Night night, knockers! March 20, 2015Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: boobs, breast cancer, farewell, party
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A year ago today, I was sleepily and anxiously dragging myself to the hospital for a big, ol’ surgery. Although that wasn’t technically the beginning of my journey, it was what got the ball rolling. And although today is the one year anniversary of the start of the roll, that’s not what this post is about. One year and two days ago, these 35 women came together to celebrate and to say farewell with me.
Two weeks in advance, I posted this invite on Facebook.
The girls have had a good and productive life. Lately, they have gotten too feisty for their own good, so it’s time for them to move on to the big, bad pathology lab.
Join me as I say “Night night, knockers!” We’ll play a few silly games, eat some boob-themed food and have a girls night out.
Attire: Dressy (I don’t know about you, but I rarely get a chance to get dressed up, so I’m wearin’ something fancy!)
Please bring a themed-snack to share. (A small caveat: this a boob party, not a boob and sex party, let’s keep it clean-ish :D )
Also, if you see that I’ve inadvertently missed someone, please share the invite with them.
RSVP by Sunday, March 16
(For my out-of-town peeps, we can celebrate from afar.)
Whenever I send out invitations for anything, I’m always a nervous Nelly, worried that no-one is going to RSVP. This time was no different, but I was happily inundated with messages from people who could attend, and well-wishes from those who couldn’t. One of my out-of-town friends who couldn’t attend the party created an event, “Wear a Fancy Dress for Judy Day”, with the idea being that friends would dress up on the day and post pictures to the event page. It was lovely and beautiful and made me feel so wonderful to see so many great photos of people from all over dressing up. There were pictures of friends and their little ones dressed up. There were pictures of teachers with their entire classrooms dressed up. There were pictures of husbands and wives, both wearing dresses. There were pictures of people I didn’t even know, who had seen the even on other people’s walls. It was a thing of beauty. I spent the entire day with a silly grin on my face. And then in the evening, I got to hang out with friends, eat ridiculous food, and play even more ridiculous games.
The best game was “Pin the Foob” I’m sure you can guess how the game worked. Everyone created and decorated a foob (fake boob) for me. They were then blindfolded and had to pin it on a life-sized version of me. Suffice it to say, we laughed, and laughed, and then laughed some more.
All in all, the 18th of March was a truly fantastic day. It was the perfect way to prepare for the life-changing surgery I was about to endure. To all of the beautiful friends who supported me, came to the party, wore fancy dresses, and wore pearls the day of the surgery: thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you! Mwa!
The arrival of the yak March 17, 2015Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, compression, lymphedema
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It took a REALLY long time, but the yak from Mongolia finally arrived, bearing gifts for my arm! Silliness aside, it really did take forever for the compression sleeve to arrive. It was originally ordered in mid-October, and I got it about 2 weeks later. Sadly, it was too long, which meant I had lots of wrinkles . .. not good in a compression garment. I returned it and ordered the shorter one shortly before Thanksgiving. Fast forward THREE MONTHS, and the sleeve finally arrived. Totally ridic! Anyway, I used it for the first time on Sunday when I was raking up the leaves. It feels a little weird, makes my arm cool, but hopefully will keep lymphedema at bay.
And, a pic. Stylish, right? :D
Prevention February 2, 2015Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, compression, exercise, lymphedema
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***I’ve had this post ready to go since around Thanksgiving. I’ve been waiting on some compression garments to arrive so I could share pics. I think they must be getting brought over from Mongolia by yak, because 2 months later, they still aren’t here. Hence, I’m posting senza pics!****
Way back in March, I was debating which surgery was going to be the best option for me. You may recall that when a breast is removed, the standard of practice is to also remove all of the lymph nodes in the armpit. Doing so greatly increases the chance of getting lymphedema. (I’ll define lymphedma in a minute.) You may also recall that I opted to not have any more nodes removed and to go with axillary radiation instead. Now this is a case of me not being as informed as I should have been. While I knew that radiation could also cause lymphedema, I didn’t think about the fact that radiation would also cause my muscles to become stiff, thus limiting my mobility. My only thought was that radiation had a lower chance of causing lymphedema than surgery. If I had to do it over again, I think I might have had all of the nodes removed. Maybe. It’s water under the bridge now.
