Rashes, Reoccurrence, Reflections

FallAbout three weeks ago I got out of the shower and noticed that I had a strange rash all over my chest (on the exact side the cancer had been).  I did a double take and studied it in the mirror.  My stomach sank remembering the words of my surgeon during one of my follow-up appointments: call us if you see any localized rashes, it can be a sign of reoccurrence. 

When Joel came upstairs he found me crying in the closet.  When I showed him, his face dropped too.  He said, “it’s probably nothing,” but his eyes told a different story.

I did my best to not completely panic, but of course fear gripped me and literally brought me to my knees.

Not. Again.

Joel brought me my phone and I made too desperate phone calls, one to my oncologist and one to my surgeon.

The week that followed was filled with appointments, steroid creams, and skin biopsies. It was hard for me to eat or sleep.  I tried to tell my brain that it was probably nothing, maybe a bug had gotten in my bra at the Renaissance festival in the woods, maybe I was allergic to something . . .  maybe.  Maybe. Maybe.

Maybe.

Maybe it was back.

So many thoughts filled my head.  Memories of chemo drips, fatigue so heavy it was hard to push the grocery cart, tears streaming down my face as Joel shaved my head.  All I could think was: I can’t go back to that. 

When Benadryl and a bath in tea tree oil made a significant improvement in the rash, the surgeon told me it couldn’t be cancer.  The biopsy revealed an allergic reaction . . . it probably WAS a bug in my bra and I couldn’t even feel a bite or an itch because these fake things have zero sensation.

Was this a cruel joke the universe was playing on me? A rash on ” THE cancer boob”? I mean . . . come on.

Of course there was relief when I realized it was not a reoccurrence.

But also — sadness.

This cancer stuff is scary.  The fear of reoccurrence can hang over me like a thick, heavy fog … if I let it.

And I am trying REALLY hard to not to let it.

This rash.  It scared the shit out of Joel and I.  We were fighting the night before I found it.  And man, did we kick ourselves for wasting our time on that.  What if it was back and our last night of normalcy was spent going to bed mad? What a waste.

This rash.  It woke me up . . . again.  I get to savor the cool morning air and the dark sky at 5:30 a.m. on the way to the gym.  I get to roll the windows down and pay attention to how the wind feels in my HAIR, and how the sun feels on my skin.  I get to snuggle up with my boys to give them one more kiss before leaving their room at night.  I get to hold Joel’s hand in the grocery store. I  get to lay on the floor and let my sweet puppy lick my face.  I get to notice the sound the leaves make as they swirl together in the street.

I. Am. Alive.

It was three years ago this week that I got my diagnosis news.  Three years! I will never forget that ocean of sadness that swallowed me up.  It seemed impossible that I would ever swim on the surface again.

I almost slipped back into that place of normalcy where gratitude is the exception — not the rule.  But that stupid rash made me remember how everything can change in an instant.  Don’t wait to live fully.  Forget about your outdated purse or your messy hair.  Stop playing it safe.  You are here.  You are alive.

I don’t want to forget these truths.  As I move further away from my crisis — I want to keep my scars, my reminders that change and vulnerability are required for joy.

 

Advertisements

Looking for Lumps.

 

e249

Ugh.  I made it probably five days into October before being reminded that it is breast cancer awareness month.  Before breast cancer I wondered if all of the pink made the survivors or the fighters feel supported.  Now that I am one, all of the pink just makes me feel anxious. Anxious and somewhat annoyed.  There is nothing pretty or pink about breast cancer.  Next month I will go in for my blood test to see if my breast cancer has returned.  Just thinking about it makes my stomach tighten.  I don’t know if you can make a pumpkin latte pink- but if they could- I think they would.

There is also something nice about the awareness.  I believe awareness is half of the battle.  Awareness probably saved my life.  I knew that breast cancer could kill young women.  I knew that lumps could be benign cysts, and I knew that lumps could be silent killers.  You’ve heard me say it a million of times before, but the nurse practitioner in my doctor’s office thought my lump was just a cyst.  She told me to just keep an eye on it for a couple of months.  She told me to maybe cut back a little on coffee.  But my awareness made me ask for an ultrasound.  My awareness saved my life.

