Wednesday, August 22, 2012

5 Years Post Op

August 23rd of 2007 is the date I consistently remember about my cancer journey. I know I was diagnosed in early April. I never would have believed I'd ever forget the exact day, but I have. It was maybe the 4th or 5th. I think Easter was the 7th that year.  It was the Thursday before Easter. Maundy Thursday... so I've been told. It was an awful awful Thursday that year in my universe, whatever the date. Then l started chemo about 2 weeks late, on a Friday. I expected that those so important dates would stay with me as if written in sharpie on my consciousness.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 is the date for me. That was the day of my surgery.

My hair was starting to grow back and my eyebrows and lashes as well. I remember wearing my pink bandanna at the beach in the days before my surgery. We had taken the ferry to Kismet, on Fire Island. I wore my chemo-chic uniform to the beach that day as it was overcast and cool for August: camouflaged pants with lace pockets, t-shirt, denim jacket and pink bandanna. We walked barefoot in the sand and surf and felt the salty gusts and misty air. I may have worn those sea-salt items to Sloan for my surgery day.

Early on the morning of my surgery, my beloved Grandfather, Outstanding, and Grandma Rosemary came and collected Jacqueline and Bailey. The kids needed to be in a safe place so we could focus on the surgery. My family was there for me.

Kevin and my parents took me to the city that day driving on the LIE, over the 59th street bridge and up 1st (I think) to the hospital. My surgery was on the schedule and I had to fast from midnight the day before.  We got there, I got prepared, put all my items in a safe plastic bag and waited. My husband and parents had the most to endure throughout the months of fighting cancer. I had some control and some insight to how I was doing. They helped and watched and worried all in their ways.

I remember my Mom accompanied me for the mammogram where they guided a wire into my breast to mark where the tumor had been before my chemo treatments. There was no tumor left by the time I got there for the lumpectomy, just a cloud showed on the screen at the mammogram. Only a shadow left behind.

Sometime around 4pm I think they called me. I know that we were all starving but too miserable to eat.  It seemed fairly crowded to me in that waiting area. All these families, these people, other patients waiting all day, most were breast cancer patients; we were waiting in different stages of the journey together.

When my family kissed me goodbye and I was rolled into the surgery suite I maintained my composure mostly. I must have teared up because that would be my nature. But I was ready for this, I was prepared. It was time. Besides, I had a surgeon who I respected and genuinely liked.  She is my hero still today.  I feel so lucky to have been in her care and my oncology team in CT as well.  That day, they got right to it; set me up, wrote on me, asked me my name and birth date. All those things. And I think they asked me to count backwards and then I was out.

Coming out of the fog after hours of being under I saw her masked face.  And on the evening of August 23rd, 2007 she said to me, "You are cancer free".

August 2007

August 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

April is coming.

In early April I will reach my 5 yr Cancer-versary. It seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago. It is both. It's horrifying, amazing, scary, sad, an accomplishment; but it's not my definition.

I'm stronger, smarter, older, more aware, less concerned about the BS, more concerned about things that matter to me. I'm different and the same. 

I don't think that reaching this year will give me a profound feeling of being safe and secure from that monster. I know it won't. But I will be living every day. I will do all the small, normal, tedious things that life requires and I will dream and create and grow. I will love. I will be snarky and I will have a pity party or say something ugly. I will be empathetic and calm where I once wasn't. I may also lose my shit at times. I will check out. I'll be happy.

Having Cancer didn't make me bitter nor did surviving it make me more appreciative or realize what I had. I knew. I'm still here and I'm still me. I cry when I read of someone getting a cancer diagnosis, getting sobering news, not beating it. I'm envious sometimes that others don't have to undergo the chemo or the surgery I did. I am grateful that I had chemo that worked, radiation and surgery. I am equal parts proud of my scars and embarrassed by them. It's complicated.

I know I want to mark the passing of time. I don't think I will find much comfort in the "milestone". I know I have it good. Deep in my heart I know and I cherish that gift every day.

I will wake up and do this all over again tomorrow. School, freelance, make lunches and cook dinner. Run the washer, feed the dog, wash my hair. I plan on many more regular days. Before April 2007, I had no idea what was ahead. Here's to April 2012.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The End.

The first month of 2011 has been a little all-over-the-place.
What can any of us say about the holidays, really? If you're at all like me, but about Dec. 26th, part of you is ready for the tree to be down and out. The other part says 'just enjoy sitting by the fire admiring the pretty lights'. Suffice it to say that I enjoy the holidays but they are stressful.

Coming off the holidays is as smooth as re-entry into the atmosphere. Kids go back to school (in theory), things get cleaned up, there is hope that I will be more diligent about the house, my diet, getting it together in general.  A magical switch will be flipped and I will be transformed.  Right.

This year, "Moving Beyond Chemo Chic" seems out of place to me. I am no longer fully consumed with all things relating to my cancer or my health. I am not pre-occupied with my appointment schedule, my test results, my healing. I am healed.  I wasn't certain I'd ever get to the point where having had cancer was NOT a defining element of my day-to-day. Somehow, without really noticing, it seems I have arrived at this point of having put it aside a little more; it's in a box marked "the past".  I got through the re-entry from cancer to "normal" life.

The 4 years we've been here and since my diagnosis, have been like the years before; good and bad, great and horrifying, but to a greater degree.  The hard times were really hard. The happy times were truly cherished.  What I want to do now is focus on the great and the good, learn from the rest and know that we got through it and I know I am stronger and wiser for it.  I want to build more "wonderful" into my daily schedule. Varying degrees of wonderful perhaps, but very little of anything less than wonderful.

