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Anniversary is reminder that fear can be overcome

Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA)
March 25, 2011

I'll never think of Friday the 13th as unlucky anymore. For me it will always be a lucky day.

My beautiful wife, Irma, had a double mastectomy on March 13, 2009 – yes, a Friday – after being diagnosed with breast cancer the previous December. As the two-year anniversary of my wife's surgery approached, I couldn't help but look back on the great life we've had together.

"Would you like to dance?"

That was the beginning after spotting this beautiful woman at Alpine Village in late 1996. I was in my early 40s, never been married and possibly the "Uncle Buck" of the family. Alpine Village drew an older crowd; I was one of the younger patrons, and there were always a few "nuggets," women sans blue hair.

What makes this first encounter even more incredible is that a man was sitting at the table along with one of my now wife's best friends. Unofficial "man rules" might suggest not to approach the table, but after observing no physical activity, I went with the standard "no guts, no glory" rule – the worst that could happen is she would say no and I'd be no worse off.

She said yes.

Fast forward to August 22, 1998, the day we were married. It was the first marriage for both of us in our early 40s. My "Angel" – that's what I call my wife – was from Ecuador. We don't have kids since we married late but we do have Peachy, our 7-year-old Pomeranian, who is so spoiled she might as well be a child!

Since I was American and she was in the U.S. legally, we started the immigration process. Back then, it was the Immigration and Naturalization Service, not the Department of Homeland Security as it's called today, but, remember, this was
before 9-11.

Twice we had appointments and drove downtown in morning rush-hour traffic only to be told at the Federal Building that my wife's file couldn't be located. Keep in mind, this is the federal government, not the private sector, so we didn't return in two weeks. No, the appointments were one year apart. Of course, then 9-11 hit and we were a sailboat with no wind, stalled in the system.

It took a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein to jump-start our case. I wrote Feinstein asking when my wife might receive her Permanent Resident Card, in our 60s, 70s or 80s? My wife finally received the card in October 2004.

We traveled to Ecuador in February 2005. What a powerful, moving experience meeting her family. My Español isn't good and her family's English wasn't much better, but love is universal and I felt so comfortable with all of her family. If my Angel hadn't been from Ecuador, that country might not have been on my radar, but what a beautiful country.

I've had the opportunity to visit Ecuador four times and we hope to return after our medical "bump in the road" – no, make that a pothole.

After my Angel's first surgery, she needed to have her lymph nodes removed from her right arm on April 16, 2009.

With a great stroke of luck, irony or divine intervention, my wife became a U.S. citizen on April 9, 2009, exactly 10 years, seven months and 18 days after the best day of my life, our wedding day!

Six sessions of chemotherapy (yes, she lost all her hair) followed by radiation therapy consumed May to October 2009. Since then, my wife has endured four other surgeries including a 131/2-hour breast reconstruction on May 27, 2010.

We are now approaching the end of the tunnel and we'll soon break into the sunlight. My wife's courage has been an inspiration to me and everyone she's encountered. I give thanks to all of the doctors and nurses involved in her treatment, including Dr. Steven Fisher, Dr. Spenler, Dr. Jewell, Dr. Newman, Dr. Jilani and nurse practitioner Susan Star. I'd also like to thank our family and friends who have been so supportive.

I told my wife when she was diagnosed that we could have a "cry day" and we did, maybe a few, but that we can't re-ring the bell and we'll go forward toward a cure.

We still have a road ahead, but to anyone reading this who may encounter this horrible disease, let my Angel's story be an inspiration. I often kid my wife about what would have happened had she said no when I asked her to dance!

Jim Karlock is a 52-year Hawthorne resident and is a parking enforcement officer in Hermosa Beach.

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