Last year on this day my life abruptly changed forever. I sat in the gynecologist office and only remember him saying, “It’s bad.” My boyfriend sat in my hatchback with me in the parking lot while I cried. My charmed life was over. I just got a lot more interesting. The transition was a lot like driving into a brick wall.
There was only one way to proceed: one foot in front of the other until the end, just like before, only a little harder.
As independent as I like to believe I am, I knew I couldn’t do this alone. I called the person I knew could handle a crisis of this magnitude and she dropped everything for the next 6 months to help me.
The single most important piece of advice I can give to the women who come after me is to surround yourself with capable people before you need them. Cultivate meaningful friendships, especially with other women. You never know when you’ll need to call in your troops. Make sure you have them. I simply could not have done this without her.
As this day approached, I anticipated cringing at the date May 17. Terrible, no good day! This day caused me and many others so much pain. I wanted to skip this day. This day…I can’t even.
My boyfriend wisely reminded me that tough girls would take their day back. It doesn’t have to be a reminder of the pain but instead a reminder that I’m still here, a day to celebrate all that we did. So, I’m taking it back. My mom, so charmingly, said it is my day to say, “I won!” and then make lots of noise.
Okay, then. Noise starts now! Loud.
♫ Your life will be just fine and troubles do not stay. They get replaced with good times. Now you got a great life! Smile as you walk by. Thinking about the Day. ♫
Maybe I shouldn’t have. I really can’t afford it. I’ve got credit card debt now and enormous medical expenses. But, happiness should not be postponed indefinitely. After all, cancer happens.
I bought myself a brand new, beautiful pontoon and today she got a pink tattoo to recognize, honor, and hopefully make up for some of the pain of the last year. I also hope this boat serves as a reminder to myself and anyone who sees it just how fast it can all be taken away, how much we should all cherish every day we get.
I asked my wise Dad if I should do it. He said he didn’t know. If floating around listening to Louis Armstrong sing La Vie En Rose in the sun is how I want to spend my time, he figured it was a good thing to consider. Happiness, he said, is a choice you make. If it makes you happy, then do it.
He told me to ask myself how much happiness it would bring to my life. When I told him how I love to watch the swan family at my boat doc, how I could sit there every evening and watch the sun set over the water and how peaceful it made me feel, I basically talked myself into it. This is how he gives advice.
I don’t know what about the boat inspired a breast cancer pink ribbon decal. I was quite opposed to pink earlier on actually. Something about gifting myself happiness seemed to require it. When a decal appeared on Etsy that also said “survivor” I was struck. I am a survivor. That’s big. I hadn’t considered it like that before. I’m in the club. I earned that ribbon. I cried at my desk at work.
I’m not a flippant spender. I don’t make decisions lightly. Something has changed, however, and it is uncertainty. I don’t know what will happen. So, I choose happiness…just in case.
I’m at the chemo room preparing for Herceptin #? I don’t keep track of Herceptin treatments. I just know they will end in June. Yet another countdown is on.
I don’t leave the house much anymore. I just don’t feel like it. I’m down. I don’t sleep well. My doctors think I have anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is possible. I’m definitely not myself. But, who could be after all this? Who crawls out from under a life-crushing avalanche and walks away whistling like everything is okay? Everything is very much not okay.
My time and nervous energy are not wasted though. I’ve devoted every free moment of time to a condo renovation. More on that later but it is my only solace. I can crowbar, smash, or break things. Or I can gently resurface a wall with joint compound. I can patch holes and clean up and correct imperfections. I can sand things until they are smooth while the dust rises up all around me. It settles on me in a fine layer so that I look like a ghost. Sometimes I just sit in the dust and think. It is all very therapeutic and a bit metaphorical. Right now I’m putting “Humpty” back together again, in more ways than one.
At my final chemo treatment and bell ringing ceremony I was presented with a certificate of achievement. It delightfully proclaimed I am now qualified to talk about my experience with anyone who will listen. I’m afraid I jumped the gun. Now, I’d prefer to listen.
