Aztec 3

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The First Part of The Story: Cancer In My 30s

I recently wrote a guest post for my friend Shawn Albright's blog. I discuss facing cancer as a parent of young children and the importance of embracing our "stories." Head over and check it out in it's original form. Take a look at Shawn's posts while you're there -- it's good stuff! Full disclosure: Shawn was my senior prom date (just friends) but I promise that doesn't bias my opinion about his writing. ;)

"There was this show that was on when I was in junior high (1987-1991) called “thirtysomething.”  (I assume that title format was creative genius at the time.) Here’s what I knew: the show was about people in their 30s and I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I couldn’t imagine what was so exciting in the lives of these old 30-year-olds that I wasn’t allowed to see. What happens in your 30s anyway? Nearing the “old” age of thirty seven I can now safely say – plenty! There have been the typical things – career-building, house-buying, baby-having – and some not-so-typical, like my current cancer-having thing.

I’m one of the rare, special women who have had the privilege of being diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of forty – at just shy of thirty six. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis so my feelings and emotions of it all are still undeclared at best. I don’t know if I’m currently in or done with the processing stage but it doesn’t usually make me nauseous nor nail-spitting angry to think about anymore so I suppose that’s progress.

Our two children were 8 and 3 when I was diagnosed. That’s what having cancer in your 30s is. It interrupts parenthood and careers and begins to corrupt the story that you had so carefully crafted of your impending long, happy life. I haven’t until just now, as you are reading this, shared one major thought that burst from my shocked, terrified brain that day I was diagnosed; a thought about my family and their precious lives that I so cherish; a thought too cruel to utter -- what if I’m just the first part of their story?

I imagine that is the most common worry that enters any mother’s head when faced with a cancer diagnosis. What about my family? What would they do without me? Would they remember me? Aren’t they too young to remember me? What if I was just his first love?  And the list goes on.
My mind raced to cope. As we told people and they grasped for words of wisdom and ways to help, we simply asked for prayers of peace and comfort. Peace and comfort. I have to believe that as those prayers were answered my initial panicked question – What if I’m just the first part of their story? – gave way to a more peaceful, more comfortable maybe I’m just the first part of their story. Somehow thinking that I might have a purpose in all of this, regardless of the outcome, calmed me. I don’t know that I ever actually accepted that this was a true possibility…that I might die, that my family might eventually have another wife and mother to finish out the story that I started. I think the stream of reassuring test results kept those possible realities in check and the sprint of appointments, decisions, surgeries, and procedures took care of the rest.

A few weeks from now will mark one year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the most part, when I look at the last ten months, it plays out like some surreal dream from which I’m still trying to wake. I will live the second half of my life having already experienced what we typically think of as reserved for grandmothers. In my 30s I have lost a major part of my womanhood and will never again look or feel “normal.” I will forever have the possibility of recurrence tucked away in my mind. I fear that the anger and disappointment associated with that will always be with me.

It’s now that I realize there is power in recapturing that initial terrifying question for myself – this really is just the first part of my story. My cancer experience is forever part of me now. It is something to grieve and when I’m ready I hope that I can accept it. But it’s just the first part of my story. I believe that the second part will be cancer-free and that I will be the one finishing the story of our long, happy life together…well beyond our 30s!"

Friday, January 23, 2015

Approaching my "Cancerversary"

I haven't posted since November?! That's pathetic. I'm asking for "holiday craziness" grace on that one. If you've ever blogged, you know that feeling when you're semi-constantly composing blog posts in your head but never make it to actually posting them. Or maybe you're much more stable and committed than I am and you do post them. Either way, what I'm saying is that I've had several posts floating in my head for two months now (and five un-posted drafts already half written) and I'll attempt to get them out of my jumbled mess of a noggin in the next few weeks.

When I started this blog it was out of shear necessity. I've been a writer for as long as I can remember. No, I've never published anything on paper, but I've always needed to write. When I was diagnosed with cancer, there were days when I had to lock myself in our bedroom and get the thoughts out of my head before I could continue my day. It helped keep me sane. That's why I began this blog. Over the following few months it helped me try to explain to others the practicalities and realities of what I was going through. It was a way to communicate what I wasn't ready to speak out loud.

Now I'm just a few weeks away from what the cancer circles call my "cancerversary." Dumb word? Yes. But it marks the day when I got that call that changed our lives. February 7th, 2014. I look back at the last year and I can hardly believe what has transpired. And I'm shocked that I'm starting to get over it. Back in April, after my bilateral mastectomy, I couldn't imagine a future where I wouldn't hate my body, a day when I wouldn't agonize over what was done and what was taken from me. But, in this new year, I'm beginning to think about it a little less. The discomfort and awkwardness nearly fades away as I'm running errands, conducting daily life, covered in normal clothing and knowing that nobody knows what I've been through or what I look like unless I decide to tell them. That's all oddly comforting.I'd be lying if I said that I don't still get angry or sad sometimes, especially when I hear that another woman has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I get angry on her behalf and I allow myself to feel that kind of empathy for what she's facing. I'm still trying to figure out what this role of "Survivor" means to me. Some days I feel fine wearing something with a pink ribbon and joining in on "survivor stuff" and other days I want to run as far as I can and just attempt to move on. I'm sure things will become clearer as time goes on, but for now I feel like I'm in an emotionally solid place (thank you, Celexa). I'm sure I'll write about it if things change.

A little housekeeping business:

As I continue with this "breast cancer" blog, my posts will likely evolve from talking about myself to giving practical advice to other breast cancer patients and their friends and family who are looking for ways to cope and help. I've already been asked by many people about which organizations to donate to, what to put in care packages, how to prepare for a mastectomy, etc. I'll work on addressing some of those issues in the coming months. I will also share links to other blogs, articles, health info, etc. that I think are helpful. If you came to this page because you have been touched by breast cancer and you'd like me to address a certain topic, please leave a comment and I'd be happy to look into it. Also, many people prefer to leave comments on my Facebook page instead of on my posts, but I'd love for other struggling women and families to be encouraged by your comments (as I am) so please consider leaving comments directly on the posts. Thank you!