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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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.

Savage Mask

“You are such a positive person. Everyone is drawn to your positive energy. You have already helped several patients that have wanted to talk to you. You would be a great help to others. You have handled the treatments and side effects so well.”

Dr. Cobos wants me to go to a cancer support group.

I should go. I have always tried to give back to others. Right now, I can’t be around negativity. I am barely holding on. I am using all the strength I have to keep this façade of strength in place. Dr. Cobos is amazed at my strength. I have never considered myself an actress but I am an award-winning actress.

Everyone is so proud and amazed at how I have remained positive and strong. Did I have another option? I don’t remember there being another option. Be strong or curl into the fetal position and cry. No choice in my mind. Negativity and self-pity kill. They eat all your reserves of hope for dinner.

I wore my strength like a badge of honor. This badge protected me. I was so strong that some people forgot I was going through chemo. It was easy for them to forget when I was running around with my Super Hero Wig pretending to have loads of energy. I was so strong that even some people in my family forgot.

I was so strong

so positive

…invincible.

Yeah, right.

I look back now at why I didn’t want to go to a cancer support group. They scared me. I asked if it was a place that people cried and felt sorry for themselves.

“Sometimes.”

I could have gone, just to see. See if there was a group that understood the fear I was hiding. I was afraid. Afraid they would see right through me. That would shatter this fragile mask I was wearing. This mask I had so savagely built. I threw up my wall and built my strength with anger. Why did I get cancer? It is not fair? I did everything right. Now I am a member of the Cancer Club – a club I never sought membership in. But I am a lifetime member.

Now they wanted me to go

…with my fear

…my anxiety

…my anger

to help someone else by giving them all the hope I had left.

I couldn’t.

I remember making that decision. I regret making that decision. I should have gone. Instead of taking my hope, I could have shared mine. If I had shared my hope, maybe more would have grown in my heart. I won’t ever know that now. I didn’t realize how much it hurt my soul when I didn’t try to help more people during that time of my life. The cancer patients that reached out to me were better prepared for what was to come because of my words – they told me that later.

If there is one person that reads my words and is affected positively, one person that I can help because of the experiences I have had. One person. Then it’s not too late.

That’s why I keep writing.

I Wonder

I wonder what I will be doing in a year from now.

Will I be happy?

I wonder what color my hair would be if I didn’t color it.

I wonder when it will snow again.

I wonder if I could get through the day without hearing your voice.

I wonder if dogs can really understand what we say.

I wonder if I could run a marathon.

I wonder if I am a good person.

I wonder if I can be forgiven.

I wonder if I will finish write my book.

I wonder if I can be loved.

I wonder if I will ever see Scotland.

I wonder if there is anyone that would love me, as I am.

Could I be loved without having to change?

I wonder if anyone, besides my children, will ever get my sense of humor.

I wonder why people don’t feel the magic of Christmas anymore.

I wonder if I will ever own a horse again.

I wonder if there is life on other planets.

I wonder if God loves all of us, no matter what we believe and what we do.

I wonder how I got so lucky to have such wonderful children.

I wonder if I will be alone for the rest of my life.

Would I rather be alone than with someone that doesn’t love me?

I wonder how I was blessed with so many great friends.

I wonder if I will always have to make the coffee.

I wonder why my toes are always cold.

I wonder why the smell of cinnamon makes me happy.

I wonder why I wonder.

Does anyone else sit around and wonder random things?

Am I weird?

I wonder why I got cancer.

I wonder if I will ever feel safe again.

I wonder if I will always wonder.

BC/AC

November 12, 2006

BC:     Before Cancer

Before the realization that I am mortal

Before putting minor annoyances in perspective

Before trusting my intuition

BC:     Before Cancer

Before noticing the feel of the wind

the sound of a dogs bark

the look of laughter

BC:     Before Cancer

Before believing in the strength that I have always had within me

Before noticing the sound of silence

Before enjoying being alone

BC:     Before Cancer

November 13, 2006

Cancer.

Shock.

Fear.

Hate.

Despair.

Hopelessness.

Strength.

Determination.

Peace.

Calm.

