More Faith, Less Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Race for the Cure.  My surgery was May 13th, the race is June 13th.  In discussing my surgery with my doctors it was one of my first questions, “Will I be able to walk in Race for a Cure?”  They said I probably could, but that it would depend on my recovery.  And even though I can tell that this recovery is going to take longer than I want it to, it is no longer a question for me.  I WILL walk that 5K with thousands of other cancer fighters, survivors, and supporters.  I WILL.

Joel and I have been participating, or donating to (when we were out of town) The Race for a Cure since we started dating.  It has been a cause close to Joel’s heart because of losing his mom to breast cancer.  The first year I participated, I ran with a co-worker’s name on my back.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer while her husband was dying from an advanced stage cancer.  Her husband passed away during her treatment phase.  She would drive herself to her radiation appointments, and would sometimes go rollerskating afterwards.  I was always in awe of her strength.  And now knowing what it is to go through this battle — that awe has transformed to admiration.

I always had someone sitting next to me during all of my appointments.  Someone was always holding my hand, or taking notes while the doctors spoke.  I was never alone.  During one of my first oncologist appointments (when I was feeling quite sorry for myself) the nurse practitioner said, “you are going to be okay.  It looks like you have lots of support in this (she glanced at Joel), there are so many women who come in here and have no one.”

Every year at the race I would stare at women wearing pink shirts that looked my age.  Some would be pushing strollers, or holding hands with their kids.  I would think to myself, “I would NEVER be able to handle having cancer.  How are they doing that?”  My heart would hurt for them.

I remember clearly the lump in my throat as I would read the back of people’s shirts.  On paper badges they write the names of those who are fighting the battle, or of those who have died fighting.  Children with their mom’s picture on their back, husbands who have lost their wives, names of so many women who mean the whole world to their family and friends.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t often think, “this won’t happen to me. I mean, I have never smoked, and I eat organic fruits and vegetables, and I exercise, and I think positive thoughts.  I won’t get cancer.  Not me.”  Yep.  I said those things to myself as I ran past those “other” women in pink.  Making myself feel safer with unfair assumptions, “they probably didn’t take care of themselves, or maybe they have a family history, or maybe they live too close to a chemical plant.”

And then my friend Lisa was diagnosed.  And my theories were destroyed.  She took good care of herself, she was a positive person, she did wonderful things for the people around her all the time, she was a mom with no family history, and she didn’t live near a chemical plant.  Then I comforted myself by thinking, “well, two people in a small circle can’t be diagnosed too close together. . . it doesn’t work that way.”

It always seems like it won’t happen to you . . . until it does.

This year I will be wearing the pink survivor shirt.  You are a survivor from the minute you are diagnosed (at least that’s what they tell you in the cancer world).  This year I am sure other women will look at me with my SUPER short hair (that’s growing back mostly GRAY) pushing a stroller with my two young boys, and they will think to themselves, “I would NEVER be able to handle that.”  Or perhaps they will say to themselves, “I bet she smoked when she was in college, maybe she only drinks high fructose corn syrup by the gallon, and her dinners are Cheetos and hotdogs.”  People think these things to make them feel safe . . . I sure did.

But cancer is a growing reality for people of all ages and walks of life.  We have friends whose baby was diagnosed with leukemia when he was three months old.  And other friends whose beautiful daughter has battled leukemia twice in her childhood. No one is immune to cancer.  And that sucks.  But it is true. No one is immune to cancer.

And here is another fun fact: no one is immune to death.  Cancer forced me to look at my mortality.  It forced me to stare at it, and study it, and to deal with it.  We are all going to die.

There is so much imagery about the “fight” of cancer.  She is battling cancer.  She is fighting cancer.  She is at war with cancer.  Part of me embraces this imagery.  Part of my journey has felt like a fight, like a battle, like a war.

But part of journey has been more about kneeling down, reaching out, and closing my eyes.  Part of it has been about letting go, and surrendering, and bowing down.

Sometimes I was slaying cancer cells with a sword.  And sometimes I was just bowing my head to them.

Sometimes I would recognize the reality that I could still be killed in a car crash at any given time.  That one sneeze, or swerve from a driver in the other lane could kill me faster than cancer.

We are all dying. But we are all living too.  Until we are gone — we are here.

I have learned that bad, devastating things can and will happen. But that even in the midst of your heartache there is beauty, and grace, and wisdom.  Dark cannot exist without light.

My quest: more faith, less fear.

This is what I will be thinking about as I slowly walk that 5K on June 13th with thousands of other women and men who have been touched by breast cancer.  I have always found inspiration and awe during this walk — and this year won’t be any different.  I’ll be in pink.  I’ll have super short GRAY hair 😦  But I be there.  Walking.  Thinking. Reflecting.  And probably crying.

If you haven’t signed up to walk with us & still want to– please do it soon!  Time is running out. Just click the link below.

