Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Musings on Cancer-versary VII

It has been a looooong time since I last posted. In fact, it's been years. I've been keeping up with social media and a lot of my thoughts have gone on Facebook over the years. (My library musings are over on my library blog). But I basically abandoned the story of my cancer journey. 

One of the main reasons I stopped posting here was that someone stole my words to pass them off as her own (fake) journey. I'm guessing to take advantage of the kindness of others. So, I made the decision not to give her any more details to take. (Don't worry, I have faith that karma will come back for her if it hasn't already). 

The other big reason I stopped updating here is, well, eventually life moves on. And you pack up and move to a place where no one knows what you going through treatments looks like, and it just doesn't come up in conversation a lot, and you dare to dream that PERHAPS you have gotten through the worst of it. That you might just make it to that magical "5 Year" mark which some think makes you a "survivor."

And then it happens. That 5-year-post-treatment date that once seemed so elusive comes...and goes. And you kind of can't believe it. I hit that mark this past December and other than pausing to reflect as New Year's 2019 rolled in, I didn't say too much about it to anyone, anywhere.

Now, here I am at Cancerversary #7. SEVEN years since I was first diagnosed. And I find myself with a mess of "notes to self" for future blog posts stored up in my phone. Life has sure been a roller coaster but I still believe those things I typed way back on Cancerversary #1 (copied below for your perusal). Apologies in advance for the LONG post that is about to follow, but there's just so many things that I want to say to "update" that first post.

1) WHAT IS A CANCERVERSARY?
And why would you celebrate it?

If this is your first time reading this blog, Cancerversary is the anniversary of the day I was diagnosed: October 9, 2012. After being told for months, "you're so young, it can't possibly be cancer, "this is the day I got "the call." (Read the copied post below to find out about that day). Every October 9th since then, I try to make it a point to pause and reflect on how my life has changed since the diagnosis. And to celebrate this day as a turning point to living the dream. 

It's always been an interesting day for me because October 9th is also a friend's birthday. And every year when Facebook reminds me of both events all I remember is that day when I found out and thinking how I couldn't tell him because I didn't want to ruin his birthday. Yes, we laugh about the things that go through your head when you hear the "C" word.

2) CONNECTING WITH THE PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH.

I know that I've shared my story, sometimes in great detail (hence someone being able to steal my posts). I also had a platoon of people taking care of me. PLEASE know that I am NOT saying that you can't empathize with or understand all the things that I'm saying unless you've stared down a cancer diagnosis. But...it's a little bit true. For me, there's strength in connecting with others that have been through the clusterfuck that is cancer. For being able to raise a glass at a reunion with a fellow survivor and you just don't need to say anything because you both know it means, "you understand the bullshit that got us here."  For sharing a hug with another survivor that means "you're here...I'm here..." For sitting with a friend who's been through it all too and you can say, "I hate the meds. I stopped taking them. I don't care." And they GET IT. There's no judgement.

I have a great group of family and friends that supported me through the worst of it, and still do. They are my PEOPLE and I love them. But there are just those people in the group who I will always connect with on a totally different level. I mean, I wish we weren't all in the same club, but it helps to know that they've got your back always. Because FUCK CANCER.


3) THE PEOPLE YOU CAN NEVER REPAY.

There are several people in my life that I always think about on this day, and know that I can never repay them. These are the people that donated SO MUCH SICK LEAVE so that I could stay home for basically an entire school year and focus on healing. There will never be enough words to thank them. You know who you are. 

4) CANCER SUCKS.

Thanks Captain Obvious. But what I really mean is, why the FUCK is this still impacting people we know and love? While I know many of you have battled cancer before me, after me, or are currently in the fight, and you know I LOVE YOU ALL, these are the people specifically on my mind today:
- the VERY first person I told about my diagnosis is currently battling cancer. 
- a former student who is the same age as my own kid was diagnosed a few years ago.
- the one person whose journey I clung to with hope, believing "if they can survive, then I can too" passed away from a recurrence a few years ago and it still hurts.
- a friend who had a blanket made for me (and blessed by her church) for hospital chemo days recently lost her own battle with cancer. I regret being too far away to be as supportive as I could have been; for not digging into storage to find that blanket and send it to her. For thinking that we would have more time. 

5) CANCER SUCKS, part 2.
 

I recently went to my high school reunion. It was great to be there and see the people who knew you when were an awkward, nerdy, teenager with bad 80s hair. But it was loud and chaotic and tough to really sit and talk story with people. But there was one person I got to spend a minute with and I wish I'd said what I really wanted to say, but I was kind of afraid to tear up. We had been friends since 7th grade, but lost touch (except on Facebook) after graduation. And then, when I posted about my diagnosis all those years later, his was one of the first messages of support I received. And it was filled with words like "you're a competitor...a Redmond Mustang through and through...you have friends and prayers coming your way...I know you are tackling this with the same approach I have seen from you many times over." And it just meant so much in the moment. 


When I saw him at the reunion, he gave me a hug and a high 5 and he said, "you did it. You're here." And it means even more now because he gets it. He lost his mother to cancer.   


