Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Today, I borrow from one of my favorite 70’s bands, The Eagles.  I can hear Glenn Frey crooning now.

Several weeks ago, I chose to undergo genetic testing to see if I had any genetic mutations that would predispose me to further cancer.  I did not make that decision lightly and I shared my choice with only two people outside my immediate family.  My thinking was that if I was a “mutant” (and my friend CB will get my humor here), then I wanted to know so I could mentally prep myself for the future.

Prior to my visit, my husband wanted to know why I would want to know if I did have a genetic predisposition to cancer.  His rationale was, “Would it make a difference?”  Mine was, “Yes it will!”  So at the end of March, I trudged down to the OPCC (Outpatient Cancer Care) where I’d received my chemo and spent a couple of quality hours having my family history dissected.  It was surreal for me.  My mom had gone with me to fill in some of the gaps.  She thoroughly enjoyed learning about all the genetic mutations.  I, on the other hand, was terrified when I saw how many mutations resulted in ovarian cancer.  That’s the difference between the haves and the have nots.  Those that have cancer and are in remission know the scary netherworld they have lived in and will do just about anything to not go back.  The have nots haven’t had cancer and it’s a lot like a science lesson that would inspire Gregor Mendel.  It’s fascinating.

Unfortunately, waiting really is the hardest part (kudos to Tom Petty here).  My mood was not the best in the days after the testing.  I had decided that if I had been BRCA (breast cancer gene) positive that I would go the Angelina Jolie route and embrace my inner flat chested self (I’m sure my loving husband would have objected).  If I had tested positive for Lynch Syndrome (which predisposes patients to both ovarian and colon cancer), I was mentally prepping myself for annual colonoscopies (and this was NOT a pretty mental image).  Of course, I also struggled with how our insurance would treat me after paying for this.  Well, hubby’s employer is still covering spouses – at least for the next year.  I was grumpy, scared and mad.

Of course, all my worrying was for naught, which is not really all that surprising.  Only 12-15% of those with ovarian cancer actually have a genetic mutation.  Those might seem like pretty low odds, except that a woman’s odds for getting ovarian cancer are fairly low anyway (about 2% over her lifetime).  Given my previous experience playing the odds, I wasn’t feeling all that confident.  I mean, what are the chances that a premenopausal woman would not only get ovarian cancer, but also throw a blood clot and develop a pulmonary embolism while in the recovery room?  They are astronomical so I wasn’t feeling all that sure about my chances of not having a mutation.

Once I found out I was “normal,” relatively speaking, I was relieved.  I was enveloped in a peaceful, easy feeling.  My mood immediately lightened.  My ability to deal with stress improved dramatically.  The boys got a calmer mom.  And for the first time since August 23, 2012 I actually felt like I had some control over things.  I know that control is an illusion.  We think we have control over things, but all we can do is make a plan and hope that everyone else cooperates.

It was the first time that I felt like God had given me a chance to hold the reins.  Funny thing was that I didn’t want the reins any longer.  I hadn’t held them in so long that holding onto them just didn’t seem to be that important any longer.  I had found that elusive “new normal” that so many survivors talk about.  Cancer doesn’t define me any longer.  I am so much more than an ovarian cancer survivor.  I used to wear my survivor badge first and foremost.  Now I’ve moved it further down my sash.  My faith in God badge is first, the my wife and mom badges come next.  I wear the survivor badge right next to my homeschooler badge.  Maybe it’s because my hair has completely grown out (gray and all) and it’s now longer than its been in over 10 years.  Maybe it’s because I’m accepting those compression stockings as part of my wardrobe.  Maybe it’s because I’ve accepted neuropathy, a bit of bone pain when it rains, chemo brain and a hernia as part of life.  Maybe it’s because I now prefer to have blood drawn from my port in my chest rather than my arm veins (which are awful from the chemo).

Honestly, I know that it’s because of all the people who’ve prayed for me.  I know it’s because I have friends who have my back and refuse to let me wallow for too long.  It’s because I’ve been blessed with a sports fanatic and a cuddle bug for sons who say they prefer me the way I am right now because I’m here.  I think it’s mostly because I’ve prayed, begged and pleaded for God to tell me what I’m supposed to get from this experience.  What’s to come out of it.  Did I go through this for nothing?

No, I didn’t.  I think the lesson I learned was that what we think is so important, what must be controlled, what we feel has to be done RIGHT NOW, is usually because of our own self-imposed restrictions.  Sure, there are always things that need to be done and some are time critical.  But for the most part, you just lay out a plan for the day and try to accomplish what you can.  If I can scratch two things off my to-do list every day, I’m doing pretty good and I try not to sweat the rest.  I still work under deadlines for clients, but most of them are good about extending time to get a quality piece.  And for those that don’t want to extend a deadline, they are just missing out on one fine article.

The lesson I’m taking away, for today anyway, is that I needed a peaceful, easy feeling and that’s all I really need.



The Spring of My Discontent

While I’ve never understood Shakespeare, he did have some awesome quotes.  Unfortunately, I just tend to paraphrase them to suit my own selfish needs which is probably why I got a “D” in Shakespeare in college (and why I changed majors, but that’s for another blog).  While spring typically brings a sense of new purpose and revival, I find myself wondering if I lost the memo telling me what I’m supposed to do next.