Team United

And if you can’t attend, please click here & check out the beautiful artwork of my lovely friend.  You can buy a print for someone you know who might need this reminder and ALL proceeds will support our team.  (Click this link even if you can attend — because this is awesome!)

https://www.etsy.com/listing/233348268/all-proceeds-donated-to-race-for-the?ref=shop_home_active_12

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I Can See the Shore

Last Wednesday was my surgery.  Double mastectomy — nipple/skin sparing — direct implant.  Meaning: A cancer breast surgeon made two giant incisions under my breast and then carved out my breast tissue like an avocado.  Then a plastic surgeon placed implants into the holes, placed some tubing and drains around the implants, and glued me back together.  The drains (which look like plastic grenades) hang outside of my body and are connected to long tubes (beyond gross).

When I woke up from surgery my dad and Joel were there holding my hands.  Apparently my first words were “why did a lion eat my boobs off?”  My dad said, “so does it really hurt?”  And I said, “Dad, imagine putting your balls in a vice and clamping down.”  And then I added, “and the shaft”. (Sorry Dad) I guess when I super drugged I’m kind of a jokester.

My time in the hospital was a blur.  The pain was beyond intense and the meds (when I finally got them . . .) only partially relieved it.

I was home Thursday afternoon and Joel was thrown into a nursing role.  He carefully emptied my drains every 8 hours, kept a detailed log of their output, gave me my meds right on schedule, and made me feel as comfortable as possible.

I was pretty much a drugged out zombie until Sunday when I decided I was done with my pain meds and switched to Tylenol. I rarely spoke and did a lot of sleeping.

There was a lot of despair during my recovery.  I was tired, broken, and made the mistake of looking at my “new” boobs in the mirror.  Oops. Poor Joel.  I freaked out.  It looked like a lion did in fact eat my boobs off.  I cried, and cried, and told Joel I wanted them out, off, away.

Today when I met with the plastic surgeon’s nurse she reassured me that they are still in the healing process. And that I needed to give it time.

Breathe.

She then pulled out two of my drains.  Which, surprisingly, didn’t hurt at all.  Just felt like a small snake-like rodent crawling out of my body. Hopefully, I will get the last two out on Friday.

Recovering from surgery is the pits.  It is humbling.  I did a lot of crying.  We have been so blessed with friends and family who have swooped in to help with caring for our kids, but I missed them.  And my hair. And my energy.

But today . . . today I got the best news.

Fantastic news.

My pathology report came back clean.

No cancer in the breast tissue.

No cancer in the lymph nodes.

No more cancer.

Although I was expecting it all to come back clean, it was so good to hear the words.

Melissa 1.  Cancer 0.

I hope we never battle again.

This is still a triathalon.  I finished the bike race, and I’m still in the midst of the swim.  This surgery will take me quite a bit of time to recover.  At least a month off of work is their recommendation.  I’m still healing, still trying to catch my breath.  But I see the shore.  When it’s time to run — I’ll be ready.

And I know that I am blessed.  I live in a city with amazing medical care.  My doctors know the latest and most effective treatments.  Modern medicine cured me.

But it was you. Your prayers, your thoughts, your voicemails and text messages, your errands and meals, your cards and gifts, your time and energy, your travels and sacrifices — it was your love that healed me.

God is love. You are love. I am loved, and lucky.

For Mother’s Day

e167A couple of years ago Joel (who is usually such a thoughtful gift giver) got me some bushes for Mother’s Day.  I was so mad.  Who wants bushes they were going to buy anyway– for Mother’s Day??

This is what I want this year:

I want to be here next year.  I want to be a mom to my boys for the next 50 years.  I want to be the one that peels their boogers from the wall, and cuts the brown parts off of their apples.  I want to watch them fall off the monkey bars dozens of times and remind them not to give up.  That one day their strong arms will carry them all the way across.  I want to catch glimpses of them in the backyard saving worms from the rain, and building boobytraps out of sticks.  I want to bring Popsicles to their school and watch them play tag on the playground.  I want to be the one at the dentist that holds their hand, and the one watches their eyes get heavy listening to bedtime stories, read by me.  I want to be here.

I want to wrap them in towels after swimming in the ocean.  And smell the salt and sun on their skin.  To hold their hands in parking lots for as long as they let me.  I want to watch them play catch with Joel, and see their faces light up when he chases them and spins them in the air.

I want to be the one who hears Alex ask: “what can we do for the homeless?”  And who watches Andy greet the neighbors in the morning by name.  I want to see who they become.  To be the one who supports them down whichever path they choose.

I want to teach them about love.  To hold them when their hearts are broken, and to watch them soar when their hearts are full.  I want to teach them how to drive.  To make sure they know the consequences of crossing the center line.  To tell them how in an instant everything can change.

I want to make sure they know to hold the door for strangers, and to notice when people need a hand.  To let them know that changing the world, sometimes looks like sitting with the kid who is eating alone.

I want to be here to show them that even when terrible and scary things happen, you can survive.  You can make it.  I want to tell them about how good people can be.  About all the things they will do for you when you are open, and honest, and willing to accept help.

