Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.
hair
This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health, Memoir

I am here. Here I am.

yogaI enjoy yoga, but sometimes yoga teachers speak in such vague and abstract terms that I feel totally confused.

After awhile, they sound like whirring fans — creating white noise.

Their words come at me like dancing, fluffy feathers or swirling snowflakes that melt as soon as they land on me.

Most of the time, I dutifully follow their instructive cues.

But sometimes, I just want to say, “WHAT are you talking about?”

“Welcome to class. I want you to just be where you are today. Be here.”

Since I am obviously where I am, her words feel a little like a Dr. Suess rhyme after a while.

I am Sam. Sam I am.

I am Here. Here I am.

dr2

Let’s sink deep into our mats, and let everything go. Think about what it took for you to get here today, and then let it all go. Let it sink into the mat.”

I try to shut off my mind and get into the lingo. I sink into the mat, letting every muscle just relax into the floor, like she says.

Then, I start thinking about what it took for me to get here.

Here where I am. Here I am.

I remember how I hurried out the door, and left the dishes in the sink.

“Let everything go, just let it sink into the earth below you.”

Okay, forget about the dishes. Let them go. Let them slip through the floorboards beneath me and down into the deep earth.

I struggle to let the dishes go. I’ve been collecting them a couple at a time from the Polish pottery salesman at Eastern Market. I’m not sure I want them all slipping through the floorboards and crashing into the earth.IMG_3383

Okay, forget about the plates.

I’m back in the class, being where I am; and letting it all go.

I am Here. Here I am.

Before class started, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves by saying our names and something we like that starts with the first letter of our names.  I’m trying to be where I am but I keep wondering about the names of the people around me, and what they like.

Holly likes honey. Trish likes tangerines. Who is the man next to me and what does he like?

“If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to where you are – no judging, just bring it back.”

Fine, forget about the names. Oh, it’s Tom! He likes travel.

“Now, scan your body and see what’s stored inside of you today.”

I’m scanning my body, and then realize I should have gone to the bathroom.

Stop thinking about the bathroom!

At the end of class, we’ll do some partner yoga.”

Partner yoga.

I hate partner yoga.

I can’t scan my body; sink into the mat or anything else after hearing about the partner yoga.

I’m suddenly uptight, worrying about Tom and I touching each other.

Who knows where Tom’s feet have traveled and what they’ve picked up along the way. I don’t want anything to do with touching Tom’s well-traveled body.

“Are you feeling things come up? Are you breathing deeply and sending healing breaths where they need to go?”

Forget about Tom. Send healing breaths to my tennis elbow.IMG_3387

“Now fill your body with deep healing breaths and let it go slowly from the top of your head all the way out your toenails.”

Really, out my toenails? Is she serious? My elbow doesn’t feel any better.

I notice that Traveling Tom is practicing the “Darth Vadar” breath — working hard to send his big man breaths into his toenails, I suppose. foot-2-1233803-m

Maybe I should roll up my mat and go home because I am not getting much out of yoga today.

“Isn’t this an amazing experience today? Can’t you just feel the spiritual vibe in the room?”

Amazing? Spiritual vibe? What am I missing? I feel nothing close to spiritual, I think as I press up into my Downward Facing Dog.

“Beautiful dog, Laurie. Oh, your dog is perfect today.”

Well, at least my dog is perfect.nice-dog-1413127-m

“Let’s work on separating the human from the human being now.”

Separating the human from the human being?

I guess she wants me to transcend my body somehow.

I look around to see if I’m the only one who’s still a human, and I miss her next cue

“Let your Cobra shine. Think about what is going on in your legs today – your calves, thighs, feet. Are you sensing anything going on? What about in your belly? Place your hands on your belly and tune in to that part of your body. What is going on there? What is coming up for you today?”

As we move through more poses – Warrior I and Warrior II, a few Sun Salutations, and bridge poses, I start to feel the yoga rewards of focus, stillness, and “being where I am.”

I am Here. Here I am.dr suess

“It’s time for our partner work.”

The stillness leaves.

She wants me to touch Tom’s feet – just a little gentle pressure to help him feel supported in his Cobra pose.

I suddenly hate Tom, but resign myself to holding his feet, and grudgingly start to stand.

