Uncategorized, breast cancer, life

Lines and Shapes

quotes-about-living-life-tattoos
From morefamousquotes.com No infringement intended

It’s National Tattoo Day. I’m not sure why that’s a thing. Once upon a time, I swore I’d never have a tattoo. To confess, I used to side eye tattoos. Then, I got cancer, understood the fragility and brevity of life, lived with pity stares, developed a new attitude, and decided to live for myself. Now,I have 5 tattoos, much to my mother’s chagrin (sorry, mom, I love you, but I’m still getting more tattoos).

I began getting inked after my one year cancerversary. I chose a phoenix on my ankle for my first tattoo, not because of my Harry Potter obsession, but because phoenix rise from the ashes, and let’s face it, cancer is a fire. Residing on my right wrist is my second tattoo, a healing symbol with a compass embedded into it as a reminder that healing takes time and when it’s hard, look north. My third and fourth tattoos are 3D areola tattoos done by Marie Sena, an incredibly kind, compassionate, and talented tattoo artist, one of the markedly few tattoos artists in the US who specializes in these kind of unique tattoos. My fifth tattoo, also done by Marie Sena, is a sternum piece, an homage to Adam and our kids -a bouquet of flowers, a rose for Aidan, an aster for Samantha, and a daffodil for Adam -their birth month flowers. In September, Marie will do my sixth tattoo to celebrate what gets me through the dark times in my life besides family -my love of reading and Harry Potter. It’s a custom piece of books and owls, of Felix Felicis and Hogwarts.

I’ve been asked that age-old question, “What about when you get old…don’t you think you’ll regret them?”

No. I don’t. It’s one of the ways I cope with cancer, and let’s face it, if I live to be “old,” I want to have these reminders of what life threw at me.

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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.

 

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, life, Uncategorized

Ladders

I’m posting this at A’s urging. He claims it’s one of my finer pieces of writing and that it deserves to see the light of day. It’s a hard, raw piece of my life the last few months.

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I stopped wearing makeup. That was the first clue, the sign everyone missed because I explained it away so easily. Some lies tip off my tongue without pause.

I wanted to sleep an extra 20-30 minutes in the morning. That was the second clue, the sign everyone missed because it was easy to believe. I’m never one to skip a chance to sleep in if I can.

I like to sleep. That was the third clue, the third sign everyone missed because teachers are perpetually exhausted. I escaped through sleep.

But, the sleep came with sad dreams, my imagination at play without the constraints I put on it during my waking hours. I refused to let what was going on for me personally affect my professional life. Once at home, though, the demons played. At night, my worst thoughts and deepest fears flew free. When morning came, I woke up, more exhausted than the night before, and I didn’t want to wake up, put on makeup, think about clothes. I wanted to pull the covers over my head, cry myself back to sleep, and hope I’d find rest and solace.

Rest and solace eluded me. They never came. Instead, sudden, intense pain in my lower back came. Unbidden. Unwanted. My scumbag brain fed my fears.

After an emotional Sunday afternoon, my husband, stressed out and nearing his breaking point, demanded I call Dr. O the next morning.

I did. I expected to be told to take a muscle relaxer and call back in two weeks if the pain had not subsided.

Instead, I got blood work, an exam, and two MRIs at a cost of over $1000 because for the first time in two years, I had yet to meet my out of pocket maximum by the end of February.

Two breathless days later, I got a call. Spinal arthritis, likely brought on by my daily AI. “Start yoga,” the nurse said. “Let’s try that before adding more medication.”

“OK,” was my reply.

Then, the nurse, gently, “Dr. O wants you to see someone for your depression and anxiety. It’s in the notes she talked to you about it and gave you a name. Have you made an appointment?”

A long pause. “No. I’m ashamed.”

“You have nothing to be ashamed of. Make the appointment.”

A long pause. “OK.”

Later that week, I made the appointment. I saw someone. They prescribed an anti-depressant.

It’s been a month now. The world looks different. I look different. I’m climbing out of this deep, dark, awful hole I’ve lived in for the last three months. I’m beginning to get up earlier. I give myself time to decide if I want to play with make up or use that time to drink a cup of coffee while reading a chapter of a book. Most days, I drink a cup of coffee and read a book. I got a haircut today. It’s the first haircut I’ve gotten since December. My pixie isn’t a pixie anymore. I can’t decide what I want to do -grow it out or cut it back -but today I care about my appearance. I haven’t cared about it in months.

