By Carol Stark

Globe Metro Editor

Metro Editor Carol Stark was diagnosed with uterine cancer on Dec. 17. You can follow her ongoing fight via her Web log on www.joplinglobe.com as she undergoes treatment and faces the emotional highs and lows of the disease.

Last week I pulled a spring dress out of the closet that I had bought last year to wear to my son's wedding rehearsal dinner.

I fought back the tears because in my mind that was a "pre-cancer" dress.

Suddenly, I was wishing that my life could be like it was a year ago when we were all excited about Joe and Katy's wedding and life seemed good.

By the time I got to work, I had red eyes from the crying. Ed Simpson, my boss, noticed and asked what was wrong. I tearfully blurted out my story, feeling sorry for myself the whole time.

Ed's a good friend. Instead of allowing me to continue with my pity party, he reminded me that a year ago I was dying and didn't even know it. And that now I'm on the road to getting well.

That discussion was a real eye-opener for me. He was right. I may have thought everything was wonderful, but the truth is I was sick and probably had been for quite some time, even though I didn't know it.

While I was writing this column, I took a call from a lady named Nancy Spaeth from Webb City. I've never met Nancy, but she says she reads my column every week. You see, Nancy is a nine-year cancer survivor and said she knows what I'm going through. When I told her about the dress episode, her words echoed Ed's.

Nancy told me that even if I could turn back time, I wouldn't really want to.

"Look, Carol, at all you've learned during the last few months about life and yourself," Nancy said. "Enduring this has given you new empathy for others."

Nancy knows a lot about learning through experience. She makes caps for cancer patients. Since she was diagnosed, Nancy has made more than 3,000 caps that have been distributed throughout the area. Inside each cap is a tag. It simply reads "Made by Nancy Spaeth. I'm a cancer survivor."

I heard a similar message from cancer survivor Kim Vann, also of Webb City. She walked the Survivor's Lap last week in the Webb City Relay for Life.

I had to call Kim because I wanted to check out a quote in a reporter's story. We had Kim saying that cancer was one of the best things that had ever happened to her.

"Kim, I want to make sure that's what you meant to say," I asked her.

She didn't hesitate with an answer.

"Absolutely. I had no idea how many good friends I had out there until my cancer diagnosis. It's really changed the way I look at life," she told me.

Her words were genuine. She was telling me that cancer had played a very positive role in her life. Now, she's been pronounced clinically cured and, like Nancy, plans to do everything she can to help others.

Since talking with Ed and these two women, I've wiped away the tears and am trying to stop dividing my life into before and after cancer segments.

Life moves forward and so will I.

Address correspondence to Carol Stark, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, Mo. 64802.

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