#sliverofgreen

Today it was hard to get out of bed.  Chemo was an anchor.

But I wanted to be at work.  I love my job.  My husband brought me tea and toast, kissed my forehead, and got the boys out the door.  I was still stuck under the covers willing myself to move.

I was late and started crying on the way there.  I had to park down the street to get myself together before walking in my classroom.  I forced myself through the door and begged myself to smile.

My students are all survivors.  They have been through worse than breast cancer.  They have survived rape, abandonment, poverty, addiction, and abuse.  Some of them have lost parents, some of them sleep on the couch, some of them are battling depression.  They are all survivors of something worse than breast cancer.  When I am with them,  I feel compelled to be strong.

Today I barely made it to 11 o’clock.  I had to leave early because my body ached everywhere and demanded sleep.

I cried on the way home, too.  Back to my empty house.

And then I checked my phone.  Facebook notifications.  A lot of them.  My high school classmates were all posting “slivers of green” for me.  Pictures containing images of hope, their beautiful children in green, landscapes, flowers, old high school pictures in our green Nerinx wear, art projects, selfies, even street tacos with bright green lettuce.  Each picture contained the hashtag #sliverofgreen.  For me. Slivers of hope, for me.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to respond.  How to say thank you – when “thank you” isn’t enough.  I got out my high school yearbook.  Next to my senior year picture I wrote: “Everyone be the best tree you can be: Keep your feet on the ground, your hands in the sky, and always change with the seasons.”

I’ve written about how cancer feels like fall, like the loss of my leaves, the anticipation of winter, and the deeply rooted hope that spring will find me again.  During my four years at Nerinx Hall High School I developed my roots, my sense of self — my inner voice.  It has been 18 years since we graduated. 18 years! And these women have rallied around me as if I was still standing next to them in the hallway.

I’m getting ready to go back to bed now — to end my day.  And I will go to sleep thinking about these beautiful visions of green, about all this hope that has been shared with me.  I will look at these images again, and again, and again.  My little slivers of green.  They will keep me dreaming of spring.

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Sun.

I don’t want to write the truth.

Because it is dark. And not pretty. And scary. And sad.

But true. And I promised. I would tell the whole story.

The past 36 hours I have found myself sinking.

If I was swimming before — if I was treading water — I am now barely bobbing up to the surface for air.  This ocean of cancer is so vast. It takes so much to breathe.

Everything hurts. I can’t be a mom, or a wife, or a friend, or daughter, or a teacher — I am just a heavy weight dragging from couch to bed — from bed to couch.

I hate this. All of it. I’ve lost so much already, and there is so much still to loose.

Those who love me — hate this too.

I didn’t want to write this post, because I was sure there would be no silver lining at the end. No flicker of light.

I was sure that by the time I finished writing, there would still only be this unspeakable sadness.

I can’t always end with hope.

But there it is.  This force deep inside of me that refuses to lie down.  The tiniest sliver of green.

My sister-in-law’s hand on my shoulder, “you will be on the other side of this.”

My 3-year-old singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”.

And I pray that it does.

Because I could really use some sun.

Conversations before chemo # 3

photo-4

(Alex and I shopping at Marshalls)

Alex (6): Why do you have to take that medicine anyway?

Me: Well, the doctors found something yucky inside of my body and the medicine helps to kill it.

Alex: What’s it called?

Me: It has a long name.  We will just call it yucky.

Alex: You can tell me the long name.  Or whisper it to me.

Me: It is just yucky.

Alex: Where is it?

Me: Inside my boobs.

Alex: That’s weird.

Me: Yep. And when I’m done with the medicine, I will have a surgery where they take off my boobs to make sure all of the yucky is gone.

Alex: They are going to take off your boobs?  . . . Wow. You will look so . . . young.

Me: Well, they are going to make me new ones.

Alex: New boobs? That’s crazy.

Me: Yep.

Alex: Can I have those Angry Bird underwear?

Me: Check to see if they are size 6.

