During January, my theme is New Year’s Resolutions. This is the second in my mini-series. It still gets me, every time I read it.
It’s that time again.
Time for the New Year’s Resolution list.
What’s it going to be this time? Lose those extra pounds? Get back in shape? Eat right? Get organized? Clean out the closets and garage and basement?
I used to pick from things like that. But then Cathy Hainer came along.
I first became acquainted with Cathy Hainer 20 years ago when she wrote a big story for USA Today. It was titled: “Getting The Bad News.”
The bad news was that Cathy Hainer had cancer.
And the story was compelling. As comedienne Gilda Radner once said, “cancer is about the most un-funny thing that can happen to a person.”
I know that to be true from the many wonderful and brave people I know who have received the same bad news Cathy Hainer did. But none of them ever told me exactly what it was like to get that news—to hear for the first time that a very un-funny thing has happened to you.
Cathy Hainer didn’t hide a thing. She told all of the fears and emotions that accompanied her diagnosis. My heart went out to her.
And then a surprising thing happened: I started to see most of the follow-up stories she wrote on her illness. It was surprising because, in those pre-internet days, I would only see USA Today occasionally.
And her story would always be the first thing I read. Never mind my normal first stops: the legendary USA Today sports section or the tidy little business section. When I saw a Cathy Hainer story inside, I always read it before anything else.
There was her “When The ‘Old You’ Is Sick” account followed a few weeks later by “Battling The Plagues Of Chemo.”
Cancer is such a horrible thing.
But “At Nine Months, A Reprieve From Illness” told the good news of being pronounced free of disease.
I missed the next couple of reports only to pick up Cathy’s plight with the story headlined “A New Attack At Summer’s End.” The cancer was back. This time in her brain.
Each time I read the stories I marveled at how she could share such profoundly personal thoughts and feelings with millions of readers. And I was always grateful she did. We don’t get many insights into the really important things in life.
In November, a fluke need-something-to-read-in-a-restaurant purchase put installment number 11 of what had come to be known as Cathy Hainer’s Cancer Journal in my hands. It was called “Painfully Aware Of Life, Death” and it was so astounding I almost forgot to eat as I read it. I am positive that—God forbid—such a thing would ever happen to me, I could never do such fine—sometimes even funny—writing about it. My respect for her was boundless.
Then on December 6 (how did I always manage to get this paper when one of these stories was in it?) installment 12: “A Virtual Prisoner In My Own Body.”
She knew the end was near, and it was. Cathy Hainer died December 16, 1999 in a Washington-area hospice. She was only 38, but if I am representative of the millions of readers of this series (which, you may have guessed, I copied and kept), she left an important legacy of understanding.
Two simple sentences written by Cathy Hainer have formed the basis for most of my New Year’s resolutions since I first read them: “I sit by the window,” she said. “And the neighbors go walking or jogging by…There’s nothing more I would want than to have a usual Monday morning, wake up and put on my scruffy jeans and T-shirt, go downstairs and make coffee, take the dog for a walk.”
There is nothing more she would want, she said: not to lose five pounds, not to make more money, not to have a cleaner house. All she would want is to have another typical healthy day here on earth.
I have always had that, and it never seemed so special.
But once again this year I hereby resolve to never forget that it is.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.