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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir, Personal, Relationships

Regrets and Do-Overs

While in Utah visiting my family, my sister and I got into a conversation about regrets.

What do I regret? What kinds of things would I do differently if I had a few do-overs?

Life never stops moving forward. Stay focused ...
credit: deeplifequotes)

Do I regret filling yards of surgical tubing with water and spraying an apartment full of poker-playing boys in college? No.

Do I regret filling up my first semester of college with classes like trampoline, tennis and dance?

Or making a spontaneous decision at 9 p.m. at night to load my car with college friends and drive to Las Vegas for the weekend?

Nope.

What I regret are the times I could have been kinder to people.

Valentines-Day-Hearts-Collection-Free-Stock-Photos-Small

I remember a girl in junior high and high school that everyone teased mercilessly because she had acne and a nervous twitch.

As she walked down the halls, people imitated her twitch as she passed them.

I hated walking that same gauntlet as all the boys sat on the hall benches and called me “Little Bob,” after my Dad who was a little league football coach or “Little Snowsie,” after my brother.”

If I hated that kind of attention, how must it have been to be mocked for bad skin and a sudden jerk of the neck I couldn’t control?

Luckily, I can’t remember directly teasing her myself, but maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten that detail because I’m ashamed of myself.

Even if I didn’t personally injure her, I never once stood up for her.

I’m ashamed of myself for the times I could have stepped back from the teasing or stepped in to stop it; for the times I kept my mouth shut when I could have jumped to someone’s defense or when I opened my mouth only to add to the cutting remarks.

Doug shared a story on Facebook from The New York Times Magazine called, “George Saunder’s Advice to Graduates.”

http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/

He wrote about regret he’s carried for  42-years. He regrets that he wasn’t nice to a shy girl who joined his seventh grade class.

She wore blue cat-eye glasses and nervously chewed on her hair.

Students teased her, asking if her hair tasted good, or they simply ignored her and never tried to befriend her.

I don’t know how many kids passed through my life like that. How many did I ignore because they didn’t look or dress right or simply because I had plenty of friends?

Saunder’s said, “Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But it still bothers me. So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

That phrase “failures of kindness” hit me hard because that is what I regret most too.

“Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly,” he said.

But, what about the times I didn’t respond sensibly, reservedly or mildly and without even knowing it, may have been downright cruel?

There are no do-overs for those times.

In his graduation speech, he wisely shared that: “as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will be gradually replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You won’t really care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.” (One of the best reasons ever for having children!)

His end-of-speech advice was, “Since , according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up! Speed it along. Start right now.”

If I had one do-over, I would definitely follow his advice and err on the side of kindness. I’ve clearly become a much kinder, more selfless person as I’ve aged.

But, if I could dial the years back to my adolescence and do a few things differently, I’d still do the crazy things like hose down the poker-playing boys, master my trampoline moves, and skip off to Vegas; but, I’d also be a lot kinder.

Related articles

Uncategorized

Happy Mother’s Day

It’s hard to admit, but I remember a time when I wondered if I wanted to be a mother.

 

I thought I lacked the natural maternal desire.

 

It just didn’t grab hold of me with the urgency and excitement I thought I should feel.

 

It didn’t help that I grew up in the women’s liberation era when motherhood was characterized as the most unsatisfying job on the planet.

 

Women spoke of motherhood as drudgery, and the common belief was that there was more to life than just having babies and staying home to take care of them.

 

Who would want the mind-numbing, old-fashioned role of mother when the doors of opportunity for women in the workplace were flinging open, inviting us to experience true fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, and real success?

 

We could “have it all,” so why settle for be strapped down by crying babies with runny noses, ear infections and chicken pox?

 

Surely my life would not be limited to that!

 

But, after I married Doug, I felt like having a family was the next natural step.

 

It just felt right like when you set out on a path and your feet just naturally move.

 

Even though my feet were moving in that direction, I had no confidence in myself as a mother.

