breast cancer, Uncategorized

Reconstruction Reflection

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I’ve sat down to write this post several times since late last night. Then, I allow myself to be distracted. Cancerversaries approach. Surgery anniversaries approach.

One year ago today, at this time, I was into my first hour of my DIEP reconstruction, of having myself put back together using other parts of me…a little bit like Frankenstein’s Monster but with my own skin and blood and fat.

Sometimes I feel a little bit like a monster, scars and stitches, tough skin and thin skin, discolorations and spots.

Last year, I REALLY did not want to do the DIEP reconstruction. I just wanted to be done with the intensity of cancer. A friend texted me the night before the surgery and reminded me all I had to do was show up. So, I showed up. I had the DIEP reconstruction. I came home with drains, incisions, stitches, and glue. I did not come home happy to be done because cancer is never really done. At this point last year, I still had three Herceptin treatments and an oophorectomy in front of me, at the very least.

It’s been a long time since I felt normal, truly, deeply normal. That’s partially why I began getting tattoos. If I can’t be who I was before cancer, I can be the person I want to be with cancer. I saw my dermatologist last Friday afternoon for my yearly skin check. He commented on my “musical” inspired tattoos. I didn’t correct him because all of my tattoos do have a music note-esque look to them. I’m already planning my next one…a Harry Potter one, probably on my left shoulder or left ribcage. I don’t have very much feeling on my left ribcage from the DIEP, so that’s appealing.

The DIEP began to put me back together, and looking back on it, I don’t regret it. I regret the fact I had to have it. I don’t regret the scars. I regret what mandated the scars. I do miss the things breast cancer stole…my breasts, my ovaries, my happy. Sometimes, I really do miss pre-cancer, hypochondriac me.

I accept what I’ve endured. I accept I may not live to see my children grow up, to grow old with A. I also rage against that which necessitates acceptance.

Reconstruction, to rebuild. I’m still rebuilding.

Maybe I’ll always be under construction.

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breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

When good is never enough

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

I fled.

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

Your truth.

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

Insidiously.

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

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

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

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

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

My luck tends to suck.

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

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

Find myself.

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

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

breast cancer, family, 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.

 

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Weighty

Sometimes, I feel like cancer is a huge anvil chain-wrapped around my neck. I drag it behind me, a slow and steady trudge. I bump people I love with it, and if I don’t watch carefully, I’ll flatten them with it.

Tonight is one of those nights.

I’m snippy, bitchy, if you want the truth, because I don’t want to have surgery tomorrow. I don’t want A spending the first day of Spring Break getting up early to take me to a hospital and sitting for a few hours, waiting for me to be done, only to come home and have to help and wait on me more. He’s rewatching The West Wing and on Season 6 right after President Bartlet’s MS flare up. Yesterday, he watched the episode where the president admits to his wife, Abbey, he can’t put his pants on and needs her help. As she helps him, he says something along the lines of things like that are the reason we vow in sickness and in health.

I’m tired of being the in sickness part of A’s vows.

I know my surgery tomorrow is minor. I’m likely to be home by noon. After tomorrow, I’ll be breastless, ovary-less, and fallopian tubes-less.

My mom wonders why I’ve become a sudden lover of tattoos. It’s my way of choosing the scars carved into my skin. A Phoenix here, an areola there and there, a bouquet of flowers beside them, a dream of a delicate collection of lacework, a symbol on strength somewhere, and a wise owl standing on a stack of books with spines that read “Nevertheless, she persisted” because McConnell’s rebuke to Senator Warren has so many implications.

There are nights when the anvil of cancer becomes heavy, becomes a bigger burden than it already is. My friends are spending Spring Break on vacations. I am spending Spring Break having an oophorectomy. A minor procedure, but hopefully, the last major surgery of my breast cancer hellscape.

I’m considering having a Harry Potter style wand tattooed on my stomach pointing at my scar with the “Reparo” spell whooshing out at it. It’s my way of making light what’s happened to me.

A friend told me the same adage those with tattoos often hear, “Think of what that’s going to look like when you’re older…when you’re old and wrinkled.”

Friend, if I live long enough to be old and wrinkled, I’ll smooth my skin out and show my tattoos to my grandchildren, telling them, “Grandma got this one when she finished her year of breast cancer treatment and this one after another surgery she needed and this one because she needed a reminder and this one because…”

These are my scars to bear, my weight to bear. Let me cope however I can. I hope you never stand in shoes like mine, but if you do, here’s the best piece of advice a fellow cancer recoverer told me, a wise beyond her years twenty something, who battled cancer her senior year of high school, “Do what you need to do to get through and be damned what anyone else tells you. If the cancer comes back, you didn’t do something wrong. If the cancer doesn’t come back, it’s not because you got lucky. Cancer is a bitch. Sometimes, she takes her beating and goes away. Sometimes, she takes her beating and comes back. Whatever happens, you were there for me when I dealt with my cancer, I’m here for you while you deal with yours. No judgements. Ever. No one gets it unless they’ve been there.”

People like her, like A, like my family, sometimes take my breath away with their clarity. I see myself as a weight, a burden they must bear, but I’m not. They choose to bear my burden with me, even on nights like this when the burden is heavy, when I’m prickly, when I’m lashing out as a coping mechanism. They understand it’s me dealing with a swirl of emotions I’m not equipped to handle. Who really is? Who really is equipped to handle the glimpses of mortality, of knowing your cells, the very life of your body, wants to kill you? I may have made peace with my lot, but the weight of the lot is there, dragging behind me.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

More tattoos

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

life, Uncategorized

Keeping Promises

I made myself a promise: if I made it through all the surgeries and the year of treatment, I’d get a tattoo. At first, I wanted one that said mind over matter, but I changed my mind to wanting a phoenix.

I kept seeing the scene in Harry Potter where Harry is in Dumbledore’s office just as Fawkes (Dumbledore’s phoenix) bursts into flames and seemingly dies. Of course, a few minutes later, Fawkes reemerges as a wrinkly, featherless baby phoenix. Then, we see him later in all his colorful glory.

I know my cancer could come back and kill me. I know I may not be able to come back from the ashes if cancer visits me again, but I’m a different person now than I was a year ago. That’s why I wanted the phoenix. It’s not because I made it through this last year. It’s because cancer fundamentally changed me, and I emerged me, but a different me. I’m still trying to figure out this me.

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Tattoo done at Artistic Encounter in Deep Ellum

The tattoo is a lot bigger than I thought I wanted, but I loved the design. So, here it is (sorry, Mom…don’t be too mad at me!) 💜