Sunday, July 31, 2005
The Seven Dwarves of Recovery: Snarky, Happy, Bitchy, Cheerful, Crampy, Teary, and Joyful*
*Also known as "Look What You Have to Look Forward to, Rae"
Contrary to the title of this post, I can honestly say that I have been feeling great for at least a week now. A whole week straight. This is most likely the first time in over a year that I find this to be true. I didn't realize it at first. I was just going about my normal routine when all of a sudden I found myself singing. Out loud. My desire to sing didn't discriminate. I found myself singing quietly along to background music (nerd alert!) while waiting for a business meeting to begin, I didn't stop once the meeting started; I simply dropped it down a notch. I pitty poor Mike sitting next to me. I apologized, then kept singing.
I found myself singing at the top of my lungs in the car. It physically feels so good to sing full blast, doesn't it? It wakes up your entire body with a rhythmic energy that can instantly change your mood. Who can resist the temptation? You know you do it. Don't deny it. And you like it too.
I found myself singing along to a song playing in a department store. It was a Culture Club
song. It was then that I realized something strange was going on. Why would I find it normal to sing along with Boy George
while browsing through assorted merchandise and not expect others to look at me suspiciously? Why would I find it okay to shop in a store that allows this music to play in the background? That's when it hit me: I sing when I am happy. I can't seem to stop. I'm even singing now (though I've progressed to U2
While I am enjoying the melodic happiness in my life at the moment, I am wondering when that mood will change. I'm not a pessimist; far from it in fact. I have come to understand the mood swings and the cycles of emotion associated with both treatment and recovery. As I explained to my doctor at my last check up, the mood swings have been challenging as well as the physical changes. She explained that my hormones are raging back after chemo and my body has been through a lot and is trying to make the adjustment.
I am not sure if she realized what an understatement that might be. I've had the return of the menstrual cycle with all the physical discomfort and emotional upheaval of a tornado spinning inside of me. Of course at first I thought this was a good sign, but apparently my hormones can rage back yet not be strong enough for me to be fertile, rendering the monthly struggle useless. Being that I'm such a results oriented person, I find this particularly annoying. Much to my dismay, it surfaces monthly with an eerie regularity.
Let's not forget the tears. They come and go. Unexpectedly. I can go from zero to tears without notice. I found myself in the movie theatre sobbing (nearly uncontrollably) to a preview. A preview. Granted it was for the movie Rent
(a modern version of La Boheme
) which is all about life and death and coming to terms with both, but it was still a preview. Sure, I can justify the emotional song lyrics and the poingancy of the storyline, but it. was. a. PREVIEW.
It's quite a ride you know. The cycles, the moods, the uncertainty, the physical changes, the endless waiting for reconstruction. . . As the true optimist that I am, at least I realize that I am adjusting and recovering and living each day. I may get cramps and hot flashes and mood swings at times, but the pendulum swings both ways giving me timeless days of singing and joy.
"After the rain has fallen
After the tears have washed your eyes
You'll find that I've taken nothing, that
Love can't replace in the blink of an eye
After the thunder's spoken, and
After the lightening bolt's been hurled
After the dream is broken, there'll
Still be love in the world"
--Sting, After the Rain has Fallen
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Now touch me, baby
Can’t you see that I am not afraid?
-- "Touch Me" by The Doors
In the last few weeks I've been reflecting on the number of people that hug me and touch me since my diagnosis and now in recovery. It isn't uncomfortable for me as I can be a huggy-touchy person. In my traditional Italian family, we still greet each other with hugs and kisses. I would hug everyone I meet that same way if it were appropriate.
The hugging really started with a co-worker with whom I am friends. Everyday when I was in treatment he would come to my office and hug me. I joke with him that he is the only man I know who could turn someone's cancer into his daily cheap thrill. Behind the joke lies appreciation for his true friendship and appreciation for the act of the hug itself. It was, and remains, important to me that he would even feel comfortable hugging me. So much of my own femininity became twisted in this cancer and to feel that exchange, though platonic, was significant for me.
