A year in my life, from the day I was diagnosed and for the full year after. Walk with me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 224 The Lure of Birthdays

My birthday is next week.  I remember my birthday epiphany in the MRI machine, and have since then encountered many occasions that have hammered home that machine's magnetic wisdom.  A mother of one of my daughter's friends was diagnosed with liver cancer around the same time I was biopsied.  She was deep into stage IV by the time she detected it and has since died, leaving a 16 year old daughter and husband.  I am lucky, and I see birthdays as a numbered commodity for all of us. 

The lure of more birthdays has kept me on my Tamoxifen and massive doses of antidepressants. It has led me back to my yoga practice without my old drive to accomplish more depth and advanced poses.  Sun Salutes are enough for me.  It has tempered my appetite for fatty, delicious foods and alcohol with very little regret...OK, maybe more than a little.  Mostly missing the wine..sigh.  It has also caused me to attack my riding with a refreshed vigor, kicking old priorities (read housework) to the curb so that I can climb into the saddle and conquer my "canterphobia," an unwanted side effect of the terror following my cancer diagnosis. 

The desire for birthdays has changed me, mostly for the better.

This birthday will be my 49th.  My wonderful husband and mother-in-law are throwing me a party.  I don't think I have had one since I was 12.  We will be celebrating the day of my birth AND the day after, when my new boobies are scheduled for installation.  Soft, mushy implants to replace these painful 1958 Cadillac expanders.  I will absolutely have the nipple reconstruction in the months that follow.  My breast surgeon asked me: "headlights or no headlights?"  I answered: "high beams."  Some time in the distant future, after more than a few future birthdays, my Jean Harlow frankenboobies will make all the other ladies in the rest home jealous.  They will go perfectly with my studded leather jacket and purple flame embellished wheelchair with a kick-start.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 200 Ignition

I sleep alot.  Not the exhausted, gotta sleep sleep but the sullen, disinterested sleep interrupted by self incrimination and wish-I-hads.  I was advised that this fatigue is a common side effect of Tamoxifen, but it is more than that.

When my anxiety became uncontrollable by other methods, my DOnc doubled down on my antidepressants.  I would never do this under normal circumstances because the absence of my ups and downs really kills my creative nature, and I don't know how to engage with the world except through my creativity.  I am really dulled by this and kick around the house seeing everything that needs doing and doing none of it, not because I'm depressed (though technically I am) but because I am uninspired by it.

I think alot about this blog and begin my process of writing only to be frustrated by my lack of vision followed by abandoning the task.

Lately though, I have started to feel a little better.  The soupy miasma has lifted somewhat and I can peek under it's door.  I am getting little shocks of animus, my sense of humor is returning, I have moments of unexpected efficiency.  My motor is restarting.

Thanks to everyone who has commented, you helped bring me back.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 150 Tamoxifen

I'm not comparing it to Chemotherapy or Radiation and, honestly, I am grateful to have this drug available to keep me cancer free but Tamoxifen has been a bitch.

For the first month I felt very little, so when I started raging I thought I was really mad.  But I wasn't, not really anyway.  It was turbo boosted PMS resulting from my chemically induced change of life.  The effect has been staggering and I believe anyone who knows me has seen me act very differently.  Normally easy going, I am now perpetually anxious.  My flash point is ridiculously low and I try to stay silent so I don't say anything angry that I don't mean...or worse what I DO mean.  Silent is not my normal way of being, normally I am loud and outspoken with a fairly good sense of humor and I don't recognize this new person who is wearing my skin and vibrating with umbrage.

A good thing I'm being silent too, because I often stumble over words and forget what it was I was saying.  The funny things I would say before die just above my epiglottis.  My intelligence along with my libido has tanked.  I am dulled.

Fatigue is also one of Tamoxifen's gift, but I can't sleep (see above.)  Ambien, despite my attempts to sleep without it remains my evening's hero.  The oxytocin released by my old breasts is no longer being released and my mood has darkened as I have become more and more a neuter.

This weekend I met a man who has recently been separated from his wife of many years.  She is a 4 year breast cancer survivor on Tamoxifen; he says it changed everything about her.  He looked sad when he said it.  I am sure whatever fissure there was between them became a chasm and that frightens me.

Cancer treatments are never easy.  I am clear that not everyone has the same side effects, and my DOnc says I might habituate to this fall out.  In the meanwhile he has doubled my antidepressant.  While many women have had success with all sorts of creams, since my tumors are completely estrogen/progesterone receptor positive I cannot use them.  What I can use is gratitude, which has been my buoy for decades and I cling to it now like a shipwreck victim.

