breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Is it too late?

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

I’m melancholy today. I fear what tomorrow might bring, what Dr. O may say. People tell me this will eventually become easier, but honestly, I truly doubt it. How can this ever become easier, this precipice on which I stand? These appointments where my blood is taken, shaken, and tested, where my scarred body is examined, where my insides are xrayed, looking for the uninvited interloper, are not easy. I am anxious and scared. I feel no different than I did twelve weeks ago, yet I felt completely healthy as cancer grew insidiously inside me, so am I truly the best judge if whether I’m fine? My track record says no.

As I walked down one of the hallways at work today, thoughts of cancer and fears of reoccurrence swirling in my mind, a singular thought stopped me, stopped me in the middle of the hallway, stopped me cold.

I believe it’s too late for me.

I’ve waited too long to adjust my lifestyle. I’ve waited too long to get my insomnia under control. I’ve waited too long to lose weight. I’ve waited too long to start doing anything which could keep the cancer at bay beyond the medications I take everyday.

I deeply, truly believe I’ve waited too long, it’s too late.

What a horrible, terrible thought.

It’s not only what I think, though, I realized as I stood in the hallway, alone, this afternoon. It’s what I believe, and truthfully, I’ve believed it from the moment I was diagnosed. I knew long before that fateful August afternoon that I needed to lose weight, eat better, stop drinking 4-6 Coca-Colas a day, exercise, and sleep more. I knew, and I did nothing until I was told I had breast cancer. Even then, I did little. I cut Coca Cola. Chemo helped me lose thirty five pounds. I’ve gained back some of that weight. I drink one or two Dr. Peppers most days. I’ve stopped my evening walks because I’m tired after work. I have a million excuses, a million moments of shame.

I look in the mirror, and I am sad by what I see, pieced back together with other pieces of me. I am sad to see the weight I’ve gained. I am sad to see the scars, more noticeable to me right now than usual. I know it’s anxiety because of my appointment tomorrow. I’m in limbo. I seem to live in limbo lately.

As much as I try to stay away from breast cancer sites, I lurk on a breast cancer community’s message boards. Yesterday, I read a post from a woman at Stage 4 who wrote to others newly diagnosed with the same breast cancer I had, that they should not worry about a reoccurrence. If it comes back, it comes back. The worry did nothing. She wrote if she could go back in time to when she was NED (no evidence of disease), she would enjoy every single one of those days instead of spending them worried about a reoccurrence.

I want to make myself stop worrying and to just enjoy whatever time I have, but I haven’t found a way to do it. Today, in the hallway, I think I discovered why I can’t get there. I believe it’s already too late.

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breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Pretending

sometimes all you can do

I’m tired…

of Republicans trying to kill me through healthcare bills that are nothing more than deathcare bills

of feeling like my concerns don’t matter

of cancer

of worrying the cancer is back

of wondering what I did wrong

of wondering if I’ll see my kids grow up

of not being good enough

of being told “it’s going to be ok” when you don’t know that

of not sleeping

of letting myself down every morning by sleeping through my alarm instead of getting up early and going for a walk

of crying from exhaustion

of feeling I don’t matter

of being my own worst enemy

I’m spent.

I’m a wreck wearing a mask, dreading my next check up, terrified of seeing Dr. O because what if the cancer is back even though I don’t feel any different than I did 12 weeks ago? What if the scans show it’s back? What will I do?

I’m tired.

I’m spent.

I’m a wreck.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

My Spoons Are Running Low

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I’ve never been good at saying no. I’ve never been good at asking for help. I’ve never been good at admitting I’m overwhelmed. I’ve never been good at putting my needs ahead of those I love.

But, I’m running out of spoons.

My dad is not doing as well as we hoped after having surgery almost six weeks ago. He has little to no movement on his left side. He’s wheelchair or bed bound at the rehab hospital. He does hours of physical therapy. He’s remarkably better than he was a few weeks ago, but he’s nowhere near how he was this time last year. I’m worried sick about how my mom will handle him at home in a house that is in no way wheelchair accessible.