 

So when I think about the power of awareness, I feel grateful for all of that pink.

And when I think about the power of awareness, I feel grateful for the protestors in St. Louis, and for all the football players taking a knee. They are the pink shirts of racial inequities. They are reminding us to check ourselves.  To give ourselves our monthly exams.  To ask ourselves if we need further evaluation.

I spoke to a woman once who told me that she has never gotten a mammogram because she is too afraid of finding out that she might have cancer.

I get it.  Even though I had a double mastectomy, I am still supposed to give myself a breast exam every month.  I am supposed to make sure that cancer hasn’t found a sneaky way of coming back in the tissue around my implants.  And sometimes this paralyzes me.  I am afraid of what I might find.

But we can’t afford to let fear make those decisions for us.

It is scary to find something buried inside of us that has the potential to blow up our lives.  But we need to search for it anyway.

Ask your friends of color about their experiences.  If you don’t have friends of color, find a book or an article by someone who tells their truth with bravery.  Read it.  Reflect on it.

Pretending our racial bias isn’t there, won’t make it go away.  It will continue to grow, it will turn our brothers and sisters into the “other”.  It has the power to dehumanize.  It is a cancer that needs further testing, further conversation, future investigation about how to treat it.  About how to beat it.  About how to find a cure.

Thanks to the all of the pink keychains, shopping bags, coffee cups, and ribbons- I can’t get through October without being aware that it is breast cancer awareness month.  I hope it reminds women to check themselves, to see their doctors, to ask for further testing when their gut tells them to.  It would be easy to roll my eyes and look away.  To say all of the pink was obnoxious and overdone.  But it would be foolish, too.  Because awareness can start conversations, and conversations can inspire action, and action can change policy and save lives, and get us all a little bit closer to freedom.

Our Third Marriage

MelissacantusecomputersThere was a moment this 11-year-anniversary- weekend when Joel and I slow danced in our kitchen to the song we danced to at our wedding.  We asked Alexa to play it (she needed a break from playing “the butt-cheek song” our boys kept requesting).  Ray Charles’ version of Crazy Love.  We really wanted a Dave Matthews song to dance to, but the dance instructor we hired to prepare us for our first dance (total waste of money) insisted we have something with a 4/4 beat . . . or something like that.  So now every time we hear the song both Joel and I say, “quick, quick, slow.  quick, quick, slow”.  The phrase the instructor said over and over again as we stepped on each other’s feet.

So anyway.  We were slow dancing in the kitchen while simultaneously flipping pancakes, and yelling at the dog not to lick the counter.  Alex was grossed out by our romantic moment and Andy kept cheering for us to kiss.  I had bed head, and Joel had coffee breath.

This is eleven years.  Eleven years and marriage #3.

Our marriage role models taught us this.  That your one love can be defined by different chapters, different marriages.  We had the honor this Friday of watching them celebrate 50 years of love and commitment.  They are on marriage number six.  If they had a fan club, Joel and I might try to run for co-presidents.  They love each other so intentionally that it looks a lot like admiration, and devotion, and the deepest form of friendship.  They taught us that real love that looks messy, and is sometimes loud and sharp around the edges.  They’ve loved each other for 50 years.  And they are on marriage six.

So Joel and I figured that we are on number 3.

First there was the young love.  The not wanting to be away from each other for a second.  The long letter writing, the cute message leaving, the surprise presents tucked under pillows and carseats.  The dreaming, and planning, and drinking and dancing till too late.

And then a life-threatening blood clot and a baby happened.  And with them we found marriage #2.  Joel took me to the hospital with a swollen leg, and three weeks later took me home in a wheelchair with a baby on my lap.  His lighthearted bride was now wearing compression stockings, nursing bras, and stabbing herself in the stomach twice a day to keep her blood thin.  Anxiety dimmed the light in her eyes.  And everything changed.

But with time, we learned how to navigate, we found such mystery in our two becoming three.  We found balance and peace and soon joy seeped its way back into our souls.  We left our loft and bought a house, and with Andy, our three became four.

And then cancer brought us marriage # 3.  Which was filled with the darkest moments of my life, but also with the deepest, most transformative love.

