breast cancer, family, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Dumpster Fire

Dumpster Fire Bitmoji

Picture courtesy of Bitmoji. No infringement intended.

Merriam-Webster added dumpster fire to the dictionary in 2018. “An utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence : disaster” is the definition.

My personal life was a dumpster fire for the 2017-2018 school year.

My father’s deteriorating health and the stress it put on my mother was unspeakably hard. My father is completely bedridden at this point. My mom is a teacher as well. Throughout the year, she woke between 4:00-4:30 am to tend to my dad, got to her school between 6:00 and 6:15 am so she had an hour to herself to prepare for her day before students arrived at 7:15. She worked until nearly 4:00 pm most days. At home, she tended my dad, assisted with his physical therapy, and did everything he needed until she fell asleep only to start all over again. While she worked, my sister tended my dad. She cooked and cleaned. She answered his questions and summons. She dealt with medical issues. The two of them are on 24/7. It is stressful and hard. I can’t make it easier for them except to take them out to eat or shop when I can. My mom and my sister are the real MVPs.

My marriage nearly came apart at the seams. I won’t talk about specifics, but let me say this and emphasize how much I mean this, no one is more surprised than me that my marriage survived this school year. The problems and challenges A and I faced this year were honestly harder than the challenges we faced during the 2015-2016 school year when I spent that entire school year in treatment for breast cancer. There were more times than I care to remember where the phrase “Get it together or you have to go,” was spoken. Things between us were worse than anyone, including our family (until now…SURPRISE!), truly knew. I’m not sure anyone except one of my best friends knew things were bad, and even she didn’t really know how bad until I told her two weeks ago. On that end, things are better. A and I have been together since I was 17. It’ll be 23 years this November. We decided we were worth fighting for, that our marriage did not survive cancer to succumb now, that S and AJ needed to us to be us. It’s not been easy to repair the damage done, but we are. We’re trying. It’s hard. But, we’re tough, and we love each other. Stress is a hell of a thing, though, on a marriage.

I struggled with a depressive episode that took me to rock bottom, to a darkness I didn’t know existed. So many friends have been so surprised by my admission that throughout winter and spring I fought depression. I guess it was easy to hide from them because, to be honest, my social life was nonexistent throughout the winter and spring. Truly, I didn’t do anything with anyone except go over to a friend’s house once to see her and her new baby. No one invited me to do anything with them, and I didn’t invite anyone to do anything. If anyone had invited me, I would’ve declined. I would’ve found a reason not to go out with my friends. I didn’t want anyone to know how depressed I was or how close my marriage was to the edge or to discuss the state of my dad’s health. I stayed to myself, and people let me. I let me.

I had a cancer reoccurence scare in the midst of all of this. My lower back hurt for weeks. It was unrelenting. Thankfully, MRIs showed a deteriorating disc and arthritis. Still, that scare added stress and added something else for me to hide, to keep to myself, because the last thing I wanted was questions and pity. I told no one, not even family. Only A. I didn’t want them to worry. My mom and sister had enough on their hands. So, I stayed silent.

Stress upon stress upon stress upon stress.

The perfect storm of calamity.

Last week, my sister told me it’s time for A and I to catch a break. She said we deserve a break. I’m not sure that’s fair. Everyone deserves a break, but I know where she’s coming from because it’s been three years of hell for us.

My mom is a believer in threes. Deaths come in threes. Good things come in threes. Bad things come in threes. She told me since we’d had three bad years with three calamitous events, it’s time to hope for the good. And, we’ve had some good since this summer began. We’ve had some really good news throughout June. My June check up with my radiation oncologist was so normal he released me from further check ups. My June check up with Dr. O, my breast cancer oncologist, was blessedly normal, and I received my second infusion of Zometa. Dr. O took me to task for gaining some weight. I deserved it, and I’m working on it. I saw her a week ago. I’ve lost two pounds already. It’s not much, but it’s a start. A starts a new job week after next. He’s excited. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for him. I’m thrilled for him. It’s the answer to prayers and pleas. That’s three…three good things. A says there’s no reason to expect for anything more than for the good to continue. Maybe he’s right. I want him to be. But, I’m a pessimist. I told him I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. He rolled his eyes at me and told me to stop.

