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, 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, I Had Cancer. 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 friend. 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, 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, teaching, Uncategorized

Honesty is the hardest policy

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If a part of becoming a happier person is being honest with myself by labeling negative emotions, then I have to address the elephant in my headspace.

I’m jealous…deeply, horribly, shamefully jealous, and that jealousy leads to me being angry. Together, they make a nasty stew in my head full of negative thoughts and what-ifs and why mes.

I’m jealous of people who don’t worry about cancer.

I’m jealous of people who are healthy.

I’m jealous of people who do not struggle to lose weight.

I’m jealous of friends who seem to have it so easy.

I’m jealous of ex-friends who keep making bad choice but come up smelling like roses.

I’m jealous of people who are happy.

If I’m being honest with myself, I have to acknowledge this part of me. It’s an ugly part. But more than anything, I have to change this part. Honesty is like forgiveness -you have to mean it. So, to put a more positive thought process into practice, I’m starting a 30 day self-care challenge, and I’m throwing away products I’ve been holding onto that I’m not going to use again.

Last year, a friend at work who used Beautycounter (no, I’m not a consultant, and no one asked me to provide this information) encouraged me to check it out, and I switched my foundation and powder to theirs. Sunscreen is where I always feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t because the EWG decries most sunscreens, and let’s be honest, I don’t want to give myself any more reasons to blame myself for cancer. To that end, I switched my sunscreen to the Beautycounter sunscreen lotion. It’s expensive, but it was so worth it last summer. I didn’t get a single sunburn, nor did my daughter. It smells a little like limes to us, it goes on easily, and it’s not greasy. I actually feel good about using it. I just ordered two more bottles (I know, I know, but we’re going to Florida in a few weeks, we have a community pool in our new neighborhood, and we have season passes to the local waterpark. We spend a LOT of time in the sun and water), and I literally feel relieved. I do so much that’s not good for me..junk food, Dr. Pepper, candy…that I have to do things for me that make me feel as though I’m doing something good for me. I can be more aware of my beauty products, and I am, now. Hence, Beautycounter…and Say Yes to Cucumbers…and Acure. I no longer use any beauty or skin products with parabens and such if I can avoid it. I feel good about what I’m putting on my skin, and as much as I love my Bath and Body Works stuff, I don’t feel good about using it anymore. So, today, I trashed or recycled everything I was keeping. Wasteful? Yes. None of it was new or unused, though. Some had less than a tablespoon of soap left. Part of the self-care challenge is purging what you don’t need. I didn’t need any of it.

Another part of the self-care challenge involves cooking. That’s not a big deal for me. I know how to cook. I like to cook. I’d fallen out of the habit, though, so we were eating a lot of drive thru (read: McDonalds and Cane’s). Besides not being the best for us, it’s a killer on our budget, so I’ve cooked every day this week. In fact, yesterday, A, when he came home to crock-pot pulled pork sandwiches, he told me he likes summers when I’m a stay-at-home wife. I laughed. He laughed. He knows as much as I love the idea of staying home, I wouldn’t do it long-term. I’m not the kind to put all my eggs in one basket. I need to help provide for our family. Beyond that, I love teaching and where I teach. As I told a friend this week, I’ll either retire or die a teacher. On Monday, I made homemade red pepper cream sauce (with peppers from our garden) and vegetable pasta with baked marinated chicken bites. On Tuesday, I made smothered pork cutlets, mashed potatoes, and spicy asparagus spears and quarters tomatoes (from our garden). On Wednesday, I dry rubbed some pork shoulder and threw it in the crock pot with sliced onions, sliced mushrooms, and some chicken stock, and then, I made black-eyed peas to go with it because I believe in the superstition that black eyed peas can bring good luck. Today, A had a second round interview for a job opportunity which would be an amazing challenge for him and an awesome opportunity for our family. I’m grateful he even made it to the second round of interviews, which takes me to another part of the self care challenge: Being grateful.

I have the app Calm. I’ve begun using it for the 7 days of Calm and the Best of Daily Calm. One of the Best of Daily Calm’s programs is a gratitude one. I did it today. I’m working on that whole changing my brain process from constant negative. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. As I’m staring my five month check up in the face, I just want to crawl in bed, pull the covers over my face, and cry for days. To be honest, I’ve done that, but it’s not going to solve anything, and A, as always, is right when he said I’m just allowing it to steal my joy. I’m not joyful, not by a long shot, but I am grateful today…and yesterday…and Tuesday, when I started this challenge.

