NOTE: Immediately to your right (at the bottom on mobile) on each website page, there is an audio playlist that Irene and I enjoyed on our motor trips. If you choose not to listen, simply click on the “stop” button. The first selection plays when you open up each page. Soon, I’ll make it optional when you open each page. In the meantime, you can “pause” or “stop” the music at your pleasure by clicking on the appropriate buttons. But now, if you please, click on any song and share your pleasure with us as you read about …..
“Home” is where the heart is, so it is said. My heart is certainly in this book … along with my mind, body, and soul. Irene always filled my heart, my mind, my body, and my soul with her love. All of me, too, went into the writing of this chronicle describing my wife Irene’s ordeal of battling cancer over the course of 9 years. She was diagnosed with 4th stage colon cancer in August 2003. It had spread to her liver by the time she underwent diagnostic tests and biopsies, which confirmed her awful illness. Irene fought bravely and willingly suffered severe side effects from 6 major surgeries, many other aggressive procedures, and 175 chemotherapies in the attempt at extending her life. We always urged the medical teams to give us quantity—we would focus on garnering quality at every step along the way. On June 22, 2012, Irene lost her life to the cancer after 9 years, but she lives on in these words, our book, and this website.
You can listen to a few of our favorite songs as you read, also. I bought the CD albums by Johnny Mathis and Joni James many years ago and uploaded them to my desktop. I did not know then, but I was probably hoping, there would be someone in my future to which the wonderful lyrics would apply. The several selections of Johnny Mathis ballads (our favorites) and Joni James appear just to the right of this text—just click on a title to hear Johnny’s or Joni’s melodic voices. The theme from Love Story, “Where Do I Begin,” was my favorite because it expressed how deeply Irene could love and how fortunate I was to be loved by her. Irene always held out her hand for me to hold. It was always there.
The last selection, for now, is “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Joni James. Although Irene did not remember Joni James, one of my own favorites, she got to like Joni’s romantic songs as we cruised up and down I-95 driving between Philadelphia and the suburbs of Orlando. We would loop their tracts on our car’s CD player, while I crooned duets with Johnny just to see the love in Irene’s eyes. We took drives for as long as Irene could handle them. We flew to Ireland, the California Wine Country, and several other venues. Irene refused to give-in to her condition or the treatments’ side effects.
In this section of the book’s website, “Home,” I will mention only a relatively concise view of the protocols Irene experienced during those 9 years, including some excerpts from the book’s chapters. You can see even more excerpts in the “About the Book” section. I’ll also depict several of our momentary victories over the disease, which allowed us to soak-in the world around us, knowing those views would not last indefinitely. Irene was wide-eyed, like a young girl, as she looked out at scenic vistas, taking in every bit of it as if it were her last chance to see life and what it has to offer. Of course, unfortunately, it was her last chance and she was well aware of it.
A Poem by Brian Brill
This beautiful and wonderful poem was written by Brian Brill, a Facebook Friend, as a tribute to Irene and me. It is a conversation between my wife and me that Brian was able to take and interpret from his reading of the book. I’ll never be able to thank Brian enough. It, of course, brought tears as Brian is able to often elicit from each of us, and smiles, too, when he chooses. I wish I could go on and on with how grateful I am to Brian. But, I can’t delay it any longer, you need to see it now. –Tom Cooney Jr.
“For Irene and Tom Cooney: A struggle that so many who are in love are dealing with as we speak. Their struggle of 9 years with a heinous disease has touched many of us: mainly for the fact that they are US. It was written from only my perspective of how great it would be if heaven had the Internet.” –BB Brill.
Every time I read Brian’s poem, I discover more and more how closely it resembles actual conversations Irene and I had. And, of course, my eyes always blur the words as I try to read through the mists of awe, sadness, and simultaneously, joy that another individual can so closely understand the relationship Irene and I had.
Our Story Continues…
Irene struggled those 9 years trying to get the most out of the rest of her life once she was diagnosed with 4th stage colon cancer. I am, as her husband, delighted and happy she accepted her plight and refused to surrender to it. She was an inspiration to all our friends and family members (and, she continues to be so), whose lives she touched and who could possibly face illnesses of their own. I hope all readers (caregivers, sufferers, and others) gain strength through our book.
Cancer: A 9 Year Struggle is the story of our many ups and downs as each phase of her treatment progressed through the years. In the book, I also describe many of the side effects of her numerous chemo sessions, the major surgeries, and many other procedures she dealt with. I explain some of Irene’s responses to treatment in enough detail, including side effects, so that people experiencing a diagnosis of cancer will be able to relate, especially when it’s almost too much to talk about to family and friends.