My sister is back in the picture. I didn’t survive cancer to be scared of her anymore. I’ve vacillated between being livid and being bitter. Eventually, I’ll hit apathy again with this situation just as I have before.

My mom is one of the strongest women I know. The last five years have been nothing but battle after battle and burden after burden for her. The weight she carries everyday would crush me, squash me, pancake me. She wakes up every morning, settles the weight on her shoulders, and marches on. I’m worried sick about her.

My school year started out at 100 mph and hasn’t slowed. I like the fast pace. I like a sense of urgency. I like what I do. I like my classes. I like a new challenge everyday.

But, I’m running out of spoons.

Cancer took one of my colleagues on Monday, a teacher who’s taught at the school since I was a student there, a seemingly healthy, ate well, exercised, did all the right things, woman, a mother, a daughter. I froze up when the email came with the news of her death. I avoided Facebook all day.

The grim reality of cancer is death, and I’m running out of spoons and couldn’t face the reality of cancer on Monday.

I’m really running very low on spoons.

I see Dr. O in a week and a half for my next check up. I’ve gained some weight, I’m not sleeping, I’m falling back into old habits. It’s a self-defeating cycle, yet here I am. I’m in a constant state of low anxiety, and as my appointment day creeps closer, my anxiety builds. It spikes when someone asks me how A is enjoying his new job (a lot), when someone asks me how my dad is doing (it’s day by day), when someone asks me how I’m doing (we don’t have that kind of time). If Dr. O we’re to measure my spoon count, I’m not sure she’d find many.

My spoons are low, so are my spirit and energy. I’m tired, in all sense of the word. I need more spoons. They’re hard to recover, slow to come back.

I need my spoons.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Deleting and Clearing

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This afternoon, a coworker stopped in my room to ask me a question. I responded and went back to what I was working on, and as my coworker reached the door of my classroom, she stopped and said, “Don’t let the beginning of the year stress you out too much.”

I laughed, a short, sardonic laugh.

I’m not stressed out about school starting.

I’m stressed out because my dad had serious brain surgery two weeks ago to remove a benign brain tumor and needs intensive rehab for cognitive and physical impairments due to the tumor. He’s been in the rehab hospital part of Baylor Dallas for a week. He’ll be there for awhile. Then, he needs to be in a skilled nursing facility. Then…I don’t know. I really don’t. My mom and I are going day-by-day. There’s nothing else we can do.

I’m stressed out because this week has too damned many cancerversaries.

Yesterday, towards the end of the day, I sat at my computer to do some serious email purging. I’m an email hoarder at work. I had close to five thousand emails in my inbox…some read, many unread because they were ads from teaching companies or job postings or emails coworkers sent on top of text messages saying the same thing. Some I read on my iPad, but my desktop email program didn’t recognize those emails were read. As I began my deleting and organizing spree, I came across many emails from friends and coworkers dated days after my diagnosis. Each one was another smoldering reminder of the day almost two years ago that changed my life forever.

I left those emails in my inbox. Some of them are still too hard to read. “You’ll beat this. You’re strong. You got this.”

What if I don’t? Am I a weak loser, then?

I deleted or stored all but 42 emails. The best feeling was deleting an entire year’s worth of emails from several years ago (I’m a terrible email hoarder!) without looking at them. I knew there was nothing from that year I wanted or needed to keep, so I highlighted them all and hit delete. Truly, it felt satisfying, watch one year’s worth of emails disappear, a singularly unsatisfying year of emails. Deleting them felt as though I cleared away some regrets.

It was a great feeling.

