What’s Your Color?

I promised myself I wouldn’t go there this year, yet here I am. I told myself I have to immerse myself in my own battle and not try to fight any others. Yet, here I am. I know I’m too tired to really fight effectively, but I will try. Someone has to.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Despite the brilliant reds, oranges, yellows and tans of the leaves and the gorgeous sunsets, all I see is pink. Bubble gum, Pepto-Bismol pink. The Ultimate Bengal Fan commented the other day that orange and pink should not be worn together, and this is the kid who would wear stripes and plaids.

It seems that cancer has been boiled down to a color. What color is your cancer? Are you pink, blue, teal, yellow, purple, green, white or some combination thereof. Are you saving the ta-tas or some other body part? A fellow teal sister on a Facebook group I’m a part of commented on the tasteless “Go Braless” campaign to promote breast cancer awareness. She thought we should go commando to bring awareness to gynecologic cancers. Actually, guys could join in with this as well. Prostate and testicular cancer are below the belt as well.

I think the people who come up with these “campaigns” mean well, but they don’t think things through. When you’re fighting for your life, you aren’t thinking pink, teal, purple or any other color. You’re trying to figure out when you can take your next anti-nausea pill. You’re trying to decide how you can hide the overwhelming fatigue from your family so they don’t worry. Some days you wonder how you’re going to haul your butt out of bed to go to the bathroom, then you hear some perky AM news host talk about how they’re painting the town pink with bras. Hey, I would gladly go braless, but as a former boss of mine used to say “You’ll take your eye out ” (I’m rather well endowed).

I’m tired of hearing about moms who have breast cancer and take care of their families. Lots of people with cancer go through therapy and take care of their families and never receive one bit of recognition. I certainly don’t blog about my journey for the recognition. Truth is that the vast majority of cancer patients deal with their families and some have to work to keep their insurance or a roof over their head. Those are the real heroes. The ones that go through treatment and keep life going. They should get a gold crown. They deserve the recognition. Not that the mom with breast cancer doesn’t – she does. She’s doing the toughest job imaginable while fighting cancer. She just shouldn’t be singled out when there are so many others who do the exact same thing.

Cancer isn’t a color. It’s a wretched disease that destroys your body, mind and spirit and leaves families shattered. If you’re lucky, like I am, you have an incredible support system that holds you close when you can’t do it on your own. I have a God who is immensely powerful to save and holds me close. I have friends who will gladly stay with my children so I can get my infusions. Yesterday I discovered that I am in need of fluids on the weeks I don’t get chemo. This means a 90 minute infusion of saline, along with some extra steroid and anti-nausea meds. My quick 45 minute trip has turned into a “3 hour tour.” Fortunately, the 3 hours I spend affords me a few days of actually feeling good before I descend back into the depths of feeling lousy.

It just seems wrong to try to limit cancer to a color. It’s as if tying a deadly disease to a color makes it less threatening. How can something pink or blue or yellow take lives every day? I guess it’s like a tiger in the wild. They are majestic to look at, but I certainly don’t want to meet one up close.

Fortunately, we’re about halfway through the “pink month.” Then we can get on with life again. Until then, I will politely decline when asked if I want to give to a another “pink ribbon” charity. I will explain that pink doesn’t represent all women’s cancers. And I will laugh at the lack of color coordination on the part of the NFL. Pink shoes with football uniforms just doesn’t do it for me. And don’t even get me started on how much of what’s raised actually goes to patients. That’s for another rant on another day.

The color of cancer is reflected in the eyes of every patient, male or female. It’s reflected in the color of their skin since cancer is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives. Cancer is the plague of the 21st century. The only color I want associated with it is whatever color the cure is. Then, I will proudly wear the color of cancer. The color that caused it’s demise.

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Back Into the Deep

I

Have

Cancer

Again

And

I’m

Mad.

There I said it.  Still a survivor, but no longer in remission.  I am once again a prisoner of Dr. Downer.  My children are once again living in fear of losing their Mom.  My husband is once again playing Dad, Mom and chief cheerleader.  My mom has to go to the places no mom wants to go.  People cry, rail and scream.  Friends who’ve battled the beast deal with survivor guilt.  Yet, life goes on.

