Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Them and Me

I've been waking late at night to greet a returning visitor.

Hello, You that Shall not be Named, (stealing from Harry Potter).  The fear you inspire so powerful just saying your name might actually conjure you into existence.

So, I won't say it.  As, in the book, I don't want that dark spirit entering the room.  I don't want it finding me again...and just maybe if I don't face it, it won't see me.

But, I don't really believe that.

I've been trying to give up sulking, focusing less on breast cancer and more on life. There's not much to complain about in the big scheme of things, but lately, I'm haunted.

My friend, Debbie, wrote a guest post for me last September, Playing the Cancer Card and said her friend's younger sister had breast cancer.  Turns out, she wasn't young enough not to die from it.  She was just 48.  The exact age I will be in 18 days. She leaves behind her husband and 13 year old twin girls.

When I was diagnosed nearly three years ago, my husband turned to a co-worker with breast cancer for advice.  He is at her memorial service today.

I can't say I'm angry, as I have so often been.  These days I'm sad and overwhelmed by our new losses.  Which keep piling up, in what seems to me, epidemic numbers.

More women who do everything they're supposed to do.  Have surgery, endure treatment after treatment, make their way through each day with their wigs and their scarves, and their implants, and their Tamoxifen, carrying a small shred of hope deep down that something, somehow will make the difference.  That they will be the ones to beat the odds...but they don't and if they can't, how can I expect anything else?

Walls seem to be closing in.  Cancer all around.

The same small flicker of hope lives in me.  It's the one I call on late at night to ward off the impending visitor, to push away the question...Has it come?  A cold sweat breaks because I know next time, as with those ladies before me, there is no escape.

I've been diagnosed once already... I can't turn back the clock to a time before cancer cells invaded my body, to a time when the news might be good...not again.

Once diagnosed, in that one instant, we're changed forever.  Even with no evidence of disease (NED), recurrence lies waiting, taunting me, and nothing I do will scare it away.

I can only hope for the best and know there will be moments of failure on my part, weakness in the face of something sugary, or lured by the call of a comfy couch rather than a treadmill, but it is still my life and this is its path.

I can follow it ready to embrace all that's good or waste these days worrying about something yet to come.

I can choose to learn from these women.

These mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters who wanted to live just the same, just as much and be happy I'm still here to do it.



Thursday, April 5, 2012

Travels with Dad

Day one of my journey with Dad.  I've been pondering some serious thoughts about this trip, but before sharing that, here's an honest account of our first day together.  This may provide some insight into future posts.

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The day seemed ominous early.  My oldest son threw up all over himself and the back seat just as we arrived at the departure terminal to be dropped off.  I felt badly leaving my husband and sons then, afraid things were getting off on the wrong foot, but tried to remain positive as we said goodbye and headed inside the airport.

Right from the start, I sensed trouble.  While waiting on the security line my father informs me he doesn't have to remove his shoes like EVERYONE else since he's over 75.

"Really, Dad, and you know this for a fact?  Just do what they tell you to do!"

Oh, wait, you didn't hear me because now you're informing the TSA agent he should accept your veterans card as proof of identification, but since he won't, you proceed to take out the fattest wallet in all of North America and dig for your driver's license.  No problem.  No one else is waiting.

As you can imagine, the "discussion" with the next agent about his shoes didn't take long.  No one was buying his theory on senior citizens...His shoes came off.

At this point, it's my turn to go through the scanner.  I've flown since getting implants, but this was the first full body scan I'd seen.  The one Nancy's Point mentions where you need to raise your arms.  Thoughts of Nancy and Ann Marie and their TSA troubles come with me as I brave the scanner and only briefly panic that I would be called to the side for something suspicious that was really just reconstruction.

I couldn't allow more than a brief moment of worry, though.  I had to find my father.  He was still behind me somewhere unloading his pockets.  Thankfully, his pocketknife was not among the collection of coins and keys in his tray.

After that, we were done.  Amazingly, we'd made it through security without further mishaps.  The thing about removing his suspenders didn't happen until the return trip.

Moving on, our gate, of course, was the one time forgot.  The furthest away from where we stood.  Thankfully, Dad's carry on luggage which he insisted on taking despite not having wheels isn't too heavy and I can place it on my wheelie one when he starts slowing down, which is pretty soon.  It's been a long day so far.  Only another 3,000 miles and a drive to the hotel left to go.

Finally, waiting at the gate.  What could go wrong here?  I start checking my phone for email and tweets and only then do I realize my father is loudly commenting on everyone's use of phones and laptops.  Why does he care?  I'm right next him to doing the same, which is what I'm telling him when a lady sitting two seats away starts yelling at him that she has to make phone calls, needs to check in with someone...