This year, we didn’t celebrate with a trip, or any fancy gifts or cards.  We just slowed danced in the kitchen for probably about a minute and thirty seconds, had a great dinner out, and drank sparkling wine from the bottle in the place where we said “I do” (while listening the Snoop Dog concert down the hill).  This is year eleven, and marriage number three.

Joel is my person.  He is the man that I will intentionally love for all the days of my life.  I can’t predict how many marriages are left in our story, but I know for sure, they will all start and end- hand in hand.

Magic

IMG_4125

I was preparing for the Eclip-olypse.  The MRH teachers had the awesome opportunity to watch the eclipse in St. Genevieve, Missouri and I was convinced it was going to be an absolute disaster.  I really believed there would be so much traffic that I would have to pee into a diaper in front of my co-workers on the highway.  I thought there would be so many people in the area that cell phones would no longer work, and I would have no way to seek medical attention for the bee sting that I was going to get in the middle of the traffic-jammed two-lane highway. (I’m not even allergic to bees but this is the kind of stuff that sometimes keeps me up at night).  I really thought it would be the Eclip-olypse, so I begged my whole team to wake up at the crack of dawn to hit the highway before the millions of vehicles blocked our path, and I loaded up my car with extra water, some trail mix, and a first aid kit.

When we arrived in St. Genevieve about 55 minutes later after cruising down a open road, I realized that once again I heard hooves on the road — and thought zebras instead of horses (that was for you Jim).

All the worrying about how I was going to get there kept me from having any expectations about what watching an eclipse would be like.  I didn’t even really give myself time to get excited.  I was too busy debating whether or not I needed to pack a flashlight in case we got trapped in my car over night.

So when the moon moved into the sun’s path, and the temperature dropped, and the leaves’ shadows turned to crescents, and the light started to dim . . . I really felt a sense of awe.  The grand finale was darkness in the middle of the day.  A sky transformed in an instant.  It almost felt like magic.

Joel texted me late Friday afternoon to let me know that Alex’s biopsy came back as a benign growth, and I felt my whole body breathe a sigh of relief.  I had worked so hard to convince myself that it would be fine, but my body was holding it’s breath until the doctor confirmed it.  It was just another horse . . .not a zebra.  (Although to my credit it looked super scary and way more like a zebra than a horse).  I took a moment today, during this magical eclipse, to feel the weight of gratitude.  For now, all is okay.

Andy thinks that he can cast spells, and can speak to snakes when he is in his Harry Potter costume.  He thinks his wooden wand can make magic.

Isn’t it fun to believe in things we can’t see?  And it isn’t wonderful to every once in awhile, actually get to see them?

It almost feels like magic.

IMG_5030

 

 

 

Biopsy.

alex and meBiopsy. Biopsy. Biopsy.  How can a word take my breath away?

It was a normal day at the zoo and I was pretending to be a momma bird squirting water from a Gatorade water bottle into the mouths of all my thirsty baby birds.  (In other words I stupidly only packed one water bottle for six children and was trying to prevent the spread of germs.) When Alex leaned his head back for his squirt, I saw it.

It was a weird growth thing on the roof of his mouth.  Immediately I felt my stomach twist up.  I asked Joel to look at it and he told me to relax.  It was probably a burn from eating hot pizza, and we would just keep our eye on it.  I forced myself to breathe.  I couldn’t even handle looking at it again because I know myself, I know my brain.  I could go from it being a tiny bump to “cancer.”

When I found the lump in my breast I tried to talk myself down.  “Melissa, it’s not cancer.  Do you know how many times you’ve thought something was cancer? Melissa just because it is possible does not mean it is probable.  Melissa you are always worried about the worst happening, it is probably just a cyst.”  My brain and I were in a battle during the days between finding the lump and getting my biopsy results.  Sometimes my health anxiety is a thief of my joy, but in some ways it also keeps me safe.  Because when the doctor told me it was probably a cyst and to just keep my eye on it,  I shook my head and asked for an ultrasound.  And I am pretty sure that decision saved my life.

