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.

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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.

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.

A Naked Picture

I wanted to post a picture of me after I had lost my hair. I had not seen a picture of me with no hair since that time. I didn’t know how I would feel to see me then. I went through all my external hard drives looking for pictures and I couldn’t find any. I gave up; maybe there were no pictures chronicling my breast cancer journey. I had found a couple of me wearing a wig, which I have posted.

When I was bald.

I hid behind my wigs.

I hid behind my smile.

I hid from cancer. If I didn’t have to look at it, it wasn’t real.

I mentioned to my son I had been looking for pictures of that time. He said, “I have one of you and Uncle Cliff.” I was surprised. I am not sure how he ended up with one but it was a relief to know there was a surviving picture. It was not hard to look at the picture of me even with no makeup, no sleep, nauseated and bald. It was hard to look at the mask I knew I was wearing. I could see in my eyes the fear and the exhaustion of trying to be strong.

During the time I was going through treatments, I was never bald in public. That would have been too hard. I would have felt naked. People would occasionally ask me what I looked like bald and I would whip off my wig and show them. I acted as if I didn’t mind. I would laugh and announce, “Who knew I had a perfect shaped head under all that hair!” When I showed myself with no hair – I always waited for the reaction. I always wondered if I would scare people or they would see the pieces of me I had hidden behind my hair. People always said I was beautiful without my hair when I did this, I just never believed them. My hair was lovely and it drew attention away from my insecurities.

I often talk about how I lost my hair and how it felt to have the part of me that had always defined who I was, gone in an instant. I have talked about the four different style wigs and how each wig showed a different piece of my personality. The Rachel wig was the proper Cathleen, the Phoebe wig was the badass Cathleen. Zoe was the true Cathleen and Julia was the wild Cathleen. Wearing these wigs and recognizing the different personalities in each, helped me to find who I truly was – to find my authentic self. These wigs were my shield and protectors.

What I’ve never really talked about how it felt to be bald.

My head was always cold.

I had to wear soft knitted caps. Not everything would work on my head, many things hurt. Many things were too scratchy.

I saw a cancer patient when I saw my baldhead.

I felt naked.

I felt fear. I rushed through my days pretending I was fine but when the wig came off and the reality of my cancer looked back at me from the mirror … I wondered if I would die. I wondered if I would be cured. I wondered if I would die never knowing what it was like to be loved for who I was under the hair. I wondered what was my purpose for existing. Would I die and be forgotten, never having make a difference in the lives of others? I wondered if my kids would grow up without a mother. I wondered if they would forget how much I had loved them. I wondered if they would forget me. I wondered so many things that it makes me cry even today writing about it.

Being bald was the most vulnerable I had been in my life.

Being bald changed my life.

I found I was more than my hair.

BaldMe

Sisterhood of Survivors

As I was getting ready to teach a beginner yoga class, a beautiful woman came in to take a class with her daughter and mother. Have you ever met someone and felt an immediate connection to him or her? I knew this woman was a breast cancer survivor because I had spoken to her mother, one of my students, about her previously. I knew immediately this woman understood what I had been through and I knew what she had been through.

We didn’t have to say a word.

 When you have something in common with another person you feel a connection. That can happen by going to the same school, growing up in the same town, finding out you both like animals or have the same hobbies. I’ve found it interesting that there is a whole sisterhood of breast cancer patients, survivors and the people in their lives that have been affected by breast cancer.

Cancer creates an immediate connection.

It is not the way I wanted to get to know others but there is a peculiar bond when meeting someone that has gone through what you have gone through. It is comforting to meet someone that understands what you can’t say out loud.

I found that out when I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer. People started coming out of the woodwork letting me know that they knew someone that had been through breast cancer.   Acquaintances shared with me that they were survivors.   It was surprising how many people were touched in some way by breast cancer. It made me a uncomfortable yet at the same time it was reassuring

When I moved to Tennessee there was a lady I worked with that was a breast cancer survivor. She had been cancer free for over 20 years. When she found out I had been through breast cancer she said we were sisters. She said we had both gone through something hard and survived. She said cancer sucked but cancer couldn’t beat us. It was oddly soothing to have her be so blunt with me. I have been told often about women who lost their battle with breast cancer. I am always scared for myself when I hear a story of a friend/mother/sister who died after a reoccurrence of breast cancer. People love to share these stories more often than survivor stories. I suppose they want to share the memory of someone they loved with me. I understand that.

I used to keep my breast cancer story to myself. I don’t now. I found that people want to connect with someone that is a survivor. Women that have gone through breast cancer can’t express to others how it feels. It is hard to convey to someone else how it feels to have a part of your femininity turn on you.

They have felt what you felt.

They know the fear; the pain; the anguish; the nausea of chemotherapy; the burning of radiation and how it feels to look your own mortality in the eye.

Breast cancer survivors don’t’ have to tell each other how it felt to go through that – they know.

The connection is in the unspoken.