Denial

de*ni*al – noun.  The act of declaring something to be untrue or a river in Africa.

I’ve been giving denial a great deal of thought lately, mostly because I feel like I’m sometimes drowning in a sea of it.  As humans we are constantly in denial, by either denying something or being denied of something.  My boys are the kings of denial.  “I didn’t do it!” is the main catchphrase at our house.  No matter what the question is, the answer is deny, deny, deny.  On the flipside, when asked to clean their rooms or perform some other responsibility that falls on everyone in our home, it seems as though I am denying them of their basic freedoms.  “Seriously, you want us to do THAT?”  It’s sad that they have the meanest mom in the world, but I deny that title on a regular basis.

I’ve spent the last year or so pondering my life with and after cancer on this blog.  The feedback is always so amazing to me.  I am touched by the kind words and support that readers take the time to post.  I appreciate all of you.  But one thing I have noticed; when I talk about being in remission and knowing that the Beast lurks behind me, people get uncomfortable.  It doesn’t matter if I write it or share it in conversation, people balk at the idea that my cancer can return.  “You were only Stage 1.”  “You fought so hard.  It wouldn’t dare come back.”  “You’re such a fighter.”  “I’m sure your oncologist got it all.”  And my favorite from my own internist.  “You’re cured!  Why worry about it?”  The list goes on and on.  Even family members tell me it’s gone.  And right now it is gone.

So if it’s gone, why do I still spend close to $1,000 a year just for blood tests and CT scans to prove what everyone else all ready seems to know?  Why do I put myself through a pelvic exam every 3 months?  It’s certainly not for the fun of it, although I will admit I’ve lost any sense of modesty about them.  And it’s not because I like my oncologist.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy.  I’d just rather see him on a social basis, rather than a professional one.  Seems like a colossal waste of time, money and energy to put myself through all this if the cancer’s gone, agreed?

Inevitably, the cost of post-chemo care comes up every time our insurance gets renewed or the budget needs to be tweaked.  When our deductible and co-insurance went up last year, I offered to give up my trips to the oncologist and my CT scans.  After all, the cancer was gone and is not coming back according to my husband.  It seems my testing and visits are non-negotiable when it comes to the budget.  I don’t get it.  If it’s gone, why all the fuss?  The answer is usually something like “Well, it’s just to be safe,” or something to that effect. Hmmm.

I know my risk.  My dad’s side of the family is LOADED with cancer.  My grandma died of colon cancer which has a direct relationship to ovarian cancer.  My uncle had Hodgkin’s Disease and stomach cancer.  I know there’s some bone cancer thrown in there as well.  I took several types of fertility drugs and lived on soy products for years.  Since my tumor was estrogen receptive, my choices for menopause are seriously limited.  There is some research which seems to indicate that patients with estrogen receptive tumors have a slightly elevated risk of recurrence than those whose tumors aren’t receptive to hormones.

When I was diagnosed, I was given a 50/50 shot of 5 years with no recurrence without chemo and an 85% shot of 5 years with chemo.  Of course I chose the 85%.  That many percentage points is HUGE!  Now that I’m post chemo and my oncologist and I have been able to discuss my experience and my family history, my odds have changed a bit.  Given my own medical history and that of my family, I’m actually looking at 75 – 80% for going 5 years and about 65% for making it 10 (making it 10 years get you a big C for “cured” on your chart).  That doesn’t sound so bad, unless you actually get a visual image.

The other day I was rolling pennies with my boys.  I laid out 100 in a line.  Then I took away 25.  The line was shorter.  When I took away another 10, it was looking a bit scary.  I’ve always said I know the odds are in my favor, but someone has to be on the “wrong” end of the line otherwise there wouldn’t be a line.  The cure rate would be 100% and there would be no line to worry about.

I always had a sense that I would get ovarian cancer.  I remember watching a TV show with a character who had ovarian cancer and thinking “I hope I don’t look that bad when I get it.”  Where the heck did that come from?  A couple of years later I got two e-mails with the warning signs of ovarian cancer and thought, “I really need to remember those.”  Why did I think that?  Fast forward to August, 2012 when my mass was found.  I knew, I just knew, it was cancer.  No doubt in my mind.  My oncologist says many women experience this, knowing the symptoms they had were cancer.  He is the only one who doesn’t look at me like some kind of freak when I tell him the story about my thoughts years before my diagnosis.  He always says that cancer’s a funny thing.