I posted on Twitter tonight that I’d never felt the dumpster fire bitmoji harder than I did today after reflecting on the school year and realizing how much my dumpster fire of a personal life affected my professional life. I posted that the only thing I can really do is what the bitmoji does -walk away from the dumpster fire. I can’t change what happened. I can learn from it. I can try harder. I can acknowledge how hard the last nine months of my life has been and commit to doing what I can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I can’t stop everything that happened -some of it is out of my hands. I can look forward to a clean slate, a new start.

That’s what I can do right now.

 

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breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

The Importance of Taking Care of Me

Went to take a quick nap at 6:30 pm yesterday evening…woke up at 6:40 am this morning.
I-have-come-to-believe-that-caring-for-myself-is-not-self-indulgent.-Caring-for-myself-is-an-act-of-survival.-Andre-Lorde
Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.
 

I used to feel really guilty and really bad about doing that, falling asleep and leaving A on his own with the kids, but the truth is this: If I don’t take time for myself and recharge, I’m useless. Cancer treatment, and the medication I take every single day to hopefully keep the cancer from coming back, on top of dealing with the after effects of one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve ever had , is a lot to deal with on any given day. Some days, my body, my mind, and my heart just need to rest. Last night was one of those nights. I have no shame in admitting cancer did a number to my body, my heart -literally, since one of the medications I had to be on causes heart damage and my course of radiation also had a pretty high likelihood of causing heart damage-, my mind, and my soul.

It has been a difficult number of months for me personally. My father’s health and physical abilities continue to decline putting more and more stress on my mother and sister. I am the shoulder to cry on and ear to vent to in my group of friends, and there has been a lot of crying and venting, for them and for me. I am a fixer. I want to solve problems and fix issues. There are situations right now I cannot fix nor can I solve. It is incredibly draining and scary.

Last night, when I went to take that nap, the thought going through my head was “I am responsible for me and those two little kids playing in their rooms. I am not responsible for everything else.”

I have to tell myself that over and over because on the personal side of my life, I feel responsible for EVERYTHING going wrong right and for EVERYTHING that’s out of place. I have to believe, as Henslowe assured Fennyman in Shakespeare in Love that sometimes we can’t do anything except trust because things mysteriously turn out well. I’m putting my trust in a number of people, and that’s really hard for me. I do not, nor have I ever, trusted people easily. That’s why I have a small group of friends. That’s why I don’t open up easily to others. I know what it’s like to be stabbed in the back by friends who were secret Brutuses. I know what it’s like to have your trust betrayed. So, it’s very hard for me to trust outside my family and group of friends, and to be honest, I don’t even trust everyone in my family. I just don’t give my trust easily. I’m hoping, and I’m not someone who hopes easily either, Henslowe is right. Things will work out mysteriously well. Things will be all right because right now, they’re not. They’re so not.

The school year is coming to a close. It’s been a good year for me professionally. I was named ELAR Teacher of the Year for my campus, a shared honor as two of us were named. I branched out to take some other responsibilities. Beginning next school year, I will also work for an educational company as a consultant in addition to my teaching responsibilities. I’ve been hired by College Board to score AP exams this summer. These may seem like little things, but for me, they’re huge. I continue to grow as a teacher, as far as I’m concerned, we should never stop learning, and to that end, I’m attending two professional conferences this summer, one week long and one long weekend.

My six-month checkup is beginning to loom large on the horizon. It’s at the end of June…June 29th to be exact. Right now, I don’t feel anything about it. My heart doesn’t catch, yet, when I think about it, but the closer it gets, the more my heart will catch and cancer will fuel my dreams.