 

After Sara was born, a friend asked me how I liked being a mother.

 

I said, “I feel totally incompetent!”

 

She kindly said, “How can that be? You are one of the most competent women I know.”

 

“Not as a mother,” I said. “I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s actually a relief to go to work every day because at least I know what I’m doing in an office. I feel totally out of my element at home with a baby.”

 

As time went on, I became better at it, probably because every time I looked into the face of that baby girl, my heart expanded to a new capacity.

 

Every time I cuddled her, and smelled her powdery body, my worldly skin molted a bit, and my confidence in my ability to be a good mother grew.

 

Actually, my confidence grew because my love grew.

 

After I had Annie, my mom came to stay with me to help.

 

One afternoon, Sara was sitting next to me and I was holding our new little Annie.

 

“Laurie, do you know how much you’re loved?” My mom asked as she watched me with my two children.

 

IMG_2223

 

“Yes,” I said, feeling grateful to know how much she loved me.

 

“I don’t think you do,” she responded, surprising me. “I don’t think you’ll know how much I love you until you are my age and your babies are grown up like you. Then you will know because you will have loved them for a lifetime. That’s when you’ll know how much I love you.”

 

I see what she meant by that now. Just when I think my heart can’t get any bigger, it does.

 

I’m glad she taught me that while my heart expands to new capacities, it also contracts to new depths as my children experience the challenges of life.

 

When I had cancer, my mom embroidered a pillow for me that said, “Always remember, I am the rock in your garden. You are the blossom in mine.”IMG_2263

 

I try to remember that, hoping to be the rock in Sara’s and Annie’s gardens like my mom has been in mine.

 

I can’t believe there was a time I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mother because I can’t imagine my life without them.

 

Being a mother has made me a better woman in every possible way.

 

I don’t care what the feminists of my era said, motherhood is the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.

 

There is a level of satisfaction that comes from career success, but it can’t compare to the joy I’ve felt as a mother.

 

So, as Mother’s Day approaches, I will celebrate being a mother, having a mother, and knowing that the voices of my era were wrong.

 

Motherhood is not stifling, unsatisfying, and unimportant.

 

It is the opposite of all of those words.

 

While I may have believed I lacked the maternal instinct, I found it,.

 

And, I discovered it was more than an instinct, it was a divine part of my identity as a woman. It just got a little buried in the mire of all my other ambitions.

 

It is the essence of who I am.

 

I am proud to say I am a mother. It’s the most ennobling, dignified, and important job I’ve ever had.

English: jkklglh
English: jkklglh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Mother’s Day. I would love to hear your thoughts on motherhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Milestones and Proud Mamas

Today my daughter, Sara, graduates from college.
This milestone brings to mind so many memories…

IMG_1413

  • When I took her to orientation day at preschool to meet her teacher and classmates, she walked away from me to interact with the other children. She kept looking back at me, surely needing reassurance that I was still there. Then she walked up to me and said, “Mom, it’s time for you to go home now!” I pointed out that parents had to stay. “Why? I’m fine. Just go home and pick me up later.” I told her I couldn’t leave, but I tried to fade out of her sight to help her enjoy her independence. So much for her needing my reassurance.
  • After her first day of kindergarten, I met her at the bus stop, and asked about her day. “It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be,” she said. “I thought I would just sit at a desk and learn, but all we did was play!”
  • When we went to New York City for the first time, Sara was about six years old, and took on the job of calling all our cabs. We couldn’t believe this little blonde child standing on the corner of those busy streets waving down cabs and directing us around the city.
  • When she was in elementary school, she used to slip notes under my bedroom door or put them on my pillow that said, “Mom, this is my schedule for the week.” She had detailed weekly agendas with all her activities and plans neatly written on notebook paper.
  • When she was 10, we sent her to Utah to stay with her grandparents. She sat down and planned out her entire itinerary. She planned to go to the northern end of the state to the small town of Syracuse first to be with Doug’s family, then she would go to my hometown of Springville about two hours away to be with my family. “How will you get from one place to another?” We asked. “I’ll call a cab,” she said. We had to teach her about the small towns of Utah and the lack of available cabs on the rural roads. But, she developed an alternative plan, stoically got on the plane without hesitation, and took off for her first journey alone. Annie and I stood at the gate and cried, amazed at her confidence and poise.
  • We went with Doug’s sister’s family and his parents on a Disney Cruise when Sara was about 11. When we got home, I put all our photos in a scrapbook and asked everyone to write their favorite part of the trip to put in the book.  Sara wrote, “My favorite part of the trip was having my own room key and being able to go all over the ship with my cousins.”
  • When I dropped her off at her college dorm for the first time, I wondered if she might get a little emotional. True to form, she hopped out of the car and off she went. We’d spent several days together before that so there was no need for a big goodbye. I watched her walk into the dorm and felt torn between wanting to sob that my baby girl would be living thousands of miles away from me and feeling overjoyed that she was so well-prepared for her new college life.

