Thursday, June 28, 2007

Freaking out

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but upon reflecting upon the whole drama that is cancer, it's occurred to me more than once that not one person freaked out in front of me. The sad eyes, sure. Maybe the extra squeeze in the hug. Or a little vocal wavering on the phone. But outside of the, "okay, I have cancer, I'll be fine," I never had to deal with someone else's emotions really. Not one person cried in front of me. No one got hysterical. No one really made it about them.

At least not in front of my face.

My mother teared up when I came out of surgery. I was too drugged up under the wonders of anesthesia to notice. Alan told me he'd cry while he watched me sleep. (A collective sigh of cuteness.) I'm sure friends got off the phone with me and proceeded to call their mommies. A friend recently told me there were a lot of freak outs on her part.

Of course there were. Your friend has cancer. Fuck. I flipped out a little when my friend Dave found out he had cancer. "What does that mean?" "Why the hell did it have to happen to such a nice kid?" I didn't really go there - but I'm sure the thought of my possible mortality struck somebody's mind. People do die of cancer, after all.

This same person now regularly points out that I had cancer, and shit- that was major stuff. It's like it's just hitting her now. The lifetime of tests and scares and menopause and can I eat soy? (The answer is no, btw. Soy is an estrogen. Estrogen is bad.) It's not unlike my own realization. See, when you're doing it, after the initial "Are you fucking kidding me?" you just put your head down and do it. What else can you do? It's only when you have a chance to breathe that the enormity of the situation strikes you.

I have to give my friends credit. Thank you for not flipping out. One drama at a time. Thank you for calling and emailing and sending me presents. Thank you for never asking, "Are you going to die?" Thank you for never putting me in the position to have to make you feel better. At least not a lot. Even though I'm getting further out, thank you for realizing cancer is still very much a part of my life. Thanks for still reading.

In an effort to be "interactive," I will now cast an informal poll. Those of you who know me personally, did you freak out at any point? Did it involve tears? Drama? Booze? What did you do? Scream, call a friend, call your mom? Enquiring minds want to know. Post comments here.

Thank you for bucking up and being good little campers. Now go eat some cake.

Krusty the Clown

Wow, you have an online nervous breakdown and people come out of the woodwork! Comments and emails and phone calls, oh my! Thank you all so much for your kind words. While I'm not sure if "inspirational" and "hero" are words I'd use to describe myself (more like loudmouth and bitch) but hell, at least six people read my blog.

In the effort to :

A. not be such a Debbie Downer and
B. Inspire some fabulous comments,

I am adding a picture. Everyone loves pictures. People ask me how the hair's going. I try to tell them - as they look at my very product filled curls - that it's actually out of control. I now have a new respect for those of you with curly hair. I may not have enough hair to use a brush, but I have plenty enough for gel, mousse and Aveda's "Be Curly." I had my last chemo about 11 months ago now. My hair grows very slowly- that's one thing that HASN'T changed. I have a few friends that finished about the time I did, and they are clearly "lapping me." I can look forward to short hair for a LONG time. It's hard to tell how long it is because it's corkscrew curly, but when I wake up in the morning - watch out! It's probably as tall as my head. The question is, will it calm the fuck down? Chemo curl is widely referred to as "Ronald McDonald" hair, but Alan prefers to call me "Crusty the Clown." Upon taking this picture, he told me,

"You're not keeping your hair like this, are you? If you do, we'll never have sex again."

There you have it.

Ignore the crazy eyes!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Crying in the closet...

Back when Alan and I lived in Middle-of-Nowhere, USA, we hit a few rough patches. I had a hard time finding a job in our little corner of the world. Apparently, playing bingo for a living and hosting karaoke on cruise ships were not marketable skills for a small town. We had money problems. I occasionally asked myself what I was doing moving to this place so Alan could finish school. I was getting chubby and couldn't fit into my size 4 BCBG formal dress. All in all, I felt inexorably out of control. I used to walk into our closet- which was disproportionately big compared to our apartment- and I would cry. Just sit in the dark and sob among the pile of footwear. Occasionally, the offending garment would be spread across my lap. Alan and I had more than one "discussion" which led to him searching the apartment to find me in my little corner. A few friends knew of this odd habit... "was it bad or crying-in-the-closet bad?", they'd ask.

Funny enough, even with cancer, I haven't cried in the closet in a long time. Not even my big brand spanking new closet. And I haven't felt compelled to...

Until today.

A few people in my life have expressed concern over my still very active stance in breast cancer support groups, organizations, etc. I'm guessing they probably wonder why I'm not "moving on with my life." A couple have expressed worry that by still being so involved, I'm setting myself up for more pain. Sick friends, drama, recurrences, etc. That perhaps my time would be better served with non-cancer related things. That the longer I stay in the trenches, the harder it will be to dig myself out.

A friend read me something recently. She described finishing treatment for cancer as like coming back from a long, horrible trip and getting off the plane. You walk out only to find your friends and family have already left the airport. Just when you're done, and you need support almost more than you ever did, many in your life will assume it's over. That it's time to grab some dinner at Chili's and talk about other things.