I’ve never been in denial about cancer.  Blood clots and port insertions, yes.  Cancer, no.  And despite the reassurances from my family, friends and “fans,” I feel fairly certain it will raise it’s ugly head again – perhaps more than once.  I have spoken with other survivors and they all say the same thing.  Ones who’ve had recurrences almost always “knew.”  The Beast isn’t picky and it doesn’t care what the odds say.  I’m certainly not hoping for its return;  that would be a very sick and twisted thing.  I am being realistic.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want it to come up and slap me out of nowhere.  I was a Girl Scout and while “Be Prepared” wasn’t our motto, I did learn that you have to prepare for every contingency you can think of.  I’ve got the plan in my head.  I know who I can count on.  And cancer will get kicked right back to the curb – period.

I still have lots of things to do.  God is certainly not finished with me and I fully intend to be here to spend time with my grandchildren.  I realize, however, that I may have to be bald a few more times in my life and that’s okay.  If it’s not okay with you, that’s your prerogative.  Just keep it to yourself.  Denial is your reality, not mine.  To me, denial is just a river that runs south to north in Africa.

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Ten Years of Life

It’s ironic that the snow is falling and it’s cold today.  I hesitate to use the term “bitterly” because I’ve been where it’s bitter cold and this, I’m afraid to tell you, isn’t.  Bitter cold is taking a breath in through your scarf and the cold still burns your lungs and freezes the mucous inside your nose.  It’s spitting and having it freeze before it hits the ground.  THAT is bitter cold.  This is just chilly.

It was in bitter cold that John and I made the trek 10 years ago today to a military style courthouse in Chita.  We sat in a cold hallway waiting for the translator to tell us it was time for our hearing.  The courtroom was even colder since it had tall windows along one wall that were thick with ice on the outside.  The judge strode in along with everyone else and began barking out the proceedings in Russian.

Now, when we landed in Moscow the first thing that struck me was that the Cold War was still going on.  The airport was painted in a cheery military gray and there were armed guards EVERYWHERE.  In the midst of this, VH1 was on and there stood Mick Jagger on an 8 foot high screen belting out “Brown Sugar.”  I still get a headache from the paradox.

Traveling to a foreign country is a unique experience.  Now imagine doing it with $20,000 in cash strapped to your body.  John and I had managed to split it up so we didn’t have to declare it coming into the country.  We still panicked through customs, especially since we were the last Americans off our plane, the last to have our passports and visas stamped and the last to figure out where the heck we had to go.  Finally we found our translator and she helped us get our luggage and explained the ground rules for the rest of our time in Moscow.

From Moscow to Chita, we were treated to an Aeroflot flight. Now, if you’ve never had the opportunity to fly on a post-Soviet era Aeroflot jet, DON’T.  Seriously, run away!  While standing on the runway with the couple we were traveling with to the region, the maintenance crew started tapping on the front landing gear with a screwdriver.  Now, I am in no way a mechanical person, but it seems counterintuitive to tap on metal and rubber in the cold with a sharp instrument.  My expertise is limited to watching Delta at the gate.  I never saw them do it, so I’m assuming it’s an Aeroflot thing.

We were assured our crew spoke English.  Yep, “Meat or Chicken?” “Water, no gas?” (Sparkling water is the drink of choice in Russia.  This is flat water like what comes from the tap) and “You okay?” were the sole words we heard.  Children were given potty chairs to use.  The little girl in front of me used hers twice during the 6 hour flight.  That was fun, especially since it was stored under her seat by my feet.  I dropped my chicken on the floor.  The plane’s bathroom was an experience.  I quit drinking immediately after I used it an hour into our six hour flight and began about an hour before we would land knowing I could probably hold it until I got to the terminal.  As I waited an man who obviously flew with a flask of vodka let me have it in Russian.  He had tried to ask me a question and my response was, “Sorry, English speaker.”  What a tirade.  Of course, I am one of the few people I know who can say they’ve been cussed out in Russian.

