Saturday, September 30, 2017

Never Saw It Coming

As I approach the first anniversary of my reconstruction, I find that I have many more good moments than challenging, many more reasons to be grateful than to complain, and many more occasions to celebrate than to mourn. Yes, it takes a lot of work and energy to stay positive, but I do that work because wallowing in pain, anger, and misery is unacceptable to me. My life, with all its twists and bumps, is the only one I've got, and I refuse to waste it.

That said, every once in a while I am overcome with rage, despair, pain, and exhaustion beyond my power to fight. I wish I could see those moments coming, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet.  Thursday, when the news of Julia LoiusDreyfus' breast cancer diagnosis popped up on my screen at work, I was seized with a unexpected wave of crippling rage and hopelessness beyond my control to ride. I tried to swallow all of those feelings and keep working, but the lump in my throat felt like it filled my entire chest. I excused myself, found a friend in the hall, and asked for a hug, and silently shook with sobs as he patiently held me steady. Then I ran upstairs to the private bathroom and collapsed in a fit of burning tears silently screaming, "No more! Damnit, NO MORE!" I ugly cried. I really ugly cried, my face splotchy red and purple with a nose that glowed like Rudolph's.

I couldn't go back into the office looking like that, so instead found a tiny niche in the conference room between a sideboard and bench, grabbed a pillow, and clutched it to my burning, aching chest, fighting to stem the tide. Of course someone came into the conference room to work just a few moments later. The sight of me in a mottled heap on the floor startled her, but she did just the right thing. She sat with me. She didn't ask questions, she didn't try to fix it, she just sat with me so I wasn't alone. In those moments, that was exactly what I needed. Eventually I was able to focus on my breathing and  calm myself enough to return to work. Having a regular mindfulness meditation  practice helped a lot as I fought to recover myself. I was able to step out of my head for a moment and focus on the breath flowing in and out of my lungs. While I couldn't do that in the instant that the wave hit, I did get there more quickly than I could have in the past.

Being the Betty I am, of course I had to start dissecting the episode as soon as I could think again. And, in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that I am not okay with not being okay. It would seem, however, that I am not as okay as I thought I was. I thought I was, "Fine," with all of it: breast cancer, double mastectomy, missing out on a giant chunk of the last year, reconstruction, pain...so much pain, and exhaustion that never seems to abate. I thought I didn't need to worry about not knowing what size or kind of bra I should be wearing, not knowing if the feeling would ever come back in my perky new breasts, and not knowing if anyone would ever find me romantically attractive again. I guess I was wrong.

I didn't realize that, after hurricane Harvey devastated so much of Texas, and Irma looked to do the same to us, disaster-prep and sleeping in the closet with the dog took a toll on me. I didn't realize how much I was feeling the bombardment of political ugliness. The vitriol constantly flung about like Mardi Gras beads in a parade attacked like tiny paper cuts to my, tender peace-and-love soul. One at a time they hurt, but bleed just a little. En masse, they can cause an excruciating exsanguination. The loss of another friend to this damn disease, the loss of a beautiful elementary school just down the street from ours in post-Irma electrical fire, and a mountain of post-cancer debt that I fear I will never summit, together created the perfect storm. My body, mind, and spirit said, "No more."

Now I realize it was too much. I am a painfully sensitive and empathic person. I have always known this, but apparently have never really learned how to handle it. Clearly I have work to do. When I started this breast cancer journey, and turned the focus of the blog to it, I promised myself I would be honest and show the good and the bad of every day so others would know that they were not alone. What I just realized today is that on bad days, I avoided writing altogether, rather than putting the negativity out there. I am sorry that I made that choice. It is so important for all of us to know that we are not alone in our anger, pain, or fear, regardless of our journey. I looked back at the brilliant book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton today and was smacked between the eyes with this gem. "My grief is a solid brick wall in front of me. I want to bulldoze through it, scale it, tear it down a brick at a time. I'm desperate to get to the other side of the wall so I can see what's waiting for me down the path." That is how I addressed my diagnosis and treatment from the first moment. Let's get through this so I can get on to the next part! Apparently that approach is only sustainable for a limited period of time. Clearly I hit my limit Thursday.

