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.

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Van Halen

He left me.

He came with me.

He got me checked in for surgery at 6 a.m.

He took the kids to school.

He went to open our store.

He said he’d be back after the store was closed at 6pm.

I told him I was scared of possibly needing a mastectomy; he said don’t worry about that. If you need one, we’ll get you some hooker boobs.

Who says that to their wife when she has breast cancer?

I am scared.

Why am I here – alone?

I’d rather be alone than with him – today.

But I am scared.

Scared of the hospital.

Scared of the surgery.

Scared of the unknown.

I want to know that I will be ok.

I don’t want to know that I won’t be ok.

The surgeon plays Van Halen during the surgery.

What does that mean?

When I met my surgeon and my lumpectomy was scheduled, I asked him what music he listened to when he was operating. He was caught off guard. He was a nice but reserved man. I could tell he didn’t open up to others easily or at least not to his patients. When I asked about his music, he looked nervously around the room as his nurse laughed. I looked at him and said “don’t tell me you play head banger music or hard rock when you are doing surgery!” His nurse smiled and told me he listens to Van Halen, I looked at him, laughed and said; “well…you better bring me a shirt before we do this.”

He did. The morning of my surgery, he walked in and threw me a Van Halen shirt.

The day of the surgery was long. There were delays. I wanted to get it over with, but I knew they would get to me as soon as they could. I worried about me and I worried about the patient they were operating on that kept me delayed.

I remember the waiting.

I remember being alone.

I remember feeling like I didn’t matter.

I remember crying because he left me alone. I remember thinking how he could have closed the store for just that one day… for me. I remember knowing that he never would.

I remember being cold.
I remember the pain of the all the things that must be done before the lumpectomy.  I remember the IV insertion, I remember the placement of the locator needle in my breast and I remember the pain of the injection of the dye. No one warned me until I got in there of the searing pain of the procedure. They had to inject dye into me to find the sentinel node. I remember having to lie still as they did this procedure. I remember tears streaming down my face as I fought to hold still. I remember feeling scared and so very alone.

I remember needing to go pee all the time. I always have to go pee when it isn’t convenient to go pee. Lying in the hospital bed, in that gown, with an IV. All I can think about is I have to go pee. I just went. I have to go again. What if I pee when I am having surgery and I embarrass myself? Does that happen?

My surgery was supposed to be at 7:30 a.m. It is 11a.m. I am still alone. They were not expecting the delay so they did not have a place to put me. I am in a makeshift hospital room with a big needle sticking out of my breast. In this gown.

That is where Carol and Michele find me.

I had never been so glad to see anyone in my life.

My two dear friends – Carol the nurse and Michele the yogi.

Carol, the practical one that tells me to chill out, I’ll be fine.

I can see in her eyes that she is scared for me.

Michele is the mothering, crazy-fun one that cries with me.

She is scared for me too.

They are here.

I am not alone.

They make me laugh.

“Why do you have a wire sticking out of your boob?”

“Why do you keep going to pee? You just went.”

They hug me.

I’m not alone now.

They are coming for me.

They are rolling me towards surgery.

The nurse is smiling at me and telling me how lucky I am to have Dr. Frasier for my surgeon, he is the best.

The room is so cold.

Why is it so bright?

I don’t hear Van Halen. I guess he waits until I am out before he turns on the music.

There are so many people in here.

The anesthesiologist is telling me to count backwards from ten.

I wonder if I need to go to the bathroom one more time.

I am different now…

I’m different now.

After my diagnosis

After the mammogram

the biopsy

the lumpectomy

the surgery for the port

the chemotherapy

the radiation

the anti-estrogens

the weekly blood draws

After the dry mouth

the dry, grayish skin

the stomach issues

the nausea

the constipation

the fatigue

the memory loss

the hair loss – all over my body

the fog

After all the cancer took from me…

Cancer took my health, my looks and my belief that I would always be whole. Cancer took all that I thought I was and I was left stripped of the person I was before. I was left with a new beginning… a fresh canvas and I got to decide what I was going to pick back up.

I have often said cancer saved my life. Being torn into pieces by cancer gave me a new look at myself as I picked up the pieces of me. Often we hold on to things that no longer work for us. We store things to be saved for use at a later time…that time doesn’t always exist after cancer.

I was still a nice person after my cancer diagnosis. I was still a caring, giving person. I looked almost the same. When I looked closely at myself though, I saw a different person. I was no longer willing to accept many of the parts of my life. I was no longer going to just let life happen around me. I was going to live every part of my life. I often hear that same thought from other cancer survivors. They had life changes after cancer.

For me … I took hold of my life. I no longer let others decide how I would live my life.

I was in a bad marriage

… I left.

I was separated from my family

… I moved.

I wanted to go back to school

… I went.

I wanted to show my children a happy mom

… I did.

I wanted to write

… I wrote.

The hardest part of taking charge of my life was believing that I could.

Biopsy

“Here, put this gown on and leave it open in the front,” the nurse tells me.   I take off my clothes and neatly fold them and put them on the chair in the room. I put my bra in between my pants and sweater so no one will see it. I don’t know why I always do that. I know they have seen bras before. The nurse said this will just feel like a strong prick and I will be finished and on my way soon. I like the picture of the meadow on the wall. “Are you ready,” the nurse asks. It’s cold … or is that fear shaking me from inside my body.

