breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

It all began two years ago

 

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It just hit me…today is a cancerversary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screw you.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

In the quiet

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My mind is quieter tonight. I sit here, reclined in our bed while A sleeps, and though Dr. O was adamant about me getting more sleep, my mind works, processing today.

I remain no evidence of disease.

Another 20-week reprieve.

Monday night, one of my best friends texted me this reminder

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It struck me, the truth in her words, the truth in the privilege of the word “get.”

I’m alive.

What a privilege it is.

Summer appointments are hard because it was this time in 2015 when my gut began screaming at me that something was not right with the hard knot I could feel in my left breast. I ignored my gut until August when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I wonder if I would have called Dr. B if I had not raised my left arm to towel dry my hair that fateful August evening and noticed, with horror, undeniable physical proof something was not right with my left breast. I called Dr. B the next morning. In that moment, my breast cancer roller coaster ride began.

Thanks to Dr. O, I get to be here, for now, and for now is enough. As one of my longtime mentors reminded me when I was first diagnosed, something each day has to be enough, even the smallest thing. That’s gratitude.

I know, come November, my mind is likely to do to me then what it’s done to me over the last three weeks, what I’ve allowed it to do to me. I understand I allow it. I’m not sure how to cope or overcome it. Maybe accepting it, my fear, is enough. I am scared breast cancer will be the end of my story. Appointments with my doctors might always bring up my fears. I have to accept that.

I felt silly at my appointment today. In one hand, I clutched a small, rough amethyst. In my other, I clutched a small chunk of clear quartz. It helped, though, having those in my hands. I rubbed my thumbs along side their edges, smooth and rough, something tangible to concentrate on, to use for stress and anxiety relief. My version of fidget cubes.

My bloodwork was completely, totally, boringly normal. No evidence of anything. No more anemia. No more borderline bad liver numbers. Just normal bloodwork for a 39 years old woman.

I have to go back in September for more bloodwork and scans. Dr. O switched me from tamoxifen to arimidex today. Bone density tests. Vitamin D levels. When I texted my friend with that update, she replied IMG_1823

 

 

 

Get to go.

Privilege.

Life.

I get to spend more time with A, S, and AJ, who buried his head in my neck and wrapped his arms around my shoulders when I told them I saw my cancer doctor for a check up and I’m no evidence of disease.

“I love you, Momma,” AJ whispered.

I kissed his forehead. I got to kiss his forehead.

I get to be with them.

Privilege.

Life.

As I fall asleep tonight, its with these thoughts. My mind processes. My heart grateful.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Superlative

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I don’t make friends easily. I’m not gregarious or outgoing. If I’m at a house party with people I don’t know well, or don’t really want to know well, I’m likely to be off playing with their dog or cat. If they don’t have a pet, I’m likely sitting off somewhere reading the book stashed in my purse or downloaded to my phone.

I don’t trust others easily. I’m suspicious by nature. I tend to look for the worst, to believe the worst. I’m doubtful. It makes me difficult. I recognize this flaw in me. I know it’s a flaw.

We all have flaws.

Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to know people who were willing to break through my shell, my true and dearest friends. They are a small but mighty (and sometimes motley) group.

Tonight, three of us met for dinner. It’s been hard for us to find a time that works, but my friends know I see Dr. O tomorrow for a 20-week check up, and despite having other things to do, the two of them made time for me tonight. As Ash said tonight, “You’d do the same thing for either of us.” Then, she made it clear, I will not go to my appointment tomorrow alone. She will come with me. I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to ask.

These two are my sisters, not of blood, but of love and choice. We are a small, but mighty group.

And, I don’t know what I would do without them. I treasure their friendship.

I treasure them.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Rule of Fear

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I broke down in tears yesterday right before I prepped dinner. I’m pretty good at hiding my tears, or I try to be. I don’t want to worry S or AJ or A. The thing is, though, I’ve been worrying A for weeks. He knows I’m worked up about my upcoming five month check up. He’s not unobservant. It’s his insight, his ability to see the trees and the forest, and his compassion that make him so good at his job and with relationships, which he has to be for his job, too. Building strong, productive relationships is a huge part of his job. It’s not something he takes lightly at work or at home.

He doesn’t tolerate me being down for long. He wants to fix it, to fix me, yet there is no fix.

When he realized I was crying, he followed me into our bedroom, sat down beside me, and asked, “When do you see Dr. O?”

“June 20th at 1:00.”

“So, nine days. You want to be miserable for nine days, there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s your choice. What I can tell you is what I’ve told you for years -when all you do is fret over the future, you steal the joy from now, and you’ll never get now back.”

