Tag Archives: cancer diagnosis

Crisis management isn’t the same as crisis maintenance 

The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.
~ Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga

This second surgery is a beast, I’m wiped out. I have felt off and with so much insanity in my life right now I wasn’t sure from whence it came.

I took the perfect spawn with me to surgery, it was outpatient after all. I’m not sure it was the brightest move I’ve made.  He was visibly upset by seeing me with an IV in my hand. He couldn’t stop touching and kissing me as we hung out in pre-op. My surgeon, who is a fucking rockstar, managed him very well. She asked him to please not correct her if he heard her say something wrong, it played right into his ego and made him more relaxed.

I went out to visit my mother, resting with an incredible view of “the supes”. I still felt squirrelly and off. Thankfully my Schatzy knows me well enough that he did the two things that turned the tide.

I’d like to imagine that anyone getting a prognosis that is worse that initially identified would feel the same.  I lay on the couch staring out the picture window when my dark side took over. I was trying be quiet and listen to my body in order to feel what muscle had been cut during surgery. 

As I did this I felt black blobs of doubt surround me, hopelessness descended and I hit a certain kind of despair.  My husband said he had been watching me and saw my face change, so he ran up to me kissed me and whispered in my ear “don’t do this, we will make it”. I felt the darkness evaporate.

Eve (The Nightmare) by Paul Gauguin

Later, as I lay on the couch again, my husband rubbed my feet. That foot massage was a miracle, the feeling of off and squirrelly dissolved. I began feeling more human again, something that I hadn’t realized I had missed feeling.

It’s interesting to note that a foot massage has been a transformative event both times I’ve had cancer. 

So here I am today, back to trying to find humor in this completely fucked up situation. 

Grateful for a tribe of people helping make this easier on my family.  Grateful for a family that’s here for me. Grateful for my mother and allomother.

So where’s the humor? I’m searching for it high and low. I promise.

::deep breaths::

OK

My surgeon used medical grade superglue on my incisions. Which is pretty cool.  I have two incicions one near my armpit and the other around my nipple. Only my armpit incision needed to be re-opened. Which means that I have a nipple that is covered with flakes of superglue. Yes, the superglue is flaking off and I’m reminded of eucalyptus trees and of peeling bark. It’s weird. My nipple, however, looks great… underneath it all. 

This is all starting to feel like a comedy of errors when coupled with my Hello Kitty “freezer burn”.

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Keep calm – 102/366

What is testing me?

Cancer.

It tests me all the fucking time. The expletive is needed, it is that severe.

I saw my oncologist today. All was good and my parts are working, but once cancer enters the picture… your confidence in your own health goes to shit.

Not all the time, but yes… all the time. New aches have moments that make you think “metastasis?”, old aches make you think “missed location for tumor”… every little things, brings it all there. And I know my odds… I have the same survival rate as someone who didn’t get a cancer diagnosis, that is how early we got it… but there was an it to be got.

I realized last week why I was feeling insanely mixed up (anxious)… this appointment was coming. It, I imagine, will continue like this. I hope that it becomes routine enough that I begin to find some stability in it, but it still makes me a little upset.

 

What a difference a year makes

In 27 days I will celebrate one year of remission.

Today, I reflect on one year since I got the telephone call.

At 8:58 AM my doctor left a message that did not pop up on my phone for  at least another 20 minutes.

I was at work, and my office is in a cellular black hole. I was unable to listen to the message through my phone. I had to call my voicemail from a land line. I learned that I had cancer via voice mail.

I’ve left the voicemail unheard, like this, since, that day.

I remember looking at my desk, that space between my keyboard and the edge, staring at the wood as I listened. He gave me the pathology report results, and then gave me some names and numbers of oncologists to call, and of course asked me to call him back if I wanted.

I remember taking a very deep breath. I had a moment of overwhelming helplessness. Didn’t know what I should do first. I didn’t want to call my husband or my family. I tried to think of a way to get through this without telling anyone. I realized that was going to be impossible. I decided to take care of business. I think this all happened in 16 seconds. I called and made an appointment with the first oncologist he had recommended and then called my doctor back.

So began something I had not signed up for.

Looking back, I can honestly tell you that in so many way this has been the darkest year of my life.

I try to hang on to those moments that gave me moments of brightness, but it’s some of the hardest most desperate hanging on I’ve ever done…

Especially during those times when recurrence, in spite of a “98%” survival rate (which is the same as any of us pretty much) becomes that focus on the knowledge that I am on that low end of that 98%  spectrum and a swirling mess begins. I wish I could invoke my husbands Austrian pragmatism and just eschew that as silliness.

