Saturday, January 26, 2013

No Time to Kill

There's no time to kill between the cradle and the grave
Father Time still takes a toll on every minute that you save
Legal tender's never gonna change the number on your days
The highest cost of livin's dyin', that's one everybody pays
So have it spent before you get the bill, there's no time to kill

-Clint Black

I've tried to start this post maybe three times now. I keep starting and stopping unable to focus on what is happening right now. I'm just moving through the days attempting to focus on work or home when it is appropriate. Trying to not think about my impending surgery and what new challenges it will bring. I'm trying to kill time.

The concept of killing time is something we are all familiar with. We all feel the need to fill time at some point. Form the time we are children when the anticipation of Christmas morning fills us with a giddy joy. The thinking about what we might get from Santa is probably more fun then what we actually receive. So we spend hours wishing and thinking and planning what we will do with our new toys, effectively killing the time before Christmas morning with joyful thoughts of the day to come.

Sometimes killing time as an adult can be similar. Planning a wedding, waiting for the birth of your first child or moving day into your new home can give you that sense of joyful anticipation. The planning and considering the colors of your flowers, the name of your child or where you will place the new couch allows for the time to slip by without the fear of potential pitfalls creeping into your head. The thoughts of divorce or an ill child or problems with you new homes foundation are easily cast out of your mind as the many details of this new challenge can bring positive thoughts easily to mind.

Waiting for this surgery has not been such a joyful occasion for me. I'm worried about the pain I will be in immediately following the surgery. I'm worried about the bills that will fill my mailbox over the next few months. I'm worried about the limitation that will come with the surgery. Will I be able to play softball or lift things with my right hand? Will there be more lymph nodes removed? Will the pathology reveal new tumors or change the prognosis?

The planning for my surgery is not nearly the same kind of fun as planning for a new home. My purchases are decidedly unsexy things like pajamas for the hospital or large tops that button in the front so that I can get in and out of them easily. I have a prescription for a camisole with little pockets in it to hold the drains but I haven't worked up the energy to go out and buy the garment. Buying medical wear doesn't really help kill the time in the same way that say getting a new crib for your first born or even (at my age) getting a new dining room table might.

I'm filling the days and I think I'm doing ok projecting normalcy to my friends and co-workers, many of them whom I have not told yet of my surgery. At work it is easy to focus on the details of the daily news cycle and interact with co-workers, joking about the ridiculous stories we see and complaining about the usual corporate silliness. At home I can focus on my husband, dinner, cleaning and the usual things. But the fears are never far away. There is always a moment when the house is quiet and I am just stirring the soup. Or a moment at work when the story I am reading is on cancer. Or the drive home alone in the car. Those moments are filled with thoughts of surgery, thoughts of cancer, fears of the future. And then someone rings the bell or the light changes and I am back to killing time cooking or driving or working.

I'm not crazy about killing time. Time is the one thing I need more of. It's the one thing I am afraid of running out of. It's the thing above all others I wanted more of in my life. I hate killing time but here I sit trying to do just that. Wishing for the day this cancer is gone and my life is back. The days when I can just focus on the day itself without a need to look forward or backward but instead just enjoy now. Wishing for the plain old days when there is nothing new on the horizon and no reason to kill time looking for it.

If we had an hour glass to watch each one go by
Or a bell to mark each one to pass, we'd see just how they fly
Would we escalate the value to be worth its weight in gold
Or would we never know the fortunes that we had 'til we grow old
And do we just keep killin' time until there's no time to kill

No Time to Kill

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Call me maybe

Your stare was holdin',  
Ripped jeans, skin was showin'  
Hot night, wind was blowin'  
Where you think you're going, baby?
(Thump, Thump, Fist pump)

What's this have to do with breast cancer, you say? Well nothing. And, that's the point. 

Yesterday I was on my way to Washington Radiology to get my bone and CAT scans. I got in the car, plugged in my Ipod and went straight to the playlist I've been listening to lately. It's full of songs that make me think about cancer, my life and serious things like "what in the heck am I going to do?" I got a little ways down the road, feeling lonely, sad and more than a little worried about the scans when I thought to myself "something is wrong here." 

I wasn't feeling positive. I wasn't putting my best effort out there. I wasn't bringing a good attitude to the day. Why? I didn't know why I wasn't at least trying. I don't know if positive thinking can really affect your health. I kind of tend to doubt that it could cure my cancer or shrink the tumor. However, I didn't KNOW it wouldn't help. So, why wasn't I trying?

I hit "stop" on the Ipod, flipped up an down the list and found "happy music." And BOOM! Out jumped "Call Me Maybe," then, "Marry you," then "Suds in the Bucket." In no time I was singing in and dancing (mostly head bobbing and hand gestures) in the car. I didn't know if my scans were going to come out ok but I at least I wasn't going to waste the morning crying about it. 

