breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Disturbing the Peace

Last night, I dreamed I was dying from cancer. I was in hospice care. I was not old.

I can’t control my mind when I sleep, and I cannot blame sleeping aids for the sheer number of crazy dreams I had last night all centered around dying of cancer.

I woke up tense and tired this morning.

I woke up wanting to go back to bed with the covers over my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand my lot in life. I do. I understand I have cancer. I’m still angry and sad I have breast cancer.  I rage, sometimes, at the fates that I, and others, are diagnosed with breast cancer in our thirties. But, I understand I cannot spend my life worrying it’s going to come back. It’s unproductive. It hurts me. It won’t change things.

If it’s my time, it’s my time.

But, my dreams don’t have to be filled with the horrors of my deepest fears.

I can’t control them.

I can’t stop them.

All I can do is wake up from them, like I did this morning.

I feel hollow.

At least I didn’t wake up in a panic attack. Those, thankfully, haven’t happened in months.

The goal is to get through this day so I can go home and sleep.

Hopefully, tonight, my dreams are peaceful.

That would be nice.

 

 

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breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Peace (for now)

Sometime this weekend, I made peace with the fact I have cancer.

It could be the open, honest, hard, left me in tears, conversation A and I had on Sunday as we ate at The Cheescake Factory sans S and AJ.

It could be the exhilaration of watching S perform in her 7th dance recital, the second one with her new dance school, where the teachers have loved her, supported her, and most of all, challenged her. S is a little girl (well, not so little considering she’s 10, is 5’1, and wears women’s shoes in an 8, the same size I wear…it’s odd to share shoes with a 10 year old) to whom things come easy. She learns quickly, most of the time. Rarely is she truly ever stumped by something. This year, dance stumped her because she had to move up in her tap and jazz classes to the more advanced classes due to her rehearsal schedule with the school plays. Jazz left her in tears many times this year. Her teacher expected excellence and pushed the class for everything they had. At one point, S was done…ready to quit. I wouldn’t let her. She needed the lesson: not everything comes easily. Her teacher, bless him, pulled her aside and told her not to quit, she needed to speak up and ask for help if she needed it, and he promised her he would work with her, which he did. This weekend, I watched her dance with her jazz class and saw her dance as I’ve never seen her dance before. I saw confidence. I saw her love for dance back in her eyes. Her dance teachers did that for her this year. I thanked her jazz teacher for seeing S, for really seeing her, and for demanding she rise to his expectations all while giving her the support she’s needed this school year. Then, I hugged her jazz teacher. I cried. He cried because I cried. And, we ended another year of dance…at least for a few weeks. Summer classes begin soon.

It could be because I’m slightly willing to see a small sliver of future for myself. I may only be looking ahead to next school year, but at least I’m willing to look ahead. I wasn’t willing to do that a month ago. I’m excited by the promise of next school year…the program I get to help implement, the students I’ll get to work with, and to do for those students what S’s jazz teacher did for her-demand excellence but give the support the students will need for these new classes.

It could be because I think I finally understand I could be killed in a car wreck tomorrow. It’s just as likely as the cancer returning or lurking somewhere. I can’t stop it.

It could be because I made actual, conscious efforts to relax this weekend, as crazy as it was, and to not allow little things to bother me. I found myself sitting somewhere and forcing myself to remember I can’t change the actions of others. I can only change how I let it affect me. So, I didn’t let it affect me.

Cancer may be a detour in the road for me, or it may be a permanent lane change. No matter what it is, I can’t change it. I can’t control it.

So, I made some peace with my lot in life. We’ll see how long it lasts, which may not be long, but I owe myself better than I’ve been. Being courageous or choosing to live won’t make the cancer come back. If it comes back…that sucks. But, I have to do better.  In the words of The Princess Diaries (one of my guilty, makes me feel better, movies)…

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I can’t continue to allow cancer to make me cautious or live in fear. I did that. I got cancer anyway.

breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Step One: Take a deep breath

I took some steps today. Steps that require a deep breath and a willingness to believe I have a future where the shadow of cancer may loom, but the shadow does not swallow me like it has done the last several months.

Maybe it's not about the happy ending
Found on quotehunter.com. No infringement intended.

I’m tired of living in the shadow of cancer. I know I can’t escape it completely, and I do understand I have no control over it, but I can control a few things, things that are important to me and help me survive (beyond my daily medications).