The landing was fun – if you like ceiling tiles falling out on your head connected only by shoestrings.  Yes, shoestrings.  The look on John’s face is etched permanently in my mind.  Normally, we are patient and will wait to exit the plane.  I have never seen my husband move so quickly to get our things and shove us off a plane.

Exiting the plane, that was an adventure.  Imagine walking onto another planet.  That’s what we did.  It was cold (-20F) and everyone is bundled up to their eyeballs.  You walk down the steps and onto the tarmac.  It’s 7AM but pitch black.  Only the lights of the terminal and the runway are visible.  There’s ice fog in the distance.  You are searching in vain for the one person you know speaks English.  Fortunately I am married to a very tall man and Katia (our host and translator) was able to spot John right away.  She led us inside and to a clean bathroom.  After waiting for over an hour for our luggage (yep, it happens in small airports too).

At this point, I am ready to chuck the entire trip.  When I landed in Moscow, which was my first time out of the country, I sobbed – for hours.  I wanted my Dad.  I wanted my bed.  I didn’t care why I had made the trip, I just wanted to go home.  Even though the staff at the hotel spoke English, I couldn’t read anything.  It was in Cyrillic. I had never felt so utterly alone.

Our arrival at Baby House #1 was surreal.  The outside of the orphanage looked like a gingerbread crazed designer had taken over the playground.  The playground was decorated in lollipops, gingerbread houses, sugar plums and anything else you can imagine, encased in a half foot of snow with a thick layer of ice on top.  My glasses were fogged up from the change in temperature. When we entered the building the blast of steam heat caused my glasses to steam up more then defrost.

As we were lead through the Soviet era building to the music room, we met the 3 year olds who had been practicing for their New Years concert.  Despite being cold, their little faces thawed all of us out.  Then the wait began.  This was why we had traveled half way around the world.  After 20 minutes, it was all worth it.  A baby boy with the most beautiful gray eyes and charming smile was placed in my arms.  Despite John’s comment that he had a big, pale head, I was in love.  This was the son God had promised me.  I felt like Sarah holding Isaac for the first time.  This was my child.

As I look over the last ten years, it’s been quite a ride.  Kyle has faced his fair share of struggles.  He has chronic gastritis caused by an antibiotic resistant ulcer as well as some other challenges that are a result of spending the first 5-1/2 months of his life in an institution with only his most basic needs being met (he remained in the baby hospital until there was room for him in the orphanage).  When he was transferred to Baby House #1 the head caretaker, Ludmila, made sure he was cuddled, sung to and loved until John and I got there.  I firmly believe that his intense love of music is a direct result of Ludmila singing to him every day.

Kyle has had to deal with more loss in his young life than most twenty-somethings have ever had to face.  He lost his family of origin and his caretakers before he was 8 months old.  He lost his beloved Papaw shortly before his 3rd birthday.  His Opi died before his 6th birthday.  Our family dog, who fiercely protected Kyle from the moment she met him, died in 2010.  Last year, he had to face the very real possibility that his mom might die.

My son is amazingly resilient.  I know he still fears losing me as much as I fear leaving him and his brother.  Next week, I see my oncologist for my quarterly appointment.  While he never says anything, you can see the subtle change in his eyes.  He is more willing to hug me.  He will actually sit by me on the couch.  He never talks about how scared he is, because he is trying to be strong for me.

This child, who I would willingly give my life for, has put himself in front of me being my anchor to this world.  In the little bit he has said, he firmly believes that we can beat cancer.  Not me, not my oncologist, but we.  He pushes me to be my best.  He reads labels for soy and artificial sweeteners.  He looks for opportunities to lay a teal ribbon.  He sends “hellos” to my chemo nurse, even though he’s never met her.  I always ask the boys if they have a message for my oncologist when I go to see him.  Kyle’s is always “Please keep my mom safe.”  Not cure my mom, not keep the cancer away necessarily.  Just keep her safe.  It’s as if he knows that someday I won’t be here, but for as long as he needs me, do your best to keep her here since I’m not ready to let her go yet.

So with tears streaming (yes, I do cry when I write these), I can hear my son flipping the pages of his beloved Sports Illustrated Kids. Occasionally he will spout off a statistic, but mostly I am hearing the sound of pages turning. While he can drive me nuts, as all kids can, I am so thankful that I have yet another year to celebrate the Forever Family that God blessed me with.  Please God, keep me healthy so I can see him and his amazing baby brother, grow into the strong young men you want them to be.

