Me & Dad at my 2005 wedding :)
So you would think that going on vacation after breast cancer dx and treatment would pale compared to vacations of yesteryear -- but you would be wrong!
Why is this and what is wrong with your writer? Simple - the word for it, I guess, would be “anxiety” - or just “fear” or just “stupidity”. When I think back about all of the things that I worried about when in reality, I had nothing to worry about I really do want to have a flux capacitor to go back in time to kick my own ass.
So summers past getting ready for vacation would boggle my mind - I would pack everyone and panic the whole time, thinking about the ride to wherever we were going and whether or not there would be traffic. Yes, this girl, who lives in the most densely populated area around had an anxiety disorder around being stuck in traffic.
It was something that creeped up on me little by little over the years - my world got smaller and smaller but not overnight - over years. I went from traveling the world, living in other countries and states and even doing the 27 hour flight to Singapore without a thought. It was just “living” and I did a lot of it - I mean, I used to fly to Rome for the WEEKEND. For the weekend! Crazy.
Then, little by little, I got less and less adventurous. I started to really think in terms of “No, I cannot do that!” Before my “real” wedding (after we eloped alone) was my first inkling that I was developing an issue.
All of a sudden, I could not take the subway anymore. I had taken the subway ALL OF THE TIME but now, I got the intense feeling that I would need a bathroom during the times when the train stops and waits - at times this could be 4 minutes or 4 hours (ain’t nothing like the good ole’ MTA). What a weird, random thing to worry about but it consumed me for many years - this fear of needing a bathroom when there was none…
Looking back at when it all began was around the time of my church wedding. I was really worried about my wedding - we had eloped, yes, but had planned an semi old fashioned church wedding with party for a few months after our elopement.
All of a sudden, I was convinced that something bad would happen at my traditional wedding. My dad, who had raised me as a single dad, and my mom were basically still at war even then almost 15 years after divorce and my mom would be at the wedding with her new-ish husband.
My dad had hated the fact that I lived in “sin” with my husband before marriage and I just did not know what would happen at the wedding - would he not be willing to walk me down the aisle? Would he be angry at me? Would my mom do something crazy?
It was all a “loose cannon” opportunity to someone who had been raised hearing ALL OF THE TIME about how my mom’s dad refused to walk her down the aisle and how this meant she had no family and that the marriage was cursed, etc etc. Now, here, was the perfect opportunity (down to the same CHURCH) for history to repeat itself.
My mom was to be my maid of honor - I had been hers more times than I could count (ok, twice, two times, two different marriages) so I figured it was her turn to do the same for me. I had no real “fears” about her doing her job - she had been in enough weddings as a bride to know what to do (lol).
Leading up to the wedding, I knew something was “off” so I went to a therapist (not a new thing for me, I began therapy in high school just through my school and college, too) and walked out when she blamed my fears and anxieties on my childhood and my parents. I do not abide by that - not just because I am a parent myself staring at the precipice of childhood trauma with my cancer diagnosis - but I just feel that anything going on with me in my late 20’s though maybe jiggled into place by a fear around history repeating itself at my wedding is not anyone's FAULT but mine for how I see the world.
(Also, at the time, I struggled with even pinpointing what my issue was - it is only now with present’s 20/20 hindsight that I can figure out what it was…)
Oh and see that picture above of the 5 of us, my "core" family - it was taken in 2005; the last such picture I have of that group is from my college graduation in 1998... so was stress really that much of a surprise?
The wedding went well, my dad walked me down the aisle, crying audibly the whole way - weird as he is not really someone who has even been “emotional” - and the party was awesome but the fear and the nerves did not go away.
Shortly after my wedding, I turned down a travel requirement for my job and told my boss I did not feel comfortable flying for the short term. He looked at me like I was nuts - me, the girl who hopped on the plane to Singapore without saying “boo” who flew to Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Italy etc was asking to sit out the next flight. And the next. And the next.
This did not go away even when I changed jobs to my big step to being a VP and a big salary. I still had this “issue” - some days, I could not even make myself commute to work and instead worked from home.
It was debilitating and yet, I did not realize it or would not realize it. So vacations past were a hotbed of anxiety, fearing the road trip - me who used to live in Boston and drive to NY on weekends just for fun - could not fathom a trip to Pennsylvania without worrying and fears and being a nut.
