Cancer Lesson #69: How to Celebrate Your Cancerversary

Cancer Lesson #69: How to Celebrate Your Cancerversary

Question: How should you celebrate your cancerversary?

Short answer: Any damned way you want to.

Four years ago today I drove home from the hospital trying to fit my emotions and thoughts around the new reality that I had breast cancer.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and I kept thinking I should be crying or screaming or raging against an unfair God.

But all I could think was, “I won’t be able to be captain of our soccer team this year. I’ll need to get Maggie or Carol to do it.”

Then I had to figure out how to tell my family. I ended up breaking the news to The Engineer over the phone because he couldn’t understand why he needed to come straight home.

We waited a few days to tell Darling Daughter. She’d just gotten her driver’s license the night before, and that’s such a milestone; I couldn’t bear to ruin it for her any sooner than necessary.

In retrospect, I see now that having cancer changed me, but not in a way I can easily explain. It’s a part of me, and always will be, perhaps not physically (please God) but in my attitude toward life.

The closest thing I can compare it to is parenthood. Everyone tells you what it’s like to have children, but it’s only after you have your own that you begin to realize what they meant.

I understand in a way I never did before that life is finite. We are only blessed with a certain number of days on this earth. I try to remember that, even when things don’t go the way I planned.

All I can do – all anyone can do – is the best I can with what I’ve got in my little corner of the world.

As Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Another quote that speaks to me about this concept is Margaret Mead’s: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I am blessed to still be here, and for that I remain grateful.

And I am humbled to remember the others who fought this disease and suffered so greatly without that reward.

So, how did I celebrate my cancerversary this year? I worked, then went to the dentist and back to work. In between, I fit in several phone calls to two banks that managed to transfer $5000 instead of $50 between our accounts.

It’s been a good day.

Question: How should you celebrate your cancerversary?

Long Answer: Any damned way you want to.

Cancer Lesson #68: Always Looking Forward

Cancer Lesson #68: Always Looking Forward

Ten months after being diagnosed, I took my first exercise class after surgery and chemo. <cue the applause>

I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I’ve always been blessed with a nature flexibility, but cut muscles and scar tissue take their toll. My body didn’t move like before. (It still doesn’t.)

There were certain poses I knew I wasn’t ready for. But I also knew I’d never be ready for them if I didn’t try.

So if my plank looked more like downward facing dog, it didn’t matter. It was heaven to discover I could move in some of the ways I had before.

The best was the warrior pose – “Always looking forward” as my teacher describes it.

Her words felt like a benediction because once you’ve had a serious illness, your body never returns to how it was.

We can only move toward the future, eyes forward, like the warrior.

Cancer was an unplanned detour that changed me forever, and yet I’m still the same person I was, with many of the same goals.

I move forward to accomplish those I can while I am still here. Paying attention to my spiritual and bodily needs is part of that, as it should be for everyone, cancer survivor or not.

And so, gentle readers, I close this post as in all yoga classes.

Namaste. (The light within me salutes the light within you.)

Cancer Lesson #67: Lowbrow Humor

Cancer Lesson #67: Lowbrow Humor

Your eyebrows and lashes may disappear more slowly than your hair. Likewise, when they reappear, the process may be sluggish.

This means you could be sporting the Uncle Fester look for longer than you expected.

While I was grateful not to lose my lashes and brows entirely, I found I missed them more than my hair. And though both returned eventually, neither they nor my hair are quite as thick as I remember them being before cancer.

Cancer Lesson #66: Be Strong for the Fight — free download

Cancer Lesson #66: Be strong for the fight.

A friend sent me this song, which I’m sharing for those who are in the middle of their battle with cancer, in the hope it may help you stay strong.

“The waves look much deeper when you’re underneath them, so try to look up instead. The sun looks much brighter when viewed from the dark side when the dark side is in your head. So, look toward the light. And be strong for the fight.” — Emily Keener

Click the link below for the rest of the lyrics and to listen to or download the song. 

Cancer Lesson #65: Yes, Mamm, or You Don’t Get a 50% Discount for Having Only One Breast

Cancer Lesson #65: Yes, Mamm, or You Don’t Get a 50% Discount for Having Only One Breast

Back in October, 2011, my oncologist said, “Come in for a mammogram of your left breast in March.”

Just my left?

My mind went blank for a moment before I remembered. Although I have a breast of sorts on my right side, it’s a placeholder with no breast tissue.

Hence, no mammogram.

And, no, I don’t get a fifty percent discount on my screening. I tell myself it’s because they have to look extra hard for anomalies.

As for you, please take this as a reminder to get an appointment for a mammogram on your calendar. It might save your life.

Cancer Lesson #64: Hair Today Revisited

Cancer Lesson #64: Hair Today Revisited

When my hair first started to grow again, I looked like a baby ostrich.  I couldn’t quite carry off the uber-chicness of extremely short hair,  so I kept my head covered for the most part, usually with my baseball cap (very un-chic).

My daughter would take off the hat and rub my head like it was Buddha’s belly. I put up with it because I love her.

By the time I went back to work, the weather was getting cooler, so I started wearing wigs. I was working in the children’s section of the library, and the kids’ reaction to my hair color was sometimes quite entertaining.

For my first storytime in seven years, I felt like I needed a little extra oomph. I wore Darling Daughter’s fluorescent pink wig and promised my small charges the next time they saw me my hair would be a different color.

To follow through on that pact, I bought a new wig from a place I call “the hooker store.” (Darling Daughter didn’t appreciate the humor, but if you saw it, you’d understand.)

“Ooooh! Your hair is violet,” said one little girl, exhibiting an astonishing vocabulary and knowledge of color for a five-year-old.

Another little one said, “I like your hair dye.”

Her mother was aghast.

“How do you know it’s dye?” she asked.

“Because her hair was a different color last time I saw her,” replied her unfazed daughter.

The Starbucks barista asked if my hair color was in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It was, I suppose, albeit unintentionally.

Even when I wore my “normal” wig, people commented. Maybe the raspberry pink streaks made me more approachable.

My favorite was midnight black with electric blue tips, also Darling Daughter’s.

She wouldn’t give it to me, though, not even when I played the cancer card.



Cancer Lesson #63: Cancer Has a Lot of Nerve

Cancer Lesson #63: Cancer has a lot of nerve.

I know this because it’s taken so many of mine.

Try this: Run a finger across a scar.
It probably feels different from the rest of your skin, maybe even numb.

Well, I have a lot of scars. One encircles my relocated belly button – kind of like a bull’s-eye – and a long one crosses my abdomen.  Then there are the others, on and around my breast and under my arm.

Twelve hours of surgery does that to a body.

It’s been almost four years since my surgery, but I still don’t feel much around the scars, even partway down my arm.

I can live with that.

But I can’t tell you how odd it is to have my breast bump into a wall – or worse, another person – and not realize it.

Yeah. Think about that one for a minute.

And when I scratch an itch – which, for some reason, I can still sense – it’s feels like someone’s running a finger up a completely different part of my arm.

Yet, I’d rather have these side effects knowing my lymph nodes were clear than feel everything and find out later they weren’t.

Part of me thinks I should take advantage of the situation and get a wild tattoo.

But I’m cheap so I probably won’t.