Monday, May 6, 2013

Reflections on My 49th Birthday

I know.  I haven't written in ages.  Reading and writing blog posts have been difficult the last few months and not for any reason other than I'm just busy.  Amazing actually, to find myself sucked back into the everyday-ness of ordinary life after being so rudely pulled from it four years ago.

So... what to do with my blog?  Do I write a goodbye post?  Do I let my blog flail in the wind?  How can I be a fearless friend if I can't bear to read the words of others anymore?  What if... When if... I need you again?

What to do?  What to do?

While pondering my next step, I had a birthday.  Today actually, right now, I'm 49 years old.  I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma 5 days before my 45th birthday, so I'm often quite reflective at birthday time.

However, this one is different.  I am fortunate to be living with NED, to my knowledge on this day, but the thing is, my mother was 49 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I don't know enough of her facts to say it was that cancer that eventually killed her or whether it was some other primary that surfaced, but let's say it was.

I keep comparing myself to her.  I was just turning 45, she was 49... I'm now 49.  How did she feel at 49 to know she had breast cancer and the tortuous road of surgery and treatment ahead?  She still had it all to face, at 49 and years later she died.

I need to stop comparing myself to her.  I am not her.  My disease is not hers.  A very wise friend of mine once told me, we can listen to each other, support each other, but we cannot take on their illness.  It is not ours to take.  We cannot listen to their symptoms and believe we are the same.  We are not.

I've been having great trouble remembering those words when reading the writings of bloggers still in the midst of their cancer life.  It saddens me and I find I can't help them or myself.

On this birthday, or any of these blessed days I want to live in the moment, enjoy my children, my husband and the adventures a healthy life brings.  I don't want to live in a cancer world anymore and if cancer isn't forcing me to, then I need to leave it... While I can.

So for now at least, I'm saying goodbye and thank you for being there for me.  Your comments, support, encouragement and advice have been invaluable.  I would not have made it through without you.  I hope to return the favor one day, but right now, I need to go.

Please know I remember all the kind, gentle words you gave when my beautiful boy, Goliath, died.  For even a death of a beloved pet was made bearable by the support and love given so freely by you all.

I'll never forget it.



My inspiration 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Ties that Bind Us

It didn't matter where I was.  A room full of women at a support group.  Sitting next to a "young-ish" woman in my oncologist's office.  Alone in front of my laptop.

We'd find each other.

They were there, these women like me who heard they had it -- that word.  That word I hate giving breath to, life to.  I won't.

Years ago I was afraid to say it, but for different reasons.  When my mom was diagnosed in 1983 I'm sure I never told a soul.

Who could say those words?  No one spoke of it then.  She carried it alone.  How hard that must have been.

Even after she died, I wouldn't say it just so I could pretend it wasn't still out there somewhere searching for others.  Or me.

When it found me in 2009 I thought I had to bear it alone as my mother did.  That's what I knew and that's what I did.  Lugging it with me wherever I went, whatever I did until I couldn't hold it anymore.  I finally spoke its name hoping to ease its grip.

In a support group I had somehow gathered the nerve to attend I met women openly describing their experiences, dealing with it, even laughing about it.  Death hadn't come to this door cloaked in cancer.  At least not yet.  Not on that day.  We all knew too well that it could and when it showed up, it wouldn't differentiate between us.

It wasn't easy at first, to say the words out loud.  Voice what had happened to me, to my mom all those years ago, but these women listened.  They got it and I inhaled their support like a drug.  I wanted more.  On various levels each and every one in that room related to my story and it was intoxicating to be around women who knew what I was talking about.

Months later I started this blog.  Something I never thought this shy girl would do, but I had to let out my experience, find others like me.  I knew they had to be somewhere and I craved their words.  I sought connection by saying, "I know how you feel" or found vindication through their comments expressing the same.

What I unknowingly stumbled upon changed how I saw cancer forever.  We were wrong, my mother and me. We were far from the only ones and no one had to take cancer on alone, but perhaps it's the initial self-imposed isolation that drives so many women to seek answers on the Internet, to search a vast void for some personal understanding that's sometimes so hard to find in people closest to us.

We just had to learn where to go.  Staggering numbers of women with breast cancer -- All ages, all stages, all types, all treatments, all different, but all tethered together by those words.

It's more than 2 years since I started Bringing Up Goliath and though I've never stopped reading other bloggers, I faltered writing my own posts.  For a long time I wrote about life with cancer front and center and as it began to take a back seat, I questioned every post, every topic.  Were my words less important now that my day to day no longer revolved around active cancer crap?  Now that reconstruction was finished?  What did I have to say?  So many have it so much worse.  The blogosphere should be theirs.

