Archive | November, 2010

Birthdays . . .

29 Nov

Today is my birthday. I have been thinking about this day for a while now. 20 months ago I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. I was not sure I would see my next birthday, let alone this one, nearly two years later. A year plus of cancer treatments (chemotherapy, Herceptin and radiation) and surgeries and now . . . here I am.

I am grateful for a cancer free birthday and a cancer free Thanksgiving this year.

It has been quite a ride so far. I am still learning how to navigate things post cancer and cancer treatment. Mostly I just want to get back to my life . . . in whatever and as many ways that I can.

I know that the life I am getting back to isn’t the same life I had before cancer and never will be. But, it is a life. And, it is a life with a lot of joy.

I have a hard time thinking about it as being a better or more meaningful life post cancer. And yet in many ways it is better and more meaningful. Before cancer I imagined what people who go through cancer must feel like. I presumed that anyone who got through cancer, who survived it, would be grateful and would find more meaning in everything. You know . . . every sunset  is more beautiful, every flower smells sweeter, being grateful for every single day . . . that kind of stuff. That is the Hallmark side of things I guess.

But, it is not exactly that simple. There have been losses – things I can no longer do, feeling that is lost, breasts that were lost, clarity that was lost, friends that were lost, relationships that are seemingly altered forever, daily struggles with people who still view me as sick and limited by that sickness and people who fail to accept that I am still recovering and am just not up to everything yet (I am still figuring out what I am up for), and changes in my body from chemotherapy and radiation and the scarring of multiple surgeries and of course a forever body changing (but, life saving) mastectomy.

And then there were the friendships that were forged, and forged deep, through this cancer . . . that without this disease I would never have experienced. The kindness and love that came my way from both expected and unexpected places. The physical triumphs (recovering from anaphylactic shock that occurred during an early chemotherapy treatment, walking two miles when I did not think that I could, getting through treatments). The mental triumphs (fighting with with my insurance provider, my doctor and simply staying afloat when everything seemed to be falling apart). The friends I made, the friends I kept, the incredible support of my family and friends. I have much to be grateful for . . . and I am very grateful.

Still, I have a hard time understanding when someone says that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. I don’t get that. I DO get that things are different and sometimes those differences are really good. But, it does not minify the struggles of the past 20 months. And it does not take away the worry that a cancer patient has of having a recurrence. I did not need cancer to know how precious my family and friends were to me. But, I do have a deeper appreciation for what is important . . . at least for what is important for me now.

I can not imagine ever saying that I am glad that I had cancer. But, I can say that some good has come from it.

I don’t think I will every “go back” to my life as I knew it. In fact, I know that I won’t. Different things are important to me now. And some things that were important to me before cancer simply no longer rate. But, those things that are important to me are richer and are more special. So, that is something.

Here is one of the ways in which my life will not likely ever return to normal – I will see my oncologist soon (and will continue to see her regularly for the rest of my life). I have a CT scan, an ultrasound and a colonoscopy soon. Oh, and yes, blood work to check tumor markers.

I think all of this is within the next two weeks. I need to check my medical planner – I keep all of my medical appointments and tests in a separate place so I don’t have to see it or think about it unless I choose to think about it). I need to do this so that I can look at a calendar and not see the cancer in it. I have come a long way from the days of having to plan everything around cancer treatment dates and surgeries and recovery times. That is something for which I am incredibly grateful.

Like I said above, I am still finding my way in this post cancer existence. But, the fact that I have another birthday today is quite a big deal to me. I am very, very grateful to be here and . . . hopefully . . . I have many more birthdays ahead.

Much love and thanks to all for your love and support,


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18 Nov
Cover of "One Fish, Two Fish (Dr.Seuss Cl...

One Breast, Two Breast, Red Breast, New Breast . . .

I haven’t written in a while. I keep starting a blog post, even get quite a distance into it, but, then I stop, save it as a draft and put my laptop away. When I return to it the next day I am no longer “there” anymore and so I start over, writing about something else. I have nearly posted something on a number of topics in the past couple of weeks. But, I just can’t seem to put myself behind it long enough to get it done.

Lately, I either write because I feel particularly down, displaced by this cancer nonsense, and use writing as a vehicle to somehow transport me back to a better spot or I write because I want to share something really good.

I think the past several weeks I have had so many highs and lows and have so quickly felt tossed back and forth from one extreme to another that I can’t wrap my head around either place long enough to write about it. Friends are calling and emailing to see how I am doing: “You haven’t written in a while . . . are you okay?” etc.

I am tired. I am overwhelmed. I am happy. I am sad. I am grateful. I am angry. I am joyful. I am mad.

I am quick. I am strong. I am slow. I am weak. I am exhausted. I am invigorated. I am bereft. I NEED sleep.

Maybe I can turn the above into a Dr. Seuss book for cancer patients.

In a tree. In a boat. On a train . . .

I know . . . I could call it: One Breast, Two Breast, Red Breast, New Breast (you know, the Dr. Seuss book: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish). That would have to be the breast cancer-mastectomy-radiation-reconstruction version of the book. Or I could do a new version of “Oh the places you”ll go” . . . and call it: “Oh The Places You Will Never Want to Go”?

I am fierce . . . the hot-pink-now-faded t-shirt I wore to nearly every infusion for over a year.

I am 20 months into this cancer roller coaster and still I am not off the ride. It isn’t like there is a graduation day. No Pomp and Circumstance marks the end of my war. I don’t get a diploma that says “cured”. There isn’t a sign that says “Now Departing Cancerland”.

Instead, there are the daily reminders of both what I have been through and what I look forward to, what I have lost and what I have gained. Every time I get dressed and look to see if a scar shows through or whether a top still fits or does it need to be tossed. And, the difficulty even getting some clothes on and off because my arms don’t go all the way up over my head anymore (the radiated side is not cooperating at all – one of the things they don’t tell you is that when you go through radiation your pectoral muscle can shrink which can leave you with a frozen shoulder . . . back to physical therapy at $100 a week . . . )

I marvel at how far I have come, but, I am sobered by how far I still have to go. It is a very strange and surreal journey. And it is not over. I guess that is the most difficult part right now – navigating through this time – from cancerland to the rest of my life. I feel pain on a daily basis, but, it is better to keep moving than to lay in bed. I definitely feel like I have my wits about me again . . . chemo-brain be damned (my brain really does seem to function again . . . the way it used to . . . what a huge relief). And, I have been able to work out a few times at the level I would have before all of this began (I put in a pretty intense hour and a half at the gym just a few days ago). I AM making my way there . . . where ever there is . . .

I just wish there was a map.