Can I get cancer if I hug you?

“Your head feels cool Ma, I love you” said Mack as he rubbed my baldhead.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer my kids were upset. More than their tears and their fear – they loved me hard. They loved me a lifetime worth in the months after my diagnosis.

If I had ever doubted that I was loved in this life – they removed all doubt.

“Can I get cancer when I hug you? Will you be ok? Are you going to be bald? I like your hair Mama, will it grow back if it falls out. Why will it fall out?” Mack asked.

My diagnosis was hard on Samantha but she determined her role from the start – caregiver. Mack was younger and couldn’t truly grasp what cancer meant.

He was primarily concerned with what was going to happen to my hair. I didn’t look sick. I didn’t act too sick. He saw how tired I was after I started chemo. He saw me lay in the bathroom floor on a blanket near the toilet. I was too tired to walk from my bed to the bathroom to throw up after my first chemo. He watched me and he hugged me. He carried around hand sanitizer all the time. If I touched anything he said, “hold out your hand Ma. You gotta get rid of those germs”. He didn’t let me open the doors or push the grocery cart; too many germs. “Remember Mama; the doctor said you have to be careful about germs now.”

When my hair fell out –

Samantha hugged me and held me;

Mack was afraid of me.

When I was bald

I looked sick.

My kids loved the stories I made up for them when they were growing up.  Their favorite was a story about Aubrey, a mischievous albino bat and Ghostly, …well a little boy ghost. Each night the three of us would usually lie on one of their beds and I would give them the latest exploits of Ghosty and Aubrey. A few days after I lost my hair, I was telling them how Aubrey had snuck into Mack’s backpack and gone to school with him. She spent the entire day getting him into trouble.

Samantha and Mack laughed.

“Tell us more,” they asked. As I continued on with the adventures of Aubrey, I noticed Mack was rubbing my head. He hadn’t really touched me or hugged me since my hair fell out. I think he noticed he was rubbing my baldhead about the same time I did.

He looked at me and grinned – “ your head feels cool Ma, I love you”.

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Cut Loose

When I was going through treatments I went in weekly to have my blood drawn. They were checking my white blood cell count constantly. After chemo was finished, I still went in regularly to get my blood drawn.

Weekly.

Bi-weekly.

Monthly.

Every three months.

Every six months.

Once a year.

Once a year with my mammogram.

Each time the doctor told me I didn’t have to come back for longer period of time, I should have felt joy.

I didn’t.

I should have felt relief that I was healed.

I didn’t.

Was I cured?

Do you really ever say you are cured of cancer? There is no cure, so what do you say?

I don’t know.

Every time the distance between appointments was lengthened, I was scared.

What if it came back?

What if they thought they got it all but they didn’t and if I came back in three months it might be too late.

What if the next time they drew blood

the next time I had a mammogram

the next time I saw the doctor

What if …

I thought about the “what if’s” frequently during treatment and the first few years after. I went to see my oncologist for my yearly check-up last year and he told me he could cut me loose. I didn’t need to see him anymore. My BRAC genetic test for breast cancer was negative. The results of my oncotype test showed less than a 1% chance of recurrence. He felt comfortable not seeing me anymore.

I sat.

I didn’t breathe.

I didn’t blink.

I felt sick at my stomach.

It was irrational but I felt the same fear I felt when I was initially diagnosed.

He watched as I processed what he told me.

I didn’t speak. I experience fear each year when I go to see my oncologist but the visit had become my security blanket. Dr. Davidson had my back.

Cancer had been a part of my life since November 13, 2006. It will always be a part of me. Cancer will not define who I am but cancer changed me. It is hard for me to not look for the positives in all situations. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I did not look for positives. As I moved through treatment, I had to be positive.

I looked at Dr. Davidson.

I am positive my cancer is gone. I was also positive I was not ready to be set free.

He smiled at me and said he would see me in a year.
I had breast cancer.

I don’t have it now.

Maybe next year, I’ll be ready to be cut loose.

The Waiting Room

It’s the night before my appointment and the fear is here.

It’s that time of the year.

Time to go see the oncologist.

I am fine.

I know I am fine.

That knowledge, tonight, doesn’t ease the fear.

Tomorrow.

At 3:00pm.

I’ll be sitting in the waiting room.

My appointment isn’t until 3:30pm

but I’ll be early.

I’m always

 early.

If I get there early maybe they will call me back sooner.

Then I’ll know I’m fine.

Tomorrow.

At 3:15pm.

Still sitting in the waiting room.