January and February are nebulous to me. They exist in a fog. My memory of them is hazy. They are sadness, worthlessness, fear, anxiety.

So much has happened in my family over the last three months. So many bad and negative things. Those and the cancer scare triggered a depressive episode the likes of which I’d never known.

I wish I’d never known.

This ladder is tall. I’m climbing it. I’ve stumbled on a couple of rungs. But, I know what the bottom looks like, and it’s not a place I want to revisit. So, I climb.

Slowly. Carefully. Delicately.

The top may be far above me, but at least I’m no longer a stone’s throw away from the bottom anymore. I’m still delicate. I’m wary. I’m distrusting. But, I’m climbing. I’m trying. The antidepressant is working. Life is still throwing curveballs, but now, I’m trying to catch them and throw them back. I wasn’t before. I took them to the face over and over and didn’t care. There are still days where I don’t care, but those days are fewer.

I’ve walked a long, dark, and sad road the last several months. I hid it with excuses but dropped clues like a bird drops feathers, and like a bird’s feathers, few picked up my clues, and even fewer put the clues together.

As the days go by, I’m regaining myself and my personality, my come-at-me-bro personality, my I-walked-the-fire-and-came-out-a-Phoenix personality, my “She wore her scars as her best attire. A stunning dress made of hellfire” personality.

Slowly. Carefully. Delicately.

Uncategorized

Regrets and Anger

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Not mine. No infringement intended

This has been me over the last three weeks. I cry where no one can hear or see me. I wipe my tears and put myself back together. I keep going. No one hugs me or rubs my back or says meaningless platitudes because honestly, I don’t let them. As a child, I became a master of hiding my feelings. It’s not a talent I’ve lost as an adult. This week, though, I’ve cracked a lot more. The facade has broken a lot more, and it keeps happening at work during my conference period. In other words, at the worst damned time.

I have fear of missing out at work. I always have. Consequently, I work as hard as I can. I want to do better, be better. I want to learn new things, try new techniques. I expect so much of myself as a teacher, but after last week, I feel so inadequate as a teacher.

I have the wrong master’s degree. Two years ago, I earned a Master of Educational Leadership. I thought I wanted to go into administration.

I was wrong. I don’t. I belong in a classroom. I know that with every fiber of my being. I didn’t even bother to take the principal certification exam even though I made an A on the pretest my university requires of all principal test candidates. I knew by then I didn’t want to be a principal. By then, cancer had come calling and had shown me, very quickly, what I’m really meant to do.

It’s increasingly becoming the expectation that you have a master’s degree in your subject or a master’s in something with 18 hours in your subject. I need five more English classes to have 18 hours of graduate English. Five classes.

I can’t afford them right now. And, I feel an urgency to get them, to do it right now, but I can’t. We can’t afford it, and A is vehemently against me taking out any loans because we have to think about our finances.

He’s not wrong, but it’s a bitter, bitter pill I’ve been trying to swallow since Thursday night. See, Thursday I found out I’ve been accepted to an accelerated Master of English program. I can’t accept the offer. I can’t afford it.

It’s a bitter, bitter pill. I’ll apply to a few other programs that are a little cheaper, but even then…it’s doubtful.

I feel like so many opportunities are going to pass me by because I worked my tail off on the wrong master’s degree, a degree I was proud of, but now? I regret it and am so angry I made another wrong decision in my life. What a waste.

I’m going to be 40 this week. 40. At least I lived to see it, but damn, is it really all downhill from here? It feels like it, especially now. I have a mountain of debt from cancer. I have a mountain of credit debt again (see cancer debt). I have so many regrets. I’ll never be rich. I don’t want to be, but I wish things were easier. I wish they were different. I wish I were different. I wish I weren’t sad and angry, but I am.

40 years have almost passed for me. I’m angry and full of regret, so really, I guess it’s no different than any other birthday for me.

breast cancer, kids, life, Uncategorized

Surgery and Self Esteem

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My self esteem took a nosedive on Friday for no other reason than I looked in a mirror as I changed clothes.

Scars everywhere on my torso. Port. Mastectomy. DIEP reconstruction. Oophorectomy. 7 scars. Seven vivid reminders of cancer.

Sometimes, it’s just too much, and Friday, the second anniversary of my mastectomy, the second anniversary of finding cancer in the sentinel nodes, the second anniversary of finding ER+ cancer in the breast tissue, the scars overwhelmed.

My life has changed so much over the last two years. Sometimes it catches up to me.

Friday was one of those days.

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.