6) HEALTH CARE BLUES.
Or, what I wouldn't give for a clean scan.
Or, I'd like to get off this roller coaster.


I've been binge-watching Outlander (among other shows) on Netflix and I find myself saying "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ" quite a bit lately. For anyone that's been playing along on my journey, you know that I have a hate-hate relationship with scans of any kind. I hate them, they never give me a definitive result...I feel like I'm always hoping for a clean scan and end up getting "suspicious" results instead. 


Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I'm scheduled for my first MRI since hitting that "5 year mark." I could do a whole post on "scan-ticipation". In fact, I probably have. It's stressful to always be thinking, "what if?" Last year's scan was "suspicious" but not "concerning." (ALSO, I HATE ALL THESE WORDS AND DOCTORS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO USE THEM!). This year's scan was actually suspicious AND concerning enough to warrant a follow-up ultrasound at my "earliest possible convenience." So, that was an awesome long weekend of worrying. BTW, said ultrasound alleviated some of the concerns but now I'm on a watch-and-see-come-back-in-3-months pattern. I just can't seem to get off this roller coaster.

7) AM I DIFFERENT?

In many ways, I'd like to think that I'm not all that different fundamentally. I feel like I've always spoken my mind, at least to the people that know me. But maybe that's not true. Maybe I have changed. But, I don't care...maybe that's the difference.
I have ZERO time in my life for bullshit.
I'm just gonna walk away from crazy.
Take me or leave me, but this is me.

There are lots of "lessons learned" which you can read below. As I'm typing this, I realize that even I'm not living up to my mantras. I let my passport expire. I haven't done any of the big trips I wanted to do. I have crazy in my life. I'm not happy all the time. But I'm refocusing. Starting with that passport renewal!

And you know what? I can see the ocean from my bedroom. My baby is graduating from high school. And I'm a grandma. So life isn't all bad.


8) THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES!

I hope that if you've read this far you understand that. We may or may not get a tomorrow. Please don't take life for granted. Get the drinks, see the shows, take the trips, re-connect, watch the sunsets, eat the desserts, LOVE YOUR PEOPLE.


9) I AM HERE!

It's not really news that I'm a HUGE fan of Pink. Her songs always get me through whatever crazy is going on in my life. But one song in particular is kind of my new attitude toward life. (Okay, not necessarily word for word, but the overall tone). 

"...I open up my heart
You can love me or not...

...I like whisky on ice, I like sun in my eyes
I wanna burn it all down, so let's start a fire...

...I am here, I am here
I've already seen the bottom so there's nothing to fear..."


10) And finally, for the love of all that is holy, THINK BEFORE YOU PINK! (The other pink...)

I am not a fan of Pink-tober. (Which is also an entire post I'm pretty sure I've already written). If you want to make an actual difference, don't buy all the pink stuff. INSTEAD:


-FUND RESEARCH. Figure out who's actually doing it and make a donation.
-Donate to a friend/family member's GoFundMe or ask how you can help. I have ideas, ask me.
-Participate in a Relay for Life.

When I re-read the post from my first cancerversary, I realize that I will just keep posting that every year, because I still mean all of those words, and everyone still asks what it was like to get THAT phone call. 

I still believe it all. If you aren't doing something that you love, with the people that you love, in a place that you love, WHY THE HELL NOT?! You should be happy! (Note to self...that means you too). 


There is something to celebrate about every day...find it.


And now, as promised, my post from Cancerversary #1, 10/9/13: 

One year ago today I was sitting at my desk after school when my cell phone rang. It was my husband, telling me the doctor had called the house looking for me but wouldn't leave a message. (I didn't tell him at that moment, but that was actually the point that I knew it was bad news. When the doctor is trying to track you down IMMEDIATELY, it's really not a good thing). What felt like 5 seconds later, the surgeon was calling me with the news: cancer. And everything else she said after that word was, "blah, blah, blah...cancer...blah, blah, blah, surgery...blah, blah, blah." Seriously, it really was like the Charlie Brown teacher talking. You DO NOT hear anything after the "C" word.

I hung up the phone, sat at my desk for a moment, and then went home. (After telling someone why I wouldn't be at work the next day). I spent maybe 10 minutes trying to decide if I was going to tell Keith before or after he got into his GIANT truck and drove to referee a high school soccer game. I should've been nicer, but misery loves company, so I told him. And that was the beginning of our crazy cancer journey.  

I am still dealing with it every day and really not in the frame of mind to wax poetic about my thoughts.

But I have learned a lot in the last year: about myself, friends, family, what is important, what is NOT important...the list goes on. 

What I want to say most importantly today is that I have learned that life's too short my friends. It really is. And you should be LIVING it...to the fullest...everyday. Always. 

Be happy. 

Say I love you. 

Be thankful. 

Don't take anything for granted. 

Do what you love. 

Don't wait for "someday." 

Oh, and eat dessert first.

Edited in 2015 to add:
Go because you can.

Because why not?!

WEAR SUNSCREEN!

Edited in 2019 to add:

Get all the tattoos.

Watch all the sunsets.

"Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to life forever, you just have to live." --Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting