That Time Again

About a week ago, I was showering when I felt a bump near my armpit.

“It’s back.”

That was all I could think as I scrambled to the mirror to take a closer look at the lump.

It was an insect bite.*

Not really a funny story, I know, except it is. Kind of like the adage about seeing an animal with cloven hoofs running toward you and immediately assuming it’s a zebra instead of a horse.

It doesn’t make any sense. Unless you live in Africa and have seen zebras running in the wild.

Well, the last time I found a lump, it was cancer. So though I’d swear to you the possibility of its return is never uppermost in my mind, it is — and always will be — a possibility.

Not something I think about every day, but buried deep in the back of my mind where it belongs.

And since my yearly mammogram and oncologist appointment is coming up, I’ve been running through the scenarios, which pushes the thought a bit more forward than usual.

“This time, I won’t stay home as much. I’ll keep working, I’ll …”

I work through the details in my head — how to make it easier on everyone if it happens again.

For now, these scenarios remain theoretical, and I’m well aware of how blessed that makes me. For so many others, this kind of planning is a daily reality.
“How can I get to chemo and still get my kids to choir practice on time?”
“Is it possible to shop for my aging parents when I’m so tired I can barely stand?”
“What kind of employee am I?  I don’t know from one day to the next if I’ll feel up to doing my job.”

There are other dilemmas, I’m sure, beyond my imagination that others deal with every day.

It should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. If you know someone in treatment for cancer or any other ailment, find a way to support them. Even if it’s just dropping by with supper or sending a card.

This disease — like many others — can happen to anyone, at any time. I think survivors are exponentially more aware of that, which makes our call to duty is even higher. Not because it could be us next time or we owe to people from the last time, but because it’s the right thing to do.

As for me, I remain happy to be here, happy to have hair. And the second part is optional.

*I haven’t completely lost perspective. Since going through treatment, I’ve become a magnet for every kind of biting bug, and many bites affect me more than in the past — swelling to the point that it requires no stretch of the imagination at all to take it for another cancerous lump. 

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Life After Cancer

Seven years ago, March 18 was a sunny, but cold Friday, and while many people were sleeping off their St. Patrick’s Day hangovers, I was driving to the hospital where I knew I would be told my breast biopsy showed cancer cells.

Why else the surgeon would have wanted to see me immediately? That day. Before she went on vacation for a week.

She took time off; I took a major detour.

So this is my cancerversary, a day I note each March in quiet gratitude I’m here to mark another year’s passage.

My life now is quite different from what it was on that chilly Friday.

No longer a full-time library manager, I am instead a retired librarian and part-time grocery associate at a local store.

When I realized I was looking upon my writing career as yet another thing I had to do, I stopped writing romance. I have only so many moments left in my life, and reasoned if I wasn’t making money at the endeavor and no longer enjoying it, the time had come to stop. Instead, I focused on making sure all my Cancer Lessons were re-written and posted on this blog.

Then, I started another one.

I also began working again on my family tree, I share here the first lesson in genealogy: It’s an endless pursuit because for every person you identify, there are two more to work on — their parents. I’m back five generations and still going.

Darling Daughter — who guarded me as I recovered from surgery by carefully timing my visitors — is a college graduate with a full-time supervisory position at a library (at 23!). She’s built an adult life and peopled it with friends, a book club, and a soccer team. It seems I’ve passed on not only my career field, but my shin guards too. And I’m only half-joking when I say she’s Kym 2.0.

Partly to fill the void she left, The Engineer and I started beekeeping (hence, the name of my new blog). It would be a good hobby to share, we thought, a new activity we could do together, one that would force us to learn something new.

It’s been that and more.

To answer your unspoken question, yes, the bees are still alive (so far). And no, we didn’t get any honey last year. For more, you’ll have to read The Byrd and the Bees.

People I don’t see very often still ask (in that oh-so-meaningful tone of voice), “How are you?”

The answer is “Just fine and hoping to stay that way.”

Physically, I’m much the same as before cancer. There are a few exceptions.

  • My hair, eyebrows, and lashes seem thinner.
  • If I stretch very hard, I feel my scars pull.
  • I still wear a lymph sleeve when exercising or flying.
  • I’m a little weaker, especially in my arms (for this, I can only blame me — for not being morally strong enough to force my lazy self to do push ups).

On a spiritual level, I’m better at remembering what’s important — family, friends, trying to stay healthy. If I occasionally lose focus of this, it’s not for long.

When I reflect on these changes, I wonder how many are the result of having had cancer, and how many are just because I’ve gotten older.

I don’t know.

I do know having cancer as a part of my past keeps me aware of how I spend time in the present. And remembering the friends I’ve lost to the disease reminds me I am fortunate to be here to ask that question.

I’m pretty sure they’d tell me not to waste my time worrying about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer Lesson #74: Happy to Be Here. Happy to Have Hair.

Cancer Lesson #74: Happy to be here. Happy to have Hair.

I find it hard to believe it’s been three and a half years since my last chemo. How could I have had surgery and treatment for cancer, and managed to emerge with a normal life once more?

It boggles my mind.

It’s a new kind of normal, of course. Though they’ve faded, I have scars to rival Frankenstein’s, and — like others who have gone through a bodily trauma — aches and pains I never had before.

For nearly a year, my chemo curls rowdily rioted around my face like the aftermath of a bad perm.

But I’m back to playing soccer, and last year I did a bike tour. I’ve also been known to attempt a cartwheel, usually in an ill-conceived fit of whimsy. The last one ended with me plopped on my bottom, but never mind.

Clearly neither my tumbling nor my soccer skills will ever win me a place on an Olympic team. And there are granddads (plenty of them) who zoom past me whenever I ride my bike.

The point is no one know if I’d ever be able to do any of these activities again, and I can.

That’s worth a cartwheel.

Having survived cancer, I know everything else is gravy. The icing on the cake. The cherry on the – well, you get the idea.

Being alive is a miracle, and I developed a mantra to remind me of that fact.

“Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” I say it whenever I start to stress over something stupid. Sure, it’s not the most sophisticated phrasing, and maybe I sound a little silly.

I say it anyway because I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’m still here.

“Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” I say it in memory of those who are not.

Take a moment to think of them. And take some time to enjoy the life’s extras too – the gravy, the icing, and the cherry on that sundae.

I do. Especially the sundaes.