I consider it my duty - actually, my honor, really - to be there waiting for people when they get off that plane. It has become so much a part of who I am that I cannot imagine my life without this. But for every blessing this gives me, there's a struggle.

Then there are days where that double edged sword cuts right through you. Today has been one of those days. I have a friend from my young women's group who is fighting this battle. And she's losing. As members of her group, we have visited her a lot this past week or so. And every time we walk out the door, our hearts are a little heavier, the grief a little closer. We get a drink. We process. We get mad. Mostly we just look at each other and say, "this sucks."

Cuz it does. It fucking sucks.

I have another member of my group who is having a hard time with her chemo. She is also stage four. She's currently in the hospital. I'm sure this scares her and she feels like shit and I wish there was more I could do to help her. And, yes, I could be "moving on" and maybe then this wouldn't be so hard, but this is our life. This is who we are. And while some might say they'd sleep better at night if they weren't around cancer, I couldn't. I couldn't look at myself in the mirror each morning if I wasn't offering myself to those people who have been there before me. Or those who come after.

This is by no means a slam to those who aren't capable of giving more. Not at all. I just know I am. I am able to offer medical knowledge that many don't have. I am able to offer a bit of humor to otherwise crappy stuff. And unfortunately, in the case of this group, a group that has never lost a member before, I am able to offer my still very fresh experiences with losing Candy. And I am happy to offer all this and more.

But there are moments, and I'm sure there will be more in the coming days, when it gets hard. When it seems so out of control. When it's just so damned sad. These moments have me walking to the door of my closet... These are the moments when I look inside, thinking that corner looks so inviting. Wishing my husband hadn't installed that damn motion light thing that makes it impossible to sit in the dark. And let out some tears. Take care of my fears, my worries.

Then it's time to strap on the big girl pants and check on my friends...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


There are a few times in life where you know you are in the presence of something magical. If you're into the "big JC", you may think of it as feeling God or whatever. For me, it's that moment when you look around you and feel something bigger than yourself. You are blessed to have those moments. It is something so special, it should be treasured.

For me, one of the blessings I have found through this process is the ya-yas. For those of you who don't know, the ya-yas are the women in one of my cancer support groups. This very unusual group of amazing women have been meeting every week for years... some of them 10 years. That's right. Every week for ten years. I have been with them almost a year now. I have spent more time with the ya-yas than I have with my friends and family.

I know some young women with breast cancer do not like traditional support groups. "Those old ladies have nothing in common with me, " they say. Well, I couldn't disagree more. I am the youngest in the group... by more than a few years. I am the only one "of my generation" so to speak. And I know they think I'm crazy and they love to hear stories of pole dancing and all the other crazy things "kids today" may do. From them, I learn about the good doctors or where to get great cakes intown. That's just the beginning.

I'm not quite sure how they realize how much they've given me. Every Thursday, I learn from their experience, soak up their wisdom and bask in their support. They make me laugh and cry. They tell me stories that make me feel better. Sometimes they make even me blush. It gives me such hope to see these beautiful, talented women who have faced the beast and are years out. It makes me feel lucky that they still care enough to share their journey with others.

This is the one appointment I have every week and will do everything I can NOT to miss. It's become such a part of my life here. My friends will call my cell at 1pm on a Thursday, leaving a message like, "I know you're at the ya-yas, call me, etc. etc."

When I describe the ya-yas to my young women's group, it is almost with this sense of mysticism. Like the ya-yas are some fabled great goal that we could all aspire to. "Every week?" they ask. Every week. Sure, some miss and some fall away for a while, but they are always a part of the group. "Even people who haven't been in treatment for a long time?" Those are some of the most valued.

At my first meeting ever, I saw firsthand how rare this sisterhood was. I was amazed that someone had a doctor's appointment and a half dozen people volunteered to take them or call the nurse or crack some skulls. When I walked for the 3day, some ya-yas were there at the finish line. When Candy died, I got a phone call Friday morning saying, "We just wanted to be together." So these women took off work, drove from far away, dropped everything to share with each other. I spent all Friday afternoon talking, sharing stories, drinking wine.

This weekend, I spent time with some ya-yas and we dedicated a garden to Candy at one member's house. And we laughed and gossiped and caused all sorts of trouble on a lake. There was a boat. And a scene. Long story.

It was time like this where I look around at the faces of these women. Women who have seen more than their share of pain, but smile nonetheless. You can't help but feel blessed to be in their presence. In this age of emails and text messages, the power of human contact is stronger than ever. When people grow more cynical , it is even more rare to be a part of something so unconditionally generous. These women truly love one another. A love and a friendship that I don't really see very often. Just being in the room with them, I know that I am a part of something that most people don't have. A community that is so good to me.

This group of women is an example to me of how to live my life. How to love more willingly and how to listen better. How to worry about me a little less and others a little more. How to laugh. How a hug actually can make it better. How cancer doesn't go away when the treatment is over. But it doesn't have to be everything, either.

I am truly blessed.