breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Hair of a discovery

IMG_8500

Yeah, I know…terrible pseudo pun for a title.

Yesterday, S had her annual dance recital. She’s been dancing since she was four, and until this year, she’s loved dancing. This year, something changed. It’s not that she hates it. It’s boring, according to her. She says it’s not fun anymore. I hate that for her because she’s a graceful, beautiful dancer. I don’t know if it’s her dance school or if it’s tween angst. Whatever it is, we have to figure it out because I’m not allowing her to quit. It’s a rule in our house -you do a school activity and an after school activity. She does theater and choir at school and dance after school one night a week. She also does art once a week, but for her, that’s not an activity -it’s her passion. She’d no sooner quit art than I’d quit teaching. It’s a dilemma. We’ll figure it out.

It’s the dance recital that brought about a bittersweet, embarrassing, maybe a little horrifying, hair discovery, though. S’s hair, her curly, never been straight in her life hair, had to be in a low bun for recital. It’s not our first dance recital hair and make up rodeo, though. We have a system, or more aptly, I have a plan of attack for her hair -wash it with conditioner, spray it with leave in conditioner, comb it with a wide tooth comb, pull it into a ponytail, grab part of a cut-up sock, roll her hair around the sock, anchor it with bobby pins, spray with hairspray, hope it stays.

It usually does.

Usually.

I haven’t needed the dance recital hair bag since we moved, and yesterday, about three hours before recital, it dawned on me that I had no clue where I put the bag. I looked in my travel bag. Nope. I looked in the baskets under my sink. Nope. I asked S if she knew where it was. Yeah right…Nope. I went back into my bathroom and pulled the make up train cases from underneath the sink. I opened the first one and came to a screeching stop in my hunt for S’s dance recital hair bag.

I found my own. My baggie. My quart sized freezer bag where, as my hair fell out from chemo and I found it, I quietly stored it. Collected it.

I kept my hair.

Gross. Why would you do that?

I needed to hang onto a bit of me. I needed some control because I had none from the moment cancer became my life.

I remember when my hair first began falling out. Nothing really prepares you for it to happen. The first chunk came out in October 2015 after school as I sat at my desk during tutorials. I absent mindedly brushed my hand through my hair and came away holding a chunk. One of my students saw it, saw me, and made it better by reminding me I could have any color of hair I wanted. I threw that chunk in the trash, convinced, for some asinine reason, I wouldn’t lose all my hair.

It came out in chunks after that, and if I could, I kept it, my hair. I stuffed it into that baggie. Some days, I sobbed over the hair in that bag. I hated my precancer hair. It was thin, unhealthy, fly away, damaged by products, dry. But, it was mine. When the day came when I finally had the courage to ask A to shave it off, he cut what was left off before shaving my head. He put that hair into the baggie, too.

I have no secrets from him, even when I think I do.

Yesterday, that baggie sucker-punched me. It reminded me of the one thing I feared as I underwent chemo -hair loss is one undeniable sign of a cancer patient, and dammit, I didn’t and don’t want to be known as just a cancer patient. I didn’t want the pitying stare we’re guilty of giving cancer patients, I didn’t want to see the relief in people’s eyes that it’s me with cancer and not them (and therefore by the grace of God go you because once upon a time, I did that as well), and I didn’t want the questions.

I wanted to be me. So, I saved part of me.

I zipped up the train case with the baggie still in it, and I slid it back into the cabinet. My fingers lingered on it for a moment. I lingered for a moment. Then, I rose, stared at myself in the mirror. I’m not that woman anymore, the one who squirreled away her hair. I’m harder, bitter. I’m kinder, grateful.

Then, I opened the side drawer of my bathroom counter and found S’s dance recital hair bag, yelled for her to put on a tank top, grab her comb, and get into my bathroom for hair and make up.

Life goes on.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Not as planned

I slept for about an hour Sunday night. I watched my clock lurch closer and closer to 5:15 am, Monday morning, when A and I would need to get up and dress. When I got home yesterday afternoon, I slept for hours. Consequently, I barely slept Monday night.

IMG_1575
From someecards…no infringement intended

I thought having my ovaries and tubes removed would be a cake walk compared to being sliced from hip bone to hip bone as I was over the summer for my DIEP reconstruction. I was wrong. I’m so sore, especially on my left side where Monday’s surgery placed a larger incision than that on my right. Also, since the incisions go through abdominal muscle, doing anything besides staying in bed hurts.

Sunday night, I posted a Dear Cancer on ihadcancer. In turn, ihadcancer posted my Dear Cancer on Twitter.

I am really tired of surgeries. I’m tired of cancer. I want this to be done, to be the last surgery, for the cancer to stay away.

To top off today, I shattered one of my back molars when I hit down on a chip at lunch. That moment turned into the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I’m absolutely terrified of dentists, so when it shattered, I cried. It doesn’t hurt at all. Still, it’s not something else I wanted to deal with right now. So, like Scarlett, I’m choosing to deal with it tomorrow…whenever that tomorrow might be. It won’t be this week, though, if I can avoid it.

I told A that I’m embarrassed by me. Chemo wrecked some of my teeth. This molar won’t be the last tooth to give me trouble. I have more scars now than I can count on two hands. Most of them are located from my neck to my waist. I have nerve damage from surgeries. I have chemo brain. My eyebrows came back thin and sparse. The one thing I actually like is how my hair came back…same color, but it’s thicker than before and a little less fine. I’m wearing it in a pixie cut that I really like. Otherwise, I feel a mess.

