September 15, 2010

A note

I need to write about how I’m feeling – it ain’t narcissism, well mostly not – it’s about the surprise I’m feeling at how I’m feeling.

And because I now have three friends fighting cancer, all of them in their 40s, and all of them - I’m guessing here, since it’s different for everyone - trying to wrestle their emotions and bodies back into balance, to keep a grip on who they are.

I wanted to send a message from the other side of healing.

One of the most difficult feelings I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was that the me that was me, was over – I grieved the loss of normal – the worry of being late somewhere, or losing my favourite scarf, or burning my toast. That was done.

I got tired of not going a week without some type of doctor’s appointment. I hated knowing the terminology that was now embedded in me, literally – a PICC line, steroids, epirubicin, WBC (white blood cells) – I hated getting tattooed for radiation treatments, I hated getting into the routine of blood tests for my oncologist, and that was beaten only by the idea of having an oncologist. And a surgeon. And a radiation oncologist. I loved my nurses but I hated having to know them by name. I grew to know my oncology nurse’s phone number by heart, not by choice.

I didn’t want to be treated like a patient. And it’s understandable that people do, especially when you lose your hair – in fact in the last half of six treatments you lose your eyebrows and eyelashes – and that’s when you really look like a cancer patient. I didn’t feel like one on the inside, but on the outside I looked like a barren landscape. I also lost my nose hair, which I’d never had a close relationship with, until it was gone and my life through winter consisted of whole boxes of Kleenex, because there was nothing to keep my nose from running. Funnily enough, my doctors treated me the most normally – because this was their normal.

I worried about Steve and I and our new life after cancer.

And I worried about the responsibility of having a new life after cancer.

I worried more about what if it came back?

I still worry about that – who wouldn’t? But last week marked the third anniversary of my surgery and I don’t know how I got here. It just happened. Life, I mean.

I still don’t feel normal enough to freak out about burnt toast, or an unmade bed, although I have mounted an unrelenting campaign for a dishwasher, because I hate washing dishes. That’s normal. And I hate meetings. That's uber normal. I have hot flashes now, that's a new kind of normal. My hair is back and once I was through my curly poodle new hair, it went back to "normal". I see my oncologist once every six months, my surgeon only once a year.

I also fell into beauty. That was one of the gifts of being ill. And it didn't fade when I was through. I see beauty everywhere. I want to devour it and coat my insides with it. And I love to share it.

And on the train coming home tonight, from my extremely busy job, with my extremely nice team, I thought…I still think about cancer probably every day…but it’s not choking me like it did. It drifts and leaves. Time is remarkable. I’m different. That’s okay.

And when I got home, I was happy to see yes, I had made the bed this morning.

So I think I do have the hope of normal. We all do.

July 15, 2010

Summer Slice

Seen on our tree-lined street one hot, humid evening last week - Dad riding the bike. Daughter, about five, in the seat behind. He riding them home from the park. She singing her lungs out: "You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you, you're just like heaven to touch"...head bobbing from side to side as she let out her song. As he went by Dad said, shrugging his shoulders, "she loves to sing." And on the chorus, Dad joined in and they belted it out as they floated around the corner of our block: "I love you baby and if it's quite alright I need you baby........."

March 31, 2010

Through the dirt and grime

Tomorrow I will feel spring. March came in like a lamb and left like a lamb chop. It spent 31 days caressing us and coaxing us into believing spring was coming. It’s here, and here early. Fire the groundhog – he was wrong.

starts bubbling as soon as the winter days get noticeably longer – by the end of January you can see just the remnants of day trying to hang on at 6pm – that’s my first trip wire. I start watching the sunset times on the weather network. I obsessively check the long-term 14-day forecast for hope – a Chinook from the west – a warm front from the Caribbean – whatever.

But it’s false labour pains – because then comes February. And it’s long. All 28 days of it. My next sign of hope comes from the birds in the morning – the sparrows that hide like spies in the bushes along the sidewalk – I’ve learned to look for their droppings on the branches, they don’t wander far. They’re brave little souls when they’re invisible. They’re heartier than most other creatures since they stay all winter. But by March they’re too busy trying to get laid to notice humans within a foot of them. They yammer and jaw and fight and hiss at one another. I’m sure it all works out in the end – a kind of effective UN for bird brains. Then come the cardinals…the red-wing blackbirds and the bluejays.

Finally out come the humans with the café tables and chairs and the pub patios fill with patrons cradling a beer in their gloved hands in the warm sun, willing the vitamin D into them.

And then...this usually happens...

But not tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m getting my vitamin D naturally – on the deck. Tomorrow I will open the doors and windows and send the air of the last year packing. Things are ready for cleaning. For starting over. Rebirth.

We’ve had our rough patches this winter. My in-laws tested their mortality a few ways. During one epic battle my mother-in-law had with pneumonia and compression fractures in her spine, my father-in-law had spinal surgery, and I developed walking pneumonia. And as usual when tough times come, you find out what people are made of – and Steve was heroic in his care.

A friend, Erin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time as I was, and then re-diagnosed last year with tumours in the brain, found out in the winter the doctors had no more tricks to pull. She went into palliative care in the new year. She died March 5th. She was 50.

Every year we met the weekend after Thanksgiving at the cottage of a mutual friend, our Marney. All women from all over life. And we set goals, which I’ve written about before.  

Erin’s goal was a roll over from the year before – a full head of hair. Marney was with Erin throughout the last days – taking her food, feeding her, playing music, talking, laughing – honoring her friendship with a woman she has known for more than 25 years. She reported in her email when Erin died that she looked beautiful – she achieved her goal – a full head of hair.

I’ve been working on what makes me tick. That’s been hard. Because sometimes that machinery is buried deep under calluses of life, of denial and survival. I’ve loved the work. It’s settled my jittery soul. I remember my goal when I started was quiet confidence – a far off dream of something I think I could conceive…but not really. My work life has thrown some tests of that hard, personal work my way, and didn’t break me. And that makes me feel like I’ve cleaned house. And that I’m not done.

I said that quietly…and with confidence.

I knew this would be a year of loss – I’m nursing a 17-year-old cat with kidney failure who is right now giving me the “I ignore evil cat owners” look by keeping her back to me, her head erect and ears turned a little backward to listen for me. That’s because I just injected her with a bag of saline. The things we do for love. She doesn’t see it that way. So there may be more loss – that is part of it all.

But I also feel a great sense of hope. Of grabbing the reins. Of owning whatever path I’m on. I’ve stumbled around sometimes wondering why I haven’t felt an epiphany with my recovery – that I’ve just gotten on with it. That I missed something. But I think I’m blind to the signs. This has been no whiz bang lightning flash epiphany – I think this is one of those slow burning epiphanies. I think I prefer it – because I trust it more.

That is the great gift of spring – the warmth of the sun on your face, the crocuses blooming against a south wall, the rising excitement in your stomach, the need to believe.

January 20, 2010


A food printer. No, seriously. It prints food for you.
Thanks to Inhabitat for the story.