Actually, there is a part of me that can. What ends up happening is that I have conflict.

So, since I have dedicated October to mindfulness I want to explore how I can manage this conflict. I hate feeling the way I’ve felt this past year.  This article gives some clear steps on how to do that:

  1. Whenever you become aware of negative thoughts and emotions arising, rather than ignoring them, or setting them aside for later, identify, acknowledge, and honor them.

Identify: As a result of my cancer diagnosis; I am scared. I am angry. I am sad. I feel lonely. I feel ugly. I feel unloved. I worry that it will come back, every little pain or ache can bring that worry to mind. I feel unworthy. I feel like crying. I feel tired.  I feel selfish for being so sad and upset about these emotions. I feel let down. I feel like family is a joke. I am heartbroken that my mother chose to defend my aunt and berate me just a few months after my surgery when I was trying to find the good things in this. I’m angry that my aunt was a crybaby about my not thanking her enough. I feel like friends can bring greater value in times of stress (and this haunts me). I feel weak. I feel like a failure. I feel judged. I feel helpless. I feel like something I considered vital was beat out of me by this cancer, and by those I love. I am heartbroken to realize I no longer think I’m a kind person.  I miss the pre-cancer me.

Acknowledge: I clearly can see that these are all related to my diagnosis and experiences relating to all that has happened to me in the past year.

Honor: I have tried to do this, this is where I am stuck.

This past weekend I was at a leadership retreat where we did an exercise in which we had to picture us as an 8 or 9 year old.


I was told to picture that little girl in front of me. And tell her that I loved her. That she was bright, and kind, generous, and beautiful… loved. I was to caress her cheek, and hug her. I was to tell her she was valuable, important, strong, and brave.


2. Become very clear on what the specific upset is by identifying the exact thoughts that are bothering you. Are they self-judging, bad memories, or anxiety about future events? Any thought that causes dis-ease in you, regardless of past, present or future is applicable.
3. Next, indentify the specific emotions that arise in you as a result of said thoughts. What do they feel like? Is there tightening in your chest? Is your stomach turning or is there a throbbing sensation in your head? Again, any emotion that causes dis-ease is applicable.

4. Once you’ve clearly identified the thought(s) and emotion(s), close your eyes and explore the imagery they subsequently create in your mind (once you’re familiar with the practice, you won’t always need to close your eyes—i.e., if you’re driving, or in public you can still do this.) Do the thoughts and emotions create colors, shapes, figures? Are they abstract or clear? The important thing is to let your thoughts and emotions create the imagery while you simply become aware of what they are.

5. Breathe. We’re at the half way mark and I’d like to offer you a sincere congratulations on completing the first half! Our natural tendency is to suppress these uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, often telling ourselves that we’ll deal with them later—but honestly, does later ever come? Unfortunately for most of us, it never does. So even just by taking the time to become conscious of, and identify these unpleasant thoughts and emotions is a huge step! Let’s not stop there however, because here’s where the really good stuff starts to happen.

6. This step is where everything begins to change! Once you have the mental images of what your thoughts and emotions look like (and even if there’s no image at all, this practice still works), picture yourself holding the image (or lack thereof) in the same way a mother holds a newborn baby. Picture the image of your painful thought and emotion wrapped in a warm blanket, being held with very loving care closely to your heart, your chest, as you extend it very sincere compassion from your heart center. (You can also use the imagery of wrapping the thought/emotion in a warm blanket and placing it in a baby carriage, and rocking the carriage back and forth.)

7. Next, mentally (or verbally) say to the image that you know it’s there and you promise to care for and hold it with compassion until it’s ready to go. Do your best to say these words from a very sincere place in your heart.

I do not crave Squirrel Poop!

I crave PEANUT BUTTER!!!!!!!!!

For the past 5 weeks I have consumed at least 10 jars of peanut butter. At least 10 JARS! This is crazy.

It is like one of those insane cravings that can’t be sated. It has to be smooth – or as they say in peanut butter parlance – “creamy”.

Yes, I tried to curb the insatiable craving by buying a jar of the crunchy (or chunky) stuff. It merely slowed down the intake, but not enough to think it was effective. It was actually a catalyst for a dangerous turn in this craving period. I had to eat it with chocolate. Yummy combo yes, but not when you are a super dark dark chocolate lover and find that combination is heinous….so you run out and buy some crappy milk chocolate to make it palatable. And even if you return to the no sugar added creamy peanut butter your love, the taste for hints of milk chocolate remains.  So, I elevated the experience buy snagging some of  my son’s Lindt’s.