Then, to my gleeful surprise, I see Karen who likes kiwi moving toward Tom who likes to travel. She stands over him and puts gentle pressure on his  well-traveled feet, supporting his Cobra.

Happy emotions come up. Oh how I love kiwi Karen.

I love yoga. The word “amazing” comes to mind.

amazing-word-2-1422616-mGratitude comes up.

It’s the end of class, but my positive energy is oozing all over the place.

“Bring your palms together to seal in the goodness of your practice; and bow your head to your heart.  Send gratitude to someone. They will feel it coming their way.”

I bow my head to my heart, seal in the goodness of my practice, and send gratitude to Kiwi-loving Karen. Then, happily, I roll up my mat to go home, where I can go to the bathroom, wash my dishes, and think about my aching elbow without any  judging coming up.

Health, Personal

To blog or not to blog

Today is one of those days when I want to blog, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.

I want to blog because I want to whine, complain, and rant.

Those are usually not good reasons for blogging.

But, since my fingers are moving so quickly, I will respect the urge to write.

Read on at your own peril.

It all started with the brave goal of standing on the scale this morning after a weekend of too many indulgences.

Stunned by the number staring back at me, I went on a what-is-wrong-with-me, why-can’t-I-do-anything-right mental rant.

I spent a good amount of time over the weekend planning healthy menus for our upcoming beach trip.

The problem is I went to Pinterest for ideas.

English: Red Pinterest logo
English: Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Really? Pinterest?

Who ever thought Pinterest was a good idea was crazy.

Pinterest is where you go to either dream your time away, plan things you’ll never do, find foods you should never eat, and see all the things other people are doing that make you feel like you are the most untalented loser in the world, living in the most drab house on the planet, and wearing the dullest wardrobe ever created.

(I told you I was going to rant and whine, didn’t I?)

Seriously, pinners, do any of you have any business making homemade Butterfinger candy bars or Caramel cream cinnamon puffs? And who pinned the recipe for one-minute peanut butter syrup?

Butterfinger
Butterfinger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why does anybody need to make one-minute peanut butter syrup?

And who in their right mind puts something so fattening and artery clogging on pancakes or ice cream anyway?

That’s ridiculous.

What’s in a one-minute peanut butter syrup anyway?

Oh, peanut butter and honey in equal portions. You microwave it for a minute and it melts together into a gooey syrup.

That’s disgusting.

But, of all the miracles in the world, I actually had peanut butter and honey, so I plopped a tablespoon of each together in a bowl and off it went into the microwave.

Just like the recipe says, it’s the consistency of syrup and for some unknown reason at 9:30 at night, it looked delicious.

With no pancakes and no ice cream available, I remember one little delectable brownie I didn’t send home with the missionaries after we had them over for dinner.

I rarely make desserts because Doug and I are the only ones around to eat them,  but I heard the missionaries at church talking about how they craved chocolate.

So, for the missionaries, I hunted for the Miss Piggy recipe book for the brownies that requires only unsweetened chocolate, which is the only chocolate I had in the house.

IMG_2295

So, there I was on Sunday night with one Miss Piggy brownie and a bowl of fat-laden Pinterest peanut butter syrup.

Do I have to explain what happened next?

Suffice it to say, it all came back to me this morning on the scale.

Yep, Miss Piggy and I are soul mates.

And, it’s all because of that stinking Pinterest.

As I ranted about the scale, my insatiable sweet tooth, the lure of Pinterest, and my lack of self-control, I thought of the book Daring Greatly. (I’ve mentioned this before in other blogs.)

I remember how Brene Brown’s research showed that women feel overwhelming pressure to be thin, beautiful and perfect. (Oh really?)

And, when we fail at those ideals, the “shame” tapes of self-doubt and self-criticism start playing loudly in our heads. (Another,Oh, really? These conclusions are not new, are they?)

I thought of all her tips on shutting down the ninja-warrior gremlins that move into our heads — talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend who is in the middle of a meltdown — you’re okay, we all make mistakes, blah, blah, blah.

Clearly, that wasn’t going to work. Not today. Not after the one-minute peanut butter syrup on top of the appropriately named Miss Piggy brownie.

Sometimes, I think we just need to own the anger and then, get it out of our systems.

We can practice all the positive psychology garbage we want and we still just feel mad, disappointed, or frustrated.

And, you know what?

That’s okay.

Sometimes it’s harder to wear the “everything is okay” mask  or remember the self-help tips from some expert than it is to just have a little tantrum and move on.

So that’s what this blog is really all about — wallowing in my Pinterest peanut butter syrup melt-down and the resulting Miss Piggy-ness of it all.

And, you know what?

I feel better.

I feel better because I’ve ranted, admitted my foolishness, and haven’t even pretended to be something I’m not.

If you are a regular reader of mine, you know I am trying to embrace the reality that I will never be perfect, and neither will anybody else, so why not admit it, lose the shame over it, and get on with what looks to be a beautiful day ahead?

It’s not Miss Piggy’s fault I made the brownies. And, it’s not Pinterest’s fault I made the syrup.

It’s time to lace up my walking shoes and make this a better day.

Oh, and in all my negative ranting, I failed to recognize that I hiked around Roosevelt Island and went for a bike ride… See I’m working on those negative tapes in my head. Are you working on yours?

IMG_2300

Health

Flu Season? I’ve got what you need

Paregoric Elixir
Paregoric Elixir (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Flu season reminds me of my mom’s medical advice and remedies.

Ever heard of paregoric? Paregoric was the go-to medicine of my childhood.

When I called my Mom when Sara was a baby to tell her that Sara had colic and cried nonstop for several hours at a time, she said, “Oh that baby needs paregoric!”

Paregoric is a combination of some form of opium mixed with a compound from a camphor tree that is used in insect repellant.  Great stuff for a baby.

Camphor tree
Camphor tree (Photo credit: wallygrom)

It was a popular cure-all in the 1950s. You could rub it on a teething baby’s gums to relieve the pain, give babies a little dab of it to calm their nerves or control a cough.  I think it was a controlled substance by the time I had babies.

Congested or have a cold? You definitely need a “mustard plaster.”

Keen's Dry Mustard 1992 113g tin front
Keen’s Dry Mustard 1992 113g tin front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just the words “mustard plaster” make my eyes water and my chest skin burn. I will never forget the scalding hot red chest I had after one of those treatments.

Mustard plasters were so legendary in my family that my aunt included the concoction in my Grandma’s book of favorite recipes.

“1 tsp dry mustard and 3 tsp of flour. Directions: add enough water to make paste. Spread on half an oblong cloth. Fold it over and lay on chest. Place a dry cloth over to keep your clothes dry. Keep on just until skin is red. Leave it on too long, it will blister.”

This remedy irritates mucus membranes and breaks up a cold, but beware because it also can make you sneeze, burn your skin and cause boils, and make your eyes sting like crazy.

Have a canker in your mouth? Dab a little salt right on that baby, and it’ll disappear in no time.

Warning: salt on a canker is like salt on any other wound, and there’s a reason “adding salt to the wound” is a popular adage for making something worse.

My Grandma once complained about a corn on her toe. My mom said, “Tie an elastic band around it.”

“Why would I do that?” Grandma asked. “I don’t want it to fall off!”

“Well, it will take your mind off of the corn!” she said.

She had a knack for diagnosing how we got certain maladies too.

Ever have pink eye or a sty in your eye? Clearly you had peed in the road. Yes, you read that right. You must have peed in the road. Everybody knows peeing in the road causes eye problems. And, everybody pees in the road, don’t they?

Sore throat? A drop of sticky, orange methylate (mercurochrome) down the old gullet will cure you. A little drop rubbed on a scrape would heal you up in no time too. And, a little mercury never hurt anybody…

And if the chest cold is still lingering, generously slather Vick’s vapor rub on your throat, chest, and inside those nostrils. You’ll be better in no time.

Vick
Vick (Photo credit: Lord Biro)

If all this fails, call the doctor.

Actually, maybe you’d be wise to call the doctor first.

From the News, Health

Reluctantly Getting My Pink On

I love autumn, but I’m actually looking forward to October being over.

I’m tired of the pink palooza.

Giant pink ribbon on the corner of 5th and Mar...
Giant pink ribbon on the corner of 5th and Market, downtown Louisville, KY (10-5-06) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a breast cancer survivor, however, I feel like I should do my part to raise awareness.

(That’s why I buy a pink t-shirt at the Lucy store every year.)

After all, the statistics are still that one in eight women will get this nasty disease.

