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.