I think about this a lot in the time between - who am I? Am I still me post breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment. You see, I always knew that I was made of strong stuff. I have had an interesting life, to say the least and have had many strange (and wonderful) things happen to me along the way.
When I first found myself, my true self, it was the first time I lived away from my family. For some people, that is when they go to college but for me it was when I started my MBA program across the Atlantic Ocean. I was home for college and then had the once in a lifetime opportunity to study abroad for a full year (well, 11 months to be exact) and to get my MBA at 21-22 years old.
This experience changed the course of my life. It changed my professional opportunities, my personal life even my love life - but that is for another day. Let's just say my life was pretty much set to be a certain way, a certain path, and then I up and moved to Rome, Italy and everything changed. The way I spoke changed, the way I dressed changed, the way I did my hair changed. I mean, can I stop and digress on the hair?
I went every month to a hair salon near Piazza Del Poppolo owned by Sophia Loren's sister -- her SISTER -- and my hair stylist, Jorge, was amazing. I kept going shorter and shorter and shaved the back of my head for the first time. It is here where I finally found a way to manage that thing that was on my head the bouffant that made a girl in high school nickname me "Medusa" for a short while when we were all still being mean to one another.
The changes did not stop there- I carried myself differently, learned how to take care of myself (with the help of a very special person who is now in my life and helping me DAILY as I fight cancer - you know who you are --- Antonella) and I just got to understand what being "free" meant - while still keeping an almost 4.0 GPA because I have and always will be (at heart) a nerd.
When I returned home, things just did not "fit" anymore and lots of things changed even more. I began a career that took me around the world and just hammered in the fact that there is a professional me and a personal me. I also got boring. Well, first I got married and had a child, then another and then I got really boring.
But before my diagnosis I had started to find myself again - putting myself out there with my small business and really using social media and blogging and being the "expert" on things - which in the same way limited myself from really free expression.
Now, I think of myself and say, "Who am I?" Am I someone to "pity" - NO. I mean it was earth shattering to be diagnosed but all things considered I look back on my feelings and fears and think it was all justified. I went through those stages of grief rather quickly but then I am no stranger to having life up and change on me last minute and traumatically. Not everything that changed in my life was as amazing as living in Rome for a year. There have been lots of hard times and obstacles and things that just seemed like, "How will I ever make it back from here?" But I did it and I made it through.
I thought the same way about my cancer diagnosis - life sucks sometimes but despite all of that, I have still been lucky. It is more than luck, though, it is something I do not often share publicly because I have spent my life still being that mix of "professional" me and "personal" me and there are somethings you do not share -- but I would be remiss if I did not credit what, for me, has helped me be strong when I had no other choice and that is my faith.
I am working on another post to go in more detail about my faith - I am not a prophet and I do not want to convince anyone of following religion or believing in something just because I do. I do feel though that it is an important piece of what makes me, me and I am willing and ready to share it.
For now, though, I just want to say that I am still "me" - I can still be "boring" though I am working so hard on changing that on pushing myself to do things I have not done in over 12 years. I want to be a better friend and also to be better to me and my needs and not just subjugating myself to the needs of the people I love. I love them still the same but I cannot be who I was before. With each new experience, we change- at least if we are still living, we change. And I am ready for this new change.
My body has been beaten and battered (all for good reason to kick cancer's ass) and I will continue to persevere and smile. People do not understand that about me - how I have kept such a positive attitude and when I am asked how, I tell the truth, "I have no choice." That statement means a lot - I have no choice to be but who I am - positive, hopeful, fighter, hard worker and a little bit crazy.
That is why despite stage 3 breast cancer I can still say I am happy to be ME. I would not change spots with anyone in the world (I mean, I would have preferred NOT to get cancer but I cannot change that so I must accept it). And, I know who I am and also what I aspire to be - someone who is cancer free and able to take care of me in all the variations of me that there are -wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter, entrepreneur, educator and blogger/writer. Most of all writer. This is what keeps me going - sharing who I am in the time between.
Part 1 of this post is here managing-diagnosis-from-super-woman-to-cancer-patient-in-two-seconds-flat.html.
