Processing Life

I have had a serious case of the grouchies for the last week or so.  I couldn’t figure out why.  I know funds are tight (when aren’t they?) and the boys are perpetually tired (golf camp, July 4th, VBS and all the other summer fun), especially since they won’t sleep in, but that didn’t explain why I felt the need to dive into every box that remotely looked like it might contain chocolate and no soy.  Then, it happened.  Last night, I just dissolved into tears when I realized why I was grouchy.  My brain is processing and it really doesn’t like to do that.

I’m convinced that having cancer is a bit like childbirth, although I’ve never had the pleasure of childbirth.  My friends tell me that childbirth hurts, A LOT!  But after they see that sweet little face and get home and bond with their little bundle, they forget how much it hurt (thus the explanation for having more than one child).  With cancer, after you have a few months of remission under your belt, you forget just how miserable you really were.  Oh, you know you were miserable, you just don’t remember the pain that went with it.

John told me that there were nights right after chemo that he would wake up and make sure I was still breathing (ironically, I did the same thing when he was diagnosed with his arrested hydrocephalus) since I looked so pale.  Obviously I have no recollection of this, nor of much else from my time I spent bonding with chemotherapy.  I realized yesterday that I have no recollection of Thanksgiving, except that it was the weekend John shaved my head.  I also have no memory of Christmas, except that my oven broke on Christmas Eve and I had to make whatever it was I had to make in my Crock Pot.  Other than that, it’s all a blur.  It’s like I had one very long day that lasted from November 9 – March 15.

Now, I can attribute some of it to being seriously stupid (my term for chemo fog), but not all of it.  I am convinced that my brain was so overloaded by the sheer enormity of the events slamming me in rapid succession that it just shut down – BOOM!  I know people tend to forget parts of traumatic events in an effort to seal off the pain.  It’s the brain’s defense mechanism.  Maybe that’s why there’s a chemo fog, so patients forget about the crap that goes with the treatment.

While I certainly don’t want to relive those times, I would like to have some memory.  I have a few recollections, mostly of the kindness people extended to myself and my family.  I remember our friend Renie giving up her Mondays to spend a couple of hours at the Outpatient Cancer Care Center (OPCC) while I got fluids.  My friend Cathy drove me to labs and went to my first post chemo CT scan.  She also texted quite often or called.  I know she was checking up and giving me pep talks, but I can’t remember them.  My friend Kelley took the boys for an extended period on chemo days, did school with them, fed them, entertained them and still brought dinner for John and I.  I can’t remember any of the meals, except her lentil soup, which sustained me for several days.  I still need that recipe!

I do remember the care I received from every person at the OPCC.  I do remember every nurses’ name.  My incredible nurse, Sharon, had to take a leave of absence shortly after I started chemo, but when she was there she always took care of me.  So did Kelly, Jacqueline, John, Barbara, Whitley and Paige.  They were my lifeline.  I recently returned to the OPCC after my first 3 month absence to have my CA-125 drawn.  Whitley and Paige gave me a teddy bear because they missed me!  Apparently, on my good days, I made cookies and brownies for the girls.  I really don’t remember this, but I do know that when I felt good, I baked just because it made me feel normal.  This was their way of saying thanks.  I bawled like a baby then too.  I’m not sure if it was because I was overwhelmed by their generosity or because I couldn’t remember doing anything.  I think that may have been what started the grouchies.

Now that I realize I’m processing, it’s somewhat easier, although I’m still in a chocoholic frenzy. Unfortunately, I can no longer blame PMS, but I’m hoping menopause can be somewhat responsible.  I realize I need to take care of myself (it’s kind of fallen to the wayside).  On OVCA boards, I find myself telling people who are newly diagnosed to be kind to themselves, that life will take care of itself.  I need to take my own advice.  I need to try to let go of the past and realize it’s shaped who I am, but it doesn’t define me.  I faced the Beast in the eye and stared him down and, hopefully, walked away a better person for it.

So I continue to process my past, grieve what I lost, and embrace what’s to come.  It’s gonna’ be great!

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Dress Rehearsal

I have decided that my life before cancer was simply a dress rehearsal.  And I went through a lot of “stuff” before cancer. I think it’s the “stuff” that gives you the strength to fight cancer.  If you haven’t had a lot of “stuff,” you might not have the tools to really fight well.