Alex: They are.

Me: Throw them in the cart.

(Andy and Alex snuggling with me tonight after books)

Andy (3): I miss your hair.

Me: I know buddy. Me too.

Andy: When we’re at the swimming pool it will be back?

Me: Yes, this summer it will start growing back.

Alex: Andy she has yucky stuff in her boobs.

Andy: Yucky stuff in her poops??

(lots of laughing by all 3 of us)

Alex: No. In her boobs. Mom, when you get the new boobs are they going to be chubby?

Me: I guess they might be.

Alex: I don’t want you to get new boobs, I like yours how they are.

Me: Me too, buddy. But I will still be the same Mommy –no matter what.

Andy: Mommy, I like your fuzzy hair. (Kisses me on the lips.)

Alex: Mommy, do you think I will ever have to take that medicine?

Me: I hope not buddy.

Alex: I don’t think 6-year-olds are old enough for it.

Me: I love you.

Alex: I love you too, mommy.

Andy: Mommy rub my foot. (I rub his foot.) No, like this. (He shows me how to rub it.) No. Scratch it. (I scratch it.) Thanks, mommy. You’re the best mommy. (Kisses my face.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I know my kids don’t know what “cancer” means.  I could call it cancer instead of “yucky”.  But I just can’t say that word to them.  When it’s over I will.  When they are older I will.  But now it is still too scary to say to them.

Tomorrow is chemo # 3.  A lot of you have reminded me that after it’s over I’ll be halfway done.  If you’re a long distance runner you might understand that this brings me little comfort.  The second half is always harder.  Bigger hills, less water stops, more muscle fatigue.  I actually said to my co-workers today: “It’s like halfway through the race knowing the hardest part is still to come, and when I finally finish- they cut my boobs off.”

I guess that is not very positive of me.  So I am trying to refrain it in my mind — the way so many of you have encouraged me to do.

The chemo is not poison.  It is medicine.  Life-saving medicine.  Medicine perfected for my kind of cancer.  Medicine that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.  Medicine that will allow me to run another half-marathon.  Or ten.  Or a hundred.

The second half is always harder.  But it does contain the finish line.  And even though I will have other battles to face after I cross it, I get to cross it.  And that is something.  It’s not nothing.

Yes, I’ll have surgery, and possibly radiation — but I still get to go shopping with my six-year-old and buy Angry Bird underwear, and have my three-year-old kiss me on the lips and tell me he loves me.  Even in the midst of cancer there is happiness and pleasure.  Even in winter there is sunshine.

I took a nap in my parents backyard yesterday.  When I woke up –this was my view (see pic.)  Life is good my friends — even when it is not.

My quilt.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for a long time.  The longer I wait, the more complicated it gets.  And it’s your fault.

You’ve overwhelmed me.  In the best way possible.

Cards and gifts in the mail almost every single day.  Flowers, food, jewlery, scarves, hats, gifts for my boys, books, blankets, clothes, magazines, lotions,  . . . I can’t cover it all.

Some of it from friends I haven’t spoken to in over a decade.

Some of it from friends of friends.  Some of it from strangers.

And there is a constant flow of support on my blog, my email, my phone, my Facebook inbox.  You tell me I’m in your prayers. You send me pictures, and inspirational quotes.  You remind me that it is going to be okay.

You pick up my boys, and take them on adventures.  You hug them and are silly with them when I can’t be.  You do my dishes and my laundry.  Some of you have even offered to clean my toilets.

You’ve taken off work to sit with me, left meetings early to help me, and stayed late to make sure I was okay.

You’ve made me giggle, and cry, and think.

The hardest class I took in college was a fabrics class.  I needed one more elective to fill my last semester of senior year and I decided to take an art class.  I thought it would be an easy A.  My final was to make a quilt.  It was the only class in college that forced me to stay up all night to finish the work- and literally was filled with blood, sweat and tears.  The quilt seemed impossible.  How was I going to make a full quilt in two weeks.  Each square was it’s own challenge, it’s own design.