The idea of a medical diagnosis has many different meanings. Years ago my diagnosis of thrombophilia, a blood clotting genetic disorder, was welcomed because it explained my back to back miscarriages and then helped me keep my son in-utero and have a healthy baby. (I was able to do this with daily self-administered Levonox injections directly above my belly button for the first 8 months of pregnancy and twice daily self-administered Heparin injections up until delivery oh and 6 weeks of Levonox after birth.)
Despite all that good, the idea of a blood clotting disorder could be deadly - it could lead to stroke and or hemorrhage and or deadly blood clots. Despite all of that potential death, my diagnosis was celebrated by me and my husband and family. Also, it is considered no big deal to anyone who knows about it outside our family and did not mark me in the way "cancer" does. The idea of "cancer" is, for most people, very close to dying. It is nuanced and yet people treat cancer as they would a terminal diagnosis even though there are many people living with cancer who are not terminal.
With my cancer diagnosis, people did think it was a big deal. Now I know cancer can be deadly but is it any more so than my thrombophilia had the potential to be before diagnosis and during 4 pregnancies -- I don't know?
I do know that it was something I could just celebrate. Did I celebrate my cancer diagnosis? Not right away - but eventually, I did - because without the diagnosis and the screening and the fact that I was freaking religious about following doctors orders and actually going for mammograms, I would probably be dead.
Upon my diagnosis in November 2016, I was kind of frozen. I had no idea what to do or how to do it. My gynecologist, Dr Prue, was able to see me that very night. My mom, husband and I sat across from him just shell shocked. He patiently guided us through some valuable information and told me, sadly, that he is giving this information more and more lately. Though the breast cancer diagnosis stat for women is 1 in 8 it does seem to be almost higher in my hometown. He gave me a list of doctors and hospitals, though I was thinking I would do everything local to my home so that I could be there for my kids and my job and my family... You see how invasive this thought process was for me? I had cancer and yet I was thinking of everyone ELSE of everything ELSE and not of me and what could be best for me.
I met with the local team and it just did not feel right. I pushed myself to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering - I live outside of NYC and people come from all over the world to these hospitals so I thought it made sense for me to check it out. From when I walked in to The Breast Center, I knew I was in the right place. I just knew. I knew the surgeon would take it all out as soon as I could stop asking him whether or not I was going to die.
My first appointment at Sloan was on December 5; by December 16 I had my mastectomy and sentinel node removal surgery. It was so fast but it felt like forever. Every day walking around with cancer in your body is one day too many.
I used to work full time in midtown Manhattan and yet I was considering not going in to NYC for my cancer care because I did not want to be out of the way. Just thinking about it now makes me realize how stupid I was, how caught up I was in all of the wrong things. I am so happy I made my choice to go to Sloan.
My surgeon, Dr El-Tamer was so kind and when I cried, he held my hand. While he wanted time to find out exactly what surgery I needed, I balked because I just wanted to know when it would be out so he gave me a date on the operating room without knowing for sure if it would be mastectomy or lumpectomy. I fell in love with him even more right there.
There were so many appointments and follow ups to do between my first appointment and my surgery and through it all every single person that helped me with MRIs, PetScans and Radiation Mapping were all amazing and kind. No one treated me like "cancer patient 101"; I was me, I was Lisa - I made lots of jokes, they laughed at all of them. I got hugs and well wishes from so many of the staff and I really felt like I was loved and cared for every step of the way.
I know a lot of people write about their cancer treatment experiences differently -that they felt they had no control and that people could be brusque - for me, it was absolutely the opposite. I mean, I realized right away I was not in control because I did not want to be anymore. For the first time in my life, I wanted to listen to my doctors and follow the prescribed course of action. I HAD to do so because this was the first time I was truly sick.
Before I was diagnosed with cancer, my allergy induced asthma was acting up and my allergist told me, "If you did not have the flu shot, I might have had to put you in ICU if you got the flu." And I was just so incredulous and told him, "Well, that is not possible; I cannot go to the ICU - I have children." It seems so laughable now - I thought I was in control of my health and on top of my game and had no reason to think otherwise.