This entire post feels ridiculously self-indulgent, but it is the truth. I feel small, vulnerable, raw, sore, and exhausted from the energy it has taken me to be, "Fine," for so long. I feel foolish for thinking I could outrun all of the feelings that accompany a positive cancer diagnosis and treatment plan. I feel unworthy of all of the negative feelings because my cancer wasn't "bad enough." So many others face far worse prognoses and battles that mine. Who am I to presume to talk? Who am I to feel sad, angry, tired, or overwhelmed?

This week, I feel crushed under the weight of all of the questions that I cannot answer. However, I know that this will pass. Everything passes eventually. Everything. For now I can only focus on my breathing and, as Glennon so eloquently puts it, "Just do the next right thing one thing at a time. That'll take you all the way home."

This evening the next right thing was to write this post. Once I hit Publish, I have no idea what the next right thing will be. I will be still and listen, though. I will be still and listen until I figure it out, and then I will do that thing.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Thank you for supporting me through all of the days, even when I don't know how to support myself. Please be gentle and show yourselves, and each other, the kindness you have shown me.

#glovesup

Peace & love

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton inspired me to create this.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Brought Down By a Blank Page

I've been promising an update for the longest time. On my Lumpiversary, over Memorial Day weekend, I started a post, but never finished it. When I re-activated the Gloves Up team for the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, I started a post, but never finished it. When I went on vacation for seventeen days, I planned a post, but never started it. It seems that I am overwhelmed by the empty page in front of me. So many words flood my head, but sending them through my fingers seems more than I can handle. How is that possible? I beat cancer, but am sidelined by a simple blog post? How ridiculous is that?

Can you hear my inner critic, or is that voice just in my head? "You are pathetic! No one wants to hear what you have to say. What makes you think you have anything of value to contribute? Who do you think you are? Do something productive instead of hiding behind a computer. You never finish anything, so don't even start. Binge something on Netflix. Take a nap. Nothing you say will make any difference to anyone anyway." And so I listened. And I stopped trying to write. And I binged Netflix like a boss!

Here's the thing, though, I don't want that inner critic to be right. I want to use my words to heal my world. I want to help others who are fighting battles against illness, against themselves, against their circumstances. I can't do that under a blanket in my pj's with a remote control and a fizzy water. I can't do that if I never take a risk and put my words out there.

With The Breast Cancer Chronicles, I tried to keep things  real, honest,  and share what was going on as it was happening, but I also tried to focus on gratitude and positivity. That is how I try to do life in general. But some days are harder than others. Some days are hard. Period. It has been over a year since my double mastectomy, and ten months since my reconstruction. That seems like such a long time, and it seems like no time at all. I thought I would be slaying dragons and running marathons by now, but I'm not. (To be fair, dragons seem pretty cool, so slaying them is mean. And running unless someone scary is chasing me has never seemed like a good idea to me, so I avoid it at all costs.) I'm still exhausted most of the time. I still have pain from the surgeries. I still have to seriously psych myself up to do anything other than rest after work and on weekends. That is my reality right now. Will it always be my reality? Certainly not. But it is right now.

I went back to work full time in January. In February, I took up hard core mindfulness meditation. I gave myself a nine o'clock bedtime on school nights. I meditated every morning and every night. In March I went to Seattle with Mom to celebrate Baby Sis turning Forty. In April, I went on an amazing four day silent meditation retreat. In May, I got a roommate, school ended and I celebrated with some fabulous friends. In June, I took on some new responsibilities at work, and saw U2 live with the Betties. In July I went to the mountains with Mom & Dad then to Sedona with a lifelong friend. Now here we are at August, and school starts Monday.

Today is Saturday. It is pouring rain outside. I am under the covers with the computer in my lap, listening to the rain and trying to talk myself into getting out of bed. Is this my new normal? Is it yours? I don't know. What I do know is that I am still breathing, still fighting, and still grateful to be alive. I am grateful that you are, too.

#glovesup

Peace & love



Monday, February 6, 2017

On Aging and the Gifts of Cancer

As forty-seven greets me today I am grateful for so many things. I have an incredible family that loves and supports me always, without exception. We are there for each other. I have dear friends that I treasure from all stages of my life. Whether we see each other every day, or go years between visits, we feel like home to each other. We feel like love. I have a job that allows me to feel of service to others and to laugh every day. I have enough. I have enough of everything I need.