He’s right. I know he’s right. I’m doing this to myself because I’m scared the cancer is going to come back, and I can’t do a damned thing about it. So, I’ve dug myself into a hole that’s dark, and I’m miserable.

Do I want to be like this for nine days? No. Absolutely not.

The truth is I’m afraid if I let go, I’m inviting the worst to happen. If I stop worrying, I feel like I’m opening myself up to my fears coming true.

A coworker posted an article on Facebook this weekend about the neuroscience of happiness. She’s an RN, and I swear, this article was meant for me to see. It states, “Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:

  • Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.”

I stopped the gratitude journal I was told to keep by my cancer counselor. That was stupid of me.

When I was a teenager, every single weekday morning, I did a devotional before school began. I found these devotional guides, I can’t even remember what they’re called now, but every page or so was a story or prompt or Bible verse and guided questions. Each ended with a fill-in-the-blank prayer which focused on the lesson. I don’t want a Bible based devotional, though. As I’ve said before, my relationship with God and church is complicated at best. It’s just not as simple as it was when I was a kid. Too much baggage. Too much heartbreak. Too much disappointment.

I do want a meditation journal, though. Something similar to what I had as a teenager with guided lessons and specific targets. I remember how calming and soothing it was to start out each school day with it.

I bought the Sunrise Manifesto a few weeks ago. I haven’t started it, yet, but maybe I will this week. Every lesson begins with a gratitude question. Neuroscience says just searching for gratitude is enough to trigger the right brain response. I’ll give it a go. My current brain response sucks.

As for naming the negative feeling, it’s fear. I’m freaking afraid (not the f word I want to use, but my mom reads my blog and would yell at me, and yes, I’m 39 and still have a healthy fear of my mom).

I’m scared.

I’m terrified.

I once read to help yourself with your fears, look at yourself in the mirror and say the fears out loud. I’ve done that.

I. Have. Cancer.

It’s my reality. I. Have. Cancer. I’ll always have cancer, even if I live to my hundreds and die in my sleep like my great-grandmother who died in her sleep at 101. Remission doesn’t mean cured. It means dormant. Asleep. Undetectable.

I’m scared of the cancer returning, of not being around for S and AJ. I’m scared of the cancer returning, of not being able to work and ruining A’s financial stability. I’m scared of the cancer returning, of dying a slow, painful death.

I’m. Scared.

There. I labeled the negative emotion. Now, I have to decide how I want to spend the days leading to my five month check up. Day-by-day. As my mom tells me, one day at a time. That’s good enough.

S and AJ are full of hugs. It’s the first thing they do after waking up. They come find me and give good morning hugs. That’s good enough.

All of this is literally in my head. The choice are mine. I can let my fear of cancer rule me or I can rule my fear.

It’s ruling me right now. I can either say enough or remain miserable.

It’s so hard to be bigger than my fear, and truthfully?

I don’t know if I can.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

I need something

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I need something to do, something to take my mind off my upcoming 5-month check up, something to take my mind off cancer, something.

I’ve read two books in the last six days.

I’ve taken my kids swimming four times in the last five days.

I’ve seen two movies with my kids in the last seven days.

My kids have pretty much done everything possible to shove summer vacation into seven days.

My mind keeps whirling.

I haven’t slept well in weeks.

I can’t shake the ten pounds I’ve gained since the oophorectomy.

I overspent our budget. A lot.

Summer is not starting out the best…

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

You need to be a happier person

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Today is World Cancer Survivor’s Day. I don’t know if I was supposed to celebrate or punch a wall.

I did neither

Instead, I sobbed and yelled at God today.

I know I’m not worthy. I know I’m not the greatest person. I make mistakes. I’m prone to jealousy and melancholy. But. I try. I love with my whole heart. I hate the lack of compassion in the world. I’m scared of the hate in the world. I know I’m not worthy. I know you don’t particularly care about me. I’m tired of being told you love me, you gave me this burden to grow, to show others how to move this rock. I’m tired. I just want to see my babies grow up. I’ve watched 15 high school graduation as a teacher. I’ve sat in 2 as a relative. Will I sit in S’s? In AJ’s? I know I’m not worthy. I know you don’t like me. But, dammit, I’m not the worst person in the world. I’m not the worst person in my family. People say you only give us what makes us stronger, but that’s crap. If this was to make me stronger, what’s next? All this has done is make me weaker. I know I’m not worthy. I’m just me. I wish I were good enough.

A told me he wishes I’d find some happy. “If you keep being miserable for something that hasn’t happened, you’re wasting time you could be happy.”

