Sunday, July 22, 2012

Two Years Out

It was on this date, two years ago, when I got a call informing me that the mammogram was abnormal and I needed to see a surgeon.  It was also my 58th birthday.

Today, I am celebrating my 60th birthday.  Apart from the scars, I consider myself fully recovered from all the surgeries and radiation treatments.  I am grateful that cancer is a thing of the past.  While I have strongly resisted the idea of being a cancer "victim" or "survivor", I have come to accept that this was a part of my own journey.  For reasons that only God knows, I needed to have this in my story.

Since I am entering a new decade, I have been reflecting on where I have been and, now, where I am going.  I don't anticipate another round with cancer.  Mine was Stage 0 and non-invasive.  My prognosis was full recovery, and I am assuming that will be the case. 

There are a few things I am taking into the next decade as a result of the cancer.
  1. No one knows what their "life script" will look like.  Inevitably, it will contain themes and story lines which were not anticipated.  When these aberrations in the planned script do occur, it is necessary to come to terms with the new plot line.  There is a reason for it, and it can either enrich one's life, or drive one to bitterness and despair.  For me, I have been to both ends of the spectrum and I think I have arrived at 60 with the former perspective.  I can see many pluses to being able to sympathize with others who have the same experience.
  2. I am healthier.  I have heard it said that the healthiest people are those with a chronic illness because they take better care of themselves.  For me, I know I eat less sugar, eliminated carbonated beverages, and moved away from bad foods.  (I am not perfect, but much better!)  Also, I exercise more.  I plan to stay physically active every day for the rest of my life. 
  3. I plan to be more intentional with my use of time.  Radiation treatments knocked me out for almost a year, to be honest.  I saw my business very negatively affected because I was unable to keep up with it.  This forced me to reevaluate what I am doing with my life and how I use each day.  My hope is that my final decades will be filled with even more living than my past decades.
This is probably the last post I will make to this blog.  My original goal in creating this blog was to write about being fully present in life.  I started it before I got diagnosed and, fortunately or unfortunately, cancer seemed to hijack the whole thing.  I still want to live my life being fully present, so it is with mixed feelings that I make a final post - not that I don't want to put the cancer in the rear view mirror, but that I don't want to abandon the intention of being fully present in life.

I guess this is like life - seldom, if ever, does one wrap up a chapter with a bow and say "Well, that's the end of that!"  One journey, one chapter, ties into another and runs through the entire length of the novel.  So, maybe I can just say that I am tying off this particular thread, connecting it to a new one, and continuing to weave new threads into the tapestry that is my life.  With that, I think I will get ready to head to the lake to canoe - my birthday gift to myself today!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anger and Cancer

It has been a long time since I wrote anything.  I said this would be about the cancer experience, and it was.  I got tired, I quit writing.  The fatigue was a bear.  When my radiation treatments were finally finished on January 18th, I was more than ready to leave cancer behind.

Interestingly, life did not slow down.  I got on a plane two days later for Orlando to attend an important 4-day business meeting.  The Sunday I got back, I wept in bed from the pain of the fatigue.  It was to the bones.  It is a tired that starts at your core.  Unlike regular tired, it is "essence" tired.  The following Monday morning, I got a tearful call from our daughter in Europe and my mamma heart knew that I needed to go be with her.  In a few days, I was on a plane for a four day trip to Germany (her boss wouldn't give her any more time off).   I made it two days before I got sick.  Meg was a wonderful nurse and took excellent care of me, but I was so tired, I worried about being able to make it back to the States.  I did, but the fatigue didn't stop.

It was relentless.  The problem was, you are tired ALL the time.  The couch and I were good buddies.  I would spend days there.  Some days, I wouldn't even get out of bed.  I would have to sleep all day.  It is tough to try to run a business and be utterly exhausted.  I was tired of saying I was tired.  Depression came.

I will blog about that later..Today's topic is ANGER!!!

Today I went in for my first followup mammogram since I finished radiation.  I knew it probably was going to be tough.  Jim is in Bahrain - has been for two weeks - so I was on my own.  I made it through the initial set of x-rays and then waited for the technician to check them and come back to give me permission to leave.  I was angry already about everything related to my cancer experience.  Then, she came back in the door and said "I need to do two more.  The little pieces of metal that the surgeons left inside you as markers didn't show up."  I am silent. "Did they tell you about the markers?"  "No"  One more lovely little surprise.

At that point, I could hold back the tears no longer.  I was so angry and so mad that I had had to go through all of last year.  I was sick of surprises.  All I was having was flashbacks of needles and MRI's and surgeries and x-rays and all of it.  How much fun to find out I now had two pieces of metal in me!

