Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sense Of Humour A Must

My temporary breast prosthesis is shaped like a little cotton filled football. I tried it out yesterday and well, between it and the increasing fluid build up in the place where my breast used to be, I couldn't wait to be rid of it the moment I walked in the door last night.  So I took my bra off right then and there, tossed that on the dishwasher and totally forgot I had been wearing a prosthesis at all.

A few hours later I walked through the kitchen and spotted my prosthesis laying on the floor, its cotton batten filling just visible through the flap in its side. I scooped it up in a hurry, so very grateful that the dogs had not discovered it. More than likely they would have snatched it up in their jaw and carried it to the living room, dropped it and then picked it up again and again searching for the squeaker that inhabits all their toys. I can only imagine.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gatekeeper Into An Unknown Land

Dearest One and I are silent as we glance at the arrow on the "Cancer Clinic ahead" sign. We drive past it like it's a gatekeeper into an unknown land. We swoop down a ramp that curves around until we are right at the clinic's front door. It looks like we've driven up to some fancy hotel with its carport like roof over head and the sliding glass doors that part as we draw near to them.

I check in at the reception desk and hand over my paperwork. She glances at it and says, "Oh, you're new." She turns to start transcribing it into the computer and asks me to take a seat.

I sit down and watch people. A man shuffles in in slippers and sweat pants. Another man cracks a joke with a nurse. Beyond another doorway I can see a huge sign that tells everyone it's the chemotherapy treatment room. There is both a stillness and a camaraderie present in the air.

A volunteer calls my name and I follow her to get weighed and measured. Down a little more weight since before surgery. Who knew my breast weighed that much?

Within minutes we are ushered into a room and our nurse starts asking questions and filling in yet more forms. Over her shoulder I notice a watercolour painting. I answer her questions while gazing at its gently rolling hills, watery blue sky and winding road. Symbolic of the journey I am now on. The one I didn't sign up for but the one presented to me.

I'm aware that I get to choose how I look at it. It doesn't divorce me from the whole range of human feelings, it's just that after I feel what I feel there comes a 'now what' point where I get to choose my focus. It's not a one time deal but a revolving door of feeling and choosing that will last the rest of my life. The rest of yours, too.

Forms are completed. The doctor comes in. We listen to her recommendations. She is wonderfully non biased and I appreciate that. She tells us to take some time to come to a conclusion.

I leave her office convinced which way I am leaning. My heart sinks as I listen to Dearest One come to a totally different conclusion.

In the middle of the night I lay in bed, fretting about which direction to take. Convinced that the decision I make is akin to deciding between life and death. As if it is all up to me. And in the stillness of the night comes a thought, you're forgetting God in this pictureA wry grin spreads over my face and I chuckle to myself. I had forgotten. That little nugget of grace comforts me so much that I fall back asleep.

In the morning I wake up unexpectedly joyful. That grin involuntarily springs up on my face every time I think about making a decision. I make phone calls about second opinions and get details about the chemotherapy regimen they are recommending. I scribble them down on the backside of an envelope.

It's only later when I turn the envelope over and see "Limited Time Offer" stamped in capital letters that a wry grin spreads over my face once more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


"I'm scared you're going to die."

She hugs me tight, her words filtering down through her fingertips onto my back, desperately hoping in the power of her hug to keep me here.

I understand that grip.

One time my brother-in-law caught a bald headed eagle and put it in his truck. On the floor of his truck was a paper bag full of groceries. That bird put one of its talons right through a can of tomato soup. My brother-in-law knew he didn't have the power to get the bird to loosen its grip, the bird had to do that itself.

And so does my friend. I can try to calm her fears but I can't make them disappear. I haven't seen her since my first surgery. I'd been puzzled by her silence and yet not really. I reassure her that I understand her lack of contact.

I do.

I think specifically of several people. A friend whose life I disappeared from while she had cancer. I just stopped showing up. Or the friend who used to babysit my kids when she was a teenager, who - years later - lost her own teenager in an accident. How I couldn't bring myself to ring her doorbell. Much to my shame it didn't prevent me from telling anyone who would listen to me at the funeral that I knew her when. I also think specifically of this friend. Mea Culpa.

A loved one told me she did an online search for"how to not be an asshole while trying to support someone who has cancer." I think that's the reason many people stay away. The reason I have done so, too. When I look at it that way, my lack of action is due in part to an ego driven response. Fear of not looking good, of someone thinking less of me, in the face of their pain. And then there is the desire not to add to their suffering. I'm scared of getting it wrong.

Fear has been my most faithful companion in life. I've gripped it's hand so tight through the years. It's been one of my longest standing prayers for it to stop overshadowing my every move. Now is the perfect opportunity to learn how to let go a little more. Holding on tight doesn't have the power I thought it did. Thank God.

As my friend and I hug goodbye, her grip a little looser, she whispers in my ear, "Please don't die." I whisper back, "I don't plan to anytime soon.".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fingers In The Dark

"I know, I've touched your incision."