I love my job. (Hang on, it all connects together, I promise!) I’ve said that many times here on my blog, but it’s the truth. Teaching is my gift, and (most days) I love coming to work, even on the days when I’ve felt bad, suffered from horrible side effects, or had skin so badly burned even the school nurses winced when they saw it. I don’t talk in specifics about my job too often because this is my personal blog, so I shouldn’t talk in specifics too often about my school, my students, or anything else. That’s just common sense as far as I’m concerned.

Some opportunities came my way this week at work that make me very excited for next school year. Taking advantage of these opportunities are the steps I’m taking that require me to breathe deep and believe I do have a future…that I should look ahead to next school year and assume not only will I be here to teach it, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll only have the shadow of cancer looming over me next school year instead of being my constant companion as it’s been this school year. Today, I went so far as to ask for something for next year (to sponsor an organization) because it’s something I want to do. Yes, it’s going to be a lot of work, but I can handle it. Next school year is going to be a lot of work. There’s no way around it. I’m taking on a new prep (one of the steps I’m taking), which is a fabulous opportunity and going to be an amazing part of the school where I teach, and I’ll still teach AP English. Now, I’m going to sponsor an organization. It’s going to be a lot of long, hard work, but you know what? I’m not fragile. I can handle it. I truly can, or I think I can. They told me I could be anything when I grew up, so I choose to be the Little Engine who Could. 🙂

Maybe cancer will come back to slap me in the face. After all, the best laid plans of mice and men…But, I cannot keep going the way I’m going. I just can’t. It goes to the whole “you’re not treating yourself well,” and I deserve to treat myself better. I deserve to take some steps, take a deep breath, and say, I can do this. I can look forward a few months down the line because let’s face it, I’m not looking a year in advance, I’m looking down the road to August. That’s a step, though, and it’s more of a step than I’ve been willing to take.

Next school year is going to be awesome, and I’m so excited for it. And, I’m going to tell myself I deserve to be excited. It’s an honor to do what I do, and it’s an honor to be regarded as capable. So, if others see me as capable, I should see myself that way, too. Cancer be damned.

 

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Are you sure you’re ready to hear?

An astute friend texted me on Tuesday to check on me before my doctor’s appointment. When I told her I was there alone but still intended to ask my questions, she texted me back one question: Are you sure you’re ready to hear the answers by yourself?

I answered her honestly. No. But, I needed to ask and hear. So, I went to see Dr. O by myself, armed with my questions, and quaking with nervous energy.

When I got there, I found a surprise, and as much as I hate surprises, this was a good one. A woman who had been my assistant principal when I was a high schooler was there. I’ve known her most of my life…since I was at least eight. She and my mom worked together for a long time. She was a rock for me when I was a high school student, and she’s been a rock for me since I was diagnosed. She’s a breast cancer survivor. I knew she had an appointment on Tuesday, but her appointment was hours before mine. I didn’t expect to see her, but there she was when I finished checking in.

She sat with me for quite awhile, and we talked. Or, rather, she talked while I listened. She talked to me about my fears. She understands them, but her perspective is so different from mine. She told me I have to realize I have no control over any of this. There’s no illusion of control. She told me I have to make peace with it and realize if and when it’s my time, it’s my time. No one wants it to be their time, but everyone has their time. She told me all I can control is how I treat myself and what I do to help myself. Right now, I’m not treating myself well, and I’m certainly not helping myself. She told me I have to remember that cancer may not define my end. Her husband is a police officer, and he once told her she had to stop fearing he would be shot at work when it was just as likely he could be mowing their lawn and be hit by a car that missed the curve by their house. She told me she often comes back to that conversation because it’s just as true for her…and me. She told me she understands how hard it is to live life again after cancer, treatments, surgeries, appointments, and what-ifs. She told me I have to rely on faith or find a source of strength. She told me I have to, at some point, choose to live instead of being trapped by my fear because if it’s my time, it’s my time.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

They called me back, and she offered to stay with me. I told her I would be okay. She made me promise to text her if I wanted company, gave me two long, much needed, hugs, and then headed on her way.

I didn’t see Dr. O. I ended up seeing her nurse practitioner, who I’ve seen before. Before I could ask anything, we realized that my chart had gotten very messed up since my surgery. We spent a good thirty minutes going back through my chart with eagle eyes. Then, she opened the can of worms and asked me, “How are you feeling?”

“Tired. I’m fatigued. I’m stressed. I’m scared. What are we doing to monitor me now? How do we know things are working? Is it dangerous for me to delay the oophrecotomy until December or beyond? What do I do now? I don’t know what to do.”

It all just spilled out.