Today, the Daily Calm was to think of people you’re grateful are in your life and to focus on the happiness those people bring into your life. That was easy. AJ, S, and A. My parents. A’s parents, sister, and brother. BFFs Ashley, Natalie, and Heather. Cancer recoverers Kristen and Diane. My teacher squad. The people who are my center, who I can call in the early morning, who I can rely on no matter what, no questions asked, no judgement given. I’m grateful for them.

Yesterday, the self-care challenge for gratitude was an event you’re grateful for happening. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but the first thing I thought was actually when I was hired for my current teaching job. I was so damn glad to go back into the classroom and to do what I know I’m meant to do. I liked instructional coaching and curriculum development, but my heart is with students and school communities. When my current campus said they were sending my packet to HR for hiring, I hung up my phone and cried. I was so happy. Then, I called my teacher squad, several of whom had encouraged me to seek a teaching position. As much as 2015-2016 sucked with cancer, it was a school year that truly changed me as a teacher. I told my Class of 2017 seniors on the last day I saw them prior to graduation, they changed me as a teacher. Their kindness, their work ethic, their concern for me and for each other changed me. I can count three senior classes in my 17 years who fundamentally changed me as a teacher: the Class of 2004, the Class of 2012, and the Class of 2017. I’ve taught some amazing kids in other senior classes who deeply affected my life (Class of 2008 and Class of 2011, I’m looking at you!), but these three classes changed me as a teacher. The Class of 2004 were my first students. I taught them as freshman and then as juniors. We learned high school together. I am proud to count many of them and their families among my friends. The Class of 2012 helped me remember why I became a teacher. I had them as freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Not going to lie…I was becoming a burned out teacher when I had them as sophomores. Their curiosity for learning and burning need to prove themselves made me dig deep as a teacher. Challenging them was a challenge for me, and as they challenged me, it made me find myself as a teacher again. Then, the Class of 2017 walked with me through cancer, and never once were they anything but kind, caring, and understanding. As far as I was concerned at school, cancer couldn’t affect me at school. Those kids were in my classroom for an excellent education, and I’m not the type of teacher to give busy work because I’m tired or not feeling well. We powered through together, and I couldn’t be prouder of my students. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had as a teacher to impact my community.

On Tuesday, the challenge was to find one thing to be grateful for, and honestly, my first thought was A. He’s my rock, and I’m so damned proud of him and the work he does. I’m so proud of who he is, and I’m so grateful he’s stuck with me for 21 years. I know I’m not the girl he or his family envisioned him dating, much less marrying, yet he fell in love with me. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for him.

I hope this self-care challenge and the Calm Gratefulness Meditation helps. I really do. I’m actually, really trying to be good to myself. The little girl I was would beat up the woman I’ve become…the worried, negative, pessimistic, sad woman I am. That little girl took risks, embraced challenges, and tried to make others happy because she was happy. It’s my mom’s fault I’ve been thinking about myself as a kid. My mom found one of my old dance pictures…the last year I took tap classes. She brought it over to give to me, and after she left, I looked at that picture and thought about that last year of tap. I hated my tap teacher, but I loved tap. So, I tapped. I had a stupid rehearsal outfit (tights and leotard were pink with black tap shoes all over them). I didn’t care. I remember having to go up to my mom’s school, now the school I teach at, one night after tap class because she was working the concession stand at a basketball game. I had on that stupid outfit and my tap shoes. I remember some kid who was working the concession stand asking me if I wanted to borrow a spirit shirt. I remember staring at them and then tapping out of the concession stand, into the Student Council office. I was nine…maybe 10. That girl wouldn’t recognize the woman she became.

I have to work on that because I want my little girl to be proud of me. I don’t want S’s, or AJ’s, memories of me to be like my memories of my grandmother. She was negative and pessimistic. She was loving and caring. I want to be more, to be better than that.

So, I’m working on it.

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, 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

A collision with cancer

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I’ve damaged relationship with some friends lately, people I’ve known two…five…ten…seventeen years.

How?

Politics.

My politics are too aggressive. My viewpoint is too harsh. My animosity towards the healthcare situation is too strong. One friend told me she liked me better before cancer.

Me too. Sort of. Me too.

There’s a lot of WTH to process in that statement.

