July 3, 2021

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.

February 2, 2021

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!

Patrick got the shoes in the picture!

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?

January 15, 2021

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.

January 12, 2021

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.

Reminders

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.

January 6, 2021

Isn’t he a cutie?

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.

January 4, 2021

Today was my first day back to work since December 24. I can’t say I was thrilled, but in a way, it’s always kind of nice to get back to a routine. I worried that after a week and a half, I would have an overflowing inbox that was impossible to get through. While it was definitely full, I got through everything by the end of my day. Success!

I have to say that today I am grateful for my job. It’s often frustrating and not overly exciting. It’s not very creative. I miss the physical interactions with people and get irritated with the overload of emails some days. But I’m one of the lucky ones that was able to move, almost seamlessly, from in-person work to at-home work when the pandemic hit. And I’ve been able to continue working from home ever since. Because of my health situation, I imagine that I’ll be able to continue with my current set-up for the foreseeable future, which helps take the added anxiety of a compromised immune system down a notch. I won’t have to leave the house for anything besides doctor’s appointments if I don’t want to. I also have supportive coworkers and really great insurance. And did I mention that week and a half off for the holidays?

It may not be my dream job, but I know I’m lucky to still have a job while so many people are struggling, let alone a job that allows me to maintain a safe environment while I’m working through this illness. My heart goes out to folks who have lost their income source because of the pandemic, or who must continue to put themselves at risk, regardless of their own health issues, just to survive financially. I’m not sure what I would do if I had no choice right now but to go into a building to work with a lot of other people. I’m thankful today I don’t have that kind of hard choice to make.

January 2, 2021

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

When I was about 8 or 9, my family saw both Jaws and Piranha one night at an outdoor theater. I spent the next week or two deathly afraid of the bathtub. Or any puddle of water deeper than an inch. I always had a rather active imagination, and as a child, my imagination regularly worked against me. My dad, who was an engineer, finally sat me down one day and forced me to consider in detail the error of my thinking. How could something as large as a shark make its way through small pipes and into our tub? Staring into the light of logic, I had to admit that it couldn’t.

I’ve always had a comfortable relationship with my body. For a modicum of effort on my part, I expected it to get me through every day as I saw fit. If I wanted to spontaneously dance, I would. If I wanted to run through the snow with the pups, I would. If I wanted to push a piece of furniture from one room into another, I would. But when the call came that the biopsy of my left breast showed cancer, I immediately felt like my body turned against me. I lay in bed at night and inched my arm away from my side. I wanted my turncoat breast to stay away from other parts of me. How dare it defect? I did nothing but support it since it showed up 40 years ago. In some weird way, I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore. Where else was the cancer? Every issue I’ve had in the last 5 years became suspect. Every otherwise normal ache and pain became related. I felt like dead woman walking. It’s then that I heard my dad’s voice from so many years ago telling me, Melissa, you are your own worst enemy.

It’s funny how our minds can control us in such powerful ways. I’ve always loved being imaginative. Being creative brings me joy. However, I’ve been reminded regularly throughout my life that being stuck in my head can work against me. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Focusing too much on a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it. Sometimes it just makes it worse. While I believe that I’m intelligent and resourceful and a problem solver, I also know that sometimes I need to stop listening to my own voice and instead listen to others who can maybe see something differently than I.

I started this blog again as a way for me to look out. To get outside my head and look for the moments in my day that are more worthy of my attention. I asked others to join me in this gratitude journey as a way of sharing what I was going through and maybe helping someone else along the way look for their own moments. I didn’t expect to hear so many, many words of encouragement, support, and strength. Today I’m so very grateful for all of your voices. They helped drown out my own.

January 1, 2021

Photo by Disha Sheta on Pexels.com

Wow, last year was a long one, wasn’t it? I think most of us will agree that it’s going down in history as one to forget. All that quarantining. All the social distancing. Like most folks, we started our hunker-down by taking up new hobbies (puzzles or bread making, anyone?) and thought all the home time would be fun and cozy. We finally remodeled our main bathroom, doing almost all of the work ourselves, putting in a walk-in shower to make it easier to bathe the dogs. Priorities. Patrick expanded his garden. I taught a couple of online classes. We were both able to work from home and continue to do so.

