Monday, June 27, 2011

Old Acquaintance

I've been very sulky lately.

The weeks leading up to my oncology visit tainted by my runaway imagination took a toll. Without realizing it, I ended up back in cancer's cloud.  The bleak, obscure fog blinding me to who or what's around.  All hidden.  I had to squint hard to see any good buried there.

In the midst of this, my little guy, graduated from Pre-school.  A significant milestone, but its importance intensified by the memories it triggered for me. Two years ago, my oldest son took part in the same ceremony.  He accomplished the same achievement, but I was newly diagnosed then, still facing a mastectomy.  The final pathology still unknown and weighing heavily on my mind as I sat among the crowd of smiling parents.

Instead of basking in his happiness, my son's rite of passage proved to be bittersweet.  I was mourning.  Our future, one big question.

It's ironic, sad even that I recently found myself in a similar situation, but despite my worries I knew I was better off than two years ago.  After all, these uncertainties were the product of my own paranoia, not any facts.  Not any new diagnosis, just the one I conjured up for myself.

Carrying that little fact close to me, I watched my five-year old parade past to collect his "diploma" and walk toward his future without my skin prickled by unspoken anxiety.  The words cancer and future so rarely go together, but this night, I tried my hardest to believe.

It's been about a week since my oncologist declared me normal.  Since learning the scans I was so twisted over were clear and I've become aware of a new emotion or rather, an old one I needed to reacquaint myself with.

Excitement.  Remember that?

I've noticed small sparks of something down deep flaring when thinking about upcoming commitments, parties, vacation.  For the first time in a long time, I'm looking forward to things.  My mind doesn't immediately go to that dark place or to a long list of unwelcome appointments.  There aren't any in the immediate future, in these summer months.  The black cloud has lifted for the moment and I can see past cancer.

It's freeing and scary all at the same time.  I'm afraid to even write it here for fear of jinxing myself.  I'm not superstitious, but cancer changes a person, changes the way I think of hope, makes it small.  I'm worried I shouldn't feel too good about stuff...or else.

Crazy, I know.

Anyway, I so often share the crappy side of cancer that I wanted to say I'm feeling positive these days.  Dare I say, enjoying myself and my family.  I'm no longer the only one at the party faking the laughter.  I have a slight recollection of life as I used to live it.  It's nice.

But even now, I can't end this post without saying I know cancer lurks just out of sight, as the sneaky bastard tends to do, but today, it's not breathing down my neck.  I'm grateful for that and for these days.

Enjoy...is one of my favorite words.  I plan to enjoy my summer.  I so hope there's joy in yours.



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wasted Days

My oncologist says it's normal to think every twinge or ache is cancer.

Normal.

Nancy's Point recently wrote about finding a new normal after a breast cancer diagnosis. What constitutes a normal life for us?  I'm not sure my life before was normal.

Is it normal to lose both a mother and aunt to breast cancer?

Is it normal to marry at the ripe old age of 36?

Is it normal to go to Russia five times in order to start a family through adoption?

Depending on perspective and environment, none of that may seem normal. Compared to some other life somewhere, anywhere, on this planet...it's out of the ordinary, but not for me.

If what my oncologist says is true -- I don't want to be normal, not this kind.

This kind of normal caused me to lose valuable, irreplacable time.

This normal discussed occasional, possibly insignificant aches with my oncologist during a routine visit, because as he accurately says, cancer patients worry everything points toward recurrence.  Despite blood work and tumor marker exactly where they should be, the question still lingers...

What if?

The thought proceeds to burn a hole in my brain, stealing any chance of enjoyable days with my children or happily planning a future, both immediate or otherwise.

His words, "bone scan" along with "chest and abdomen CT scans" spread the flame.

Bone scan?  I've never had one.  What will that uncover?  Something.  Why else would he send me?

Normal questions asked by a normal girl.

For eight days, the tests loom large, while my world gets small.  My husband takes the day off.  We arrange childcare.  I'm told it will take most of the day. While waiting, I sit home and read of happy events for Facebook friends.  I've stopped planning our upcoming August vacation.  I need to know the answer before I can move ahead.  I can't pretend things may not change.

In the car, on the way over I see on my iPhone that Ann from Breast Cancer? But Doctor, I Hate Pink has learned of liver metastasis.  I'm devastated for her. She's just like me.  One day believing all is well, going for tests and hoping beyond hope for good results.

Why would I be different?  Why her, not me?  No good reason.  I believe it finds us all in time and I'm pissed at the pink world that believes otherwise. Those using pretty pink to blindfold us from the truth.  It could be my day.

At the appointment, I'm told there's a discrepancy regarding the amount of radioactive tracer needed for the bone scan and there wasn't enough for me. I'd have to come another day.  Those words, as no other in the last week, bring tears. I've rearranged my life to accommodate this day.  How can I leave knowing there's still no answer?  Still wondering, having to come back.

My husband, in his own convincing manner pushed for a new delivery of radioactive material and two hours later it showed up.  In the meantime, I had the CT scans and once the freshly arrived tracer was injected, I was free to leave for nearly three hours while it made its way through my body.

