Bill Sniffin: New Year Prompts Reflections On Blessings From Years Passed

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

It is impossible to forget the way we celebrated the arrival of the Millennium Dec. 31, 1999.  At midnight, I was standing outside our home with our dog Shadow watching the fireworks over the golf course hill. I was sipping a glass of Spumante.  Our adult children had gone to a party with friends and I was babysitting my wife Nancy and our three-year old granddaughter Daylia, both of whom were sleeping.

My wife Nancy had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 1999 and had been very sick as a result of chemotherapy.  She ended up in the hospital with the flu and I had just gotten her home in time for New Year’s.

When midnight struck, I quietly sneaked into Nancy’s bedroom and gently awakened her.  She was groggy.  “Happy New Year, sweetie,” I said, and I gently let her take a sip of my bubbly wine.  Then she rolled over and went back to sleep.  I walked back to the center of our darkened house and rather ominously pondered what kind of year we were going to have in 2000?

Now, twenty years later, I can report it has been quite a journey. Let me tell you about it.

It was in the early fall of 1999 when we found out my then-52-year-old wife had a tumor in her left breast and cancer in one lymph node. Nancy’s oncologist, Dr Michael Parra, was a good man with an honest sense of irony.  “I’m going to use some terms with you today,” he said, at our first meeting, “that will sound strange to you. Believe me, by next year, they will become very common to you.”

And so, our journey started.

Thank God we had sold our newspapers in Fremont County and on Maui.  When we got the news, we also still owned interests in five businesses, but all had capable managers, which meant we could fight this thing with all the strength,  energy, and faith we could muster. And the Lander community was wonderful. 

Have you ever had someone cook dinner and bring it to your home?  At first, I really fought against this idea. After all, I was healthy and could either boil an egg or run to McDonalds with little problem.  But then you realize that your friends are reaching out and they want to help you out. So, we relented. And the food was great, by the way.

During the following year we learned a lot about those things the oncologist talked about, such as Cytoxan, Adriamycin, Taxotere, neutropenia, Leukopenia, Zophran, Neupagen, CBC, and thrombocytopenia, etc.  These are chemicals, medicines or medical conditions related to the effort to cure breast cancer.

As of today, we like to think that we’ve long put cancer in our rear-view mirror for a long time.  But there are no guarantees. We have been blessed.

Nancy had a breast cancer surgery procedure called a lumpectomy in October, 1999 and decades later still looks great.

Her oncologist said that after her chemotherapy, if she did the radiation her chances of getting breast cancer again is three percent.  Without the radiation, it is 30 percent. We chose to do the radiation with Dr. Robert Tobin of Casper. Back there in 2000, her upper torso was covered with black markings and three small tattoo dots, which direct the radiation technician, where to irradiate on her body.

After that first surgery, she had a port surgically installed into an area just below the shoulder. All of her blood testing and her chemotherapy were done directly through this port.

The chemotherapy was as bad as people said it would be.  There are now drugs, which prevent much of the nausea that occurred in the past. Plus, it wreaked havoc with her white blood cell counts. She lost all her hair.

She got through her chemo sessions by the following April but developed a bad infection in her leg, which was the result of the low blood count and accidentally bumping it on an open desk drawer.  This led to a quick trip to Casper to meet with an infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Dowell and then a deep surgical procedure to drain and repair her thigh.  She didn’t walk for weeks.

Finally, we got the word from the oncologist that she could start radiation with Dr. Tobin. 

On Oct. 13, 2000, we got up at 4 a.m. and went to Casper for that first radiation treatment and then headed to Cheyenne where Gov. Jim Geringer and his wife Sherri were hosting a reception for breast cancer survivors.

It was fun and I enjoyed watching Nancy mix with the other women there. Gov. Geringer got the party started and then left. I ended up being the only man present and I quietly excused myself, saying, “I was a thorn amongst all these roses.”

As I departed, I looked back and while there were many lovely ladies at the function, for me, my rose stood out from the others.

And so here we are today. I am writing this on New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, 2020.

This is a favorite column because of my vivid memories of standing there in the dark on New Year’s Eve pondering what our fates would be over the course of the next year.

Ever since, New Year’s is a somber time for me.  I always try to find a quiet place to reflect on all the blessings of the past year and look ahead to what might happen in the upcoming year.

We head into 2021 with our heads up and our spirits high.  Let’s make it a wonderful year.  We can only hope that readers of this column have been as blessed as my Nancy and I have been blessed. Happy New Year!

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