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Archive for the ‘cancer’ Category

New Normal

Well, it only took about a year for it to really sink in. I have no breasts and there is no going back. At least not for me.

It is physically possible that I could get reconstructive surgery. I have enough fat to spare to make like six extra boobs, if I wanted them. But, I finally realized, I really don’t.

When I made the choice not to get reconstruction I felt very strongly that I was making the right decision. My surgeon disagreed. He said something about it being sad to have two fewer boobs in the world. He also said things like “You’re still young and attractive.” (uh.. thanks) and “They will be pert and firm even in your eighties.” (uh… ew?) and “We can make them tasteful.” (boobs! yum!) But I was just like “No.” “No, thank you.” and “Dude, I said no.”

But, there was still that thought niggling around in my mind whispering doubts like “Maybe it would be better. Maybe I would be prettier. Maybe it would be easier.” And, every time I would remind myself that it is just not worth it, not for me anyway. Still, the doubts would come creeping back, tempting me and making me feel unsatisfied, if just slightly.

Until yesterday, when something shifted, and slid into place and fit there comfortably. I am not going to change my mind. This is it. It is what is right for me. There are always going to be lots of maybes and what ifs in life, like “Is this the right house for me?” “Is this the right educational path for my child?” or “What if I took that job offer?’ But, thank god, there are also times when the what ifs and maybes fall away and you are where you are and you like it, maybe even love it, or it just feels right, even if it is not perfect.

I am happy for even this small amount of acceptance. When so much of life is up in the air, it feels good to be able to let some things go.

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Celebrate good times

I like to celebrate. I celebrate birthdays, holy days, TGIF, quitting time, the start of basketball season, accomplishing a hard won goal, the release of the next great book (or movie) in a beloved series, graduations, milestones, transitions, the longest day of the year, the longest night, and the days when the day and night are the same length. 😉

I like excuses to eat special food, decorate the house, maybe even buy some special gifts to commemorate the event. Celebrations don’t really stress me out. Maybe because I usually keep it low-key. But, sometimes, I really don’t. *cough*Halloween*cough* I guess I like to make life more magical. I’m kind of still a kid in that way (and in many other ways too :P)

Today is another big milestone for me. Today is my one year anniversary of being cancer free. Last year, at this time, I was being taken into surgery to have a bilateral mastectomy. They found 2 tumors, one was stage 2 and one was more like stage 0. After my surgery, I was, for all intents and purposes, cancer free.

I was SO scared in the couple weeks leading up to the surgery. Not about the cutting or the loss or the pain. Nope. I was scared of going under anesthesia. I really hated the idea that I could be put to sleep and never wake up again. I knew it was extremely unlikely, but still, the idea haunted me.

I had, just recently, bought remastered versions of every Beatles’ album on CD. And I decided that, if I did die, I wanted to leave something to my friends. So I wrote the names of my friends on slips of paper and put one in each CD. Then I told Brian “If I don’t wake up make sure my friends get these.”

I pulled out some special books from my library to give to other friends. I wrote Zoe a letter. I told Brian my final wishes, etc.

But then, a couple days before the surgery, I let the fear go. Or maybe it let go of me. I realized that if I did die, well I wouldn’t even know. And that there would be nothing for me to be sad about. I knew my family was strong and that they would be okay without me. And my friends, well hopefully whenever they heard certain Beatles’ songs they would think of me and be happy they knew me.

This morning, when I woke up, I lay in bed and tried to remember the series of events leading up to my surgery last year. I remembered the brown coat I wore to the hospital. I remembered the velcro things they wrapped around my legs to keep me from getting blood clots, I remembered the dark warm room where they drew x’s and lines on my breasts. I remember trying to keep things light, for Zoe’s sake and holding Brian’s hand.

There are parts I can’t remember, because the anesthesia has a amnesic effect. But I do remember struggling to wake up in the recovery room. And I remember part of my drug addled brain being super-freaking-fantasically-happy to have woken up.

Then I found out that the surgery went really well. I got to go home the next day. And, over the next few weeks, I healed quickly and without complications.

I had to do chemo, just in case there were any stray cancer cells still in my body. But there was no reason to think there were. My margins were really good and so was my surgeon. So, as far as we know, December 10th 2010 I had no cancer in my body. And, as far as we know now, I still don’t. :)IMO, that is definitely worth celebrating.

I suppose if my friends lived nearby I might have them over tonight for a happy little party. Hmmm, that would be cool. Maybe for my 5 year anniversary. 🙂 Maybe then I’ll take those slips of paper out of my Beatles’ CDs too.

My plans for today are to go to the mall, by myself, and buy a fancy dress to wear to Brian’s company Christmas party. I am looking forward to it because I don’t really get a lot of time to myself. I might treat myself to a holiday latte and maybe some cute new shoes too. Tonight I will do something with B and Z. Brian is downstairs concocting a family game for us all to play together. I might request some serious snuggling time as well.

I don’t think you have to do all that much to celebrate. It is more of a mindset. You just decide the day, the hour, the moment is special and make it so. But, I definitely and legitimately have something to celebrate today. 🙂

 

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I am not sure if I will continue to mark the anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis after this year. But it is what I feel like doing this year, so I am going to honor that.

I thought it might be interesting to remember the highs and lows of the last 12 months. For sure #1 on on the lowest of the lows was the day I answered the phone and my surgeon’s nurse told me that my report came back positive for cancer.

That next week, when I didn’t know what stage cancer I had, I have to put on the Low List and the High List. Low because it was beyond scary. But High because I came to some kind of peace with the inevitability of death.