Besides my family and friends, I have also found that with my professional colleagues I have moved beyond the traditional handshake greeting to the hug. Everyday I get hugs everywhere I go. I love it. I feel very lucky for this exchange. Think about how much better you feel after you get a sincere, body touching hug. Think about being a child and nothing making you feel better than a hug from your mother or father. It was safety, compassion, nuturing, caring, healing, and love all rolled into one. I don't think that changes because we age. Hugs are still all those things and more.
It is amazing how much power there is in a simple touch. Whether it be a hug, pat, embrace, kiss, or handshake, touching is an exchange of energy. I believe that this energy has healing powers. I don't think you realize how powerful touch is until you don't feel it. As a single person, I am at times caught off guard by the feel of an embrace if I have not had one for awhile. During treatment, even though I was surrounded by loving and supportive people all around me, a hug made me feel alive even though the treatment felt like it was killing me, literally.
And now when I see someone I know, they want to hug me and tell me how good I look. They really look at me and lock eyes and are so sincere. While I am appreciative, I always expect for it to come to end the further I am from treatment. I fear I will miss it whether it is appropriate business behavior or not. I am not starving for affection, but I love the energy people share in a hug.
I love the healing we do when we embrace one another. This exchange shouldn't wait until we "need it." It shouldn't be frowned upon for fear of sexual harrassment lawsuits. It is how we fill that gap
between all the love in the world and all the people who need love.
It is how we heal one another.
"'Cause everytime you touch me I feel like I'm being born
Everytime you touch me I feel like I need some more"
--"Everytime you Touch me" by Moby
Friday, July 22, 2005
Yesterday was a special day for a friend of mine. It was her last day of radiation. I watched her as she so confidently walked around her diner with a joy that was almost palpable. It is amazing how far she has come in just a few short months.
I remember the day she told me she had to have a biopsy. I had just returned from my surgery and was going through the process with the tissue expanders, still sporting my hat. My friend and I would meet at her place for lunch once a week. She came by the table and told me she had to have a biopsy and was nervous. I told her, as I do everyone, that 8 out of 10 lumps are benign
. I was trying to ease her mind, but looking at her and seeing her fear, I feared the worst for her.
I was waiting for her the day she was to meet with the surgeon to get the results. I saw the look on her face and knew the answer. Still hoping for the best, I gave her a thumb’s up only to have her put her head down and shake it “no.” She seemed so fragile and vulnerable. My heart sank. I remembered that feeling and never wanted anyone anywhere to ever have to feel that way ever again.
As time has passed, I’ve seen her go from that frail, scared woman to an amazingly strong, dynamic woman who has fought with all her strength and won this battle. I am abundantly happy for her and so very, very proud of the amazing strength and dignity she has shown the world during this very difficult time.
Congratulations, my friend. Now go put some deodorant on and enjoy yourself!
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Under the Big Top
"Step right up folks! Right here in the center ring, next to the human pretzel, the snake charmer, and the sword swallower, is the craziest lady on earth! Don't believe me? Wait until you hear this!"
Throughout my journey I have shared my feelings, my experiences, my wisdom, and my attempt at humor. I have shared the highs and lows and everything in between. So please forgive me if what I am about to share seems out of character or seems so completely asinine that you question my sanity.
I can't even say it out loud. Where is the circus mime when you need him? Wait, I'll whisper. I miss treatment.
There, I said it. Don't make me say it again or say it any louder for fear of sounding like a real chemo junkie. Please don't get me wrong here. I don't ever want to go through treatment again. I never want to feel icky, pukey, bone-achey, wretchedly tired, or bald again. Lest we forget that I am the one who has attempted to secure a cancer-free-future by taking the aggressive route throughout treatment and surgery. Let me clarify, though, so I don't confuse anyone.