Only to find the creaminess of their center the absolutely perfect complement to the spoonfuls of peanut butter that I have been shoveling ion my mouth. It was heaven, though there is a lot more guilt from digging in to my son’s stash of favorite chocolates.

Creamy peanut butter, it is really awesome.

“Who uses crunchy peanut butter?” he asked the room. “You might as well eat squirrel shit.”
~ Michael Thomas Ford, The Road Home

I am not sure about the source of the craving, but the all-knowing Google gave me the impression that this is not an isolated thing, that there are many people out there with a hankerin’ for the thing I most currently consider a nectar of the gods.

There is a possibility that I am in desperate need of something that my body has been missing, much like the fierce beef carnivore I would become back in the days when I actually got my period. The interesting thing now, since I don’t get a bloody period, but do get a hormonal one is that I still crave beef, just not with as fierce a drive.

Ewww, gross.

Let us get back to peanut butter.  Creamy peanut butter!!!

It is insane, I am carrying around jars of peanut butter with me, I make runs to the grocery store when I polish a jar off. I have bought big jars, and normal jars. I eat it straight out of the jar.

My husband must think I am crazy, but even he has helped me give in to this madness by running to the store late at night to help keep me in stock.

It has to be plain or chocolate, no bread, no jelly… just peanut butter. and lately some chocolate is nice (but not required). Preferably off a spoon, but a knife or fork will do.

At least one site says that it helps fight stress. Maybe so. It makes sense, the past year has been stressful in a novel way. If peanut butter saves me through it, it is indeed the fruit of the gods… and gloriously explains my 30 pound weight gain.

Queen of my cancer domain

There is a bit of nervousness and apprehension as I approach my oncology follow-up visits.

I know to expect the following;  a vaginal exam, a pap smear, and my scar gets a review.

I never really thought I would ever blog about these things, but here I am talking all about my girly bits.

My oncology center has a pretty new office, it is fancy schmanzy. I was able to see their previous office space several years ago. I helped a colleague through their own diagnosis. The space has different kinds of patient rooms and this visit I got a room that I call a throne room. They have these modern chair-that-turns-in-to-an-exam-table-complete-with-stirrups-that-miraculously-appear things.

After being ushered in to the room by the nurse  I proclaimed that I was glad I got to get a throne room. I  sat down with royal aplomb, gestured grandly,  and proclaimed myself as queen of my own cancer.

This is the chair, with me in it… and yes, you can see my butt poking from behind that silly paper drape if you look hard enough:

Anyway, turns out that my abdomen is not lit up by my disco ball ovaries. 

My oncologist is incredible, there is a gentleness to him that is unseen in so many other physicians. All the Ob-gyn’s I know consider him their go-to guy for their patients with oncology needs. I understand why.

When he examines me, there is a certain gentleness. A real look at his handiwork not in how they reflect on him, but on how they are for the patient. If you are open to the idea of therapeutic touch, I would say this doctor was born with it. 

So, as I lay on that table-formerly-a-chair, I asked him what he had done with my ovaries. He explained that he had tied them down to a ligament. He followed up by explaining that they are about 3 cm lower than where they used to be. he added that they should continue to function as long as they normally would. My ovaries were not left to roll around. Nor were they hung up on my ribs like a disco ball.  

I told him my story was better. He laughed and said he thought so too.

Cancer patients tend to develop a kind of crush on their oncologists. I can totally see that. It is not the kind of crush where you feel love. It is the kind that comes from feeling gratitude, It is pretty amazing.

I am still reflecting a lot on gratitude. It is hard to properly express gratitude to people  in this experience. Gratitude, it seems, is my lesson that is still being developed in this experience.

On The Facebook today, I came across an essay on suffering and gratitude. There was something intense to ponder  in the message. And the message was made moreso when the essay ended with this message:

I am grateful for your hair, the beauty of your eyes, your way with words, your heart that always is ready to give, your willingness to grow, your willingness to not know, the way you garden, naked, early in the morning, your love of family, your love of wine, your love of Scrabble, your glass-half-full ways, your love for your son, your belief in God, your belief in the power of poetry, your belief in the power of love, your Catholic ways, your love of your mother, your love of Mother Divine, your pale white skin, your lips, your smile, the way you love your friends, the way you love. (Source)

It appears that little piece was about a woman named Adele. I believe Adele is pictured at the bottom of the page in source link. That part, though, touched on some of the things that people comment about me or that I feel about me. In some divine sense, I want to believe that I was meant to see it. And to relish this sisterhood I share with this woman named Adele.