Well, I’m thankful today that the urgent care clinic wasn’t busy when I showed up this morning. Again. For some reason, I keep getting bladder infections. The doctors say that it’s more likely post menopause, so just one more reason to hate chemotherapy and its menopause-inducing effect. I think these are the things doctors need to prepare people for post cancer. Sigh.
I got an antibiotic today before my symptoms got worse than the need for the bathroom every half hour. By tomorrow that should be better, too. I’m thankful that the meds work quickly. And I’m hoping at my next doctor’s appointment in February I can find a fix for these reoccurrences.
Several months ago I found myself randomly feeling like bursting into tears. I knew my job was causing stress, but I also felt like it was more than that. Like maybe I hadn’t fully processed my year of cancer and quarantine and everything else. So I started seeing a therapist, and she’s been amazing.
I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life. I remember having my first panic attack when I was in grade school. I learned to live with it, and like a lot of people, also learned to hide it. However, when life got extra crazy—like when Brianna was born 3 months early or when I got divorced—it would surface again. I’ve tried different things along the way. Medication, counseling, wine. I even went through bio-feedback training which helped me recognize how my body reacted to my anxiety (I hold my breath) and how I could relax myself. That has helped me tremendously over the years.
I think what’s helped me the most, though, is simply admitting that sometimes I’m overwhelmed and talking things through with a professional can help. Which is why I’m thankful today, on this last day of Mental Health Awareness Month, for not being ashamed of taking my anxiety seriously and seeking help when I need it. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to manage my bouts of anxiety in positive ways. And I just feel better.
Well, here we are. December 31. End of this very long year. And my final lesson is one that’s been repeated a lot in different ways. We don’t get unlimited time. Not during the day, not during the year, not during this life. It’s something we all know, logically, but cancer has a way of making it personal and emotional.
I’m a doer and a helper. I need to feel like I’m contributing towards something meaningful. I like to be creative. I like to talk and research and write and teach. I also like to dress up. And I’ve done very little of any of these things this year. Sure, the cancer made it somewhat hard. But if I’m honest about it, I didn’t do a lot of it the year before either. I’m working on it though, and I plan to continue because it’s not just about doing what make me happy, it’s focusing on what gives me purpose.
I’ve written this blog daily this year because I needed to be intentional on finding gratitude during the difficult days. And I’m so thankful I did. It was important for me to find the sometimes small moments that got me out of my head on the hard days. And looking back, I had a lot to be thankful for. So many friends and family members supporting me. Such great medical care. A job that allowed me to be flexible with location and time. A husband who really took care of me. Pups that made me laugh. Cancer treatments that cured me. And in the middle of all that, I gained a son-in-law. I’m grateful.
I’m going to talk about my hair. I know, I know, not again. But hear me out because this is my next lesson.
P.C. (Pre-cancer) my hair was thick, wavy, and pretty easy to style whether it was short or long. I kept it long, mostly, I would change the color periodically without doing much damage. I could curl it quickly and the curls would hold. I was often stopped by complete strangers who commented on how much they liked my hair.
Once my hair began coming back after chemo, I’ve been shocked to see how it’s growing. I’ve pointed out before the crazy amounts of cowlicks I have. And it seems to be growing in all different directions. Some forward, some straight down. Some areas are kinda flat. The back has curl.
I don’t believe chemo completely changed my hair. What I believe is that I never knew the craziness that was going on underneath. Who would have thought that all these cowlicks worked to make my hair full in just the right spots? Or that the variety of directions helped it lay right or gave it the waviness that I took for granted. If I didn’t know what my hair normally looked like, I’d be worried about this mess of new growth. How can this possibly end up looking good?
And isn’t that a great metaphor for life in general? How often does it seem like everything is going wrong and only later do we see that what appeared to be mistakes were the steps getting us to where we needed to be. Sometimes what we worry are problems are just things working in ways we couldn’t imagine. So maybe the lesson is to be patient. Or have faith. Or keep holding on and not freak out at every setback. While losing my hair was a big deal, and I’m still getting used to its current state, I’m actually thankful I got this peek underneath. This lesson is one I really needed to be reminded of.