So instead of obsessing about Alex’s weird mouth growth by checking it constantly, looking it up on the internet, and panicking . . . I put Joel in charge of it.  Cancer taught me that Joel is calm, and level-headed, and just the right amount of worried.  Cancer taught be that I can’t be in control of everything, and that sometimes it is okay to say, “I can’t handle this.  I can’t do it.  I can’t even.” So Joel took over.  He took a picture of it and sent it to our brilliant dentist friends.  They said it looked benign to them but to take him to the dentist.  So Joel made the appointment, and took him.  And our wonderful dentist who seems to know me all to well, pulled Joel aside and said, “I know your wife.  She is probably freaking out.  Tell her it is okay.  He needs to see an oral surgeon to have it removed, and they will biopsy it to be sure, but I am not worried.”  I made Joel tell me this over and over again,  I kept asking him, “So .  . . are you sure he wasn’t worried, but why does he have to get it out? Why do they have to biopsy it?”

And my brain and I continued this battle.  Because I know that sometimes even when doctors think things are okay . . . they aren’t.  I know that even when you are sure you will get the call with the “all clear” instead they say the word “cancer” and you fall to your knees.

But I didn’t completely surrender to the panic.  Because I have been working SO hard on my anxiety.  I am determined not to let it steal my joy.  I know that if I let myself be worry’s slave, I will feel less sunshine on my face.  And I don’t want to live life like that.

My dear family friend who passed away last summer from breast cancer spent her life speaking the truth about the power of positive thought and intention.  After she died I watched her TED Talk, and she tells the audience not to stay in the negative for too long, to move it aside and say, “despite all of that, I can solve this anyway.”   This inspired me to transform all of my “what ifs” to “even ifs“.  I am trying to retrain my brain to not be caught in the “what if my cancer comes back?” mindset, but in the “even if my cancer comes back, I know how to be resilient” mindset. (https://cancermademedoit.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/her-funeral-was-magic/)

This takes a lot of work.  And patience.  And willingness to forgive myself for all of the times that my resilience takes a back seat to my anxiousness.

But “what if my sweet 9-year-old who still holds my hand, and takes naps with our puppy, and designs amazing Lego creations, and makes his cousins belly laugh, and picks up trash when he goes on walks with me, who wants to make blessing bags for the homeless, and who dreams of inventing a portal for time travel . . . what if he has cancer?”

I couldn’t survive that.  Could I?

Yes.  Yes I could.  Do you know how I know? Because of you.  Because I see some of you out there in life and you have survived this, and you have survived worse.

I had some amazing oncology nurses at Siteman.  And Erin had a sparkle in her eyes, a warmth in her smile, and playfulness in her voice that made needles, and ports, and pills, a bit easier to handle.

She just lost her three-year-old son to cancer.

And I am sure she feels like she will not survive this.  But she will.  Because of you.  Because there are some of you out there who have also lost your babies.  The single most devastating thing that could ever happen to a parent.  And you are surviving.  And you must be her hope.

When I was healing from my surgery, I wrote a blog post about prayer.  I said,

When I was a fraction of myself.  When the anchor of cancer pulled me so far underwater I was sure I would never reach the surface again.  When I felt the ache of hopelessness.

There was always this unbreakable thread that kept me just shy of the bottom.

And each prayer you sent me, each thought, and well wish.  Each time you said my name, or squeezed your eyes closed and sent me love, or read my words and ached with me for just a moment.  Each time you extended your energy in my direction, or folded your fingers together, or kneeled down at your place of worship.  Each time.  Every. Single. Time.

It mattered.

It moved me.

Those prayers.  That energy.  Those connections.  They were balloons.  And I held on to each one.  And they lifted me.

Please send that kind of love to Erin.  May there be an million balloons that hold her up, just shy of the bottom.

Alex met with the oral surgeon yesterday.  She wasn’t concerned at all.  They removed the weird skin flappy-thing and sent it off to be biopsied.  So I am breathing again, and feel confident that all will be well.

And even if it’s not. I’ll find a way to be resilient.

And you will, too.

 

Beauty in the Brokenness

andy 6Sometimes I look at elderly people with a such a sense of awe.  How did they make it through all of this?  How did they survive the million and one things that can wrong in this life? How did they get so lucky?