Other Lows (Let’s have fun remembering them together! :P)

  • Fear of my surgery. I had a irrational worry I was going to die on the operating table.
  • The tubes in my chest after the surgery, they weren’t so bad for me but they freaked Zoe out. Now she has a fear of Clowns, Spiders, Wolves, and Tubes.
  • Getting shingles on New Years Eve – Worst.pain.ever. As painful as giving birth but for THREE weeks. Do you remember the fun of not being able to wear clothes and having to huddle inside a make-shift hut, so that nothing could touch me?? Good times…
  • The Doxorubicin chemo, a.k.a The Red Devil or Red Death. That stuff was a nightmare. I was walking around like a zombie. I feared it was killing who I was and all that would be left was a Heather body, without the Heather inside.
  • Having a neutropenic reaction to the chemo (very very low white blood cell count. I think I had like half of a white blood cell left.) and ending up in the hospital for days. It was scary. I couldn’t sleep because I was the only one advocating for myself. Then I was quarantined from Brian and Zoe because we were all sick.

Sooooo, we are not even up to February yet… but the Lows List doesn’t go on and on so thickly the whole year. Trust me. In fact, after I got off the Red Devil, I mostly complained about not getting to eat sushi.

  • But then, the Sunday before Father’s Day, Brian’s Dad passed away, in his sleep and unexpectedly. That was a huge blow to our whole family. Especially because my mother-in-law, Anne, had lost her battle with brain cancer just one year prior. Losing both of Brian’s parent, and so young, really sucks and continues to suck. And I still can’t be eloquent about it.

I guess I should get on to the Highlights of the past year. There were some really wonderful moments, and thankfully, they out number the bad ones. (in no particular order)

  • Our car exploding (because our insurance covered it. Yay!)
  • Shaving my head (Thanks Zak!)
  • Zoe’s birthday presents (Thinking of you Amy)
  • The presents (from all my amazing friends, your support got me through those dark times. You restored my faith in the goodness of people. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.)
  • The quilt (I will treasure it always)
  • Jeanette (my most thoughtful and nicest friend)
  • Ohio (SO many GOOD times!)
  • Another cross country drive with my family and listening to my 92 track Beatles playlist.
  • Jumping off a cliff into the Mediterranean
  • That whole cruise (seeing The Parthenon, The Sistine Chapel, Olympia, The Coliseum, etc) with my sister-in-law.
  • Seeing PAUL MCCARTNEY in concert. ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod
  • Brian getting a very good job offer in an interesting city.
  • Moving to Philly.

Coincidentally, I have more than twice as many bullet point on my Highs List than my Low list. And I am sure I am forgetting some important Highs that should be on the list.

So, my first year retrospective… we experienced some huge tragedies. Death sucks. Cancer sucks. Fear and pain can back the fuck off for awhile. I don’t even want to tie it all up in a pretty bow about survival and strength, because that is not honest. The truth is that life is suffering and it never stops, until it does. But… (dang, I guess I can’t help but try to accentuate the positive, that is kind of my thing) life is also everything that is beautiful and miraculous. And that is the kind of year I had, a sucky, fearful, painful, sad, strong, positive, beautiful and miraculous year.

 

 

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Me, One Year Later

This coming Monday will mark one year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The anniversary has been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about the ways breast cancer isn’t really part of my life anymore and about the ways that it still is.

I’m wondering if I should cut back on my drinking (Thank you TJN), not that I drink all that much, maybe 3-5 times a week. But this new study came out that even that low amount has been shown to correspond to an increase in breast cancer. So, this week, when I have wanted to reach for a beer at the end of a busy or stressful day, I have some decaf coffee instead. (At this point I am still allowed to drink coffee.)

Not that I am complaining! I recognize all the time that I am SO lucky.  I am here. I regularly tell myself of that when my thoughts are racing and I am feeling stressed or upset. “I am here.” I say, both reminding myself that whether life is good or bad, exciting or stressful, the most important thing is that I am still here to live it and also, in a more concrete way, it is a call to myself to get out of my head and be HERE. I feel my breathing, see the dust motes dancing in the sunlight, hear the hum of the radiator. I bring myself into the moment and savor that feeling for as long as I can. Though it never feels long enough.

I live daily with the idea that I might not make it through the next five years. It makes it easier to say “yes” to the things I want in my life and “no” to the things that don’t add to me. It makes me want to hold my daughter, forgive my husband for the small trespasses that sometimes cause strife between spouses (dirty socks on the floor again?), and write my novel, so that I have something important that I created, to leave behind.

Sometimes that idea makes me want to travel, far and wide, so I get a chance to see more of the world’s beauty and wonder. Other times I think there is nothing more beautiful and wonderful than staying at home with my family.

Sometimes it makes me cry, because I really don’t want my life to be so short.

Brian tells me that that feeling will fade over time. He says one day I will realize that I haven’t thought of cancer in weeks. But, right now, it has only been a year, and just six months since I finished chemo.

In some ways my life is been indelibly altered. I’ll always have these scars, on my chest and in my heart. But I don’t hate my scars. They are just part of me. My scars mean a lot of things to me. Sometimes they are symbols of my strength. Sometimes they are a reminder that life and good health is fragile, for us all. Sometimes they are just one more way that I am different from the average girl. Sometimes they make me want to try harder to be beautiful, to compensate for what I have lost. Sometimes they are good luck charms, these scars mean I am still alive. But mostly they are just there, something altered, part of the new me.

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