still standing…one year post diagnosis

The anniversary of my cancer diagnosis passed with little to no fanfare, despite the fact that I spent a good portion of the day reminiscing over the past year and looking at the photos of myself nervously posing topless on the beach. July, 2008 will most likely always be a time that I will be able to recall and to react to on a visceral level. I can bring up the smells and sounds of the day I was diagnosed, but I can’t even remember what I had for dinner yesterday. Probably an exaggeration, but not far off…

I can remember distinctly the feeling I had when the radiologist called me personally to tell me that I should contact a medical oncologist and a surgeon right away. I told him that I would begin the process on Monday, as it was Friday afternoon, and he urged me to begin making calls as soon as I hung up with him. I was stunned and distracted, thinking that I couldn’t possibly have such a diagnosis, and that if I did, in fact, have breast cancer, that I had no time for it. I thanked him for being so kind as to call me personally, and he asked several times if I was going to be alright. I wanted to ask him the same question. I had no idea what the future held. I still don’t. But I knew at the time that I had resolve and that I was going to begin the process of healing before people saw me as sick.

Now, a year later, I am still a bit stunned at the magnitude of it all, but I am also quite amazed at how naturally life takes on a new normal. At this point, I’m used to periodic infusions and scans, and dressing to hide my scars and the port that remains until I finish treatments. I am usually careful about what I put into, onto, and around my body, and I am skeptical of more than I ever was before. I recognize bullshit from a mile away.

My body is still not back to the vibrant and energetic state that it was at last summer, and I question whether it ever will be. Cancer has in some ways motivated me, and in others, has taught me to respect the fact that perfection is overrated and unobtainable. It’s ok to slow down and to enjoy sitting in the garden sometimes, even if it’s been days since my heart has experienced aerobic exercise.

Although I’m still working full time and I’m back to taking a full course load at school, I no longer feel the necessity to keep up a frenzied pace. I don’t have the capacity for the stress that I had before, and I recognize the importance of enjoying the ride and learning along the way. I want to feel into my days and to experience each moment for what it is rather than racing through to see how much I can accomplish.

Even the mirror reflects my changing self, complete with my short, curly hair, which is filling in quite nicely. I still admittedly feel like I look like an adolescent boy on occasion due to my lack of a chest, but I attempt to radiate my sassy feminine qualities, and to remember that my scars are proof of what I’m capable of; a badge of honor. Imperfection is a sign of strength and uniqueness, and in some ways, my differences give me more courage than I’ve had before. Like a warrior, I have gained clarity through my experience

boobs not bombs

It’s been nearly 2 months since I had my final chemo infusion, and since that time life has attempted to take on a new normal. Despite the fact that I have had 2 Herceptin infusions and an EKG, I rarely think about treatment. I do, however, think about cancer nearly every day. I think about the fact that the anniversary of me finding the lump is coming up, and the fact that I continue to struggle to recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I also consider the fears that cancer can bring up in other people, and the reality that it will follow me the rest of my life (as in, I am now officially a risk to insurance providers). On the positive side, I am beginning to witness the growth of my nails, with new healthy pink starts. My hair is finally getting fuller, and for the first time since beginning chemo, I luxuriated in a bath and shaved my legs. These small gifts do not go unrecognized- the gifts of newness and health, of hope and regeneration.

I continue my struggles believing in Western medicine, procrastinating the day that I will begin the Tamoxifen, which is supposed to lessen my risk of a recurrence. I hate the idea of more side effects. My energy level is increasing, the hot flashes have subsided, and my taste buds are on fire! Thinking about taking a medicine that could hamper my “normal” infuriates me. Though not as much as thinking about the fact that my body has failed me. Not a day goes by when I don’t consider how I could have avoided cancer, or how I can reduce my chances now, but it wouldn’t be in my nature not to question whatever would be considered authority.

Today, my family is walking in the Spokane Breast Cancer Walk in my honor. I envision a sea of pink shirts and baseball caps, thousands of pink ribbons, tears, and laughter. I never would have expected to be so moved by such a gesture, considering the fact that I continue to be annoyed by pink ribbons, however I am touched by the idea that my cancer has made people in my life think about other people’s cancer- that there will be more money toward funding research, and that the women that I care about will think about breast self-examinations and mammograms. So- a big cheer for my family, and for everyone who walks to honor anything. It’s not just breast cancer that we’re fighting for, but equality in healthcare. Until we have that, those stinking pink ribbons will be everywhere as a reminder that women are dying every day from a very diagnosable and treatable disease. So- “BOOBS NOT BOMBS”! Get those walking shoes on, and join me in Seattle on June 7th, where I intend to run, not walk, the 5k and to smile every step of the way in honor of the truly miraculous people who have supported me every step of the way since I was diagnosed.

