Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Getting Down To Business

The verdict was in and I was found guilty. Of what I'm not exactly certain but I had been issued the life sentence of cancer so guilt of some sort was surely mine. That was my initial thinking. I was plagued by irrational thoughts that kept me wondering what I had done to bring this on myself. The mental volley being played out in my mind was exhausting. The what-if's and woulda-shoulda-coulda's nagged at me incessantly. What if I had eaten a cleaner diet? Could I have avoided this if I had not given into my love of all things chocolate? Should I have reduced my caffeine consumption? Why the heck did I have to learn to love coffee? Maybe I could have exercised more? What about my pleasurable partaking of alcoholic beverages? Not to mention any other pleasurable partakings... should I have avoided them all together? Maybe I had one cranberry and vodka too many? What if I had been a better person? Maybe if I had gone to church more? Was I kind enough to strangers? Had I been rude? Maybe I had not been a good enough wife or mother or sister or daughter or friend? Should I have become a missionary? Maybe a nun? Was I being punished for what I was or for what I wasn't??? Cancer had to be a punishment. There was no other answer. Cancer doesn't just happen! There had to be a reason it was happening to me!!!

Yes, that was honestly where my mind went. Not only have I confessed to being a troubled soul whose first concern was over the loss of her hair...preceding with great significance the question of whether or not she would die...but I must also admit to unbelievably ridiculous feelings of guilt and stupidity. All those thoughts...all that mind-numbing-drive-me-completely-crazy chatter only lasted a few minutes in reality. However, it felt like an eternity passed before I was able to regain control of myself. Once I settled the wild, animalistic panic that had taken hold of me, I was able to come to this conclusion...cancer does just happen. Okay, so I know there is more to it than that.. that there are medical reasons why it happens. I'm referring more to the aspect of who it happens to, not how it actually happens. I'm just one of many. I will never know why it happened to me and quite honestly, I don't need to know. Worrying about the why is nothing more than a waste of time and energy. It was time to bury the questions brought on by fear and guilt. It was time to get down to business.

Maybe I'm an odd being or maybe this is the way it works for most in this situation. I don't know the answer as I've not addressed this subject with many who have been in my shoes. But I process things very quickly. I compartmentalize, strategize and realize what is beyond me. I assess the situation and take control of what can be controlled and let go of the rest. I create a business type atmosphere in my mind and I set about doing the job at hand. For this task, the process began by creating a team. My Power Posse.

The team came into being the night of my diagnosis. The first board meeting was held at my friend, "L's" house. She and my friend, "K", were there to cry with me. To be with me as I made necessary phone calls. We prayed together. And we even laughed together. "K" is a nurse and she became my first line of defense. I thrive on information...knowing what to expect...and she gave me what I needed. She is also a great spiritual and emotional supporter. She has all but carried me through some of life's tougher times. She was a definite posse member. "L", well, "L" is my pal with whom I push the boundaries. She shares my love of adventure and we have survived many what-should-have-been-unsurvivable adventures together. To say we leave trouble in our wake is an understatement. We are the modern day Thelma and Louise. Although I don't know who would be Thelma or who would be Louise. (All I know is I wanna be the one who slept with Brad Pitt!!!) Well, fighting cancer was going to certainly be an adventure. I knew I needed Thelma???...or Louise??? my side. The Power Posse was 3 members strong... "K", "L", and me. I was a member by default. With charter members defined, it was time for rules to be made. Here are the only rules I felt were needed at the time:

1) It's all about me.

2) Any emotion is fair. Expression of said emotion is always allowed. BUT regardless of that emotion, the rules state we must end all emotional "moments" with laughter.

3) I WILL look like crap. We bust on me....then work like mad to make me look cute.

I know, number 3 is sooo irrelevant in the grand scheme of things but all I can say to that is refer to rule number 1. It's all about me and I was as obsessed as hell with how I was going to be physically affected by chemo. I suppose I should have added rule number 4 stating rule number 1 trumps any and all other rules.

My Power Posse has grown tremendously in number since that first night and the rules have been slightly amended. I'm not sure how large the Posse has become. What I do know is we are all fighting the fight together. We are doing what we can to keep laughter alive in a situation where it could easily be suffocated...maybe even suffer a torturous death. Not a day has passed since that first night that giggles and grins and gut-busting guffaws have not been part of my day. What a blessing. What a treat. What a way to live. And as of that first night, I am living like I've never lived before.