I stopped writing, not because I wanted to, but because I was unsure how to proceed.

Yesterday, seeing Fearless Friends rush to support a blogger who had received the worst news and then later joining the amazing #BCSM tweetchat in memory of friends lost to Metastatic Breast Cancer, I remembered why I was here in the first place.  I remembered how I wished my mom had known this community.

Maybe posts don't have to be about cancer all the time, maybe it's enough saying I'm here. This is what I'm dealing with, how about you?  Maybe something I said will spark recognition in someone and they'll get what I'm saying despite the differences in our disease.  Maybe they can lighten their own load.

We're the same.  We've been forever linked by those words.  Not a whole lot of people can say that, (lucky for them) so it's a good thing we've found each other and I guess I don't ever want to give that up.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Past

When I was a very young girl, my mother let me skip the last day of school before Thanksgiving. How I loved those days.  A break from the ordinary, the air thick with anticipation for the fun, food and family that was to come.  

Every Thanksgiving, my family and my aunt's family would alternate houses.  It was a fact, a given we relied on without question.  Thanksgiving would be either here or there.  No where else.  I can still see my mother in our kitchen, white phone in hand, coiled wire stretching to wherever she was, planning menus with her sister, gossiping about in-laws.

It was great having a big crowd at our house, but so difficult waiting for their arrival.  When would they get here?  The slowest morning ever!

If we were the guests, we'd get in our car bright and early for the long two hour drive to my cousins' house out among the New Jersey cornfields.  Some years we'd detour through the Bronx (NYC) to pick up my grandparents and after four hours and a couple of bouts of car sickness, we'd arrive to a house full of cousins, games in the basement, platters of food, a warm kitchen and our moms -- Two sisters, together again, chatting non-stop.  We'd stay very late, fall asleep in the car and talk about doing it all over again next year.

Over the years, the usual crowd scattered about.  My brothers often went to their wives' families. My aunt had died swiftly and horribly from breast cancer.  My mother had dealt with her own diagnosis, but persevered, flourished for a long time and a happy Thanksgiving could still be found in our house.  I would leave my Manhattan apartment for the comforts of home, a long weekend with nothing to do, but eat, sleep and hang with family until it was time to go back to my insular world in the city.

One year my mother was too sick from her breast cancer recurrence to host Thanksgiving and didn't feel up to going anywhere.  My brothers were off with their growing families and I had been invited to spend the weekend with my boyfriend's (husband to be) family.  I wanted to go, but felt the pull of my parents alone on Thanksgiving.  I remember my father asking what I would do.  He said we'd have Thanksgiving.

The lure of a familiar Thanksgiving was too great.  Visions of it blotted out reality and when I arrived Wednesday night I was annoyed to find a dark, quiet house.  No bustle, no music, no warm smells wafting from a bright kitchen.  Not even a cold turkey taking up space in the refrigerator.

Zero signs of a happy life.  Just screeching evidence of one ending in a bed down the hall.

I'm not proud of my next moments.  Instead of understanding, pitching in, cooking, helping any way I could, I took the role of petulant child and gave my father grief for ruining my holiday.  I could have been somewhere with people celebrating, laughing...not dying.

There was no Thanksgiving here.

The words I said to my father still sting in my memory.

"Now, I'm stuck here for the whole weekend."

I remember his justified anger, his voice breaking, "Thanksgiving, it's her last one."

I knew that...somewhere inside, but maybe by wrapping myself in memories of Thanksgiving past I could ignore the devastating situation that was playing out right in front of me.  Pretend it wasn't truly happening and the unthinkable wouldn't, couldn't be real.  But, of course, it was and even the strength of denial couldn't stop it.

Less than 4 months later she was gone.

I want to say I'm sorry.  Sorry for being so bratty.  Sorry for acting as if my good time was more important than my mother or my father, who took such amazing care of her.  Sorry for the words left unsaid on that day, on many days...

Happiness is not a divine right and sometimes life craps all over it, but it's ingrained in me to be thankful for my childhood, for the love two sisters had for their families.  Thankful for the joyous anticipation I still feel and am trying to instill in my own children as Thanksgiving approaches.  As my mother did for me.

I'm thankful for my family and friends, near and far.  I'm thankful for NED and most certainly for the house full of people I'm lucky enough to surround myself with on this special day.

One, so very different, so very far from that dark, quiet house 12 years ago when there was no joy. I wish I could let it fade away, wipe it from my brain and focus on the many other days that bring me to still love this holiday.  Love it as my mother did.

I'm working on it.

And to all of you who read my words,

I am so thankful for you and your unwavering support and encouragement.  I wish you your best Thanksgiving yet.