24 March 2014 Surviving Loss

When I was 14, and a freshman in high school, I had to endure the horror of a close friend committing suicide. I was one of the last people to see her alive. I have been working with her for two years to try to help her. It was terrible. A little over two months later, I moved. During those two months, I had to deal with the rumors, the accusations, the funeral, and trying to just pick up the pieces. I didn’t feel like I had much support during that time, but boy was I wrong. When I moved, then I realized how much support I had then. All my social support was gone, and my new school felt cold and hostile. I look back now, and realize my whole high school career was tainted by what happened. I shut so many people out, pushed so many away, and didn’t see how wonderful the friends I did make were until almost 20 years later.
I have often wondered what I would tell my 14 year old self, if I could. I think I now know.

1) It’s OK to be happy and smile, and laugh again. It will not dishonor her memory, and she would be sadder knowing you couldn’t smile. She didn’t do this to hurt you.
2) IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Rumors flew for me about it being my fault (yes, I was told this, even by adults), because I was her closest friend and “did nothing”. They were totally wrong. Ultimately, we control one person: ourselves. Even then, we don’t always do a very good job. Nothing you could have done could change the choices that she made. It was not your job to do so. Even at 14, I needed adults stepping in to help her. It shouldn’t have been just me.
3) There is no timeline for healing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should either grieve less, or grieve more. This is your journey alone with God, let it take its course.
4) You will go on, and in time the sun will shine again. Remember that on the dark days.
5) Her memory will always be with you, but in time, you will be able to remember the good things.
6) This will shape you, but do not let it define you.
7) It’s OK to be mad, it is part of the healing process. You won’t be mad forever.
8) Let people love on you. They are trying to. You need it.
9) You will not understand why God “let this happen”, and you never will. Just know HE is there for you to comfort you. (If you get mad at HIM, that is OK, too. HE is big enough to handle it.)
10) Lastly, breathe. Deep, healing breaths. Breathe in, breathe out, and repeat. You will be OK.

12 January 2014

New Year’s already, and I realized that it has been forever since I have written anything. New Year’s brings new challenges, new choices, new joys, new heartbreaks, just like last year did. Some of the ones I already know that are ahead of me I am not sure I am ready for, to be honest. I wish there was a “between year” where we had a chance to get over last year, and not have to change over that calendar page and start the new year. I know that it really is just a day. Just the sun rising and setting like every other day. The only reason it’s a “new year” is that we give it that designation and significance, but I digress.

I want the between year: A time to have a vacation from life. Sort of like that thirty minute period on Christmas day just after everyone has opened their presents. All the anticipation is over with, but no one has to jump up to get dressed, or cook, or travel yet. We get to just sit, drink coffee, and enjoy the moment. I want time like that.

A week would do nicely, please. A week of not having to worry about what would happen in a year. A week of not having to wonder where I would be living in a year. A week of not trying to fervently plan that fundraiser I should have started planning a month ago. A week to clear my mind of all responsibility. A week where the house cleaned itself. A week where the animals fed themselves. A week where I just plain wasn’t needed, but didn’t have to leave home to get the quiet I so wanted.

It’s nice to dream. Besides, It’s only mid-January and I was already late wishing my brother a happy birthday, I attended a nephew’s wedding (it was beautiful), and I am trying to organize and prioritize what needs my attention. The realization that hubby has been in the military for 21 years, and that might be long enough for them, and maybe for us, too, is looming. Right now that is a terrifying thought. We have sort of been used to being told where to go and what to do so the thought of getting to choose is a bit daunting. And how much of my energy does that really need right now? I don’t quite know. And we need a plan. And we don’t have a plan, and nothing is for sure yet either, and, and, and…

Like I said, I need a between year for a week.

28 May 13 Compassion Fatigue

 

I realized that I really do not post very much anymore. I still journal, but not post. There are other things in life to see and do that are not cancer related. Seeing as how this blog was about my cancer journey, I hesitate to write about any other topics.

Then I realized that was not the real reason. The real reason was that I was tired to writing about cancer, thinking about cancer, talking about cancer, dealing with cancer: everything cancer. Facebook is looked at once in a while rather than non-stop. It is too difficult to see how many of my friends either have a new diagnosis, new treatments, recurrences, or have lost the fight.