I think this is where this blog needs to end. I think that I have grown into a new role where the focus is shifted. This time now is me getting ready for a big birthday this summer. Getting ready for a move back to the South. This is me taking the first step from what I dreamed would be the "best thing ever", moving to CT, and taking another direction.  I am richer now in friends and wiser in experiences.   Some things will change, but many things, the things that matter most, will remain constant.

Raise a glass to 2011.  Here's to us all. Here's to love. Prost!

The End.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gentle Yoga Friday

I've gone to yoga classes sporadically over the years and the one constant is that I always feel good after yoga. I may feel tired or have some aches in muscle groups that never had to work until yoga class, but it's good pain. The last 2 weeks I have participated in a Friday morning gentle yoga class.

It's only a 30 minute class designed to treat yourself kindly through yoga practice.  I, for one, need this.  The words I use to myself are often unkind and that breeds stress and worry.  I'm working on it.

My life is paced such that I have time to contemplate things more constructively these days rather than operating on 'auto-pilot'. So over the last few weeks I've re-read "Eat, Pray, Love." and seen the movie. I went even further and purchased the soundtrack through iTunes. I know. You think I drank the kool-aid. Well, maybe a little.  I have also pursued some design work, sketched more, considered more what I want to be and do as a mom and and artist and a person.

The part I've walked away with, and it's nothing you haven't heard, read, thought of yourself a thousand times before; I need to be more kind to me to be more kind to you/the world.

There was a pose today where we reached our right arms up behind our backs toward our shoulders. Then take your left arm over your shoulder and reach for the right hand.  They should meet at the excruciating point where you stretch both shoulders to new limits.  I couldn't stretch my left arm as far up my back when we switched sides so I went right to "stupid cancer made my arm lame" and then I looked at the woman in front of me. Her left arm didn't go as far as her right had, either.  Maybe it's not about the lame left arm I after all?  We hugged ourselves to relieve the stress of the stretch afterward. It was a big hug and then it was repeated with the opposite arm on top.  I need to love myself and all my imperfections.

Yoga is all about balance. You stretch one side, then you change to the other. It's all about inhale then exhale, stretch and release, right then left.  Mind and body. Our instructor read a quote to this effect: The waves may crash up against me but the storms will pass.  I left gentle yoga and I felt stronger. I felt loved and loving.


Friday, July 2, 2010

You Look Healthy.

Ladies, you'll understand.  I had my annual exam on Thursday.  I scheduled it first thing in the morning - not because I can't think of a better way to start my day, but I'd rather just do it and move on. So I go to my appointment leaving my kids at home and frankly, I'm enjoying the time alone in the car on my way. I get there early enough to go get a cuppa joe and it's all good so far.

There are so many ways that these visits are unpleasant; you get weighed, you pee in a cup, you dress in paper towel gowns.  Oh, wait, they have CLOTH GOWNS?  Alright, alright, this is better.  Still, it's an annual exam.  My weight is down from last year? Cool, I'll take it.  And then I wait for the doctor to join me. I read an article with Michelle Obama talking about visiting the White House. La la la. And then he arrives.

My new doctor reduces me to laughter immediately.  He has an ease about him that I am instantly grateful for. He makes jokes, he cracks me up, basically dismissing my anxiety. Of course he asked about my breast cancer and if there were any changes to my medical history. Fine. But he spoke to me like I was just a normal woman patient. Somehow, he scrubbed that "Cancer Patient" tattoo off my forehead and I'm not sure he even knew he did it.  And then I got the biggest gift he could give me that day. 

Toward the end of my visit with him he looks at me and asks, "Do you work out? You look healthy, like you exercise. You look good and healthy."

Thank you for that Dr. D.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One of the gifts.

This will be quick.  I just find it amazing that 2 Cancer Survivors can view one-anothers' journey as so much harder than the their own.  This is the scene: I meet a survivor. I hear their story. I am amazed at what they had to endure. I tell my story.  They tell me how they can't believe what I endured. I think 'you had it so much harder than me'. They are thinking that of my experience. It's crazy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If Every Hospital were Sloan Kettering…

  • We'd all have the very best cancer doctors available.
  • We'd all know what it means to have options for Follow Up and post treatment services.
  • We'd all feel like a person, not 'Patient Number x'.
  • We'd all get email reminders of appointments and after care seminars.
  • We'd all feel as confident in our treatment as I do.
Why do I love Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center?  The number 1 reason is that I believe my course in fighting breast cancer was righted by my MSKCC Surgeon.  She preserved more of me than my first surgeon intended to.  She is so intelligent, so caring and I am so lucky to have found her.

I didn't do it alone.  I reached out to a friend of my family who is another star at MSKCC and she directed me to the right surgeon. The. Right. Surgeon.

Why post this today?  I got a call with a 212 area code and I was wondering who it was. It was a social worker at MSKCC following up with me re: a simple email question about an upcoming seminar on Lymphedema. She began by apologizing for a week delay in her response and proceeded to answer all my questions.  The truth is that every time I reach out to MSKCC I am impressed.  My expectations are exceeded every time, and I have high expectations of everyone I deal with.

I urge you to seek out medical professionals who treat their patients with care and humanity, who are smart and have conversations with you about your care. What a difference it makes to share  the same philosophy about your approach with your doctors.

Now, the question is, since this quality of care Does exist, why isn't it the norm? How do we get there? If all our medical centers were MSKCC we would be in good health.  That's what you want - not just medical coverage, GOOD medical coverage.