Over lunch, my husband told me all would be fine.  I didn't have the heart to tell him, yet another blogger found out her cancer spread.  I looked at his hopeful face and reminded him I'm not any different from anyone else who hears bad news.  We all want the same things.  The same normal things.

I waited the next day for the phone to ring, in limbo.  Short-tempered with my kids, zero desire to venture beyond my door.  Unable to commit to anything, without knowing.  I was hovering in purgatory between life as I know it or shit hitting the fan.

The longer I waited, the more freaked out I got.  Convinced my doctor was waiting for all his patients to leave so he could speak to me undisturbed for however long it would take to explain this new development.  With every minute, I was losing hope all would be fine.  Mental bargining took over, knowing all the while, cancer doesn't care if I have children to raise.
 
How can this be anyone's new normal?  Cancer was stealing days from me while I worried, went for tests, ignored my children, waited to hear.  Just waiting, not living.

When he finally called to say all scans were clear, his description of choice was "normal."  I was normal.  I don't know about that.  I know I was grateful.  Grateful and relieved to depths no words can convey, but not normal.  This sucks too much to be normal.

Relief didn't last long.  Minutes after hanging up the phone, I wondered if he misread the reports.  Probably not, but isn't it normal to wonder about such things?



Monday, June 6, 2011

Heading Uptown


Thank you to Marie at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer for inspiring this post.  Marie asked her readers to share their other life.  To share that which filled their days before or after breast cancer.  When days were spent on more "normal" activities.  Life lived, as it should be, not in some altered universe where cancer takes center stage, but where it's a non-entity.

My question was which life should I write about?  I’ve more than one.  There's the one before breast cancer and there's the one before motherhood.  Both make up the person I've come to be.  

I went with a time before motherhood, before marriage even when the opportunity arose to take a class in modern day video editing.  Modern, compared to the last software I cut with about ten years ago.

A lot changes in ten years.  Careers change, couples marry and an urban working girl becomes a stay-at-home mom in suburbia.  Not that I don't love it, but the world didn't stand still while I changed diapers, and when I learned of the class, I hesitated.  Something I used to know so well had changed so much.

All sorts of negative thoughts emerged.

Who'll pickup the boys?

The class is way downtown.

Everyone will know so much more than me.

I'm having nipple reconstruction surgery the day after the first class.  Who does that??

Screw it... I went.

I took the train to the big city I've always loved.  Where my other life really took shape.  It's the city where I went to film school at NYU.  It's where I shared an apartment with best friends and then lived solo in a studio on the corner of 52nd St. and 8th Avenue with killer views of the Hudson River and sunsets. It's where I worked for more than a dozen years on BMW and L'Oreal commercials and shows for VH1 and Nickelodeon.  It's where I met my husband.

Once at Grand Central I took the shuttle across town to a west side subway and popped out on 14th St. and 7th Avenue as if I'd been doing it all along.  As if I never stopped doing it.  It meant something to me to know my way without looking lost...like a tourist.  Like someone who didn't belong.  It still, even after all these years, felt right.

Over the course of the four weeks, I felt reconnected to the other life.  I loved walking around seeing how neighborhoods changed.  I enjoyed class, learned a lot and even knew things about editing that other students didn't. That was a nice confidence builder.  

On my second to last day, I had an extra hour before taking the train home.  Instead of hopping the subway back to Grand Central, I decided to walk the whole way.

Twenty-eight blocks and six avenues.  Six very, very long avenues, possibly the equivalent of 3 blocks each, so figure, another 18 blocks.  A little more than 2 miles total, give or take, and it was raining...hard.

There was freedom in that walk, in the city that was once my home.  No one to answer to but myself.  I was free to stroll, browse, reminisce, and then without evidence of present day life anywhere to be found, cancer crept in, reminding me things were not truly the same.  Reminding me I may be able to return to old days in some ways, but not all.

I was okay, though.  It inspired me to speed up my walk.  I wanted to beat cancer by walking faster than anyone in the city that day.  Cancer wouldn't kill my ability to move, to be physically strong, so I floored it and except for one incident where a guy in front of me managed to take up the entire width of the sidewalk while carrying a sandwich, I was flying past everyone.  

I knew walking was good for me, as taking the class and venturing back into my old life, had been good for me.  I was more than the sum of motherhood and breast cancer.

About 40 minutes after I set out, I reached Grand Central, drenched in rain and sweat.  Happily, I entered the train station only to find myself surrounded by a sea of people selling cupcakes for the American Cancer Society.  

I couldn't believe it.  

I had some thoughts then.  The first was to wonder where exactly this cupcake money was going?  The second was, who else in this great hall had cancer or even stitched up nipples from reconstruction like me?  The third was, cupcakes probably weren't the best option for me right now.


I was tired of cancer right then.  I made my way through the maze of good will and headed for my train without a word to anyone.  Without buying a cupcake. I left it all behind. 

Near my track I bought a lemon sorbet.  The money wouldn't benefit anyone except the company that made this yummy treat, but it was good for me.  It was a good ride home.