Visit at the Right Time

A true friend shows love at all times,

And is a brother (or sister) who is born for times of distress.

                                                                   –Proverbs 17:17 (NWT)

My best friend and her husband came down for a visit this weekend. She’s my friend that I’ve mentioned before — she sends me a card every week. She and I FaceTime regularly. We are kindred spirits, and I feel very blessed to have her in my life. She remembers things about me that I even forget, and she listens more closely than I realize, as is evident from different gifts that she will send me throughout the year. I can tell her absolutely anything, with complete confidence that she will not judge me.

The weekend was so refreshing and just what I needed. We made virtually zero plans, aside from what to eat and where to eat it. And we just talked. And talked. And talked. It’s amazing that we even have anything to talk about, since we talk via text and FaceTime often, but we always do. Conversations drifted back and forth between topics, and we rarely actually finished one, as we got distracted by the next. But we would have it no other way. It’s the way our friendship works.

Recently I have felt lonely. Being under the influence of strong opioid drugs, I do not drive so my ability to run errands, or even to engage in some casual retail therapy, are very limited. Some days — even if I have the opportunity to be chauffeured around — I don’t feel up to it. It’s a very solitary existence, and I’ve given in to self-pity.

The reality is, though, that I am blessed with real and true friends. Friends that are family, both literally and figuratively. Friends that use their mileage points for me. Friends that carve time out of every week to send me a card or to FaceTime with me. Friends that make me laugh until I cry and friends who text me just to check in. Friends who are genuinely happy for me when I get to spend time with another friend. Friends who end their texts and phone calls with “love you.”

As my kindred spirit left today, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law arrived. They, along with my local sister-in-law and family, greeted me with long, protective hugs and faces that showed their happiness at seeing me.

My friends have made the story of my life.
–Helen Keller

This Tuesday I will find out the results of my scans. I will either receive good or bad news about how the Chemotherapy is or isn’t working. My oncology team will either tell me to continue the Chemo regimen I’m in or we will explore other options. I’ve been nervous about this appointment since last weekend. As to be expected, I am still anxious about the appointment, but I sit here writing without the dread that’s been hanging over my head.

I’ve been strengthened and refreshed by my visit with my sweet friend. It’s simply impossible to enjoy the friendship I’ve enjoyed this weekend and continue to have dread in my heart.

And I can feel the support of my family as I head into the week of unknowns ahead of me.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for reminding me that I’m not alone at all.

xoxo

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Life Beyond Cancer?

This post has been months in the making. It has been rolling around in my brain — in my conscious and subconscious — but I’ve had difficulty converting it to coherent thoughts and words. This is my sixth attempt.

Here are facts I can state. I developed Lymphedema in my left arm. It presented at first with purple skin, and then the arm became slightly swollen. We ruled out a blood clot before determining that it was indeed lymphedema. Treatment involved wrapping the arm in about five layers of cotton, foam, and bandages for three weeks. Now I wear a compression sleeve and gauntlet (covering the wrist, thumb, and palm; but no fingers). I am still supposed to wrap it overnight. We will see how that goes.

I am waiting to find out when and where I will have my next surgery. Being on Medicaid limits my options as far as surgeons go. I may need to travel anywhere from one to six hours to find a doctor who will work with me. I am hoping to qualify for the DIEP FLAP procedure. It is a long and complicated surgery; hence the reluctance of many surgeons to work with Medicaid. Medicaid just doesn’t pay well.

I turn 40 tomorrow.

Those are the facts I can relate. After that, things get swirly and blurred. This cancer-free life is not at all what I expected, and my emotions ebb and flow like a stormy sea. It doesn’t help that tomorrow is an age-related milestone.

The lyrics to this song have been on repeat in my head lately. Some days I feel others’ pain intensely, to the point of tears. But when it comes to me, I flatline. Nothing. No joy or  melancholy. No frustration or contentment. Just a big empty space. It’s like I am hollow; that if you really look into my eyes you’ll see resignation, exhaustion, or maybe nothing at all.

