breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Wrecked

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I had to work a student event yesterday with several friends and colleagues. One of my colleagues (and friend), as we stood off to the side talking, commented to me that she didn’t understand how I handle everything thrown at me with a smile and positivity. I told her, “Girl, please,” with a smile and a joking tone to my voice. She doesn’t know how negative I really am, and she doesn’t believe me when I tell her if you look up pessimist in the dictionary, there will be a picture of me.

At one point last year, I was told that I can only complain so much before I become like the boy who cried wolf. People become immune, even apathetic, when all you have are complaints. I’m a negative person by nature. I’m a pessimist. I’m not even a recovering pessimist. I’m a pessimist to the core. Last night, my brother-in-law told me he never really believed in the whole “power of positive thinking” thing until recently when he decided to look for the positives, and, as he put it, now, he notices nothing but positive energy around him and his home.

Must be nice.

I’m well aware that I’m the problem in my unhappy equation. Just because I’ve made peace with the fact I have cancer and will likely die from it at some point, doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I’ve just accepted my fate.

But, I’m not happy about it.

This morning, as I prepared to get up, get dressed, and head up to my school to work in my classroom (submitting AP Seminar work to Digital Portfolio is not fun…love the class, love seeing what my students have done…do not love the enormous extra grading load), A came in the room, sat on our bed, and asked, “What do we have to do to make it happy or relaxing or unstressful for you here at home?”

My answer was snarky, yet true: Get a DeLorean and take me back prior to cancer. I want my sense of health, well-being, and youthful immortality back. I hate who I’ve become because of cancer. I’ve tried liking her. I’ve tried understanding her. I’ve tried accepting her. I don’t like her. I don’t understand her. I don’t accept her.

She lives with the knowledge that cancer is her reality and will likely be the cause of death on her death certificate.

She lives with the knowledge that she will likely die before her children grow up, go off and make a mark in the world. She lives with the knowledge she will likely not be around to see her daughter off on her first date, to help her pick a prom dress, to see her high school graduation, to move her into college, to see her graduate college, to see her become a veterinarian, to help her pick a wedding dress, to see her make her dreams come true.

She lives with the knowledge she will likely not be around to see her son ask someone out on a first date, to help him learn to shave, to pick out his first real suit, to see him graduate high school, to move him into college, to see him graduate college, to see him become an engineer (or politician…or police officer…or cartoonist -he has many “what I want to be when I grow up” dreams), to cry when he proposes, to see him make his dreams come true.

I still struggle with the question “Why me?” I know the response is “Why any of us?” I know the answer is bad luck…bad genes…randomness. I play enough video games to know I suffer from bad RNG luck (Random Number Generator). Still, the part of me that rages against the fact I have cancer wants to know what I did that was so wrong, so bad. Some will say that means I haven’t made peace with the fact I have cancer. You’re wrong. I’ve made peace with it. I just don’t like it.

I struggle every single day, but I put forth the image that I have it together, that I’m fine, that life is grand. Life is grand, but I’m not. A quarter of cancer patients struggle with depression. Almost a quarter of cancer patients struggle with cancer-related post traumatic stress. Take someone like me who was already pessimistic before cancer and throw in cancer, cancer treatments, cancer surgeries, and continual doctor check ups, and those are the ingredients for an unhappy stew.

I’m unhappy.

How selfish of me to say it, to admit it. After all, I’m still alive. I’m done with required surgeries, for now.

Friends and family are tired of my “woe is me” and “I’m so unhappy” routine, but the thing is, I hide it 9 times out of 10 because I don’t want my friends and family to be unhappy with me. I want to fix it. I want to fix me.

I’ve been told by others to fix my mindset, to start thinking positively and my negative, pessimistic thinking is a conscious choice on my part. It is. I know that. But, I also know, deep down, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid if I let go of the negative and try to be positive, the cancer will come back.

So, I struggle. I want to be happy, but I’m afraid if I choose to be happy, the cancer will come back.

A tells me all the time the cancer will come back no matter what if that’s what’s meant to happen to me. My thought is that if I rage against it, maybe that’ll keep it away. How do you rage against the dying of the light when your light is more of a dusty, after the storm, gray?

Hearing the words “You have breast cancer” wrecked me. If it can happen to me, to my friends, it can and will happen to anyone, including me. Again.

I don’t want to be wrecked again.

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breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Unacceptable

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Back in November, I posted on Facebook, and took it down because people’s feelings were hurt, that if you voted for Trump and Co, you were voting against my life. After today, I am done being nice to people who voted for this disaster of a president and Congress. You voted against my life. You, family member, who told me you thought a businessman would be a better president than any politician because government is just like business. You, family member, who told me that the GOP would never really try to repeal the ACA without a replacement that protected pre-existing conditions from predatory insurance practices. You, friend, who told me that the ACA is the worst thing ever and haven’t I noticed who people from other countries come to the US for medical care because they cannot get medical care in their “socialized medicine countries” (which is, for the most part, not true). You, friend, who told me not to worry because “you don’t use that Obamacare…you get insurance through your job,” yet failed to understand the protections baked into the ACA are the sole reason my insurance CANNOT DROP ME.