Before cancer, I kept my politics to myself or family and close friends. Long, long before cancer, my mother would leave a room if my father and I were watching the news together and Reagan, Bush, or Clinton, or Ann Richards or Bush Jr were on the news in some way -she didn’t like mediating our politics because I was a Republican and my father, a Democrat. Long before cancer, I realized I disagreed with much of the GOP platform, and I realized my politics were shifting moderate, democratic. Long before cancer, I minored in political science, found myself fascinated with constitutional law, toyed with the idea of law school. Before cancer, I voiced my opinions, but I did it quietly, in a roundabout way because I’m a people pleaser. I don’t enjoy when I upset or hurt people. Then…cancer.

When I was diagnosed, one of the only sighs of relief I took was knowing the ACA protected me from being dropped by my insurance company and prohibited annual and lifetime limits or caps. I knew my treatments and surgeries would be covered- I would not run afoul of an annual limit or test the reaches of a lifetime limit. Then…Trump, the GOP.

The AHCA, a bill so despicable, Congress exempted themselves from it and opened the door to annual and lifetime limits, even on employer provided insurance. Again.

When the House passed the AHCA, a friend with a lifelong autoimmune disease texted me that she felt nauseous, afraid of what might happen, especially since she’s in the throes of a flare right now. I called her instead of texting. We talked for nearly an hour, both of us terrified of what lies ahead for our health, our families, if this atrocious bill becomes law in any shape of the House form.

Another friend asked me why I’m really all that worried since, “your cancer is gone.” My head exploded. Then, I corrected her, told her I am no evidence of disease, and all that means is right now. When I see Dr. O on June 20th for my next 5 month check up, I’ll know my future five month fate. We live check up to check up, scan to scan, test to test, us cancer patients. I’ll either gain a five month reprieve or take part in another conversation regarding cancer I hoped I’d never have.

It’s funny, and by funny, I mean not funny at all, but when I was diagnosed, when I was quiet about my politics, when I soldiered on with a fake smile and an “I’m fine,” lie, I had all the support.

Then, I spoke up to my friends about the protections of the ACA. I used clinical evidence from the ASCO and from the annual SABC conference. I used personal evidence. I used nonpartisan evidence from CBO. I condemned those who voted for Trump for what millions of people with preexisting and life threatening conditions are now enduring, the fear of what happens next, as if having a medical (or mental or physical) condition isn’t enough worry and stress. I begged friends and family to understand from where my fear came.

My condemnation was too much, I guess. So now, I’m left to wonder is it me who is in the wrong. Do I regret the stance I’ve taken, the choices I’ve made?

A little, actually.

I’m a people pleaser. I hate causing drama -I’ll enjoy a bowl of popcorn as I watch it if it doesn’t involve me, though. I don’t want to be disliked. I’m choosy when it comes to friends, and I’m grateful for my small squad of framily because not a one if those friends I trust like family have been anything but loving and supportive. It’s the bigger circle that’s shrunk, and I am saddened by that because I am choosy and thought I chose well. But, then again, I’ve been blindsided and backstabbed more than once before. Maybe my judgement isn’t the best, but the reason why is the best: I believe the best in most people, especially those I know personally. I give second, third, fifth, twentieth chances.

I know the adage, you can’t please all the people all the time. I understand that. What I don’t understand is how you can support me through cancer, cancer treatment, and cancer surgeries but then be offended and disappear when I call out politics and political games when those directly affect my life and the lives of those I love. What would you do? Remain silent? Put on a fake smile and an “I’m ok” lie?

Been there. Done that. I did it to protect my friends and family because I figured no one really needed to hear how bad I felt from chemo, whatever reaction I was having to Perjeta, how tired and overwhelmed and terrified I was (and still am). My parents, my in laws, my husband all knew. They lived it with me. Sometimes, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about cancer and treatments and surgeries and prognosis. Besides, it was made pretty clear to me that people expected me to breeze through as though it was nothing because it’s breast cancer. It’s treatable. It’s easy.

WTH?

Now, I know the people who expected that of me were fools, but worse, so was I.  I allowed that expectation take hold in me. I couldn’t let anyone down. If I did, I was a disappointment, and that’s one thing I cannot abide, being a disappointment.

I’ve said and done some pretty stupid things. I’ve hurt people without meaning to do so. I am sorry for that.

I’m not sorry, though, that cancer made me more likely to speak up than remain silent. I have so much to lose if I remain silent. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but I won’t stop calling out those in power who are trying to undo eight years of healthcare progress. My life literally depends on it, and you know what?

Yours might too.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Wrecked

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

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

Must be nice.

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

But, I’m not happy about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m unhappy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t want to be wrecked again.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Unacceptable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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