Last year I was blissfully awaiting those first tiny spikes of hair to sprout from my head like little blades of grass ready to burst forth from the sod left dormant by winter’s cold.  I was ready to actually go someplace and not have to be afraid of getting sick or needing my nausea meds. I felt like I was reawakening, just like the world after its winter sleep.

Well, I’m still waiting to wake up.  Apparently this is normal.  No wait, it’s the “new normal.  These are two words that should never, ever be put together to make a reasonable phrase.  Normal is normal so how can it be new?  I didn’t order a new normal.  I want my old normal.  My old normal, while maybe not the most exciting, was good.  I could walk for a reasonable period of time, keep up with my children and lose weight without too much trouble.  I remembered things, tackled new projects with gusto and was one ambitious woman.

Now, not so much.  Numb feet and hands, electric shocks jolting me, achy body, chemo brain, and a whole host of other things that are just too boring to list now bog me down.  I want to be able to walk more than 3/4 mile without needing to ice my feet and live on Motrin for 48 hours.  I want to play with my kids.  I want to not be afraid of tackling a new writing project.  I’d like to sleep well more than a single night each week (sometimes I’m lucky and get two- whoo hoo!).  Let’s not talk about the weight.  Apparently, the trauma of chemotherapy makes your body actually want to keep extra weight just in case you decide to indulge in the toxic cocktail again.  Yea, like that’s on my list.  I just can’t seem to convince those chubby little cells that it’s okay to let go.  I’ve threatened them, screamed at them, pleaded with them, begged them, bribed them (which was, no doubt, counterproductive) and sweet-talked them; all to no avail.  Nothing budges and neither do I.

I have come to realize that I’m tired.  Not physically so much, although I just don’t have the stamina I used to.  Before my treatment, I felt like I was in my early 30’s.  Now, I have no trouble believing I will be 50 in just 4 short months.  Now I just feel old, worn out and beaten down.  I remember neighbors hanging rugs out when I was a kid and beating them.  Sometimes, you could see where people walked on them because they had thin spots.  I’m that rug.  I keep getting beaten and the dust is gone.  There’s some bare spots and I just don’t cover as well as I used to.  Humor is cutting it less and less.  My well is beyond tapped, it’s bone dry and digging deeper won’t help.  Things that used to bring me joy just don’t any longer.  I’m tired, so tired and just want to rest.

I find myself pleading with God to do something – anything – to help me get myself together.  I journal, I blog, I work, I homeschool, I cook, I run a soccer shuttle and try to be present for my sons and husband.  And while I can generally put on the face, it’s becoming more apparent that what I’m doing just isn’t cutting it.  When my husband continues to ask “What’s wrong with you?” it’s apparent that life is coming apart at the seams.

We are vacationing in July, something we all need.  It will be good to get away even if it means renting a cabin and I still have to keep up with the cooking and straightening up.  Truth be told, I’d love a week by myself but I’m fully aware that after 48 hours my ears would be missing the sweet sounds of “I didn’t do it” and my arms would miss prying one child off another.  During chemo, I found that what most found mundane was what kept me sane.  Ironically, it’s the mundane that might be driving me toward some insanity at this point.

I’m not sure which is worse – being discontented and not knowing it or being discontented and not knowing what to do about it.  If you don’t know your discontented, then you can point fingers everywhere else.  If you do know, the process of becoming undiscontented (?) becomes your responsibility.  Trouble is you don’t know how to wrestle with it so it eventually overtakes you until you just want to either make yourself so busy that you don’t have to deal with it or crawl under a rock until it goes away.

Life after cancer becomes a new normal.  I HATE the new normal.  I want my old normal.  The one that doesn’t involve being discontented, quarterly pelvic exams and lying on a CT table twice a year.  I want one that involves continuing to be blissfully unaware of the damage cancer does to a person on a physical, mental and emotional level.  Sometimes I hate being the one who “gets it,”  and  I want to be happily ignorant again.  But I wasn’t given that choice.  This is it and I need to deal with it.

Maybe the “new” normal involves a time of discontent and introspection.  Maybe it means redefining myself beyond my disease.  While I am very proud that I beat OVCA, it’s not who I am any more than I am only a wife or only a mom.  Maybe it means extending myself some of that grace I tell others to extend to themselves.  Maybe it means being selfish sometimes and going off on my own to recharge.  Working at home and homeschooling tend to keep me tied to a single place.  While it’s grounding, it’s also very confining.

I’m thinking it means taking a lesson from the butterfly.  The caterpillar only knows one normal, chowing on leaves.  Then suddenly it gets the urge to curl up in its own custom made sleep sac and take a much needed rest.  When it wakes up, it’s a new normal.  It used to crawl and chomp on leaves.  Now it has to fly and slurp up nectar.  Seriously, how much more radical can you get?

I hate adapting when it’s not on my terms.  So I live in my own spring of discontent.  Hopefully, the summer will be one of enlightenment.