When I was going through treatment, I was a girl on a mission. I had specific targets and goals and I met every single one of them with a fierce passion that only a girl on this mission would possess. I had a
purpose. During this time, the universe conspired to help me and I watched everything fall into place according to plan (infections, certain side-effects, and minor snafus ignored in retrospect for dramatic impact). In addition, I allowed a kinder world to surround me. A world in which I allowed people to help me and show kindness without having to be the independent woman who had to present her resilient image at every turn. I became softer, smiled more, didn't take on the responsibilities of the world, ignored the common stresses of my work, and engaged people for the simple joy of being amongst the living. I sat with friends, not over drinks, but over life
. I liked it. It was as though, during the most complicated time in my life, I finally found that which I was missing. Simplicity.
I vowed not to lose sight of this outlook as the time since treatment grew with gathering speed. With each three month check-up, and with each part of the journey checked off the list, the patterns so familiar to me prior to treatment have begun to emerge. I no longer have the single mission or purpose. While I still believe I lead a purposeful life, I have in a sense, become a multi-purpose girl, juggling many balls in the air with the ease that only a seasoned circus clown can accomplish. I know this act well and while there was a time I embraced this routine, it somehow lacks the show-stopping punch of living and accomplishing the single purpose mission.
It seems like a simple dilemma that any clown could figure out, right? Simply put down all the balls but the most important one and move forward. It was easy during treatment because I had an out. In a way, I could clean house. I didn't have to take on the projects or work that normally fill my calendar. I didn't have to accept the projects that one accepts when trying to build a consulting business, or maintain a teaching contract, or continue my assent through the organizational chart. I had a purpose that filled every free moment of my calendar and reassigned a portion of the previously booked time slots. I was, in my mind, fully engaged in my own Greatest Show on Earth.
Once you have put your head in the mouth of the lion and survived, you start looking for that next death defying act. However, instead of staying in the center ring, you find yourself back in the side show and at the same time filling in for the guy who gets shot out of the cannon and
the lady that rides the elephant. While many admire your array of talents, the juggling routine gets old and soon you carry the mark of the sad clown with the single tear.
So truly the confession made earlier is not entirely true. What I miss is the single-purpose driving my actions. When there is only one mission, one purpose, the actions are clear. When there are many simultaneous missions, the actions are not clear because many may conflict making choices and directions unclear. Somehow I can't make the multi-purpose girl happy and still be present in the kinder world. That need to perform many missions and please many people leave me somewhere between my Greatest Show on Earth and cleaning the monkey cage.
Probably stronger than this feeling of a lack focus, is a desire for just the opposite. Somehow, if I reach deep enough, under the never ending stream of rainbow colored scarves and bouquets of brightly colored silk flowers, I can find the smile that can bring the house down. I just need to find that one trick unique to me that is worth the price of admission.
From Dawn to Dusk
One thing I learned about myself during treatment was how much I love the sunrise
. Without a doubt, I still do. I love the energy and promise each sunrise brings. Sunrise was also an end to the nights that brought physical discomfort, wandering thoughts, and sleeplessness. I would, and still do, toss and turn trying to find that one, albeit temporary, comfortable spot, switching from the bed, to the couch, to the recliner, and back again. It was too much idle time that brought idle thoughts about life and mortality and everything in between. My mind would travel in circles just as my body physically circled my home, both desiring peaceful slumber. Now that I am in the post-treatment-still-in-reconstruction-no-evidence-of-disease stage, I have found a new love . . . dusk.
I love that time of day when the sun is just setting, leaving behind the purplish haze at the horizon, that seam where the heavens and the earth magically meet. High above, the sparkle of the first star can be seen just beginning the night of twinkling that lies ahead. Unlike the energy of the sunrise, or the emotional darkness of night, dusk brings a peacefulness, calmness. It signals the end of the day's bustling and a transition into rest.
It acts as my conscience, forcing me to stop and question myself about the day and my contributions to the world. It is that moment of daily reality that says today was a day well spent. There is always something good from the day I can cherish and carry into the night to chase away the thoughts waiting to emerge in sleepless moments.
