In her new book, “Suddenly Terminal,” Middletown resident Sharon Dawson said she learns very early on that something is horribly wrong with her. Her stomach’s bloated, like she’s nine months pregnant, and her GP diagnosed her condition as constipation. It’s not.
Dawson’s health gets bad enough that at age 61, her friend Rachel gives her a choice: “Either I take you to the ER or I’m dialing 911.” On that Sunday in September 2021, the ER doctor tells her he has news and it isn’t good. He sits in front of Dawson and said, “This is not constipation. One look at your chart told me that. Your endometrial cancer has returned and has spread throughout your body.” He adds Dawson needs a procedure to drain the fluid out of her, saying, “You are neither a candidate for surgery nor radiation. There is a chance that you still might be able to get chemotherapy. You need to contact an oncologist right away. This is very aggressive and it is spreading very fast.”
Without treatment, Dawson has two to four months to live.
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Dawson is not a new writer, as she spent years writing a humor/opinion column for a now-defunct weekly newspaper in her hometown. In her book, self-published this spring, Dawson is following the advice given to many good writers: Write what you know.
In 134 pages, Dawson writes in detail the horror of the six treatments of chemotherapy — during one, she nearly died as the IV fluid flowed too fast into her chemo port before a nurse saved her. She tells what it feels like to be going through her treatment.
“I don’t remember much from the first week. All I remember is feeling all the sharp stabs and sudden shooting pains. This was different from (and on top of) the pain I was already in. The only comfort I had was in pain pills and telling myself that the pain was the chemo meeting the cancer and that it had to be a good thing.
“My family said I looked like imminent death. I guess I looked like I felt.”
Dawson dedicates the book to her husband, Tommy and her son, Brandon. “Without your loyalty, devotion, patience, tears, joy and belief in me, I simply would not have survived,” she writes.
Powerful stuff. But, there’s another “person” who was instrumental in Dawson’s life: Terminal. A made-up figment of Dawson’s imagination, Terminal is a critical person who has nothing but negative thoughts for Dawson. At the beginning of their relationship, Dawson calls him the “Ultimate Unwanted Houseguest.” He’s hard on her, telling Dawson she needs to stop being present for everyone else; instead, she has a choice: To live or die. If she chooses life, then she needs to work on job No. 1: To live.
And that’s what Dawson does: She lives with humor and finally with understanding. Ultimately, Dawson gets through six chemotherapy treatments, finds out what’s important in her life, and ends up being grateful for her life and her many blessings.
Overall, “Suddenly Terminal” is a sensitive, insightful read, detailing one person’s experience dealing with a dreadful disease. It’s available at Calistoga’s Copperfield Books and on Amazon.
David Stoneberg is the former editor of the St. Helena Star and a freelance writer.