Trust me, I know that I am still recovering from the physical trauma of cancer treatment. My energy is building, but it isn’t great — and it may never get better. Side effects, like lymphedema and infertility are realities that will not go away. Other effects, like early menopause are physically and mentally exhausting. But these are realities that I can learn to live with.

What people in the cancer community don’t really talk about, though, is post-cancer depression. Some studies say that as many as 25% of cancer survivors suffer from low mood and/or depression. In fact, some experts compare these weeks, months, even years with grief. Not in the sense that the survivor is mourning the end of cancer treatment; but feelings of anxiety, anger, and sadness sometimes flood the brain after hearing the “all-clear.”

For instance, turning 40. On the one hand, I look at what I have accomplished in my 30s. I became a mother (technically I was 29, but it took until I was 30 to really get into a routine). I became a business owner (we’re about to celebrate our 10th anniversary). I grew spiritually, celebrated anniversaries (17 years and counting!), and watched my son navigate his way through the early school years.

On the other hand, I look at the hardships and difficulties from the last 10 years. I had a miscarriage. My Psoriatic Arthritis came back (it went into remission during pregnancy and the first few years of his life) with a vengeance. I had allergic reactions due to medications, and a stay in the Psych ward from a medically-induced manic state. I had three surgeries. A death in the family. I lost my best friend, and I nearly ruined my relationship with my parents.

I GOT CANCER.

Forty is just an age. It’s still closer to one than to a hundred. It’s also even more time for the cancer to return. That’s what think of on bad days. Some days, these lyrics could be about me (not romantically, of course).

The frustrating thing about chemotherapy is the longer-term side effects. The memory impairment. The lack of concentration. These last months, years, or never go away. So it takes an immense amount of energy to focus, to be motivated, to care about things.

I used to love adult coloring to relieve my stress and to make me feel better. Now the thought of starting a page is so overwhelming that I haven’t tried in more than a year. Trying to pick which color pencil to start with is a monumental task.

While I was going through chemo, I took great pride in doing my makeup, choosing my outfit, and making myself as “pretty” as possible. These days, I don’t even want to shower. And I won’t go into the impact cancer — breast cancer — has on one’s self image.

Fortunately, I am quite sick of my wallowing. So I am trying to fake it till I make it. Many days, this has worked. I’ve taken on a new project at work. I try to engage more with my husband and my son. I check in with family and friends.

It’s a work in progress. I am going to talk to the doctor about adjusting my antidepressant. I will try to exercise more. But it is a fight, and sometimes I lose the battle. I’ve learned that I can succumb for a little bit — maybe even a day — because it’s OK to acknowledge the anxiety, worry, and anger, that comes with cancer, or even with our daily lives.

I also realize that allowing myself to feel and explore these negatives emotions needs a time limit, or the hills grow rapidly into mountains I cannot imagine climbing. Recognizing this seems like an accomplishment in itself.

Not much will change tomorrow. I’ll still be a mom and a wife and a business owner. A daughter, a sister, and hopefully a friend. Maybe I will be a little more grateful. A little more compassionate. I’ll listen to my son’s imaginary super heroes with a little more patience. Look at my husband and pay attention to what he is saying; pulling myself away from whatever I was doing. Maybe I will look up from my phone and look at creation with a little more awe and appreciation.

Cancer is life-changing. The key, I think, is to listen to what the experience teaches. To be present. To be loving, compassionate, and kind. To help others when it’s inconvenient for us. To be thankful to God for life and the strong body that helped me fight and beat cancer. To be happy and content with what and who I have in my life.

xoxo

 

Happiness through Illness

Almost daily, I am asked “How do you feel?” And I feel almost guilty because I really am holding up well. That’s not to say that Chemo isn’t kicking my butt some days, or that I don’t get frustrated at my limitations or sad that sometimes I have to sleep all day long. But my overall mood is better than it’s been in years.

I credit several actions that I take to my overall sense of wellbeing, and I wanted to share them with you, dear readers, so you if you are currently coping with illness or do in the future, you can try some of these tactics. I hope they work as well for you as they do for me.

tranquility-2

Hope

Hebrews 6:19 tells us, ” We this hope as an actor for the soul, both sure and firm” (Revised New World Translation). As humans, we are born with a spiritual need. I don’t ignore mine, and I have tremendous hope through my faith in God and the promises that He has made for us through His word, The Bible.