Thoreau had it right when he said, "Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each." Each part of the day also brings its influences and in itself is an experience. While I still find myself reveling in the glory of dawn's early light, I also find myself drawn to the beauty of dusk and the grace it so majestically bestows.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Hands Across America
It has been such a pleasure to hear the excitement about Jeannette's article in Parade magazine from people in my world. I have heard from clients, colleagues, and good friends from across the USA . . . what an unexpected treat!Thanks, everyone, for your love and support of my dear sis. More than anything else, I hope this connection serves as a personal reminder to encourage you and those in your world to take care, reduce stress, and get regular checkups. For whatever reason, there are some of us who need a little loving encouragement to take care of ourselves . . . please be the encourager, whenever possible.Much love to you and yours today.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
And the Hits Keep on Coming
I have been amazed at the number of people who have found my site and taken the time to come back to it from time to time. I get more email than comments, but I love the interaction and the thoughtfulness of everyone who visits.
I'm a numbers person and love to look at statistics (reason number 63 I have revealed here that explains why I am a dork). As I peruse through my hits and referrers, I can't help but enjoy the search terms that lead to my site. Even funnier to me is the number of times these particular seraches lead to my site or, for that matter, are even entered as search terms to begin with. Sure, I get the breast cancer related, chemo related, medical term related searches as I would expect. The following list, every time I see them (and I see them regularly!), make me giggle.
So that you can join me in my laughter, I present my Top Ten Favorite Referring Search Terms
(complete with links, in case these searches interested anyone else):
10. The Starbucks
quotes.Sheesh! My names is Jeannette and I have a coffee addiction. ((Hi Jeannette! Welcome!))I also quote the quotes on the cup. Note to Starbucks: A lot of people wantto know about these quotes and apparently more than what you post on yourweb site. But don't bother posting them, I get a lot of traffic from them.
9. whiny female managersWhy? Whyeeeee? Why would anyone think this is me. It's just not fair. Why would this linkt o me....okay , that is the best faux whining I could muster. Oh, the irony! This. is. not. me. at. all.
8. sexy pin up vintage free picsQueried from France on google.fr. I am little offended by the "vintage" reference.
7. why girls have two handsAll that picking up after everyone only requires, oh, I don't know, three?
6. girls giving each other breast massagesI know I never mentioned this and I am not sure how the linking linked these words together, but apparently this is why they have two hands.
5. topless nursesBecause facing a terminal illness is so much more palatable when your medical team is half naked (oh wait, now I 've said naked along with topless and breast massage. What kind of link will that create?).
4. morphing two people together picturesOooh, creepy.
3. nuclear bomb boobiesGiving new meaning to the term "da bomb."
2. topless don HenleyIsn't that normally "shirtless," if there is a "normally" when dicussing this search? eewww! (sorry to offend you, Don, but you are an artist and never claimed to be pin up material)
1. sandra day o'connor breast cancer wigBecause nothing says "this is my real hair" like the hair style of a retired Supreme Court Justice.
Take that smile and go out and make a difference today!
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Thanks for the Memories
This is your brain. This is your brain on chemo. Any questions?
I have noticed that I struggle with my short-term memory just a bit and I have noticed this especially since I was midway through chemo last fall. It could be associated with a mild case of chemo brain
; however, there are a number of reasons for the memory issues such as fatigue, poor sleep patterns, stress, estrogen suppression, chemo-induced menopause
, etc. And while I feel fabulous, energetic, and generally healthy, the poor sleep patterns persist, I still find myself in stressful situations, and my hormone levels have not returned to pre-treatment levels. As you would expect, the things I’d like to forget are permanently etched in my mind. The things I struggle to remember drive me crazy.
On a typical work day I first have difficulty figuring out what to wear because I can’t remember what I wore last week. Granted, it is not the end of the world, but if I don’t’ have my fashion sense, what do I have? What. do. I. have?
My favorite moment is when I get up from my desk to make the short jaunt to the neighboring office to ask my boss something very important and stand in front of him and forget why I am there. I will look at him, pause, smile, and say, “Be back when I remember.” I’m so lucky that he doesn’t think I am a dork for doing this. He, unfortunately, thinks I am a dork for a whole host of other reasons.
It is also fun to pick up the phone with urgency to call a friend and forget why I called. It eventually comes back to me, so I use the opportunity to catch up until I remember why I called. Of course when I remember why I called, I don’t want to forget again so I concentrate on remembering and ignore what is being said at the moment waiting for a pause. I am the best friend ever. After reading this you are clearly trying to figure out how to become my friend, right?
