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.

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breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Where Pinktober fails

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I’m constantly, continuously tired. I’ve told all my doctors, and they all agree it’s a combination of several things- insomnia, back to back to back to back to back surgeries (I had five -two major, two minor, one sort of minor- surgeries in a one year span…I’m still not a year out from my last surgery), a solid year of cancer treatments, radiation, and the whole PTSD resulting from diagnosis, treatments, surgeries, and follow ups. Every so often, it catches up to me in a major way.

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to lie down. It was 4 pm, and I figured I could take a quick nap before going to dinner and the football game. I woke up at 6:41…a lot later than I planned because that 6:41 came this morning.

Thanks cancer…

Y’all, it’s Pinktober, and I get it makes people feel good to donate or help out breast cancer awareness, but the thing is…we’re all aware of breast cancer. What we aren’t doing, what we’re failing at with horrific and deadly consequences is finding new treatment options, finding cures -breast cancer is more than one type of cancer, providing support to those living with breast cancer and those living after cancer treatment, and realizing the happy narrative of breast cancer awareness month fails in so many ways.

There is an underlying arrogance of breast cancer awareness, if you’re aware, you won’t get cancer or if you do, it’ll be caught early. Fair enough on early detection, but early detection doesn’t save anyone from Stage 4 -one in three diagnosed at Stages 1-3 go on develop Stage 4. 40,000 will die THIS YEAR from Stage 4 breast cancer, the only kind of breast cancer that kills. That number HAS NOT CHANGED since the birth of Pinktober.

We have to do more than be aware of breast cancer. Awareness is not changing the statistics of survival, particularly for Stage 4. Research is. Clinical trials are. Doctors are. Science is. Advocacy is. METAvisor is. Stand Up to Cancer is. The American Cancer Society is. The National Cancer Institute is. Breast Cancer Research Foundation is.

Most of the time, lately, my anger towards the fact I developed breast cancer at 37 years old is on a slow simmer, but like any simmer, it can become a boil very quickly. Pinktober has my anger on boil 24/7. Breast cancer is more than a month and more than a pink ribbon. Breast cancer is millions of women and men. Breast cancer is 40,000 funerals and memorial services a year. Breast cancer is treatments year-round. Breast cancer is short term planning. Breast cancer is bankruptcy. Breast cancer is a game to politicians. Breast cancer is too many people’s reality.

I slept nearly 11 hours last night not because I was out late or had a hard day or week or because of any fun sort of reason. I slept 11 hours because I had breast cancer.

That’s my reality. That’s my January through December. It’s not just a rah-rah, feel good, pink-all-the-things time. It’s my life.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Another cancerversary

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

*This is a raw post. I wrote this on Sept. 28, 2017. I published it for a little bit, but then I deleted it. I’m posting it now because I’m better with what I wrote.*

Two years ago today, I sat at Baylor Dallas Charles A Sammons Cancer Center from 8:00 am until 7:00 pm undergoing my first of six TCHP chemo treatments. I sat in a private infusion room, thanks to a former student, and I graded essays, pretending I didn’t care that poison dripped into my body as long as the poison killed the other poison growing inside me.

I cared. I was scared. I was terrified. I acted like it didn’t matter. I didn’t want special treatment. I wanted to be normal.

Cancer isn’t normal. Nothing about life with cancer or after cancer is normal, and screw that whole happy, cheery “find a new normal!” Chemo and radiation and surgeries and pills and infusions and constant surveillance check ups should not be normalized.

See, that’s where I get angry about our society and breast cancer. Pinktober approaches where suddenly, everything is pink because we need to be aware of breast cancer. I don’t need a reminder to be aware of breast cancer. I’m a freaking walking human advertisement for breast cancer awareness.

I find it hard to believe anyone in the US is unaware of breast cancer. What I find easy to believe is that few know that 40,000 people die of breast cancer every year. Did you know that number hasn’t changed since Pinktober began? What I find easy to believe is that few know Stage 4 breast cancer’s, the only breast cancer you can die from, research is severely underfunded. Did you know Komen designates little of the money it raises to Stage 4 research? What I find easy to believe is that few know there are many subtypes of breast cancer and treatment options for some subtypes are limited. Did you know there are no immune therapies or targeted therapies for triple negative? What good is awareness of breast cancer if we’re not doing more to fund research, find treatments, and provide support to those with breast cancer?

You want me to be happy I had breast cancer? Have several seats. Over the last two years, I’ve been told I had a good cancer, that I got new breasts out of the deal, that I’ll beat it.