The nurse was sweet.  "I am sorry.  You just cry all you want.  I am so sorry I don't have any tissues."  It didn't matter.  I had "Skype chatted" with Jim earlier and had told him that I was either going to cry or hit the machine when I went in - or both.  At this point, I was ready to hit the machine.  I was already crying. I restrained myself from physical violence.

After the second set of x-rays, I left and tried to regain my composure. Anger and tears are a mean combination.  You don't want to come face to face with someone in that state.  I didn't want to scare anyone, so I took the stairs.  In the silence and heat of the stairwell, I texted Jim (who was in bed - it was almost midnight there) "That was awful and I am really angry! But it is over. Last year was more traumatic than I knew."  (I wanted to tone it down.  I knew it would be hard for him to know I was suffering and not be able to do anything.

I walked down the six stories of steps to the car and had memories of doing this so many times last year.  I held it together until I paid the parking attendant and then I lost it.  I wept all the way home.  I sobbed to my sister on the phone while I drove.  (Not a great thing to do, but she was a real comfort.)

I sit here now at the computer, one year out from my first surgery, and I am furious!  I am sure I will have to keep processing this through all the anniversaries this year, but I would like to move on.  It is just that if they read those x-rays and tell me I have to go see another surgeon...let's just say, it won't be pretty.  I was committed to wellness before,  but I am over the top about it now.  It is going to have to be a lot more than a blip on an x-ray that gets me into surgery again. 

So, I have vented.  I am going to do nicer things for myself tonight.  I will probably go to bed early.  I refuse to be vulgar, but take the following blanks and put in your strongest language ___________ ______ ______ ____________   Now, multiply it by ten.  That's pretty much where I am.  I think I will watch some Brian Regan clips and have a really good laugh. Brian Regan My system doesn't deserve the poison of this much anger.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Final treatment

In less than six hours I will have my final radiation treatment.  While this is the last time I visit "Big Grey", this is not the end of the process.  I figure I have about a month of recovery left before I am 100%.  In truth, I have some questions about what life will be like on the other side of radiation.

At this point, I have a pretty bad radiation burn on my side, of all places, and I am very tired.  I am also pretty cranky. (I don't know if that is a side effect of the radiation, or just my basic nature revealed!  I am kind of thinking it is the "real me", unfortunately)  Also, my thinking is not all that clear.  Concentration is down.  That makes it hard to write. 

However, I wanted to write this blog to be a journal of my journey through this process.  Even though the radiation treatments are over today, it is certainly not the end of the journey.  It is just the end of having daily trips to the cancer center to be shot with radiation.  It is the end of sitting in the waiting room in a pale blue three-holed gown, reading old magazines and waiting for my turn to go back for radiation.  It is the end of daily conversations with the great techs, who have helped me through this process.  It is the last time Mildred is going to park my car (On follow-up visits, I will park it myself, I think)

There are many things that have changed, or that I have learned, through this process.  Too many to go in to now, but here are a few thoughts.

First, this is a demanding process.  It may not have many side effects, but it is emotionally draining.  Lately, I am on the verge of tears pretty regularly.  And I am angry.  I can't exactly say what I am angry about, but I think that my first response to fear and feeling threatened is to be angry.  I am mad at being vulnerable to something that I never thought would be a part of my life.  I am also mad because this was so much "to do" over DCIS - a Stage 0, 3.75mm little thing that many don't even consider to be cancer.  I certainly didn't want a worse diagnosis, but it just feels like an awful lot of treatment for something that seems so insignificant.  (Do you think I am still in denial?  Maybe.)

HOWEVER, while I may not be impressed by the diagnosis, I can guarantee you I am impressed by the treatment!  By that, I mean that after running this gauntlet of radiation treatment, I feel that I am a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Pink Ribbon Society!  I understand more about cancer treatment than I ever wanted to know, but I am glad that I understand it better.  I will have so much more compassion for those who have to go through this process.

I am tired.  I plan to blog later this afternoon after the treatment.  Many thanks to all of you who have supported me and prayed for me through this process.  I would ask that you don't stop yet!   

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Fatigue Factor

Clearly, it has been a while since I have posted anything.  The biggest reason I haven't updated is because of the fatigue that goes along with radiation treatments. 

I managed pretty well until we got back from LA after Christmas.  Since then, I have kind of been in a fog. 