I know that. I do. I know being miserable, on guard, wondering when the cancer will return to rot my life as it rots my body, does me no good. I know.

But, on this graduation weekend, on this World Cancer Survivor’s Day, I wonder how many more I’ll live to see, and I damn myself for having cancer in the first place because if I didn’t have it, I’d never wonder if I’ll see my babies grow up, and I’d never give more than a passing thought to cancer.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

When good is never enough

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I hit my limit at 7:32 pm tonight. A and S sat in the living room watching Survivor. AJ kept coming in the master bedroom where I tried to relax, find my center after reading post after post on Twitter and Facebook celebrating the GOP has enough votes to pass AHCA. My anxiety spiked.

I fled.

I grabbed my car keys, shoved my feet into some flip flops, and I fled into the woods. That’s the great thing about my part of Dallas County -we still have wooded, forest like areas. I fled into one with well worn footpaths, where runners looking for solitude trot along, where rabbits stare suspiciously, where alone means alone. Alone with yourself, your thoughts, your fears.

Your truth.

I’m never enough. That’s my truth. As I walked the paths tonight, staying clear of jogging teenagers and happy dog walkers, that’s the thought which went through my mind -continuously.

Insidiously.

If I were a better teacher, my students wouldn’t still struggle with concepts we’ve worked on since September. If I were a better wife, A and I wouldn’t struggle with our budget because I spend too much. If I were a better mother, AJ wouldn’t get in so much trouble at school. If I were a healthier person, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer. After all, healthy people lead good lives and don’t get sick.

Growing up, I never felt like I was good enough. Pretty enough. Smart enough.

Middle age, I still don’t feel like I’m good enough. Smart enough. Pretty doesn’t even factor in anymore. My self esteem is another thing cancer put paid. I like the way my hair grew back, but that’s it. My skin is dull, my face aged. I look like my dad’s mom minus the wrinkles. My body is scarred. The tattoos only hide so much, only make up for so much, only bolster so much.

In his Academy Awards speech for Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew  McConaughey said one of the things he needs everyday is someone to chase -his hero, himself in ten years. He said he knows he’ll never catch his hero, but it gives him something to chase. A dream. A what-might-be. A wish.

I think ahead, myself in ten years. 49 years old. Mother to a 21 year old and an 18 year old. Aunt of a 27 year old. 25 year wedding anniversary. 30 year high school reunion (not that I went to the 10 or 20). A dream. A wish.

My luck tends to suck.

I don’t see myself surviving to chase myself in ten years. Right now, I’m just existing again, and right now, I don’t care that I’m just existing.

My social currency is spent right now, my mind space crowded. I need quiet, time to regroup. Gather myself.

Find myself.

I’ll be ok. I always am. I just need some time to gather, to regroup, to let go the stress the end of the school year brings. Feeling never enough isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gives you something to chase -yourself. You’ll never catch yourself unless you give up, and I might be many things, but I’m not a quitter, not when it matters. I’m not a hero, don’t want to be. That’s not the idea for me to chase.

I chase myself because I matter…even when I’m at my worst. I matter.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

On second thought…

I’m not getting the 3D tattoos tomorrow. I decided to cancel the appointment and made another one with a tattoo artist who I saw on an NBC5 news story who does regular tattoos and specializes in realistic 3D areola tattoos. I looked up her work and was hugely impressed. It’s going to cost a lot more than my plastic surgeon’s office, but I’d rather have someone doing this whose life work is tattooing and has a master’s degree in medical illustration.

It’s been a nutty few days. My dad ended up in Baylor Dallas over the weekend. He collapsed at home and had a seizure. My mom rushed him to the hospital where they discovered a 4 cm tumor on the right side of his brain. The good news is it has all the markings of a benign tumor. The bad news is he has a brain tumor. After a fairly fraught few hours, my parents decided to take the watch and see route. He has to take anti-seizure medicine three times a day, can’t drive, and has to see the neurologist for frequent follow ups.

The last three days have been crazy to the point of me just going, “What the hell is next?”

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

More tattoos

Maybe.

My plastic surgeon has a tattoo artist on staff who does tattooing for his breast reconstruction patients, and my appointment is this coming Wednesday. Dr. L’s assistant set it up for me almost two months ago, and I completely, 100% forgot until yesterday when the tattoo artist called to ask me some questions about my scars.

Dr. L talked me into basic tattooing and nipple reconstruction when I saw him in January. I came home and brooded for awhile over it because he recommended nipple reconstruction as well as a fat transfer to suck out the fat necrosis and replace it with fat from my hips, and he recommended lifting the right foob to match the left.