I am grateful for all that the last year has taught me. They were lessons I never wanted to learn, but I am so glad I did. I learned that I can be by myself. I learned that I actually love being by myself. I had no idea. I don't need another person to make me feel whole, I am whole. I am enough, and I am happy.

I learned that cancer is scary, but it is full of incredible gifts. Without cancer I would never have met some of the people that I now consider family. They know who they are: Irma, Renee, Colbie, Kelly. You know. Without cancer, Baby Sis & Baby Monster wouldn't have come home to visit twice in four months! What a treat! Without cancer, I would have continued running as fast as I could on the hamster wheel that I had allowed my life to become, never taking time to slow down, be still, and appreciate the gifts that were right in front of me. Cancer gave me the gift of dinner with my parents every night for months. Cancer gave me the gift of binge-watching Netflix with my mom and streaming Phish concerts with my dad, as he danced around my recovery bed. Cancer gave me the gift of time on the phone with Mom every morning on my way to work. Cancer taught me that it was okay to go out to a concert with Dad on a school night because I might never have that chance again. Cancer taught me to slow down and realize that now is the only time I have.

Without cancer, I would never have embraced my #f@ckitcancer diet or shaved my head. I was too afraid to get fat or look silly. Why? Why was I starving myself and fighting with hair that got on my last nerve? I rocked bald and weigh less now than I did before cancer! I look pretty damn good for forty-seven! I look alive at forty-seven!

Cancer taught me gratitude for every moment, not just the "good" ones, is the key to happiness. I knew it before, but now I know it in my bones, my heart, my brain, and my soul. Cancer taught me that the things I spent most of my time worrying about don't really matter. Life is going to happen as it will, and the only thing I can control is the way I respond to it. That I can do. Cancer taught me that meditation will help me "respond instead of react" to the challenges life throws my way.

Cancer reminded me of the importance of kindness. It costs me nothing to hold a hand or give a hug, but the joy it can bring is priceless. Cancer taught me to do the things I had been putting off until there was more money or more time. I can take neither of those things with me when I die. Instead I will embrace the experiences that I want to have now, rather than spending on "stuff" that will only create clutter later. Cancer has taught me to let go. Let go of anger, let go of fear, and let go of the "stuff" that was weighing me down. Cancer has taught me how little stuff I actually need. I am still working on getting rid of it, working toward a more minimalist lifestyle, but every day I find at least one thing that would be better off with someone else and I let it go.

Cancer has taught me that we are stronger together than we are alone. Cancer has taught me that we are all afraid, but if we hold each other's hands and hearts, the fear is much easier to manage. Cancer has shown me that I have gifts to share with those who are facing the battle themselves, and I will.

Cancer has shown me that my life matters. Cancer has shown me that I didn't need to give birth to make a difference in the life of a child. Cancer has shown me that my kids (my students) remember the life lessons we learned together, no matter how long ago "together" was. Cancer has inspired me to give with my whole heart every, single day.

Cancer has helped show me how to live.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. I love and appreciate you all.
#glovesup

Peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On Gratitude and the Gifts of This Cancer

I know it has been a while since I posted. Part of that was simply recovery and exhaustion. Part of it was struggling to find the words I needed to explain myself coherently. I am pretty sure I am still without the right words, but I am going to give it a shot.

Glennon Doyle Melton author of Love Warrior, founder of Momastery.com and TogetherRising.org
has become a hero to me of late. I have been binging her videos and stalking her website for several reasons. She is all about love. She speaks the language of loving each other. The language of love always winning. That is my language. That is the language which I aspire always to speak. She emphasizes the importance of facing our fears, showing up, being honest, and loving the awkward messiness of being human. She also happens to be the love of my beloved Abby Wambach, soccer's G.O.A.T., and author of her own amazing book, Forward: A Memoir.

I have been hiding behind my fear of saying the wrong thing. My fear of falling apart in front of you, when I have spent so much time focused on finding and showing the positive. I am Still and Always focused on finding the positive, but I need you to know that I feel tremendous fear, and I feel shame for  feeling fear, weakness, and sometimes for being weak. I feel sadness for all of the time in my pre-cancer life that I took for granted, even though I told myself I was living every moment, and I feel fear that none of this will make a difference when I want so desperately to do something bigger than myself with this whole damned experience.

I am rewatching The Hunger Games series this weekend, and was particularly struck by one of the lines, "The only thing stronger than fear is hope." I have hope that by talking about my fears, and yours, together we can all overcome them.