The past couple of weeks I have been hearing stories about cancers coming back. Brave, lovely people that survived the crushing realities of cancer once already,  now have to put the gloves back on and fight it again.  I can’t help but personally respond to these stories.  The thought of the doctors putting a port back in my body, the thought of managing the weight of chemo from the couch while my kids whirl around me again . . . it steals my breath.  When you know the intimate details of cancer, you know the dragon you must slay.  You understand how it’s breath will melt your energy, how it’s claws will cripple your body, how it’s angry eyes will bend your knees.  You know your battle.

I remember once when I was sick envisioning cancer as a dragon.  As a beast that I must slay.  But that metaphor didn’t resonate with me at that particular moment on my journey.  I did not have the energy to fight, I did not possess the heart to try and kill anything.  So I started picturing myself kneeling down before the beast with my eyes closed and my arms open.  As if to say, I am no longer fighting you with a sword.  I am no longer fighting you with my fists.  I will let you find me here in this place of utter vulnerability and I will let you get as close to me as you can,  I will surrender to you.  But not in the way where I let you win.  In the way that I say to you, “I am no longer afraid.”

And that did something for me.  It didn’t mean that I was okay with dying.  It didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to do everything possible to get better to raise my boys.  It just meant that I didn’t want to fight, and I didn’t want to run away.  I just wanted to kneel down and open myself up, and trust that this dragon would circle me, smell me, nudge me with its nose, and then walk away.

Knowing that there are people who have to watch this beast walk back into their view, makes me hang my head.  How will you do this again? The type of anger that has the potential to well up. . . could choke us.

Cancer has kids chained to hospital beds, too.  Instead of building sand castles and playing soccer and making mistakes they are learning words like radiation, chemotherapy, bone marrow, and watching sticky liquids that steal their spark drip into their veins.  How can we survive this? How can we make sense of this?

Andy celebrated being 6 at the ocean last week.  We drove 12 hours on his birthday and he got to open a present up at every rest stop.  When we finally arrived to our house that lined the beach he ran into the ocean with his brother and their friends and they laughed and let the sea soak their clothes.  We had a wonderful week of sunshine and salt water and silliness.

Yesterday a 10-year-old boy was killed on that exact stretch of beach where my children played.  A wave smashed a log into his young body while he was walking on the shore with his family.

How can we survive this?  How does any of this make sense?

A friend of mine’s young boy had open heart surgery yesterday.  For 8 hours my sweet friend held her breath waiting to hear if the doctors could repair his heart.

How can we survive this? How does any of this make sense?

Last night I watched my best friend hold her 6-day-old baby.  He is so tiny.  And so perfect.  We were in wonder pondering how just a week ago he was tumbling inside of her.  And now he is here.  A little swirl of new life.  An impossible amount of potential and beauty is such a small package.

And I couldn’t help but feel awe.

And on a family walk last night Alex pointed out all the lightning bugs lighting up the park, and Joel carried Andy’s walking stick because he was to tired to carry it any more, and Andy held my hand and whispered to me that he loved me and that he loved walking with me.  And before I went to sleep I got a text from my friend reporting that her son’s surgery was a success.  They fixed her son’s broken heart.

And I couldn’t help but feel awe.

There is so much that is broken, there are so many holes that are too big to ever be fixed.  There are things we will never be able to make sense of, and somethings that we won’t be able to survive.

But I can’t stop myself from believing that there is beauty in the brokenness.  We are still drawn to the canyons, to the holes of life.  It is in these places where the truest forms of love exist.  Where the purest water runs.

I can’t make sense of the suffering that surrounds us.  It seems cruel and unfair.  And yet, suffering brings out such a rawness, such a deep awareness that life is short.  Such a powerful reminder that we must love fiercely.  That we must put down our cell phones and spend more time looking at lightning bugs, and holding hands, and watching the sun come up.  Because it always comes up.  No matter what.

 

Creepy Cancer Scarecrow, Parenting, Puppies, and Poop

ANdy and ellieI’ve been quiet for awhile.

So many words have been tumbling around in my head.  So many things I’ve wanted to say.  I’ve wanted to write blog posts on poop, and puppies, and the way we make parenting so hard for ourselves.  I’ve wanted to write about my belief in a higher power, and about a certain type of rage that can only be created by the adult version of strep throat.  I’ve had so much I’ve wanted to say.  But every time I picked up my computer I  just stared at the empty screen, and my fingers just didn’t feel like dancing.