I have been talking, ad nauseam, about my experience and feelings for 5 months now. I’ve spent enough time in my own head and I’d really now like to know what everyone else has been thinking but not saying.
I realize withholding things from me before was polite, even necessary at times. I wasn’t capable of hearing it at first. It is one of the reasons I didn’t tell very many people until chemo was complete. But, things are different now so lay it on me.
I want to comfort. I want to commiserate. I want to tell you everything is going to be okay. I’ll scream and yell and curse this thing that happened together if you want to. And I know there are a few of you who want to. Because this thing didn’t just happen to me. It happened to us.
We can also talk about something else. Trust me, I’m so ready for a new topic.
Knowing what to say to someone who is sick is really difficult. (This might help.) Expressing fear and anger or confessing what you need is hard also. I feel the same! But, getting back to normal requires one of two things from all of us: address the elephant or ignore him. I’m ready to do either.
My grandma sends me my horoscope weekly from her home in Wyoming. It is truly adorable. This week my horoscope really struck me.
Perhaps it was my birthday or spillover emotion from my last chemo or a very brave live podcast by this amazing breast cancer advocate (also a Libra) but I’m very emotional.
When I look back on my life, I see so much beauty and love. These last 5 months perhaps were the culmination of that love. So, so many people have moved this mountain with me. I am overwhelmed. I am humbled. Sometimes I am even speechless. (Some of you just shook your head in disbelief on that last one.)
Your cards and texts and phone calls and visits have made this summer so precious and this challenge worth doing. Even during the hardest parts I could feel my tribe rooting for me, believing that we would pull this off. I know my tribe is proud of WE did.
My home is about to fill up with some of these incredible people for #ACLfest. I can’t wait to make some new memories. I couldn’t do this without you! #YourVibeAttractsYourTribe
I don’t know how you thank someone for all that I’ve been given since May 17 when I found out I had breast cancer. I’ve never needed this sort of help. I’ve never been offered this sort of gift.
How do you thank the girl that took my hand without any hesitation and led me to the scariest moments of my life, organized everything, and then orchestrated the plan that would save my life? She sat between me and cancer like a rock breakwater, shielding me as best she could so that I could withstand all that was coming at me. She heard information that I was too afraid to let anyone else hear. And while I know it must have been impossibly hard, she never let me see anything but the solid, steadfast confidence she had in us. If there is anyone that is brave in this situation, it is her.
How do you thank someone who signs up for the most emotionally exhausting task of looking after a sick person for months? Dropping her own plans and completely devoting all time and energy to getting me well is the epitome of selflessness. Comfort is hard to come by when you’re recovering from something as traumatic as cancer and it can’t come from just anywhere. She was the only one for the job. I can’t imagine the agony of watching a loved one suffer. But if I ever am gifted the chance to take care of someone in need, I hope I do it just like her, with patience, grace, humor, and vodka. I guess moms never get a day off.
There are so many people to thank which I’ll get to in time. But, when I rang the bell last Wednesday I rang it for these two women. These ladies have held my hand and filled my water glass and wiped away my tears and even helped me masochistically freeze my own head. These beautiful, strong, amazing women got me here. I can never repay them but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying. Thank you, thank you, a million thank yous.
I drove by Zilker Park last night and saw the preparation for the ACL Music Festival. It is my most favorite thing. Music at the festival is among the most precious memories of my life. The sparkly red guitar sign is a symbol of the thing I look forward to most every year. I felt such confusion as I passed it because it didn’t mean much.
At the end of the day of my first chemo treatment, a bell rang out in the silence and the room erupted in applause and cheering. No one had told us what that meant but we looked at each other knowingly and joined in the celebration. I remember a few tears slipping out, both for how happy I was for her and how far away it seemed for me. She was done.
In just 2 days I’ll be ringing that bell in the chemo room. There isn’t a word in English that accurately describes this sort of anticipation. No music festival could ever be more exciting. No music could ever sound more beautiful.
Saying “I can’t wait” is simply not enough. That being said, I can’t wait.