could it be over?

hey there, cupcake!
hey there, cupcake!
I’m finished with chemo! And now everyone is wondering- how excited am I?!? Well, to be honest, the enthusiasm and thrill hasn’t hit yet. I don’t think it will hit until the heartburn and urpy belly goes away…and even then, it may take a while for me to fully comprehend everything that my system has had to undergo this winter. I’m pretty stunned that the main part of this treatment is over, and that I only have six more months of Herceptin treatments. I want to be able to rely on my body without questioning what kind of crazy symptom will reveal itself. I also want to be able to trust my bowels and bladder again. So, as happy as I am to have Fridays free from chemotherapy infusions, I still have trepidation about what the future holds and about my body’s ability to create vitality. For my final infusion, I donned a blue wig and tiara. Irene brought 2 dozen Trophy cupcakes (delish) and Jenn smoothly asked the main nurse to put a couple bottles of sparkling wine in the fridge until we could properly toast to the end of my chemotherapy treatments. Katie, Suza, Gol, Lena and Connie all showed up to mark the occasion and we laughed and made small talk while the last of the carboplatin and taxotere entered my blood stream. It was a truly sweet and anticlimactic evening, considering the fact that I have had nearly five months of weekly chemotherapy treatments. I don’t know what I expected- but it was strange to thank and hug the nurses goodbye before walking through the abandoned waiting room with my crew of supporters. Odd to have such a quiet end to something I dreaded so much.
celebrating after NIA!!!
celebrating after NIA!!!

countdown to chemo

I start chemo next Friday. Not looking forward to it. I’ll be getting an infusion of 3 drugs every week- Taxotere, Paraplatin, and Herceptin. This Tuesday I meet with the naturopath at the cancer clinic and then I will have my first echo cardiogram (don’t know the spelling of that one) to test the strength of my heart because of the effects of the Herceptin. The oncologist warned me that I will likely experience nerve damage due to the chemo which I may or may not recover from, but the common side effect is numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes (and my nails will be funky, too). Since that meeting, I’ve been less than enjoyable to be around (just ask Reen), but I’m also coming to terms with what the next several months may look like.

This week I’ve received beautiful knit hats from the knitting group at work, and I’ve been imagining the gorgeous fabrics that I could wear on my head. I know that part of this process will be about re-imaging how I can make this a journey of discovery. I will hopefully only have to go through this once in my life, and I want it to be a powerful representation of my strength and courage. The past week, I’ve felt less than courageous, and I’ve been resistant to what lies ahead. Although I have been told that I am “an inspiration”, I feel more like a fraud, and I want to change that. I want to inspire myself and to seek ways in which I can draw from this experience in order to empower my future. I want to explore the ways in which even the dreaded chemo regimen can create fullness in my life. Mostly, I want this journey to be one in which I prove to myself, more than anyone else, that I can be powerful, graceful, and fierce.

seasonal reflection

I returned to work yesterday on the morn of the Autumn Equinox. The seasonal shift had me thinking of all of the change that has happened since the beginning of summer when I initially found the lump in my breast. On my first day of summer classes, I was told that the lump was malignant, and that it was an aggressive form of breast cancer. I couldn’t have felt more put out- “I don’t have time for this”, I thought (and said out loud, many times). But I was energized to do research while I worked and went to school. The sun and warmth of the seasons helped me to stay focused and to soak in the beauty of the nature around me. As summer ended, I prepared for surgery, had surgery, and I continue to feel strong in my recovery. Now with fall and the rain and darkness that I know lay ahead in these coming months, I’m trying to prepare for chemo. Like many trees and plants, I will be losing more of myself as my body reacts to the drugs- my hair will most likely fall out, my skin will become dry, and I will become tired. Autumn and winter will be a reminder that I need to rest and to prepare for the new growth of spring. As long as I remember the beauty of cycles and of the need for deep sleep in order to set my roots deeper into the earth, I know that I will not only get through this, but I will be stronger and more beautiful for it.

Yesterday I returned to work, and although there are some painful and sad changes happening, it feels good to be there. This may be partially due to the fact that my desk looks like a wildflower garden with all of the bouquets I’ve been graced with, but also due to the loving embraces and kind words and thoughts of my co-workers. I am blessed, and I take none of this for granted. And still, I await the official pathology report…