364.5 days

Last year at this time I was 18 hours away from getting the phone call that changed my life.  I had been shopping with my mom and sister-in-law, and had just pulled up in front of my house when my phone rang.  When the nurse said she was putting the doctor on the line, I knew.  I grabbed Joel and we pressed our faces together as we listened to the doctor say, “I’m so sorry to tell you this Melissa, but the biopsy revealed cancer.”

I remember saying, “no, no, no” as I sobbed into the phone.  I could feel Joel’s tears on my face.

Even just typing this makes my stomach hurt.  I can still remember exactly what that felt like.

But here I am.  364.5 days later.  I’m here. And I’m okay.  I made it.

You guys already know from reading my blog what this journey has been like for me.  You know about physical and emotional tar that I had to trudge through.  You’ve felt pangs of sadness with me as I explained in detail about the weight and misery of chemo.  You’ve clenched your fists with me as I wrote about dipping white blood cells, and the frustration of waiting rooms, paper gowns, and incorrect test results.  You’ve listened as I said goodbye to the breasts that bounced with me through life, and fed and nourished my boys.  You cried with me.  And prayed for me.

And I made it.

So now, I want you to smile with me.  I want you to know that I am singing again as I wash the dishes.  I want you to know that I pick up my boys and swing them in circles, and chase them at the park, and splash with them at the pool.  I want you know that I have to use a brush, and have enough eyelashes for mascara, and that I have full range of motion in my arms (thanks to my amazing physical therapist!).  I want you to know that I go to Spin classes, swim laps, run up hills, walk for miles, dance at weddings, soar down water slides, and am contemplating signing up for my first triathlon in the spring.

I want you to know that in suffering there is this rawness, this vulnerability, that feels a little like hope.  If cancer sunk me, it also gave me the eyes to look up from the bottom of the ocean and notice the way that light bends.  The way it splits into star shapes, and tunnels, the way it can always find you.  If you are ready.

I want you to know that I worry less.  I don’t know how this is possible, but for now it is true.  I always thought that if tragedy walked through my door, it would harden me, make me believe less in the magic that has always caught my eyes.  But instead it has confirmed my belief that there is a deep current of good that flows within this life.  It is so strong that it will carry you forward when all you want to do is give up.

I want you to know that I still face menopause, and migraines, and paper gowns, waiting rooms, and oncologists.  But my arms are open.  My fists are unclenched.  My face is tilted to the sun.

Thursday is Thanksgiving. And I want you to know that I am grateful.

I want you to know that the arms in this picture never let go of me.  Not when I was screaming, not when I was sobbing, not when I was a fraction of the women he married.  He never let me go.

joel and iI want you to know that the women in this picture is 364.5 days different than she was last year.  She still surprises me.  You can see it in her eyes.

I am here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setback

I’ve been glowing lately.  From the inside out.  Feeling happy, and healthy, and grateful.  It has felt like rain after a drought.

But today I had a setback.  Today after meeting with my general physician I left the office with angry tears hot on my face.  She didn’t say anything earth shattering, just reviewed what I had been through in the 365 + days since my last visit.  She asked me questions, and then we talked about what still lies ahead.  I’ve been getting shots in my butt every three months to shut down my ovaries (literally a pain in the ass).  And I only have one more herceptin infusion left.  Only one more day to be hooked up to that slow, sad, dripping machine.  I’m almost at the end of this leg of the race.  But what happens next still hangs out there in the unknown.  And we all know that the unknown is where the creepy shadows hide.  It is in this space that stress and anxiety can still find me.

Next month I will start taking a pill every day.  A pill that blocks out estrogen from my body.  A pill that I will take for AT LEAST five years, maybe 10, maybe more.   Because my cancer was hormone fed, blocking hormones will help prevent a recurrence.

Recurrence.

That word feels like a million pin pricks every time I hear it.

There is no room in my brain to fathom a recurrence.  It just will not happen. It can’t.

So I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t.  For now that includes exercising as much as possible, eating way less meat, way more vegetables, and doing my best to avoid processed sugar.  And in a month it will include taking a pill.  A pill that has the potential to cause night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, depression, irritability, sleep disruptions, and joint pain.

And hearing that list of possible side effects today really enraged me.  It made me so mad.  It brought me back to my fantasy of breaking dishes and screaming “FUCK” until my throat is raw.

I want to be done.  I want the medicines, and side effects, and talks about cancer to be over.  I want it all in my rear view mirror.

I’ve been living lately like it is.  I’ve been forgetting that I had cancer.  I’ve been finding benefits to my short hair, discovering great joy in exercising again, appreciating the energy I have with my kids, and feeling a deep sense of happiness.  Like the kind of happiness that leaves me falling asleep with a smile on my face, and waking up ready to love the world.

But today was a setback.  Because I had to hear about side effects.  And because she said the phrase “preventing recurrence”.

Setbacks are real, my friends.  And they suck.

But here we are.  It’s November.  Every day that sneaks by leads me closer to the year marking my diagnosis date.  We are back in fall.  The colors are so vivid.  The trees are so proud of their beauty.

And I am wise enough to know this is just a setback.  Just a rough moment, a bad evening, a tearful jog through fallen leaves.  This too, is temporary.  I will feel it, and then release it.

I will feel it, and then release it.

Tomorrow is a new day.