My cancer was found because I developed blood clots in my legs.  Apparently, some cancer survivors manifest a recurrence with blood clots if they have a history of them.  Being the over the top achiever that I am, I developed several clots which caused both legs to swell.  One swelled to the point of being non weight bearing and resembling a hoof more than a foot.  Every blood test pointed to everything being normal, except the clots were there.  When I went for a CT scan, I knew the cancer was back.  Don’t know how, I just knew.  Getting the news was a bit anti-climatic except that I was unable to get out of bed to take my walk (I was on bed rest).  There are several tiny (we’re talking millimeter) spots in the abdomen, lungs and liver.  Everybody wants to come to the party.

Before I go further, I know you all feel bad, but please understand I have more clarity at this moment than I’ve had for a long time.  Perhaps I’ve known that a recurrence was on the horizon on some level and now that it’s here I’m ready.  The kids are scared, but will be alright.  I’m alright.  Heck, no taxol this time.  I will have hair during chemo and we all know it’s all about the hair. In fact, I’m having teal streaks put in on Tuesday.

What it is about is living life and doing what God has planned for me.  This journey will be chronicled, just like the last one.  It WILL become a book.  In fact, I plan to look into starting to put it together soon and work on it while I’m getting chemo (chemo is BORING).  My beloved laptop will be my best friend as I once again enjoy the poisoning that only cancer can provide.

Okay, I have to say this.  Why is it called a chemo cocktail?  When i think of cocktails, I think of James Bond and having a good time, maybe a party.  Well, you do experience chemo with about 20 other people (not a bad size party) and it does come with a hangover, but that’s pushing it.  It’s certainly not a good time.  And while cocktails are expensive, chemo takes it to the extreme.

Ovarian cancer chemo incorporates platinum.  Does my cancer really need bling?  I know I have good taste, but does my cancer need to have such good taste too?  If I had bad taste, would it prefer lead?

So, here we go folks.  Everyone back into the pool.  I hope you’ll at least dip your toes in and read my musings.  I promise to keep the wit sharp, the story honest and give you a mix of laughter and tears.  I’m not going anywhere.  I have a lot of work to do.  I can still see myself on a stage making women laugh about the joys of bladder leakage, chemo fog and hot flashes.  I want to see cancer cured in my lifetime, so I’m sure I need to be here for at least 30 more years.  We all know how quickly the government works.  Better make that 50 more years.

Life’s a journey – enjoy the trip!

Life’s NOT a Blessing

Before the fireworks begin, please note that I asked my pastor to read through this and he did. I am not trying to be sacrilegious or start any battles. I didn’t ask for his blessing; I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t crossing any boundary lines. Enough said, let’s move on.

Anyone who says cancer is a blessing is an idiot. It’s not. It’s a horrible disease that takes far too many people and kills them, maims them, disfigures them or just messes with their minds. Cooked up in Satan’s kitchen, its sole purpose is to obliterate any cell that does not share its mutation. I believe the correct terminology would be “Conform or die!” It’s not content to just tear down the patient. No, it has to wreak its havoc on entire families; often ripping them to shreds and leaving nothing that resembles any sort of previously known reality in its wake. It’s like living through an earthquake with just a few minor cracks and broken objects, then having an F5 tornado blow through and destroys whatever’s left of your home and those you care about.

The destruction doesn’t have to be immediate. It can occur months or years later. Ask someone who’s been in remission for 5 or 10 years how they feel about cancer knocking and saying, “I’m back.” Talk to my friend Lisa who has managed to beat back the Beast for 5 years (YEAH Lisa!), but faces a lifetime of worsening neuropathy, debilitating migraines, bone pain and a whole host of other crap while she raises her two grandbabies (who, by the way, are absolutely adorable). Other people deal with continuing bowel issues, anemia, vision problems, lymphedema, bad teeth, osteoporosis, or who knows what.

Sometimes I wonder if the cure is worth the price I paid. Now don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful to God for the healing and the life I have. But I am really ticked off at Him as well. Great, I got cancer, which has deeply affected not only me but also my husband and children. It’s okay for me to get it, but did my family have to suffer? Yes, it was a learning experience and my children are richer for it. I’d hoped a mission trip would have sufficed, but apparently not. There is a deep lesson to learn. Yeah, right. Before my kids could tie their shoes well, they had to learn about life and death. This does NOT work for me. And yes, I know other kids have lost a parent. I’m thankful I’m still here, but mad for those other kids who weren’t nearly as fortunate.