She solved the fatigue puzzle with a look at my blood work. My counts are low. I’m very anemic. I’ve been anemic since October, but my counts had been getting better or holding steady at just below normal. Not now. They’re low. I confessed I hadn’t been taking iron because I figured it was okay to stop it since chemo was done in January. I got glared at for that brilliant move and was ordered to go back on iron. Immediately. And, I am to stay on it until a medical professional tells me to stop it, which, she told me, would likely not be until next November. She told me she wouldn’t be surprised if my counts take up to six months to rebound. I asked if it was normal to have counts like this so far out from chemo and was reminded I went straight from chemo to surgery to radiation. My body has taken a beating and a burning. My counts are low. It happens. So, they’re going to watch it a little closer.

Some vitamins are low as well. I’ve been told to start drinking a small glass of orange juice everyday.

The stress is on me. I’m doing it to myself. I’m trying to do everything full on and not asking for help or admitting how fatigued I really am to anyone. I was told to take a muscle relaxer to deal with the sore neck and shoulder muscles and to get some stress free rest. Sleep. I laughed because nothing about life is stress free right now. I was told to figure it out because I’m hurting myself.

A colleague sent me an email on Tuesday night reminding me about a training I need to attend this summer. I replied back I might not make it because I might be less than two weeks out from major surgery and asked if it’s going to be a problem. She replied with “No, and bless you for trying to be at everything even when it’s obvious you don’t feel good or are just exhausted.” I guess that’s a prime example of me stressing out and over doing.

Then, we talked about my fears and how they’re monitoring me. I swear she and my family friend must have been thought sharing because the nurse practitioner told me nearly the same thing. I have no control over any of this. I could get in my car to drive home and be in a wreck in the highway. If it’s my time, it’s my time. She told me I have to have a source of strength. She told me to remember who my oncologist is and to remember why I wanted to be with Dr. O. She told me I have to know Dr. O is watching me closely and will see me regularly. If it reoccurs, it was going to happen. She told me the only things I can do to control it are to exercise, eat better, and lose another 20 or 30 pounds. But, again, she told me, if it’s my time, it’s my time. She said there’s no rhyme or reason to cancer or if it reoccurs. She said I need to tell myself I have a chronic illness, and like any chronic illness, it’s going to require treatments.

That’s another bitter pill to swallow.

I hate…loathe…despise the fact that I have cancer. I don’t understand why I got a ticket to this roller coaster. I don’t understand why any of us end up on this ride. I seethe sometimes with how angry it makes me, or I quake with how much fear it engenders in me.

I’ve lost my youthful sense of immortality. I’ve lost my ability to see a future where I grow old with A or see S and AJ grow up. It’s impossible for me, right now, to see beyond my fear of “what if it comes back?” and I have to move beyond that fear.

I have to accept if it’s my time, it’s my time.

But, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, and I wasn’t ready to hear those words.

Those are the words I needed to hear, though.

breast cancer, kids, Uncategorized

Quietly Drowning

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Graphic made with Typorama. No infringement intended.

I see Dr. O tomorrow around 1:00 pm. I can’t help but be nervous. I haven’t seen her since February. I don’t know what to expect. I still don’t know how to be on this side of cancer and cancer treatment. Do I have cancer? Am I cancer-free? I don’t have any answers and am afraid of surprises since every time I’ve seen Dr. O recently there’s been a surprise. I want no surprises. I don’t want to feel the way I feel…

I feel like I still have cancer. I don’t feel cancer free. I feel like it’s part of who I am now, and that sucks. I don’t want to be Cancer Girl, but I feel like that’s who my identity has become, or who I’ve let my identity become. Yet, I don’t know how else to be. There’s my life before August 22, 2015 and my life after August 27, 2015. Before cancer seems like a blur. After cancer, everything is in sharp focus.

I read the following last night on Humans of New York’s Facebook page regarding cancer, particularly children with cancer: “Cancer engenders immediate fear. I think that deep in our soul, we don’t want to admit to the possibility that we might have it too. So when someone else gets cancer, we turn that person into an ‘other.’ If that person is ‘other than us,’ then maybe it won’t happen to us. For the past thirty years, I’ve done everything I can to keep children from feeling like an ‘other.’ Yes, this child has cancer. But this child is a normal kid. Alongside their illness, they are dealing with demons that the average adult has never faced. So not only must we heal them, we must also never let them feel ‘less good’ or ‘less worthwhile.’ Because if we disrupt their ability to relate to the world, then the cancer will define the rest of their life.”