I certainly never thought it would be me.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/22/AR2007072201069.html

I discovered I had breast cancer after finding a tiny spot of blood on my clothing over my left breast.

A mammogram didn’t detect it, and neither did several other expensive tests.

It turned out that little drop of blood was a tender mercy, an alarm bell that sent me to the doctors.

Thankfully, for me, the doctors persisted over a period of three months to try to find the source of it.

Finally, when they found the tumor, it had grown, spread and moved into my lymphatic system.

Aggressive, damn cancer anyway.

(My sister said that we could swear when we talked about cancer.)

At each stage, I prayed for the best case scenario.

After the lumpectomy, I wanted to be finished with the cancer fight.

Not to be.

 I needed a mastectomy.

After the mastectomy, I wanted it to be over.

As I was coming out of the anesthesia, Doug told me that cancer had invaded my lymph nodes.

I needed chemotherapy.

That was the beginning of some no good, very bad days.

I recently watched a group of breast cancer survivors on television talk about their chemo-induced baldness as “a badge of honor.”

They proudly wore no scarfs or wigs and sported their hairless scalps proudly.

I did not feel like that.

My bald head reminded me every time I looked at it that I had a cancer, something that frightened and overwhelmed me.

After the first chemo treatment I saw all my hair swirling down the drain in the shower.

I went downstairs to find my mom, who was visiting, and said, “It has to go today.”

I couldn’t bear to see it on my pillow, in my shower and bathroom sink drains.

If I merely touched it, it fell out.

I called my neighbor who had offered to shave it off for me.

She came over with her scissors and shaving kit and we went out on our deck on a beautiful October day.

We tried to make it fun by first giving me a mohawk.

Then, she buzzed it all off.

My mom stood in front of me with tears in her eyes.

“You have a really beautiful head,” she said.

I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror.

I did not see a head that wanted to be shown as a “badge of honor.”

I saw a cancer victim, and a woman who suddenly knew what kind of fight she had ahead of her.

I went into the bathroom and I stared at myself wondering how I would survive a year without hair.

Then I realized that cancer could take my hair, but it didn’t have to take me.

My hair would grow back.

I could either mope and feel sorry for myself because I’d suddenly become a bald cancer patient or I could say, “Not me. Not now.”

I hated every minute of it but I knew that I had at least a solid year ahead of fighting every single day.

This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

It wasn’t so much fighting the disease as the personal effects of the treatment.

I had to fight feeling like a victim.

I had to fight feeling embarrassed by my appearance as my face and body bloated, my skin turned yellow, my eyes looked vacant, and I could barely walk sometimes.

I fought to hold on to my dignity, my confidence, and my faith.

There is a physical fight for sure, but in many ways, the fight to hold on to a secure sense of self and a dose of daily hope is harder.

There is the external battle with recovering from surgeries, scars, and chemical infusions into the body.

And there is an internal battle with doubts, fears, insecurities, and sagging confidence in a “normal” future.

There are moments of fledgling faith where you have to choose not to let go of what you believe even though you feel like all your props have been knocked out from under you.

For me, those were the toughest battles.

I wanted to come out stronger, better, more faithful, more believing, and more secure about who I am as a woman.

So in the darkest moments, that is what I focused on — surviving and being a better person when it was all over.

My badge of honor was not baldness.

My badge of honor was and is a private one — not that I merely survived, but that I learned from it, became closer to God through it, and more deeply connected to my family and friends.

I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but I am grateful for cancer because I learned more about life in that brush with death than I could learn any other way.

I’d give anything to have learned those lessons in an easier way, but that’s not the way God teaches us.

He teaches us the most sacred lessons through the hardest trials.

And in the end, that is what I wish we would celebrate instead of the cuteness of all things pink.

Having said that, we live in a pink ribbon world.

So, I’m getting my pink on to support breast cancer awareness.

Do self breast checks, notice changes in your body, get your mammograms and take responsibility for your health.

October is almost over so hurry, and get your pink on.

If you want to see a realistic treatment of what it’s like for a family when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, check out the new season of Parenthood on NBC.

And have your tissues on your lap, you’ll need them.

Parenthood (season 1)
Parenthood (season 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://entertainment.time.com/2012/10/25/parenthood-breaks-our-hearts-real-good/