Umm, okay.  I turn to her and try to explain he didn't mean her specifically.  I can't believe I'm stopping a fight between my dad and some stranger in the airport about cell phone use.  Here's where I dig deep and remind myself this is supposed to be fun!  A great opportunity to travel with my dad.

Right.  Moving on.  Time to board.

We find our seats on the plane, thankfully, away from the angry, cell phone woman.  Dad is finally belted into his window seat.  I, in the middle and a very nice, blissfully unaware lady on the aisle.

A bad feeling settles in when we're still parked at the gate twenty minutes past departure time.  Please, no problems, please.  But, as we know, just because we say please, doesn't mean we get what we want.

Turns out, the co-pilot never showed up for work.

Yes, it's true.  He didn't show and apparently this was a surprise to everyone involved since a replacement wasn't called until the last possible moment.  A commercial airplane can't fly without a co-pilot, but not to worry, he was on his way and expected to arrive in...two hours.

Everybody off the plane.

I got Dad out of his seat and walked ahead of him. Past the pilot, standing in the doorway getting his head handed to him by an angry passenger about to miss his connection to Hawaii, when I turned to say something to Dad, who was suddenly no longer next to me.

Oh no!

I looked back to see my father standing with the pilot. He's laughing.  The pilot is not.  Oh no, again!  Get off the plane, Dad!

When he does, he said he was telling the pilot he'd stand in for the co-pilot.  That's nice. Just what the pilot wants to hear and before anyone asks... No, my father does not know how to fly planes or is the least bit qualified to sit up front with the pilot.

Two hours and one yogurt smoothie later, we're back on the plane.  We make up an hour in the air and only arrive one hour late.  After that, a $50 rush hour cab ride to our hotel, which...well, you can guess how that went over.  Not a good start, but then!  We walk to our rooms, and like our gate at the airport are as far from the elevator as one could possibly get.  It was really far, but, it's okay, I have a wheelie suitcase which carries his non-wheelie...

We're not changing rooms.

We've arrived.



Monday, April 2, 2012

Unexpected Reminders

It's impossible to forget - no matter how I try to stash it behind me.  Staying in the past is just not cancer's thing.  Paranoia and upcoming appointments push it from the shadows. I accept that.  It comes with the territory.  I get it, but what I'm discovering a lot lately is unexpected reminders.

Reminders I don't see coming.  Those that hit like a stomach punch bringing up memories I'd rather not recall and thoughts, I'd rather escape.

I'm learning television and movies love nothing more than a sad storyline and what's more tragic than a mother with cancer?  Like last night's episode of Mad Men.  If you're a fan and haven't seen it yet, beware, spoiler alert.

We see Betty, Don's ex-wife and mother of his three young children looking a bit heavy.  Still gorgeous, just carrying a few extra pounds.  This is attributed to real life pregnancy, but since she's not with child in the plot, the writers choose to put her through a cancer scare.

I didn't see that coming.

She gets sent for a biopsy where she runs into an old friend with cancer, we assume. The word is never said, but she's there for radiation treatment.  They speak of what it's like for this woman, this mother.  How she feels she's sinking into the ocean, alone, then suddenly remembers something her family needs, some housework, everyday stuff, but the underlying, accepted, message of the conversation is she'll die.

Don's new wife starts talking about taking in his kids, but he cuts her off.  Later, he admits he can't imagine his children without their mother.

Lines of dialogue that hit extremely close to home.

My husband and I watch together in the quiet of our bedroom.  The air thick with words unspoken.  No need to say anything.  Our thoughts are coming to life on the screen.

Then Betty receives her call...benign.  Her new husband said he felt he'd been given a gift after imagining the worst.  All the what might have beens and is relieved everything is fine.

Life as they know it will go on.

It sure makes for compelling television, but had I known, I might have chosen not to watch.  Like if I'd known the outcome that day nearly three years ago -- maybe I wouldn't have answered my phone, believing in a better ending.  

We didn't get a call like Betty's.  Ours, went another way, produced a different script. We get to live with the fear of children growing up without their mother, a husband losing his wife.

There was no choice for me that day.  I picked up the phone and heard the words, "You have...".

From that point words didn't matter.  Everything had changed.

I'm not sure there's a way to avoid this literally phenomenon of tragic illness.  It's prevalent because it's relatable, emotional.  It doesn't matter whether it's someone else's story, in some fictional life.  Even so, it touches me.  Looking away or turning it off doesn't change my reality.  My story remains the same and sometimes, I don't want to see it played out on television or reminded of it when I least expect it.


How do you feel about TV shows and movies showing women, mothers especially, with cancer?  Can you watch?