His answer surprises me. I have absolutely no feeling for several inches on either side of my 26 stitch mastectomy scar, which comes in handy when the surgeon is digging deep to get the sutures out, but is awkward when it comes to Dearest One's touch. Has he run his fingers in the dark over my incision and I've been oblivious? I guess so.

No one writes about this part. Regaining physical intimacy while manoeuvring around drain tubes and foot long incisions. It's hard not to feel like there is an intruder in the room with us. A permanent one.

We've slept in separate beds for the bulk of my recuperation. We've learned the hard way that restorative sleep is not in the cards when you worry about accidentally hooking the drain tube with a body part or flinging an arm right over the area above the incision that burns without touch. And we need all the sleep we can get.

Tomorrow the drain tube and remaining stitches get removed.

In 6 sleeps we meet with the oncologist to see what comes next.

It's not the first time, nor will it be the last, that numb and painful and awkward will describe my continuing road of transformation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Sweater

It doesn't take much to make me dissolve in tears and this certainly did it today:

(Thanks Rebekah Grace!)

Story of The Sweater

Monday, November 12, 2012

Three Weeks

I apologize for the silence. Typing increases my pain level so I've tried to cut back on it and it's helped. I've also felt conflicted that all I'm writing about is my having cancer and not about anything else. I told Dearest One today that all I really wanted was regular life again. You know, dishes and housework and commuting to work. I still have stitches and a drain tube. Both will come out by the end of the week. That will help with feeling like we're getting somewhere.

Today is three weeks post mastectomy. I still find it shocking that my breast is gone. I look in the mirror at the flatness, trying to make friends with it.  Sometimes I look down and remember what my missing breast looked like and I wonder why I didn't hold onto it all the way into the operating room. When Dearest One comes to hug me from behind and encircles my chest with his hands I feel both loved and sad.

Last night, in the middle of the night my blood pressure tanked and as a result I crashed into the wall as I made my way to the bathroom. No harm done but it sure made me feel vulnerable. I have done very little, next to no 'Googling' about my health issues. Tanking blood pressure in a cancer patient is the second time I've done it. It reminded me why I don't.

I've always been curious to the nth degree so it's surprised me that I have had little interest in research about this journey. The surgeon recommended last week, when he handed over my pathology reports, that I not Google the heck out of them. Not because he didn't want me to be informed but he didn't want me to be overwhelmed. And I don't want to be either.

What happened the first time I looked stuff up was that I came upon a site of people writing blog like posts where they defined themselves by their cancer and prognosis and it fed into the fear that comes so easily to me that I recognized it would not be a good thing for me to read.

So there have been no late night searches. No quests for more information. I see the oncologist in just over a week. We will talk about what comes next that day. It's about all I can take at the moment.

Today was about little things. The gentle fat snowflakes that fell like glitter this morning. The sun coming in the window this afternoon that made me stretch out like a cat to enjoy its rays. A peppermint foot cream to massage into my feet. Writing with an orange gel pen in my journal. Which sounds like regular life to me.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

At The Top Of My List

"How are you?" Dearest One asks the waitress as we place our order for tea and toast. [lovely song about tea and toast .]

"Old and bitter," was her reply.  I looked at her and said, "Life's too short to feel that way." I'd just said goodbye to my sisters who were boarding a plane to go back home. There had been tears and hugs and much love. The waitress looked at me and at that moment the tape that holds my drain tube in place was itching and I reached to scratch it. In doing so my sweater lifted and the drain tube was visible for a second. She glanced at it as I said, "truly, it's too short." Our eyes locked for a moment then she nodded in agreement and left to put our order in.

I can't read between the lines at the best of times, nuances stump me often. It was a few minutes before Dearest One told me that the waitress had been joking when she'd said she was old and bitter. Oh.

In the pitch black darkness of the early morning we watched out the airport restaurant windows, waiting for my sisters' plane to leave. While doing so we had a very frank talk about what could come next in my cancer journey. Dearest One told me he was grateful that we didn't need to be separate and alone with our thoughts, some of them as dark as the night sky, but that we could speak them out loud to one another. Thoughts lose some of their power that way.

The waitress brought our order and said something that made us laugh; something that showed us her feisty, kind hearted side. I cut myself some slack for taking her so seriously.

Later that afternoon we sat down with the surgeon to talk about drain tube plans and pathology results.

The news unbelievably good.

No lymph node involvement, no blood stream involvement in the mastectomy tissue. Very likely that the cancer was contained in the lumpectomy.

It feels like we won the lottery.

Until the hormone receptor tests are back and I see the oncologist, I won't know for sure what comes next, but it's looking far more probable that chemotherapy and radiation will not be in my future. Words are not adequate to describe how I feel.

I lay in bed this morning before sunrise pondering not only my day but my life. Hoping that if God grants me a long one that I won't be a walking advertisement for "old and bitter" as I age. That instead I will be feisty, joyful and real. Real is at the top of my list.