This hope keeps me grounded. Through prayer, I throw my anxieties on God, and allow him to calm my heart. It has strengthened my relationship with Him and strengthened my faith in the hope He provides us.

I encourage all who cope with illness to fulfill their spiritual need. Find your hope, because it will anchor your soul.

Stop Negative Thinking

Recently, I was asked about whether or not certain events happened to me before my cancer diagnosis. And I realized, that I had never given a thought to why I had cancer. I already knew. Humans are imperfect. King Solomon said, “The swift do not always win the race, nor to the mighty win the battle … because time and unexpected events overtake them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11,  Revised New World Translation).

Maybe my love affair with wine, bourbon, and bacon contributed to my cancer. Maybe not. Maybe it’s my family history. But does it really matter why? If it wasn’t this, it is likely some other difficulty would have come along.

When I was diagnosed, I did cry. I hated the thought of making people worry about me; turning my family’s world upside down. I felt that way on and off for a few days.

And then, I realized how blessed I am to have parents who jumped in to take work responsibilities off me. To have a husband who has yet to argue with me, even when I am at my most ridiculous. To have a son who understands my current limitations, and shows concern for me in the sweetest and subtlest ways. To have my sister drop everything to visit me whenever I need her. To have an outpouring of kindness from friends near and far. The first month after my diagnosis, not one single day passed that I did not receive a care package or cards. I have a beautiful kindred spirit who sends me a card every single week, texts me several times during the week, and arranges FaceTime “dates” every few weeks. All with two kids! Friends are arranging to visit, even just for a long weekend (an 11 hour drive with two kids) or a day or two during the week (from 3 hours away).

How can I be sad? I have never felt more loved in my life.

If you are faced with illness, please try to push negative thoughts away so you can see how much you are truly loved.

Surround Yourself with Those You Love and Who Love You

Illness saps our energy and it is easy to end up isolating ourselves. Try not to. It’s difficult for me, because honestly I don’t know if I will be too fatigued to leave the house. But I do conditionally accept invitations. And with some careful planning, i am able to make these invitations work.

Mom and Dad take turns bringing me to Chemo (I cannot drive myself). And as much as I plan to get certain things done, we usually end up talking. Sometimes it’s about the shop (work). Sometimes its catching up on other things. But we talk and it’s fun and it makes the time go quickly.

When my son comes home from school, I try to engage him a little bit. He’s nine, so he’d rather play Minecraft, but we at least talk about his day and get his homework finished. I try to spend time with my husband during the days that I’m able to keep my eyes open.  And we go to my parents once a weekend for dinner. Always.

This leads me to my next practice.

Plan Out Your Days

You already know that I am a planner. A paper planner. You’ve seen it. I won’t bore you with details. But both chronic and temporary illnesses can  cause forgetfulness, foggy thinking and more. So right now more than ever, I find it essential to writ out and plan my days.

I divide my days into my most important topics (Spiritual, Health, and Work/Personal). And then I write my goals in each section, keeping in mind how I feel during each day. And I don’t try not to get upset if I have to move some to another day. Last week, an entire day had to be rescheduled. It is what it is. I plan heavier on days I know I’ll be hopped up on Steroids, and lighter on the days I know my fatigue is bad. And I plan so that I can do my best to be where I want to be and accept invitations.

I don’t know if this will work for you, but I think it’s worth a shot. It doesn’t have to be in a planner. It can be a to do list. The sense of accomplishment you will feel when you’re able to cross items off your list, is sure to improve your outlook.

Unlock Your Passion

For me it’s always been writing. It is cathartic. It makes me happy. I also enjoy grown-up coloring, creating fun looks with clothing and makeup (see the Beauty menu), and listening to music. These are things I do for myself and not anyone else. I think we all need to do that from time to time.