Anyway, so during radiation, I had to do these stretching exercises 3 times a day to make sure that the muscles didn’t get too shortened. I’m not exactly sure of the mechanism, but I believe the muscle fibers are effectively burned during radiation. If you think about what happens to your skin when it’s burned, it gets tighter, right? Same thing happens to any part of your body that gets radiation: the skin, the muscles and the lymphatic vessels. So in order to keep the muscles from shortening, I stretched them out every single day during radiation. For some reason, I thought I didn’t need to continue doing the stretches once the radiation ended. As it turns out, the radiation continues to affect your body long after the actual doses have ended. So now I have this one little muscle in my armpit that is very tight. I didn’t realize this until I met with the physical therapist in the lymphedema clinic. I guess this would be a good time to talk about lymphedema.
Lymphedema is a condition where your lymphatic system is unable to drain all of the excess fluid in the body due to a) the fact that many of the nodes have been removed or b) the fact that the lymphatic vessels have been damaged during radiation. This excess fluid then gets backed up in a person’s arm and causes the arm to be swollen, in some cases, extremely swollen. There is no cure for lymphedema. Once you have it, you’ll always have it. Fortunately, the condition can definitely be managed and you can get it under control. Even better news is that one can take steps to make sure they don’t get lymphedema. This is the reason I went to the lymphedema clinic, to learn preventative measures.
Her first step was to feel the area to see what was going on. When she was palpating the armpit area, I thought my skin was going to rip right open. Yikes! So painful! I was thinking that my skin was damaged from the radiation. (Remember the charred armpit?) Imagine my surprise when she said the pain came from a very tight muscle! I’m now doing stretching exercises every day to whip that muscle back into shape. It’s definitely better, but still not great! While she was palpating, she kept marveling at how great my skin looked. I sort of thought she was nuts, because to me, my skin has all sorts of issues. When she told me that many people come in after radiation with skin that looks reptilian and leather, I realized that it’s all about perspective. I’ll take my scarred and tanned skin over the leather version any day!
After palpating, she took very detailed measurements of both arms and fingers. She measured around each knuckle, both wrists, and then every few inches along my arm. The idea was to have a baseline of measurements so that in the future, if there is a suspicion of swelling, we would have a point of comparison.
Step three was to teach me how to massage the lymphatic system. This is not the same kind of massage that you get when your muscles are sore or to just feel good. It’s a very gentle, circular motion, with the idea being that you are helping the fluid move through the system. I do this massage 3ish times a week, or anytime I feel like I’ve worked my left arm too hard.
This leads me to step four, which was teaching me how to avoid getting lymphedema. Because the lymph system on my left side is now compromised, I have to be very careful when doing anything with that arm. So if I’m gardening, I for sure have to wear gloves to protect against nicks and cuts. I also need to ensure I don’t end up with a hang nail. Whenever you get a cut or any sort of breach, your lymph system has to work harder to filter out any of the germs that have entered in. Making an already taxed system work harder isn’t really part of the anti-lymphedema plan. If I’m going to be doing any motions that are repetitive (think exercising, raking, running, etc.) or strenuous (weight lifting, rowing, etc.), I have to wear a compression sleeve. It’s fits quite snugly and is a bit of a trick to get it on. When you do repetitive or strenuous motions, your body moves more blood volume through. Now that you are getting to be a pro at how the lymphatic system works, you can guess that this extra blood volume is a challenge for a diminished lymph system. This is where the sleeve comes in. The extra compression provides pressure from the outside, which then helps the fluid to move through as there is extra force being applied. Think of a balloon. You blow it up, then let the air out. Now, blow it up, but this time, squeeze the balloon as the air is going out. The air goes out more quickly and with more force, right? Same idea with the sleeve.