Happy Forever Family Day, Dma.  Know what whatever happens, your Momma loves you more than you will ever know.

Like the Leaves

While at co-op today, I had this sudden urge to get outside.  I’m not sure why. I just needed to get some air and enjoy fall before fades to winter.  I love to hear the crunch of the leaves under my feet and see the colors.  There is a beautiful half mile meditation trail on the church’s campus that winds through part of the woods on the property.  As soon as I got to the woods I felt a sense of peace.

About halfway through my walk, I was struck by two different trees.  One tree was still in a blaze of yellow, orange and red.  It was spectacular.  The tree next to it was covered with dried up brown leaves which were desperately clinging to the branches.  It was then I began to wonder what kind of leaf am I?

I am by no means in the winter of my life, but neither am I in spring.  I’m guessing I’m in that early September, still hot but the nights are beginning to cool off.  I am wondering, though, if I am like the first tree ablaze with glory or if I am like the second, just clinging onto what I can until I inevitably fall back into the throes of cancer.

I still feel fragile, like those leaves desperately clinging to the tree in hopes I won’t fall off to be crunched underfoot and swallowed by the inevitable snow.  Every ache and pain scare the crap out of me.  I hesitate to make any plans beyond a month or so.  What if I’m in chemo?  What if I have to have more surgery?  What if all my tests have been wrong and I’m not here?  The Beast has a tendency to worm its nefarious fingers into your psyche and won’t let go.  You almost have to physically go toe to toe with it and pry its clammy claws out of your heart and soul.  It’s a constant battle and some days you’re more ready for it than others.

I’ve spent the last year marking time.  Counting days until my hysterectomy. Counting days until I could go home from the hospital. Counting days between doctors’ appointments and procedures.  Counting days until chemo started,  then the days between treatments.  Then you count down the chemo treatments until you finally finish.  Everything revolves around a date.  When you’re done, you start marking time in ways that sound something like this.  “One year ago today, they found my tumor.”  Or, “One year ago today, I started chemo,” which was, in fact, this past Saturday.  Like obsessing about tumor marker numbers, you begin to obsess about dates and time.  It moves and stands still all at the same time.

In a way, I’m jealous of those brown leaves.  At some point, they will realize it’s okay to let go.  They will float gently in the wind and return back to the earth that gave them life.  I need to give myself permission to let go of the dates and the numbers.  I need to accept that ovarian cancer isn’t who I am, but it is a part of me.  I will always be a patient of my oncologist.  I will always have to be vigilant since no one does that for you.  And I will always be forced to try to beat back the Beast.  It makes itself known to me every day in numb fingers and feet, achy joints, and, on days like today, achy areas from the surgery. I hate all the drama that seems to come with being a survivor, yet it’s part of surviving.

So, I will choose to be dazzling –  as dazzling as a 49 year old woman with salt and pepper hair can be.  While I can, I will be a brilliant leaf showing my splendor. I still have work to do.  I have two children who need a Mom and a husband who needs a wife.  My mom still wants her daughter and I have a dear friend who was there for me during my chemo.  Now it’s my turn to be there for her.

I think God gives us fall to remind us that even when things are about to go down the toilet, which is how some people see winter (I fail to see why, it has it’s own special charm), there’s good and bad.  Spring’s arrival brings new birth and gives way to the mosquitoes and humidity of summer (you can see I am a heat wave hater), which turns to the colors of fall and the crystal blankets of winter.  Life isn’t a rotation through one set of seasons, it’s a continual cycle.  We all go through multiple springs, summers, autumns and winters.  It just depends on where we are.  Sometimes we spend more time in one season than another, but we do get to experience all of them.

I’m thinking it’s okay to be like the leaves, even the brown ones.  It’s time to let go of what happened last year and move on to what lies ahead.  The leaves are changing and so am I.

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.