At the time, my reaction was, “Yeah…ok…whatever.”

Then, I actually thought about everything, and man…I don’t want to do it. I don’t care about nipple reconstruction. I’m reconciled to the shape and location of the foobs. My scars have thinned and lightened. I don’t want more surgery on this. So, I talked to A, and by talked, I mean I was a crying mess of frustration, and his response was typical, amazing, A, “If you’re having these surgeries for yourself, do them. If you’re having them for me or because you think you have to, stop. You’re alive. That’s all I care about. I do not care what is or is not on your chest. You are, and always have been and will be, more than what you’ve lost.” Yes, he really is amazing. Yes, I know how insanely blessed I am to have him. He’s mine…until death we part.

So, when the tattoo artist called to talk to me about pigmentation in preparation for nipple reconstruction, I blurted out I don’t want that, and I want 3D tattoos and if that was a problem, I’d find somewhere to have it done because I’m not having more surgeries unless I have to do so. The artist just breezed on and said that was fine, she does 3D, and she’d update my record and for me to plan to be with her for awhile on Wednesday afternoon.

I’ve agonized over this for weeks. It felt good to make a decision based on my wants. Now, I just hope the tattoos look ok because I’ve gotten used to the circular scars. If they’re replaced with something that doesn’t look good, I’m going to flip my lid.

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

*knock, knock*

I’m still here. I would just make an excuse and say I’ve been busy, but truthfully, we’ve hit another series of cancerversaries that are hard, so I’ve kind of avoided my blog, which is crazy since writing is what helped me so much this time last year. So, let’s start with January 30, 2017.

I saw Dr. O for my first 20 week check up since finishing Herceptin in September. A went with me. Waiting for her was eerie. It was a long wait, just like it was last year when I saw her for the first time after my mastectomy (and that’s the appointment where we found out I had ER+ cancer, which was one year ago…TODAY). Thankfully, this appointment was not like that one. She came in and was VERY pleased with my blood work and exam. She noted the two huge areas of fat necrosis but felt nothing alarming. My blood work, for the first time since October 2015, was normal. My liver numbers that caused so much concern during treatment finally, finally are totally normal, and my red blood cells, my hemoglobin, and my hemocrit numbers were all finally normal. No more iron. Yay!

A asked her what my long term prognosis is, for real, knowing the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. Dr. O said she’s cautiously optimistic. I’ll take that. I asked her if she’s still recommending an oophorectomy…she is.

I’m so ambivalent about it. I’m on Lupron. I don’t want to have ANOTHER surgery (I’m whining…I know). She did say if I want to delay it until Spring Break or even summer break, that’s not a deal breaker to her. The little voice inside my scumbag brain, though, whispers to me that if I delay it and the cancer returns, it’ll be my fault for delaying the oophorectomy. I’m going to call my new OBGYN on Monday and set it up. Besides, since who knows what’s going to happen with my protections under the ACA, I may as well do it before it’s decided since I got cancer, I don’t deserve health insurance.

So, my 20 weeks check up went well. That’s a relief. I don’t see Dr. O again until June for my next 20 week check up. Hopefully, we continue 20 weeks check ups for a looooonnnngggggg time. She said she wouldn’t release me to 6 or 9 month check ups until I’ve been no evidence of disease for 3 years. I hope I make it to that mark.

A week after seeing Dr. O, and after having a flu shot in early January, I got slapped with the worst case of the flu I’ve ever had.  By the time I got to my GP, less than 2 days after I spiked a fever, not only did I have the flu, but my right lung showed signs of pneumonia on X-ray. My first question was “Are you sure it’s pneumonia and not a lung met?” My GP looked at me with pity and just said, “Yeah. I’m sure. It’s not your cancer. It’s your flu.” So, home I went with three prescriptions and orders to call if I worsened. Thankfully, the medicine did its job and knocked it out, but it’s taken me until really this weekend to truly feel better. I’m not coughing anymore. I hope I never have the flu that badly ever again.

Work has been a mix of amazing and awful since second semester started. My school has had 2 staff members die, one on campus just this last week, and 2 take medical retirement since this semester started. It’s been a rough month and a half.

I feel like that should be my tag line…”It’s been a rough month and a half.” It works for all occasions!

My birthday is this week on Wednesday. I’ll be 39. Last year, I wondered if I’d be alive, and healthy, when 39 rolled around, so a huge part of me is so grateful I’m still here, I can’t put it into words. I’ve had another year with A, S, and AJ, and the rest of our family.

That’s the icing on the cake and the best gift I can get.