Of course, once one becomes cognizant of a memory problem, one begins to doubt everything memory related. Did I turn off the iron before I left? Did I take the trash out? Did I have an appointment? I have this funny feeling I am supposed to be somewhere right now. Did he say to meet him there or was he going to pick me up? Did I put my deodorant on? It makes for hours of endless fun trying to remember (or trying to find a concealable way to check my armpits).
I went to church this morning with my family. As I was listening to the priest, tears welled up in my eyes as I was having one of those “God Moments
.” I remember thinking, “This is why I am here. I needed to hear this today.” For the life of me, I can no longer remember even remotely the life changing message I received today. Since I cannot remember this moment of epiphany, I guess I still go about my regular sinful life until I can actually remember the message and how I am supposed to change my life.
Ah yes. I have forgotten something else. Apparently age plays a factor as well. Hmmmm. I keep forgetting that I keep aging!
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
I Disagree, Mr. Henley
I keep hearing Don Henley singing his song in my ear and, frankly, he needs to stop. These lyrics don't apply to my world and I hope they never do.
I was either standing in your shadow or blocking you're light
Though I kept on trying I could not make it right
For you girl-
There's just not enough love in the world
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . --Don Henley, lyrics from "Not Enough Love in the World"
I have received more email than I can count in the past week. I have heard from people who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, 5-, 6-, 9-, 12-, 19-, 24-year survivors, the husband/mother/sister/daughter/friend of someone who has or had breast cancer, people wishing me well in my recovery, and more encouragement than I can even comprehend. In all this email, which I plan to respond to every single one, I have made two observations:I have said before that where love and strength intersect, healing begins. With all the love in this world, there should be a lot more healing going on. Somehow, I need to find a way to bring the two together. There is enough love in the world.
1. There is a tremendous amount of love in this world; and
2. There are a staggering number of people in this world who don’t have love and support.
How do we bring the two together?
Maybe I am discovering a void that the world is somehow not filling. I don’t know what this means for me personally, but I think I may be finding a purpose or direction as I emerge from the cancer mess. I will have to see how this unfolds for me.
I am always in awe in the inherent goodness in people and how freely people express kindness, generosity, compassion, empathy, and, well, love. It is truly a beautiful thing to be on the receiving end of such affection from complete strangers. Conversely, to be facing something as horrifying as cancer alone, without a support network, without feeling connected to someone, is equally overwhelming to me. My heart breaks from the amount of emotional pain that is coupled with the physical pain of cancer. The two are inseparable. That emotional pain is only magnified when there is no support or connection.
I Love a Parade
Photo by Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino/Staff Photographer, Inland Valley Daily BulletinI can't believe it has taken me one year to figure out how to post pictures. It is so easy! I love this picture of the antique fire engine with the rest of the parade lined up for 1.5 miles behind it. It is very "Hometown America" on the 4th of July. Does it get any better than this?
Monday, July 04, 2005
Let freedom ring,
Let the white dove sing,
Let the whole world know that
Today is a day of reckoning.
Let the weak be strong,
Let the right be wrong,
Roll the stone away,
Let the guilty pay,
It's independence day
. --Martina McBride
I am amazed at the response a little paragraph in a magazine has brought to Two Hands. If you are still wandering here via Parade
magazine, welcome! Be sure and leave a comment or place your pin on my map, or send me an email and say hello. It is amazing how many people are linked through blogging. I have received so many wonderful emails, guest map entries, and comments. Thank you to everyone who has expressed their support and encouragement.
I can't believe it is already the 4th of July. I just came from a 4th of July Parade this morning and there were so many wonderful people enjoying the parade. This parade honored the families of those serving in the military. It was quite touching. There was also great music and great fun. Most importantly, there were a number of veterans marching in the parade (and this one is 2 miles long!). I was honored by their commitment, dedication, and respect for our country and our flag. What honorable men and women.