I am grateful for Tamoxifen, and the years it has given me.  I will make the very best of them in spite of their unique and unforeseen difficulties.  Many cultures maintain that women's power becomes manifest after her change of life and I am sure that is what is happening to me right now; those blank spaces in my mind are places to be filled by new knowledge and ways of thinking; I am grateful for this change because it enlivens and challenges me.  I am grateful for all of the women who have moved forward from here and left a trail for me to follow.  I know I will make it and that I am not alone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 139 Laugh Dammit

I shamelessly play the cancer card while reclining in my overstuffed La Z Boy.  Can you walk the dogs?  I don't want to watch the military channel, I wanna watch America's Got Talent.  Can you put my empty bowl in the dishwasher, and then vacuum and clean my bathroom?  Please, I have caaaancerrrrrrr.

And then we laugh.  Even through the grey funk of my post treatment depression and medically induced "change of life" we cackle and hoot because life is good and cancer is occasionally funny.  As I recover from, and exist through my treatment I lean heavily on my sense of humor to pull me through those moments of physical discomfort and menopause induced disorientation.  My daughter thinks my seriously lowered IQ is hilarious and my husband takes a perverse pleasure in being the one who is right most of the time.  When people call to cry and gnash their teeth over my predicament my husband answers the phone and then acts like he's actually going to let them speak to me, just to seen my horrified reaction.    Cancer is a grim thing, doing it with humor takes panache.

Though there is no scientific evidence that humor effects cancer cells in any way it does effect other important things, like your mental health and feelings of well being, without the ability to laught at it, life as a cancer patient can really suck.  I take every opportunity to laugh at cancer and every bit of what follows.  Here's something I found while searching for funny cancer shirts.  I hope I got the author right 'cause it's one of my favorites.

Top 11 Ways to Know You are A Cancer Survivor
by Emily Hollenberg, 4-year breast cancer survivor
11. Your alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and you're glad to hear it.
10. April 15th is still a great day.
9. Your mother-in-law invites you to lunch and you just say NO.
8. You're back in the family rotation to take out the garbage.
7. When you no longer have an urge to choke the person who says, "all you need to beat cancer is the right attitude."
6. When your dental floss runs out and you buy 1000 yards.
5. When you use your toothbrush to brush your teeth and not comb your hair.
4. You have a chance to buy additional life insurance but you buy a convertible instead.
3. Your doctor tells you to lose weight and do something about your cholesterol and you actually listen.
2. When your biggest annual celebration is again your birthday, not the day you were diagnosed.
1. When you use your Visa card more than your insurance card.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 128 Unveiling

Yesterday the family travelled like a gypsy caravan to unveil Lee Lee's grave marker.  It's hard to believe that it's been a year since she passed away, her absence has left a big hole in the fabric of our clan and her memory is a blessing.  She would be pleased that all of her boys were there, along with their wives.  My husband was her first grandchild, and my children her first great grandchildren and we wouldn't have missed it for the world.

We gathered around the wrapped marker, next to her husband who preceded her.  The weather was cloudy which is a blessing in the steaming southern summer.  We wasted no time knowing the sun was only temporarily foiled.  As one we began the blessings, while we removed the cover from her simple stone, something breathtaking happened.  A single monarch butterfly flew across the cemetery and landed on the headstone and then took a short hop to Lee Lee's grave and landed.  During the service it just stood there, occasionally flapping it's wings.  It wasn't until we were saying Kaddish, which affirms our love for G.d and concludes the service that the butterfly took off again.

My daughter, who has recently taken up photography, was livid that she didn't have her camera and we had to assure her that some events aren't meant to be captured on film, but are held in our hearts permanently.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 118 Horse Crazy

Yesterday, for the first time since my (first) surgery I tacked up a horse and I rode.  Granted, she is an old mare, with some age related lameness in her rear legs but she's a steady Eddie pro and a safe bet for my first mount.  I had a lesson under my dear friend who tormented my legs with all sorts of two point exercises and short bursts of trot.

My husband had puppies when I told him I was going to take my first lesson.  He has been my caretaker and closest friend through all of this and has seen the depth of my weakness and knows how far I have to travel yet.  Still, my surgeon gave me his full release and there's a chance that, if I can ride again, I won't be so crazed and cranky.  Even with that behind me hubby was not happy, resigned yes, but definitely not happy.  To live with me you must accept the things you cannot change.