When I was in my mid-thirties I had my body fat percentage done by a friend in the fitness field. It was 17%. Seventeen. When we discussed eating habits, I confessed that my snack of choice was gummi bears. She told me that I should cook up extra chicken and eat that as a snack instead. Pfffttt. Hard pass. I moved on to Skittles.
And so here we are with the second lesson that hit me hard this past year. Know that saying, “use it or lose it”? It’s really true. Seventeen is a number long gone. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was still *somewhat* into exercising. I went to the gym haphazardly. I occasionally rode my bike. I figured doing yard work and projects around the house helped offset my lack of structured exercise. Then the pandemic hit, followed by my cancer treatments, and now here I am, missing my toned arms and stamina. I can’t help but think that if I had taken care of myself as that fitness friend had suggested years ago, my treatments may not have hit me so hard. Maybe I would have bounced back quicker. I certainly wouldn’t be as far out of shape as I am now.
And it’s not that want to get into smaller-sized clothes, although that would be a bonus. I’ve realized in the last year just how quickly our health can decline and with it, our body. And as Buckaroo Banzai said, No matter where you go, there you are. You are stuck with you; forever tied to that body. I wish I hadn’t taken mine for granted. I’m just thankful that Patrick and I walked around the neighborhood regularly during my treatments and I continued stretching exercises. Maybe I have something to build on. I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions, but taking care of myself better next year is on the agenda for sure.
The other night I met up with a friend whom I’ve not seen in person for months. It was impromptu and overdue. While sipping drinks on an outdoor patio, we discussed cancer treatments (mine and her mom’s), jobs, and family. It was great to catch up.
I left our get together feeling uneasy, though. Until I realized that she reminded me of how stalled I still feel right now. She’s constantly on the go, and she has a lot going on—meeting up with people, making work connections, traveling. I feel like the last 8 months for me have been like trying to run on sand. Eventually you get somewhere, but it’s not going to be fast.
I’m not saying that I could change much looking back. Chemo and COVID were a lousy mix. It was necessary for us to hibernate, and it’s still necessary to be a little cautious until my surgery and radiation is over. (Gah! When will surgeons get this scheduled already?!) But I’m so ready for movement again. Not that Patrick and I have ever been THAT busy outside our house, but we used to see other people on the regular. At least at work.
I’m thankful for these steps back into socializing and I look forward to the days we can stop being fearful that living normally will postpone my treatments.
Happy Groundhog Day! Do you feel like you’ve done this day before? #covidlife Today was a repeat day for me, too. Chemo treatment #3 in the books!
As I mentioned before, I decided to dress up a bit for these appointments. This time, I wanted to wear a new pair of boots, so of course, it called for my purple wig. I questioned my choice when I sat in the waiting room getting side-eyed by my elderly cohorts. I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But every nurse said they loved it and even my oncologist, when he entered the exam room, exclaimed whoa! and said he thought it was great. Not that I needed anyone’s approval, but it was nice to get the reaction I was hoping for—a smile.
I’ve had so many family and friends supporting me lately by reaching out in a variety of ways, even friends I haven’t necessarily kept in close contact with. (Thanks, social media for keeping us connected!) It hit me today I’m not always so good at doing that for others. It’s not that I don’t care, but I feel self-conscious reaching out blindly. I’ve always been more comfortable listening or watching in groups and will typically interject myself only when someone asks me to. I figure, why will they care to hear from me? I don’t know what to say/do. Social media makes it easy because we can just use an emoji on a post and call it good.
But you know what? Being the recipient now, I can clearly see it does make a difference. It’s always nice to get a message when you’re going through a difficult time. It’s ALWAYS uplifting to know people are thinking of you and wishing you well. I’m grateful every time.
I like when I can make someone smile, so why do I allow myself to hold back? I’m willing to wear a silly wig, but I can’t send a short message when someone needs it? I’m thankful today for this reminder to be better. I’m going to add it to my to-do list. Maybe like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, becoming a better person will get me out of this #Covidlife we’re stuck in. Wouldn’t that be great?
Today was more difficult than I was anticipating. I had an appointment early in the morning to meet my plastic surgeon and go over reconstruction options. Although it’s not 100% necessary, I’m leaning towards a bilateral mastectomy. I really don’t want the worry that cancer could return in what I leave behind.