Uncategorized

Code Breakers

Me….the day of Chemo 3

Facebook On This Day popped up a memory from two years ago today that I would like to forget. I had just had chemo 3, and as typical for my chemo cocktail, by day 5 post treatment, I didn’t feel great, but chemo 3 was different. By then, Taxotere, carboplatin, perjeta, and Herceptin had begun building up in my system. My counts were lowered. I caught a cold. Perjeta can have side effects on digestive systems and skin, and boy, did it on mine. Three days post treatment, the digestive effects were in full swing, and the medicine was barely keeping them manageable. Five days post treatment, I woke up with my right thigh covered in red, angry, painful pustules. I slapped bandages on them and went to work, making sure my other medicines were in my bag. Six days post chemo 3, I woke up with a scratchy voice, still painful skin on my right thigh with more pustules, and a new embarrassing side effect, an extremely painful one, too, related to the digestive issues. I went to work anyway. I slapped on my make up, my wig, my fake smile, a soft pair of gray pants, a grey sweater, a scarf, and no one knew anything was wrong…except my assistant principal who’s known me for nearly fifteen years. She side eyed me all day. Then…day 7 happened. In my sleep, I’d scratched my thigh. I’d opened some of the pustules. They were angrier, redder, more painful. My stomach couldn’t take anything but water. The other digestive side effect, the embarrassing one, was worse. I sat down on the bathroom floor and sobbed. Against A’s wishes, I got up off the floor, I put bandages on, I pulled on a pair of soft jeans, a navy blue sweater, a scarf, minimal make up, my wig, and my brown boots, and I went to work. I made it until second period. I had to walk my class to an assembly. I made it down my hall to the main hall, and I just couldn’t walk any farther. It just hurt too much. No matter what I did, friction hit the painful places. Skin to skin. Jean fabric to skin. Bandages to skin. My skin, all of it, just hurt. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be -the cancer patient who breezed through chemo without missing work or sliding on their obligations. I couldn’t do it. I leaned on the wall and burst into tears. My AP who had been side eyeing me for days and my head principal saw me. Both came to me immediately, concern etched on their faces. They surrounded me, and I told them I was ok, just tired -my usual answer to “How are you?” I really don’t believe anyone asks that question for any reason but polite speech. Fortunately, neither believed me, and even as my face burned red and my skin ached, they got me to tell the entire tale. They sent me home and made me promise to call my doctor. And, I did. I called Dr. O. I sent her pictures, at her request. She put me on very strong antibiotics, some skin cream, and made me an appointment with a colon specialist for the next day. I missed work that Friday to sleep, to let the antibiotics work, to let my body try and heal, and to see the colon doctor. By that next Monday, I finally, finally, felt better. I went back to school. The antibiotics worked their magic, the colon doctor worked some magic, and I still felt typically terrible, tired with a bad taste in my mouth, but at least my skin didn’t hurt as badly.

I needed people to look out for me. I needed people at work who truly, deeply cared for me, who cared enough to look beyond my mask and to see I was not ok. Sending me home that day, making me promise to call Dr. O, probably saved me from a hospital visit. I didn’t realize the skin problem was as bad as it was. I did though when I picked my antibiotics up and the pharmacist explained them to me. I didn’t realize how close I was to a systemic infection, but I knew how devastating one was to a person with a compromised immune system like mine was at the time.

I needed people who cared enough to look beyond my mask, to break my code, and they did…they do. They are some of the few who care enough to try. For that, I am grateful.

breast cancer, Uncategorized

Pain Fear

cancer face
Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

Today is the first day in five days I have not woken up with a headache. It’s been a dull headache, not often in the same place. Yesterday, it was my left temple. Day before, it was around the top of my head. Day before that, it was at the base of my head and top of my neck. I bet anyone can guess what my first thought was -brain mets. I’ve taken Excedrin Migraine on and off all week.

I woke up this morning without the headache. A’s been very sick most of this week. He has bronchitis, and the cough he has is ridiculous. It kept me up most of last Sunday night and Monday night. I slept upstairs on the air mattress on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I didn’t sleep well there either. That mattress is too hard. Last night, A insisted I sleep in our room. So, before I went to bed, because I still had that dull headache living in my temple, I took 2 Aleve…and, for the first time in a very long time, I took my anxiety medicine. It’s not something I take regularly. I have it for an as needed basis. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been fighting a low level panic attack for awhile. Two women I follow on Twitter and Facebook with Stage 4 breast cancer died this week, both young women. Neither with the kind of breast cancer I had nor diagnosed at the same stage or grade I had. Still, every breast cancer death I hear of hits me hard.