No cancer is good, I was perfectly happy with my real breasts, and what if I don’t? Stop placing unrealistic pressures on those with cancer. It happens to anyone through no fault of their own, and that’s why I despise the battle metaphor of cancer. No one loses to cancer. Cancer isn’t defeated because someone fought harder. Cancer doesn’t look at someone and go “Oh damn, maybe I should’ve picked a different body because this person is tough.” Stop it. It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. The battle metaphor is all about making someone without cancer feel good, feel like they’re being encouraging, feel like they’re being supportive. Ok, fair enough, but look at the other side. If you tell your friend or family member they’re going to beat cancer and they don’t, you really want to put the shame of losing on someone who died from cancer? Really? Few things get to me as a person recovering from breast cancer like Pinktober and the battle metaphor.

I still don’t understand why this happened, what lesson I’m supposed to learn, and why I should be grateful this happened. I’m bitter, I’m anxious, and I’m paranoid because my cancer could come back at anytime no matter what I do. I can take all the medicines, do all the exercises, eat all the healthy food, and it can still come back. So, yeah, I’m not more gracious, I’m not more humble (I’m humbled by my friends and family and the sisterhood of longtime friends and my coworkers because they care about me as a person, not just a person recovering from cancer), and I’m not more patient. I’m not a better person.

I’m none of those things the pink myth of Pinktober perpetrates. That is one of my many failings, I suppose. Or, I guess I just didn’t learn my lesson, something I’ve heard on and off my whole life when I’ve gone in a different direction than the one I was supposed to choose.

Funny thing, though, those choices, those different directions led me to A even though, on the surface, we had little in common, yet he, in very real ways, changed me for the better as much as he says I changed him for the better, and that choice led us to S and AJ. Those choices led me to UNT where I earned both my Bachelor of Arts in English and my Master of Education. Those choices led me into teaching. Those choices led me to my current campus where the love, support, friendship, and sense of family is unmatched.

I think today, knowing today is the day I sat for eight hours receiving TCHP for the first time is the second of the three hardest cancerversaries -the day I got the call, the day I started TCHP, and the day I had my mastectomy.

I’m glad, ecstatic to be NED right now. I want to stay NED. But, I also want more treatments, more research, more support. I’m alive because of the research from the American Cancer Society that led to Herceptin. I’m alive because of the research from Genentech that led to Perjeta. I’m alive because of taxotere created from the bark of the yew tree thanks to the research of Pierre Potier, and I’m alive because Michigan State University discovered carboplatin. Almost all components of my treatment plan were discovered in the last fifteen years. I’m incredibly grateful for their discoveries, but we have to do more.

As Pinktober approaches, I implore you to think before you pink. Ask where the money goes.

Cancer is hard. Fighting it, living with it, living after it. No cancer is easy.

I had no intention of writing half of what I’ve written tonight. I was going to just write that today’s the two year anniversary of my first chemo treatment. But, thinking back on this day two years ago, I remember myself sitting in that infusion chair wearing jeans and a maroon shirt with long hair and grading papers. I remember getting up the next morning and going to work, finding get well cards from my classes. I remember the blinding headache I woke up with, the horrid taste in my mouth, and the strange red rash on my chest. I remember acting normal. I didn’t want pity or sympathy. I just wanted to be.

I guess that’s why it’s hard for me to quantify this cancerversary. Without it, I’d be dead. Because of it, I’m a different person.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Undecided

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Found on Pinterest and directed here. No infringement intended.

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

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

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

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

I posted my news on Twitter.

I planned my lessons for the next grading cycle.

I came home.

The kids came home.

S did homework.

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

S and I window shopped for Halloween.

I picked up AJ.

We came home.

S drew and watched TV.

AJ showered.

The kids said their good nights.

The house grew quiet.

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

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

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

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

No grandiose promises, no unsustainable commitments.

I’ve had cancer.

But, for the moment, I don’t.

Now, I have to learn to cope.

After all, I’ve had cancer.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Is it too late?

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

I’m melancholy today. I fear what tomorrow might bring, what Dr. O may say. People tell me this will eventually become easier, but honestly, I truly doubt it. How can this ever become easier, this precipice on which I stand? These appointments where my blood is taken, shaken, and tested, where my scarred body is examined, where my insides are xrayed, looking for the uninvited interloper, are not easy. I am anxious and scared. I feel no different than I did twelve weeks ago, yet I felt completely healthy as cancer grew insidiously inside me, so am I truly the best judge if whether I’m fine? My track record says no.

As I walked down one of the hallways at work today, thoughts of cancer and fears of reoccurrence swirling in my mind, a singular thought stopped me, stopped me in the middle of the hallway, stopped me cold.

I believe it’s too late for me.

I’ve waited too long to adjust my lifestyle. I’ve waited too long to get my insomnia under control. I’ve waited too long to lose weight. I’ve waited too long to start doing anything which could keep the cancer at bay beyond the medications I take everyday.