Speaking with a great friend of mine, who is a true cancer champion for herself and many others, I reaffirmed the obvious (to me): I am done, for now. See, I have mentioned many times how the journey to healing from cancer is a long one with many similarities to the grieving process. There are stages to be dealt with daily. Interestingly enough, one of the stages is to just be DONE. All of us get to a point where I am, and where this friend is. WE are done. It’s not that we are unsympathetic; it was more like a compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue was where you tire of doing good works. Compassion fatigue comes from fighting for something that has many setbacks, and you finally hit a wall, and need a break to regroup, recharge, and move on. Sometimes you move on in a totally different direction. Any volunteer agency sees this all too well. In my field of animal rescue, we spend hours every day explaining to people why they should spay and neuter their pets, and hours later with those same people explaining why we are too full to take in their unspayed cat that is now spraying all over their house. It’s never ending, it’s exhausting. We go through many volunteers who cannot do the job. They find themselves crying and yelling out of frustration knowing that the cat is suffering, and they cannot get through to the owners.

These are great people, with great compassion, who are tired because the reality was that these are never ending battles. No matter how much we do, and no matter how hard we work, there will never be an end to the problem. When that reality was more than we could handle, that was compassion fatigue.

I think it is also the reason why so many survivors do not wish to talk about the fact that they are survivors anymore. They are tired of the stories. They are tired of the “I knew a gal, blah blah blah, who died.” We know how this ends for too many of us. To keep our own hope, we step back into the non-cancer world as if stepping into fresh air. No hospital smells. No starched sheets. No medications. No treatments. No cancer. No death. Just life.

It is what it is, and it is alright. Breathe in, breathe out, and just do the next thing. Be kind to yourself, this stage is normal, too.

 

04 April 2013 Tattoos–GASP!

 

As I drove to San Francisco for the first time, my palms were sweaty, I felt jumpy, and the traffic bothered me more than usual. I was nervous. This wasn’t because of excitement about seeing San Fran for the very first time. Sight seeing is not one of my preferred activities, and that was not why we were there.

My nervousness was due to my plans while in San Fran that day: I was getting my first tattoos.

For those of you that know me, try not to die of shock. They are not cats, or flowers, or birds, or hearts, or butterflies. They were my last step in my breast cancer recovery. I tattooed my nipples back on. Boy, that sounds strange to say. So, let me clarify.

With the surgery, my nipples were removed. The scarred, but blank slate that was my chest has now been re-adorned!

I fought this step for the last three years because I felt that having the image of them, without them being real, seemed more upsetting than not having them at all. There is an in-between step, for those of you considering this but are also unsure, temporary tattoos can be bought and tried out. Hubby liked those so well they were the inspiration (size and color wise) for the tattoos.

Hours were spent looking at all the tattoo portfolios of artists who do these kinds of tattoos.  If an artist is associated with a cancer doctor, or plastic surgeon, insurance will cover it. However, I did not care for any of the work that those particular artists had. So, I widened my search beyond 50 miles. I found a fabulous gal by the name of Sasha Merritt, of Dragonfly Ink, whose work was phenomenal! Some of the before and after pictures were so similar, I had to look twice to see any differences (as in, I had to look for the scars to tell they were the tattoos…). Insurance would not cover work done by her. That being said, I was willing to pay out of pocket for something that I (Hubby) would like.

I still drug my feet, winched, and shirked the thought of having this done. So why did I? I did it for my wonderful Hubby, who has seen me at my worst as a wife, and as a human being, and steadfastly hung on to me anyhow. He has been nothing but supportive through the whole thing, and he expressed that he really wanted the tattoos. Not on him, but on me…

His Birthday is in April, so I decided to have this done as a Birthday present for him. I originally was going to surprise him, but that did not quite pan out. Instead he went with me, and I was glad he did. Having him with me really enhanced the experience by bringing us even closer to each other. I wanted to do this for Him, and he knew it.

Did it hurt? Well, yes and no. First off I was numb there….or so I thought. Touch and pressure receptors might have died off, but pain receptors will still alive and well.  I described the sensation as like getting scratched by little kitten claws over and over. But after a bit, she gave me some lidocaine topical gel to numb it up. After that, it was no sweat.

Sasha was an artist before she started tattooing. She specializes in these types of tattoos, and it shows. She is a master at blending, shading, and giving the appearance of 3-D. So much so that I have had friends ask to touch them as proof that they really were flat! The tattooing was done lying down and sitting up. Since your boobs look different between laying and standing, so the tattoos do as well. It amused me to see Sasha standing back, closing one eye, and putting her finger at arm’s length and look at her work, like you think of a stereotypical painter doing.