It reminds me I’m always one blood test, one scan away from another cancer diagnosis.

The headache I’ve had kept me in a low level of panic. What if it’s brain mets? That was my question every morning. And, yes, I Googled symptoms of brain mets. Nausea. Vomiting. Progressive headache. Weakness on one side. Loss of appetite. Vision disturbances. Distorted sense of taste or smell. Seizures. I don’t have any of those. The headache isn’t progressive. It’s been the same every day until today when I woke up with out it.

You know, before cancer, I would attribute a headache like this to Texas weather. Our weather in DFW this week has been stereotypical Texas weather. We’ve gone from a cold front with sleet to record setting highs to normal fall weather and back to summer weather. It’s so stupid. Before cancer, I would curse Texas weather messing with air pressure and all that. But, I had cancer, so every ache and pain gets side eyed. Is it a recurrence? Am I okay?

My head doesn’t ache today. It does feel full…a little pressure. But, it doesn’t hurt.

I’m still side eyeing it.

I fear normal aches and pains. I’m nearly 40. I know there are going to be aches and pains, but dammit, I had cancer. That makes everything suspicious, and I freaking HATE it.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Every Morning I Relive My Diagnosis

Either Sunday evenings or Monday mornings, lately, it’s Monday mornings, I fill my pill holder with the pill I need to survive, the pill I need to help my allergies and stop bone pain, the two pills I need to counter my mostly uncontrollable hot flashes, and the pill I take to combat hair loss caused by the pill I need to survive.

Five pills. Every. Single. Day.

I’ve forgotten to take them exactly once. That happened when I switched to arimidex. I had a panic attack in the hospital after my DIEP reconstruction when my plastic surgeon told me I couldn’t take my tamoxifen because of a potential side effect with bleeding. I made my plastic surgeon tell me every single day I was in the hospital why I couldn’t take it. He ended up bringing me literature to read about it. I still called Dr. O, who assured me the few days I would be off tamoxifen were negligible because of its long half-life.

I’m positive if someone told me to stop taking these pills, I would panic. I know it can’t stop the cancer from returning if it’s determined to return, but it’s the best chance I have, along with zometa, which I still haven’t heard if my insurance has approved it, to keep my body an inhospitable place for ER+ cancer to reside.

That and losing fifty pounds. And drinking more water. And exercising.

I have the day off today. My house is quiet. AJ and S are out with A. I chose to stay home because I have a crazy busy week ahead of me. I see Dr. H tomorrow for my six month check up with her. It’s strange, but appointments with her don’t cause my anxiety to rise even though she’s the one who told us exactly what kind of cancer I faced and what my treatments would be. She’s the one who told me my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.

She’s also the one who came to see me early the morning after preforming my mastectomy because she said she needed to see me. She said she knew I would be heading down the worst case scenario train in my mind and she wanted to talk me through everything she knew at the time. She’s the one who told me that the cancer in my lymph nodes and lymph channels was not necessarily a death sentence.

She’s also the one I call, most of the time, when something isn’t right. A new lump. A strange place on the skin. She sees me almost immediately. She’s the one who sent me for imaging last year when she wasn’t 100% sure a lump in my left foob was fat necrosis and asked the radiologist performing the ultrasound to tell me exactly what he saw because she would not send me home knowing nothing because I was terrified. It was fat necrosis.

She’s the one who Dr. B, my longtime OBGYN, sent me to see after I asked her who she would see. She said Dr. H’s name and said, “MY doctor.”

With Dr. H, I don’t feel like a patient, a statistic. I’m a person with a name and a need, and she knows it. Her whole office staff is that way. I’m sure tomorrow my anxiety will flare, and I’m sure walking into Methodist tomorrow afternoon will be hard because I pass by radiation oncology to get to breast oncology, and as wonderful as the radiology oncology department was to me, radiation is a level of hell I never knew existed.

I relive my diagnosis every single day. If it’s not the pills, it’s the doctor’s appointments. If it’s not the doctor’s appointments, it’s the news and social media. If it’s not the GOP destroying health care in America, it’s something.

Every single day reminds me of what I’ve lost and what I stand to lose, and the hell of it is, there is nothing, really, I can do except take the pills and go to the doctor’s appointments. I could do everything right and the cancer could come back. I could

do everything wrong and live to be 101.

I’m a pawn in the chess game of Fate. Forever in limbo, forever reminded of what cancer has done, can do, and might do. Forever wondering what the next move will be.