I deeply, truly believe I’ve waited too long, it’s too late.

What a horrible, terrible thought.

It’s not only what I think, though, I realized as I stood in the hallway, alone, this afternoon. It’s what I believe, and truthfully, I’ve believed it from the moment I was diagnosed. I knew long before that fateful August afternoon that I needed to lose weight, eat better, stop drinking 4-6 Coca-Colas a day, exercise, and sleep more. I knew, and I did nothing until I was told I had breast cancer. Even then, I did little. I cut Coca Cola. Chemo helped me lose thirty five pounds. I’ve gained back some of that weight. I drink one or two Dr. Peppers most days. I’ve stopped my evening walks because I’m tired after work. I have a million excuses, a million moments of shame.

I look in the mirror, and I am sad by what I see, pieced back together with other pieces of me. I am sad to see the weight I’ve gained. I am sad to see the scars, more noticeable to me right now than usual. I know it’s anxiety because of my appointment tomorrow. I’m in limbo. I seem to live in limbo lately.

As much as I try to stay away from breast cancer sites, I lurk on a breast cancer community’s message boards. Yesterday, I read a post from a woman at Stage 4 who wrote to others newly diagnosed with the same breast cancer I had, that they should not worry about a reoccurrence. If it comes back, it comes back. The worry did nothing. She wrote if she could go back in time to when she was NED (no evidence of disease), she would enjoy every single one of those days instead of spending them worried about a reoccurrence.

I want to make myself stop worrying and to just enjoy whatever time I have, but I haven’t found a way to do it. Today, in the hallway, I think I discovered why I can’t get there. I believe it’s already too late.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

My Spoons Are Running Low

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I’ve never been good at saying no. I’ve never been good at asking for help. I’ve never been good at admitting I’m overwhelmed. I’ve never been good at putting my needs ahead of those I love.

But, I’m running out of spoons.

My dad is not doing as well as we hoped after having surgery almost six weeks ago. He has little to no movement on his left side. He’s wheelchair or bed bound at the rehab hospital. He does hours of physical therapy. He’s remarkably better than he was a few weeks ago, but he’s nowhere near how he was this time last year. I’m worried sick about how my mom will handle him at home in a house that is in no way wheelchair accessible.

My sister is back in the picture. I didn’t survive cancer to be scared of her anymore. I’ve vacillated between being livid and being bitter. Eventually, I’ll hit apathy again with this situation just as I have before.

My mom is one of the strongest women I know. The last five years have been nothing but battle after battle and burden after burden for her. The weight she carries everyday would crush me, squash me, pancake me. She wakes up every morning, settles the weight on her shoulders, and marches on. I’m worried sick about her.

My school year started out at 100 mph and hasn’t slowed. I like the fast pace. I like a sense of urgency. I like what I do. I like my classes. I like a new challenge everyday.

But, I’m running out of spoons.

Cancer took one of my colleagues on Monday, a teacher who’s taught at the school since I was a student there, a seemingly healthy, ate well, exercised, did all the right things, woman, a mother, a daughter. I froze up when the email came with the news of her death. I avoided Facebook all day.

The grim reality of cancer is death, and I’m running out of spoons and couldn’t face the reality of cancer on Monday.

I’m really running very low on spoons.

I see Dr. O in a week and a half for my next check up. I’ve gained some weight, I’m not sleeping, I’m falling back into old habits. It’s a self-defeating cycle, yet here I am. I’m in a constant state of low anxiety, and as my appointment day creeps closer, my anxiety builds. It spikes when someone asks me how A is enjoying his new job (a lot), when someone asks me how my dad is doing (it’s day by day), when someone asks me how I’m doing (we don’t have that kind of time). If Dr. O we’re to measure my spoon count, I’m not sure she’d find many.

My spoons are low, so are my spirit and energy. I’m tired, in all sense of the word. I need more spoons. They’re hard to recover, slow to come back.

I need my spoons.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Me

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I walk every night now. I walk at least 30 minutes, a fast-pace. I walk in our neighborhood and take in the beauty of nature, like the photo above. It’s the lake my neighborhood backs up to, and my reward, after I’ve walked, is to sit right there at the lake’s edge, to watch the water, to listen to the ducks.

The self-care challenge I’m doing encourages taking a walk once a week.

I feel guilty now if I don’t do it every night.