I am so happy I wound up at Sloan and that I learned to let go. I will do another post about the time up until diagnosis and also then another post about how the chemotherapy experience was, also at Sloan. My radiation was done locally to my house.
This is what I am sharing in my time between.
In case #TLDR, here are my quick tips on what to do post breast cancer diagnosis:
Everything in life has a before and after. For me, my before was about running at the speed of light and managing every minute detail of the lives of my children and husband and other family members too.
I was a professional - able to perform and present at the drop of the hat on any topic involving corporate America, finding a job, managing college process for kids and their families alike and more. But that's just it - it was the polish, the never-ending process of being "on" of being me but better. As a college professor for over 13 years, my time at the podium was also centered around being the best me as possible - not a hair out of place a little makeup super professional clothes and no missteps or oversharing either in person or on social media ever.
All of that changed for me when on November 28 I got the phone call that changed my life. Before that call though, I had a heads up to expect the worst. When I had my biopsy the day after Thanksgving, which was a day ten years before I had found out I was pregnant with my daughter, this time the test was not for an extra pink line; it was the surgeon who did the biopsy telling me to expect the call that it was cancer.
My mom was with me at the biopsy and when I told her, she literally scoffed at the idea - "...there's no way, we don't have that in our family, you don't have cancer." My dad, when I told him about it later, was denigrating the age of the surgeon - "...there's no way she could know she made a mistake." My husband said the same but also added in, "...if you had cancer, the dog would have given us a sign."
That's expecting a lot of a dog!
Though I was told in person during the biopsy it really just did not seem real and in fact that weekend was so fun full of holiday fairs and relaxing- though when I stopped at a vendor to get myself and my daughter lockets with floating charms, I saw the pink ribbon and thought I'm going to survive this, I should get the ribbon to show it to everyone but I stopped myself and did not pick the ribbon.
Just a few days later, I got the call. Now it was real. Somehow it wasn't real until the follow up phone call.
The call "confirmed" is and in an instant, I went from managing my first full time job in 8 years after running my own business for 2 and teaching part time for the full 8 to being a cancer patient. I went from being the sole caregiver of my children, my house, my dog, my husband (and others) to now having to do something I had absolutely forgotten how to do - take care for me.
I had no idea how to do this. I had always been a nurturer, someone who cared for others and I even wrote in a previous post that I thought all of that, "Make sure your oxygen mask is on first..." type of crap was just that, crap.
Now I have learned the hard way that I need to take care of me. A big part of taking care of me is in being this new, unpolished, crew cut like hair version of me. I am no longer interested in projecting myself as "successful" or "smart" or #businesspersonextradoinaire - instead I am just "me". Do I have stuff to offer the world - hell yes. Do I care if I seem "perfect" and "put together" anymore - heck no.
There is something so freeing in just being yourself; it is something I thought I was being but I had no clue. I was pushing myself to be the end all and be all at home and in the world of college and career readiness (seriously, check out my website I ran for my business and look to see if you can find "Lisa" the person and not "LISA the BUSINESS PERSON" www.thenextstep1234.com. She is not there; that is not me.
I am the person you see here, someone who was afraid so afraid of everything that I was not living. And now, that I have something to really be afraid of (cancer, stage 3), I am not scared anymore. I am going to live and do things that I would not have done before. I am applying to win a contest to take me and my best friend to Las Vegas through Pandora - hello, that is not something the "old" me would have done. I am going on a girls night out this Sunday for the first time in way too many years to count. And I am lucky because despite the fact that I have forced everyone to only see me on playdates or other weird kid-centric occassions, I have more than 10 women coming out to drink with me as I celebrate the fact that I am done with treatment, have a little hair and can finally wear a bra again!
Live life, fight hard and be your true self anyway you can! This is what I am doing in the time between.
Just some of my girls who will also be out with me this weekend - but my WIG will be at home :)
I keep thinking to myself, "Why now?" Why was I ready to go public with this battle now and not before and why am I doing it at all. The answers are many and not necessarily straight forward.