Reflections

Yesterday I celebrated my 49th birthday.  There was a time when I would cringe at the thought of being 49, despite the fact that I have a couple of friends who have crossed over the half century mark.  As with many birthdays, I reflected on the past year.  What a ride it’s been!  Last year I didn’t enjoy my birthday.  I’d just found out about the mass on my ovary and, despite being 7 weeks from confirmed diagnosis, I knew I had ovarian cancer.  I was worried and obsessing over everything.  I analyzed every pain and twitch.  I poured over research and websites.  I stopped living and started planning for what I thought would be the end of things.  The picture above shows me on my birthday last year.  My husband told me that I looked sick last year.  He said I look “healthy and vibrant” this year.  Good thing, since that’s how I feel.

I am amazed at what I’ve been through in the past year and have managed to not only survive, but thrive!  My life is a testimony to what God can do when you reach the end of your rope and have only Him to hang onto.  It’s a living example of what it means to be surrounded by people (who are too innumerable to mention) who refuse to allow you to give up even when you want to give up yourself.

In the last year I have learned that I can survive major surgery, a life threatening blood clot, chemotherapy, self injections of blood thinners, more blood tests that I thought were possible, a port insertion, too many trips to doctors to count and more scans than a body should have to endure while homeschooling two boys, keeping the house of a semblance of a schedule and continuing to write.  I have learned that chemo is a double edged sword.  While it saves your life, it takes your memory.  It kills the cancer and numbs your hands and feet.  And I will find out today just how much damage it did to my eyes (I have floaters which appeared when chemo started and are getting worse).  I have done all this while wrestling with the effects of instant menopause without the benefit of being able to have any hormones to help with the adjustment.

I am a warrior in teal.  I want to make teal as prominent as pink.  I posted on FB that since it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I was going to try to wear teal every day (today, my only teal is my wrist band, all my teal clothes are in the wash).  I wear it for those who walked before me and paved the way and for those who will inevitably come behind me.  I wear it for my oncologist, his incredible staff and the nurses and aides at the OPCC at Good Sam who saved my life.  I wear it because my Dad would wear it and say no one else’s daughter should ever have to go through what my daughter went through.  I wear it to show my mom that I’m just as stubborn as she is and that I got my strength to endure from her.  I wear it to honor my husband who had to walk a path that no partner should ever have to walk, but did so with the strength and courage to carry both of us.  I wear it for the two boys I am proud to call my sons, who were forced to grow up in ways that young children shouldn’t have to, but did so without complaint.  I wear it for my friends who called, brought meals, sent cards, took care of children, sat with me, cried with me and prayed for my family.  Their presence in my life cannot be defined.

I wear teal because God has a mission for me that I need to grab hold of and claim.  I wear teal because I survived.  I don’t know what the future holds.  Life is so fragile and never goes according to plan, no matter how much we put toward that goal.  Keeping God in the midst of chaos is what anchored me to life.

As I look forward, I still face monthly blood work for Coumadin.  I face quarterly CA125 testing and exams and semi-annual CT’s.  And yes, I do get concerned.  I will become apprehensive before seeing my oncologist knowing that despite the odds, I still might have to face the Beast again.  I look forward to entering a clinical trial for my oncologist in hopes that I can help him determine ways to beat back the Beast.  And I will wear teal for my visits.

So as I reflect on my 48th year and look forward to number 49, I will wear teal and smile.  I have been through so much and come out stronger for it.  I wear teal as a reminder and to show I am better for my experience.  And, I look good in it.

Moving On

As we do most Sundays, we attended worship at Cornerstone Church.  Today was “step up” Sunday for the boys.  Braeden moved up to 2nd grade, his first year in elementary Sunday School without Kyle.  Kyle moved to our tween class, Club 56.  They have their own room and are situated away from both the lower elementary and the youth.  It was a big adjustment for both of them.  John and I are loving worship with our new pastor, Pastor Brian.  He reminds me of my youth pastor.  His sermons are relevant and entertaining, not an easy combination for pastors to master.

