October 26, 2015: 10 years

October 25, 2015

For weeks – the 10 year mark has loomed in front of me. And given that I’m not exactly the ‘isn’t it always a happy day today’ kind of girl, I’ve had mixed feelings about it. I’m not even sure that I want my survivor-date to be the anniversary of the day I started a month or two of being so wasted on zanax so that I could make it through each day and just breathe (and nod out – cheap date that I am) while trying to process the idea that I had cancer. Breast cancer. Cancer? Family history made me familiar with massive strokes and heart attacks brought on by too much schmaltz consumption but…cancer? Not in my vocabulary.

You know those moments you never get out of your head? In the complete haze of the day (waiting 3 hours before I was seen and then an in-office biopsy and waiting more and then some more with a husband who could only gamely try to look like its all going to be ok), mine is the older lab tech who came in and said, in the oddest almost-jocular fashion: “Well, the good news is it’s the ‘garden-variety’ type.”

I chewed on that for years. Through all the hurry-up and wait. Through being told that this found lump was much bigger than it ended up being. Through finding out that this medium-sized lump was much more aggressive than they thought it would be. Through making choices about keeping one breast, loosing two breasts, or getting my plastic surgeon and breast surgeon to forget that they hated each other and agree to a massive lumpectomy and resizing me bilaterally. Through the start of the chemo – head in a bucket mid-night because someone didn’t take me seriously when I said I get easily nauseous and having to have a friend secretly watch our young daughter overnight so I could be rushed into Manhattan to be rehydrated and given more serious anti-nausea drugs and then rushed home so the school morning was as if we had been there all along. Through the shaving of the head (bless my dear friend Lisa for being my witness). Through all my conflicted feelings about wearing a wig. Through the second set of chemo and the vicodin-glazed afternoons to calm the shooting pains in my legs while I stood in open houses pretending to work (bless my dear friend Janice for making me pretend). Through an office colleague saying to me on the street: ‘wow, you know you lost weight and you look good’ while I was only ½ way through treatment. Through the real blessings of my family and some steady friends who came over and pretended that I could really play scrabble and concentrate on the game. Through the 5 ½ weeks of radiation and all the bubbling blisters and the determination to be done so that we could drive my daughter to her first summer at the camp I loved. Through the wonderful trips we’ve taken and the sideways glances at every airport as I stand with my lymphedema sleeve and glove on my right arm – oh, and the quick learning curve to never ever put it on before you go through tsa screening lest you be thought to harbor something evil within the elastic compression sleeve. Through the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding fight with my new health insurance company when they call you on your birthday in the middle of breast cancer awareness month to inform you that, essentially, all those pesky breast cancer survivors were costing them too much money at Sloan Kettering and that they were going to eliminate the hospital and doctors as a choice– oh wait, all my care is there now. (won that particular battle).

10 years have not gone quickly. What happened to me has happened to many survivors of trauma: I saw so many other people like me. Or maybe what I really saw was that I was exactly like so many other people. Walking slower down the street. Watching tv and thinking you’ll just scream your bloody head off if you have to hear the word ‘cancer’ for the 10,247th time that week. Feeling utterly determined to move forward. Feeling utterly exhausted when you can’t always do that. Feeling that your life – the progression of your life – was taken unfairly away from you and feeling that your life is something really different and new and possible even as you embrace the joy of the everyday life. Tamping down the at-least twice monthly fear that you’re done-for because your left pinkie is aching or you have a bump on your arm that turns out to be a bug bite. Trying not to be so angry. Hoping no one will notice your vocabulary work-around when the chemo-fasia of your brain doesn’t allow you to access words in a timely fashion. Trying not to notice that your belly is somewhat bigger than your boobs. Trying to sing too soon and having to lay down on the floor of the studio winded from one song. Going through a somewhat secret bout of DCIS two yeas ago (oh boy….non-invasive!) and being treated to a teeny lumpectomy and finding out that you were getting rewarded with even more radiation but realizing you were not going to sink to the depths of despair and were actually able to believe your incredible new breast surgeon who held your hand kindly and said “I really mean it that this is a blip on the radar”. Finding out that you can sit with a newly diagnosed friend and give thoughtful advice to help them on this path – the oddly-best of which involves the importance of ‘colace’ and how to jettison the ‘friend’ who wants a ‘staring role in your illness.’ Finding out that you can sing again – and, in a weird gravitas kind of way, far better than before .