The biggest challenge for me has been sorting out what exercises I can and can’t do. Pushups, pec flies, planks and bench presses all require extra care. It’s hard to explain, but if you were inside my body, you’d definitely feel the difference between the left and right sides. The right side could plank all the live long day. Not so much with the left side …. it just feels weird. So I spend a fair amount of time modifying exercises for the left arm. I’m the crazy woman at the gym who has weight on one side of the bar but not the other. Eh, you do what you gotta do, right? Eventually, I hope to get the left side stronger so it can do more, but I have to build it up VERY slowly. And, if I happen to take a break, even for 3 or 4 days, I have to start over from the beginning. I guess that’s good motivation to keep on exercising!
So for the time being, I don’t have lymphedema, and I intend to keep it that way. Don’t be surprised when you see me wearing my stylin’ sleeve or if you see me standing with my left arm in a weird position. That’s just me stretching it out and doing my part to ward off the swelling!
Oh. my. goodness! January 15, 2015Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, DIEP flap, reconstruction
I’m so speechless right now I don’t even know how to start this post! I’m pretty strong in my resolve to not have reconstruction. But if there was ever a moment of doubt, this video would be enough to push me over the edge. It’s a video showing one of the reconstruction methods. It’s a long video, about 45 minutes long, and it’s graphic.
I couldn’t tear myself away.
I was horrified and fascinated all at once. Fascinated, because I never realized the crazy precision needed in surgery. Horrified, because I fully realized why people are in so much pain after surgery.
Just in case you don’t feel up to watching the video, here a brief synopsis. The reconstruction method is called DIEP flap reconstruction. In this method, a chunk of fat, skin and vessels is removed from the patient’s abdomen and is used to create a fake breast. I learned that if the surgeon finds the vasculature in the abdomen to be insufficient, they’ll switch the surgery to a TRAM flap, which means they would be taking a big chunk of the rectus abdominis muscle in addition to the skin, vessels and fat. Before placing the flap, they have to connect the flap vessels to the mammary vessels, which is done using some parts from one of the ribs, which is “sacrificed.” The final piece is the insertion of the flap. The patient spends one day in ICU and then five more days in the hospital.
Nope. That version of reconstruction is not happening here . . .. ever!
ETA: Fast forward to minute 43, which is where the DIEP flap is inserted. Madness, total madness!
Hyperactivity January 13, 2015Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, plastic surgery, radiation, scars, steroids
I had an appointment with a plastic surgeon last week, and she told me two things: “You’re so cute!” and “You’re my hero!” I had to laugh because I see myself as neither cute nor heroic, but hey, I’ll take it! Now some of you are still hung up on the words “plastic surgeon”, wondering why in the world I would need to have an appointment if reconstruction was off the table. it’s still off the table . . . .the options haven’t changed and I still think they are all terrible. Although, I CAN change my mind at any point in time: today, 2 years from now or even 25 years from now, for the moment, still no reconstruction. The purpose of the visit was to deal with my port scar, which is behaving badly.
The original scar, from when the port was placed, was a nice, thin line that didn’t really bother me. The new scar, from when the port was removed is a whole other story. About a month after the surgery, I noticed that the scar was painful, it looked quite pink and big, and I felt like there was something inside poking me. Here’s what it looks like:
I went to see the breast surgeon and the verdict was that the scar was behaving badly, it had hypertrophied. This means that for whatever reason, the collagen in that spot went bonkers and laid down waayyy too many fibers, which made the scar expand. The location of the scar is tricky because it’s in a place (probably the only place) where I have zero body fat, so it’s easy for scars in that area to have issues. His initial recommendation was to use a steroid cream, but after further thought, he decided that it would be better for me to see a plastic surgeon.
And so, 3 weeks later, I found myself sitting in the plastic surgeon’s office, peeling off my shirt to show her the scar. Her reaction was hilarious: “Oh! You didn’t do reconstruction?”
“Nope. I think my chest is ugly, but not enough to do anything about it”
“Well if you think it’s ugly, let me make it beautiful. You’ve come to the wrong place for no reconstruction.”
