Thursday, May 31, 2012


I never meant to be so spotty with my updates here. Post-treatment life came slamming back into our world like a bull in a china shop. No rest for the weary. (Or, that's just how things are with a one-year-old in tow.) Slowly but surely, our lives are getting back to - dare I say it? - normal. As with most survivors, it's a new normal, redefined now that cancer is always lurking like a bad houseguest that will probably sleep on our couch for the next six months.

It's a normal still punctuated by doctors visits, although they're less frequent now. (I had my one-month follow-up with my radiation oncologist yesterday. One month!) And while shopping at Target, I got asked who my hairdresser was. Happy tears welled up as I explained this is how it's growing in post-chemo. I am almost due for a trim, which kinda blows my mind it's so normal. Life goes on. Hair grows back.

At the beginning of all this, someone who'd been through it told me it took his body a year to recover. At the time, and even during chemo, I didn't understand how that could be true. I hiked and went to yoga as often as I could. It helped keep my energy up - and, honestly - I didn't feel too terrible during most of chemo. Radiation sapped my energy in a whole different way, creeping up on me like dawn in Vegas. And the cumulative effects of treatment - or maybe it's just Bug being a toddler; are all moms this tired? - make me feel like I've aged ten years during this process. Still, I'll take it. Aging is better than not.

Every once in awhile, I still feel that prickly wave of fear creep up the back of my neck and freeze me in my tracks. Oddly, and selfishly, hearing the afternoon traffic report on NPR explaining that the snarled mess I'm stuck in is due to a fatal crash takes some of the fear away, reminding me that any of us could go, anytime. It's a morbid reassurance, I know.

A couple of weeks ago, I made lasagna for the family of the woman I knew who passed away. I browned the sausage, chopped fresh basil and parsley, stirred in tomatoes. I layered it with four different types of cheese, because there's love in cheese, isn't there? And then I wondered whether I could have a few more years if I keep doing nice things for people. Isn't that how karma's supposed to work?

I must have done something right, because Quinn continues to inspire me with his belly laughs, his mischievous grins, his fascination with our ceiling fans. As my body recovers, I have his wide-eyed wonder to greet me at the beginning of each day. It's making the mental part of my recovery so much easier, even if chasing him does take its toll physically.

Know what else is going to put me in a good mental state? Mexico. We're leaving tomorrow and hoping to find our reset buttons. I'll post pictures when we're back. And then I hope to be less spotty in this space. Until then...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


We celebrated Mother's Day this past weekend with my older brothers, my sister-in-law, my nephew and my mom. Everyone came over for brunch and mimosas. Side note: Quinn loves quiche, can inhale the stuff. It was my first Mother's Day since my diagnosis. Another side note: I wonder if everything from here on out will be referenced as either "before cancer" or "after cancer"?

The day had me thinking about babies. A number of close friends have had pregnancy successes - and failures - recently, so the topic has been on my mind. Also, making babies isn't something that gets discussed in the national cancer dialogue very often. It may not even occur to you how the two are related. But for many women, cancer means the end of our fertility.

Let me explain. Chemo works because it's toxic, but it doesn't just attack cancer cells. It affects a person's whole body, throwing many of us - including me - into what some dub "chemopause" (hot flashes and all). Apparently, it's only permanent about 50% of the time, and in my case, it's too early to tell.

But that's not the only issue.

Breast cancer is often driven, in part, by hormones. For those of us whose tumors had positive hormone receptors, we've got to take hormone-suppressing medications for typically 5 years after treatment, sometimes longer. As you might imagine, these pills are not compatible with pregnancy.

And I know cancer isn't the only thing that causes infertility. But when your choice is taken out of the equation by something that could also take your life (so you feel grateful to be alive despite grieving your losses), it stings a special kind of sting.

I've come to terms with the fact that I probably won't be able to give birth to another baby. (And that's okay. The one I've got is wonderful.) It took me awhile to reach this point, though. I had always imagined having lots of kids. Even when I got married at the age of 30, I assumed we'd have more than one.

I know I'm one of the lucky ones. I had my baby. Every day I get to experience all those incredible, poop-filled, sleepless, terrifying, proud moments that come with motherhood. It is the most insane, exhausting, amazing job on the planet. I am not even close to out of adjectives.
Everybody deserves to know this kind of love.

Some women have time to freeze their eggs prior to chemo. My doctors were in a rush to start fighting my aggressive tumor so I didn't have that option. It's also an expensive procedure, and there's no guarantee pregnancy will be an option down the road. Giuliana Rancic is paying someone to be a surrogate for her. Estimates for the costs of that kind of treatment are in the six figures. I wish we all had that choice.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Everything in its Place

We have built-in shelves in our guest bathroom that house an array of my stuff - jewelry from my grandmother, bath salts, hair ties and headbands, toiletry bags for traveling. Despite my few attempts to segregate things into canvas bins and boxes, these shelves have been in need of some serious organization since we moved in.

And it just so happens that I went to visit my oldest and best friend in Seattle last weekend, who is one of the most organized people I know. In her car, she has a mesh Ziploc bag devoted to her kids' favorite chewing gum flavors (whereas I'm always finding melted pieces of Dentyne in the bottom of my purse, pressed into the pennies and bobby pins). She's so organized, there are never piles of junk mail on her kitchen counter - I think it knows the routine by now and marches itself straight to her recycling bin. I promise this post isn't sponsored, but I swear she could singlehandedly keep The Container Store in business.

So I came home from Seattle feeling inspired to do a little spring cleaning of my own. A post-cancer clutter clear-out of sorts. It's slow-going, in part because there are only so many hours in a day, in part because of the crushing fatigue radiation has left in its wake, but also because - as Chris puts it - I'm a crier. I'll explain that in a minute.

Of the two of us, I am by far the less pack-ratty one. Probably because Chris can keep his things orderly, while I just weed out my drawers for a Goodwill run whenever they get too stuffed to close properly. I prefer clean, uncluttered design (read: Ikea). But I have never claimed to be the most organized person on the planet. Or in my house.

Back to the shelves...and my crying. Amongst everything else, I found my wedding jewelry and the note I received from Chris on our first wedding anniversary, back when we were young. (Some things are worth saving.) It said, in part: Happy First Anniversary...So Many More to Come. Immediately, my eyes filled up and welled over. The promise of those words got caught in my throat like a pill. I was not a pretty sight in the bathroom mirror, forehead scrunched and cheeks splotchy as I let the emotion out. And then I yelled at the bathroom walls for good measure. 

Cancer, did you hear me? 

Because I am still angry, and I am not following you into your dark hole. I am clearing out the clutter, shaking off the cobwebs, putting the pieces of my life back in place. I am cleaning house and saying good riddance to you and your wreckage. As my yoga instructor put it a few weeks ago: My body is clean, and I am free.

On the other hand, it took a considerable amount of time for me to regain my composure, and, so, my bathroom shelves remain disorganized. Safer to start with my closet, maybe.