Today I wish you laughter and smiles...sunshine and happiness...a life full of living!

Until next time...


Monday, September 13, 2010

That Dreaded "C" Word

Cancer. The one word no one ever wants to hear. It is ugly. Vile. Frightening. Earth-shattering. Unwanted. Uninvited. Yet for some...inescapable. As of four weeks and four days ago, I became one of many for whom cancer is an undeniable reality.

It was a typical Thursday night and I was alone at the office attempting to make up for all the hours missed due to my recent run-in with bronchitis. An unknown number appeared on my phone yet I felt sure of its origin. Continuing to shuffle papers as I answered the call, I assumed it would be the results of my recent biopsies. I had no worry or concern about the results. The only troubles I felt my future held would be the scheduling nightmare I would most likely face in trying to have the annoying-but- what-I-knew-would-be-benign lump removed. A big believer in never worrying until there is something to worry about, I had convinced myself all was well. This time, the power of positive thinking failed me.

After only a few words of greeting from my doctor, the "C" word was spoken and from that point on, the conversation was a blur. Words like "invasive tumor", "highly suspected lymph node involvement", "chemo", "skin involvement", "full mastectomy", "radiation", "oncologist", "urgent".

Each word carried a sting...a bite...yet I was numb to it all.

I remember using my fist to stifle the sobs as I sucked up the tears that wanted to break free. For some unknown reason I needed to stay in control of my grasp every word being be in control of an uncontrollable situation. I remember thinking how often you hear of one's inability to process bad news as it is delivered and this was definitely bad news. In that moment it became critical to my existence to get the facts straight. I felt like a child yet wanted to act like an adult. My mind was spinning at an alarming pace but I was fighting with everything in me to bring it back to a steady place.

I was alone. No one was there to share the burden of recording the facts. It was up to me and only me to take care of business.

I asked the doctor to repeat her words over and over. I wrote them down and repeated them back to her, making note after note of what was said. Upon returning to my office the next day, it was painfully clear what I had done. One Post-It note after another was scattered across my desk, each one saying the same thing. In sorting through them, not one could spare me the ugliness of what was to come. Each held the same horrid verdict... I have breast cancer.

In hindsight I remember so little, yet I remember so much. So many odd thoughts passed through my mind and I find it utterly fascinating where the human mind will go when faced with such earth shattering news. As I hung up the phone, I began pacing the hallway, finally allowing the tears to flow. Words came tumbling from my lips, but I have no idea if I was successful in forming coherent sentences. I kept running my fingers through my hair, wondering how quickly it would begin to fall out.

And I began to wail.

I'm sure the mourning was over far more than the loss of my hair, but it was the catalyst that pushed me over the edge of the cliff into the abyss where only heartache, sorrow and irrational thinking dwell. I could think of nothing else. No thoughts of death. No fear of pain. No concern for the eventual loss of my breast. I just desperately wanted to keep my hair. Strange, superficial thoughts. The only thoughts my mind would allow in that moment.

That was four weeks and four days ago. A lifetime has been lived in those thirty-two days. So many doctors visits, too many tests and scans to count, poking and prodding, needles and biopsies, port-a-cath placement and two chemo treatments... all this and more has filled my calendar. My world has been turned upside down and shaken equivalent to that of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. But through it all, I have found peace. The fear from that first night has been replaced with an acceptance...a willingness to work with the hand I've been dealt. My faith has always been a huge part of my life and God has come to my rescue once again. An enormous amount of information regarding my treatment has afforded me the chance to know what to expect in the upcoming months. To summarize, 24 weeks of chemo, a full mastectomy then radiation. The side effects have been spelled out. I don't like them, but I can live with them.

I honestly don't know the state of my prognosis. I've been made aware the journey will be a rough one but the expected outcome should be positive. I know no one can know for certain what the end result will be. Anything can happen. But God gives me hope. He gives me peace. As one of my favorite songs says, though He may not calm the storms around me, He will give me Perfect Peace. As for now, I rest well in the fact that hope is alive and in knowing that God is with me each step of the way. This road has been traveled by many. Sadly for so many women, it is not a journey unique to me. My wish is to fight the fight with grace and thanksgiving for all the good in my life. You see, I've discovered a truth. When faced with the worst, one can discover the best. That dreaded "C" word, while as ugly a word as can be spoken, has allowed me to see how truly blessed I am.

With Love...