I thought to myself, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, lady. No way, no how are you going to change my mind!” But I humored her and we talked about why I didn’t do it (more surgeries = more fights for no intubation, potential complications, no good options that don’t affect singing). She eventually said, “Okay, so you really DON’T care.” Righto!
Lest you think she was an ogre trying to bully me, she wasn’t. She made it very clear that she would respect my decision, and that she would be available at any time to discuss options if I ever changed my mind. If I do, she’d be the surgeon I would use as I liked her as a person, and based on her explanations, she’s is equally as thorough and careful as the breast surgeon. So I’ll just tuck that into my back pocket. (As a little side note, she is the third medical professional to tell me that the mastectomy scars and radiated skin look “really good.” It’s a scar, so I think it’s unattractive, but since three people have told me otherwise
, maybe, in the grand scheme of mastectomy scar and radiated skin, mine is in good shape. And for that, I am grateful.)
But, back to the scar. She also recommended steroids, but she preferred injection rather than a topical application. I don’t fully understand the mechanism, but I can already see and feel a difference: the scar is no longer pink, and I haven’t gotten the stabbing pains in a few days, so that is good. I’ll have to do at least one more injection, possibly two. if the scar doesn’t get it’s act together after that, then the next option is to have a revision surgery which would involve cutting out the old scar and sealing it up again. “But what’s going to keep it from going all hypertrophic again?” you ask. Good question! She would inject steroids into the area immediately after the surgery to help keep the collagen at bay. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, though. To that end, I’m supposed to massage the scar 3 times a day for about 15 minutes. I can tell you right now, that doesn’t happen. It gets about 2-3 minutes in the shower, and a few quick massages here and there during the day, but it’s definitely not 45 minutes worth. Besides, about 98% of the time, the scar is covered up with a silicone patch that is supposed to help the collagen fibers lay down nice and smoothly. This is what is looks like:
See that price tag in the corner? Yep, it’s ridiculously expensive! Fortunately, it is reusable and my scar isn’t huge, so it should last me a long time. Anyway, massaging with the silicone patch on is tricky, so I don’t do it. I’m banking on the fact that having the patch on constantly will be more effective than massage. We’ll see!
The fun never ends! Keeps me on my toes, I guess =)
2014 in numbers January 2, 2015Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, review, thanks
By all accounts, 2014 was not a good year for me. You can look at it any way you want: backwards, upside down or through rose-colored glasses. The final answer will always be: not my best year. There’s a long-standing joke amongst musicians that singers can’t count past four. To prove that theory wrong, I’ve quantified the events of this year. As you will see, most of the quantities add up to much more than four!
In 2014, I had:
- 50 doctors appointments
- 4 surgeries
- 7 blood draws
- 4 rounds of chemo
- 8 medical procedures/tests (scans, heart tests, x-rays, etc.)
- 4 shots of Neulasta
- 33 doses of radiation
- 1 giant hematoma
- 1 medi-port
- 1 bald head for 4 months
- 2 surgical drains
- 6 surgical scars
- 1 violent reaction to morphine
- 0 endotracheal tubes inserted (victory!)
- 4 LMA’s used
- 5 IV’s started (6 attempts)
- TONS of medicine!
- 7 different prescription medications
- 9 over-the-counter medications
- The most I ever took at once was 6 medications
See, I CAN count! And it WAS a bad year. But tucked in amongst the bad, there were quite a few good things, too.
- 30 “Get Well”, “Thinking of you” cards in the mail
- Over 200 emails from friends and family
- 61 meals brought over a 4 month span by 28 people
- 3 prayer blankets
I was blessed to have:
- 40 friends attend my farewell party
- 2 oncologists and 1 surgeon that were top-notch
Most importantly, I was lifted up in prayer hundreds and hundreds of times throughout the year.
Although I would have preferred to have not gone through this experience, I can say that the good in my year equalized the bad. Thank you to everyone for the inumberable support.
2015 is bound to be better, right? :D
Supporting Research December 4, 2014Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, ebook, research
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At the beginning of this year, I got an email from a guy name Kwen Griffeth. He told me had a friend who also was dealing with breast cancer, and he wanted to do something to raise money to help fund research to improve cancer treatment. He wrote an e-book called “The Ghost in the Mini Skirt” with the hope of selling it to raise funds for breast cancer research. I was given a copy of the book to review and then to promote. Well, that was back in February. This summer blew up on me (thank you chemo and radiation!) and I just didn’t get around to writing up the blog post. I figured since it’s now December, I’d better get a move on! If I recall correctly, his goal was to raise $200,000 this year. The book was a fun book, quick and easy read, what I’d call “beach reading”. If you are looking for something fun to read, I’d recommend getting the book. Not only is it fun, it also supports a good cause. You can find more more information about the author and his friend, Helen, here on his Facebook page. His book sells for $3.99 on Amazon and $1 from each sale will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Reminders November 21, 2014Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, surviving, survivor
Surprised that I’m still here, writing posts about breast cancer? I mean, I’m done with treatment now. Although no-one has officially said it, I’m most likely cancer free. So, this is the end, right? This chapter is over and I can move on, right? Well, not exactly. The truth is, cancer will all be there, greeting me at every corner. Everywhere I turn, there are reminders. Reminders of the past year. Reminders that my life, the lives of my family, will never be the same. Reminders that life is unpredictable.
It was one year ago today when I got the call from my BFF. “I have some news. Blah blah . . . . discomfort. Yadda yadda . . . pain . . . Etc. etc. . . .tiredness. I have breast cancer.” I stood in my living room, shivering on the inside because my BFF had just told me she had breast cancer. I stood in my living room, shivering on the inside because the intermittent pain in my left breast had chosen that precise moment to remind me of its existence. And now, every year, one week before Thanksgiving, I’ll be reminded.
Last week, a wonderful lady I know died because of breast cancer, and I’ve been riddled with survivor’s guilt ever since. There is no reason why I survived and she didn’t. It’s not that I did something she didn’t do. It’s just cancer, striking willy nilly, without any rhyme or reason. So every time someone I know dies from complications due to breast cancer, I’ll be reminded.
The biggest daily reminders, of course, are the three scars on my chest and the scar in my armpit. I’m not really bothered by them from a cosmetic standpoint. Sure, they are a bit unsightly, they are scars after all. But they’ll fade and eventually the skin will smooth back out. And let’s face it, that part of my chest was basically doomed thanks to four pregnancies. But, when the port scar is pokey and bothers me, I’m reminded. When my armpit scar makes my armpit feel weird and numb, I’m reminded.
My hair is growing in quite nicely. It’s long enough that I actually have to comb it every day. But I’m ready to just shave it all off and be permanently bald. You see, every time I look in the mirror, I see the little girl who had a really bad afro all through middle school. I see the woman whose breasts tried to kill her so now she looks like a boy in more ways than one. And so, I’m reminded.
Everywhere I look, the reminders are there. They are scars, which will gradually heal, but they will never go away. Cancer will always be there.
Later, port! November 19, 2014Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, pain, surgery
I should have written this post a month ago six weeks ago. But I’ve been stuck just standing here, so I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. At this point, it’s such old news, I debated whether or not I should even bother writing the post. Given that ALL of my other surgical experiences were marred by deplorable nursing care, I wanted to share this one as an example of a good surgical experience, just to prove that they do exist!
My last radiation treatment was on the 16th of September. (Major happy dance. Have I mentioned that radiation sucked?) On the 19th I saw the head of my oncology team, who said that I didn’t need my port any longer. (Another happy dance.) As much as I thought the port was amazing, it’s usefulness had long since ended, and it was now an annoyance.
• It was something that the toddler liked to play with and twiddle.
• It got in the way of using every single baby carrier I own (which is a lot!).
• It itched like crazy!
So, it should come as no surprise that I wanted that thing out post haste. I managed to snag an appointment with the surgeon a few days later, on the 24th, and his awesome scheduler got me scheduled for the port removal just a few days later on the 29th.
