Reflections on a Year Gone By

As I write this I realize I was still in surgery one year ago today, blissfully unaware of what my oncologist was doing inside my body.  My husband and family were experiencing increasing anxiety since the surgery had gone on at least 90 minutes longer than they anticipated.  It would be at least 90 more minutes before John would be able to actually see me.  It would be at least an hour after that before I would be awake enough to know what was going on around me.  I still had a TPA injection, nuclear scan and admittance to ICU ahead of me.  To coin a phrase, this day sucked one year ago.

Today I did some of the things with my boys that I did on the day before my surgery last year.  We bought Braeden’s Halloween costume, then went to Barn and Bunk to buy our pumpkins.  Unlike last year when we had amazing weather, it poured down rain today.  After lunch at Max and Erma’s we headed home to watch Halloween specials we recorded.  Nothing major, nothing out of the ordinary unless you consider that the pulmonary embolism last year nearly killed me.  Now I love those ordinary moments.  We never know how many we have.

October 17, 2012 started a whirlwind I didn’t think I’d be able to escape.  I went from being totally out of it in ICU (those of you who visited me can attest to those 8 minute naps I took between hits on the pain pump) to walking the halls of the gyn floor.  I listened as my oncologist pulled the rug out from underneath me believing that if after 4 days I’d had no bad news, it must be good news.  “You have Stage 1C ovarian cancer.  I believe I got all of it.  You will need to undergo 6 rounds of chemotherapy as a precaution.  Here’s your report.  Let’s talk about it.”  It’s amazing that with the chemo fog I can still remember his words verbatim.

Three weeks later, with port inserted, I began chemo for what ended up being 7 rounds instead of 6.  I endured blood thinners that were injected into my abdomen, compression stockings, nausea, baldness, hot flashes, cold spells, constipation, headaches, ringing ears, blurry vision, neuropathy and a whole host of other symptoms that were supposed to be suppressed by a shoebox full of medications.  I still suffer from hot flashes (as a result of instant menopause from the hysterectomy), cold spells (from the anemia I had prior to the surgery that got worse with the chemo along with the Coumadin I take to thin my blood), constipation (chemo side effect, neuropathy of the large intestine), floaters in my eyes (thank you again, chemo), and neuropathy and joint pain in my hands and feet (kudos, chemo).  I can also add hernia to the list, but with a 12″ scar down my abdomen I shouldn’t be surprised.

I have spent the last few weeks wondering if I’ve been walking in a dream for the last year.  Then I check the mirror.  The salt and pepper hair and hysterectomy scar are the visual reminders I face every day.  The pain is a visceral reminder.  Every so often chemo fog kicks in and gives me a reprieve.  I can’t remember what I’d like to forget.  I really don’t remember much about chemo except that I was VERY sick and scared the crap out of everyone who saw me, except for Cathy.  She knew what to expect.  Chemo friends are like that.

I cleaned out my closet and room last week and packed up all my cancer hats.  They are in a box in my cedar chest waiting for me.  I got rid of my “sick” clothes I wore last year.  I just couldn’t stand to think about wearing them again.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  While my hair finally looks “normal” I’m not allowed to color it yet.  I look strange, old, tired, cancerous.  There’s something sad about the person in the mirror.  She lost a part of herself and gained a shadow that’s always lurking behind her.  I am waiting for the shadow to become commonplace so I can feel normal again.

I still don’t plan too far ahead.  The idea of having to tell my boys that we can’t do something because I’m sick again is more than I can handle.  I have made every soccer and flag football game so far this season.  I have bought Halloween candy.  I am working on losing excess weight to help me get healthy and help the hernia.  We’ve discussed visiting John’s family for Thanksgiving.  I see my doctor every 3 months.  I get my CT scan every 6 months.  Despite the 88-90% chance of being “cured,” it’s a long 10 year road.  And someone has to be in the bad end of the line, not that I’m asking to stand there.

The last year has been a dark, scary one.  I have found that I have people that I can count on and who love me.  God has blessed me with new friends, strengthened casual friendships to something stronger, and made me a better person.  I am more tolerant and less concerned with the little things (unless it’s schoolwork, then all bets are off).  I nap more and feel guilty less.  I appreciate what I have and don’t pine for what I don’t (except for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer – that I drool over in stores).  I hug my husband and sons a little longer and a little tighter.  I say I love you more often.  I am more willing to get rid of the clutter.  I’m willing to try something new since you never know if the chance will come again (hello canoeing).

Life can change in an instant.  I know that now.  I only wish I hadn’t chosen such a difficult way to learn it.

Pink is the New Black

Last night, I watched the Cleveland/Buffalo game with my husband.  The first thing John noticed was not the score, which surprised me since the Browns were losing at the time.  The first thing he noticed was the pink.  Pink was everywhere.  Pink ref towels, pink socks, pink mouth guards, pink goal posts, pink yard markers, pink ribbons on the field.  It was a pink lovers paradise.   John said, “Boy they’ve got a great lobby.”  Yes, they do, and they’re not afraid to use it.

