to remember that each day on this earth truly is a gift.
“I used to get so mad when people would try to tell me to stay positive, but when you do stay positive you enjoy the day that you’re given,” she said, adding, “When you’re here for today, you might as well live it the way you want to.”
All in all, the past five years have been an eventful and ultimately fulfilling ride for the Thomas family.
And “everything now seems okay,” which to Jill Thomas, especially considering where she has been, is the best present a mom could ask for.
Short URL: http://www.thecantoncitizen.com/?p=13552