breast cancer, connection, Encouragement, Health, hope, Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

breast cancer, Health, hope

C like cat.

As I made my appt with my medical oncologist last week, the scheduler on the phone gave me directions to Emory’s Winship Cancer Center, my close by radiation site. I couldn’t hear her well as she said the name of the place, so she reminded me it’s “C,” like cat. How nice that she shares my not benign way of talking! And how interesting that all of a sudden, I can say things like my medical oncologist, my radiation oncologist, when just a few short weeks ago I didn’t have any of these people in my world. But I don’t believe it feels quite the same as if you could say my pool guy, or my tailor, or some similar luxury person one might afford and for affectation sake feel inclined to refer to. I’m not showing off, really, but I can say I have my team, which of course includes me, and I’m confident we will all be taking excellent care of me.

So many refer to this path or journey I’m on, but I need to look at it differently. Imagine your fridge is packed to the gills and one day you discover there’s a moldy lemon way in back. You remove the lemon of course and notice it has released and left some juice and pulp and mold behind, clouding up your glass shelves. Now everything in the fridge must come out and you wipe down the entire fridge with hot soapy water, removing the shelves, the drawers, the butter dish and the door compartments. Next you assess all your fridge contents and decide what to keep and what to toss. Finally, you get a strong bleach cleaner and do a final wipe of the entire fridge, inside and out before putting back the contents. My little not benign mass was that lemon (of course way smaller) and I’m now getting ready for the bleach cleaner treatment.

If I were to call this my path or my journey, which we all know it is, it would feel like mine and mine alone. Referring to it that way, for me, makes me feel separate and I’ll admit a tad lonely, because it sounds more like I’m moving down some road, leaving all familiarity and friends who have stayed behind on land to continue doing their normal things, without some path switching up their plans. I picture Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away taking his beloved Wilson along on his homemade boat as he set out on the big blue sea watching familiar land in the distance get smaller and smaller. I don’t want to be on that boat leaving what I know. Nor do I think I have to.

Instead this experience from Oct to date for me is rather a timeline. You remember the history timelines from grade school? Where there is a horizontal line and big round bullets popping up along the way, and vertical lines extending up and down from them with notable events and their dates? I’m on this timeline, having moved through a slew of significant dates already. I’ve got more ahead, but at some point, you get to the end of the timeline and no, I’m not talking about your own demise, but the end of the events which have made up this moment in your history. Later, you can step back and look at all you moved through and remember all the waiting between bullet points, wishing the next one would hurry and happen already, and how all the wishing in the world didn’t change the rate at which you reached the next bullet point.

I’m in that waiting mode now. Waiting on the Oncotype test results from the tissue they removed during my lumpectomy which will indicate how likely this strain of not benigns is to return. There is some numerical risk value this result will bring and I understand scoring 26 or higher means a greater risk for which they bring out the major artillery. I should hear next week and this value will chart the course of my treatment, tell me whether on top of radiation I also will need chemo. Not even sure the order I’d get them in either, if in fact I do need both. I’ve thrown a ridiculous amount of anxiety at this possibility and worried myself into tears, an unlimited stream that easily comes out of nowhere and which I’ve let run its long and winding course each time, leaving my eyes puffy and watery.

I’ve decided to hold on to a few positives, however: my dreams over the years have been quite telling. As horrible as this may sound, the night before my mom died I dreamed that she died. And what do you know, the next day she did. I had dreamed this dream once before earlier in her emphysema illness, but this second one I guess took. Certainly not my doing, but I found it interesting that it popped up in my dreams just the night before. All this said, the other night I dreamed I got my results and I only needed radiation, and the strain of radiation recommended would be super easy and manageable, and before you know it, I’d be cruising toward the end of this timeline, ready to daily pop that estrogen blocker pill I’m to go on for five years. I woke up in a hopeful mood, with less puffy eyes, and my outlook was energetic and largely normal. As if that weren’t enough to boost me, the next day I found a penny on the ground, heads up, which if you’re even mildly superstitious you might know is good luck.

My results will be my results. I will do what the doctors recommend, because while medicine fascinates me, biology is the only class I’ve ever failed, and so I’m not going to even begin to know any better or second guess these doctors. That poor biology grade was pure laziness on my part as I refused to memorize all the parts and pieces of these amazing bodies of ours, refused to put in the enormous hours required. Whatever course of treatment I am prescribed, I will keep moving through my timeline, and continue to move forward, checking all these things off my list. Of course, I would love this treatment to be easy and not make me feel or look bad, but in the end, I’ve got that gleaming refrigerator waiting for me at the finish line, and c’mon, who doesn’t love a cleaned out fridge?