Of course, like everyone else experienced, the novelty of being homebound quickly faded and the reality of what was happening in our world was sobering. We were constantly grateful to avoid getting sick and avoid losing people we love like those highlighted in the news. We missed our interactions with family and friends and still do. Although we are typically homebodies, being forced apart has taken its toll. There have been some long and lonely days. I miss my kids. I was able to see them only briefly for a few days during the early summer. I likely won’t get to see them in person for many more months. I miss our families, whom we’ve really mostly seen online all year. I miss a lot of things.

I turned 50 in November. Patrick, who hates large gatherings, was actually hoping to throw a surprise party, but that didn’t happen. We celebrated the milestone like most of our days, home with the dogs, eating some good home-cooked food. Patrick has become quite the gourmet chef. I got a couple new power tools and some fantastic gifts from my friends and family. Fancy wine glasses and flowers and candy. And then the day after my birthday, I found out I have breast cancer.

Needless to say, it’s been an extra difficult ending to an already difficult year. The last six weeks has been a tornado of doctor’s appointments and an overload of information I never wanted to know. Unfortunately, my cancer is the uncommon type that is difficult to spot. That meant that the initial finding of about 1/2 inch spot showed up just larger than 2 inches on an MRI. That also changed treatment options and the timing of them. This past Monday I had surgery to remove lymph nodes and put in a chemo port. It was harder than I anticipated. The reality of this has set in and I’m now afraid in a way I wasn’t before. I worry about what’s coming and I worry I’m not strong enough.

This is why I begin this blog again. I need to refocus. I need the hope and optimism that I know is out there. 2021 isn’t going to be a lot better for us. The chemo I’ll begin next week will compromise my immune system and make it even more necessary to quarantine. Even quick shopping trips will disappear. It’s going to be tough. So what am I thankful for today? That I’m alive. That breast cancer is treatable. That so far, it looks like it hasn’t spread any further and I won’t have surgery again for months. That I have someone by my side who makes me stronger. That I have family and friends who have been amazingly supportive since they heard the news. It’s a new year and if 2020 taught us anything, there is still so much good can still be present amidst the rotten. I’ll be looking for it.

November 13

I found out tonight that a good friend of mine was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer. I hate the word. One dictionary entry says it means something evil or malignant that spreads destructively. I think that sums up the disease accurately because it seems to be everywhere. And it’s not just a physical thing; it’s pervasive in all aspects, mentally and emotionally as well. Show of hands on who’s been affected somehow by cancer. I have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t been. In fact, my friend just lost her father-in-law last year to cancer. She lost her mother to cancer. It sucks. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s a horrible thing. When I think of it, it makes me sad and angry at the same time. And helpless. What do you say when someone tells you this? I told her I was sorry. I told her that it sucked. I told her I loved her. And you know what she said? She was going to stay positive; she wanted no sad faces, only happiness and laughter. So there you go. This world is full of battles. We all have one, and it’s really about how you fight it. My friend has cancer. But it doesn’t have her. I’m thankful for that.

June 1

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have turned 67. I would have called him like I always did to say happy birthday and let him know his card was in the mail, late as usual. He would laugh and say, well, that’s no surprise honey. It’s late every year isn’t it? And I probably would have said something about breaking traditions. He would have then reminded me how much he loved getting a card more than a gift.  We may have chatted a bit more before he passed the phone to Mom. And that would have been the most of Dad’s birthday celebrating. I’m sure the conversations were similar with my sisters when they called. He was simple that way–no fuss. Sincere in his love of getting nothing more than a card. I wish he were still around for many more birthdays. He deserved a lot more. But I’m thankful he is no longer suffering from his cancer. I’m thankful he died before his Alzheimer’s progressed to the point of forgetting all of us, for he would have hated that. And while I miss him, I’m thankful today that I can still hear his laughter in my mind. Happy birthday, Dad.