This Sunday marks two years since I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” I’m grateful I listened to my gut two years ago. It screamed at me to do two things: Go back into the classroom as a teacher and do it because it’s what you’re meant to do -you were put in this world to teach, and go see Dr. B because it’s not normal for your left nipple to invert only when you raise your arm -it could be related to that weird place you can feel. (Spoiler alert: It was. Sudden nipple inversion is a sign of breast cancer.)

I went back into a classroom two years ago this Friday, and I have no regrets. I’m happy. I’m fulfilled. I make a difference. I work with awesome people. I love what I do and where I do it.

I saw Dr. B for that weird place two years ago last Friday. Maybe that’s the day I found out I had cancer. I knew it, deep down. I just wanted to be wrong, for her to say it was nothing. I didn’t want her to look at me with deep concern and tell me that most lumps were nothing but she wanted me to get this one checked out as soon as possible.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up early and go to another high school in my district to give several presentations to other high school English teachers. Tomorrow, I’ll come home for lunch and spend some time with my babies. Tomorrow, I’ll think about breast cancer at some point. I think about it, at some point, every single day. But, tomorrow, I’ll also be grateful -I’m alive to think about it, I’m alive to spend time with S and AJ, I’m alive to give presentations to my peers, I’m alive to delete emails.

I’m alive to help my mom with my dad.

For those thing, I am grateful. For right now, it’s enough.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

It all began two years ago

 

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It just hit me…today is a cancerversary.

Two years ago today, I saw my OBGYN during my lunch break of PD week. It was a Tuesday. My appointment was at 11:30.

It was that Tuesday when I found out the lump in my left breast, the lump I’d ignored and worried about, was concerning and my doctor scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound for me. I sat in my car, numb, and sobbed for nearly an hour. I distinctly remember saying over and over “Please don’t let me have breast cancer. Please don’t let me become another statistic. Please don’t let me have breast cancer. Please let me live to see my children grow up. Please don’t let this be cancer. I’ll do anything.” Then, I called A and cried some more. Then, I took a deep breath, drove my car back to work, wiped my eyes, fixed my make up, put a fake smile on my face, and walked into my school for the afternoon in service session. I apologized for being a few minutes late, the new teacher no one knew.

I don’t remember a single thing from the rest of that afternoon or evening.

We all know how this turns out…pleas were not answered. I became a statistic…the 1 in 227 who develop breast cancer in their 30s.

I hate this roller coaster. I hate cancer. I hate it for making me believe I will not see my children become adults. I hate it for convincing me I will not grow old with A. I hate it for whispering to my scumbag brain that everything I put in my mouth is going to make the cancer come back. I hate it for making me believe I can do no right, that I am a pawn who can and will be sacrificed at any moment. I hate it for causing me to cringe when I look in the mirror. I hate it for making me belittle myself every single morning when I step on the scale and see my weight has creeped back up, and don’t you know weight gain makes cancer come back, especially to your bones (Yes, someone actually said this to me.)?

I hate you, cancer. I hate what you took from me, from my husband, from our children, from my parents, from my nephew, from my cousins, from my aunts, from my in-laws. You took me, the me I once was, from them, and more, you might just take me away from them.

I hate you for what you’ve done, for the fears and the tears.

Two years ago today, cancer changed who I am, fundamentally and forever.

And, cancer, I hate you for it. Loathe you. Despise you.

Screw you.

breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Passion and Profession

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I love my job. I make a difference with what I do, I give back to my community with what I do, and I do what I’m meant to do. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt I’m meant to be a teacher and teach at the school where I’m employed. Teaching is my passion, even when it sucks because the paperwork piled up, stacks of essays grew, students complained, and I’m out of coffee.

Four years ago today, I sat in my car, preparing for an interview for my first out-of-the-classroom job -an instructional facilitator position where I would work with teachers and students across the district. It was a fabulous opportunity.  I was excited.

I interviewed, they hired me, and I spent two years in that position. I liked what I did. I was good at what I did. I made some amazing friends doing what I did. I met awesome teachers doing what I did, but oh, how much I missed being a teacher. I modeled lessons sometimes, and on those days, it struck me how much I missed teaching day in and day out.