Even now, this post feels more like drool than coffee, and my fingers are clumbsy on this keyboard, and I have to stop myself from stopping.  So I forgive you if you stop reading here . . . this is for sure not my best work.

Puppies and poop go together.  When you have a newborn you are constantly analyzing your baby’s diapers.  Are they wet enough?  Is the poop too runny? Too hard?  Can it tell us the story about how much they are eating, or if they are healthy?  And there is nothing like trying to get a toddler to poop on the potty.  All of a sudden they are in control of something, and they use that control to make our lives miserable.  And before we know it, we are at Target buying plastic crap to bribe them to crap in a place that doesn’t squish their crap all over they butts and up their backs.  Joel and I thought we were done with that stage of life, and then we got a puppy.  And wouldn’t you know we are back to asking each other: did she poop?  Did it look solid enough? Did she pee when she was outside?  Are you sure? Do you think that cry at 2 a.m. means she has to pee again? Poop and puppies go together.

For the first 4.5 years of Andy’s life Joel and I were sure we would never sleep through the night again.  From the moment that boy was born he rebelled against sleep.  It was almost like he was allergic to it.  I can’t believe we didn’t wear a path in the hardwood floor of our house.  We paced it every night taking turns with the wide-eyed baby that would trick us into believing he was in deep sleep just long enough for us to lay him down in his crib, sneak out of his room like a trained assassin, crawl into our bed and just start to experience the first caress of sleep before he was up again screaming at the top of his lungs.  If I had a dollar for every time I yelled “fuck me” into my pillow, I would be a wealthy lady.  Joel and I weren’t down with the “cry-it-out” concept, so as soon as Andy could walk he found his way into our bed, and before we knew it we were co-sleepers.  And the entire process of getting him to bed was also a nightmare.  If we didn’t lay with him he would cry for hours and figure out a million and one reasons he needed to leave his room to seek more parental attention.  We would try every single piece of advice that was given to us to get him to fall asleep on his own, and none of it worked.  We were frustrated and exhausted, and we just wanted him to fucking sleep.  I would be lying if Joel and I didn’t feel judged.  (Don’t we all feel that way when one of our children doesn’t do what the world expects them to do?)  But somewhere along the way Joel and I stopped fighting it, and we just started laying with him, cuddling him, scratching his back, and singing him to sleep.  Now the 1.5 hour battle every night was only lasting 15 minutes, and they were quickly turning into a very enjoyable 15 minutes.  And now Andy is almost 6, and while Joel and I still cuddle with him until he falls asleep (which surely means we have failed as parents), he stays in his bed all night, and he ends his days feeling loved and cared for.  And I realized sometimes those are the best few minutes of my day.  Every once in awhile he whispers something like: “mommy even when you are dead,  I know you will be in my heart forever.”  And I can’t even stand the cuteness.

So when our puppy cried off and on through the night in her crate.  It was an easy decision to bring her doggy bed in our room.  Now Joel and I are rebels.  And ruin-ers of sleep rules. And sometimes when our sweet little Ellie is licking my arm at 3:41 a.m. I smile and roll over and feel lucky. I finally get it.

Sometimes we make things so hard on ourselves because we are sure things have to be a certain way.  But why? Will I ever look back on my life and regret the time I spent cuddling my kid? No.  And cancer didn’t teach me this truth, but it still reminds me of it.  I am not suggesting that we always say “yes” or always do the easiest thing, but sometimes we have to ask ourselves is this worth the fight? We can loose a million battles and still win the war.

Cancer.  I almost wrote a whole post without mentioning it.  But dammit it is still there like a creepy scarecrow that every once in awhile pokes me on the shoulder and makes me turn around and stare at again.  And I want to scream, ” I know! I know! I see you.  I get it . . . you are still there.  You are still there.”

Because when I get a virus, and then strep throat, and then another virus, and it feels like its been weeks since I felt like I could jog up the steps, I don’t just think, “oh it must be May, the time of the year when all teachers feel like a deflated balloon and I must be tired and maybe I have spring allergies, and ‘oh yeah’ that puppy has been waking me up a lot — so that’s why I feel like hell.”  No.  I don’t think that.  I think, my cancer is back. 