To that end, I am coming out of my fear closet. I am afraid, on some level, every waking moment of my life. I am afraid that the cancer will come back to kill me. I am afraid that cancer, illness, accident, or violence will come to take someone that I love. I am afraid of all of the things I cannot control. I am afraid that I will go back to existing without really living. I am afraid that I will go back to work full time in January and suck at my job. I am afraid I will let down the people who believe in me. I am afraid for my students, afraid that I won't be there to help them through the pain and difficulty that they will inevitably face in their lives. I am afraid of heights. I am afraid of crowds. I am afraid of going to parties where I don't know everyone. I am afraid of speaking in front of people, but if given a script, I can do anything on stage. Isn't that funny? I am okay being anyone else on stage, but I am terrified to be just me. I have been afraid to show you all of my fear and vulnerability, but fear does not get to win. Fear Does Not Get To Win. Hope Wins. Love Wins.

This video is as real and raw as am today. I will use my words to overcome my fears, and if you let me, I'll try to help you overcome your fears, as well. Together we can raise each other up out of the darkness of fear and despair, and into the light of love and hope.



Gloves up, my loves.
Peace


Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Facing Fear With Our Children

I have mostly stayed away from social media today. I will likely do the same tomorrow and for a while.Tomorrow marks two weeks since my reconstruction surgery and I am trying VERY hard to stay positive and focused on healing. 
But when I read this article, as a lifelong educator of young people, I realized that This is how we walk our students through any potentially scary experience. Similar articles appeared in the wake of 9/11, Columbine, and the endless list of violence in schools. Understand, please, I am not likening this election to 9/11. I promise. 
What I am saying is that change is scary for most of us, but is Terrifying for children. The suggestions offered in the attached article by Ali Michael, PhD, can be tweaked and applied in a multitude of ways.
It is up to us to tell all of our children that they will be safe, loved, valued, respected, and defended always. That is our job as adults. We must demonstrate this ourselves as best we can so our kids see that kindness, compassion, dignity, respect, and cooperation are right, they are our rights, and they are essential for all of us.
I am not here to argue, debate, denigrate, or demean anyone. I am simply offering another look at a way for all of us, and our children to move forward today,  and as we face challenges and change in the future.
Please be kind to each other, help each other, embrace each other, respect each other, and love each other.

I love, value, cherish and appreciate you all.

Peace

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-should-we-tell-the-children_us_5822aa90e4b0334571e0a30b




Sent from my iPad

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles - Pink Hair Edition

I love that life always keeps me on my toes. I hate that life always keeps me on my toes. My toes hurt. Seriously, my toes hurt! I have to stretch my toes now, on top of everything else! I don't even think I can blame cancer for that one. I certainly won't be blaming age! I haven't aged a day in twenty years!

It has been a wild couple of weeks! Hurricane Matthew gave us another school-free day. That is three hurricane days this year! I am challenged to remember a time when we had so many days away from school! Stars Hollow came to town, turning one of the fabulous coffee shops in Ybor City into Luke's Diner for the day, and giving away free coffee to swarms of Gilmore Girls fans. I have to say that meeting my dear friend there for coffee and pastries on Wednesday truly was the highlight of my week. I have wanted to live in Stars Hollow since I saw the first episode so many years ago. What fun to pretend for a little while!

My trip to Stars Hollow was followed a few hours later by a major meltdown over a medical scare. You can hear the story in the video below this. I am taking deep breaths and trying not to worry while I wait for tests and answers. After the doctor, I visited my pups. They are both doing incredibly well and are now helping to train other dog parents.

I am trying to get out of the house more, as I have learned that curling up into a little ball, hiding at home in my pajamas isn't the best way for me to heal. Some days it is okay to stay in pj's, but getting out has to happen, too. Reverting to the 9:00 PM bedtime that my parents strictly enforced throughout my childhood has made a huge difference this week, and so has yoga. I am getting back to the mat, slowly but surely. This is definitely a good thing. Made it to a movie yesterday in the theatre for the first time in years. Then this morning, I headed over to St. Petersburg for the Hooked on Hope pamper party that took place during their annual fishing tournament. It was a blast! Check out the results of that in the video, too!



Thanks for all of your support and encouragement! I really do have the strongest army on the planet! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My trees are calling, so I have work to do.