Oh my gosh! That didn’t feel like a strong prick. That didn’t feel like a hard pinch. That felt like a knife gouging my breast. It felt like someone took a knife held it over a fire then quickly jabbed the tip of it into my breast. I am lying on a table that has two holes in it for my breasts to fall through. I am in one of those dreadful gowns, the gowns they so love to put you in. I am lying face down with the doctor underneath the table. I am vulnerable. I am exposed. AND I’m not supposed to fuckin’ move! I am scared. Please don’t find anything. Please say it was nothing. Please be benign if it is cancer. Please. Please Lord.

Isn’t there a better gown? One that is soft. One that doesn’t scream “someone” else wore this. Is that “someone” ok? Is that “someone” still here, in this gown? Does this gown hold some of those other patients’ fears in its fibers? Why isn’t there a different gown? Why aren’t they done yet? Why do I have to try to be so strong? Why didn’t I let someone come with me? Why didn’t anyone insist on coming with me? Why didn’t my husband realize I needed him today.

I am alone…in this gown.

The Knitted Cap

I noticed her because she was wearing a knitted cap. Not because she was so pretty. Not because of the smile she had plastered in place, the smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. She was the mother in a perfect family portrait, but that was not what drew my attention. What I could not tear my eyes from was the knitted cap on her head.

We were so exhausted from the fun of Disneyland; the airline flight, eating out, laughing, walking, tons of walking…the magic of Disney. This was our first Mother/Daughter trip in 8 years – our first trip since…the knit cap.

It felt good to be back in Tennessee. My daughter, Samantha, laughed as I wandered around the parking garage at the airport pushing the key fob, hoping my car would tell me where it was. Found the car. It was still there. It was the same. We loaded the car with our luggage. Samantha had put together a playlist for our trip, songs we loved to sing. As I backed the car out, she punched in NSYNC. We couldn’t stop laughing as she sang every word to Space Cowboy perfectly. Coming up for air, we realized we were famished. We stopped at Einstein’s Bagels. We walked up to the counter and ordered coffee and a bagel. Laughter. Music. Mother/Daughter time. Memories.

Then I noticed Her. I noticed the beautiful woman sitting beside us. She was thirty-something, had two gorgeous daughters with her (about five & seven) and her husband. I couldn’t give you many details about her looks. I didn’t notice the color of her eyes. She had porcelain skin and a slim build. But I don’t’ remember the shape of her face. I noticed her because of the knitted cap that covered her head – her baldhead. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I wanted to go hug her and tell her she would be ok, ‘cause I was ok. I wanted to tell her I understood how scared she was. I needed her to know that.

I felt empty watching her. The memories of what I had gone through came rushing back. I had a hole in my stomach, a void, a fear. Fear for myself and for her. I felt as though I had failed her and all others going through cancer. I failed them because I had not shared my story.

I glanced up at Samantha…she had a tear in her eye.

A Beautiful Soul

Most of my life I have heard – you are such a beautiful girl.

You have such a pretty face.

I look in the mirror – where is this girl they are all talking about.

The woman I see looking back at me is insecure.

The woman staring right through me is scared.

She is lonely, terribly lonely.

She feels betrayed.

She feels she is to blame for causing pain.

When I look back into that mirror I see a woman who has had to be silent to survive, though it is so not in her nature.

I see a woman who hates confrontation so much that she has allowed herself to become a victim.

I see a woman who despises herself for allowing her soul to be victimized.

As I stand here in front of this mirror now I look closer.

I look deep into those hazel green eyes.

I am searching for the girl in the woman.

As I look into this woman’s eyes now I see hope.

I look closer – I see strength. In this strength I see desire.

Desire for change. Desire for love. Desire for happiness.

I see the girl that used to live inside this woman. The girl that was told, “If you would only lose a little weight you would be beautiful, because you have such a pretty face”. I see the girl that was told by men she was pretty only to be used and destroyed by them. I see the girl who believed in love and hope and happiness.

I look closely at this beautiful girl and watch as she sheds the burdens she has allowed to gather around her and pull her down. I look closely and finally I see beauty.

I see a beautiful soul.

The Mammogram

The exam is over and I am waiting in an open-front gown for the radiologist to read the mammogram.   I wonder why they make me wear that gown. Blue, butt ugly print…1000 people have probably worn it.

My arms don’t fit in it right. There are snaps on the shoulders. It is misshapen and it seems like there is always a boob trying to escape. No protection. All of my nerves exposed. No room for modesty. I sit in the exam room reading Redbook. The magazine is three years old but there is an article on the front about how to lose 10lbs by walking 30 minutes a day. I have to read it; it could possibly contain the magic formula for weight loss. I wait. I wait. And I wait. It always feels like an eternity when you are waiting in a dimly lit exam room, in a bad gown, reading an old magazine about weight loss. The Radiologist doesn’t have the balls to come tell me himself. He sends the radiology technician in to tell me. She walks in slowly. She doesn’t have a purposeful gait anymore. She doesn’t hurry in to send me on my way. She looks sad. She carries pity in her eyes. I hate the look of pity. I watch as she processes what she is going to say and how she is going to say it. I wonder if they have a booklet for healthcare professionals called, “how to give bad news 101 different ways”. I don’t make it easy for her. I am still holding onto hope. Hope that maybe she looks worried because she is running late or needs a diet coke. Surely she is worried about something else, something that has nothing to do with me. I sit. I wait. Then she says it. We saw a mass; it might be nothing but we need to schedule you for a biopsy.

Fear.

Stress.

Anxiety.

My kid’s faces.

Nothing.

I am sitting in my car in the parking lot of the hospital. I don’t remember walking through the lobby. I have the card with the date and time on it in my hand. I don’t remember scheduling the biopsy. I remember sitting in the car and going nowhere. I remember my head hurting. I remember not being able to breathe in enough air. I remember needing my Mom.