When I saw Dr. O last week, she switched me to Arimidex and warned me of all the side effects, the joint pain and the bone loss. I saw her nurse practitioner first, and I brought up my oophorectomy. I asked if I needed to switch from tamoxifen. Her nurse practitioner balked a little at switching me. Tamoxifen decreases bone loss. Arimidex increases bone loss. She talked about balancing quality of life with staving off a reoccurrence. Arimidex is better at reducing reoccurrence, though, and that’s my sticking point. There’s no quality of life for me to manage if the cancer reoccurs. The NP grabbed Dr. O, who agreed with me -it’s time for Arimidex. I have to go back in September for a bone density test and blood work.

Whatever. I just want the best shot of surviving.

So, I’ve been on it for a week. My ankle joints hurt some, but truthfully, they’ve hurt for over a year. I’ve severely sprained both of them at least once in the last three years. I’d be shocked if they didn’t hurt. It tends to happen at night when I lay down and when I first wake up in the morning.

The one point Dr. O stressed was walking. She told me the more walking I do as exercise, the better it is for me and my bones. I walk or swim every day now.

I’m working on me, my emotional self and my physical self.

Truthfully? This is the best I’ve felt, physically, in a long time.

Emotionally, the self care challenge helps. I ran across the quote on Pinterest and snort laughed because I need to see it every day:

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

That’s my daily reminder to myself. I have to give myself pep talks. Cancer sucks, sometimes things suck, but you have a beautiful family, amazing friends, a job you freaking love, and for today, no cancer. Don’t fixate on what-if. Listen to A and don’t let worry steal your joy. You got this.

Maybe it’s lame, but, for now, it works. Walking and just taking time for me works.

For today, that’s good enough.

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, kids, life, Uncategorized

Hair of a discovery

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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, kids, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Sliding

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

I’m not sleeping again. Well, ok, that’s hyperbole. I sleep for three to four hours and that’s it. The insomnia battle started last week again. It was a stressful week for A at work, and I take everyone’s worries and burdens on my shoulders, so, last week, on top of recovering still from surgery, I fretted endlessly about A. He works so hard and is good at his job (I’m biased), but his work is hard. I couldn’t do what he does. Worrying for him triggered my insomnia. So. Here I am. Exhausted to my core, tired to my bones.

When I’m this tired, this physically and emotionally wiped out, it’s hard not to slide back into the dark places, those places where my brain tells me cancer will kill me sooner rather than later, that my children will grow up without me, that A will be a widower before he’s 40, that I’m unlucky and doomed. My brain reverts to its scumbag state, and it’s hard to claw away from that hole, that abyss. The slide is gradual, persistent, with few footholds to grab.

Work, friends, and family stop the sliding and give me footholds.

S spent part of her weekend with her best friend, and A had to work most of Saturday, so I spent time with AJ. We Pokémon-hunted at the park, I watched him play and run around, and I taught him how to make his daddy’s favorite cake frosting (dark chocolate ganache). We walked around, went to the lake, and relaxed. AJ is my goofy kid who exasperates me one second and has me laughing the next.

Work helps because I have amazing coworkers and teach at a school with a close-knit faculty and staff who watch for each other. My school has its struggles, but it truly is a great place to work. I spent some time today on the phone with a friend who is a superintendent in another district, and one of the things we talked about was my decision to leave my instructional coach position to return to the classroom and just how much I love being back in the classroom. We talked about the fact that teaching where I do makes a difference because it is a school with such a faculty who feels tied and bonded to each other. We rise and we fall together. Then, we talked about the importance of relationships from administration to faculty to students to parents to community (and the importance of a strong curriculum founded in instructional best practices, meaningful data usage from sound formative and summative assessments, discpline practices…once the two of us get going on education stuff, we go on tangents.). We had a great conversation complete with a joking “If you decide you want another job…” from him and me laughing a lot.

I’m holding on right now, staying out of the hole, and it’s hard. Exhaustion makes it so easy to see the worst in everything, to blame myself for things I have no control over (like cancer), and to believe the lies my scumbag brain whispers. It’s easier to slide, but I’ve never been a quitter…not really. As Shakespeare wrote in Caesar, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” I don’t know that I’m valiant, but I don’t want to die before I die, as Robach says in Better. Allowing myself to slide into the dark where I listen to my scumbag brain does me no good, nor does it do anything good for A, S, or AJ.

There’s a reason I chose a phoenix for my first tattoo -cancer became my first fire, making it through an entire year of treatment became my second fire, and enduring three major surgeries and two minor ones became my third. I’m still here. I rose from those, and I feel the fire licking at me right now. If it becomes more than I can take, that’s ok, too because fire forges steel. It teaches us to be strong, to bend, to remake ourselves.

I’ll rise. I’ll persist.

I have to until I can’t, and when I can’t, it isn’t because I lost. It’s because my time came. Try as we might, death is the equalizer. It comes for us all. Until then, though, fire can burn my feathers, exhaustion can be my slide.

But, I’ll still rise.