Let me say upfront that I am NOT anti-pink.  I know several people who have had to fight the Beast called breast cancer.  Some of these women were the ones who prayed most fervently for me.  One in particular continues to walk along side of me as I struggle with this season called remission.  I lost a friend to breast cancer.  It’s an ugly, disfiguring, vile and evil disease that must be eradicated from the Earth.  That being said, so do all the rest of the cancers.  What I am is anti “my cancer is worse than your cancer.”

In the past, I’ve always thought it was cool that the NFL and MLB would sport pink.  These traditionally male sports were honoring wives, sisters, aunts, lovers and friends by wearing pink during Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Last year, I looked at it a bit different.  After I came home from my hysterectomy and was waiting to have my port inserted, I watched a game and thought, “Seriously?”  Later that week my friend Cathy made her first visit to me as my unofficial Chemo Coach and I asked her what she thought about all the pink.  After reflecting, she said that initially it made her feel good, but as time wore on she started to feel like a commodity.

Watching the game last night, a couple of things popped into my head.  First was “Why pink?”  Granted men DO get breast cancer, albeit a relatively low percentage.  So if the “wearing o’ the pink” brings awareness to male breast cancer, it’s a great thing.  I’ve been prayed over on Facebook by a woman who lost her husband/soul mate to breast cancer.  If the NFL would use the platform to raise awareness for that, I’d say paint the stadium pink.  But, sadly, that’s not the point.  The point is to support women with breast cancer.

My second thought was “Why not blue?”  Blue represents prostate and testicular cancer and while prostate tends to be a slow growing cancer, testicular cancer is not.  These big burly men could all develop prostate or testicular cancer.  Shouldn’t they go blue to get their fans to get checked?  Maybe no one has brought this up to the NFL.  Or maybe big, burly men don’t want to deal with what might happen to them.  Who knows?  I may have to Google or Bing that.

My third thought had to do with John’s observation about having a great lobby.  Breast cancer has an awesome lobby.  Two of my hometown’s big corporations, P&G  and Kroger, scream pink.  P&G makes donations based on coupons redeemed and Kroger spotlights employees who have fought the beast and won (female employees only, I’ve noted).  Campbell’s has pink cans.  Yoplait has their pink lids.  The other night my son was eating Yoplait and asked, “Where are the teal lids?”  I had to suppress a laugh.  I explained that there were no teal lids and I didn’t anticipate there ever being teal lids.  “Why?” he asked.  I simply told him, “Not enough women get my kind of cancer.”  His reply, “That’s stupid.  Cancer is cancer and it all kills people.”  Ah, the wisdom of a 10 year old who fears the Beast will take his Momma.  But I recognize that it took Susan Komen’s sister and Dr. Love going to Avon to get the ball rolling.  Prior to that, you pretty much had a “Save the Ta-ta’s” sticker and that was about it.

John’s uncle has been battling muscle and lung cancer for a few years.  He is one of the most humble and Godly men I know.  If anyone should have a ribbon day, he should.  John’s dad died from lung cancer.  No ribbon for that.  My grandma died of colon cancer.  Where’s her ribbon month?  Thank goodness for Katie Couric or that cancer would still be in the dark.  My niece battled thyroid cancer last year.  No ribbon there either.  While I am thrilled that teal is getting recognized, I realize there are some cancers that are still avoided completely like pancreatic and liver cancer.  Talk about needing a lobby!

I do plan on wearing my pink T-shirt this month for Cathy, Joules, Ronnie, Paula, Lori, Charlene and all the other women I know who’ve battled breast cancer.  The back of my shirt says “It’s not a color, it’s an attitude.”  Now that’s something I can get behind.  Rather than painting America pink, maybe we need to get into the mindset that all cancer is bad and we need to find a way to cure them allnot just the one with the who has the best PR machine.

Actually, I’ve packed away most of my teal stuff from last month.  I am wearing my “Power is Teal” T-shirt today, but not to make a statement.  It’s actually very comfy and it was on the top of my stack in the drawer.  I could have just as easily pulled my “All-American Mom” which is my shirt to promote International Adoption or my “Homeschool Mom, Just Add Coffee” shirt.  Tomorrow I will wear my “Flight Crew” shirt from VBS last summer.  Not because I am trying to make a statement, but because both my boys have games tomorrow and both have blue and white uniforms.  My T is blue and white so I am supporting my kids.  Granted the message is a bonus, but it’s not the reason why I’m choosing that shirt.  Not every color has to stand for something.

Pink, like teal, blue, yellow, purple, red and green, is just a color.  I realize when they take the shape of a ribbon, they represent something visceral.  Colors are a great way to grab attention and bring awareness.  God put seven distinct colors in the rainbow, not two or three.  All the colors are necessary to make the rainbow complete.  It will take all the ribbons coming together to beat the Beast.  Who’s with me?