Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth... Not So Much

Cancer doesn't discriminate.  It doesn't care who you are, how much money you have, whether you have kids, a spouse, parents.  It doesn't care if you're a good person and it certainly doesn't care where you are when it decides to drop in and stay for a while.  Which, if you're home with family or friends or even alone, is probably a good thing. Where else would you be as you deal with surgeries, treatment, drugs, emotions, healing?

However, what about the beginning of this mess? Where were you? I've heard different women talk about getting the call that in a split second altered their lives.  Some were at work. Some were lucky enough to be home.  One woman was driving across a bridge.  More power to her for continuing across.

I was in a car that fateful day. My husband was driving and my then three year old was in his car seat behind me.  It was raining. Actually, it was pouring, coming down in such torrential sheets we could barely see.  As I listened on the phone, I wasn't surprised to hear the words. On some level I knew they were coming.  It was just hard to hear them over the pounding rain and the voice in my head repeating, "Say benign, say benign." When the doctor didn't, I handed the phone to my husband without saying a word and I cried.  I cried the whole way home.  I couldn't stop. Even when my little boy, who had never seen his mommy cry before, kept asking why Mommy was sad.
Now, here's where it gets funny.  My family and I were headed to Disney World the next morning for a trip planned months before. Talk about timing.  What goes through your head when you're told you have cancer?  What's the first thing you want to do? Who do you call? What appointments do you make?  Which commitments do you cancel? How do you process this heartbreaking news?
I know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to curl up on the bed and pretend I didn't hear those words. Pretend they didn't just change my life.  How could so few words, "It's a small cancer," change so much?
Thankfully, my husband took charge when I couldn't and started to make phone calls and ask questions.  Our instincts told us to act fast. 
Get an MRI!   Find a breast surgeon!   Get it out! 
We had to learn cancer doesn't work that way.  It's a process and nothing would change that over the next week.  Doctors said to go on vacation and try to enjoy ourselves.  The cancer would be there when we got back.  Well, they didn't say that part, but I'm pretty sure that's what they meant.
Then we were there, in Disney World.  I somehow finished packing and got two small boys on the plane without falling apart. Because that's what a mother does.  She carries on.  I spent the next seven days sharing one room and every waking moment with my family.  I never had private time to feel sorry for myself or question if I'd get to see my boys grow up. So, I had those thoughts in public, while roaming the Magic Kingdom, taking the boys swimming, riding the monorail, cueing up for Dumbo one more time.  These thoughts took over as I watched all the other families have the time of their lives.  I wondered if they had had such news.  Was I the only one that was sad here? It's cruel, I know, but a part of me hoped not.
Carrying that burden in such a joyful place was almost as hard as hearing the news.  I tried to live in the moment and enjoy the kids' excitement.  I really did, but every happy thought, every smiling face was followed by a million "What if's?" and "What's next?"

We finally went home, two happy boys, two emotionally drained parents and began the business of fighting this thing, because even though I had been in the happiest place on earth, cancer didn't care.  It was still along for the ride.
Where were you when you first heard the news?  How did you deal?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Power of Pink

One Million Strong (feat. Susan Sarandon) - Love/Avon Army of Women PSA

I used to pretend that if I didn't talk about breast cancer or acknowledge its existence in any way, then it couldn't hurt me. You know how everyone has a circle of personal space around them?  Well, if I refused to let cancer enter my space whether through reading about it, watching yet another news story or hearing about one other person I knew being diagnosed, then I was protected. It wouldn't break into my personal space; my force field held strong.

Stupid, of course, but when you're scared of something for so very long, that's how you deal.  At least, me, until it broke through and I had to face this enemy head on, boobs first.  The thing is, it's nearly a year and a half since I was diagnosed and the road travelled these days isn't as rough as it was early on and I'm starting to believe in the power of pink. Not in the "Let's raise breast cancer awareness pink."  Although, I won't argue the importance of that here.  No, I'm talking about its personal power when faced head on. 

Pink gives us the strength to accept the challenges we've been given, even when they seem insurmountable. Pink is the freedom to talk with others out loud, in public and not in the back room of a small shop in a strip mall someplace, as it was in my mother's day more than twenty years ago.  Pink has without a doubt, helped raise survival rates, so there are more of us out there to band together. The power of pink takes down the monster and just maybe, makes it a bit less scary.  At the very least, we are no longer alone and as they say, there's strength in numbers.

I can say the words now.  Breast cancer.  I couldn't when talking about my mother or even myself when first diagnosed, as if just saying it would make it worse.  Pink has allowed me to change.  I can read all about it now without being afraid.  In fact, I'm devouring any and all information I can get on how to fight this thing and I don't mean for my own particular treatment, but on a broader scale.  Before, I always wanted to look away, but now, I'm looking right at it and wondering what I can do to help.  

This disease has taken countless women from this world including my mother, my aunt, my brother's mother-in-law and two people my own age I knew since high school and those are just the ones I knew personally who have died.  How many more are living with breast cancer everyday?  I don't want it to win ever again. I'm taking a stand. For myself and for the women I've lost.  I signed on to Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women and I hope you'll consider doing the same.  I'm all for raising awareness and early detection is my mantra, but Dr. Love is working toward prevention, not just a cure. 