It feels like I’m at another fork in the road, a curve on the cancer coaster. I don’t know what waits ahead, what lurks. Once again, I have no control.

I don’t like feeling powerless. I thrive in routines. My mom will tell you I’m particular and don’t react to change well. She’s not wrong. I didn’t react well to change as a kid, and I don’t as an adult. I like the security of the known, and with cancer, there is no known…not really.

 

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

Better Angels (#squadgoals)

I should be working in my classroom, preparing for Monday, but this post keeps circling in my head. I can’t let it go, so it’s time to get it out.

I heard Katy Perry’s new song “Rise” when the Olympics began. It caught my attention, but I didn’t pay much attention to all the lyrics. Then, I heard it on the radio one afternoon as I drove home, and I burst into tears.

The next two weeks have the potentially to be an emotional beatdown. August 18th was the one year anniversary of hearing my OBGYN, Dr. B (who is retiring at the end of August, and I’m devastated. I can’t imagine I’m going to find another OBGYN as caring and amazing as Dr. B) tells me the place I could feel in my left breast needed further testing. Today, August 20th, is the one year anniversary of that further testing and hearing a doctor tell me he could see an area of distortion in my left breast where the mass was and it was a 50/50 shot if the area of distortion was the result of a cancerous tumor or a benign tumor. We all know how that turned out for me. He told me I needed a biopsy. August 25th will be the one year anniversary of the biopsies and hearing a different doctor tell me she was 70% sure the tumor causing the area of distortion would come back as breast cancer. August 27th will be the one year anniversary of hearing those four words: “You have breast cancer.” I’m struggling as I face these dates. I don’t mind admitting it. This is hard. I sit here and wonder, am I disease free? Is it going to come back? Is Tamoxifen and the radiation doing their jobs? Did the surgery get it all?

Then, I heard “Rise,” and the speaker of “Rise” tells my story. The first half of the song is my mindset some days, more days than not. I am trying to thrive. My ending of my story is not written yet, and someone else’s story is not my own. I am my own archetype. I’m not the damsel in distress. I’m not the heroine. I’m not any of those. I’m me, and I’m lucky because I have a family with deep roots with each other and in our communities. Those roots run through me. I am not alone in this, even when I feel alone. There are days, more days than not, where I do not feel “victory is in my veins,” but secretly, deep down, secretly, I hope it is victory which runs through my veins. The one thing I have absolutely refused to do over the last year is negotiate with my desire to survive. I demanded my doctors do everything they could to get me in at Baylor Dallas with Dr. O. I did the most rigorous course of chemo and targeted therapies I could do for HER2+ breast cancer. I did not stay home and wallow too much, but there were days that I couldn’t handle and were hard, but still, I shook them off, eventually. I came to work. I taught my classes. I graded papers. I went to every school event I could go to. I did my job as a mother to the best of my abilities. I went to their school activities. I kept up with everything as much as I could, even when I felt horrible. I refused to let cancer steal my daily life too much. Yes, there were days when cancer and cancer treatment won, but there were more days when I did, even if I didn’t feel that way. I did fight. I still fight. We ALL fight demons everyday. Self doubt. Anxiety. Diseases. Exhaustion. Whatever our demons may be. But, we push though, even when all hope looks to be lost. We still rise. I still rise.

But, there are days, there have been days, there will be days when I can’t fight. I have little faith. I doubt myself and everything about my life. I feel hopeless. It’s too hard. And that is where my better angels, my squad, my friends, coworkers, and family, come in and remind me that I will not doubt, I will not negotiate, I will fight, I will rise again. I’ll be different. Everything may be different, but I can find my way through if I just let them help. They are part of my roots, my better angels. And, as these really hard days approach, they tell me some things that helps: Someone else’s story is not your story. You have an incredible medical team. You’ve done everything you can do. This is out of your hands. We love you. We’re here for you, anytime, anywhere, anything. Here’s dinner. Take it and be quiet. I’m coming to get S and AJ for the afternoon or evening. Can I help you set up your classroom? You wear that pixie cut so well! Are you going to keep your hair that way (I don’t know…maybe. I’m enjoying the faux hawk, though)? ¬†How are you doing, and you better tell the truth. I know when you’re lying. I know your tells. Don’t treat me like a stranger. If you need to cry, cry. Here’s my shoulder.

They remind me to rise. They douse the fire at my feet. They tell me I am not out of time yet. I’m still here.

I’m still here.

I would not be here without them. They are my better angels. They are the reason I can rise on days when I want to pull the covers over my head. When I can’t, they can. My better angels prop me up when my faith is shaken and gone. They help me find my steady and my faith again. I rise because they insist I rise.

I know angels exists. I see them everyday in my life. They’re my friends, my family, my coworkers. They’re the reason the last year did not decimate me. It cracked me and it broke me, but with their help, I could put myself back together. Some pieces are missing, some pieces are irrevocably changed and forced into space, some pieces are tattered, but those pieces, they’re there. I’m still here. My story isn’t someone else’s story. We don’t know what my story is. My better angels remind me of that every single day.

So, thanks to them, I rise.