Life has not been easy over the last three years. There have been months long stretches of heavy, hard things, not just cancer. Hard life lessons. I’m caught in one of those stretches right now of hard life lessons.

I told a friend last week as I cried on her shoulder -virtually, through text messages, as I literally cried, sitting in my closet where no one could hear me- I feel like Fate, God, whatever hates me. She replied she doesn’t believe in a god, but even if she did, she didn’t believe anything hates me. She said sometimes life is hard, things are hard. Last night, the hard caught up with me. I couldn’t take anymore -no one else’s worries, no one else’s concerns, no one else’s burdens. I had to shoulder my own, and last night, my body, my heart, my soul, and my mind craved sleep. So, I slept. As the cliché says, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Yesterday, my cup was empty. I had to take care of me. Today, my cup is fuller because I took care of me last night.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It is self-care. You cannot take care of others if you pour yourself totally empty. You exist as a shell. I’ve done that over the last few months, poured myself completely empty. I’ve existed as a shell. I told myself no more. So, I slept. I turned off my phone. I slept.

I took care of me.

 

breast cancer, family, kids, life

Absurdity

My mind is consumed right now with worries and concerns that aren’t truly mine to bear, yet I feel if I don’t shoulder them in some way, no one will. Some are above my role, so to speak. Some are on my shoulders because others put them there for they don’t know how to carry them, or worse, don’t want to do so.

My mind spins.

I want to scream at the world, but the wind would just blow it back to me.

This is my safe space, my place to process, the place cancer created, but not a single worry and concern on my shoulders right now relates to cancer. I was no evidence of disease at my check up and blood work on Monday. For that news alone, I am grateful. I am humbled. I am relieved.

Yet, I am Sisyphus. The rock I push rolled back down the mountain on Friday, not from cancer. Thankfully, not from cancer. As I look at the rock, I question my ability to shove it, inch by painstaking inch, back up the mountain, for this time, is the burden truly mine to bear? My heart says yes, my gut says yes, and I’ve made it a point over the last three years to listen to my heart and gut instead of my brain. So, I square up in front of the rock, this boulder, this weight upon my shoulders. And, I take a step. The rock doesn’t budge, but I stand here with all my weight pressed into it, willing it to move up the mountain, just a bit because if I move and let go, I don’t know that anyone will move in to take my place, to hold the rock steady, to push the rock, to assume the burden.

This has been my role for as long as I can remember, shouldering burdens that are not mine to bear, taking blame for problems I did not create but feel responsibility.

It is the definition of absurdism.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Cancer is why

The integrated medicine specialist I saw yesterday who told me I’m pretty much doing everything wrong and compromising my chances of living without a occurrence also told me that they were impressed with how calmly and unemotionally I can recite my history from the past three years. I was also told the fact I can be so unemotional about it is not a good thing, and in fact, it comes off as

uncaring.

Stoic.

Arrogant.

Here’s the reason people like me wear a mask every day: We’re tired of being hurt. We’re tired of wondering when the next shoe is going to drop. We’re tired of not knowing what to expect. We’re tired of thinking we’re doing the right thing, but as usual, it’s the wrong thing, or it’s the right thing, but it’s not right enough.

Do you honestly think I don’t feel horrible that my diet sucks so much? Do you honestly think I don’t feel like I’ve damned myself? Do you honestly think I don’t feel like I’m ruining my family’s lives because my body betrayed me at thirty seven years old? Do you honestly think I enjoy thinking EVERY SINGLE DAY that EVERY SINGLE ACHE or PAIN or FUNNY FEELING is the cancer? Do you HONESTLY think that?

And, do you honestly think I’m the one in the wrong for wearing a mask to protect myself? For guarding my heart? Do you honestly think A is wrong for it? Honestly? With everything we’ve been through the last several years, life reads like a damned Shakespearean tragedy.