It’s one of the most profound statements regarding the way we, as a society, feel about cancer and the way we treat those with cancer. I know I’ve been mostly lucky in terms of how people treat me. No student has treated me with anything but respect and compassion. My coworkers and administration have been nothing short of amazing. None of my friends turned away from me or began avoiding me. My family has, for the most part, been nothing but supportive and encouraging. Yet, the feeling of “other,” is there. I am other. I have cancer. Yes, I’m L, a 38 year old woman with two kids, a husband, and a fulfilling career, but I’m also L, a 38 year old woman, diagnosed at 37 with aggressive breast cancer, for which I’ve been in treatment for since September 2015. I’ve seen the looks from people in public whom I do not know. The sympathy. The sadness. The relief that I’m me and they aren’t me.

“If that person is ‘other than us,’ then maybe it won’t happen to us.'”

I’m guilty of that feeling.

I’m a victim of that feeling.

I’m a victim of cancer.

I don’t want to be a victim.

I don’t want to be a fighter.

I want to be a person.

I want to be more than cancer.

I need to change, to adjust my sails.

But, I don’t know what direction in which to point my sails.

Maybe…maybe that’s the point.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Don’t say it…

 

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“Everything happens for a reason.” No, it doesn’t. Sometimes, it just happens.

“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Really? Not a Biblical statement. The Bible verse frequently used to support this statement discusses temptation. Never does the Bible say we won’t be given more than we can handle.

“Something good will come from this.” Define good for me. What if I don’t like your definition of good?

“It’s part of The Plan.” What Plan? God’s? See above “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” and “Everything happens for a reason.”

“I completely understand how you feel.” If you haven’t had cancer, you don’t understand at all. Sorry, but you don’t understand. My mother had cancer. My grandfather died of cancer. My grandmother died of cancer. I have no idea how it really felt for any of them. I only know what hearing the words “You have _____ cancer” feels like. I know the indescribable fear and utter numbness and hot anger. You understand how it feels to hear someone you know or love has cancer. It’s not the same as hearing the words about yourself and knowing the monster lives in you.

I have a dear friend who survived stage 3B inflammatory HER2 breast cancer. She endured months and months of Red Devil. Weeks and weeks of radiation. A year of Herceptin. She’s never told me she completely understands. She’s told me she remembers what treatment was like, but our experiences are different. We have (had?) different forms of breast cancer. We had different chemos. I had severe burning with radiation. She did not. We use the same oncologist. Of anyone who can say she or he understands, it would be her. But, she doesn’t. She says she’s here for me if I need to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to hear those four words, “You have breast cancer.” She tells me she’s here if I need to talk through options. She tells me she understands my fears.

She can say she understands completely, but she doesn’t  say it. She’s been here, done this. She does understand, yet she doesn’t. Our experiences are different. We’re passengers on this roller coaster, and everyone experiences a roller coaster differently.

Here’s the irony: I’m guilty of saying “I completely understand” to others with breast cancer. Just because I’ve heard those four words doesn’t mean I completely understand. Just because I’m a card carrying member of the cancer club doesn’t give me license to claim I completely understand. There’s a grim comradery that comes with cancer, but a complete understanding? Maybe not so much.

It’s hard when someone says any of these things to me. And, I need to remember how it makes me feel so I don’t inadvertently infuriate someone else.

I need to remember not to say a platitude. I need to listen. Really listen. Be fully present in a conversation. Listen with intent. (Hello coaching training) Remember what matters.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

There are days…

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Graphic created by using Typorama. No infringement on intellectual property intended. Graphic, as created, is for use on my personal blog only.

It dawned on me today that this week starts another parade of doctor’s appointments. I see Dr. L this Wednesday to talk reconstruction. I see Dr. D on Thursday, which I’d completely forgotten until I checked my calendar today and saw an appointment note for Thursday. I don’t even remember why I have an appointment with Dr. D. Then, next week, on the 17th, I see Dr. O for the first time since February.

I’m nervous about seeing Dr. O. I’ve purposely not told A when my next appointment is because I don’t want him to go. This is a crazy time of year for him at work. He’s under a lot of stress right now. So, I’m not reminding him. I have questions for Dr. O I don’t want A there to hear.

I want to ask about the urgency on the oophrecotomy…can it be delayed until December since I’m on Lupron? How high is my chance of reoccurrence? See, once upon a time, back in September, before surgery in February, the odds were in my favor. The chance of reoccurrence was around 10%. That was before surgery. Before the ER+ cancer was found. Before it was found in my lymph nodes. I know what Google says. My chance of reoccurrence is as high as 60% according to decently reputable websites. I want to know what Dr. O has to say. I know I’m high risk for reoccurrence since I didn’t have a pathological complete response to neoajduvant TCHP. How high? I know Dr. O isn’t a fortune teller, but she’s one of the best for a reason. I want her to talk to me, honestly and bluntly, which she’s always done, and I trust her to do.