The several rose bushes lining the dreadful road on the book’s cover page are meant to portray that the journey was not all tragic. We managed several trips during treatment, even twice to Las Vegas, up and down the east coast, California Wine Country, and Ireland, as mentioned. We made the best of any free time we had away from the hospitals and infusion rooms. We were always making deals with our medical team to delay a few days or skip a week of chemo so that we could extend our mini-vacations. At times, we would schedule a surgery earlier or put it off to later, until before or after the holidays, for example, so we could be home for Christmas, or so we could carve out a few more days free of hospital stays and treatments.
I happened upon Shakespeare’s Sonnet xxix (see below) while in night school at Temple University in the 1960’s. It always had an important message for me. The poet seemed to be able to get into my innermost thoughts during those turbulent days. We all look for love during our lives, and at that time, while all the riots and demonstrations were affecting the campuses around the country, Shakespeare was my escape. The sonnet was always on my mind.
This sonnet just so exactly described how I felt, at last, when I knew I was in love with Irene. The poet implies he is down on his luck, as I believed I was during those campus years after doing my obligatory 6 years in the US Air Force (4 active; 2 reserves). I didn’t feel as though I had value in the eyes of others. Everyone is, rightly so, concerned about themselves. His cries to heaven for a better life went unheard. The poet longed to have gifts that others had, like art and physical features. He was very down on himself. He didn’t think, like me, he had any worth in the eyes of the world. He was searching for something. He could not feel contented with anything. In other words, like me at the time, there was no woman for him to love (or one to love him) in his world. But, then someone came into his life, as Irene came into mine.
“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless* cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet, in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply** I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate,
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
*useless, unheard; **Suddenly
Our Claddagh Ring
(I included a sub-chapter in the book describing my wonderful visits to the Jewelry Studio in St. Cloud, Florida, while having this ring designed.)
This is the Claddagh ring I had a jeweler design after Irene’s passing last year. The design was in keeping to some degree of one of her final wishes. The entire ensemble represents our engagement, marriage, law enforcement careers, and love. Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“The Claddagh itself has three main components: the crown symbolizes loyalty; the clasping hands indicate friendship; the heart in the middle represents love. The larger diamond came from her engagement ring; the smaller diamond was from the wedding band Irene gave me for our marriage. It had occupied the space where the larger diamond now sits. It was moved lower so it could be replaced by the larger one (for symmetry and dominance). My wedding Claddagh, with the changes, was then mounted on a larger gold base shaped like a police badge or shield. For the finishing touch, the original inscription from my wedding ring was etched into the inside of the new band. Here is the inscription: I.C. [then a small heart] T.C. (our initials). Inside the band is also inscribed her Philadelphia Police Department badge number. I was absolutely satisfied with the design. The entire combination captured our lives together. And, I kept the promise to have her engagement diamond close to me for as long as I live.”
Here’s a comment by my sister, Pat Cooney McGee, upon completing her read of the book:
“Just finished reading your book and it has taken me a few days to ‘share’ with you and everyone what thoughts were running thru my mind. Three things I discovered as I read thru the pages: Friendship, Love, and Loyalty: the meanings behind the Irish Claddagh ring.
“Friendship: not by coincidence, you and Irene shared the same values of life. To prove this, it was shown by your love of family, appreciation of little things like a blue sky, white fluffy clouds, green grass, and beautiful sunsets. Also, and most of all, a sense of humor Irene provided all of us with many ‘one liners.’
“Love: it was obvious, like the words from the old song, ‘Don’t laugh at my jokes too much, don’t sit and stare at me, people will say we’re in love.’ Johnny Mathis said it all: ‘If I wear a silly grin when you come into view, chances are I’m in love with you.’ That is how it was. You both found the love of your life.
Loyalty: very evident as Caregiver and Patient. You both were willing to endure whatever it took to be together: Irene thru countless hospital visits and stays, many operations, 175 chemo treatments, thousands of pills, and in constant pain; you, Tom, doing everything possible to help alleviate her suffering by being there by her side and holding hands thru that long journey on that road of 9 years.”
[There will more content added to this section, “Home,” as the website continues in it’s development. Please re-visit often to experience more of Irene’s life, my life, and the book’s life as time goes by. Hopefully, you will gain added value to your own life as you read these pages describing my life with Irene and our too brief moments together. Thank you. –Tom Cooney Jr.]