Today I went to my 6-month cancer check up.  This is the FIRST time I went ALONE.  Joel went to the other 798 appointments with me.  But this time I was determined to do it without him.  There is this moment when I am sitting on the exam table in that terrible hospital gown waiting for the oncologist to come in and physically check me and then read my blood work results that I feel absolutely paralyzed with fear.  What if he tells me that my numbers are a little concerning and that they need to run a few more tests.  This is my BIGGEST fear right now.  This terrifies me because it would mean MORE WAITING, MORE WORRYING, MORE WONDERING, MORE CANCER talk and less, “did the puppy pee on the rug or did your spill your coffee?” I like being upset about traffic jams, and long work meetings, and that they are out of the oatmeal with flax seed at Trader Joes.  I like my simple problems dammit.  I LOVE them,  I am grateful for them.  I smile up at the stars at 2:42 am when I am in a tsunami of a rainstorm with a puppy who wants to do anything but pee.  I am so happy NOT to have cancer.  I would crawl on my knees over hot stones for miles to beg someone to please, please guarantee that it will NEVER happen to me again.

But as the therapist that I saw said, (yes I finally went) – we don’t have control.  We don’t have control. Shit happens.  Shit happens to the best of us, shit happens to the worst of us.  Shit. Just. Happens.

But what I can control- is my mindset, is my attitude.  What I can control- is my breath.  I can control my breath.  I can pay attention to the traffic jam and realize that there was an accident that caused it, and feel grateful that it wasn’t me, and say a prayer for whoever it was.  I can notice the perfectly blue sky, and feel the sun on the left side of my face, I can notice the song on the radio, and I can sing along.

This time I got a good report.  And I am glad.  But I know I head back in six months, and I want to really live each day between now and then with cuddles, and puppies, and with sunshine on my face.

So I’m not going to runaway from the creepy cancer scarecrow just over my shoulder.  I am going to turn around and acknowledge that it is there, but choose to focus on the road in front of me.

 

 

 

“Post-it notes of greatness in the file of f-ing miserable.”

date pic

Facebook memories popped this up on my time line last week.  Two Marches ago.  Night before chemo #5.  Joel and I went on a date.  I put on a dress, big earrings, and slapped on a hat and we headed out the door.  I ordered a glass of wine and had a delicious piece of trout.  Joel and I talked about cancer for a little bit, but mostly we talked about our kids, our travel dreams, our jobs, and what we were grateful for.  It was a wonderful night.  Like one of the best.  Smack dab in the middle of the lowest points of our lives, we had a series of magical moments strung together like pearls on yarn.  Seeing this picture brought it all back.  I was happy that night.  Not take-a-deep-breath-and-force-a-smile-happy, but real to-the-bone-happy.

Important to remember.  I’ve lumped most of November-May of 2015 into the “fucking miserable” file, but there were some post-it notes of greatness in there.  And I don’t want to forget them.

None of us gets out of this journey unscathed.  We will all face loss and tragedy.  But the lows of the bottom will be matched by the highs at the top.   Spring will follow winter and night will always fade to day.  This is a guarantee woven into the fabric of our universe.  And even when we are at the bottom, if we look hard enough we will see the flickers of hope.

The morning after this date I got the news that I couldn’t have chemo #5.  My blood counts were too low.  My body was too weak to knock it down with another infusion.  I was beyond upset.  My sister-in-law had already left her family to travel to St. Louis to help care for our kids, we had dinners lined up, I had taken sick days at work . . . everything was set for the aftermath of chemo #5, and now I couldn’t get it.  I remember saying the only thing worse than getting chemo is not getting chemo when you need it.  I was terrified that the cancer cells would reorganize during the chemo break and take me down again. I was so angry.  (Like crazy, scary angry).

At some point I went to Whole Foods to get more Turkey Tail mushrooms (a supplement believed to help white blood cell counts), and I saw a magnet that said: “If you are going through hell. . . keep going.” And then another that said, “In the end it will all be okay, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”  I remember breathing.  I remember my fists un-clenching just a bit.  These cheesy slogans were speaking to me.  They were saying: keep going . . . it’s going to be okay.