So. Congratulations. If this passes (https://www.vox.com/2017/4/25/15429982/gop-exemption-ahca-amendment), you have given my insurance company and the State of Texas permission to charge me more because I developed cancer, which, according to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 2, 50% of people, will develop in his or her lifetime. In case you cannot comprehend what that means, you chose to play and hope you do not win the cancer lottery. I don’t gamble, a holdover from my Southern Baptist upbringing, but even I know those are pretty craptastic odds.

If this passes, if and when my cancer comes back, you have given my insurance permission to drop me or charge me so much I can no longer afford it. That seems like compassionate conservatism.

Didn’t Plato say “the measure of a man is what he does with power?” Republican are pro life, until birth. After that, forget it. Republican lawmakers have gone on record THIS WEEK saying people should just get better jobs if they want health insurance and health care is not a human right. We are the ONLY industrialized country without a national health plan because “free market.” Healthcare should not be for-profit. Healthcare should not be a bargaining chip. Healthcare should not be up for discussion. Healthcare should be a right of every American, and do not let Paul Ryan fool you with the BS about giving people access by providing choice. I have access to a Tesla every time I go to NorthPark Mall. I do not have a Tesla because I have access. I can look at it. I can sit in the driver’s seat. I cannot buy it. I can’t afford it. Access to a doctor, to a hospital, to a clinic, to a nurse, to anything medical means NOTHING if you cannot pay for it in a for profit healthcare scheme.

Republicans like to use Christianity as a hammer. They claim to be the party of Jesus. They use the Bible as a sword, yet, they seem to forget Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount -“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:31. Or, they forget, in Matthew, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25:40. Or, they just do not care. Whatever gets them the vote they want, right?

I may have a complicated relationship with my religion and the church, but I do remember, with clarity, the teachings regarding selflessness, service, compassion, caring. Where is your outrage about this? Or, is this how you show your true colors?

Do you smugly sit there and think, “Well, I’m not sick.” SO. DID. I. “Or I’m in good health?” SO. WAS. I. “My family has no history of breast cancer.” NEITHER. DOES. MINE. “I’m too young.” ME. TOO.

Here is the bottom line: I will likely die from breast cancer. As people enjoy pointing out to me, I eat badly, I drink soda, and I don’t exercise, so if I’m not willing to help myself, when my cancer comes back, it’ll be my fault. If and when it does come back, the GOP who gleefully make it increasingly more difficult for cancer patients to receive the care needed to survive will not care. I am expendable. I am just one in millions with pre-existing conditions, with a life threatening illness, with cancer.

If and when my cancer returns and if it is HER2 again, my best shot to survive is a drug combination that costs nearly $100k. I don’t have that kind of money, and while A would get three jobs and borrow money to help pay for it, I will NOT allow cancer to take away S and AJ’s home, their security, and I will not allow it, to allow me, to ruin A’s financial future. I’ll make the choice. I will refuse treatment. I will not allow my family to endure bankruptcy due to medical debt. MY medical debt. And, ultimately, if my cancer returns, when my cancer returns, I’ll succumb to it. Therefore, what’s the point of putting A, S, and AJ’s financial futures at stake?

Here’s my request, those family members, those friends who see no problem with this happening, who gripe about the protests, who refuse to call their representatives and senators and tell them bills like this are wrong, who believe the protesters are paid protester: If and when my cancer comes back, when I die from it because the GOP is determined to strip away the healthcare protections baked into the ACA which keep me alive because the insurance companies cannot drop me, cannot charge me more, and are required to cover any treatments or surgeries I need -enjoy explaining why you voted for these people to S and to AJ. Enjoy their questions. I don’t. Just this weekend, AJ asked me what would happen to me if the cancer comes back, and when I tried to tell him not to worry about that, S got mad and told me to stop not answering the question and to answer them. So, I told them. AJ cuddled close and said, “I don’t want that to happen, Mommy.” Me neither, baby. S asked me if she could get breast cancer. I told her anyone, man or woman, can develop any cancer. She cried and said, “I hate cancer, and I hate you have cancer.” Me too, baby.

Those are the questions, the conversations. You, family member, you friend, you will face S and AJ. You will face A.

 

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Back to my Roots

My dad’s parents were farmers. Granny and Grandad were retired by the time I was old enough to really remember and know them. Grandad occasionally worked as a contract painter, which had been his day job before he retired, but at the root of them, they were farmers who owned a large plot of land and used the majority of it to grow their own vegetables and fruits, cultivated flowers for pleasure, raised chickens for eggs, and until he was too old to enjoy it, Grandad hunted for deer, quail, and the like.

One of my earliest memories is of Granny putting a plastic bowl in my lap and a bag of unsnapped beans between us as we sat on the large side porch that faced her flower garden. She began pulling beans out of the bag, snapping them, and dropping them into her own plastic bowl. I followed her lead. Later, she taught me to shell peas, to unzip the shell, to take my thumb and run it down the shell. I spent many Friday nights sitting in her living room watching Dallas with her as we shelled peas, snapped beans, harvesting what she and Grandad grew.

