Friends and Facts

Last week I received the results of my latest scan. The great news is that my cancer is no longer detectable on the CT scan. This means that the chemo is working, and has shrunk it dramatically — to the point we can’t see it. What does that mean for me? Not much. I’ll continue on my chemotherapy schedule with Gemzar. I’ll have a little more flexibility if I need/want to take chemo breaks/vacations  — like when we travel to Alaska in June — but basically I will keep to my routine. Overall, I’m pleased at the progress.

We have these friends who we only get to see every year or two and lately only for a couple days at most. But it doesn’t really matter because we just pick up where we left off — like the time apart hasn’t been time apart — and spend virtually the entire time together talking. Literally not shutting up except to sleep. And we talk the four of us together, as our children play — picking up where they’ve left off, too — or husbands and wives separately. Catching up, discussing parenting, volunteering, and life in general. And laughing. Oh do we laugh. Great big belly laughs with tears running down our faces, making jokes out of almost anything and everything.

It is always, always a soul-refreshing time. No matter how short. This visit we spent less than 48 hours together. Because they love us so much that they were willing to drive more than 22 hours round-trip to spend a day and a half with us. I can only hope we provide half the refreshment they provide us.

Friendship can be a fickle and fleeting thing, so for me to count these two beautiful people as dear and precious friends makes me feel so blessed. I am not one who has a wide circle of close friends, but I’m so fortunate to have a few amazing people in my tribe. I have done nothing to deserve these stellar souls in my life, but they are and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Thank you both for making the sacrifice to come down to see us. Thank you for the laughs and the conversations and the encouragement. Thank you for your loyal and unwavering friendship. We love you more than we can ever express.

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

 

On Books and Constancy

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Yes, that it is a book laying next to a toilet. The one in our powder room, to be more specific. The kid enjoys a good read while sitting on the throne. I know it seems funny for me to take a picture of this, but wait until you read why I did.

You see, that particular book — Harry the Dirty Dog — was written in 1956. I bought it from an adorable book shop about 8 or 9 years ago, when kiddo was around 2, and it’s one that has remained in his possession no matter how many times we go through his books (about every 6 months). He loves it. It’s one of his favorites — one he goes back to again and again even though he’s almost double digits and living in the 21st Century.

Books have been a part of the kiddo’s life since before birth. We read him Bible stories in the womb. We’ve read books to him nearly every night of his life. He’s an avid reader, and even chooses books over Minecraft sometimes.

I love that he chose to read Harry the Dirty Dog last night. I love that he has this enduring love — this constancy — for the books read to him as an infant and toddler. I love this picture because it shows me that while our family is dealing with some BIG life-altering things (like seemingly unending cancer treatment and the prospect of moving), my little boy finds security and solace in a good old book.

Kids are resilient, I know. We are told that pretty often, usually after some kind of minor parenting fail. And I’ve always believed that when he’s overheard an argument or when I showed him how to peel vegetables and he peeled off part of his skin. He’s resilient; he’ll be fine.

But when Mom gets cancer, it’s a whole different ballgame. The things I had always done for my child were suddenly insurmountable. There was no chaperoning field trips or volunteering at school; there were months when I couldn’t drop him off or pick him up. Times when those designated to go in my stead forgot him, and the school had to call me. I even had to miss his year-end project because I was recovering from surgery.

As any mother would, I worried that all of this would negatively affect him. That he’d be scarred for life. Instead, though, he made straight As for the entire school year. He reached a big milestone spiritually. He was resilient. Someone told me that those accomplishments mean that he feels secure.

Somehow, in spite of the upheavals that Cancer caused (and still causes), my husband and I managed to keep our little one feeling safe and secure. Mostly, I credit my husband. He took over so many of my activities — reading and saying prayers nightly, dropping him off at school, attending that year-end project — and most importantly, caring for him spiritually. All while taking care of me.

I look at my son daily, wondering with amazement at how seemingly “unaffected” he is by my illness. I know he is — in the way that he occasionally snuggles up to me for longer periods of time, or how quickly he’s willing to do something for me — but for the most part he’s a happy kid.

And I realize that he’s happy because he’s loved. Books may come and go; the snuggles may disappear; but he is and always will be able to rely on our love. It’s the biggest constancy in his life.

Perspective

I had a lovely weekend. I credit much of that to the extra fluids I received intravenously and to the care I took to keep myself hydrated. I was able to attend a full-day spiritual event that I had been looking forward to for weeks. So many people approached me and hugged me (hoping that won’t bite me in the butt this week), ecstatic that I was present. It was moving to see how many people had heard in passing, and how much they wanted to offer expressions of affection and love. It is because of our Heavenly Father hearing and answering these people’s prayers that I am coping with this diagnosis so well.

Sunday we got to spend with one of my favorite families in the world! It was such a respite from the barrage of attention I’ve been receiving lately. There were no glances at my head (that I noticed); no looks of concern. Just down to earth fun. M and I swung on swings at a playground; we drank wine and watched TV; and sat around by a bonfire with our kids. It is the most normal I’ve felt lately, and I am so grateful to them for allowing me to just chill.

I saw my sister off last night  with a Manhattan in a cocktail glass she painted for me (remind me to post a picture of it) and her homemade cheesecake (yum). She will be back to visit with her hubs in three weeks, so the goodbye was not quite so bittersweet.

This morning, after dealing with the initial dry-mouth, dry nose, stuffiness that is Chemo treatment, I planned my outfit and applied my makeup (thanks to my friend A for the amazing eyeshadow palettes!). I even tied my scarf by myself!IMG_2252

Clearly, I was proud of today’s look. I am actually quite enjoying the whole outfit/makeup/hat/scarf planning and execution. Not that I’m glad that I have cancer or anything … but it is awfully fun to take a little extra time to make oneself pretty. In fact, I’m thinking about posting different looks, and sharing what makeup I use … almost like a beauty blog post or something like that. What do you all think?

It reminded me that significant events … marriage, birth of a child, major illness … really help to put life into perspective. As anyone who knows me is aware, I am typically a pretty high-strung person. Always tense and anxious, I usually have a heck of a time unwinding at the end of a day.

But since my treatment started, I’ve begun a new routine. Bedtime is earlier (which I’m sure mostly has to do with the chemo), routines are more relaxing to me. I’m enjoying my evening tea as much as I used to enjoy my evening Manhattan (I know, weird, right?!). I look forward to blogging. I feel closer to my Heavenly Father. My heart swells with appreciation to my friends near and far; old and new; fair-weather and steadfast.

The outpouring of love, prayers, and generosity is beyond comprehension. Since my diagnosis, barely a day has gone by that I have not received a card, care package, flowers, or gift. Today alone, I received seven hand-knit hats and two huge cases (24-can) of La Croix. (By the way, please let me know if you sent it because I want to send a thank you).

Ironically, tonight I feel happier than I have in quite awhile. Truly, to love and to be loved is the sweetest feeling in this world. It really doesn’t take much to be happy if we we open our eyes and hearts and welcome all the beauty that exists each and every day. My heart swells with gratitude to each person who has helped me appreciate this.

xoxo