When I graduated from college, all my friends were getting married so, of course, I wanted to get married too.  I hated being the third wheel.  Fortunately, one of my best friends got divorced during this time, but she ended up going to law school so I didn’t see her that often.  So I started dating a guy who was wrong for me on so many levels that I could write about it for YEARS and still not complete the explanation (my “sister” Sue can, however, give you the synopsis of why this guy was such a bad choice in 30 words or less).  If I hadn’t had that experience, I could never appreciate what a great guy I married.  And, despite his few flaws, he is absolutely perfect for me.  There is no way my ex-idiot, I mean fiancé, would have or could have stood by me through anything.

John and I have faced unemployment, financial distress, and infertility.  I’d have to say that the financial and infertility issues are a toss up.  Both are long term battles that suck you dry.  Both take an incredible commitment to stay together and work through it.  And both need to not place blame on the other.  We are stronger for being together through it.

Of course, infertility had its silver lining.  I have two incredibly handsome, funny, talented and amazing boys that lived in foreign countries that God gave us to raise.  Traveling to a foreign country is not for the faint of heart.  Three weeks in Russia, while amazing, took its toll on us.  And after two failed adoption attempts, the four days in Guatemala, while incredible, were hard on Kyle and my mom, especially since my dad had only been gone 5 months when we left and we were all acutely aware that Braeden would never get to meet his Papaw.  Reflecting back, however, John and I have decided that Braeden has, in fact, met his Papaw as he seems to be channeling him in a regular basis now.  They are random comments that my dad would have made and I marvel at how Braeden gets his wish to “meet” his grandpa.

Losing both our fathers within 3 years gave both of us a glimpse of the struggle at the end of life.  We put our intentions in place and have medical power of attorney’s and living wills.  And in 2012, we both had to have the talk about “if something happens to me, you WILL honor my wishes.”  John faced a potentially life threatening neurological incident that turned out to be something congenital.  It was, to that point, the roughest 6 weeks of my life.  While I had faced the death of my father and father-in-law, I never expected to face the prospect of being a widow at 47.  I am proud of the way John handled the entire experience (me, not so much.  I was pretty selfish with my prayers).  And it helped us learn why John’s short term memory is not as sharp as we thought it should be. 

Six weeks after that, the mass was found on my left ovary.  I KNEW it was cancer and even told John.  I hadn’t had any tests yet, but I just knew.  Being the incredible husband he is, he went through the entire spiel about not knowing anything and it’s probably nothing since that’s what the doctor says, yada, yada, yada.  But I knew.  Six weeks later, after nearly dying after surgery, I had to tell my husband I had cancer.  He missed the doctor because he had to take the kids to our homeschool co-op that day and was a little late.  I don’t think I will EVER forget the look on his face.  I don’t even know how to describe it.  For a brief moment, I had to be the strong one while he had to face the prospect of a life without a wife.  When I think back on this, I cry.  We’d had so many rugs pulled out from under us and landed on our feet.  This time, we landed smack on our butts and it hurt.

Once I was home, we laid out our action plan.  I would go to chemo and he would work something out with his boss so he could be with me.  We embarked on the longest, hardest journey of our lives and marriage – chemotherapy.  Lots of couples divorce during cancer treatment.  Spouses can’t handle it.  My husband shaved my head, cleaned the house, took care of the kids, held me when I cried and kept his vow of “for better or for worse” and “in sickness and in health.”  We definitely had the worse and sickness thing nailed during those 5 months.

Looking back, neither one of us could have come out on the other side of my battle without having been through all those smaller battles that seemed insurmountable at the time.  Had I not battled infertility and being told “No you can’t have children,” would I have developed the determination to fight and prove my doctors wrong.  Had I not dated an idiot, I would not have had to fortitude to know how to advocate for myself.  Had I not had the experience of losing my dad, I would not have learned how to fight.  Being a mom gave me the will to fight for my kids.  Being married gave me a partner to join me in battle.  Being a daughter of the one true King gave the hope that it was all in His hands.

My life to that point was a dress rehearsal for survival.  This experience has added another dimension to who I am.  Just like the experiences prior to this, ovarian cancer does not define me, but it helps shape the person I am becoming. 

No one jumps up and down and begs for cancer (if they do, they are truly more idiotic than my ex).  It happens, just like that stuff in the other more common phrase.  It’s a monster that takes far too many warriors in the battle for life.  I am thankful that I get to fight another day – every day.  Perhaps that’s the lesson from this battle.  Life makes you a better person.  You can face it head on or let it run over you.  My dress rehearsal taught me to always face life head on.  I wonder what challenges are next?