Please watch the PSA attached here and visit the Army of Women website.  Imagine a world without breast cancer.  Imagine all the women gone before us. How proud they would be.  It wasn't in vain. Pink will have finally killed the beast.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Now, A Public Service Announcement

Or, just me stepping onto my soapbox.

Here's the thing to remember:  Early detection saves lives!  I can't stress it enough.  I didn't explain it in my last post, but my mammogram looked absolutely fine that day. It was the ultrasound that showed something.  It was too small to feel and not visible on the mammogram.  In retrospect, a sad day turned out to be my lucky day.  I caught it early.

Please, please, please ask for both a mammogram and ultrasound, especially if you fall into any high risk categories.  This is my message and I'm sticking to it.  Shouting it out loud for all to hear.

OK, that's it. Back to your regularly scheduled life.  Oh, and if you have an early detection story, I'd love to hear it.  They make me happy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five Days

My assumption, these days, is that everyone has a story like this and if you don't, you're lucky.  However, you don't know that yet and most likely you're not reading this. My story begins five days before May 2, 2009. That date practically jumped off the calendar every time I glanced over for the months leading up to it.  If the date box could flash strobe lights, it would have. That's how excited we were about our first family trip to Disney World. I know some don't see the joy there, just huge crowds of hot, sweaty, cranky adults and crying kids, but not us.  My husband and I loved it and to say we were excited, limits how we truly felt.  If I could yell here, I would. We couldn't wait for that day to arrive and our vacation to begin.

Disney World's theme in 2009 was "What Will You Celebrate?" and we had so much.  My 45th birthday, the 2nd anniversary of H's adoption and AC's 5th birthday.  All good things.  What better place to be?

Five days prior to leaving, in the midst of packing and planning, I went for my yearly (since turning 40) mammogram, along with my first ultrasound. My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer at only 49 and her sister at 50.  I was used to the concern my family history brought me, but I was also used to breezing through the mammo appointments with an all clear. Besides, this year I had other things on my mind.  As any Disney fan knows, trip planning takes over your life.  It becomes an obsession. There's just no other way to be and I had it bad. If the radiologists had done an ultrasound of my brain, I'm sure they would have seen mouse ears, maybe a castle, for that was all I had in there.  It was stuffed with all things Disney. There wasn't any room for thoughts of daily life. However, the ultrasound they did do showed one, so small, so very tiny, yet suspicious cluster of cells in my right breast and in one sharp instant my brain cleared and my heart sank. This could not be happening.

Five days. I had five days to prep for the vacation of a lifetime. Five days to plan our adventures in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot and Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom.  Five days to plan our meals, our snacks, our pool time, our fun.  What would become of our celebrations, my birthday?

Days slowed into hours and 48 hours later I was having a core needle biopsy and 48 hours after that, just 17 hours before flying off to the happiest place on earth, I was told it was cancer. I heard the words I had been running from for 25 years, ever since my mom was first diagnosed when I was 19 years old. It finally caught me. I was sad and scared, of course, but also, bewildered and that's not a word I use often, but that describes it. I didn't know where to turn or who to talk to, and looming right in front of me was a trip with my husband and two small boys. I had to finish packing and catch a plane.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why Goliath?

Goliath is my dog.  One hundred pounds of beautiful, purebred German Shepherd. He's mellow.  He likes to sleep a lot and these days you need to nestle close to his ear if you want him to hear you, but this wasn't always the case.  My husband and I adopted Goliath from the local animal shelter when he was nearly two years old. We were ten years younger, childless and very likely smarter than today. I always had dogs growing up and convinced my husband our very small, very old Victorian house needed a walking furball to shed all over it and besides, it would be fun. My husband had never had a dog before, just childhood dreams of how great it must be... a boy and his dog running in the fields.  Off we went.  When you've never had a dog, it seems fine to immediately gravitate to and fall in love with the biggest dog in the shelter.  "Sure, he has a sweet face, but he's so big," I said.  "Ok." I also said. That may be the moment our quiet life began to change.

We named this giant dog with the sweet face, Goliath.  Just because we liked it, not because he resembled a huge warrior or anything.  Well, maybe just a little.  I couldn't know at the time his name would become to symbolize so much more. From here on out, things that seemed so ordinary, things that should have been ordinary became giant struggles.  Goliath size struggles.  Such as having a big dog, trying to start a family, and later being diagnosed with breast cancer.  All major, life altering things, yet life does go on, every day.  My boys still need breakfast, they have homework, they want a mommy playmate.  The dog needs to go out, or the floor needs cleaning.  There's laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, husband, work, bills to pay... You know what I mean.  The stuff that makes up every day continues, whether you're told you probably can't conceive, whether you just flew home from Russia with the cutest baby EVER, or you're told the small spot is cancerous.  I know I can't possibly be alone in these things and that's what brings me to write here.

I've search the internet for another like me, someone with similar experiences and the guts to share it, hoping for a connection to others that "get it."  When I couldn't find what I was looking for, I thought I'd put it out there myself and see what happens.  I hope you find me and share along with me.  We all have our goliath size struggles, everyday, but at least we're not alone to carry them.