1) First Person: As the first person I knew diagnosed with breast cancer (and whoever I knew who had cancer were older and different types), I was a bit overwhelmed at first by this new "world" I was in - you never understand so much that doctors are human than when you are facing a life threatening illness. Breast cancer is considered curable (depending on stage) but until you get on the operating table, they do not know what stage you are for sure. There is a huge unknown and for the "old" me, this was something that made me crazy. I want to share what I now know about this experience for those who come after me. Unfortunately, people will come after me. I wish they would not but it is the nature of this beast. Something like 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer so of myself and my closest friends, it was me. Hopefully our group is "done" but there are other groups, other women and men who are at risk and do not even know it (like me).
2) The Worry and the Fear: I was always a worrier - it is what made me "me". I learned quickly in the world of cancer that worry gets you no where fast. Every time I tried to ask my surgeon, "Will I live, am I going to make it?", he would make a face at me and then finally after I asked 10 times he said, "I can get hit by a bus tomorrow - who knows." And I woke up after that and learned the hard way at 39 that there are no guarantees in life - ever. Somehow, this was also oddly comforting as for the first time I learned to "let go" and for me, it was, "Let go and let God." I understand not everyone is religious so you can just follow the first two words, "Let go." I want to help people try to let go of all they cannot control, which in reality in life even without cancer is most of everything but especially with cancer - there is no energy or time left to spend days worried that could be spent living.
3) Shame: I hated being the focus of pity and the daily struggle I had just to get through my day was something that I could not wrap my head around. I am used to being an energizer bunny and having all of that energy sucked out of me during my 16 weeks of chemotherapy was something I could not be "me" through. I tried, though, I tried damn hard but I was only at best a sliver of my former self and that hurt more than the one boob and the no hair. The fact that my intellect and my ability to do everything was gone was so painful for me and also for my children. I had people to step up and take over at home but for the bulk of my chemotherapy, my kids just wanted their mom back. Between fear of germs and exhaustion, I almost was no longer here. I want to help others NOT go through the shame - it is nothing to be ashamed of - I got sick; I did not ask for it (no one does) it just happened. I had to learn that some people will leave my life and/or not be true to supporting me and I had to learn to let go of that, too.
4. Those who helped me: No matter how many friends and family I had in my corner, cheering me on and helping me through the most helpful were those who had been through this disease, those who experienced it firsthand. Not to say that everyone else was worth "less" - it is a different scale. For me, having someone through Sloan who had gone through it and who texted me non stop even to the point of reminding me to drink my water before chemotherapy tricks-for-treatment.html and helped talk me off a ledge when I read something that triggered me. And she was not the only guide I had on this process; I have a few ladies who have been there and back and I love them each the same. Again, everyone who has been there for me is loved by me but there is something about having people who have been through it to make you feel less crazy.
I also made a video about why now that I am sharing here, as well. Keep fighting!
I am done hiding. I am done being ashamed. Yes it sounds so cliche but I was ashamed for having been diagnosed with cancer.
I am done apologizing for myself. I am who I am and I did the best I could. There are things I would have liked the chance to "do over" but life does not work that way.
I was diagnosed right before my 40 birthday, the birthday I was so looking forward to for so long. It changed my life and although it sucks more than anything I can see the "good" in it.
Before I can move on though, I do need to apologize to myself for some things I have done wrong to me - sounds corny but I think it is important that I recognize I have neglected me, Lisa, for many many years.
I am sorry for having always been a control freak and never knowing how to let go. I am sorry for running running running and never having a moment to myself for the last 12+ years.
I am sorry for having ignored my friends and my own needs for so long. For being the "martyr" in my marriage and my home and for never stopping to try to put myself first. I had heard all the reports about taking care of yourself first, putting on your own oxygen mask kind of stuff and I thought it was bullshit. I thought because I was a mom and a caretaker that I had to just do that - all the time.
I am sorry for giving up on my small business during this time and "hiding" away when I could have maybe helped someone else through this.
And most of all, I am sorry for my children that they had to see me broken and ill.
But I am done saying I am sorry to myself now and I forgive those who ran away, who shunned me, who could not give me the simple grace of acceptance when I tried to work hard and still be a functioning member of society.
I am here now, I am unapologetic. If you don't like how I look all shorn and lopsided with my prosthetic boob, that is your problem. I am not the person I was before, I am better, I am stronger. I still wish it never had to be but I am accepting of it because I cannot change it.
