Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Here are my opening remarks - please ignore the sniffles; most of those were from the cold ocean air and just a few from actual crying.
And my closing remarks after completing the 39.3-mile walk. Stay tuned for more pictures and musings on an incredible weekend.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Think I Can

When people ask, I usually say that the side effects of chemo are like having a hangover, but that doesn't entirely tell the truth of it. Mostly because hangovers don't last for a week. Also, they don't cause mouth sores or hot flashes or fatigue so intense you feel like your limbs are made of concrete. And I never had a hangover that resulted in four days of constipation followed by three days of hoping to make it to the toilet in time not to ruin yet another pair of underwear. Not to mention the pulsating bone pain letting me know the booster shot to my white blood cells is working or the violently dark mood swings brought on by the steroids. It makes for a rough week.

And in the middle of this last round, a few days before my 34th birthday, I remember clearly thinking: I don't know if I'm strong enough to do this. I curled up in a ball, put my forehead on our living room rug and let the tears drip down my nose. It's hard to stay positive when you feel so physically spent.

And then the side effects lift, and I make it to a yoga class and feel strong again and go back to believing I will beat this.

I have always lived my life thinking that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. When I go in for my scans, I visualize clean, healthy cells abundant in my body. During chemo infusions, I picture the cancer exploding like the cockroaches in those Raid commercials. As a kid, "The Little Engine that Could" was one of my favorite bedtime stories. "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." That little blue train repeated this phrase over and over again as he climbed until he was suddenly on the other side of the mountain. I couldn't get enough of that triumph.

I still believe in the power of positive thinking and mind over matter. But as my therapist put it: "Right now, your body is telling your mind to fuck off." 

So I'm having to learn to respect my body in a way that's new to me instead of relentlessly pushing myself to get things done, cross chores off my list. It drives me crazy to have a pile of unfolded laundry sit on our guest room bed for a week, to not be caught up on emails - in some cases from a month ago; I hope those people forgive me - and to not have updated Quinn's baby book recently. I should do that now instead of writing this. See? It's a compulsion I have to do, do, do. 

The other day, a nurse reminded me that even if I do nothing else in a day - not even get off the couch, which I really can't imagine - today I fought cancer, and that's a lot. But just for good measure, tomorrow I'm flying to Santa Barbara to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, a 2-day, 39.3-mile event. And then I probably won't be able to get off the couch, which might be okay for a minute or two.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Universe is Talking to Me

It's funny how themes emerge in my life. Most often, they seem to come in little clusters. Snippets of information repeat themselves a few times in a short span and then - poof! - they're gone. For example, a couple of weeks ago I heard from two different sources in the span of a few days that cooking with olive oil renders it carcinogenic. I cook with olive oil maybe eight times a week, so I was a little worried. Worried enough that I checked with the Livestrong Foundation, whose chief scientist responded, "That's hogwash." And here's the thing. I haven't heard a peep about the cancerous properties of olive oil since.

Sometimes, instead of the this-information-is-curious snippets, the universe bonks me on the head with big, overarching, live-your-best-life-now themes, and occasionally I need to be told more than once. In my high school senior yearbook, we were all asked to choose a quote to accompany our photos. At 17 years-old, I chose: "Every moment is enormous, and it is all we have." This message is ringing especially loudly in my ears lately. The universe - and my husband, almost daily - is telling me to live in the present. It's a theme in friends' Facebook posts and my therapy sessions, my yoga classes and conversations with other survivors about how to cope with the onslaught of emotions that emerge with a chronic illness. I realize this idea is nothing groundbreaking, but it's still an elusive task. I find myself thinking - Okay, now. Now I'm in the present. No, now it's now. Now again. - until I just sound ridiculous even to myself.


Like most toddlers, Quinn is big on routine. His evenings are pretty typical - dinner, bath, a few books, a bottle (still trying to eliminate the bedtime one), and then I usually put him to bed. About a year ago, after repeating them dozens (now hundreds) of times, I memorized "Time for Bed" and "Wynken Blynken and Nod," so now I repeat one or the other to him as I rock him while he finishes his bottle. When he's done, he pushes it away and turns into me, curls up with his head in the crook of my shoulder for just a moment, long enough for me to tell him how much I love him and kiss his forehead a few times. He's old enough now that when I ask if he's ready for bed, he says "Yah," and starts to wriggle out of my arms. I lay him down and - every night - wish him sweet dreams, remind him I love everything about him, and promise him I'll see him in the morning.

Some nights, I'm struggling to hold back tears as I hold my beautiful boy. Would I be this emotional about tucking him in if I'd never had cancer? Do other parents breathe in the scent of their child's hair like it could be the cure they desperately hope is right around the corner?

Balancing the idea of staying in the present with the other common advice from survivors - to continue to look forward, to make plans for the future and set goals - is a constant tightrope walk. My new therapist (a godsend provided free through the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center) says that anxiety most often arises when we think of the future, whereas melancholy and sadness surface when we're reflecting on the past. So now my task is to look forward without losing sight of the fact that every day - every morning I get to wake up with Chris and Quinn - is a little victory. It's like I knew what I was talking about when I was 17.