Normally, the port would be inserted and removed as an outpatient procedure, and it’s something that radiologists could do. Mine was inserted during the mastectomy surgery. The surgeon could have removed it outpatient, but he preferred to do it in the operating room just in case anything went bonkers and it would allow him to be more thorough. I’ve always appreciated his thoroughness, so I had no problems with going back to the OR.
Monday morning saw my friend and I heading to the hospital at 7am. This was a new experience for her, but old hat for me. I got checked in and was then whisked back to be prepared for surgery. They always ask you to leave a urine sample, but most of the techs don’t bother to tell you why. The tech I had that morning told me that she had to do a pregnancy test, which she proceeded to do right there in the room and she told me the results. (Win #1 for the hospital. I’m always a fan of patients being completely informed!) After that came the long list of questions, and then they had to start the IV. This turned out to be the only hiccup in the whole morning. The nurse found a nice vein on the top of my hand that was standing up and shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” As it turned out, that vein was just evil and wanted to play a cruel joke on us all. Every time she got close to the vein, it would roll or scoot out of the way. She poked around for a good 2-3 minutes. When I say “poked around”, I don’t mean that she was taking the needle out and reinserting it. The needle was in, but she wiggled it around trying to get it into the vein. If you think that sounds really unpleasant, you are correct. To make it worse, I didn’t have any anesthetic on my hand since I’m allergic to Lidocaine. Ah, what fun! She eventually went to get another nurse, leaving the needle in my hand while she went. Part of me thinks that was unwise/unsafe. The other part thinks she did it to avoid another needlestick. Anyway, the second nurse gave it one go and said, “Nope, this one isn’t going to work.” They, of course, had to use a new needle for the next attempt. And naturally, they only had the big needles left. But really, after all of the poking around, getting stuck with a giant needle was no big deal.
My friend and I visited for a little while before the anesthesiologist came in. I gave her my usual, no Versed, no morphine, no lidocaine spiel, and she told me I wouldn’t be totally knocked out, just in what they called a twilight sleep. This meant no tubes or anything else in my mouth. I was given two meds for nausea since the twilight sleep drugs can make you feel pukey. One was given by mouth, and the other was a patch that they placed right behind my ear.
Just a few minutes later, the nurse came to take me to the operating room. This being my fourth trip to said room, I was totally relaxed and was able to take in all of the sights, sounds and smells. I made it a point to look around and actually notice all of the different equipment and such in the room. I scooted over to the ridiculously narrow operating table and they got me all hooked up and ready. The anesthetist came over and introduced herself, and then said, “You look familiar. I think I was with you during another surgery.” She seemed familiar to me too. Not just the way she sounded, but also her way of being and her diction. I said, “Yes, I think you did. I requested the use of the LMA?” At this, recognition came into her eyes and she said, “Yes! You are a singer and didn’t want any tubes near your cords!” I guess I must be one of the very few people who have used an LMA. Either that, or I caused enough of a stink that my image was etched into their memories!
Anyway, we chit-chatted while she got me ready and she complimented me on my short haircut, saying that a pixie-cut was really great on me. This struck me as sort of funny, given the fact that she’d only ever seen me with a surgical cap (think shower cap) on. I’m not really sure how she could tell what my hair was like or how she even got the full effect, given the cap. But hey, it was a compliment . . . I’ll take it.
The twilight sleep inducing meds were delivered through the IV. I have to say, this was the absolute worst part of the entire morning. Holy cow! I’m not even sure that the word painful is adequate to describe the sensation! Hands down, WAAAYY worse than childbirth! Sometimes meds hurt because the amount being pushed through the vein is almost more than the vein can handle, other times it’s something in the drug that causes the pain and other times the medication is thick and has to bully it’s way in. I’m not sure which one it was in this case, but it. was. awful! It started out cold. Then it felt like my vein was going to explode. When my entire hand became engulfed with this insane pain, I had to grit my teeth, wiggle and squeeze my toes, take deep breaths and pray that the sedative would take effect very, VERY soon.