After we were done I was given after care instructions, and we went on our merry way. I was a little sore as the lidocaine wore off, but it hurt about as much as a skinned knee. Nothing more. We went out for lunch, walked around for about an hour and then drove home. It’s been about a week, and I will say that I am happy I got them, not only for Hubby, but for me. Now when I look at myself in the mirror, I see “normal” first, and scars second. It is a nicer feeling than I anticipated.

Everyone I have shown has been floored at how authentic and real they look. I will need a slight touch up probably, but that is normal.

This is a long road filled with lots of different choices. Take your time. Do what you want in your own time. It’s your body, and you have beaten cancer. Do what you need to do for you to find your new normal.

As for Hubby, it’s a Birthday present he gets to unwrap every day. It’s his best Birthday present ever

10 March 13 Shopping Cart Road Rage

Hubby and I were walking down the aisle of the grocery store, just plugging along. I noticed something interesting: I was getting mad because he wouldn’t always let me push the shopping cart. It was so stupid. When I realized what I was feeling, instead of lashing out like I wanted to, I asked myself why it upset me. The answer is textbook survivor: Control.

I wanted control.

See, even after all the treatments are done, you are left managing your care, still making follow up appointments and stuck at the mercy of being told when to be where, at what time, with what, and with whom.  That is a reality of life post cancer. It will never end.

In the midst of treatments, we feel so helpless and so out of control, because we are. Everything we do is based off of what others are telling us to do. Is it really any wonder why our beloved caretakers get snapped at when they are doing something for us that we have always done for ourselves, like tie our shoes? We are frustrated that we cannot even do this simple little task on our own.

Back to the shopping cart.

I realized that I depended on that silly cart. After surgery, I needed it to lean on. Later I needed it to carry my bottomless purse that weighs a ton. Now, it has become a crutch of sorts, a stability in a time of storm. It was something I could control. In fact, as I recovered, it was one of the first things that allowed me to regain control in my life. Just controlling where that cart, when, how fast, and what went in it, allowed me a liberty that cancer had taken from me.

So when you see me in the store, knuckles gripped, with a look of a road rage race car driver, know that I am just exerting some of the last vestiges of control I still feel is completely mine.

Oh, and don’t even think about touching that cart.

New Year’s Resolution’s From A Cancer Survivor

 

1)      I will never give up hope for a cure.

2)      I will smile every morning simply because I woke up.

3)      I will remember to thank my family and friends who have been there to support me.

4)      I will quit looking in the mirror and wish I was 20 again.

5)      I will remember that I am still beautiful.

6)      I will remember to write/call/text/contact all my friends on their cancer journey to let them know I am still here for them.

7)      I will pray for all going through cancer, and those who are now on the other side of cancer, and trying to reclaim their lives.

8)      I will practice deep breathing and visualization daily.

9)      I will find a way to at least go for a short walk every day.

10)   IF cancer should return, I will fight it again, and again, and again.

21 Nov 12 Routines

Some routines are just better than others. Some come so naturally, some require constant reminders to self. One of my routines that I really didn’t think of as  a tried and true routine is to come down in the morning, grab coffee, feed the critters, and hop onto the computer.

Our new house is configured so differently than our old one. In our old house, the computer was basically in the family room. Not the best spot, but I was around everyone, and knew all that was going on in the house. Here, it is sequestered to the extra room. Now, this  room gets a lot of use, just not really by me. It is at the far end of the house, and is away from everyone and every thing.

My new laptop, which I bought so that I can be more portable with writing my book, and skype, allows me to have the computer in the kitchen without taking up too much space. It is fast, convenient and I am in the middle of it all. It’s perfect. When I need to use the printer or desk top, I run up to the extra room, but do not have to stay for long.

So, now I can sit, write, have coffee, and greet the ones awaking in the house with a quick hello between key strokes. Good Morning all.

12 Nov 12 Pangs of Survival

 

One of the more difficult things about having cancer is that you meet others with cancer. In and of itself, meeting others with cancer is a godsend, do not get me wrong. What is bad is knowing that not everyone you need will make it. You will meet some who you will lose before your treatments are over. Others you will lose down the road a bit. Some fight cancer like a boxing match, winning round after round of cancer, only to be KO’d in the last inning. Those that linger, never out of treatment, but still fighting the good fight, are so tired. Many times you see them slowly fade and wonder if they passed because of the cancer, or the exhaustion of the constant cancer treatments. Lately, I have had several people I know have cancers either recur, or discover that their cancers have spread. I am tired of hearing about it. As a survivor, I go through the pangs of feeling guilty that I am alright. I also fight the fear that one day it will be me telling my loved ones I have cancer again. I do expect to have to do that. I do expect to live through it, like the proverbial boxing matches. It is still very hard to hear that you might be losing someone. Perhaps it is a dear friend, perhaps a loved one. It’s not easy. Cancer is everywhere. Treatments are brutal, and a cure is still elusive.