Tomorrow we begin our 6th year at KTA (Kitchen Table Academy), the affectionate name for our homeschool.  Since our learning occurs at the kitchen table, it’s given rise to the name.  I really should come up with something that will look better across the top of a diploma, but I haven’t stumbled on one yet.  I still have a couple of years.  I mean, can you seriously see UC accepting a transcript from Kitchen Table Academy?  I cannot believe Kyle is starting 5th grade.  With the exception of some stumbling over double and triple digit multiplication, my son is a practically a middle schooler.  Next year, he will be considered one at Learning Tree, our homeschool co-op.  What happened to that little bundle I brought home from Russia?  I finally understand the old saying, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

We are moving on this year in many ways.  We are starting new grades.  Mom is hoping to pick up more freelance work.  Both boys are playing sports again – Braeden’s soccer team won their first game yesterday and Kyle starts flag football practice Tuesday night.  John continues to hone his project management skills at Children’s.  We are beginning to move on.  Yet, I still get stuck.  In a few weeks, I have my CA125 drawn to track my tumor marker, have my 6 month CT scan and undergo yet another exam.  Yes, it’s preventative and given the results of my last CA125, I really don’t expect anything to show up.  Of course, I never expected to have cancer either.

Pastor Brian spoke about the bad times in life.  You know those times when life just knocks you for a loop and you can’t get back on your feet?  I’ve always known that when faced with struggles, I have two choices.  I can whine, moan and complain or I can face it head on.  Cancer makes you do a bit of both.  You have to face it head on.  It’s now your reality.  But I really don’t see how you can manage to make it through without whining, even if it’s just a little bit.  I chose to cling to God’s promise that even in my darkest hour, he wouldn’t leave me or forsake me.  He would lead me to those still waters and restore my soul.  Yes, I did have those times when I yelled at God, quite a few in fact.  My mentor, Pastor Linda Troy, once told me that God doesn’t care how much we yell at him.  It means we still believe in Him.

When I got the definitive diagnosis, I prayed like I’d never prayed for myself before.  I begged and pleaded with God to heal my body.  I visualized His healing hands.  I did it all right, but I still had a massive tumor on my ovary.  Funny thing is, if I had been healed of just my tumor I still would have had the nasty blood clot in my right leg.  It still would have probably broken off and, had I been anywhere but post-op, I probably would have died.  Hmmm.  Once I had the benefit of a couple of months of hindsight, I saw that.

That still leads me to why I had cancer.  Why couldn’t I have just had a massive benign tumor?  My oncologist told me that we will probably never know what triggered the cells to turn cancerous.  Even if we did know, it wouldn’t change anything.  I’d still would have had cancer.  Okay.  Here’s where choices really kick in.  Do you chose to wallow or do you choose to move on?  My friend Cathy told me I had to move on.  No choices.  I have 2 young sons and a husband.  While they were good reasons to move on, the only reason you can move on is because you feel like you have to.  God wants me to move on.  Granted, He let me have pity parties.  He gave me two wonderful friends who let me rant, rave and cry about how lousy I felt.  I will never, ever be able to repay Cathy or Lisa for listening to me when they had their own lives to live, but they both took the time to let me do what I needed to do.  Then I was able to move on.

Moving on means you accept you are not the same person you used to be.  Unfortunately, I will always have the “C” word in my background.   I feel a strong pull to work with ovarian cancer patients.  I’ve always been interested in healthcare and often write on healthcare topics.  Would I have found my niche without having ovarian cancer?  Maybe.  Did it affect me?  Definitely.  The person who entered Good Sam Hospital on October 17, 2012 is not the same one who left October 25, 2012.  Nor I am the same person who completed chemotherapy on March 15, 2013.  If we are open to things, God will continue to use our best and worst experiences to shape us.

So I need to be moving on now.  Life is about being an active participant, getting in and getting involved.  While cancer will always be a part of who I was, it doesn’t have to be a part of who I become.  And if it comes back. well, we’ll just move on with life and kick it back to where it belongs, in the past.  So we can get on with the future.  Moving on!

The Aftermath

By this time, I really thought I’d feel great.  Well, maybe not great, but at least better.  I’d be walking regularly, keeping the house clean, doing play dates, working 15-20 hours per week consistently and volunteering.  In other words, I’d be doing what I did before October 17, 2012.  Apparently, while the mind is more than willing, the body refuses to cooperate.

While I do keep up with the kitchen and bathrooms, I continue to have dust bunnies and piles of junk.  John and I walk when I’m up to it and I try to keep up with my videos, but neuropathy in my feet and calves often cause me to lay my best intentions aside.  Play dates, while more frequent, aren’t as often as the boys would like, mostly because I’m tired and just don’t feel like driving.  I try to work to help out with the bills, but chemo fog often makes writing difficult.  Volunteering, one of my favorite things in the world, is just hard when your body doesn’t cooperate.  I headed up a station at Cornerstone’s VBS a couple of weeks ago.  I had a blast, but my body rebelled for the next 6 days.