My pulse will be beating hard enough for me to notice.

The anxiety will step up to be noticed.

I will have sweat on my upper lip.

I will be crossing and uncrossing my legs.

Tomorrow.

At 3:25pm.

Sitting in the waiting room.

I will have already flipped through all the old Redbook, Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens magazines

on the coffee table.

I will need to go to the bathroom.

They will weigh me – I must go to the bathroom.

Tomorrow.

At 3:30pm.

It’s time.

Why haven’t they called me?

I came in before him.

Why does he get to go back before me?

Should I check to make sure they remember I’m here?

Tomorrow.

At 3:45pm.

I have checked the email on my phone.

I have sent text messages to anyone I thought might message me back to take my mind off of where I am.

I have started reading a boring book for work.

I can’t focus.

I am biting my nails.

How did my heart get in my throat?

I am watching the receptionist.

If I make eye contact

she will have to call me back.

Tomorrow.

At 3:50pm.

Cathleen Reid?

It’s time.

Positive Affirmations

Have you ever felt sad and didn’t know why?

Have you ever cried for no reason at all?

I started saying positive affirmations to myself when I was going through chemotherapy. I didn’t feel like any of the perky things that I said to myself in the mirror. That is why I had to say them.

I am strong

I am free

I am healed

I am whole

I am loved

I am beautiful

Then why do I feel so bad?

I am happy

I am deserving

I am calm

I am fulfilled

I am successful

I am going to get better

Then why does it feel like I will never feel joy again?

It was hard for me to stand in front of the mirror and tell myself these things that I wanted to believe. It’s hard to be positive when you’re fighting for your life. I have always been happy. It is tough to maintain that positive spin when you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

I had to believe in me. I had to believe I would be healthy again.

I wrote out a list of over twenty positive affirmations.

I posted them in front of me on the counter in the bathroom.

I would look at the list.

I would look at me.

The list.

Me.

My skin did not have its healthy glow.

My eyes looked glazed. I had to look hard to see the me that was there before chemo.

As I started reading my list and speaking the words, they sounded hollow.

But as I read the words though, I stood up straighter.

I started to feel the words. I needed to believe them. I wanted them to be true.

I read my list of positive affirmations each day. Some days I read them crying. Some days I read them with doubt.

But most days my desire for them to become my truths took hold.

I’m a liar

Have you ever wondered about the lies you tell yourself? Can we tell ourselves lies for so long that they become truths? Sometimes we desire an outcome so badly that we make it a truth just to fit this narrative. Or maybe we doubt ourselves so much that a lie becomes a reality.

What are my truths? What are my lies? Why do I feel the need to make a lie out of my truth?

I began saying positive affirmations when I was going through breast cancer.

I am happy.

I am positive.

I am worthy.

I am caring.

I am strong.

I am trusting.

I am fierce.

I am able.

I believe them. I know they are true.

I am beautiful.

I am capable.

I am talented.

I am calm.

I am assertive.

I am whole.

I am focused.

I am loved.

I want to believe them. Some days I do, some days I need reassurance.

My truths and my lies:

I am a positive person. Is this a truth or a lie? This is a truth. I am positive. I see the best in life. This can also be one of my lies. I desperately need to see the positive so much so that I often paint negatives to make them positive.

I am a happy person. That is a truth. I have down days like everyone but I don’t like people to see that part of me. I need to be seen by the outside world as happy all the time. Why? So I will be liked and accepted. If I admit I am not happy all the time – who will like or love me? The rational woman within me knows that people love me for who I am – I took to heart the admonition as a little girl that I should always keep a smile on my face

I am caring. I care about the people around me. Truly care. I love and care for my family. This is a truth.

I had cancer and handled it with strength and a positive attitude. This is a truth. The part of my breast cancer story that is a big, fat, lie is telling people that it was not a big deal; telling people that I was lucky to have only had breast cancer and not some other horrible disease.

Having breast cancer ripped me apart.

Having breast cancer devastated me.

Having breast cancer scared the shit out of me.

I maintained my perky attitude about my diagnosis because I didn’t want to face the reality of cancer. The truth in my cancer journey is that I am now a stronger and more confident person because of cancer.

I am a coward. This was a truth before I had cancer. I do not like confrontation and will avoid it at almost any cost. I avoided to the point of making myself sick. I don’t know why I got breast cancer but I do know that the stress in my marriage during that time did not help my health.

I was a good and trusting wife. This is a truth and a lie. I was an encouraging, and supportive wife. I supported my military husband through all our moves, the deployments, the new jobs, all the required activities and the new locations where we were stationed. I kept a clean, organized and attractive home. I entertained. The lie came when I no longer loved him, when he emotionally abandoned me – I could not trust my ex-husband.

I am able to be focused with my thoughts. You would think this is a truth since I am a yogi. It is very difficult for me to be still. I used to believe it was because I was an active person. When I am still I have time to think and center. Being still is when I am the most creative but it is also when I have time to think about challenges. I have stayed in motion to keep from doing this… see “coward” above. I feel safe and loved now so it is much easier to be silent. I am working hard on being still.

I am beautiful. That is always a hard affirmation for me to say. Does it make me conceited to say I am beautiful? I suppose it would if I believed my outer looks defined who I am. I believe I am beautiful because I see beauty in others.

I am loved. This is so very true. There are so many people that love and care about me. The lie in this is the fact that I did not love myself for a very long time.

It has been a journey to get to a place where I love me.

I love the woman I am now.

That is a truth.

Alone in a crowd

I was going through treatments for breast cancer in 2006-2007. I worked so hard to be the same person I was B.C. – before cancer. I remember how challenging it was to be happy all the time. Strong, I could do but maintaining my perky attitude was hard.   I remember feeling …

Alone

in a house full of people.

Alone

in a crowd.

Alone

in my mind and my thoughts.

They laugh.

They joke.

They play.

They are carefree.

I want that.

I am suppose to be that…

that is how I have been raised…

 raised to know how to behave in life.

I need to be around people.

I need to be talking constantly.

 Don’t I?

Shouldn’t I?

Is something wrong with me if I don’t want to smile and perform?

Can I just be alone with my cancer, for a minute?

Can I just be mad and scared?

“What’s wrong with you,” they ask.

“Who made you mad,” they prod.

Nothing.

No one.

I just need to be alone…for now.

I need to be alone to find the perfect disposition they seek

to find that person that I am suppose to be.

If I can be alone

I will force her out

I will slap the required smile onto my face.

I will laugh.

I will joke.

I will play.

I will be carefree.

But I will still be alone

they just won’t see.

Scars

I have scars. The scars I have on my body that people can see (or could see if I showed them) don’t’ really bother me much. I once thought they would. I once worried that I would be ugly with some of my scars. My surface scars represent someone who has experienced life; the good and the bad.

I have a scar on my knee from falling off my favorite pony, Buttermilk. When I see this scar I think of her. On my other knee I have a scar from college when I worked at UPS loading packages. Yep, little ‘ol me loaded UPS trucks. We all have scars on our knees.

There is a scar on my left wrist from tendinitis surgery. When my ex-husband was gone to Egypt for 6 months, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to do 150 men’s pushups each night. Guess what? Not such a good idea. This scar helps me to remember my body has its limits and if I push those limits my body just might say no. I have a small scar under my thumb. Cutting peaches one day, I sliced my thumb open – this scar reminds me to pay attention to detail.

All of my scars I have mentioned so far are things that can happen to anyone. We all have them. They are a part of living your life.

I have three scars from breast cancer. There is one on the upper right side of my chest. This is where the surgeon inserted the venous port – the place where the chemotherapy would enter my body. I have another scar on the inside, cleavage area, of my left breast. This is where the surgeon took out the cancer that threatened me. Under my left arm, I have a scar where they biopsied a lymph node to make sure my cancer hadn’t spread to other parts of my body. All of my cancer scars are ugly but I don’t mind them. They are a reminder to me that I can face something terrible and be ok. They remind me of how strong I am. They remind me of the loving prayers that came my way from so many people. They remind me that I am alive.

The scars I have that no one sees are the scars that have given me the most pain. These are the mental scars that represent loss of trust, disillusionment, a callused heart and despair amongst many other emotions. Those scars are there because my ex-husband treated me like I had no value. Those scars are there because I allowed myself to be treated poorly. Those scars are there because I was taken advantage of. Some of those scars I caused all by myself. My poor judgment left me with scars that threaten to never heal. Those are the scars that trouble me the most. It is expected that others will cause us pain; that too is part of life.

Scars I bear because of choices I made or did not make – those are the scars I feel everyday. Those are the scars that threaten to tear me apart. Those scars make me question myself. I don’t want any more scars like those so I micro-manage my emotions. I work hard to keep myself from being hurt.

I hope one day to be free of this fear. I hope one day to be able to trust fully. I hope one day to be able to love with my whole heart. I know that day will be the day the scars on the inside of me will be healed.