Archive for February, 2013

We know all the sayings:

  • Every day is a chance to start fresh.
  • Every day is a new beginning.
  • Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
  • Make every day count.

We hear them, but how often do they resonate? We take days for granted, as if they are a guarantee. We either waste days by rushing through them at the speed of light but not necessarily absorbing or accomplishing any one thing (yup, me) or by simply doing nothing. “After all, tomorrow is another day,” my cousin and I love to quote Scarlett O’Hara.

But today I realized tomorrow may never come. Today I learned of three cancer deaths. None personally close to me, but they all hit home. Particularly looking at pictures of two of the three, both in their late thirties, smiling petite brunettes who had – you guessed it – breast cancer. That could so easily be me. And the third, an older gentleman, but unexpected, sudden cancer-related. It can happen any time, to any one. I am lucky that I am still here.

But for how long? It seems more and more common for people to have a recurrence or develop a new cancer. My fellow breast cancer survivor Janie was lamenting the other day how so many people feel the need to constantly share these stories lately: “I wish some people could understand that telling a cancer survivor that they know someone that had breast cancer too and was a survivor for 5 years then they had a recurrence, lung cancer, liver cancer, brain cancer etc…… and they didn’t survive it…Is sooo incredibly sad!!!! It Breaks my Heart!!!! Also on another note sooooo incredibly stressful as that is our Biggest fear…… We are all Survivors!!!! Whether we just started our fight, are in the middle of our fight, have finished our fight or those who are now Angels watching over us.. We understand what its like to fear what might happen next but we also know what its like to appreciate every minute as life is so very precious!”

She’s right. It’s my biggest fear. (Well, my biggest ‘me’ fear – I worry about my son every time he goes out the door!) I wouldn’t have cut both my breasts off, gone through 24 weeks of chemo, six weeks of radiation and now five years of Tamoxifin and soon reconstructive surgery if I thought I had a choice. I will fight as long as I have to, as hard as I have to, to have more days here with my loved ones.

I am not trying to depress anyone, or bring them down from their optimistic perch – I am usually right there with you. I will never stop planning for the future, never stop looking forward to tomorrow and probably never stop quoting Scarlett. But what I will do is take just a few moments more each day to cherish life. To be thankful for each moment I do have. To make sure that the people around me know I appreciate and love them. I want to make every day, every moment, every breath, count.

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I was called into the Healing Garden at Dana-Farber today. Not literally, but something beckoned me to go through those doors, although I haven’t been since my very first visit to this facility last March. And the second I walked in and felt the peacefulness wash over me, between the lush garden, sweet scent of greenery, subtle lighting and bird musac in the background, the floodgates opened. Clearly I don’t mesh well with relaxing and peacefulness – another thing I need to work on.

I know it was – is, as I’m still sitting here amongst the flowers and the tears writing this blog entry on my iPhone – more than that, though. It is remembering that first time here, how scared and clueless I was about what really lay ahead. It is mourning the person I was before I stepped through these doors. It is the wondering about the different path my life could’ve taken if I hadn’t discovered that lump – and the people that may’ve still been in it – for better or worse. And sitting here, looking through the bamboo branches, out the window at the hospital across the street where we kept vigil for days and then lost my grandfather, in the midst of it all, just 8 months ago. It is the fact that this is the last time I will be here (barring any more lymphedema flair ups) for four whole months. And while that is something to celebrate – as is finally being ‘even’ again after today’s procedure (which really hurts but is worth it) – it is also hard. As change always is, even when it’s for the better.

But I will adjust. I am still struggling to figure out who this post-treatment me is. And I will get there. Maybe I just need a little more time in some healing gardens…

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I put my wigs away this weekend. That statement may surprise those of you who see me nearly every day and haven’t seen a wig on my head in months. I made the unconscious decision to stop wearing the wigs long before a real hair started to grow back on my head. And then it was a conscious one, when I was at the really awkward stage with just a few scattered tufts of hair and many bald spots – a defiant, I-don’t-care-what-I-look-like-and-screw-you-if-you-don’t-like-me-for-it kind of attitude (much tougher than I really felt inside). And finally, I didn’t need them as – sighs of relief – the follicles began to sprout faster, and the bald spots filled in. But I couldn’t bring myself to rid my room of the ever-present long (and short) hair perched on my shelf. Until now.

I only once in the last couple of months considered putting one of the wigs back on my head. I was going out for a night on the town and really wanted to flirt. And believe me when I say I have done my research and nothing tops having long hair when you want to attract attention. (Ok, maybe a few things, but that’s not the kind of attention I was looking for!) Men will overlook a lot of other flaws if you have beautiful, long hair. But my pride won out and I went with my own boy-like hair. Yes there was a tad bit of flirting, but I was flung back to reality when the guy was staring at the picture on my phone (he didn’t believe I had a 21-year-old son, so I showed him the picture of Nick with me in the red dress from last January) and he said “Wow, you’re beautiful!” But not looking at the me in front of him, looking at the pre-cancer me (with long, brown hair) from one year ago. Forget strikes one and two – that will count as three and you – are – out!

I had a lot of fun with my wigs in the beginning. They helped me get comfortable with the new me. Made me feel a bit better when I looked in the mirror. Helped me poke fun at the stupid thing called cancer. And I want to donate them to help other women do the same. But just not yet. I did loan a couple of them to a friend who is going through treatments now. But the others, now in a hatbox in my room, are almost a security blanket. I need a step process for this. First, out of sight but accessible. They are there if I need them, if suddenly I wake up, and all my hair is on my pillow, again. Not that it’s likely I’d put one on, even then, but I’d have options. And hopefully in the next few weeks, I will forget they are there. I will be secure that the hair on my head is here to stay. And one day, maybe in a couple of months, I will stumble across them and want the storage space for something else – like barrettes and headbands and elastics for my growing locks. And then I can find someone to pass them on to, who is at the start of her cancer journey and needs those wigs to boost her confidence and mood – to be her security blanket – as I let go.

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