I’ve decided that you have made me a quilt.

All of your hands are working on your separate square –you don’t even know the others who are sewing too– but your hands are all moving together.  You are blindly creating something larger than you can even see.  I get to see it.  The finished work, the masterpiece.   All of these great acts of love sewn together.

This quilt is sometimes a parachute.  It makes me brave.  Challenges me to leap through the hardest parts of this cancer.

This quilt is sometimes a net.  It catches me when I fall.  It softens the blows.  And there are so many blows.

But most of all, this quilt is a reminder of what is bigger than us.  A metaphor for something so beautiful that the only explanation requires faith.  A belief in something beyond any comprehension.

A mountain top moment– when you can see with your eyes closed.

You’ve humbled me.  And softened my road.  My arms are opening.

Thank you.

Joel

IMG_3864I met Joel while I was dating someone else. We were at a party and we just hit it off. We finished each other’s sentences, saw the world in a similar way, and made each other laugh. I even joked that he had the other half of my “best friend heart necklace”. (remember those?)

Then I hoped in the car with my boyfriend and headed home.

I jokingly told my best friend I had just met my soulmate. He called his mom and told her he met the girl he was going to marry.

A month later he called asking if I remembered him from the party, wanting to know if I wanted to meet for coffee. Yes, I remembered him. No, I wouldn’t have coffee with him — I was dating someone else.

Joel didn’t give up. Several calls and date requests later, I gave him my email address. I remember thinking it would be easier to reject him via email.

For the next ten months Joel asked me out over a 100 times. And through my repeated rejection, we started becoming friends. Our emails got longer. The details got more detailed. The connection between us grew.

I didn’t know where to put it. Our relationship didn’t fit anywhere that made sense.

I remember when he spoke about interviewing for a job out of state, I prayed that he wouldn’t get it. I didn’t want him to move, but wasn’t sure what that meant.

When my boyfriend and I broke up (he broke up with me), Joel had already started dating someone else. I was jealous, and confused.

So when he told me he was at the laundry mat close to my house, I naturally grabbed my clean laundry, threw it in my car and headed to the laundry mat to rewash it.

We were there for a long time.

A week later he broke up with his girlfriend and we started dating.

5 months later we were engaged.

We’ve been married for eight years. And now I have cancer.

There really aren’t enough words to say about Joel. He is beyond description. Anything I would write would be cheesy and cliche’ — and he is better than that.

He has had to take over so much of our household chaos. And he’s been my rock. He has no doubt that I am going to be okay. He believes it with every fiber of his being. He lets me cry, and break, and fall apart, but then he lovingly reminds me that I am going to be okay.

Last night he shaved my head –like with a razor and shaving cream. It is never something I thought he would have to do for me. I didn’t dream about having cancer and needing my husband to shave my patchy disaster of a head.

He made me laugh. He told me I was beautiful. And he kissed me.

I told him: “I rather have cancer and be with you — then be healthy and be without you.”

And that my friends- is the truth.

Connect the dots.

I miss my energy. I miss being strong enough to lift my kids up and spin them in circles. I miss my silliness. I miss going for a run. I miss coffee. I miss my hair. I miss the lightness of normalcy. I miss having the ability to clean the house, run the dishwasher, and start dinner before Joel gets home. I miss the absence of nausea. I miss being the helper.

I did not need cancer to be grateful for these small things. I had this part figured out. I truly felt grateful every single day. I would whisper to Joel before sleep, “we are so lucky, so blessed.” I took the extra minutes to snuggle my boys. I turned the radio up and sang silly songs with them. I did not get lost in the routine. I stopped for joy, I noticed it, I invited it in every chance I got. I did not need cancer to be grateful. I studied the sky, and closed my eyes, and found tiny moments of peace. I did not need cancer to slow me down- to make me pay attention to what matters– I had that part figured out. I got it.