December 2, 2013: Mom diagnosed with colon cancer.

December 26, 2013: Mom hospitalized for a life threatening obstruction and infection resulting in emergency surgery and a two week hospital stay.

January 2014-May 2014: Mom unable to work for months because of complications to colon cancer treatment and surgeries.

June 2014-August 2014: Mom recovers and continues chemo.

September 2014-May 2015: Mom has more surgeries from colon cancer and treatments. Mom has every side effect or complication possible, including resulting in a wound vac.

July 2015: I decided to follow my heart back into teaching. A accepted a new, very challenging position. Both of us excited at the possibilities.

August 2015: Breast cancer. Stage 2A. IDC. HER2+.

September 2015-January 2016: TCHP chemo regimen. Private family emergency occurs. I completely and earn my master’s degree while undergoing chemo.

February 2016: Mastectomy. SURPRISE! The cancer is in your lymph nodes AND it’s ER+.  No HER2 cancer left behind.

February 2016: Started Tamoxifen. Continued Herceptin.

March 2016: Worst headache I’ve ever had triggers a brain CT. Began radiation. Still Herceptin’ ing. Brain CT normal -Thank all the things.

April 2016: Finished radiation. Still Herceptin’ ing.

May 2016-June 2016: Recovered from radiation while getting Herceptin every three weeks.

July 2016: DIEP flap reconstruction. Still Herceptin ‘ing.

August 2016: Returned to work less than three weeks after DIEP. Still Herceptin ‘ing.

September 2016: Last Herceptin. 1 year scans. NED.

October 2016: Complications from DIEP reconstruction.

November 2016: Dad starts complaining of headaches. Move into new house.

December 2016: Settle into new house.

January 2016-February 2017: Dad complains of headaches.

March 2017: Dad has a seizure. I have an oophorectomy on A’s birthday.

April 2017-June 2017 Dad’s health deteriorates. He has a brain tumor. Looks benign. Still has seizures.

July 2017: Roadtrip for me and the kids. A accepts a new position and changes jobs.

August 2017: Dad has brain surgery resulting in loss of function on left side and begins intensive rehab.

September 2017: 2 year scans. NED. Dad moved to skilled nursing.

October 2017: Dad moved home with in house therapy. Requires 24/7 care.

November 2017: Headaches for me scaring me to death. A develops bronchitis. No improvement in Dad.

In this same stretch of time, A’s uncle died, his mom had surgery, his dad lost his job and found a new one, his brother broke up with his fiancee, his sister graduated from college, his grandparents have had health scares, particularly his 90 year old grandfather who lives over a thousand miles away from us.

It does not remotely touch family stress, daily stress, or anything specific to jobs. This does not remotely touch the stress of living with someone who’s had cancer. Caretakers endure enormous stress. If you think for one minute my cancer and fears don’t touch A, you’re wrong. He’s like me -stoic. What else can we be? We have two young children. Cancer yanked our best laid plans for our lives out from under us. And, because he guards his heart as zealously as I guard mine, we’re wrong.

When I was little, around 10 years old, a family member, in anger, told me something I’ve never forgotten or forgiven myself for: I don’t know when to shut up and because I don’t, I make things so much worse for everyone around me. Imagine how it feels now because I’ve had cancer. Imagine the guilt I feel every…single…day.

I cry every single day. EVERY day. I cry because I’m scared these headaches mean brain mets. I cry because I blame myself anytime A has a bad day. I cry because I fear what will happen to my children if they watch me die from cancer. I cry because I had cancer.

It is what it is.

I don’t know how to be any different than who I am. I don’t ask A to be any different than he is. Cancer changed us. I’m sorry my cancer changed me and changed him. But, it did. I can’t fix it. I can’t fix cancer. I. Can’t. Fix. It.

I’ve spent the last four years constantly trying to put out fires that just get bigger, get worse, get scarier, and I’ve done it all with the facade of “This is fine. Everything is fine.”