Cancer sucks but it taught me I have to be open I have to be the face and do what I can to help others - because that is a huge part of what life should be about and I won't miss the lessons anymore.
When I was first diagnosed in November 2016, I entered the world of non-control. I have always been at one with me - my body and my ability to fight infections. I had been relatively healthy my whole life. When I was 31 after 2 miscarriages I was diagnosed with a funky blood clotting disorder which made my final pregnancy very high risk but still doable. Little did I know that the cancer I would eventually get is driven by hormones and maybe having 4 pregnancies was the first line of leading to the cancer - (note: 4 pregnancies including the 2 miscarriages). But, in reality I will never know what caused the cancer.
I worked downtown in NYC during 9/11 and the months and months afterwards and that has been something in the back of my mind as being a possible cause. I was not a first responder (though my soon-to-be husband was), just a worked in financial services who was asked to open up the office the Monday after 9/11 as I lived within travelling distance via the Staten Island Ferry and I, "had no kids to worry about". I went gladly as a way to keep myself busy and I could not help but take some lunch hour walks by the smoldering heap to just further recognize how our world had changed.
Upon diagnosis, I spent my first few weeks wishing and hoping it was anyone other than me. I would see other moms around and be so jealous that they did not have this potential death sentence over their heads. I forced myself out of that funk by funnily enough reading the newspapers and seeing random deaths all over the world that made me really force myself to get comfortable with mortality. I think it was something I never ever thought of despite the fact that I have gone to wakes and know that people die - I just did not think I ever would.
I still do not think I will die from this but I am focused on being positively focused on controlling what I can. I can control what I eat and I can control what I do with my body on a daily basis. Now that I am through "active treatment" (8 rounds of chemo and 34 rounds of radiation), I have this thing called energy back and I am using it to help keep myself active.
Before I got cancer (and before I went back to work full time three months before I was diagnosed), I would run about an hour and forty five minutes a day each morning in my kitchen (don't judge) and even got to a time of 35 minutes for a 5k, which for me, was fast. I began running about the same time I was told I was allergic to corn, which turned out to be an incorrect diagnosis but led me to basically eat "clean" - as a kid who was born in the 70's my major food groups were home cooked meals without veggies (why bother trying to force 3 children to eat vegetables as that was like telling us we had to kill ourselves in dramatic fashion). So my diet was never good or "healthy" but I always was tall and "skinny" (I put skinny in quotes because I was really fake skinny - I was within the normal weight category for my height but I was not fit and never exercised - ah the metabolism of youth).
So this new way of eating because of the corn allergy (because corn is in everything processed) meant that I was eating more and more fruits and vegetables and this eating style of mine cascaded down to the children. Even when I was told the corn allergy was incorrect, I still incorporated the healthier foods but I did not continue avoiding processed foods for a few reasons. One reason is the cost - it is tremendously expensive to cook without processed foods and the second reason was the convenience of using a taco kit and making dinner quick instead of making something from "scratch".
I was going to wait to make changes in my diet and lifestyle until I was a year out from initial diagnosis to give myself some time to relax and just do nothing but I decided (and my waistline growing and growing helped with this as now that I am in medically induced menopause, it is a whole new ballgame in terms of metabolism) to kickstart this new way of eating and living now.
I started slowly by incorporating exercise back into my life and I am now at 45 minutes of running in the early morning. Then I began looking at my diet and started to read some research on keeping cancer out of your body after having had it. I am currently in the midst of researching and currently reading Radical Remission and AntiCancer. I will write more about these books when I am done with them but for now, I am recognizing some common threads about diet in these books and other cancer resources that talk about sugar being the fuel that feeds cancer cells. I have already decided to cut out processed foods, my dark chocolate I love so much and to avoid dairy and meat. I am not sure if this will help me to never have cancer again but I am pretty sure it will help me to look and feel better and keep me as healthy as possible to be able to handle whatever happens next.
None of us know what the future holds but by kick-starting my exercising and helping my body and mind feel healthy and happy I am hoping I can keep cancer the f-out of my body for the rest of my life.
It is something for me to focus on in the time between.