Deciding to go back into the classroom was easy. It’s a choice I do not regret, just like I do not regret working as a facilitator. It took leaving the classroom for me to realize the classroom was where I was meant to be. I always thought I’d teach for awhile and move into administration later, but I know now, four years to the day when I walked out of a classroom, I’m meant to stay in the classroom. I can do other things. I don’t want to do other things. I want to continue giving, facilitating, leading students. It’s my calling, my passion, and I’m very good at what I do.

I’m glad I walked out of the classroom four years ago because those experiences led me right back into it. I’m better for those experiences, those learning opportunities.

The 2017-2018 school year begins next week for me, and I’m ready for it, eager. I have no lesson plans done yet. My classroom is a wreck from the construction at my campus this summer. I’m in no way prepared for the school year, but I will be. It’ll be frustrating and time consuming, but that’s okay.

I’m ready to go back, to do things a little differently, to work hard, to be better. I hate giving up my long days with S and AJ, but truthfully, they’re ready to go back, too.

I want to go into this year celebrating the possibilities. Every new school year is a blank slate, a new chapter (cliches abound!), and I’m ready to start writing. I want to forget that August holds some rough anniversaries, some terrible memories. I want to remind myself Augusts are full of new beginnings, and the best thing I can do for myself is to celebrate the new school year, to look forward to it, to be eager for it because that’s one more way I can say to cancer, “Hey, screw you.”

So, 2017-2018, let’s get going. I’m ready for you.

 

 

breast cancer, Uncategorized

Reconstruction Reflection

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I’ve sat down to write this post several times since late last night. Then, I allow myself to be distracted. Cancerversaries approach. Surgery anniversaries approach.

One year ago today, at this time, I was into my first hour of my DIEP reconstruction, of having myself put back together using other parts of me…a little bit like Frankenstein’s Monster but with my own skin and blood and fat.

Sometimes I feel a little bit like a monster, scars and stitches, tough skin and thin skin, discolorations and spots.

Last year, I REALLY did not want to do the DIEP reconstruction. I just wanted to be done with the intensity of cancer. A friend texted me the night before the surgery and reminded me all I had to do was show up. So, I showed up. I had the DIEP reconstruction. I came home with drains, incisions, stitches, and glue. I did not come home happy to be done because cancer is never really done. At this point last year, I still had three Herceptin treatments and an oophorectomy in front of me, at the very least.

It’s been a long time since I felt normal, truly, deeply normal. That’s partially why I began getting tattoos. If I can’t be who I was before cancer, I can be the person I want to be with cancer. I saw my dermatologist last Friday afternoon for my yearly skin check. He commented on my “musical” inspired tattoos. I didn’t correct him because all of my tattoos do have a music note-esque look to them. I’m already planning my next one…a Harry Potter one, probably on my left shoulder or left ribcage. I don’t have very much feeling on my left ribcage from the DIEP, so that’s appealing.

The DIEP began to put me back together, and looking back on it, I don’t regret it. I regret the fact I had to have it. I don’t regret the scars. I regret what mandated the scars. I do miss the things breast cancer stole…my breasts, my ovaries, my happy. Sometimes, I really do miss pre-cancer, hypochondriac me.

I accept what I’ve endured. I accept I may not live to see my children grow up, to grow old with A. I also rage against that which necessitates acceptance.

Reconstruction, to rebuild. I’m still rebuilding.

Maybe I’ll always be under construction.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

It’s a Mystery

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I’ve always liked that line from Shakespeare in Love, “I don’t know…it’s a mystery.”

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Henslowe could be describing life instead of “the theater business,” as he puts it.

That line, “I don’t know…it’s a mystery,” is one of A’s favorites as well. He believes things work out the way they’re supposed to, and in my moments of fear and frustration, he plays Henslowe to my Fennyman.