Last night, a friend sent me this picture message:

rough days
Found by a friend on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

My track record is 100%. Yesterday sucked. There’s no kinder, nicer, cleaner way of saying it. It just sucked. Today, honestly, isn’t that great either because I have a nagging heaviness in my head around my left temple, and it’s scaring me. I didn’t wake up with it, I’m not nauseous or dizzy or seeing spots. It’s not progressive. It’s none of the things I’ve Googled when I Google “what do breast cancer brain mets feel like?” Here’s the rub: I have to Google that because…I had a cancer. I had cancer. At thirty seven. I. Had. Cancer. And, as I was told yesterday, if I don’t start eating better and exercising and losing weight and ALL the things I’ve been told since I was diagnosed, I’m upping my risk of dying from breast cancer.

You wonder why I wear a mask? Why I guard my heart? Why A is stoic?

Cancer is why.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Undecided

IMG_2270
Found on Pinterest and directed here. No infringement intended.

My phone rang at 2:20 this afternoon. The screen said Texas Oncology. Today is Tuesday. Today is the day Dr. O would call if something showed up on the scan.

I didn’t like seeing that caller ID on my phone. My heart raced, but I knew it could also be Dr. O’s nurse with referral or medication information. For a split second, I thought of sending the call to voicemail. But, I didn’t. I answered the phone as I walked out of my classroom.

The call was to update me about the referral (it’s in progress). After the nurse finished giving me the update, I told her my first thought was this call had something to do with the scan since today is Tuesday. She went quiet for a minute before saying, “Nope…scan looks good. Nothing on it. We’ll rescan in a year.”

I thanked her, ended the call, and bent over, hands to knees just to breathe for a minute or two. I might have stayed that way longer if not for a junior who saw me in the hall and asked me if I was ok. I plastered on my smile, told her everything was fine, and I went back to my classroom.

I posted my news on Twitter.

I planned my lessons for the next grading cycle.

I came home.

The kids came home.

S did homework.

AJ went to a friend’s house for a bit and then went to karate.

S and I window shopped for Halloween.

I picked up AJ.

We came home.

S drew and watched TV.

AJ showered.

The kids said their good nights.

The house grew quiet.

The daily routine of family life, of my life, a daily routine I cherish even when it makes me crazed, a daily routine I would not have without Dr. O and the American Cancer Society (Herceptin).

I have a choice, the same choice I’ve had for over two years: be ruled by my fear or rule my fear.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I know, at this moment, I’m profoundly grateful to be stable with no detectable amount of active cancer in my body. I know that could change at any time, or I may remain no evidence of disease for the rest of my life.

I’m not ready to commit to saying I’m done being afraid. I’ve had cancer. One of my nightmares came true. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done being afraid of it. What I can commit to is finding a better way to cope. I deserve that.

No grandiose promises, no unsustainable commitments.

I’ve had cancer.

But, for the moment, I don’t.

Now, I have to learn to cope.

After all, I’ve had cancer.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

My Spoons Are Running Low

IMG_2233

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, family, life, Uncategorized

Straight to the Feels

I fell down the rabbit hole of cancer articles this afternoon -some feel good, some not-so-feel good. I started out reading an article from an invaluable resource I stumbled upon on Twitter months ago, and from there, the rabbit hole deepened.

As I read the articles, the blog posts, the personal essays, they were like sucker punches. Straight to the feels.

This has been a rough day. I slept horribly.    My son had an argument with one of his friends and was really upset. My daughter sensed the tension in the house today and took refuge in her room. I’ve been a ticking time bomb of emotion since I fell down the rabbit hole this afternoon.

I still believe this is my fault. I did something wrong. I had a 1 in 220 chance of breast cancer at 37. I had a .4 chance. Yet, here I am. What did I do wrong? Nothing, everything. Cells are innumerable, and all it takes is a clump to go nuts. Some of my cells went nuts and grew a tumor. I have breast cancer thanks to those haywire cells. I couldn’t stop it. I know that, but it happened to me. My body betrayed me.