So, facing cancer, if it does nothing else for me, made me realize I cannot live in FEAR. Commuting to NYC for my initial appointments, stuck in traffic on the FDR, I looked at my reflection in the cab’s window and said, “You have cancer - you cannot be afraid of anything anymore. Your worst case scenario came true - this is what fear breeds, disease, illness, death. It is OVER.”
And, for some reason, after years of journaling (is that a word?) and worrying and thinking, I felt it let go. When it tries to come back, I remind myself, “I faced cancer, I can face ANYTHING.”
I just wish I had been able to learn this lesson without the potential life threatening illness BUT I non friga nienta because at least I learned it. So if you ever see someone peeing on the side of the road, it’s me and I do not care :). This is what I do in the time between.
A few minutes before walking down the aisle, this is the face of "oh shit, please don't let this be a disaster!"
When I was a child, I was a worrier. I was born an "old soul" and at times I was the most mature person in my house, no joke. My parents were young parents with 3 children and like all of us, bills, bills, bills. So the way to manage that with childcare was for one parent to work days (dad) and one parent to work nights (mom).
When my mom left to work at night, I would often lay awake worried about her - would she get to work without having a car accident, would she come home in the morning. I guess being a kid and needing ones mom is just ingrained in you and night time is always when the boogeyman comes out - for me the boogeyman was this fear that it was nighttime and she was not home. I was under 10 years old and I see it with my own kids - at nighttime, they need to know I am home to reassure them.
One November night when I was almost 15 years old, we got a phone call at home from the police telling us that she had been in a car accident. Being a teenager and the aforementioned old soul, I immediately jumped in the car with my dad to go see what was going on. My grandparents were at this time living with us and they stayed with my younger brothers. In my mind, I imagined she was laughing and going to scoff at us for rushing to the hospital. I guess it did not connect if that would be the case that she would have called us ourselves (or not as she and my dad were estranged at this point).
When we got to the hospital, I was able to sneak in to the Emergency Room on my own while my dad spoke to doctors and what I saw was just the culmination of those fears from years ago - my mom was mangled and bloody and unconscious (spoiler alert - she survives the accident but with broken bones and internal bleeding that led to the loss of an unimportant organ). It was the shock of being faced with what was just a bad nighttime dream but it was real.
Fast forward 25 years and on a day in November, I as a mom of young children am diagnosed with breast cancer. I could not help but see the connection of what it feels like as a child to see your parent incapacitated or, in your mind, near death and how my children would handle knowing I had a disease that could potentially (God forbid) lead to death.
Life does not always go the way you expect - you think, as a parent, I will not make the mistakes my parents made and then you get hid with something beyond your control which in a way makes you realize you could wind up with a similar result. There is more to my story from childhood but I am not willing to put it all here in a blog but even with the broad strokes of the story, you can paint a picture.
I was the uber mom - the one who was 150% on top of everything, managing the children and making sure they knew they had me for anything they needed. And now, I have had to pull back and not be uber mom but just basic mom. I have had to focus on myself and surviving surgery, chemo and now even with the relative "ease" of daily radiation, I am still not 100% myself.
I still have to hang back and hold on to my energy. I also have recognized that my children can bloom more without me hanging all over them all the time and that I, too, need to have some me time -something I never ever would have admitted before for fear it would make me a "bad mom".
There is no such thing as a "bad mom" - there are sucky life circumstances like car accidents and cancer diagnoses that make people have to rethink how they are raising their children and how to then make the children feel secure again. It is like when you break a vase and repair it no matter how good the glue is and how expert your hands are at putting the pieces back together, you can still see the cracks. As a child, once you realize your parents are not immortal, it is shocking even if you are older when you first realize it.
I am hoping that this experience will lead to my children to be resilient and strong much like my childhood left me being resilient and strong. I do wish they never had to see me so weak and "ill" as I was during chemo and that they did not have to wrap their head around how much they hear about cancer killing people so that they too could have extended their childhood bliss for more years but that was not to be the case.
Instead, they know that I am 100% human and also a strong, bad ass, kick ass woman who survived a mastectomy, 8 rounds of chemotherapy (while working full time) and now daily radiation all to defeat cancer. I hope and pray that years from now, they realize that we are all superheroes - them for dealing with this at such a young age, me for being strong enough to fight with a smile on my face and everyone around us for stepping up and being there for us during this time, including those two little brothers of mine who I always helped and protected as a kid, well, when I was not yelling at them.
This is what I think about during the time between and wanted to post it to share how life throws you curve balls and you need to be able to catch it and throw it back.
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