I’ve watched her apply these strokes of independence to her life as a college student — detailed day planners and calendars, keys to her own apartment and her own car, sitting at a desk learning, organizing a study abroad to London and traveling throughout Europe. Just like she led us around New York City, she escorted us around the streets and the underground of London. She’s boarded planes, buses, trains, subways, boats, and bikes, and loved every minute of it. She’s made lifelong friends, had her heart and mind stretched in every way, and received an education far beyond what shows up on her diploma.

Now, today, I get to watch her in her blue cap and gown as she marches into the commencement exercises at the Marriott Center with all that knowledge, experience, growth, maturity, and beauty under that cap. And, I get to say, “That’s my girl — the smart, striking blonde in the high heels wearing that pink lipstick. Yeah, that one, she’s mine.”

These milestones are more for the parents than the students anyway, right?

We need our moments to marvel, and say, “See that one, she’s mine!”

IMG_1567

Congratulations Sara!

 

Uncategorized

Bucket List Mania

I downloaded some worksheets that included some prompts to help me create a bucket list.

The first worksheet I read was titled, “100 Things to do before I die.”Cover of "The Bucket List"

The Cornell Legacy Project found that the “wisest elders” among us say that creating and pursuing bucket list goals is something that brings nothing but rewards throughout life. But, not having one, results in regrets and missed experiences.

I felt like I needed a bucket list because I certainly cannot live my life regretting my missed experiences.

The first prompt said, “What are 10 burning desires you have for yourself?”

Of course, my first response was the same as it always is — lose weight. Then, I scratched it out and thought, “Come on, that’s a lifelong battle. Toss that relentless irritation out of the mix and have fun with this.”

scaled
(Photo credit: wader)

Then, I asked myself questions about where I’d like to go, what I’d like to do, what experiences I’d like to have before I die.

I waited for all my urgent desires to surface.

Nothing came.

How about Machu Picchu? Doug’s always wanted to go to Peru and experience the mystical ruins. But, that’s Doug’s dream, not mine.

English: Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu
Early morning in Machu Picchu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to stop thinking so hard about my bucket list and just put it in the back of my mind and let ideas percolate more naturally.

Yesterday, Doug and I were walking along the beach and I thought about my bucket list again. I told him that I must not be a very ambitious person because I can’t think of 100 things I want to do.

We discussed the pros and cons of goals and both agreed that while they can propel us forward in life, they can also create unneeded stress, unreasonable expectations and feelings of failure or discontent.

As we walked along the beach, listening to the waves, observing the weather worn pier, and running up the dune to avoid a crashing wave, I said, the truth is that while I want to do a few fun things before I die, I really won’t regret not going to Machu Picchu or any other worldly thing because my true bucket list is not defined by questions of things to see, people to meet, and new things to try.

Outer Banks, Corolla, North Carolina

If I am honest about what I want before I die, my wish list is deeper and more personal. It’s less about stuff to do and all about people to love and the fullest life to live.