I found out I had breast cancer and focused on all of the next steps - all of the things I had to do to kind of be considered "standard of care". I knew I would need surgery and potentially chemotherapy and radiation, too but I just wanted to get the cancer out as quickly as possible.
I had a full time job and along with that job, I had the second job of kicking cancer's butt along with the home life with two young children and a house with laundry, cleaning and more to consider.
My laser like focus got me through chemotherapy but I was a bit like a monk and stopped doing everything except going to work in the time in between treatments. My job did not work out - in no small part because of the breast cancer experience but it did allow me to have extra time off starting in May.
I finished chemotherapy on May 1; my job ended on May 2. Do not feel bad for me, though, because I got a much needed break from May 2 until I started daily radiation on May 22.
Radiation was 5 days a week for almost 7 weeks and just finished on July 11. Yesterday was my first day without this additional treatment and for the first time since November 29, I have "nothing" to do regarding active cancer treatments. I do have follow ups of course but my plan is to follow my oncologist's advice and just forget about all of this unless she tells me otherwise (hopefully never).
My summer is wide open and I am enjoying it. I am not working on anything or planning too much. I am just giving myself time to rest and recuperate. I am finally out and about with my buzz cut and trying to rock it and I am trying to be a resource for people who are recently diagnosed in small ways in my real life and my online persona, too.
For me, it is about enjoying life and trying to move on from these months and months of medical intervention.
This is what I do in the time between.
I could not decide which to put in quotes - the last or the treatment. My overwhelmingly positive perspective made me pick treatment. Since diagnosis in November 2016, I have had multiple mammography, ultrasounds, PetScan, Radiation Mapping, a mastectomy / lymph node extraction, 16 weeks of chemotherapy (one treatment every 2 weeks; 4 AC and 4 Taxol) and now almost 7 weeks of radiation. Whew, I am tired just reading that sentence.
My doctors and nurses and radiation techs have been wonderful but the end note is that you do not want to get cancer because it is a big deal - everyone looking at you and watching your hair fall out and how tired you get not to mention the great big unknown of if the treatments worked, if you are lucky enough to never get it again. And that is what it is all about really - even though in December after surgery I was told I had "no evidence of disease" (NED) because it had gotten into 5 out of 25 lymph nodes, there was still going to have to be much more to do to make sure it stayed that way.
For me, my whole life, I have been healthy and it was scary how quickly the switch flipped from healthy as a horse to in treatment for cancer. As much as everyone is wonderful, you are still the patient and as such more of a puzzle for the people trying to keep you well. I have to say I was lucky - I was treated with kindness and like, well, ME, at all of my places of treatment. I was not reduced to just a clump of cells that went haywire and tried to kill me. A lot of that could just be because my personality has always been loud and crazy. I made more jokes while getting chemotherapy than I think most people tell in a lifetime.
As I sit here on the eve of when my "active" treatment stops, I am just relieved, happy and looking forward to balancing my new priorities and to try to move past this time of tough experiences. I will not say it was torture but I will say that sometimes it was hard to just be "me" because I have been beat up, my body has been changed significantly and my sense of certainty in my tomorrows has been called into question. I am still going to be certain of my tomorrows, though, I will not let this disease control my today so therefore, my tomorrows are all open.
And now that I do not have the every two weeks of chemotherapy and the daily radiation, I am just faced with what a twitter friend (Double Whammied) called the F/U appointments (follow up appointments).
I just have to decide how to celebrate tomorrow - my children know that now I am officially "back" - my hair is coming back in and once my skin heals and I can wear my prosthetic again and appear whole again instead of this person who has been walking around with no hair and a lopsided boob area. For my little one particularly, this is important because he has been worried that I would not make it; he still worries about the cancer coming back the poor kid and all I do is reassure him that I have no intention of having that happen and that my doctors feel the same.
I will definitely write more about my children's perspective of this disease and how having it changed some fundamental things for them and their lives along with mine. But for now, I will enjoy being on the precipice of being at the end of my "treatments" during this time between.
I have blogged before but it was for a business which meant I could be me but professional me not the real me. Using this blog as an outlet to just be the real me, who I am and how I struggle with this C-word battle is not just cathartic for me but I am hopeful helpful for someone reading it who is going through the battle or who knows someone going through it.