A nice lady in my support group once told me:
I have to push really hard to get the "i'm sick, oh no cancer, poor me what if i die" out of my brain!! I just keep talking to God and the negative thoughts leave and i'm ok for a while, then they come back and I push some more... LOL I think that's why they call cancer patient's warriors... I get it now!! It's a battle of the mind as much as the body.

It's tough to keep those thoughts at bay and they were creeping up on me again by the time I made it to the CAT scan. I mean, even for me, it's not every day that you strip down, get an IV, repeat your medical history to a stranger and crawl into a tube. In the midst of all of that it's natural to think about your cancer and wonder about your life. The Ipod was out of the question this time so I fell back on something I rarely use, prayer. Have you ever heard the saying, "There are no atheists in a foxhole?" Well, there are no atheists in a cancer staging scan either. 

I'm ashamed to say I stumbled a few times. I pray but not formally, not the Our Father and Hail Mary. I usually just silently thank God for the day or ask for relief from suffering for a friend. But it's been awhile for me and the Hail Mary. I repeated the two prayers a few times to myself while the machine moved slowly over me whirling and clicking. And then, it was done.

Who cares if we're trashed 
Got a pocket full of cash 
we can bloooo, ooo, uuu, oooow!
Shots of patrooooo, uuu, ooo, uon!
And it's on, girl

 When the negativity returned in the afternoon I was ready for it. I thought, "I'm positive." Then quickly changed that in my mind to, "I'm positive, I'm negative." I said that to myself. "I'm positive, I'm negative. I'm positive, I'm negative. I'm positive, I'm negative." I was willing myself to believe. I didn't KNOW that it would work but I HOPED it would. "I'm positive, I'm negative. I'm positive, I'm negative. I'm positive, I'm negative." I was so scared. "I'm positive, I'm negative. I'm positive, I'm negative. I'm positive, I'm negative." It just HAD to work.

When the doctors' nurse called to tell me the scans were clear I wanted to dance and cheer and scream and let it all out. I had fought myself all day long - which sounds bad, but it wasn't. It was the first day in a week that I HAD TRIED to fight myself. I wasn't listening to the happy music, praying to God or positive about my cancer. I was just giving in. So, finding a way to keep the negativity in check was a pretty big victory. And, while I'm sure it didn't make any bone cancer magically disappear, it did make a few clouds over my head move on.

'Cause it's a beautiful night 
We're looking for something dumb to do  
Hey baby 
I think I wanna marry you

(Fist pump, fist pump)

Call Me Maybe
Marry You

P.S. Found this story on positive thinking after I wrote this post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gravity, It's working against me

Gravity, It's working against me
And gravity, wants to bring me down

I saw the plastic surgeon today. My breast surgeon says he's the best and I trust her judgement on things of that nature. He was a professional. He looked at me, listened to my story, took into account my recent radiation and chemo treatments and gave me his professional opinion on the type of reconstruction I should consider. We agreed on a plan. He shook my hand and left.

As I was leaving, his PA approached me to ask if I wanted to see photos. I sort of understood what she meant but said, "No, do I need to? Am I not being curious enough?" She indicted that it would help me picture the outcome so nothing would surprise me after the surgery. My husband encouraged me to follow her telling me, "Go ahead and look it won't hurt to know."

We went back into the exam room where she proceeded to show me a few photos of the outcomes of similar surgeries. She explained about the drains and the time I would be in the hospital. She said I would be sore and demonstrated some positions that would be difficult and..... I started to cry. Not a full on bawl, just that little bit of tearing up you do when you're really trying not to cry.

You see, I didn't ask about the drains (although I did know about them) or the photos or where my belly button would eventually be. I didn't ask because I didn't care. The only thing I wanted to know about was the day. The day, they would do the operation. The day I wouldn't have a cancer in my breast any longer.

The day was the only thing I could think about. You see it's not that I HAD cancer, like the first time when I found out after the tumor was removed. This time I HAVE cancer. I still have it. And it's a heavy burden to carry. It weighs you down.

It's wanting more
That's gonna send me to my knees
Gravity, Stay the hell away from me
Gravity, it's taken better men than me

Every woman (and I think most doctors) know it's no fun to wait around for the surgery. And, I imagine every woman thinks they have a special need to have their cancer removed more quickly. I know I do. But experts will always say a few weeks don't matter. Cancer takes years to grow and those extra weeks won't make a difference in the outcome.

In my case (here's my special rationalization just for me) the cancer didn't take ten years. The first one appeared in only a few months. I had a clear MRI looking specifically at that spot in November and was removing a 2.3 CM tumor in February. This much smaller recurrence appeared only ten weeks after my chemo and radiation treatments had ended. I know it wasn't there in September. That's why I think I am a special case, I'm growing cancer very quickly.