Of course, I want to continue cancer-free living. Who doesn’t?

I want my daughters to live happy, fulfilled lives. I want them to experience all the love and success they want in life. I want healthy, happy, grandchildren. (No pressure Sara and Annie!)

I want to take my expanded family to Disney World and watch all their faces light up with excitement when they see Buzz Lightyear or Cinderella. I want to gather them all together and look into their bright faces and marvel over the miracle of life and how it goes on and on forever with one generation after another adding to a family’s heritage and history.

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt D...
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to spend time with my friends, laughing and making new memories. I want to keep enjoying being me, truly me without pretense because there is so much freedom and joy in not worrying about how I should be.

I want to spend as much time with my mother as possible and have her teach me how to be more like her. I want to learn from my brothers and the wisdom they’ve gained in life. I want to see my nieces and nephews marry and have children. I want to be a great-aunt over and over again.

logancmabreeIn the end, I guess I do have a bucket list. It’s just not the adventurous parachute-out-of-a-plane, scuba-dive-in-the-red-sea variety. It’s more about getting the best out the life I already have with the people who matter most to me.

 

Family

The Joy of Giving

My mom called me last week to see what I want for Christmas.

When asked that question, I instinctively think, “What do I need?”

Then nothing comes to mind.

I don’t need anything.

But what do you want? Mom asked.

Doug’s Dad says you should never buy people what they need.

christmas-gift
(Photo credit: top10things)

Instead, he believes you should give impractical, unexpected gifts.

(Note: This comes from a man who also believes you should fall asleep every night savoring a piece of milk chocolate because “There’s nothing like sleeping with your throat coated in chocolate.” He also has false teeth, so take that into consideration before following his advice.)

Chocolate Kiss
Chocolate Kiss (Photo credit: alykat)

So, what do I want for Christmas that I don’t need?

I couldn’t think of anything I wanted that could be presented to me in a box on Christmas morning.

I decided I wanted my Mom to buy a beautiful wreath and place it on my Dad’s grave with a note that said, “Merry Christmas, Dad. Thanks for teaching me the joy of giving.”

She resisted, saying that wasn’t a “real” gift for me.

But, today, when I talked to her, she told me she gave me my gift.
20121210-194105.jpg
She went to the cemetery and displayed my wreath, and will go back tomorrow to attach my note.

And, I believe, somehow, my Dad will know it’s there, and he will appreciate it.

When I was a little girl, my Dad was the Jaycee president.

I thought he was famous because everybody in town knew him and he always seemed to have his picture in the paper.

He also managed to orchestrate the most amazing, magical arrival of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen.

He had him land in the middle of town in a helicopter!

Santa arrives in New Orleans
(Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

One night before Christmas, Dad came home and gathered our family around the kitchen table and told us about the Sub for Santa program.

He had a piece of paper with the name of a family on it and listed the gender and age of all the children and what they wanted for Christmas.

“We need to help Santa this year because this family can’t afford Christmas gifts.”

I will never forget the feeling I had that night as I listened to him tell us about that family.

I loved the idea that we could secretly help Santa Claus and make another family happy.

We all excitedly talked about how we could help.

I went into my room and found a brand new doll.

I wondered why I never played with her.

I decided it was because she needed to be saved for another little girl who might need her more than I did.

I ran back downstairs and showed her to my Dad. He agreed that maybe I’d saved her because someone else needed to have her more than me.

He showed me the little girl’s wish list and said she was my age.

He asked if I could go shopping with my mom to get the other gifts she wanted.

I couldn’t wait. The idea of helping Santa made me want to burst with excitement.

Sub for Santa became a tradition in our family, and one way or another; we always found ways of giving to others.

The first thing my Dad did on Christmas morning was make secret deliveries to people in town who said were “down on their luck.”

We waited for him to come home and then ran into the living room to see what Santa left for us.

My parents taught me that the best gifts are often the good feelings that come from our own giving and not just from the gifts we receive.