As much I write about and talk about breast cancer, I am taking a "normalcy" break. That's right. I'm off to have a family barbeque. Let freedom from cancer ring today. I'm taking a holiday. But I leave you with the last verse (did you know there are actually four?) of the National Anthem by Francis Scott Key. Have a great day today and enjoy the summer!
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Sunday, July 03, 2005
A Beautiful Light
For those of you who haven't heard, Jeannette's blog made it into Parade magazine today. I know she would never mention it - as her sister, though, I do believe I have bragging rights! Congratulations, Jeannette, on all the good work you do. You turned the darkest situation into a beautiful light that is shining all over the world! I am so very proud.For those of you who may be visiting for the first time, welcome! If you have the time, please place a pin on the map (see the link on the left under "you were here"), or feel free to leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Reminders, Requests and Robert Frost
In the last year I have had friends refer me to ten women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer that want to talk to someone "who has been there." When I get these calls, I am happy to help out and show my support. Anyone who has gone through cancer knows the importance of that voice of wisdom and understanding that can only come from someone who has shared the same experience. For me, two of my cousins provided that wisdom and I was extremely grateful.
When I get one of these calls, I almost get winded. It takes my breath away that so many people are impacted by breast cancer. I know the statistic. Every two minutes
a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. I know the shaky voice and the feeling of despair expressed as I talk with a new breast cancer sister. I first thing I always say is, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you have to face this right now." And nothing could be more true. I go on to tell them all the wonderful statistics such as if the cancer is confined to the breast only, the survival rate can be as high as 95 percent
. I tell them not to worry about the treatment until they know exactly what they need especially since we have come so far medically in controlling the side-effects. I try to get them to laugh if I can, I share my resources for wigs and hats, and tell them they can call me anytime. Mostly I just try to reassure them that surviving breast cancer is more than simply possible, it is probable.
When I hang up the phone, my heart is heavy. I know what they are facing. Fellow blogger, Cancer Baby
, expressed this same feeling in a recent post
. And while there is so much hope associated with breast cancer, it is still cancer. Cancer. That devious, joy-deflating, life-stealing bastard. There has to be a way to eradicate it. There must be a reason why in 1960 breast cancer incidence was one in twenty and in 2005 it is one in eight
. What are we doing to our environment, our diets, our water supply, our food supply, and life style?
There is something simple we can all do. I have been in the blog world for a year now (Where has the time gone? besides the time spent researching and writing of course). If you have been reading this for one year, (wow -- one year -- I'm not sure if you deserve some expression of appreciation or a free ticket to a psyche ward) it means you have been reminded every time you enter this site to conduct your monthly self exam
and it also means you have had your annual mammogram
(if you are over 40 or younger if you are in a high risk group). If you are a male reader, it means you have reminded the women in your life to perform monthly self exams
and get annual mammograms
. If you have done neither, all I can say is don't let me know or you will personally get my wrath.
Another thing we can all do. Chances are that we all know someone who is either undergoing treatment or recently gone through treatment for breast cancer. Take a moment to say hello, make eye contact, and ask how she is doing. Don't try to avoid her because "dealing with cancer is just too difficult" for you. Take a step out of your comfort zone. I guarantee you that living with cancer is ever more difficult. She will likely spend more time consoling you and making you feel better than the reverse.
Finally, I have a favor to ask. There is another fellow blogger who is one of the most witty, expressive people I have stumbled upon in the blog world. Her name is Rae
. She is a young woman who is facing the wrath of ovarian cancer and it seems a lot is crashing down on her all at once. She is scheduled to have shunts put in her ears on Sunday to relieve the fluid build up that is right now causing deafness
. This is on top of chemo after chemo, kidney failure and dialysis, and everything else she has had to face. She is amazing and faces it with humor, sarcasm, and wit. Please do stop by and leave her a note and wish her the best. She deserves a break and all the love and kindness the world can send her way. Thanks in advance.
I don't want this post to be depressing. When I had my first appointment with my medical oncologist, I asked her why she chose this field. Her answer was, "Because there is so much hope." She is right. There is hope. We have come so far on this journey.
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.