It wasn’t a secret-gift…it was cancer. Fucked-up mean-spirited screw-with you cancer. But with the gift of whatever the pros had to throw at me, because that’s what they had at the time, I have survived and I have chosen to love my friends more, hug my family all the time and accept that I am happy to be the big personality that I am. If you see me being too still – too quiet – nudge me, ok? I was in a bad way a few months back til I just stood up and confessed – quite out loud – that I realized I was sitting around ‘waiting for something bad to happen’. And pissy peevy get-over-yourself girl that I am, the saying it was the banishing of it and I have to remind myself to ‘sing out, louise’ and remind myself that it really has been 10 years. I work very hard to daily remember a version of Lisa’s Grandma’s wise advice: ‘Don’t borrow worry.’ (I work at it…rarely achieve it tho).

A few weeks ago I was on the stage at City Center and sang – it’s not solo work but it’s been hard and very rewarding work to be part of an amazing group chorale –and in two weeks it’s Carnegie Hall with the same group. I have a daughter who is the light of my life and a husband who is shockingly kind and steady. I aim toward the big sing again with incredible teachers holding me up toward the light. I am surprised when I realize that people don’t look at me now and think: oh, you had cancer. I have friends who I work to become a better friend toward. Family who are surprisingly resilient And I have myself. A very different myself. I know what matters. I suffer even less the fools and the bullshit. I love the genuine. I still wear mostly black.

I’ve survived 10 years. Now off to work on the next 10….

10 years

10 years


less-spoken bonds

June 5, 2010

 

my husband and i are coming up on our 19th wedding anniversary – and a total of 22 years since we met.  i barely know how that is possible – especially as i realize that this is more time than i ever lived at home with my parents and has resulted in a house and a 15 year old daughter.  stormy?  oh yeah.  many parts of it.   getting married at 33 (back in those days!) brought two very independent adults to the marriage – territorial and needing a lot of work on compromise.  the partnership, however, was there from the beginning.  as was the friendship.  the understanding of that partnership and the deepening of it – through lives and deaths and major illnesses and odd hours sitting together in our quiet Spring garden and anxiety and short-term illnesses that seemed harder than the big stuff – is mind-boggling and yet also sits in place like an anchor.  don’t get me wrong.  we fight.  i’m exceptionally loud.  ‘battlin’ is one of my nicknames.  he’s cool like ice when backed against a wall and quiet.  no less intense.  but we each know that the bottom line is that the other (ok…i’ll speak me to him) … that he is such a mensch.  in a world of slick stylish flash-in-the-pans, i found a kind caring partner who has my back and knows, i believe, that i have his.  sometimes he kids me that i could have/should have found a flashier guy with a more well-to-do lifestyle.  and tho i love the new stuff – ohhh…shiney new stuff and lots of deals – i also have very good instincts that i make myself listen to.  and those instincts tell me that this person – this man – this partner – is the best deal i ever made.

 


4 years behind me.

October 26, 2009


and tomorrow, 4 years and 1 day.  today is my 4 year ‘anniversary’ of the sad and awful day i was diagnosed with breast cancer.  i won’t dwell too much on that day except to say that it was a surreal nightmare that seemed to go on and on.  of course, that might have been the copious amounts of xanax i ingested in order to find some way to keep breathing.  that xanax.  that was an eye-opener for a girl who didn’t take pharmaceuticals!  (actually, more like an eye-closer because even 1/2 a tiny dose put me right to sleep.)

i’m a little nervous to even ‘talk’ about it but then i reasoned that it is simply a fact.  and tomorrow, i will be 4 years and 1 whole other day away from that stupid fucking day. 

i’m 29 pounds lighter and have immeasurably improved my cholesterol and ldl’s and hdl’s and whatever other dl’s there are to improve.  i have hair.  i have stuff.  i have the most wonderful husband and am utterly in love with my quirky teenage daughter, no matter how many times she rolls her eyes at me.  i let myself sing at the top of my lungs (and, i promise you, that is inconceivably loud) when i’m in the basement on my wonderful elliptical.   for the moment, i’ve stopped compulsively eating between meals.  brooklyn is still one of the coolest places to live.  we have plans to travel more.  i have friends i like.  i feel here. 


happy anniversary?