This morning was one of those his Henslowe to my Fennyman moments.

I leave with S and AJ tomorrow on our road trip vacation. I panicked this morning over it. Until this morning, it’s been months since I had a true, full on, panic attack, but this morning? Bam! Tears falling, teeth chattering, breath speeding. I felt like I had so much to do. I didn’t know where to start. I’m nervous about being on the road alone with the kids. I’m worried they’re going to be bored and hate the trip I’ve planned. It all just crept up on me. Out of nowhere.

I’m grateful A knows what to do, what to say. Never once did he say, “Calm down!” Instead, it was, “Take a deep breath. Now another one.” Never once did he say, “Stop it! You’re fine!” Instead, it was, “You’ve planned this trip out as much as you can. Would you like for me to go through and put in some other places to for you to stop along the way?” Never once did he say, “If you feel like you’ve got too much to do, just start somewhere.” Instead, it was, “You go to the store with S for snacks to keep in the car. I will take AJ and have your car cleaned. You and S go to the bookstore and get something for you to read on the beach or at stops and something for the kids to read in the car. I will look at what you’ve organized and double check everything is here.”

Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

By 8:00 pm tonight, suitcases were packed, snacks were sorted, don’t-be-bored bag for the kids was stuffed, and all was loaded into the back of my car. We leave in 10 hours. I wish A could come with us, but I know he’s looking forward to starting his new job…and having time alone to decompress with the world conquerer computer game he plays and whatever show he’s binge-watching on Netflix.

One of the things I told A this morning, in the throes of running tears and chattering teeth, was that I’m afraid this is the last vacation I’ll ever take the kids on because of cancer. Thank you, scumbag brain, for that gloriously horrible thought. 

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Found on quickmeme…no infringement intended

 Instead of getting angry, A said, “First of all, no. You don’t get to fixate on something like that. Tell your brain to STFU. Second of all, let’s say, because you like to play what if, let’s say it is. What an amazing amount of memories you all are going to make driving and being silly, singing songs, and watching the scenery pass by, as you all carriage or trolley ride through New Orleans, play on the beach in Destin, and hike in the Smoky Mountains. You think those aren’t memories of a lifetime? Tell me that some of your best memories aren’t of the road trips you went on as a kid with your grandparents, and I’ll call you a liar. I know the stories. I’ve heard them from you. Your grandfather dying of lung cancer and your grandmother dying of melanoma didn’t do anything to those memories.”

Found on GIPHY, and since A is from NYC, a Yankee hitting a homerun seems apropos.

I’m still nervous, but A is right. Things work out. It’s a mystery. We’ll get up in 10 hours, and we’ll begin the first leg of our trip. It’s going to be fun, an adventure.

I hope.

 

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Time

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We know the saying, no one is promised tomorrow, and for those who survive a life threatening event, we know, deeply, truly know, the certainty of that saying. No one is promised tomorrow.

Knowing doesn’t stop planning and hoping, though.

When I was diagnosed, A and I made a promise to each other once we knew I would need the full cancer cocktail of chemo and surgery with the possibility of radiation and a full year of targeted therapy. We promised ourselves a vacation with our children once treatment and surgeries were done. We promised we would take them to the beach and let the sand, the water, the experience heal us…heal me. So, we planned it for mid-July, this July. Of course, the best laid plans have a tendency to blow up, and ours are no exception.

A starts a new job next week, the week of our vacation. He loves where he worked and the job he did, but his commute took an hour to an hour and a half, each way; his new job is less than thirty minutes from our house. His new job is one he’s excited for, and it is a great opportunity for him. He’s so passionate about his field and the impact it has. He’s excited to begin his new job even though his first day is the second day of our vacation. We knew, when he accepted the offer, it meant our vacation might be postponed. That’s fine. That’s life. But A, being A, wants us, me and the kids, to go. So, we’re going. Me, S, and AJ. It also means we can spend a little more time on our road trip to the beach.