The good news is that I only have three more treatments!  Next Tuesday, I will have my last session with the big grey machine.  In some ways, it has been easier than I expected.  My only obvious side effects have been fatigue and a really strange looking sunburn.  It has gone faster than I expected.  It is hard to believe that my weekday ritual will be over in less than a week.  What will I do with myself at 1PM every day?  I wonder if I will feel a strong compulsion to get in the car and drive down to St. Vincent's.  I don't know.

Before any of this started, I had a business trip to Orlando planned for January 19th, the day after my treatments end.  I booked my ticket back in October - even before my surgery.  When I found out I was going to be doing radiation treatments, I wasn't willing to immediately cancel the trip - assuming that I would be too tired to go.  Right now, I am very glad that I took that approach.  Having a planned event at the end has kept me going.  I think that if I had planned on doing nothing, I would have been less proactive for my own well-being.  As it is, I want to take care of myself and maintain my strength for the trip.

I have to say that I don't have the daily spark that I had when this whole adventure began.  Right now, it is a challenge to just finish these thoughts and complete an entry.  But, I have been pleasantly surprised that my attitude has been positive throughout the journey. 

I really want to write more, but I am about out of steam.  It is only 11AM, I have had two grande cups of Starbucks already, and I wanted to go back to bed at 8:30.  I am really glad that I have a friend traveling with me on Wednesday!  She might need to wake me up to get off the plane!  Just kidding.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Joining the Pink Ribbon Society

In my usual introverted way, I avoided getting involved in any breast cancer groups.  I figured that this is going to take such a short time that I really don't need to be in any support groups.  I have my few close friends who are true breast cancer survivors, but I was hesitant to really identify myself with the disease.

Yesterday, I had some weird symptoms.  I googled it, but didn't really get any answers, so I decided to check out the chat rooms on the  breast cancer site.  I looked for the radiation survivors group and started to check out some of the conversations. 

Finally, I got up the nerve to register and post a question to the community.  Within an hour or so, there was a response!  Basically, she told me that my symptom was probably not related to the treatment.  But, she closed her post with "Good Luck"  I was surprised how much her short response encouraged me. 

This morning, I jumped on to see if anyone else had posted a response.  There was a really sweet note from a woman who is just beginning her treatments, but her diagnosis is very similar to mine.  Suddenly, I was engaged.  Here were women, like myself, who were at various stages on this journey.  They were friends I had not met yet.

I realize, once again, that I DO need the community.  I will not do as well if I am isolated.  My heart was encouraged just by these responses - just by being HEARD!  What a huge thing it is to be recognized and heard!  I realize now that my biggest mistake was not joining the community sooner.  While this journey has not been horrendous, it would have been a much more fulfilling experience if I had engaged sooner.

I plan to stay connected from now on.  I need it. 

With so much social media out there, it is easy to get spread way too thin.  But, I think when it comes to having a common struggle, finding others who are also on the same path can lead to greater richness in the fabric of our days.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What a difference attitude makes!

In all honesty, I am not a cockeyed optimist.  I have strong tendencies to anticipate problems and have doubts about a positive future.  Not only that, but I am married to a man who acknowledges he is a cynic with strong pessimistic tendencies.  This is not a formula for happy days.

Over the past ten years we have been through a number of serious challenges - Jim's prostate cancer, financial struggles, personal losses and issues within our family.  It has not been easy.  In fact, three years ago, I was "over it."  I remember praying "God, if this is all I can expect for the rest of my life - just one struggle after another - I would rather you just took me on home.  I am tired of this."  I was not suicidal, I was just tired.  My hormones were all messed up, we had had one loss after another and my recurring thought was " Beam me up, Scottie."  I really couldn't think of a compelling reason to go on.  There was no joy, no hope, no anticipation of good things.

However, this bout with cancer has revealed that I am in a very different place from three years ago.  It hit me about a week ago.  I woke up early one morning and realized I was swollen, sunburned and tired.  I had had some challenges with my doctor and things were not all they could be.  It was the perfect opportunity to look at the glass half empty and be mad, frustrated and discouraged.  Instead, I thought about these things and thought "This is passing.  Things are going to be better.  By this time next year, I will be in much better shape and this will just be one of the chapters in my story."  I shared this with Jim and he agreed that my attitude had been consistently optimistic, no matter what the obstacles.  WHY?

This is going to sound crazy, but I am convinced it is because I am in network marketing.