It takes a long time to connect the dots. To see why things happen the way they do. To make sense of the senseless. I wonder how these dots will connect. What image will appear?

Until then. I miss my healthy body. If you have one — (a healthy body)– use it. Push it to its limits. Make it strong. Fill it with fuel that keeps it healthy.

Because I am on the couch. Tired. Dreaming of that healthy body crossing some sort of finish line. Wishing for sweat, and natural exhaustion.

Chemo is tar. It is cement. It has me benched — waiting to connect the dots.

Tapping my foot.

andy's kiss I’ve had so much rattling around in my brain, but everything has felt too jumbled to write.  I am just going to go for it.

My family from New Jersey surprised me by traveling to St. Louis on Christmas Eve.  If you know me, you know that it is almost impossible to surprise me, but this was the ultimate surprise.  There was a knock on the door and I answered it in my bathrobe and my bald head.  My jaw dropped.  And my energy level instantly rose.  It is amazing what distant family can do for your soul.  My parents seemed happier and everything felt lighter.  We have a lot rich Polish food and traditions on Christmas Eve, and while we celebrated– I felt happiness creeping back into me.  It took me by surprise.  I think I had a deep down belief that I wouldn’t be happy again until I was cancer free.  That somehow the two could not exist together.

Our trip to Illinois also left me with many happy moments: observing my kids play with their Gram, Papa and cousins,  watching movies curled up by the fire, talking a long, cold walk with my sister-in-law, and visiting with Aunt Staci and Denny.

Then we drove up to see Joel’s birth mom’s family and while it was wonderful to see them all, I felt sadness making its return.  It was hard to be there with a scarf wrapped around my head.  A visual reminder that cancer had slithered its way back into the family.

Visiting his mom’s grave site was probably the hardest.  Knowing that she must have believed that she would win the fight too, but didn’t.  Knowing that she fought with everything she had, and cancer still won.  What if that is how my story ends too?  I asked Joel to drive the van back to his Oma’s — I needed to walk.

As I walked I prayed that my clenched fists would open, and that I could let the light in.

After leaving Oma’s and a long drive home to St. Louis, with a lot of time to consider my battle, I washed my face and noticed that my hair was starting to come out.  The tiny little sprouts of hair were falling.  I thought I was done with crying about my hair — nope.  Still tears in there

Preparing for chemo #2 felt like preparing for war.  I dreaded the pain from the needles, the fire feeling in my veins, the heaviness of that 7 IV bags will bring.  I also felt fear.  Fear that the chemo wasn’t working, that the tumor was growing, fear that all of this torture was pointless.

When we made it back into the examination room the doctor asked me, “So, have you felt your tumor? Is it getting smaller?”  I replied, “That boob is probably dirty.  I don’t even wash it in the shower in fear that I will feel it and the lump will be bigger.”  She laughed and started her measurements.  “Well, I think you would be delighted, it is significantly smaller after only one cycle of chemo!”

I felt myself breathe.  This wasn’t for nothing.  Another reminder that I can do this.

Chemo #2 was so much easier that chemo #1.  I don’t know if it was because my best friend Becky took the day off to be with me, or because we looked at magazines and tried to find her a wedding dress, or because I did some online shopping, took a nap, and drank a lot of water.  Don’t get me wrong, there was still a lot of physical discomfort, but I didn’t feel as sad or as scared.  It felt doable.

I even rallied and made it over to my friend Jackie’s for an amazing NYE’s dinner.  Of course I was a zombie, and we left at 9, but sometimes just going through the motions feels good.

So now it is 2015.  I have to believe, even in my chemo fog, that 2015 will be the year I beat cancer.  I’ve already learned such a valuable lesson.  Even while you are fighting cancer, you can feel happiness.  It might be fleeting, it might be followed by despair, but it will still find you.

While I was in the waiting room of the Breast Health Center, I saw the quote: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning how to dance in the rain.”  Dancing requires a lot of joy.  I’m not quite there, but I’m starting to tap my foot to the music.