My grandparents, my mother’s parents, owned an RV, and every summer, until my grandfather was too sick from lung cancer, he and my grandmother took me, my sister, and our two cousins on a road trip. I saw a lot of the southern and midwestern states thanks to them. Some of my most cherished memories of my grandfather, my Papa, come from those road trips -eating pie at 2 in the morning with him at a truck stop in Oklahoma while everyone else in the RV slept; staying at a campground in Missouri with a fishing pond and catching our dinner; pulling my first loose tooth after coming home from a long, looping trip.

We don’t own an RV. I’m not setting out to go wherever the open road leads, but I am going to take my children on a road trip and take them to see parts of the country they’ve never seen. I’ve added a stop in New Orleans for us. I’ve never been there, they’ve never been there, we have the time, so why not stop and sightsee, eat beignets, and ride the streetcars? From there, we head to Destin for a few days of beaching, snorkeling, and lazing. Then, there’s coming home.

One of my most favorite places is the Great Smoky Mountains. I think I’m going to take a Papa sized detour coming home and take S and AJ to spend a day or two in Gaitlinburg so they can see the majesty of the mountains.

When I was diagnosed, one of my biggest fears was that S and AJ would remember me only as sick, that cancer would taint and wreck their lives, and yes, my children have dealt with stuff kids shouldn’t deal with -worrying their mother is going to die -but it hasn’t wrecked them. We don’t allow my cancer to shadow over them, and ultimately, that’s why we’re taking this road trip, why A insisted I go with the kids. It’s a chance to make deep, lasting memories, to be free from the shadow of cancer, to rest.

To have the time to heal, even if it’s only a little bit.

It’s time, precious time together.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Me

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I walk every night now. I walk at least 30 minutes, a fast-pace. I walk in our neighborhood and take in the beauty of nature, like the photo above. It’s the lake my neighborhood backs up to, and my reward, after I’ve walked, is to sit right there at the lake’s edge, to watch the water, to listen to the ducks.

The self-care challenge I’m doing encourages taking a walk once a week.

I feel guilty now if I don’t do it every night.

When I saw Dr. O last week, she switched me to Arimidex and warned me of all the side effects, the joint pain and the bone loss. I saw her nurse practitioner first, and I brought up my oophorectomy. I asked if I needed to switch from tamoxifen. Her nurse practitioner balked a little at switching me. Tamoxifen decreases bone loss. Arimidex increases bone loss. She talked about balancing quality of life with staving off a reoccurrence. Arimidex is better at reducing reoccurrence, though, and that’s my sticking point. There’s no quality of life for me to manage if the cancer reoccurs. The NP grabbed Dr. O, who agreed with me -it’s time for Arimidex. I have to go back in September for a bone density test and blood work.

Whatever. I just want the best shot of surviving.

So, I’ve been on it for a week. My ankle joints hurt some, but truthfully, they’ve hurt for over a year. I’ve severely sprained both of them at least once in the last three years. I’d be shocked if they didn’t hurt. It tends to happen at night when I lay down and when I first wake up in the morning.

The one point Dr. O stressed was walking. She told me the more walking I do as exercise, the better it is for me and my bones. I walk or swim every day now.

I’m working on me, my emotional self and my physical self.

Truthfully? This is the best I’ve felt, physically, in a long time.

Emotionally, the self care challenge helps. I ran across the quote on Pinterest and snort laughed because I need to see it every day:

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

That’s my daily reminder to myself. I have to give myself pep talks. Cancer sucks, sometimes things suck, but you have a beautiful family, amazing friends, a job you freaking love, and for today, no cancer. Don’t fixate on what-if. Listen to A and don’t let worry steal your joy. You got this.

Maybe it’s lame, but, for now, it works. Walking and just taking time for me works.

For today, that’s good enough.