Neuropathy is probably my biggest enemy.  For those unfamiliar with this delightful condition, neuropathy is a constant numbness and tingling that is a side effect of Taxol (a strong chemotherapy drug).  Diabetics are also affected by this condition.  It generally attacks the feet and hands (my sweet sister in teal Lisa, has it up her entire leg).  Mine affects the toes of my right foot and my entire left foot all the time.  On bad days, my calves are affected and the outer sides of my knees.  Really bad days include delightful “electric shocks” that cause my feet to jerk.  John just loves those.  They tend to occur at night when I’m trying to get to sleep.  Despite my best attempts, the jerking keeps him awake.

My hands are also affected.  A surgery years ago, damaged the sensory nerve to one of the fingers in my right hand.  Now the fingertips of both hands are numb.  The joints in my hands always ache.  This is not good when you write for a living.  Nor is it helpful when you like to cook and relax by doing cross stitch (and you are desperately trying to finish a baby sampler for your great nephew before he turns 21.  He’s 7 weeks old now, but you get the idea). 

While these are annoying, the clincher is neuropathy of the large intestine.  Yep, your intestines can be affected by neuropathy.  Who knew (well, Lisa did. She’s my guru)?  Apparently, the nerves that tell your large intestine to move things along “go numb” like when you have a limb that “falls asleep.”  Nothing moves and you feel bloated, crampy and eventually get hit with nausea.  It’s delightful as a diet.

Now, you would think that my beloved oncologist would have warned me about this (and he truly is beloved in my eyes), but NO!  It’s a rare side effect and he’d hoped that I would avoid this particular one.  So much for hope, at least in this case.  So now, I have to tweak my diet yet again and deal with a delightful “cleanse” to get things moving.  I won’t bore you with the latter.  Let’s just say, I’m glad I have a large master bath that allows me to get comfy.

My diet, which I changed drastically to begin with, is now chocked with a minimum of 72 ounces of fluid (32 of which must be water at a minimum) daily.  I am still banning hormones, GMO, artificial sweeteners and soy, but now have to add more fiber in the form of vegetables and whole grains.  I was all ready doing this, but I have to bump it up even more. This is his PC way of saying, “Cut the junk food crap from your diet.”  If only chocolate was a high fiber food.  I all ready make my own breads, cook from scratch every night and have pretty much given up going out to eat because it’s a pain to find something I can eat.  I guess I’ll be going out for coffee, hold the desert.

I tend to forget that I had all of my abdominal muscles cut, all three layers, when I had my hysterectomy.  It will be 10 months on my hubby’s birthday next week.  However, those muscles take a LONG time to heal.  I insist on picking up heavy items, then pay for it later.  I only insist on it because I don’t hurt at the time.  Since I really need to lose weight, it’s probably worse.  My doctor has told me that if I don’t get some weight off that I’m a “hernia waiting to happen.”  Lovely.  Actually I have lost a couple of pounds with the neuropathy. 

My friend Cathy reminds me all the time that our bodies do not heal on our schedule.  She warned me in the spring that I would probably not feel good on a regular basis until the end of 2013.  While I was skeptical, I shouldn’t have been.  She’s been there.  She hit the proverbial nail straight on the head.  I should know better.

The aftermath is what it is.  Today I don’t feel so great.  I know I need to gear up to clean out.  I need to take care of myself.  I remember my dad saying the same things.  Do what you can when you feel great.  Rest when you don’t.  I’ve always been a slow study.

Everyone’s aftermath is different.  I am learning that there were things I used to do that are harder.  But a lot of things are easier.  I am more specific when I talk to God.  I am much more likely to say yes to playing games with the boys.  I spend more time journaling, even when my hands hurt, since it helps organize the chaos of my chemo brain.  I value spending time with my mom more than ever, particularly since she gave up so much to stay with me in the hospital and during my recovery.  Walks with John are sacred time.  I love visiting my mother-in-law.  She bent over backwards to take care of us long distance.  I don’t take anything for granted.  Nothing is guaranteed.  If that’s what I take away from the aftermath, then I think I’ve learned my lesson.