My plastic surgeon is nice. He specializes in this area and has his own family history of dealing with breast cancer, so he has an understanding of how overwhelming things can be. He mentioned more than once that I could call his office at any time with any question and that ultimately I was in charge of what I wanted. His explanations were thorough, his suggestions made sense, and he seems very capable.
I’m not sure what my expectations were. I expected that they may have to take photos. I guess I wasn’t expecting that they’d be taken in a room with bright lights and a backdrop, like class picture day. Standing with my hands by my sides, naked torso, turning at intervals while the female nurse photographed me wasn’t what I had imagined. I expected that the doctor would want to examine me. I may have even expected it when he took out a white eyeliner to draw on my body to show me where the incisions would be made. What pieces of me would need to disappear. When he turned me to the mirror so I could see myself as he explained what he would need to do, I didn’t expect to feel so sad. So vulnerable.
By the time we talked through the timeline, it finally sank in how long this process of being cured to being made something akin to whole again will take. Reconstruction won’t happen until all my treatments are done. Chemo will take until June. A mastectomy will follow and the recovery time is 6-8 weeks. At best, that take me to August. Radiation will follow…how quickly and for how long now will be a discussion with the radiologist next week. Originally, that was going to be many weeks. I suspect reconstruction will begin at best October, maybe November. The type of reconstruction my doctor suggested will be two-phased. If I’m lucky, I’ll start the new year with a new look.
It’s daunting and overwhelming, and honestly, I felt a bit sorry for myself when I got home. I was angry and tired and so damn disappointed again. And then you know what happened? Patrick reminded me that we’re in it together and we’ll get through it one step at a time. And then a friend sent me a funny text and made me laugh. And another friend texted saying she had left something at our front door, which contained among several things, coffee-scented room oil and bubble gum flavored lip balm, which is Ah-mazing. Then I grabbed some candy from the gift basket a friend dropped off the other day that I didn’t even tell you guys about because you would be SO JEALOUS of its awesomeness. And I realized once again how loved and supported I am and that’s all that really matters anyway. Thankfully, gratefully, I will get through this year.
Can I just say that this has been a long day? It started with a 7 am online meeting with my boss and ended with a 7 pm callback from a government agency for work.
Days like this really make me look hard for moments of gratitude because they aren’t as obvious. When the day is tiring and frustrating, it would be easy to just go to bed disappointed. But it’s probably even more important to look harder.
I have several friends and family who are also going through difficult times. I’m not the only one I know with cancer. A close friend is about a month ahead of me in her breast cancer treatment. My father has been going through prostate cancer treatment. Another friend’s mother was just diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer… And another friend has been battling a terrible case of Covid. I could go on and on. It’s been a difficult year for a lot of people.
I’m not a big church goer, but I’ve always had faith in God. It’s been tested in the last few years for other reasons, but I’ve been given some great reminders recently that have helped me. My mom and sister have been sending me cards just to cheer me up and let me know they’re thinking of me. I love it. My mom has also sent along a couple items that I’ve put on my bulletin board.
It’s made me think about my faith again. I’ve tried lately to pray for all those who are struggling with their own heartaches. It actually helps me on these lousy days to focus on others. Today I’m thankful for my mom’s strong faith and her willingness to share it with me.
I’ve been tired today. It was hard to keep focus as I found myself reading then rereading work emails. However, I made it through and took a late afternoon nap.
Sometimes when you’re dealing with a lot, it’s the little things that help the most. Coffee brought to you. A text from someone checking in. Playing in the snow with the dogs. Since my diagnosis I’ve had a friend who has been so generous with the little gestures. She made sure that my birthday did not go by uncelebrated. I stopped in my office that day and she had decorated it with all sorts of 5-0 stuff. Balloons. Streamers. A blowup walker. She even brought in cake.
Then the first few weeks in December leading up to Christmas, she dropped off a gift on my doorstep, each designed to put a smile on my face. Silly toys, a t-shirt, or socks and candy, along with a gift card to one of my favorite stores. And yesterday, on my first day of chemo, she dropped off this giving bear. I love the saying on its ribbon.
She’s been such a great support, and I’m not sure she really knows it. Her thoughtfulness is an inspiration to me. It’s comforting to know she’s on my side, and I’m so grateful to have her as a friend.