Then there’s the whole, “Well, you’re done with chemo and life goes on,” song. Maybe for you, but not for me. True, there are days when cancer isn’t even a blip on my radar any longer. It’s taken me months to get to this point. Then my feet go numb and well, here we go again. It’s like a crazy merry-go-round created by Phineas and Ferb (guess what my kids watch on Netflix?) that I just can’t get off. Right now I’m struggling with PT. My body is so far out of alignment that to walk without my feet swinging out, I have to physically look at them and will them to move heel toe while focusing on my pelvis and lower back alignment. Seriously, walking should NEVER be this hard after the age of 2.

I’m mad, REALLY MAD! No one gets it. The chorus of “You’re cured. You’re in remission. You’ve been blessed with healing,” are sung by the choir. Choir music has never been my favorite. Give me Switchfoot, Casting Crowns, or Mandisa any day. If God was blessing me with healing, why couldn’t he have gone all the way? No neuropathy, no chemo fog, no digestive issues; just pure healing. Oh yeah, because when I asked for healing from my ovarian mass, he didn’t do that either. Okay, he did, just not the way I asked. I asked to avoid surgery. His answer was an awesome surgeon, but surgery with the added bonus of a pulmonary embolism necessitating a 4 day stay in ICU before I could begin recovery from the 13” incision on my belly. As my beloved Coach Cathy would say, “It’s your new normal. You need to accept it and go on.” And being a beloved friend, she knows why I say, “I don’t like it. It sucks!” She nods and gives me a hug. She grapples with the same issues. That’s why I love her so and always count her among one positive that came out of the whole cancer mess.

You know that saying that goes “God never gives you more than you can handle?” Well, He does. What most people DON’T read is that you can only handle it if you give it over to God so the two of you can handle it together. What if you never wanted it in the first place? The catch is you still need to deal with it. Sounds like a bad deal to me. I didn’t ask for any of this, but sometimes a tough life is the gift that keeps on giving.

I am not turning my back on God nor am I questioning His Sovereignty. He reigns in Heaven and set the universe in motion. I believe that Jesus carried the sin of the entire world of His time and for all time to come until His return so that we can rejoice in Heaven when our work here is done. I just have trouble with the fact that the monkey wrenches of life don’t merit immediate intervention. Yes, I can look back and see how God laid the groundwork for our children through our infertility struggle and my husband through a previous relationship that toxic doesn’t begin to describe. I think that may go along with the prayer that goes “Give me patience Lord, NOW!”

My greatest struggle isn’t over what’s happened. You can’t change the past. It’s what’s to come. I know God is beating me senseless to take this blog and create a book, a study, a series, something with it. He needs to imprint that on the 2×4 He’s beating giving me so I get the idea. I think about Beth Moore and get this glimpse of “That’s it.” Holy cow Batman, putting that much of my life out there is not on the agenda. Wait, not my agenda anyway. Then there’s the whole recurrence thing. Seriously Lord, you put me on this path with the dark cloud of recurrence over my head. Harsh, don’t you think?

So no, cancer is NOT a blessing and I will smack you if you tell me that. I really don’t believe God wants me to look at it that way. What He does desire is that I try to find the blessings that came from my experience. God doesn’t want bad things to happen to us, but they do. He created the world and the natural laws that go with it. We sinned and haven’t been good stewards so now we pay the price. I think God gave me hindsight so that I could take some solace in the journey.

What I have learned is that God brings special people to come along side throughout the journey. Coach Cathy and I knew each other to say “Hello,” and that was about it. Now I count her as a confidant that I can share my deepest, darkest fears with and not be judged. There’s my Facebook friend Lisa, whom I’ve never met, but share a bond with that goes beyond the internet. My boys are blessed with someone they can call “Mom” and I can call friend at any time. Kelley, you’ve opened your arms and heart to my family. You’ve shared my tears and triumphs. Momma Renie, I relied on you like the Mom are to me and felt blessed that I was able to be there for you as well (just don’t do it again!). My sister Sue was a constant presence as she’s always been over the last 30+ years, pushing me to get past the wall. Denise visited and cried and hugged and helped me decorate my tree when I was too tired to do it myself, leaving her own family to support mine.

I still hate cancer and the fact that I face a lifetime of shadows. It’s not a blessing, nor will it ever been. It’s a fact of life for me. Like it or not, this is my journey and I’m sure there are many more 2×4’s to come. Here’s hoping I’m up for it.