Chapter 1

When the Thunder Struck Me

It was the summer of 1984--a hot, humid June night that's really atypical in Pittsburgh so early in the season. Because of the new moon, my room was dark as I lay there awake. It was 11:30 P.M. My cat's purring was noticeably soft compared to the pounding of my heart as I thought--I'm going to die.

The previous two weeks had been filled with waiting, wondering, and tests. Actually, as I look back, they didn't seem real, yet that night reality set in. I came face to face with the biggest challenge of my life.

I usually think in pictures and on June 23, 1984, the images that rushed through my brain were ones I wanted to erase. At my age, death should have been the furthest thing from my mind, but that's what I was thinking about. That's the message my brain was sending: Grace, that's what happens when you are diagnosed with cancer. I was stuck in one thought: I'm dying. As tears streamed down my face and disbelief filled my heart, the sounds of my creaky 1908 Victorian house drifted through the room. Kitty stirred a bit, but I lay still--which was highly unusual for me, a woman of action. I lay still, frozen by my fear, trapped by the frightening pictures in my head, and resolved--I'm going to die.

By 3:15 A.M., I had collected my thoughts and started preparing to die. That's the only thing I saw. I had only one vision ... no options ... I was stuck. I began to recap the memorable snapshots of the past thirty-two years, the people and events that had been crucial parts of my life.

And then it hit me. I sat up, switched on the light, and said to myself, Wait a minute! An overwhelming feeling flooded into my being and I heard myself say aloud, Grace--yes, you have cancer, but you don't have to die. In a flash, I realized that the real challenge was not dealing with death, but creating a life that was worth living. Even if I had cancer. In an instant, my brain was shaken. A wild flurry of pictures flashed by again, but this time, they were pictures of the future. As I watched them fly by me, I realized that I was still scared--not of dying, but rather of facing the challenge of living. I knew I couldn't face it alone. I needed help. I reached for paper and a pencil and composed a letter to my family and friends. I asked for their support in dealing with my Hodgkin's disease. Then I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

Thunderbolt Thinking was born that June night.