Thursday, February 20, 2014
..... a day of reflection
..... and looking back at almost 5 years in this journey....
A few weeks ago I am greeted at the door of a friend's house. It is a gathering of people I have known for a number of years. Our host nudges me and quietly lets me know that we won't be talking about my cancer at her gathering. I am known to be quite candid with my illness but also respectful of our host who chooses not to focus on my illness when we are all supposed to be enjoying ourselves. A friend shouts across the room over the din when I seat myself nearby and says "so what's this about your neck?" "I thought your cancer was gone?" She goes on to explain to those around that if she had cancer, no one would know because she wouldn't tell anyone..... she says she wouldn't want anyone to know. She is confused by my openess. That's you but not me she states as she sits back in the couch and continues a conversation with the woman beside her. Then a few more voices chime in and want to know where I am at in my illness. I just explain briefly and smile that I am good, feeling good..... even if I am not..... I don't want to upset our host especially when she doesn't want it to bring anyone down. I brush off any more questions with a smile and find myself withdrawing consciously, stuffing my face to avoid conversation and then minutes later decide that it is time to leave. Smiles and hugs all around and I walk quickly home. I will join my daughter on the couch and take in a movie. Max will stay for a few more hours and return as I am crawling into bed.
Every day I committ myself to being positive and lighthearted about my journey... it is never my desire to inconvenience or make anyone uncomfortable. I tend to stay to myself and especially now when I am about to enter into another chapter of this journey.... for those tired of hearing that I still have cancer... you can never imagine how tired I am of getting endlessly poked, prodded, tested, scheduled and treated.... and all in the hopes of living my life as normal as possible. It is not something I can conveniently forget about but I do and blog as positively as possible. So what goes through my mind some days?
A day in the life of me...... I apologize for the candidness......
I am getting ready for the shower and I catch a glimpse of my naked body in the mirror... like most women, I see someone older looking back at me and wonder how that happened? I always picture myself much younger but the face tells me otherwise. The chemo ravaged the skin and the deeper wrinkles have aged me by a decade. The chemo thrust me into menopause which I now treat using a special anti-depressant with beneficial side effects that stop the pouring sweat. The scars and concave depression in the left breast and underarm is a daily reminder of that shower almost 5 years ago when I first found the lump that began this journey. The skin between the breasts and up to the bottom of the collar bone is slightly coloured and a bit leathery after the radiation. My gaze past my reflection to the top of the bathroom shelf above the toilet focuses on that decorative bottle that once held the vanilla infuser oil. My stomache rolls whenever I catch the slightest whiff.... it reminds me of the nausea of chemo. I enter the shower and my chest turns bright red in the pattern of the radiation coverage when the hot water hits it. The same pattern that showed up when I had that airport xray.....I wash all my parts, even the ones I have long since lost the feeling of.
Stepping out and towelling off, I have no choice but to notice the wonky hair that is no longer silky smooth and long. The eyes still look a bit hollow and the dark rings below will need to be covered up. I use the barest minimum of make-up.... too many chemicals. I search with my numb fingers and find the lump in my neck just hiding below the clavical. I will check it throughout the day to see if it has enlarged. My chest aches as I stretch my arm. The scar tissue needs to be stretched in the arm and chest from the two surgeries. My nails continue to snap off with the slightest pressure and I have begun to chew my thumbs again. They used to look so beautiful when I would often have my nails done at the salon but the danger of infection to the left arm that has few lymph nodes left means that I cannot do this anymore.... the loss of a full time job has also dictated many things I can no longer afford.
I rifle through my closet looking for something to wear. I have decided not to purchase any more clothes despite the fact that I could really use a wardrobe makeover that includes a really big bonfire and some good friends to help out. I used to like shopping but the past 5 years have seen my weight fluctuate incredibly with the use of steroids to help with the side effects of chemo. Menopause makes it nearly impossible to take it off until I began to radically change my diet. I watch everything I eat and avoid anything in a box. I have lost weight and look better.... but I am doing it to kill the cancer and no longer to fit into a bikini. I can't remember the last time I wore a bikini.
The jeans I choose are clearly sizes larger than what I am now. Sara will mention that when I arrive at work. Ah work..... I love what I do and I find being there the very best of my day (outside of being with my family). Sara and I work well together and our friendship is close. We have found our pace together. She will watch me while leaning against the door jamb of her office and marvel at the positive, high energy me interacting with the students. My passion for teaching in motion!!! The department I work for and those I work amongst should be truly the standard for all workplaces. The love, affection and support is amazing and I am deeply grateful. I am amongst those that are not afraid to discuss my illness, ask how I am doing and show emotional support. My life is richer for knowing these truly wonderful people.
The end of the day brings with it the usual fatigue and a call to slow down and spend time just blogging, eating dinner with the family or just quietly working on something.... I am doing a project for a girls group for May. It is another moment in my day when I am checking the lump in my neck and reflecting on my days past and what is to come. Some days I feel like I am in a rush to accomplish a gazillion things I always wanted to do and that fear I will miss something to other days like today when I am spinning my wheels just blogging and being deeply reflective. I remember my friend Ruth telling me she wasn't ready to die because she had so much more living to do..... those words have haunted me since her death mere weeks after telling me this. I know how she feels. I want to do so much and worry that I will not have the time to do it all. This year I am starting new projects mostly because of my many passions and partly because I need to strive towards future goals... its what gives me the drive to get out of bed and not submit to the isolation this illness brings.
At night, I hold my children tighter and tell them how much I love them. Lydia has decided to change the way she eats and to be more mindful of the sweets in her cache.... I see she is now giving her brother her most prized chocolate. Mitch is happy to juice greens and start his day with nutrition that most kids his age will not hear about until they get to my age and begin to consider their health. My wonderful Max who worries endlessly about how I am doing and where my head is at. He holds my hand through the night if I need him to and is my rock. He takes breaks to visit with friends around us to just get away for that little bit of time to recharge his batteries. The stress of my illness has made him a patient, caring husband and best friend. He needs the support as much as I do. He sees me at my lowest moments and these past few days.... he is just there for me. The middle of the night is the time I get up and quietly move downstairs to blog or just contemplate life where I can just cry or think or just sip a cup of tea.
I look at my sister's photos of her trip and rejoice in the fact that she is living her dreams!! We could all rip a page out of her book. I love and adore her and I am so darn happy for her and her husband that they are in a warm climate investigating every nook and crany of New Zealand. Her sunkissed beautiful smile as she beams into a camera and poof, there it is on FB seconds later. Social networking has saved my sanity these past 5 years!!!
So, I guess if you don't want to hear about my cancer journey.... it's not a problem because that makes both of us..... only I live it each and every day from the time I get up to way past when I go to bed at night and many moments in-between. I try to make it my lowest priority in the thoughts of the day but every once in a while it slips in, unannounced and disrupts my train of thought. I have come to accept that it is only part of who I am and not what defines me. Just right now.... it happens to be on my mind more than ever because I am facing yet another challenge and an unknown outcome. So allow me to apologize while I am putting on my coat to leave..... A cancer journey can be very lonely for those going through it and for their loved ones standing by.... so to my friends who are brave enough to call or just drop by to support me or to write lovely notes on social networking.... thank you. You cannot ever know how your words of support can pull me through the occassional funk. For those that want to know about my journey... I encourage you to ask me whatever you want. For those that don't - that's OK too. We all have our journeys to live, live them well and surround yourself with those who love you.