With this site, I decided I did not want to follow a set schedule (with my business blog, I blogged 5 days a week and built up my social media to over 5000 Twitter followers and still even now between 1500-2000 visitors a week even though I have not blogged consistently since last summer). I did though want to promote the site and get the message out there about living life after breast cancer diagnosis.
The diagnosis changed my life in more ways than one and really it sucked and if I could change the fact that I got breast cancer, I would. However, that is not possible so all I can do is turn the negative into the positive. I am very good at being positive despite the fact that I am for all intents and purposes a worrier. I have learned to not worry as much, in fact, I joke with my doctors all the time that it is their job to worry for me and that I have officially outsourced it to them.
I do think I am a better at being human since my diagnosis - I care less about appearances and I forgive more, too. I know now that life is too short to be unhappy and that the things that kept me up at night worried before mean nothing now. I just roll with things better and appreciate the good more than ever before.
For example, recently, I took my two kids on an outing to a local attraction and just being able to do that and enjoying time alone with them was so amazing. It was my norm before; I would spend all summer taking them out and about but doing it now made it all the more meaningful for me - it was like the first time I felt "normal" even though I have done some amazing fun things post diagnosis this just felt "normal" like, "Oh, I am still me."
I did get tired quite easily and because of the radiation burns, I could not wear anything under my clothes so I was one-boobing it, it was still a special day. I am getting close to 7 months after my surgery and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with completing surgery, chemotherapy and now (almost) radiation (2 left!)
This is what I think about in the time between.
Before cancer, when I would go to get my hair done, I would always have one request of the stylist and that was, "Please do not cut my hair too short because then I look like my brothers."
I never appreciated my hair until I lost it all during chemo. I had hair that lived its own life. It did not behave in any way shape or form. It grew out instead of down so I could not grow it past my shoulders. When blown out straight (beaten into submission), it would go to the middle of my back.
I would go through phases of growing it out as long as it could go and then cutting it as short as possible while avoiding looking like my brothers.
I mentioned in a previous post that I opted against and hair saving technique (the cold cap) during chemo because of this hate/hate relationship I had with my hair. Do I regret it? Ah, a little. Now, though, I have this short buzz cut going on and once I have the ummph to get myself organized with my contacts, makeup and sunglasses, I think I could make it work.
For now though, with 4 days left of radiation, my skin burns like the sun and I cannot wear anything other than big t-shirts to help my skin not feel like it is falling off and to try to hide the fact that I only have one boob.
At times, I do forget all of this process the diagnosis, the surgery, the chemotherapy but then I catch sight of myself in the mirror and it's like whoa, who is that. Lately, though, I am starting to recognize this woman in the mirror. I am a fighter, a survivor, someone who did not care about anything except beating cancer. I will continue to be this way long after my crazy hair grows in.
Even though I look like my brothers more than I ever thought possible, I am still a girl. I am still someone who can be considered "beautiful" even though I am heavier than I have been while not pregnant (yeah Taxol and the required steroids will lead to weight gain) and lacking a breast.
I am almost ready to go out and about without a wig. I am almost ready to be brave enough to show people who do not know me that I was fighting something. I am proud of me - the real me, the me without hair to hide behind (especially missed with the zit that is growing on my forehead that needs hiding) and without the curves that I knew so well. Most of my wardrobe has to be redone because my well worn tank tops are too low, too small to handle the new foundation garments that hold the prosthetic boob. Not to mention that cleavage is not existent now on the right side, which makes my old clothes unsuitable for my new life, my new body.
Having experienced pregnancy, I know what it is like to not recognize your body, to not be able to see your feet but I did not know what it would be like to never get something back. After delivery of the child, you get your body back in a way (though it is never really the same as it was before kids, you still have all your parts). With cancer, my body is now modified beyond what I recognize. As someone who grew boobs at 10 years old, I now start my 4th decade with just one boob. I am ready to kick butt as the new Amazon - as someone with the rough and tumble buzz cut and the new clothes needed to wear my armor. I do not need a breast back to feel whole but I could definitely use my hair!
What I think about in the time between...
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