But I got to thinking about it. Every woman is a special case and we each have the right to feel like our need to remove the cancer is urgent. It doesn't matter if it took ten years, ten months or ten weeks to grow that tumor. Most tumors have a day, a minute a moment when it is contained... and in the next moment it is not. Every tumor can have that cell, that one tiny cell slip out of the breast and into the blood or nodes or bones. And, since no one can tell you when that moment happens, we all have the right to feel the urgency. Maybe during that wait that one tiny cell will slip out. Who knows?

So, it will be three weeks until I can get the cancer (and my breast) removed. I like my medical team. I have total confidence in them. However, while three weeks doesn't seem too far away for all of the members of the team that DO NOT have cancer. The weight is too much for me.

Just keep me where the light is
Just keep me where the light is
Just keep me where the light is

-John Mayer


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Where can you run to escape from yourself?

One of the most frustrating aspects of my cancer experience is learning very clearly that I am not "a tough guy." My entire self image is wrapped up in this notion. The idea that I can get along on my own in any situation, that nothing flusters me and that I am self sufficient. Learning otherwise has been difficult.

When I was very young I was able to project this image through sports and by being the local tomboy, spending summers barefoot down at the creek or roaming the neighborhood on my bike. I played softball and "kick the can" and any thing other than barbie.

I liked this image, although it came with some teasing. Truth be told though, it was a little bit of a lie.  I had terrible nightmares as a child. The scary part of a TV show would send me running for the back of my mothers recliner. I'd peek out occasionally until the next commercial or the strains of Disney music replaced the offending images. To this day I have never seen past the appearance of the flying monkeys in the "Wizard of Oz."

Over the years I managed to hide or overcome most of those fears. I'll just flip the channel when I see a commercial for "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on late night TV. I'll take a step away from the edge of the roof if I'm on a tall building. I just say "I'm busy" if someone invites me to go caving. (Who doesn't?) No one ever questions me. After all I'm the girl who changed her own radiator, hiked the Grand Canyon and has a U.S. Army Expert rating for grenade throwing.

This cancer thing though, it has me back behind my mothers chair only this time the scary part never goes away.

Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go?
Where you gonna go?

There is no escape from cancer. My mother can't kiss it away, my father can't rock me in his arms until it is gone. My husband can't love me enough to cure me. I can't hide behind the chair or refuse to say uncle. I can't grit my way through it like a hard tackle in a touch football game, jumping up with a laugh like it didn't hurt.

And, even though I can smile at work and reassure others that it will all be O.K., the truth is I'm scared and fooling everyone else isn't the problem this time. I'm the one that's not a tough guy.

Dare you to move

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Just Breathe

"We'll I don't have the best news for you. The spot at twelve O'clock was a fibroadenoma but the one at five o'clock was more cancer."

Cause you can't jump the track
We're like cars on a cable
and life's like an hourglass
glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button girl
so cradle your head in your hands
And, breathe......
Just breathe......
Oh, Breathe......
Just breathe....

I hear that song and think that is what I am going to do when the doctor tell me it's more cancer. But that's not what I do. I say "OK" and I ask a few questions while staring out the window. I hang up and walk back to my desk. I still hear that song, I envision myself doubled over with my head in my hands but I just sit down and try to focus on the screen in front of me.

A little bit later, I get up again and go back to the hallway where there are no co-workers nearby. I call my husband. No answer, so I text him two words, "more cancer." I go back to the desk and try to focus. I think about that song and how much I should really stop and do it. I should stop and focus for a minute and "just breathe." But I don't.

I miss the next call from the doctors nurse, was I not paying attention? I didn't hear the phone ring but as soon as I see the "missed call, Dr's office" on my screen I jump up and run back to the hallway.

I'm thinking about it but not THINKING about it. You know? Intellectually I understand what was said and I know there is more in front of me but emotionally.... I just can't go there. I worry about it superficially. I definitely understand but I don't want to 'cradle my head in my hands" because that would be really letting it in.

I go back to my desk. I'm not really accomplishing much more than distracting myself from thinking about it when the phone rings again. It's my husband. We speak in a short-hand. He knows what I am saying, I don't even have to leave my desk. He mainly is concerned about how I feel. I tell him I am fine. That's true but mostly because I'm not really breathing. I'm not soaking it into my lungs and feeling the air move in and out. I'm distracting myself just enough to be able to ignore my breath.

I know it will come. I'll go there... you know? THERE. The place I don't want to be. The place I would be if I doubled over and cried at my desk right now. But I'm not going to do that. That will happen later probably when I least expect it.

And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd,
Cause these words are my diary screaming out loud
and I know that you'll use them however you want to
-Anna Nalick

Breathe (2 A.M.)