AC:      After Cancer

After the shock

After the fear

After the hate, the despair and the hopelessness

Breath

Light

Heartbeat

Strength

Strength I had never imagined I possessed

Purpose

Finding my purpose

Determination

To defeat cancer

To live my life, not exist in a life

To be authentic

Peace

Calm

Truth

Most people never get the chance to take a hard look at their lives.

Most people do not have to find a strength that is hidden in their soul, to survive.

Strength stirring their emotions.

Emotions that erupt like a hurricane, churning debris and trash.

Emotions that hurt can heal.

From the hopelessness

Strength finds the light in your soul.

The light that can save.

The light that can heal.

Bald

January 2007:

They said some people on chemo don’t lose their hair. They also said that chemo patients on Adriamycin and Cytoxan always lose their hair – all their hair. I didn’t want my hair to fall out – who would I be without my hair. My hair had defined me my whole life.

The day after my first chemotherapy I had my long hair cut to shoulder length, then a week later, cut to chin length, then a day later cut into a pixy cut. I wanted some control over how I was going to lose my hair.

I quit thinking about “bad hair days” 10 days ago. The day I had chemo for the first time. The day they told me my hair would fall out on day 10. It was day 10 as I sat on the side of the bathtub; looking at myself and my hair in the mirror. I looked the same. Maybe tired and worried but outwardly, I looked the same. On the inside, that is where I had changed. I had aged. I had lost the belief that everything would always be ok. I knew what it was like to fear death. I knew what it felt like to hear that you had a disease that everyone associated with death. I knew how it felt to acknowledge your own mortality. I never wanted to have that knowledge. I wanted to retain that purity – that innocence. I sat on the side of the bathtub looking at myself in the mirror and contemplated my next move. If I took a shower and washed my hair I knew I would lose a lot more hair. If I only took a bath and tried not to touch my hair very much – maybe I would have hair for another day. Every time I touched my hair, hair fell out. When I woke this morning there was hair on my pillow. There was hair on my shoulders throughout the day. It had begun slowly falling out 3 days ago.

I sat on the side of the bathtub trying to decide if I wanted to just do it or delay it.

It was going to happen.

I was going to lose my hair.

I was going to be bald.

I could not stop my hair from falling out. I could not make the follicles stay anchored in place.   I could control when, where, and how I would lose my hair. I could control who would be with me when I lost my hair. Now was the only time I was strong enough to do it. I stood up; turned on the shower. I made the water hot, scorching hot. I needed to feel my body and know I was alive. I stood in the shower looking at the showerhead, knowing I was alive.

My chest lifted and lowered with my breath. Then I got my head wet. I could feel the water running down my back. I could feel my hair failing to the drain. I looked down at the floor of the shower. I stopped breathing. Within 30 seconds the floor was covered with hair.

My hair. What people had always admired about me. My hair. My shield from criticism because my hair was a part of me that usually didn’t bring criticism. My hair…on the floor…not on my head. I slowly reached up to see if it was all gone. I still had hair! Maybe only some of it fell out. Maybe I would still look the same, the same with only thinner hair. I grabbed the shampoo quickly. Washed the hair that remained. I couldn’t wait to get out of the shower to see if I looked the same. Maybe I would be the exception. Maybe I wouldn’t lose all of my hair. I grabbed a towel for my head. I slowly walked to the mirror. I took the towel off my head.

I screamed.

I quickly covered my head again. My daughter came running into my bathroom. She looked at me and hugged me tight. She held me like a crying baby. She rubbed my back and said, “It’s ok Mommy”. She was 16 years old. We switched roles at that point. She was the mother, I was the child. She held me until I quit shaking. She told me I was strong. She told me I was beautiful. She told me I was her hero. She told me she would always be there.

Slowly I stood up. Samantha was taller than I. She said, “Mommy, let me see”. We took the towel off my head. She looked at me, started crying too and said, “It’s just hair Mommy.   You are still my beautiful Mommy”.

I looked in the mirror at my eyes. Was I still there? There was only hair in a few places now on my head. Most of it was on the shower floor. I went to scoop it up. She said, “stop Mommy, I’ll do it later”.

I looked back at my eyes. I was still there. I thought I would see hopelessness. What I saw shocked me – I saw strength and the desire to remain strong. I had to be strong. I couldn’t fall apart or I would die. I sat down on a stool in the bathroom. Samantha shaved off the last scraggly strands.

We were both crying.