When I was big enough, six or seven years old, I helped them work their land. I tilled with my grandfather, planted with my grandmother, picked ripe fruit from the fruit trees and berry bushes. I learned to can, to make preserves, how to wrap meat so it could go into the deep freezer my grandmother kept in one of their out buildings. With indulgent exasperation, my grandfather often scolded me for pulling radishes, I didn’t like them, and beets, squishing them with one of his many tools was strangely satisfying. I ate carrots straight from the ground, tomatoes off the vine. I dug potatoes and plucked lettuce. I tended the gardens, the vegetables and flowers, with my grandmother. My grandparents loved the land.

It’s been years since I cultivated my own plot of soil, to grow vegetables, to nurture flowers. At our old house, my excuse was the backyard was too small. I wanted the land there was to be for my kids. At our new house, the backyard is huge and has a corner near the house that’s perfect for crops. The front yard is perfect for flowers.

I’m the grandchild of farmers. I know how to grow my own. I’m a teacher. I know how to foster learning. So, this morning, I planted two container gardens with AJ. I taught him to match soil lines on stems, to loosen up root balls, to give the flowers every chance to grow. I planted one container garden to model for him. He, with his tongue caught between his teeth and express of intense concentration, planted the other. One is sunny, yellow, white, and green. One is moody with flashes of bright.

Later this afternoon, I’ll guide S through planting the herbs I bought. We’ll plant the pepper plants and tomato plants. I’ll hang the strawberry plant and see if strawberries are as finicky as I remember. I’ll share with her, as I shared with AJ this morning, the legacy of their great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, of growing that runs through their blood, the need, sometimes, to tend to the land.

It’s not much, certainly not nearly what my grandparents grew. But, there is something deeply satisfying and soothing in planting, feeling the dark soil, giving the plant to the earth, trusting the earth to nurture and provide. I don’t feel I can trust many things since my life took such an unexpected turn with cancer, but I can trust the earth.

It’s never let me down.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Rhythm

Wake up. Get dressed. Check that the kids have everything. Type work into Google Maps. Kiss and hug the kids. Thank the in-laws for ensuring the kids get on their buses. Get into the car. Start the car. Follow Google Maps’ advice. Listen to the classical music station. Yell at the occasional car. Take the exit to work. Pull into the parking lot. Park the car. Go inside. Unlock my classroom. Start the computer and projector.

Teach. Grade. Troubleshoot. Listen. Laugh. Walk. Tutor. Email.

Shut the computer and projector down. Lock my classroom. Go outside. Get into the car. Start the car. Type home into Google Maps. Pull out of the parking lot. Drive home. Park in the garage. Turn the car off. Go inside. Start dinner. Watch for the kids’ buses. Change clothes. Listen to the TV. Cook. Serve dinner. Watch TV or read. Take a shower. Go to bed. Try to sleep.

The rhythm of my life seems simple, boring to an extent, yet there is comfort in the monotony. When an entire year of your life revolved around cancer treatments every three weeks, surgeries every three to four months, daily radiation treatments, and the uncertainty, fear, and terror which accompanies the sentence, “It’s cancer,” monotony can be beautiful.

I enjoy the rhythm, the rhyme of my routine. It soothes and comforts. It reminds me that life doesn’t stop. I am, for now, able to do all these things. I may not be able to do so in the future.

Illness and death are such touchy, taboo topics. No one wants to be sick. No one wants to die. Yet, death is part of the human condition. We’re frail, mortal beings. It’s not for us to be eternal. Our memories, our creations, what we leave behind may stand the test of time, but our mortal selves? No. We return to the earth to become part of the circle of life.

Life is a monotonous rhythm. Birth. Growth. Death. So, the cycle goes. We create the rhythm of our lives, the soundtrack to which we live, but the inescapable fact is that death will come whether we’re ready or not, and truly, who is really ready? We all want that last moment with someone to last forever, to be eternal, but it cannot be. That is the paradox of time. The more we have, the more we want, so the less we have.

Too many people in my life lately have been touched by cancer. A friend’s beloved boss. A former coworker. I’m tired of this scourge, of the rhythm of cancer.

Diagnosis. Appointment. Scan. Appointment. Treatment. Appointment. Lab work. Treatment. Appointment. Lab work. Scan. Appointment. Ad nauseum.

The rhythm of cancer is a discordant line, clashing against the steady melody of life. Yet, we adapt and bring it into harmony for as long as we can as a way of control. We crave control because with cancer, life is not something we control. We are at the mercy of doctors and scans and treatments and surgeries. Controlling cancer is an illusion, but it is a necessary illusion; for without the mirage that we can control it, our lives would spiral, sink into quicksand, be lost to the chaos.

And, so, we learn to love, to welcome, monotony where, for a little while, all aspects of our lives hum the same note. It’s comfort. It’s life.