Smile as you walk by

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.  ♫

Fear is Relative

I put on the suit and harness, walked out to the plane, and watched the ground disappear as the plane rose. I hadn’t wanted to. I’m not a thrill seeker. We were celebrating the very special woman who orchestrated my cancer survival so I did what I was told.

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White knuckles anyone?

They opened the door and I took deep breaths of the fresh air. I felt tears. This, my mind’s voice reassured, was not nearly as scary as the last 12 months. But, the sensation felt familiar.

The feeling of powerlessness and anxious anticipation, not knowing what will happen but doing it anyway, is commonplace to me now. This isn’t like the old me. I used to be in control and preferred it that way. I’ve changed.

Fear is apparently relative. I’ve already done something incredibly scary, perhaps the most scary thing I’ll ever do. Nothing can scare me more. Not standing in front of an audience with no pants, not spiders or sharks, not even skydiving.

The night before wasn’t sleepless. I felt oddly calm before and during my jump, even during the free fall. I didn’t scream or close my eyes. I’m so glad I didn’t let the fear ruin it for me. I looked around and it was beautiful. I let go and it felt okay. It is a good lesson for all of us.

And at the end I hugged my people. Will Smith was right…the best things in life come after the maximum fear.

You know? You know.

Nearly everything I own fits far differently or not at all. My friends are having fun shopping in my closet. I’ve given away many of my tiny sundresses, bathing suits, and even my pretty lingerie. My bra drawer took the hardest hit. I’ve got nothing but a sports bra that was too big before my mastectomy.

This week, after I got the A-OK from my plastic surgeon that surgeries are finished and this is the size I can expect to stay, I went bra shopping. Petticoat Fair is known across the country as one of the leading bra fitters so I couldn’t wait to support my local bra slinger in person. They were charming when I went in pre-mastectomy to get info on therapeutic bras. They even work with insurance! These ladies are simply the best around.

My patient and gentle fitter asked a lot of questions so that I got not only what I wanted but also what was allowed per my surgeon’s instruction at this stage of my healing. She measured me and brought in a ton to try on. She stayed to adjust straps and check fit, making sure that every detail was supportive, comfortable, long-lasting, and pretty. I was glad she expected my new bra to be ALL those things equally.

I ended up with an every-day molded cup wireless bra that would be smooth even under tight, thin knit. It doesn’t press anywhere on my breasts or incisions so it won’t be painful or affect healing. I could have probably gotten one in every color since they are so versatile. I also got a sexy, black French lace bralette from the sale bin. These things can be expensive, especially those with fancy lace or trendy design. I was glad I was able to get one fun thing at a discount. (Heads up…French lingerie is still expensive even when it is on sale. Those curves though!)

They keep everything on file, including my wishlist with exact sizes. (Just in case my beau needs gift specifics…)

One of the best moments was when my fitter told me she was herself a 20 year cancer survivor. We shared a little about our experiences and she finished by saying, “you know,” not as a question but as a statement. It felt strange to “know” just what she meant, having just met her. It also felt good. It felt reassuring. She’s still here. I will be too.

Thank you, Cinco, for my Petticoat gift certificate! And, thank you Petticoat for making the downs an up, in all the ways.

New Toons…in more ways than one

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.

 

Humpty Dumpty

5c8206c8f7793ae56c1a84dfbc0deda0I’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.

Put It In My Mouth

Let me tell you one serious, fundamental, non-negotiable fact: I love food.

Between the throat-swelling heartburn and malfunctioning taste buds caused by chemo, eating ranged from uninspiring to impossible. It was physically painful to eat at times. A sensation most of us don’t notice after swallowing, I could feel my tender esophagus attempting its wave-like motion to move food down. Ouch! Meat, bread, even my birthday cake was not possible. I choked down over-cooked noodles and ice cream or didn’t eat at all.

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Card from a dear friend that I framed for my kitchen. That’s how much I love food.

When I could eat, the taste of food, even food I love, was severely muted (bland) or incredibly intensified (think mildly spicy became aflame, pickles turned wasabi harsh). Some foods even tasted as though they were spoiled or rotten. Water had an unfamiliar medicinal flavor. Wine was disgusting. Eating, a ritual I have always enjoyed with giddy enthusiasm, became a dreaded chore.

Every 3 weeks, I would feel good enough to stuff my face for a few days and then do it all over again. Chemo’s repetitive torment is the worst.

I’m nearly 3 weeks from my final chemo treatment; the “stuff my face” phase. But, I don’t have to do it again!! A trip to Trader Joe’s yesterday nearly brought me to tears. I bought dill pickle potato chips, chocolate almond trail mix, sourdough, and chicken breasts. I spurlged on charcuterie and expensive cheeses. Can somebody say frozen pizza?! I luxuriated in the aisles with dream-like hypnosis. I went through again to catalog what to get next time and lovingly touched labels like a junkie at a 1970s NYC after-hours nightclub. Glory hallelujah! I can eat again!

For those of you going through chemo or preparing for it, eating will no doubt be a challenge. I’m sorry to say I had to learn some food-related lessons the hard way. For example, just because I felt good enough to leave the house didn’t mean I could order fried chicken with poblano gravy and fries.

Fortunately, some foods were both easy on my digestive track and tasted ok. I went through gallons of ice cream over the last 5 months which may explain why I didn’t lose any weight during my treatment. Strangely, sushi was a pleasant surprise. The soft fish was easy to swallow and the tanginess of soy sauce and roe was a delight. Everyone is likely wildly different in this area. I wish you the best and, most importantly, want to remind you chemo ends and life gets (sorta) back to normal. Last night I made beef stroganoff! You’ll be tucking into your favorite dish again soon too.

Now for a grilled Italian truffle cheese sandwich and tomato soup with a salad and an ear to ear grin.