As a survivor, I need to go on. In doing so, I try to give hope to those going through cancer that there can be a life afterwards: A new normal, a very different normal, with a new perspective.

06 Nov 12 The Road to Slow

 

Anyone who has had ADD/ADHD knew that our biggest bane was moving slowly. We did everything fast. We ate fast, typed fast, talked fast, worked fast: we did about everything fast. We would even sleep fast if there was such a way to do so. It was not by choice, mind you. It was simply the way we were programmed. We were skilled at multitasking. I could carry on a conversation and type a letter at the same time. I didn’t, only because then I ended up telling the person what I meant to type, and then typing what I meant to tell the other person. I didn’t say I was good at that kind of multitasking, I just said I could do it.

For those of us for whom the world exists in fast forward, what happens when we needed to slow down? I was not talking a stop and smell the roses type of slow down, but times when not slowing down was truly bad for your health.

When I was in High School, I caught the dreaded kissing disease- mononucleosis. I was so sick I missed half my senior year of high school. Part of the reason I was so sick was because I couldn’t slow down enough to actually get well. As soon as I felt a bit better, I would over do, and get worse. Trying to find that stable, elusive, middle ground has been something I have struggled with ever since. Although I was better, my mono was considered chronic. Day to day activities were fine, but if I over do, a simple good night’s sleep does not cut it. When I did too much, and felt overwhelmed, I became tired. Bone tired. Now, I knew of others who just “power through” and I was glad they could. I knew they thought I was a wimp for not being able to do that. What they did not understand was that I used to, with bad consequences.

One time, many years ago, when my kids were little, I pushed. I was still a young mom, and was trying to do everything. Be a mom, a housewife, a volunteer, and do it all. I pushed, and pushed even though my body was telling me it was time to just be.  But of course, as stubborn as I am, I didn’t listen. Instead, I pushed harder.

Finally, my body took charge, and I collapsed. We are talking fell on the floor, couldn’t get up to even crawl into bed collapsed. I was so thankful that when I did I had the phone in my hand, because otherwise I would have scared the kids in my helplessnes, who were in another room watching TV. I had to call someone to just help me into my room. For three days I could hardly turn over. I remember crawling to the bathroom, and it took me five minutes to get there and get myself onto the pot.

Not one of my finer moments. Not one of my healthiest either. I made it through cancer without a recurrence of the effects of the mono, but I was not oblivious to the fact that it was still there. I tick off the number of things I had going, and how wonderfully busy I was with so many wonderful, exciting things happening, I realized I was exhausted. I needed a time out. I knew I would be hitting my breaking point if I did not.

The question of the day was what to give up? I could not give up driving the boys where they needed to go. Not at this stage of things as they were learning to drive. I could not  give up cooking and housekeeping. No one else would make sure it all got done. I hated to take a break from my volunteer job since that was what kept me going, and kept me energized.

It was time to find a way to stop and smell the roses again. I needed to employ my remedy of going to bed for about three days and immerse myself in a few good books.

Maybe I should immerse myself into writing a new one. That might keep me busy for a day or two.

03 Nov 12 Next

 

Well, I survived another October, gritting my teeth about the constant reminder of having had cancer. I love that we are working hard for a cure. I am just at that stage. It will pass. It is wonderful to have life, real life, new normal life, picking up speed. If I was a first time driver, I would be worried about handling it all at such a high speed! Then, I remind myself that I am in control, I have the power to choose what I need/want to do, and (sometimes) when. I have had some awesome opportunities in working with the cat shelter, including being allowed to attend a national conference in Las Vegas. That was amazing!

Wrestling season has started for my son, so my days will get a bit longer for me to do my own thing. Now instead of picking him up at 1440, I will have until about 1600, I think. But, then we are also locked into the area due to practices and meets. It’s a tradeoff.

There are consequences for every choice. Not every choice is right or wrong. Sometimes you just have to weigh the possibilities to decide on the preferred outcome. So, I will get to spend more time and the shelter, but less time visiting family for now. Seeing as how some family is visiting me, it’s working out in the end.

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