Betrayals linger and sting, burn and hurt.

August is coming, the 2 year anniversary of my diagnosis. Watching the calendar move closer to those days where I had appointments and tests and biopsies is traumatic. Knowing those days await is traumatic. A breast cancer diagnosis is traumatic. Treatment is traumatic -chemo, radiation, targeted therapies, and immune therapies if needed. Surgery is traumatic. Completing treatment is traumatic. Going for checkups is traumatic. Going for scans is traumatic. Cancer is an assault on the body, the mind, the soul. As I wrote last year, a diagnosis of breast cancer is something that never goes away, no matter the stage. It’s always there, and it’s always traumatic, and it’s more traumatic for some than others. It does not make a person weak, the person who struggles with the diagnosis every single day -a person like me, who searches for the way to make this wrong a right knowing intellectually I did nothing wrong, but the human need to make amends is there, strong sometimes, demanding to be felt.

I have not moved on from being asked why I thought I developed cancer, the unspoken blame. I have not moved on from being told I should be happy about getting new breasts, the insinuation if I were happier, cancer would be easier. Nothing about cancer, any cancer, is easy. I wish people internalized that.

The healthcare battle in Congress over these weeks and weeks has been traumatizing, fearing I could be facing lifetime and annual caps on my insurance, discrimination because of breast cancer. I cried when the three GOP senators voted no. I felt a moment of reprieve.

A moment of reprieve. That’s what I get with the shadow of cancer -moments of reprieve.

I vacillate from happiness to despair, joy to anger, shame to apathy. I liken cancer to a roller coaster, and like a roller coaster, the track is rarely just straight. As I coast towards these cancerversaries, the track twists and climbs, drops and frightens. I am frightened. I want so badly to be fearless, to be the person who’s been diagnosed with cancer and becomes better than they were, stronger than they were, happier than they were.

I wish I were, but I’m not. I still put on a mask most days -I’m ok. I’m fine. No, nothing’s wrong. Most fall for the mask. They’re happy to believe I’m ok. They don’t see the sadness, the fear in my eyes.

I’ve yelled at A today, picked fights with him. I’m moody, scared and sad. I’m struggling today. Everyday is a struggle. Some days are harder than others. Today is a harder day. I had nightmares last night, didn’t sleep well, and it would be easy to blame the nightmares and bad sleep on the way I feel right now; however, the truth is simple -today is just a harder day.

“As far as you know, you’re cancer free right now. Stop worrying about it. You’re so dramatic,” I’ve been told by well-meaning friends. Maybe I am dramatic, but I’m doing the best I can. I’ve had cancer, I’ve faced my mortality, and some days are better than others.

I never feel cancer free. I don’t really believe that’s a thing anymore. It’s always there, lurking. Cancer is my Grim Reaper. Death always lurks around us. We’re mortal. Cancer makes me feel it more acutely.

I’ve been told I have to wake up every day with the mindset to win. I hate that. Cancer isn’t win or lose. It just is. Why do we lose to cancer? I hate that saying. I hate that mindset. Isn’t living that battle? We don’t lose to death. My great-grandmother died at 101. No one said she lost to old age. One of my grandfathers died in his eighties after living for years with Alzheimer’s. No one said he lost to Alzheimer’s. So, why do cancer patients lose? That’s demoralizing. No one facing a life-threatening illness is a loser. We all succumb to something. Why is cancer associated with loss? Death is loss. It just is. It exists, we all face it, we all know we are not promised tomorrow, yet when tomorrow doesn’t happen for a person with cancer, society says that person lost. It’s infuriating.

While I hope with all my being I will not succumb to breast cancer, I know it’s a possibility, and if that possibility comes true, don’t ever say I lost to cancer.

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.