Do you want to learn to knit? Go for it! Do you like to paint? Create some art. Find something that makes you feel good and that you do just for yourself and not for anyone else. Unless you’re really good. Then sell that stuff 😉

In all seriousness, though, sometimes what we love doing we do want to share. That’s why I write this blog. In the hopes that what I love to do and write about might help others.

Communicate With Your Friends

We have sort of covered this already. But it’s important to be in touch with friends even when there is distance between us. I usually HATE FaceTime, but it is one of my favorite things to do right now. To see someone’s face that I don’t get to see daily fills me with joy. The introvert in me hates speaking on the phone, but I try not to ignore any phone calls.

I try to write thank you notes when someone gives me a gift. It helps me to remain grateful and appreciative, and it also a great way to extend my forms of communication.

Do I speak with my friends as much as I want to? No. And I like to think that they understand. Sometimes days get away from me. But I do try to respond and reach out as much as possible. It prevents me from being completely isolated, especially on days when I’m not up to going out.

Last Thoughts

I realize that we all have different personalities. You may be reading some — or all — of these, thinking that I’m ridiculous. And that’s OK. But for me, these things work, and they have made me happier and more contented than I’ve felt in years.

Yes, I have days when sadness overcomes me, or I get angry at my limitations. But eventually I am able to put things into perspective and regain my happiness. I hope that some of these ideas will help you, sweet readers.

 

 

Exhaustion, Celebrity Crushes, and Ice Cream

I am tired. I have had six appointments in the last seven business days — today being my only reprieve. Tomorrow I have another appointment, followed by my port insertion and sentinel node biopsy Thursday morning.

The first of my chemo-caps/hats arrived today. Mom and I ordered several on Sunday night. Better to have them before my hair begins to fall out. My hair stylist is on call to shave my head.

I was finally able to spend a full day at the shop. It seems that a cancer diagnosis brings a large number of visitors to check on me. Today I had no less than five people stop by; one of whom I’d never met before, but heard of my diagnosis from another of my neighbors/customers. Fortunately the afternoon was quiet, and I was able to cross a lot off my list.

In the days since my diagnosis, life seems surreal at best. I fill out the same paperwork at each appointment, and for the reason each test is being ordered, I have to write “breast cancer.” I feel like it’s all a dream. Even when I  am discussing my diagnosis and treatment, I feel like I am speaking for someone else. It’s tough to determine whether this is my coping mechanism or if I’m in some sort of denial.

Speaking of dreams, I had the most wonderful one the other night. As some of you know, I don’t have celebrity crushes on “typical” celebrities. Except Johnny Depp … many share my love of him. Not so many people share my extreme affection for John Malkovich and his amazing voice. Or Mo Rocca and just how utterly adorable he is (I mean c’mon, his show is “My Grandmother’s Ravioli”).

Anyway, my dream the other night was that I got to meet John Malkovich. And I got to tell him how I fell in love with him after we read The Glass Menagerie in school and watched the movie. And he laughed and hugged me. And told me I should study ornithology. What??? John Malkovich, if by some strange chance you read this, can you explain to me why you wanted me to study birds? In any case, Mr. Malkovich, it was the first really good dream I’ve had in a long time, and interacting with you in my dream made me feel so good.

And Mr. Rocca … please know that I love you too, and you’re welcome to visit me in my dreams any time (I used to have a picture of you hanging in my office cubicle once upon a time).

Don’t blame a girl for using the C-word to try to get some attention from her crushes. It was successful in getting a late fee removed … so I’m getting a little cocky.

Back to reality …

Hubs told me tonight that every night when the Kid says his prayer, he pauses, and then says, “Please help my Mommy to feel better because she is sick.” It’s the last thing he prays for. I worry for him when I lose my hair. How will he react? I know children are resilient, but I do worry about how he will handle things once my treatment starts.