I know I’m not doing anything to truly help stop my cancer from coming back. I’ve begun drinking Dr. Pepper again…not nearly as much as I did pre-cancer, but I drink it. I don’t eat well. I don’t avoid stress. I play the what if and why me games. I don’t exercise more than walking around at my work. I’m tired. When I get home, I want to rest. So, if it comes back, is it my fault? It seems like it’d be…

On Facebook, Humans of New York is doing a series on pediatric cancer patients and treatment at Sloan Kettering. It’s gut wrenching to see, to read. On one of the posts, the mother asked what she had done because there’s nothing her daughter had done to deserve what she was going through with cancer. The replies on the post were overwhelmingly things like you did nothing, cancer is a horrible disease, cancer happens with no rhyme or reason. It was refreshing to read those kind of responses because they’re true, and when I feel the what ifs and why me creeping up, I have to remember, cancer is a disease. Cancer happens. A cell misfires. That’s it. Sure, there are some definitive causes…you smoke, you risk lung cancer…sunburns raise your risk of skin cancer…colon polyps could become colon cancer. We know these facts, but ultimately? Cancer is a cell gone haywire. I didn’t do anything to deserve this or cause this. It happened. Now, I live with the fear of what if it comes back because I struggle to believe it’s gone or won’t come roaring back.

A few weeks ago, my students read and analyzed Emily Dickinson’s “Pain has an Element of Blank.” Tonight, I keep coming to Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” Hope is fleeting and flitting. It stands sturdy on some branches and wavers on others. The wind tumbles it. It storm drowns it. The water rolls off it. It endures until it doesn’t. There are days when it feels like it’ll never come back.

Yet, it does.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Memories

I worked late Friday.

A and my mom took S and AJ to watch their cousin play softball Friday night.

I cried, hard, Saturday afternoon.

We saw Wicked on Saturday night.

A gave me flowers today.

S made me a card for today.

AJ made me a book for today.

A sent his mom Tiff’s Treats today.

I took my mom flowers today.

We saw Captain America Civil War today.

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Wicked tickets. A and I heading to Wicked. S’s in her galaxy shoes she wears everywhere with everything. AJ celebrating Star Wars day. A and I seeing Captain America.

We were happy most of this weekend.

 

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

All of Me

Unless you ride in a car with A or knew him in high school, what you’d never know about him is that he can sing. He’s a strong baritone. He was in Acapella choir in high school, sang in the high school’s musicals, played and sang the lead in one of the high school’s musicals, and sang in a few weddings on and off throughout college. Singing is just something he can do. It’s not a passion of his…it’s barely a hobby. Now, he sings when he drives and sings to our kids…and that’s about it.

A couple of Fridays ago, we met after my infusion. He asked me to come with him to a work related function he needed to attend, and afterwards, we went to dinner. For him, it’d been a fairly calm week at work, which is good considering the stress for him at home. Dealing with the kids, dealing with me, helping me deal with my treatments is as much a full time job for him as his full time job. As we sat in the restaurant waiting for our meals, John Legend’s All of Me came on. A loves that song. It’s completely in his vocal range, and he says it’s fun to sing. He began humming with it. Then, he began quietly singing along with it. We were in a fairly loud restaurant, no one would have heard him anyway (unless he’d leapt to his feet and began performing the song…something I wouldn’t put entirely past him), but he sang along pretty quietly. I looked over to say something to him and found him staring at me as he sang. I’m not a particularly romantic, sentimental soul, but there are times when he sings to me…at me, that just make my heart melt. That Friday night listening to him quietly sing All of Me was one of those heart melting moments. (Other heart melting moments include when he sang Amazed (Lonestar) to me at our wedding reception, and Bent (Matchbox 20) on the car ride to San Antonio where he proposed).

It’s been a rough few weeks. We may be on an even stretch of track right now, but there’s no guarantee there’s not going to be an unexpected drop or another protracted climb. I’m in a holding pattern. I see Dr. L next week to talk reconstruction. I see Dr. O the following week for the first time since February. After having radiation everyday for six weeks and surgery before that and chemo for four months before surgery and radiation, it’s a strange limbo to experience. There’s a lot I’m unsure of right now. I have a couple of really important surgery decisions I have to make. Soon. Both surgeries are going to leave me with more scars and more insecurities.

A knows what I’m still facing, and he knows the decisions I have to make. And, I guess I needed to hear another affirmation from him that he loves me, no matter what, scarred, scared, angry, sad, and while he’s told me scores of times, but it’s different when he sings it.