I bet you didn't expect that answer, but it is true.  Here's why I think that.  Doing this business has forced me to face a number of weaknesses in my life and has helped me to grow.  When I first started, I thought "I can do this.  It is not rocket science, it is a good company, a good plan and I am a smart woman.  If I can't do this, it is only because of things that need to change in me.  This takes relationships, repetition and hard work.  I can do this."  I took it on as a challenge, but also because it made a lot of sense to me at the time.

Things took off at the beginning.  I was focused and making progress, but every time that there was a glitch in my progress, or I questioned a marketing move of the company, I was ready to quit.  My doubts came up, and I expected the worst.  Gina Holmes, who had introduced me to the business (and very fortunately is also a very good therapist!)  would say "It is going to work out."  But, despite her encouragements, I was convinced I was about to get screwed.

Surprisingly, things did work out. Sometimes not the way that I had anticipated, but adjustments happened, new strategies were developed or something else would occur that got things back on track.  I found myself going back to Gina more than once and apologizing for my hair trigger negative reactions.  The business provided a mirror for me to see myself as I had never seen myself before.  It also offered me the opportunity to regroup and try again.  I decided to ease up on the hair trigger and adopt a more 'wait and see' attitude.

One other thing that has happened since I started this business is that I began to anticipate good things.  Daily we are consistently challenged to dream and set all kinds of goals for our lives.  My immediate reaction to that was that I shouldn't focus on myself.  But, as I struggled with that, I realized that, whether I voiced it or not, I did have things I wanted in life.  Just because I didn't voice them didn't mean that they weren't there.  Also, I realized that I did not know how to dream.  I did not picture a positive future.  I realized that this was not good.  I remembered the Bible verse that said "Without a vision, the people perish."  That is true - without hope or purpose or a belief in something that matters, life doesn't hold much value.

Especially in this period of my life, with the challenge of breast cancer, I have been able to recognize that I have become more optimistic about life. I am living with an anticipation of good things.  With a changed mental attitude, even hard things are not nearly so overwhelming.  Even cancer and scars and swelling and sunburns.  Even increasing fatigue and lost productivity and poorer memory.  All these things are bumps in the road, not dead ends.

How grateful I am that God brought me into an environment that has slowly altered my attitude toward today and tomorrow.  I always wanted to be that Proverbs 31 woman who "smiled at the future."  I am getting much closer to my goal!  That's encouraging!

Monday, January 3, 2011

I am Woman, I am Invincible, I am tired!

Years ago, when I had five small children, Synthia (another mother of five) had this bumper sticker on the back of her 7-passenger station wagon.  "I am woman, I am invincible, I am tired!"  I always loved it, because that was exactly how I felt.  With five children under 8, my days were overloaded with wash, car pools and sack lunches. But, I was determined to do a good job and, while I couldn't keep up with everything, at least I would get the main things done. 

Since Christmas, I have re-adopted (sp?) this slogan.  We had a wonderful trip to California to be with four of our five children over Christmas, but December 27th, I knew that the fatigue I was feeling was more than just jet lag.  Progressively, I have spent more time on the couch. 

My goal was to blog regularly about my journey, but I just haven't been able to sit down at the computer and have the energy or concentration necessary to write.  Usually, I would try to write in the evenings after I had gotten the necessities of the day finished.  That was too much.  So, today, I decided to get something written before 11am, when I seem to hit the wall. 

Every new year, I love to reflect on the past and set goals for the future.  Usually, my goal setting areas are rather all-encompassing, but this year, they are more modest.  At least for the immediate future, here they are:
1. Get up every morning and exercise for 30 minutes.
2. Take my vitamins and other supplements on schedule.
3. Try to eat the foods that promote health and stay away from those that feed cancer
4. Read through the Bible this year
5. Every morning, spend at least five minutes praying.

That's pretty much it.  The beauty of this is that I can accomplish 3 out of 5 within the first hour that I am up.  So, that's what I am doing.  I am determined to put whatever energy I have into those first 30 minutes.  Even though I am much slower and it takes more to get my exercises in, I feel it is essential to remain physically active.  Actually, exercise is probably one of the top ways to prevent cancer.  As I have been reading up on fighting cancer, it has been one of only a handful of common denominators.

It is now 11am, and I am fading, so I will wrap up this post with a few updates.  First of all, I have finished 22 treatments and only have 11 left.  That is good.  Secondly, Jim's mom seems to have gotten a second wind (thanks to good rehab work).  THAT is good.  Thirdly, I am realizing what amazing friends I have and how important it is to let others know what is going on in my life. 

I want to write a lot more, but it just isn't going to happen.  Hopefully, tomorrow, I can blog earlier in the morning and get a running start at it!  Blessings on your day!