I woke up as they were wheeling me back to my room. Fortunately, I didn’t wake up thinking about the excruciating pain my hand enduring at the administration of the twilight sleep-inducing meds! Given that I was in twilight sleep mode, they skipped the recovery room. It’s been a few weeks now, so I don’t exactly remember the chain of events. That, and I’m mixing up surgeries in my mind. I do know that I was allowed to go home fairly soon after getting back to the room. I felt pretty good, just super tired, which meant that I went straight to my bed upon arriving home and slept for several hours.
All in all, this was a vastly superior surgical experience. I don’t know if I had a better set of people, or if the fact that I had my notebook out to take notes of names and meds and everything spurred people to do better. Regardless, I have no real complaints this time. That’s kinda huge, right? Seems like I should congratulate the hospital on their good work, as a contrast to the lambasting they received as a result of the suboptimal care during previous procedures. But let’s be honest: it’s taken me 6 weeks to get this post written and posted. Somehow, I don’t think that congratulating the hospital is very high on the totem pole! ;)
Life goes on October 22, 2014Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer
Every day, major life-changing events happen to people: birth, death, marriage, divorce, accidents, new jobs. For the people living through the event, life seems to stand still. Or perhaps, it speeds on past. In any case, life goes on for those on the periphery.
Dealing with cancer is a major life-changing event. The magnitude of the change is initially felt in ripples, gently lapping at your feet. Then one day, the enormity of the change, in the form of a monstrous wave, crashes over you, completely unannounced and thus, unexpected. Life continues to flow all around you while you thrash about, your feet frantically trying to find solid ground. At some point, your feet once again touch the bottom and you think, “What the !@#(!&@(# just happened to me?” You are left with the choice to move on, to run away, or to simply stand there.
I’m ready to move on and leave behind or erase so many things, chief among them:
The route to the cancer center.
The sporadically functional intestines.
The extra 15 pounds I picked up.
I’m ready to move on.
If you came to the conclusion, based on my blogging silence for the last three weeks, that I had moved on, you’d be partially correct, as a part of me has moved on. Moved on to a new, but familiar job, to a new and improved schedule, to a new season. But notice, I said part of me. It’s the part that can be seen, that is only skin deep. The other part – the part that drives you to do and be and love and live – that part can’t move on. The cruel reality is that I’m stuck. Every day I get up and go through the motions, but I’m really just watching the world go by around me, unable to fully give, yet unable to fully wallow in self-pity. It’s a special kind of limbo. Special, because only those who are there know that it exists. Special, because unlike regular limbo, there isn’t a “known” event that is holding up your progression to the next stage. Special, because when you are there, you have to pretend like you aren’t.
So I’m simply standing here. As I stand, I’m trying to redefine beauty and happiness. Every time I think I’ve found a new definition and I’m ready to get on with it, something snatches me back. Sometimes it’s a random pain on one of my scars. Sometimes it’s the tight muscle in my armpit that slightly limits my range of motion. Sometimes it’s the 2-year old who doesn’t really drink liquids and I think “If only we were still nursing, this wouldn’t be an issue.” Lately, it’s been Pinktober that has been snatching me back. Everywhere I look, pink is shouting at me “Be aware! Breast Cancer is here!” This leads me to think back to last Pinktober, which was when I first noticed the pain. It’s also when I misplaced my Breast Cancer awareness charm bracelet that I had been wearing every October for the previous 6 or 7 years. (I did end up finding it, after the malignant biopsy. And no, I haven’t worn it this year.) Thinking back makes me wistful and crabby. It also makes it hard to look forward.
And so I continue to simply stand here while life moves on for everyone else. I wish I knew how to move on. But I don’t how. I can’t.
Maybe though, this is all part of the healing process. Maybe this limbo is necessary for reflection and contemplation on the happenings of the past year. Goodness knows that it’s impossible to think clearly, let alone reflect while you are in the thick of it. Maybe one has to go through this fiery limbo in order to come out refined on the other side.
One can only hope.
Since I don’t know how to move on, I’ll simply stand here. But as I stand, I”m going to go hold firmly on to that hope.