Until next time.
#glovesup
Peace

Sunday, September 18, 2016

One of those weeks

The port has been out for ten days now, and for that I am so very grateful! The removal went very well. Dr. Rock Star and his fabulous team were amazing, as always. I think my body had been fighting so hard against it that when it was finally out, all I could do was sleep. I haven't slept that long since just after the surgery! 

This was my first complete week back at work, and it kicked my behind! Some days just trying to put one foot in front of the other takes all of my energy. I'll keep doing it, though, and doing whatever it takes to get stronger every day.  



Oy! Such a face!

The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk is October 22nd, just five days before my next surgery. Join me and the rest of Amy's Army if you can. We'd love to have you with us, and have your support for our cause. We still have a long way to go to reach our goal.

Thank you to everyone who purchased one of my metallic trees in support of our team. They all will go out in the mail this week, and it is entirely possible that there will be more trees for the cause to come. Perhaps an auction next time...we'll see.

If you want to order a Gloves Up t-shirt, this is your last chance. Follow this link to the Gloves Up With Amy page on Facebook. The order will be placed with the printer tomorrow, so reach out now if you'd like one. Unisex tank tops are also available.

Have a wonderful week! Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other.

#GlovesUp

Peace

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Port Comes Out In The Morning!!!

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray, this port, my doc to keep.


That's all I've got for tonight. I should be asleep already. More post-port removal. 

Gloves up!

Peace

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles : The Poking Edition

As I got out my phone to film the week's edition, I realized that I completely missed posting an update last week. It was a rough one! 

My final expansion was last Tuesday.  Woo hoo! I am stretched enough now. That meant that we could set a date for the second surgery. Unfortunately, it also meant that a rash of hives broke out on my left breast. It was weird. It would get bad, come back, then get worse, and start all over again. I could live with in the beginning because it was in the part of the breast that I can't feel, but Monday it got much worse and sent me to the doctor early. I took pictures if it over several days, and I am so glad I did! The doctors were able to see the changes and pinpoint what the cause might be. 

I will tell you that after two days of urgent doctor's appointments, hospitals, and tests I have been drained, incised, excised, and pierced. I have five holes in my upper torso in such a configuration that regardless of in what position I sleep, there is a spot that hurts like Hell! More meds, here I come.


The second surgery will be the morning of October 27th!!!
 Hopefully it will be the last. And guess what! We scheduled the surgery for after the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Saturday, the 22nd of October. That means I will be walking with Amy's Army! If you have yet to sign up to join us or to donate to our team's goal, here is the link to make it happen right now. Amy's Army is Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.  We'd love it if you would wear one of the Gloves Up t-shirts on October 22nd. If you have yet to order one, this is the place. Gloves Up t-shirt orders. We will walk #glovesup together to end breast cancer.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. You all mean more than you know. 

#glovesup

Peace

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles : The Stop Overthinking It Edition

I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to overthink things. If you know me I'm sure this comes as a complete shock to you. (Go ahead and laugh now.) Anyway, I do. I am mid-way through my fifth week post-op and have been away from work now for six weeks or more. Our students start next Monday, so this week seemed like the right one to get back into the proverbial saddle. I was terrified! I was worried I wouldn't even be able to walk up the stairs. I was worried that my bald head would scare people. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to last more than a few minutes. I was worried about making sure I had everything with me that I needed. In short, I was worried about everything. Apparently I'm a worrier.

I should have known better. I did know better, but it was still scary until I stepped onto campus. Immediately I knew I was home again. I was surrounded by love, and hugs, and smiles, and offers to help me carry things. I was with family, and I was happy to be there. I only stayed a couple of hours, but at least I made it. And I will go again tomorrow and stay a little longer. I can do this. I am stronger every day, and I am surrounded by people who are willing and eager to help. I am so very, very lucky and so very, VERY grateful.



It bothers me that I still let overthinking take control. I know that I should be better about it by now, and sometimes I am, but not always. Nothing is ever as bad as I am afraid it will be. Imagine all of the stuff I could accomplish if I could get out of my own way!  In the immortal words of Cosmo Kramer,"Serenity now!" is what I seek. More mindful meditation, yoga, and Buddhify is clearly what I need.

Is it just me, or do you build things up in your head until they are far bigger than they need to be?
#glovesup

Peace