Many thoughts and worries are filling my mind these days. Please know that if you have texted, messaged, or called and I have yet to respond, I appreciate each word of kindness. Between appointments and phone calls, and concerns over family and work, by the end of the day I am so tired I cannot think straight. I will try to respond to each message; I just ask for patience as I adjust to my new normal.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, to share my blog, and to continue to send me texts, messages, and to call. I love and appreciate every single one. Especially to my wonderful friends that I made through my husband who sent me wine-flavored ice cream. Yes, you read correctly. If you’re local, you’d better line up for a chance to share it with me. And there is no guarantee that I will.

xoxo

The Devil in the Details

Yesterday we met with the Oncologist. We had a full house — Mom, Dad, Hubs, Breast Care Navigator, Social Worker, and a Med student. My oncologist immediately put us all at ease, joking with us, and making us smile and laugh.

He gave me my full diagnosis, complete with stage:

Stage 2 Triple-Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

What does that mean, you ask? Let me dissect it a bit …

  • Stage 2 is good. It means it hasn’t spread outside of my breast, except maybe a lymph node Yay!
  • Triple-Negative means that it isn’t caused or affected by my hormones. So, I am not a candidate for hormone therapy. It also means that it is a very aggressive type of cancer.
  • Invasive means that the cancer cells have gotten greedy and spread outside of a single milk duct.

Treatment Plan

Beginning November 17, I will undergo approximately six months of Chemotherapy. Triple-Negative Breast Cancer is known to benefit from Chemotherapy prior to surgery. After the Chemo, I will have a mastectomy followed by radiation.

Likely effects will be hair and weight loss. The entire process will be close to one year.

We thank everyone who has offered kind words of support during this time. The last ten days have been mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. I plan on using this weekend to process some of my emotions, so that I am ready emotionally and mentally to fight.

I apologize for the overly factual nature of this post. My mind is so taxed that I’m not quite able to form many emotional thoughts. I am sure they will come to me shortly.

Int he meantime, hang tight … I’ll post more soon.

xoxo

About Motherhood

The kid and I stopped to see a friend acquaintance who just had a baby over the weekend. She’s younger than me and this is her second child (her first is four). There was another, much closer friend, visiting already when we arrived. I felt this friend’s judgement as soon as I walked in.

“You an only child?” She asked.

Confused, I replied, “He is.”

“Didn’t break the cycle, Mom?”

I replied, “Oh no, I have a sister, but he’s an only child.”

I’ve heard this response before. The judgement-non-judgement of those who hold disdain for parents of only children. Even when the judger has no children. For a long time, there was part of me that felt ashamed that I haven’t had another child. But then I look back at the last nine years, and I remember the following:

  • Pregnancy was full of anxiety for me. Having been born with a birth defect myself, I spent the majority of my baby-growing wondering if the baby would be healthy.
  • My birth experience was literally a nightmare. I am not exaggerating. Let’s just say the epidural wore off just in time for the c-section.
  • I have chronic depression, so feelings of inadequacy are pretty much standard. Add that I knew nothing about boys … I’ve spent much of motherhood asking my husband, “Is this normal?” Not a huge confidence-builder.
  • We miscarried. All our excitement for a second child was shattered when, at my first check-up, things didn’t look good. I had to wait another two weeks (to analyze blood work, allow for changes in the ultrasound) to learn that I was carrying a dead embryo inside me. And I didn’t miscarry naturally. I had to have a D&C.
  • When we decided to try again, I chose to go off all my meds. No more sleeping pills or antidepressants. I stopped drinking alcohol. After about two months of this, with a three-year-old testing his boundaries, I came to the realization that I would rather be a good mom to one child than a fractured, damaged, and anxiety-ridden mom of two.

When I reflect on the above, my shame melts away. I just take a deep breath, smile, and try to ignore the judgment.  But while I feel no shame, I do feel judged. And I don’t like to feel judged. So I guess I was feeling a little down this evening. Until this:

The Kid: (as I’m taking out my contacts and getting ready for bed). Mommy, are you coming in my room tonight (to read and snuggle)?

Me: Yes.

The Kid: Yes!!! (then singing, intentionally with the speech impediment) I wuv my Mommy. I wuv my Mommy! (over and over again).

And I realized that I am right where I should be, doing exactly what I should be — and can be — doing.  So, in honor of last night’s post, as Taylor Swift so appropriately puts it, “Haters gonna hate hate hate … I’m gonna shake it off shake it off …”

xo