Since I was a girl I have been horse crazy.  Helping my friends take care of their horses in exchange for an occasional ride, paying for lessons, working like a slave in some fancy barns where I learned to fling poo, maintain tack, groom and listened to trainers talking about horses.  I read all horse books obsessively: My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincotegue (the whole series), the Godolphin Arabian, the Black Stallion, horse encyclopedias and breed anthologies.  I have been kicked, stomped, run over, bitten and just generally roughed up by the objects of my affection with no derogatory effect.  I have kept that fire burning, optimistic that one day I would be a horse owner. 

Life gave me that opportunity at age 45, when I brought home Chrome, the most beautiful horse I and anyone else had ever seen.  This horse was a supermodel, splendid in every way except one:  he had an unsolvable respiratory issue and so back he went.  My second horse was Murphy, a Trekehner/Warmblood schoolmaster, but we didn't get along in the saddle, his movement was huge and I am quite little.  Incapable of generating equally measured movement.  I thought time and work would solve our issues but they didn't, and nearly three years later I donated him to a girls college equestrian team that I am very familiar with, and where I knew he would receive great care and affection.  I could not sell him to a stranger.

Which leads us to Dee, my little appaloosa mare.  She is coming along phenomenally well under her fabulous trainer and is gaining balance while making some baby steps toward collection.  Riding her is like climbing the Empire State building to me, but it is a goal I am working toward ever day I get a chance to ride another horse.  My poor husband would rather I just give up this foolishness, but I can't.  My love for this is an elemental part of who I am and when I ride, I link myself to a brave girl who caught the city bus to arrive at the barn(s) for 5:00 a.m. chores, taking another bus to High School with mud on her shoes, determined to survive another day of teenaged angst, and make her life into something of her own design.

My life has been a life of long term goals born in a wild heart.  I am not sure if it is the goals or the undomesticated nature of my heart that have made me so determined frankly, but whatever it is it has served me well because I am still going strong.  I wanted to live, then to live to ride my horse, and now just to ride my horse.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 112 Treasure Bench

The kids have been gone for a week, cruising with their cousin and grandparents, living in the lap of luxury and extravagantly unconcerned with what is going on at home.  And so I am cleaning their rooms.

This could be a tale of woe, stink, and undead dust bunnies; in fact there was plenty of that and, if I hadn't bumped into my daughter's storage bench causing the front of it to fall off, that would be all that it was.  As the contents of her life of hoarding came bursting out all over my feet I realized that something had to be done.  I had to repair that stupid bench and avoid my teen aged daughter's cat fit.  Simultaneously.

I was a teenager once, though my children don't believe it, and the thought of having my mother in my stuff would fill me with helpless fury.  Certainly she read everything, trying to suss out my misdemeanors and motivations.  Once she found a photo of my boyfriend (who I was not allowed to see) and me at a local amusement park (that I was not allowed to go to.)  I found it tacked to the wall with a steak knife through his eye.  Sweet memories.

But I digress.  After about 4 hours of hammering and 3 trips to the hardware store I had repaired her sacred treasure chest and got about refilling it.  I did it all without my glasses on so that I wouldn't invade her privacy by reading anything.  Still, I knew what most things were since they had been there for years.  She keeps everything that was ever meaningful in her life.  Her autism is a closed world until you get to see her collections.  It is only when you see the poetry, journals, drawings, boxes filled with unspeakable beauty that you understand where it is that she dwells.

I filled a box with every birthday card she has ever received and made a pile of all of her drawing pads including her first, filled with art that has become more sophisticated and compelling.  Her journals made another stack.  Some were filled, some had only a few pages of writing but they were all there.  Her anthology.

Every model horse I collected for her, when we shared that passion, and two Barbies wrapped in gauze like mummies with jewels tucked into the wrappings to assure their passage into the afterlife.  My breath would leave me, like I had been struck in my center when I ran across another object of her inner life made manifest.  A blue sparkly box filled with polished stones and beads, her "good deed" jar stuffed with Jones Soda caps and every fortune cookie fortune she has ever been able to collect or steal.  A ring holder, the kind that looks like a cupped hand, so laden with rings and bracelets that it looks like the pleading fingers of one who needs rescue.  One solitary doll.

Through unfocused eyes, all of that stuff no longer looked like a hoarded cache, but rare treasure.  My lack of glasses couldn't hide the richness and depth of feeling obscured by her aloneness.  She is authentically an ardent lover of art and fiction, a child happily wrapped in family and her world viewed through unmagnified eyes was my weeks trip to another world.