Friday, January 10, 2014

Not Whiny

One day this week I was asked to go for lunch  with a coworker to meet up with a former colleague.  I hemmed and hawed a while before deciding if I would go. I had been sitting at my desk eating my lunch when she approached me. She asked because this woman we would meet up with had recently been diagnosed with cancer. In the end I thought, yes - being a silent support would be good. As if I could ever keep quiet.

We chit chatted about work stuff for quite a while. Then I looked at her, seated directly across from me, and said, "How are you." She replied, "Today is a good day."  and gave a brief smile. Zing. Instant tears formed in my eyes. Whew. It's not all behind me. It being my own cancer journey. I was caught off guard by the tears. I sure didn't want to make it about me in that moment so I swallowed hard and made a mental note to think about those tears later.

She worried aloud that she was being whiny if she phoned the specialists to see when she could see them. She's had the diagnosis for several weeks. Her particular cancer does not have a good outcome. I told her to never apologize for being an advocate for her own health. Certainly the doctors do not have her on their radar screen unless she is directly in front of them. She made some phone calls after lunch and as a result got an appointment slot right away. This is not a time to worry about appearing nice and not whiny. Is it ever?

Today is my second of four scheduled post cancer check ups. They happen every six months. I told my doctor at my last one that I wouldn't see him until this appointment. It's the longest I've gone without seeing a doctor in years. I'm grateful for that. I do get a little twitchy waiting for these check ups to be behind me. A friend in the program, who has had cancer several times, told me that it would take at least a year to not worry that every pain I experienced was an indicator of a recurrence. I have two friends who are dealing with metastatic breast cancer. They are on my mind often. My grief counsellor told me that he bet I thought about having had breast cancer every single day. He was right.

Next month I will have the opportunity to speak to a group of health professionals in training about my breast cancer journey. There is a lot going through my mind as to what to share and what to keep close to my (one sided) chest.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Somewhere Beautiful

I belong to an online writing group that suggest  a new word every week to be the focus of a blog post. The first week went by with the word 'vulnerable' and the second arrived with the word 'waiting'. I've felt completely uninspired. Until this. It's the first time I've spoken about it on the blog. While it was happening I couldn't write about it. Last night I finally did. Dearest One read it this morning and gave his blessing for me to share it here.

"You called her babe!"
"Well you never like it when I call you that."

"You fucking, fucking asshole." The last is said in my head as my husband walks out of our bedroom. I resist the urge to throw things at his retreating backside. Instead I thrust my middle finger in the air, waving it up high as if to add an exclamation point. And then I dissolve in tears.

Earlier in the day I had noticed his work email open on his computer and because I have several friends in his all female work department I was curious as to whether any of them email him. My curiosity had been fun in intent as I loved these women and they loved me.

What jumped out at me from his inbox was not any email from a coworker. Instead it was an email with a subject line that read "Re: Good Morning Babe" from some woman in the UK whose name I didn't recognize. Mercifully, or not, I couldn't remember his email password so I couldn't open it.

All day long I waited for him to get home from work. The subject line answered so much. The reason for his increasing emotional distance. My puzzlement over our daughter mentioning to me that he was thinking of going to Britain this summer and how he hadn't mentioned it to me. I thought of the last time we had sex and how angry he seemed.

We went for a walk after supper and I casually asked him who she was. After the initial deer in the headlights look on his face he tried to back pedal out of the conversation. I kept him focused on the moment with an eerie calmness. This wasn't the first emotional affair he'd had but it was the most devastating. There was something about that word, 'babe' that made me feel like I was going to go bat shit crazy.

What ensued was a summer of pain and growth and grace. He moved out of the house and into our holiday trailer under the guise of not wanting to be in the same house as me. There is something about not being at home within oneself that ripples out towards others in often painful ways. While I wanted to instinctively protect myself and step away from him emotionally I felt a nudge within to step towards him in love. The big gulping sobs that rose when I surrendered to this nudge affirmed my course of action.

When he phoned our adult children to let them know he was thinking of leaving me I followed up with a phone call of my own to remind them that beneath the man whose actions were foreign right now, was a good man and no matter what happened, please don't forget this about their dad.

I reaffirmed to him aloud several times that he was a good man. He recoiled from my words with both anger and tears. What I was really telling him is that while he was being a shit head please don't lose sight of the abundance of goodness inherent within himself.

I'd only recently discovered this about myself. The years of self hatred had dissolved into a self acceptance that made it possible to face the worst demons within myself. The healing that had ensued was humbling. I felt like I had come home to myself at last. It's also what led Dearest One to tell me that he didn't know who I was any more and that's why he didn't think he could remain married to me. The irony of finally learning to love myself while being rejected by him cut deeply.

One day, in the blink of an eye, I still can't explain how it happened, the wall of protective emotional concrete that I had carried like a protective shield since I was a child, fell away and in its place was an openness that was fraught with fragile beauty. For years I had prayed that God would break down that wall whatever it took. I never dreamed my husband would be walking away from me when it happened. I was stunned to find myself capable not only of emotional intimacy, but craving it. I wanted to run after my husband and say, "it's not too late, look it finally happened!"  I thought of all the years he had craved a mutual emotional vulnerability, and how I had thrown it back in his face.

I spent the summer waiting for him to decide whether he was staying or going.

This many years later we refer to that summer as the summer from hell. The good man that he is eventually emerged from underneath a shit pile of anger, confusion and pain.

Last night we were lying in bed, he on his back and me on my stomach so that we were looking at each other. Talking in bed before we go to sleep is about my favourite thing in the world to do with him. It opens up the best conversations and often lots of laughter. Somewhere in the conversation he called me baby. I tell him I've given birth to babies and I am not his baby. I feel a ping in my heart as I think about the last time that word came up in our conversation. I know he doesn't even remember it from the summer  of hell.

It's why he can continue the conversation by telling me that baby or babe is a term of endearment.

I turn the phrase lightly over in my mind and tell him it just isn't me.

"Try it," he says, "Look at me and say, I love you, babe." His eyes, framed by the rainbow arches of his eyebrows, are full of merriment and radiating with love towards me.

I practice saying the phrase in my head and look at him waiting in anticipation. My hands fly up to my face as I realize to say it and  mean it is so full of vulnerability that my eyes well up with tears and I can't talk.

Finally I choke out how I can't get the words to come out of my mouth because I feel too vulnerable, that it really is a term of endearment. I had had no idea. He tells me I would never have discovered that had he not challenged me would I?  No, no I wouldn't I tell him. I ask him to give me some time to get used to the phrase. Saying it will be a gift of the highest kind, one he will treasure in his heart.

The word that drove me bat shit crazy is now an invitation to somewhere beautiful.