I’m happy my Mom agreed to my Christmas request and delivered the wreath and a note on my Dad’s grave.

That is a true gift to me.

And proof that the best gifts don’t always come in a box.

From the News

Hurricane Sandy and Losing Control

I like to believe I am a calm, controlled kind of woman.

So when I heard about the storm of the century heading our way, Doug and I took all the necessary precautions.

Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9]
Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9] (Photo credit: The Birkes)
We filled the tub with water, charged up our battery-powered lights, moved all of our deck furniture, brought in all the pumpkins and Halloween decorations, made a pot of soup, did all the laundry and checked bits of advice of preparations lists.

Then, we waited.

And watched the news.

Always a mistake. But, how do you pull yourself away from it?

The more I watched, the more my anxiety grew.

The sky darkened, the rains poured down, and the winds picked up.

I pestered Doug with questions like, “Should I move that bike out of the backyard? Should we go to the basement now?”

I also kept returning to the bags of Halloween candy like they were the last bags of candy I would ever see in my life.

Halloween Candy
Halloween Candy (Photo credit: JefferyTurner)

I wrote a couple of storm stories for the Deseret News to stay busy.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865565510/Northern-Virginians-hunker-down-during-Hurricane-Sandy.html

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865565593/Tens-of-Thousands-Without-Power-in-DC-and-worst-is-yet-to-come.html

I checked Twitter and Facebook obsessively and I looked out the window repeatedly.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Doug told me to relax and sit down.

Relax?

We  have a hurricane the size of Texas heading our way!  The weatherman says we could lose power for weeks!

How can I relax?

I could not relax.

More TV, more Twitter, more Facebook, more window watching, and more candy.

Finally, it was bedtime.

Every time I closed my eyes a gust of wind or a heavy downpour jolted me out of bed.

I kept looking toward the window to make sure the streetlights were still on.

Finally, I fell asleep and empathized with Dorothy and Toto.

The next day, I woke up and it was over.

Trees standing. Power still on. Basement dry.

Enormous relief and gratitude washed over me.

Then, I turned on the news and saw what was happening to our neighbors in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

And while my personal worries had evaporated and my high level anxiety had subsided, I felt guilty.

Why did we get off so easy while they got totally slammed?

As I watched homeowners standing in their vanished neighborhoods holding their children and shaking their heads in disbelief, I was reminded of  how desperately we all want control over our lives and how tragedies like this prove to us that we never really have it.

When I was going through chemotherapy (a recurring theme in a lot of my blog posts, I know. I know…), I stood over my jewelry box one afternoon and dumped everything out on my dresser.

Feverishly I focused on sorting all my jewelry and organizing it neatly into little compartments.

I took such deep pleasure in that moment because I had total control over  that one small thing.

Waiting for a hurricane to land is like staring at a messy jewelry box with your hands tied behind your back.

You desperately want to put everything in its place, and you can’t.

So, you pace the floor, eat the candy, try to read a book, put it down, and keep watching disasters on TV.

Today I put the pumpkins back on the porch, the furniture back on the deck, and tried to walk away from the bags of candy.

Those small things helped my life feel normal again.

Except for the pangs of sadness I still feel for those with the overwhelming task of trying to turn chaos back into order.

In my helpless state, I looked for opportunities to help, hoping to lessen my feelings of guilt and to give me some of that elusive feeling of control over something, anything.

Maybe somebody has a jewelry box I could organize, a child I could hold, or a water bottle I could hand out.

I read an article by Sandy Wallace at examiner.com, that said, “”Hurricane Sandy may have taken a lot of things away from New York and New Jersey, but the storm known as Frankenstorm and Superstorm Sandy can’t take away the resilience of the people.”

http://www.examiner.com/article/governor-christie-and-mayor-bloomberg-teach-resilience

This article reminded me that this is when we choose resilience over control, and take a moment to recognize the ultimate power that resides in the elements, over which we have absolutely no control.