October 16, 2009

i slipped up today.  i was at an early morning appointment with a customer who i have been working with for a long time now.  we were discussing when his husband was returning from a long out-of-town trip so that we could schedule some showings in a few weeks.  standing on the street as people hurried past us toward the subway, we were filled with a little exhilaration about the possibilities of what we had just seen and the good feeling that we would all together be able to put ‘boots to the ground’ for a push in showings once his husband returned.  i turned on my treo and went to my calendar and flipped the date forward two weeks to october 26th – the first date we could all go out together – and said, without thinking: “oh, that’s my anniversary!”.  instantly the response came back: “how sweet, congratulations!”  and i found myself saying: “oh no, not that anniversary; my cancer anniversary.”   

pause

looking into his eyes i realized that he did not know.  i always think everyone knows.  i thought it was written across my face and my psyche for the past almost-4 years.  leaving behind the memory of my reflection sans hair in every store window i passed for a year doesn’t fade quickly.  i am only just catching up to processing the acres of time i spent laying in bed willing time to go by: sometimes so that i could get to the next anti-nausea pill or sometimes so i could get to the next pain killer (oh that taxol!) or sometimes so i could get to the end of the day just to put that day behind me.  i had to become a new person – not necessarily a better one…just a different one – to be able to talk to people while i was ‘in the process’.  the new one looked fragile but tried to not act it.  looked sick and tried to find a few funny lines to help shrug off the visuals and the assumptions.  moved like a frail old woman and tried to replace fitness with slowly lunking along my brooklyn streets and coming up with potential cancer song-parody lines. 

i know, you’d think that almost-4 years is a long time.  it is and it isn’t.  it’s just enough time to start to come out of the shell-shock of it all.  i’d say that happened for me around three years – and remember that 10 months of the 1st year were taken up with surgery then chemotherapy then radiation then a month of essentially sleeping all the time.  for the past year i have highs where my heart can’t remember for a few fleeting moments that any of it ever happened and then deep lows where i am reminded that i learned the real lesson and cliche that life truely turns on a dime.  it all changes in a moment with no notice.  those are moments of deep terror both in anticipation of what might come and to try to come to terms with the precipice on which i found myself standing.  the possiblity of losing my family and them losing me. 

i looked straight into his eyes.  ‘breast cancer.  almost 4 years ago.  i thought you knew.’  ‘no, i didn’t realize’ came back the reply as his eyes tried to find a focus on me that i saw changed what he had seen up til now.  ‘it’s a good thing’, i said.  ‘that was 4 years ago.’  i smiled.  ‘here i am!’


affirmative action

June 1, 2009

 

 

last friday was an anniversary of sorts. one year ago, bertha entered my life and my house.  i wrote about bertha earlier.    https://beanygetsablog.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/big-b/     i’ve been thinking a lot about the thought process that went into deciding to get her..it so mirrors my life.  i take a long time.  i don’t even acknowledge that i’m thinking about something important but i instinctively know that the gears are back there turning.  i mull.  a lot.  and then i know.  i just know.  the university term paper get succinctly written.  the paperwork gets done.  i decide to sing at a friend’s wedding.  i buy the elliptical and know that my life has changed forever. 

my manager at work has long since stopped asking me those traditional questions about my goals.  she hates my answer.  when she interviewed me, she brightly looked at me with hope and enthusiasm and said:  what are your sales goals?  man oh man am i not cut out for a traditional life.  i wouldn’t know a traditional reply if it was written on a card in my pocket.  ‘one deal a month.’  i thought she would pass out.  somehow i  got hired.  but that was one of my most honest answers publicly ever.  i knew that if i got one deal a month, i would strive for the 2nd and the 3rd.  but i wasn’t going to put it on a billboard only to fall flat on my face.  and last year i exceeded it with over 28 deals.  this year…good thing that’s my goal!  i might achieve it. 

getting off the topic tho.  i had to decide – in my very private heart of hearts – how to handle this expensive decision i had made.  was i just buying the sporting paraphernalia but then would leave it all behind?  i did take it day by day.  every single day agreeing to one more day of this.  i think that my decision to ‘never go on a diet again’ has been one of the most helpful things i have done.  i decided that there were a few things i could give up:  mayonnaise (i had a serious and cumbersome egg salad jones for the past few years); ice cream (substituted non-fat frozen yogurt or fudge bars) and a decision to try to eat ‘one major visible carb a day’.  those three things changed everything.  i eat.  i really eat.  and i love yogurt and fruit and almonds for breakfast – and allow myself to buy the stupidly expensive but truly wonderful fage 0% thick greek yogurt.  i tend to save my big carb for dinner – a baked potato or rice or pasta.  in fact, i almost never skip that big carb- it makes me feel normal.  i still have to convince myself to go walking – tho these days it’s more power-walking and flat out running – but i do well with a regular schedule and if i can do it in the morning, i feel so right these days.  (it’s wreaked a little havoc with my morning work schedule but …)

1 year.  23.5 pounds shed.  slowly.  bit by bit.  For me, the biggest milestone was finally finally finally creeping under the 180 mark while still being able to go to my favorite french restaurant once every few weeks for pan-roasted chicken and sauteed spinach and a glass of sauvignon blanc. actually, if i’m being honest here, the biggest milestone is that i am still ok with my goals – as private as they may be.   hooray.


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