Two Marches later I am home from a week in sunny Florida.  I read on the beach, laughed at poop jokes with my kids, wore a swimsuit that covered my scars, spotted dolphins, drank coconut martinis, played football in the sand, kissed my husband during the sunset, and found myself bubbling up with happiness.

So my friends . . . if you are going through hell — keep going.  It’s going to be okay.  Hold on tight, look for the post-it notes of greatness in the file of “fucking miserable” and survive.  You’ve got this.

Izzy.

izzy

My dad never wanted us to get a puppy.  He said he didn’t really like puppies.  He wouldn’t even hold Izzy when we brought her home 15 years ago.  She was just a tiny black and white fluff ball and the rest of the family couldn’t keep our hands off of her, but my dad thought we were crazy for getting a puppy and had no interest in her cuteness.

But soon enough Izzy worked her magic on him and he had an instant best friend.  It’s easy to love my dad.  He is silly, and kind and makes you feel okay about the world when it disappoints you.  He has a magic about him that makes people feel at ease, and a trustworthiness that makes it feel okay to share your story.  He is a natural born therapist.

And Izzy was easy to love, too.  She had a such a calm spirit about her, and seemed content just sharing space with you.  She fiercely loved being outside, and when she was young she served as an excellent hiking, camping, and canoeing buddy.  She licked faces, cleaned up under-the-table crumbs, was gentle with babies, and loved looking out windows and lying in the sun.

We all loved Izzy, but my dad loved her the most.  He talked to her, walked at night with her, and while at my parent’s house I would often turn a corner and find him lying on the floor next to her asleep.

Whenever it was my duty to watch her, I would get strict notes about how many times to walk her, how many cookies to give her, and how much time I should spend petting her.  This last weekend while my parents went to Chicago, Izzy had to stay at our house.  She could no longer walk down steps, so my dad built her a ramp.  A very well-constructed ramp complete with side railings and carpet so she wouldn’t slip.  That’s that kind of guy my dad is.  And that is how much he loved Izzy.

So when I had to tell him that I thought it was time to put her to sleep, it wasn’t easy.

But it was time.

We said goodbye to Izzy today.  And saying goodbye is hard.  And I am sad because I loved that dog.  And I am sad because our whole family loved that dog, and now there is an Izzy-sized hole.  And I am sad for my dad.  Because he had a special bond with that dog.  A special connection that I know will be sorely missed.

She was a really good doggie.

 

 

 

 

You Belong, Too.

https://i2.wp.com/www.ksdk.com/img/resize/content.ksdk.com/photo/2017/02/16/download_1487254890409_8526024_ver1.0.jpg

I graduated from Nerinx Hall in 1997.  Twenty years ago.

My dad worked two jobs so I could attend the prestigious all-girl school.  I’ve always told my parents it was worth the sacrifice.

And now this gem of a school is in the headlines for not allowing a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club to form.

Once the news hit social media a closed group of almost 2,500 alumni formed.

I want to say so much, but it might be time to keep it simple.

To the Nerinx administration: You did it. You planted seeds of strength within us, you nourished roots of community and friendship, you gave us branches of ideas and compassion, you provided us with fruits of hope.  If you see us, if you hear us, you have to be proud.   You taught us that conflict is okay.  That when we see injustices we should speak up, and we are.  Can you hear us? Our voices are unified and our determination is strong.  You created these leaders of change, these women of compassion.  You taught us that one of us is not free, until we are all free.  You inspired us to see outside or our comfort zones.  You lit a fire so deep within our souls that we are not afraid to get burned. As the administration of this school, as board members of this community, I know you can do this.  You can take this energy, this momentum, and you can be leaders,  you can be trailblazers.

And I believe you will. Because I know there are girls in your halls that need a place to feel safe.  They need a group that says: I belong, too.

And I know you want to give them that.  Because it is good.  And it is right.

Will it be tricky? Yes. Will it be complicated? Yes.  Will it cause discomfort and unrest? Yes.

But I believe you will do it because it is who you taught us to be.

I believe you will do it because you provided us the space and place to dream, to believe that we can go where others have never gone.

It is who we are.

It is what we do.

Give these girls their safe place–tell them:

“You belong, too.”