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.

Usual Unusualness

Today I’m in the chemo room for Herceptin treatment. It is an easy appointment compared to the TCHP treatments I finished in September. It reminds me how far I’ve come but also how far I have to go.

I treat these days as if nothing is happening. Just a quick little appointment, like running an errand or taking a long lunch. I don’t prepare for it and often forget it is on the calendar. Today, I happened to have a staff meeting at the same time. I joined the video conference from my chemo chair while the nurse was taking my blood through an IV in my arm. It should seem weird but I’m trying not to let it.

I took my phone off mute for a moment to give my update and something magical happened. Someone “rang the bell!” It was her final chemo treatment and my whole team heard it.

I burst into tears. It is my Pavlovian response to hearing bells now. I cried harder when my colleagues started cheering and ringing the bells they have at their desks to celebrate my final chemo treatment. I wish the other woman could have heard them. I’m sure she would have loved to know strangers on a software company video conference across the whole country were rooting for her.

As soon as I think I’m getting used to things, I realize just how unusual this is. And then I’m reminded how lucky I am to have to have such an unusual life. There is no normal anymore. But the new whatever it is is a beautiful thing.

Chemo…check. #nailedit

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.

Beautiful Mind

Who is responsible? Who takes the blame?

Cancer is tricky in that the culprit can equal self. Sometimes I feel like my body went rogue and betrayed me. I feel angry with my physical self for doing this to me. I’ve personified my breast, disassociated with it, and consider it the enemy.

This is tough because it means that I hate myself. I want to destroy myself. I’m my own worst enemy.

I’ve never felt this way and I find it very unsettling. I love myself! It is both defeating and unproductive to hate and love at the same time, in this scenario and in all areas of life. So, I’ve got to work out a plan for forgiveness and reunion.

My boyfriend’s heartwarming response is that my breast is the victim, attacked by a powerful villain. It deserves compassion, not animosity. I am not at fault. I’m grateful to be reminded of this and it does allow me to soften my feelings of self-loathing. By focusing on cancer as foreign or separate, I can move beyond my negative narcissism. Faceless, nameless, and without origin, “it” isn’t me. I didn’t do this.

As I move closer to mastectomy surgery, I find it easier to grant mercy. I’ve started looking at my breast as a friend that will soon pass away. I’ll miss her dearly. I may throw a wake! I’ve also begun to feel gratitude towards my body for overpowering the invader. Perhaps one day I’ll even call myself a hero. Not yet, though. We still have a bit work left to do.

Final round a week from today!

 

Water Conservation

Crying. Gosh. I’ve never done so much of it in my life, though I’ll check with my mom to see if I was a fussy baby.

There was another time in my life when crying was prevalent. I was in living in a roach-infested brownstone basement in Dupont Circle selecting my apartment decor from curbsides and dumpsters. I was laying the foundation of a career I still have and love in non-profit fundraising and I made no money. I had very little and my life was never more glamorous.

My friends were fascinating, dear, and many. I drank cheap martinis with my pinkie out in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, listening to foreign languages I couldn’t identify, talking about current events and the most recent thought-provoking novel. My heels were high and worn to the nub from walking, fast, around Adams Morgan, U Street, Georgetown, Connecticut Avenue. And I cried and cried and cried.

About what? Many a night, Mom would get a tearful call around 2am about boys, being poor, bad dates, stubbed toe, spilled milk, more boys. These were real, sobbing, snotty tears. I was in my 20s. They were those sort of tears.

I was talking to my mom a few days ago after Round 4. I told her I needed to drink more water because of how much I cry. These tears, in comparison though, are silent and slow and constant. They creep out at the most unlikely times, usually several times a day. Just a few at a time, they roll slowly down my cheeks using the same path to a drip under my chin.

These are not the hysterical, drunk, splayed on the floor, mascara-smeared tears of my 20s. They come from a deeper sadness. I cry for my caretakers, for myself, over songs, over other cancer patients, because of pain, because I’m afraid. And not just any fear…fear of dying. Did you get that? This is big. I’m sad and scared that I might die.

My tears also come from knowing that every cough or twinge from now on will come with a panic that wasn’t there before. I will definitely need some long-term assistance with water conservation.

On the bright side, I also cry for good news, for progress, out of gratitude, out of love, because of support from nearly everyone I know (and from some I don’t). I cry a lot because we’re fixing this and I believe I won’t die, not for a long time. I’m crying right now.

I certainly don’t write this for pity. Quite the opposite. Crying is good and the appropriate emotional response when sad so I’m totally safe and fine. But, if you see me, please put water in my mouth (and hand me a hankie).

Our own way

A year ago this month, I swiped ‘right’on a curly-haired, bearded photo on Tinder. We exchanged the standard witty banter about his notable hair and our mutual astrological sign. He showed up late when we met in a tattered t-shirt. And I liked him.

Fast forward…When I found out I had cancer he was sitting next to me in the doctor’s office. In fact, it was he who first felt the lump and encouraged me to get it tested. I told him I understood if cancer was beyond his dating drama threshold. We had only been together for a short time and it was great. But, he certainly didn’t sign on for this when he swiped ‘right.’ Neither of us did.

Fast forward…I sleep for about 4 straight days after each chemo treatment. My mom commented how unusual it is for someone to serve as a human pillow for so many days in a row. I’m not sure how much karma I had to cash in to get such a beautifully curly, bearded Libra pillow but I’m sure glad he stuck around.

13627033_10154197144596368_7028789516077903412_nWe are supposed to be making out in dive bars across Texas, not discussing euthanasia and hair loss. I’m an emotional landmine and he’s got plenty to worry about even without my epic problems. This is heavy stuff, far too serious for a relationship only now 1 year old. But, we’re doing it. Now in hindsight, I’m not sure I could do it without him.

He gets to hear my most profound thoughts and debilitating fears as I come up with them. He now knows how I handle the worst, the hardest, the most difficult. He sees the most intimate, complicated parts of my personality revealed at the same time they become apparent to me, things you cannot and would not EVER put on Tinder. And it is hard. And it is beautiful. And I’m a stronger, better person for it. I believe he is too.

I think he entered my life for a reason. He’s known in my Nebraska hometown as the boy-hero who so enthusiastically fondled my breasts that he discovered this murderous tumor and quite possibly saved my life, a fact he’s still reconciling every time he shakes my dad’s hand.

I hope the reason is so much more than that. #ThanksTinder