I want to watch them read books, and challenge their thoughts.  I want to give them every opportunity to make connections and to gain intelligence.  And then I want to teach them about the magic of turning those brains off.  About closing their eyes and lifting their heads to the sun, and just feeling their way through.  I want them to wonder about rainbows, breezes and butterflies, and to believe in things that cannot be seen, or proved.

I want them to fight for those who are not treated equally.  I want them to notice.

I want to show them what soulmates look like.  For them to see how much I adore and admire their father.  For them to know that time and age should never stop the hand-holding, or date-going.

I want to see them kayak with my dad, and learn how to make chicken soup with my mom.

For Mother’s Day, I just want to be here.  I want to see it all.

From Joel

Hello Everyone-

As many of you know, my good friend Amy and I have been doing Race for the Cure together for over 10 years to help honor our mothers who we each lost to breast cancer.

I always thought that I made it through the dark stretch inflicted by this disease and come out the other side;  although forever changed, it was far in my distant past.  I thought participating in the race was time to reflect on my past and to help ensure that other six year old boys wouldn’t have to deal with the loss of a mother.  I was convinced that I had my time.

Of course, life doesn’t always work out the way you think.  I never imagined that my beautiful, strong, fun, and light of my life — wife, would ever have to go through something like this.  We aren’t out of the woods yet, but this Race is something that she has been wanting to do since the day she was diagnosed as a sign that she too went through the darkness and came out on the other side.

We know that all of you have done so much for us over the past six months and I can’t imagine where we’d be without each one of you.  I am extending an invitation to you to join us in the walk (you don’t have to run at all) not to raise money for the Komen foundation, but as a time for us to support and surround Melissa with 60,000 others to walk in solidarity to honor those we’ve lost, and to celebrate Melissa and those who have been faced with this disease and have come through the other side.

If you can make it on June 13th, we’d love to be with each one of you.  You can click on the link below to join our team.  We are so grateful for all that you have done for our family during this difficult time.

Team United

For those of you that can make it, we’ll have a “sliver of green” to give you…

Love,

Joel

Cancer is a ruin-er & other poetry.

@&%$#! I had originally typed the real words, but then edited myself.  (And when you type those symbols instead of a cuss word, are you supposed to use the correct number of symbols to represent the letters? I didn’t.)

Cancer is a ruin-er.  And so is a bad stomach virus, or a blood infection, but probably just a bad stomach virus. All of those things are ruin-ers. (I am pretty poetic at 4 a.m.).

Friday: picked up my lovely sister-in-law at the airport.  She flew in from Chicago to have a girls weekend with me at The Chase.  We had plans of eating, sleeping, laying by the pool, ordering room service, watching movies, and laughing.  Friday we squeezed in some shopping, had a nice dinner, and went to bed dreaming of our pool time.

Saturday: woke-up, walked to breakfast, ate breakfast, went to the bathroom, went back to the bathroom, stayed in the bathroom, threw-up in the bathroom. Walked back to hotel, got in bed, (my SIL walked to Walgreens and got me crackers and Sprite, almost made it back to the hotel and then walked back to get me a thermometer), felt cold, and hot, took temperature every 30 minutes (the docs have instructed me to be vigilant about fevers), as my temp went up, so did my anxiety.  Started to cry (all I wanted to do was go to the #@$%& pool).  Called on-call doctors to seek advice.  She pulled up my chart and said that because my white blood cell count had been so low at my last blood draw that I needed to get to the cancer care clinic at the hospital right away.  If this was an infection, I might not have the cells to fight it off.  Called Joel (who was golfing) and told him to meet me there.

Cancer is a ruin-er.

They take things pretty seriously at that cancer care clinic.  Blood draws, urine samples, chest & abdominal x-rays, IV-antibiotics, fluids, anti-nausea drugs, repeated temperature checks (it was almost like laying by the pool).  My fever went up, my electrolytes and potassium went down, and I felt like $@%$#.  As the tests came back, everything looked okay, and we actually got some good news.  Okay, some GREAT news– my blood counts are up! I have an immune system again!  What a fun way to find out.  After fluids, and Tylenol to break my temp, they said I could go home.  Some of the tests take a week, but probably I just got a nasty virus.

It’s Monday morning at 4 a.m., and while I can’t sleep because my stomach still feels off, I am getting better.  But I am going to admit that I was feeling pretty sorry for myself for awhile.  My lovely weekend plans with my SIL were ruined.  I wanted relaxation, and sunshine on my face, and pool time, and room service, and movies.

But it could be worse.

It could be so much worse.

Seeing that picture in my Facebook feed of a four-year-old boy comforting his two-year-old sister in Nepal after the earthquake jolted me out of my pity party.

And because this post has been the opposite of poetic, I will end it with a poem that was texted to me this weekend (I actually got it in between dry heaves on the restaurant bathroom floor).  It spoke to me.  I hope speaks to you, too.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks