Well, I am sorry I have not had a presence here in months. I'm not quite sure why I have gone AWOL, but I'm back and I have set a finish line for my book... though I know I am going to need help from someone to show me the path to editing and publishing... I'm a visual artist, not a writer. I think fear may have crept its way back into me like an incognito spot of sludge that just sticks and lingers. I've removed that now. Fear can be something that we don't want to admit we have but the truth of the matter is that we all have it and it shows up in various forms and affects us in unlimited ways. Fear and anxiety sometimes sit side-by-side, not always, but often. I'm not a psychologist either, nor do I aspire to become one, but it's comforting to think that I know just a little bit about a lot of subjects.
I've been caught in a web of frantic routine. And... as of last weekend, the clothes can wait! Quite literally. Laundry... I'm convinced that clothes multiply like dividing cancer cells the moment they are thrown in the laundry bin, but then the washer automatically eliminates them because I never see any great new items... or even matching socks for that matter. THERE'S SO MUCH LAUNDRY ALL THE TIME! It's exhausting and I've been putting my household chores higher on the priority list than they should be... and I've been lacking in prayer and connections to God because I have not made the time. My mom called the other day because she thought she might come out and visit and I immediately went through all the things I had to get done around the house on this day and then... this is an even crazier thought... I wondered why she suddenly offered to come out to visit after she had earlier stated she didn't want to be around sick kids (two of our kids are fighting allergies or colds or something small) because she just overcame something herself. So, naturally, in true anxious form, I imagined the worst case scenario: Is she terminally ill and wants to tell me in person on a bright, happy and warm day and this is her chance?! Seriously... things like that do happen, and sometimes they happen to me more often than others, so it's not totally out of line... just a bit, but not completely! She phoned me after I reached out to her with no success and called me a "ninny" for thinking that. I had no idea what we were going to do that day, but I knew I'm wasn't going to put her to work on my house that looks like the Tasmanian Devil came through it several times over. The clothes can wait!
We ended up going out for a nice family lunch that day and then my mom suggested we see "A Dog's Purpose." I had heard it was sad and I knew there was controversy, but after researching the alleged dog abuse, I found it to be false; so, we went to see the movie. If you've not seen that movie, I'm just going to say one thing... my mother owes me big time for that one! I'm a dog-lover with 4 dogs in our house and that movie had no right entering my heart and tearing it up to shreds over and over and over. It was pretty much a certifiably traumatic experience which brought back intense feelings for my Sally-dog that passed away so horrifically. My mother and I were separated in the theater by one of my daughters and the two of us were gushing with tears the entire time and then of course bantering back and forth about it and laughing at each other, which made the kids laugh at us because we were so sappy. Ugh... that was an experience to say the least. I was tired just from watching that movie!
Even though the movie wasn't really what I would have liked to have seen, our family bonding day was worth every moment of it. The laundry wasn't finished that day, but my internal spirit was filled. Control is a characteristic of anxiety and letting go of that can be helpful.
So much since my last post. First, my apologies. I find myself now in a position where I feel I may need to edit my words, share less, and carefully manage what seems to be just a little too much at once. But, as I have pondered the possible outcomes of sharing my personal life with others and what it may cost me in the end, I realize that it will ultimately end with higher reward. And so, I will continue this blog and I will continue my book. This comes from the heart and somewhere much more important than any Earthly gain/loss. I guess I needed some time to think about what to do, what to say and how to handle everything before making this post.
My last post was way back in April... to catch you up on my happenings:
- We went on a vacation to Disney World then over to Alabama to visit with family.
- Our oldest daughter is moving in and my husband is building her a bedroom/bathroom in our basement... because he's amazingly handy at EVERYTHING.
- Our three younger girls are growing faster than I like to admit.
- My in-laws made a big move... for the better, I think! Congrats to them!
- Our dogs are adjusting to having a cat in the house, who thinks he's a dog. I'm adjusting too.
- And... I was hired as a high school art teacher... the root of my hesitation here.
I watched one of my neighbors mow the lawn yesterday. I don't normally watch people mow their lawns. I'm not sure why I stopped to watch momentarily. But while I did, I started thinking such happy thoughts for this person, whom I don't know all that well. We have a few neighbors that I know have battled or are battling some type of cancer. More people than I think there should be. This neighbor is one of them. I watched as this person walked back and forth in the heat and humidity pushing that mower and I thought, "how AWESOME that he/she is able to do this!" Mowing the lawn. A chore I've never enjoyed partaking in. But this simple observation brought back years of flashbacks and feelings for me. I immediately felt all the darkness that consumed me during my healing period after my big series of hip surgeries... the feeling of helplessness and loss of all activities I was accustomed to and so abruptly. Anxiety started to show its face in a split second of watching the mower. I had to put my head back into the present and ground myself with where I physically stood to escape those memories that often seem so torturous. I then continued to watch and the next wave of emotions fell over me as the feelings of anxiety subsided and the excitement and happiness took their places. There was a time when I wasn't able to mow the lawn. I can now; it causes pain... but I CAN DO IT! I wonder if this person ever has those feelings. Do I internally over-exaggerate these feelings? Those of you who know me well are probably rolling your eyes thinking, "are you kidding? YES, YES YOU DO!" But it doesn't matter, it is what it is for me and for each of us. As I watched, I recalled laying on my stomach in physical therapy trying to bend my knee to lift my foot off the table. Something so simple... and I wasn't able to do it. That's how weak I was in the beginning. I can lift it today, but it's still fairly wobbly when my foot is up in the air. I never regained full strength. Did I give up? Did I reach my limit? Did I settle for "doable?" I don't know. I do know that the day I got that foot off the table was a very exciting day for me though. The day I ditched the walker and moved on to crutches was another milestone. Then I gradually went to using only one crutch. Then I walked with a cane for a very long time. The day I decided not to carry that with me was unsettling, nerve-wrecking and liberating all at once. Walking. It's amazing that we can take for granted such simple things that mean so much in our lives. Beyond walking... climbing stairs! That's a battle I fight every day! My house has stairs because it's almost impossible to find one-story houses for families these days! I'm happy to be able to climb them, but it's no easy feat for me... the person who used to love jumping up the stairs skipping every other or third step in a Tigger-like bounce. Oh did I feel like I was such a pro at quickly gliding up stairs. Now I'm happy just to reach the top. And stairs are everywhere... here a stair, there a stair everywhere a stair, stair. Ugh! But I can do it, and that's what counts.
This short moment of watching my neighbor mow the lawn made me think about writing here again. I related it to my next obstacle which I now face... holding a job in which I am not the leader. As a leader: I have the flexibility to step outside if I feel anxious, or head home if I have the after-effects of a panic attack and can no longer mentally function. I have the ability to make my own schedule. I am able to work it out if I am in too much pain to be on my feet all day. I can share my cancer-experienced life with the general public (which already is no easy task). These are all advantages I will lose when I start this new position. I'm nervous I may not be as great of a teacher I once seemed to be because of my hip, because of the anxiety, because of WHATEVER!
My being now is not what it was before cancer.
I think that's the problem. I need to get over this never-ending hill of fear and frustration. I used to be polar opposite what I am today. How do I get that back?! I'm not sure I ever fully will but I know that if I reject this new job, then the fear wins and I will head in the wrong direction. So, I have to at least try... and usually, when we fully TRY, we succeed. So I plan on succeeding.
I will balance this job with my studio and with my home life. I WILL balance.
I AM BALANCED! (repeat)
It's going to be imperative that I maintain balance. Balance affects performance. Balance affects anxiety levels. Balance... affects others.
So what exactly am I afraid of here? I'm not afraid of working for others, being in a classroom, teaching kids, making lesson plans, meeting deadlines or anything like that. I'm scared of myself, my internal self. How does someone with anxiety hold a full time job that requires being responsible for others' lives? Well, I need to suck it up and manage or BALANCE myself. It's pretty simple really... at least in concept. (I'll start with positive affirmations.) But that's not just it... what happens when they all find out I'm a cancer survivor or that I suffer from panic attacks or that I have pain issues with my hip that could potentially cause me to be out of work a day or two at a time... what happens if I have a setback and end up having more surgery and am out an extended period? What if this happens in my first year of work? We all know that people can't get fired for these things, but we also know that people DO get fired and are told it is for other reasons. So what happens then? I'll tell you what happens. LIFE GOES ON, so LIVE IT and STOP WORRYING! (Wow... that's an epiphany, genius I tell you, genius... what a concept... as if it's a new one! Why is this so difficult to grasp and enact?)
I'm thankful for my art background. I'm SO grateful to my parents for supporting my artistic interests... through high school, through college... all the way through today! I feel that with this artistic background, I have an advantage over others in that I am a phenomenal problem-solver... as an artist, I find a way to get through anything because there's always a way. Nothing is ever only black and white. ...and I'll overcome this worry and I'll find my path.
I'm excited about this new endeavor. I am looking forward to working with the already seemingly friendly staff and molding new, young individuals interested in art. I'm anxious to build my lessons for the year (though I'm overwhelmed with the disorganization of supplies which is setting me back because I can't get a grasp on what materials I have to work with yet). I LOVE the drive to the school... through the farmlands... it's very serene. I like the classrooms and the school building. I'm SO HAPPY that the studio is staying open and that I get to keep my dream going. I'm interested to see how the two will mesh in a year or so because I'm sure they will grow from one another... all in due time.
It's quite inspiring what we are able to gain from observing others and reflecting upon ourselves. Now, go mow your lawn.
My parents treated us all to an absolutely amazing vacation last week to celebrate so many life events together... Me being cancer-free for 9 years this month, my dad's milestone of being cancer-free as well, my mom's birthday, my 40th birthday last year, my husband's 40th birthday last year, a brother's 40th birthday coming this year, his wife's college graduation this year, another brother's college graduation this year and his girlfriend's college graduation this year as well. We just wrapped it all into one HUGE celebratory week together in Caribbean! We sailed on Celebrity's Silhouette ship for a week to Cozumel, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Haiti. It's nice to get away, and even nicer when you visit new beautiful places... more importantly, though, vacations like these resonate in my heart and remind me of how wonderful life really is and how thankful and grateful I am to be living it... with family.
For those of you who may be unable to travel to such places, I hope that you will enjoy seeing a few images and reading about this trip and that it brings a smile to your face and warmth to your soul.
Of course, no vacation comes without my dark but always faithful companion, anxiety. A plane ride was inevitable for this trip as I needed to get from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale in one day. I know the drive should take about two days and trust me when I say I seriously considered driving down in one long stint... by myself. The thought of being held captive in a small seat barreling through the skies with no ability to step outside to breathe fresh air and claim some space around my body if it so chooses to panic is not a happy one, to say the least. However, the thought of allowing this disorder to cripple my ability to travel the world is far scarier than that plane ride. I do everything I can think of to overcome my fairly new fear of flying. I've traveled the world my entire life and LOVED it! I've been to Italy multiple times, France, Scotland, Greece... sailed the Mediterranean... I've been around the globe all the way to Australia even! I've flown to Hawaii... twice! I've been to the Caribbean and all over the U.S. What is the problem now!?! I internally argue with myself every time I book a flight because I'm angry with myself for now having this issue to deal with and it must come from within, but it cannot win! (Though, honestly, sometimes it does.) I even go so far as to try to estimate when the busiest time at the airport will be and then hope to get a flight during a slow time. (Psycho) So, I got on that plane and kept myself occupied with music and a movie and made it down to Florida... ALIVE and able to walk off the sky bullet consciously, happily and newly excited for the cruise! Cruises, on the other hand, do not make me anxious, oddly enough. I've determined that it must be because I can walk around, I can have space around me and I can step outside and breathe if I need to. Whatever. It is what it is.
We started the vacation off with a full double rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast while having some tasty beverages. If you've ever wondered what's at the end of a rainbow... here ya' go! Nothing but beauty and amazement. I'm sorry my camera did not capture the second arch... if you're not aware, when there is a double rainbow the second one sits above the more vivid first rainbow with colors in reverse order. When there is a triple (which I have only ever seen once), it will then reverse back again. As you know, I love rainbows. They are a sign that everything is ok. What a perfect way to begin this family vacation of celebrations!
On the most upscale, relaxing ship I've ever been on, we set sail on Sunday afternoon. I'll be honest, our first two days were rocky with high winds and our captain was hysterically funny about it during his morning announcements. Our first stop: Cozumel, Mexico. I'm not a fan of Mexico... only because my body doesn't handle it well. After living in Arizona and California and having traveled to many places in Mexico only to return with Montezuma's Revenge each and every time, I've decided that Mexico is not good for me. It's a beautiful place and has such a unique culture, but it just doesn't agree with my body. So, when we arrived, I only shopped a little for gifts for the kids. I had considered taking the long journey up to Chichen Itza or the Tulum ruins because I so very much love seeing ancient ruins and have never seen a Mayan pyramid or any pyramid for that matter. But, I was told I would not be allowed to bring my own food and beverage, so I nixed that option pretty quickly and stayed on the island. Unfortunately, my husband's dive excursion was canceled so he was stuck with me for the day. It turned out to be a warm, sunny and gorgeous day and I was happy to have him by my side as the rest of the family went on submarines or played games on the empty ship.
We were in Cozumel for the day then sailed on to Grand Cayman... I love that place. Once again, though, my husband's dive excursion was canceled. Poor guy. I had originally planned to rent a Jeep and drive my parents around the island to a beach- simply because I just wanted to drive on the right side of the car and left side of the road... in a Jeep because I love Jeeps. But, in Cayman, there is no dock and people are tendered in to port. There were 7 ships in the bay tendering at the same time and we were the last to arrive. Figures. So, we didn't get tendered in until the afternoon which meant no Jeep for me. But... if that's all I have to be bummed about right now, that's great! Fortunately, at there was no anxiety for me... though I did think about the possibility of it if I was was going to be stuffed into one of those lifeboats which they used as tenders. I was able to get a seat in front on top and outside! Score! Once again, we casually meandered around town. My husband was able to buy some of his favorite rum cakes and we bought some more souvenirs for the kids then went back to the ship. The view from the ship was stunning... each stop was more beautiful than the last.
Heading to Jamaica. I've never been to Jamaica before and haven't heard many good things about it from others, but we had a WONDERFUL time! The views were breathtaking, the beach was gorgeous, the food was great, the drinks were plenty and we were all on the same excursion this time. 40 of us loaded on to an air-conditioned bus and drove about an hour to a private beach where we each had a large, padded beach chair under palms and other trees, which surprisingly housed hundreds of very large, leggy, striped spiders! Needless to say, I was in the water nearly the entire day. And for some, that was the highlight of the day. Jamaican dancers worked their way across the beach for the guests and my husband and I had probably a little too much fun as we danced in the water behind the actual dancers. My brothers both have video of course... and likely many others do as well. You may find us on You Tube soon. LOL When we got back to the ship, we didn't realize we were suddenly famous and now known as "The Water Dancers" who provided several minutes of pure hilarity for many beach-goers that day. Another day with no anxiety. If only I could do this EVERY day.
One last stop on this trip... sadly, it's already almost over. It's so nice not worrying about anything for a week though... other than the occasional, yet scarce, anxiety tugging on me like a small child in constant need of attention. We head to Labadee, Haiti for our last land visit. Having seen the poverty in Jamaica and having been to Labadee before, I know what's coming. I like to spend my money with locals rather than corporations so when I shop abroad, I do tend to look for people on the side of the roads or in small markets who sell handmade items not found in big shops with brand names. I know Haiti has such a market, but I didn't know how big it had gotten since my last visit there. We docked! Last time it was tenders only. We talked to many of the locals who beg you to buy ANYTHING from them. They are all competing for your money... because they need it so desperately. I had saved the bulk of my cash for Haiti for this very reason and I knew I could buy some artwork from them, which is really what I love. I had tried to negotiate a price on a Oaxacan wood "animalito" in Cozumel, but wasn't able to get it where I needed it to be and so I am animalito-less. The beaches on Labadee are stunning with views of distant mountains and endless skies. We had wanted to ride the zip-line across the bay, but we didn't book it in time and missed out. (I suppose I should really try to be a better planner; I tend to let anxiety get the best of me though and prefer to play-it-by-ear so I'm not committed only to cancel if anxiety shows up that day.) So, once more and for the last time, we wandered small booth-like shops. Mark and I chose two beautiful paintings of beaches for a steal of a deal with cash to the locals and then we bought a few small items for the kids as well.
Cruising isn't really about where you go and the stops you make. It's more about the journey... such is life. I've been on a few cruises in the past and this ship was by far the best. (The worst ship was the one that sunk in the Mediterranean on the sail date immediately following ours! My mom and I wondered how that ship was floating and contemplated walking around with our life jackets on just in case... then it sank!!! Thankfully it sank AFTER we got off.) This cruise had very few children (which is nice if you're on an adult-only vacation) all of whom were so well-behaved! The food was phenomenal, the views were spectacular, the service was top-notch, the ship was gorgeous and we had such a great time!
There were two "Evening Chic" nights (formerly known as "Formal Nights") this sailing. My dad was not feeling well the first night and missed out, but then gradually came back to life and made it out for the second special evening. He is Scottish and owns his own kilt... we rented kilts for the rest of the men. I didn't take photos those nights since they had photographers all over the ship. We did buy some photos, but I have yet to scan them to post them for you. My husband is also Scottish, but has a different tartan than my dad's family... it was fun to see them all in kilts and in their appropriate colors. The ladies all wore black cocktail dresses. The food that is included with the cruise price was so delicious on this ship, but the specialty restaurants... there are no words... we had a hard time leaving those places after such decadence. How very blessed and lucky we all are to have been given this opportunity to enjoy life together for a week in such luxury. I am SO thankful. SO SO THANKFUL!
We said goodbye to our beautiful white ship, which they paint at every port, and headed straight to the airport. In usual Griswald form, I got stuck at security. TSA wouldn't allow me to go through the new scanner (even though I was TSA approved) and forced me through the metal detector, which ALWAYS alarms because of my metal hip/leg. And, as you likely know, if the metal detector goes off, they pat you down. So, I got the pat-down. Usually, this isn't an issue. This time though, they rubbed my entire body and then tested the gloves and told me that I tested positive for explosives!!! WHAT!?!?!! Of course, my dark companion showed up immediately to handle the situation for me, so I let TSA know that I have anxiety. They informed me of the process and allowed my husband to come to the little room with me. I was told that hopefully, the next rub-down will clear... according to TSA, many people test positive for explosives in this airport because of all the sun-tan products and lotions... whatever... news to me! If the second rub-down hadn't cleared (thankfully, it did), then they said they would have to question me and search my bags... then possibly DETAIN ME!?!?! And here I was, entering the airport just moments earlier with hardly any worries... relaxed, not fearing the flight and ready to go home. So much for that blissful feeling. Party's over... back to reality... BAM!
I'm home now and as I reflect on this family vacation, I can still feel the calmness and joy that sat inside me throughout the entire week. I hope I can hold onto it a long, long time. <3 It's interesting to think about how I feel when facing the possibility of having cancer and then comparing it to the feelings I have of worry when it's not about cancer. I often feel guilty. But the reality of it is that anxiety comes and goes in my life... regardless of the severity of the situation. Anxiety doesn't care as much as cancer isn't prejudiced. I was happy to have not had as much anxiety as I now "new normally" do... if only for a week.
P.S... Regarding my selfie at the top, before anyone gets the wrong idea... Yes, I'm in the car. NO, I'm not driving.
If you have read my last blog, you'll know I've been dealing with a little anxiety. I'm not yet ready to post the next section of my medical history or current concerns, so to try to keep my mind occupied, I scheduled a day of errands and some fun stuff with the girls the other day. While sitting in LensCrafters with the lights flickering... I started to feel uncomfortable... for no reason of course. So, I got up and walked around. My little entourage came along and as I was trying on my favorite brand of glasses, Coach, I came across these next to my normal style. As I grabbed a set, one little blondie grabbed another and then the other two followed along... then it was selfie time. We all made "cool" faces. I couldn't help but to laugh because the little munchkins were having so much fun bouncing around and pretending to be people they weren't. Maybe we should really start to act like children... well, actually, I do that quite often, maybe too often sometimes. Kids seem to know how to handle life's problems with so much more curiosity instead of concern like most adults, I'm convinced. In any case... the whole extravaganza actually worked and transferred my negative thoughts into fun and happy experiences in the moment! That is why when I got home, I Photoshopped out the background and stuck a colorful fun setting in there instead... much nicer than a wall full of other glasses, don't you think?
I have said it before and I will say it again... if you haven't yet, schedule in something fun to look forward to... even if it is a special dinner, a night out, an afternoon stroll or a chocolate brownie. Whatever. Having something happy planned in your day can make all the difference in your attitude and sometimes even help push back the negative thoughts that lead to anxiety.
Recently, I've noticed more and more new articles popping up on the subject of "care after cancer." I'm intrigued by these for obvious reasons and I'm awakened about the possibility that I'm not the only one with problems relating to survivorship (I really do not like that term). I often feel as though I should just be so thoroughly relieved and happy but then I question why I am not and am instead in a constant state of worry. I am completely cognizant of the fact that the after-cancer "issues" affecting me are likely not near the physical ones that most other survivors are dealing with since I never went through chemo nor radiation. My physical pains are all from surgeries alone. Because of this, I tend to devalue myself along with my worries and concerns and I often feel insignificant and over-dramatic. Yet, I have very little control over these issues that plague my mind... and I address them daily. I am so very aware of how I am portraying myself to others when I'm fighting through anxiety and it's not a pretty sight. I feel pathetic, and not myself. Mostly, I feel out of control. Anxiety and panic didn't show up in my life until about eight months after the cancer diagnosis. I don't know about any of you, but to me this poses a little more of a problem because I wasn't used to having them and I've lived life experiencing it without them which makes me crave going back to that as I hang on to those feelings of "normalcy." It amplifies the frustration of having to deal with anxiety.
Here's the article I read today...
"Who Should Lead the Shared-Care Cancer Survivorship Model?"
I suppose I am very fortunate in this particular subject. I have an oncologist who remains overseeing my care- every six months or more depending on what shows up in the scans. I actually don't have a primary care physician, which I know I should get, but in all honesty, the only time I ever go is when I need an antibiotic because everything else is overseen by my oncologist or other specialty doctors. If I have a symptom of anything, I just go to urgent care... Now that I type this for the entire world to read, I am definitely thinking that I should get a PCP. However, I would rather have a Naturopathic Doctor. In California, Naturopaths are legally able to be a PCP... I used to live there and LOVED mine, but then I moved back to the Midwest where it's like going back in time and most people don't even know what a Naturopathic Doctor is. So I guess that's my current excuse for not having a PCP. I'll get on that. Meanwhile, having been through a physical and mental state of shock and a legitimate traumatic experience, I've been diagnosed with PTSD by one doctor and have HORRIBLE panic attacks that may or may not eventually go away. I'm working on that. That's my biggest problem is having to deal with anxiety and all the memories that cause it. The little things are the physical things... I'm down a kidney (no noticeable difference, thankfully), I have physical scars all over my body (which really don't bother me as long as I don't touch them and freak myself out) and then there's the consistent pain in my hip where the titanium "mega-prosthetic" hip replacement sits. Sometimes that pain is just a little annoying while other days it keeps me from standing up. So, I guess I have some issues trying to "be normal" and live life as "normally" as possible considering it's NOT NORMAL and never will be. And it's OK, it really is... it's just hard, to put it simply. It's not easy living after cancer, but I think we would all agree that we will take the difficulties over the alternative.
Regarding the above article, I hope that the trend goes towards Oncologists taking on the lead role in care after cancer. As a survivor myself, I much prefer someone SKILLED and TRAINED watching over me and my every little spot or symptom which only THEY would know is a potential issue or not rather than a PCP who is only going off of the general norm. They're also much more versed in the effects of having gone through cancer and in my opinion know a lot more about life after cancer than a PCP would considering their experiences... even when considering mental vs physical.
There was one article I read months ago which I am unable to find again today. It really resonated with me. It was about how life after cancer can often be the most difficult part of cancer. It really made sense to me because it explained that while we are in fight mode, we are in a team and have a plan and we generally go about the motions we need to go through to GET THROUGH the fight. Then, as we heal, we aren't given another plan and sort of just set free as survivors. There are no more routines, no more schedules, no more serious issues to worry about and so then the anxiety of all that we've been through starts to take place. Life after cancer, while it may seem ridiculous in comparison to what fighters go through during cancer treatments, can often be the most challenging part of cancer... at least mentally speaking. The article interviewed a few cancer survivors and mentioned that some people even go so far as to just sit in the chemo chairs on the days they used to come for a variety of reasons... one being that they felt safe and taken care of in that chair and another being that it was routine that comforted them. There were some really great stories in that article and I am so very sorry that I was not able to locate it today. Perhaps it will find its way back to me. In any case, the point was so spot-on... life after cancer really can be the most difficult part of having cancer. And, I'm happy to read that others are starting to see this and more importantly, there are SO MANY survivors that this has now become a new topic of discussion.
I hope that you share your stories with me and comment below. Love and hugs. Have a happy day!
My family and friends are all immediately aware of scan results. I just returned from Houston Tuesday which means scans went VERY WELL on Monday. It was the first time in a long time that I didn't even shed a tear. No lumps, bumps, spots or wiggles to have to probe and test this time around so I will be celebrating Christmas worry-free (well, as worry-free as I get, which is never fully free of all worry, but close enough for me for now). AND... even better, I can make more plans! I always have a very difficult time making plans dated after scans as I'm never sure of my return date and hate to have to cancel anything because of medical issues. I don't mind canceling things, but for medical?! It's simply a sinking feeling to have to do that. Now, to cancel because of mood or bad hair or a to-do list or basically any other reason... no problem... rude maybe, but preferable over surgery.
Tonight, out to dinner with new neighbors. Tomorrow, work then out to dinner with two other couples, also neighbors. Next Friday begins winter break for the schools so prepare for kids! Next Saturday, plans with family. The following Monday plans with other family, then Tuesday is cookie day with the BFF and kids... the list goes on! THANK GOD for good scan results! But this is not always the case. Sometimes the scan results are not good at all. It's then when we most need to start planning happy days. So plan anyway! (As I shall start doing now that I've typed this out to everyone else - "do as I say, not as I do" no more!)
Today's agenda: PAINT! I plan to finish some commission work for a local restaurant today so that I can drop them tomorrow morning and then have dinner there tomorrow without cringing about not having all the artwork completed... I'm really feeling cowardly because of this dawdling of mine on this project, but I'm looking forward to painting today after I post this. While I like to think about the serene, uninterrupted perfect painting experience, my mind is always twitching around bringing up issues I don't want to deal with which lead to internal arguments. Focus on good, if only one day at a time.
Today is... HAPPY! ...and your day is as well!
Always have something to look forward to!
Living my life by “scan time” is my tether. Most of the time, my scans are 6 months apart which to me basically means that each time I get the "all clear, no cancer, no biopsies" it equates to "6 more months of life." Being a “scanxious” person, I have developed and implemented a routine that makes me feel just a little more comfortable when I go for scans… it’s a bit ridiculous, but it works for me and I plan to keep it that way. I travel to Houston for my scans because I believe that my doctor is THE best doctor on the planet and if I could put a big protective bubble around him, I would. I arrive the prior day, always with my mom because no matter at what age, mom knows best and will always be there to comfort me or slap some sense into me… whatever is needed- or rather, whatever she thinks I need at the moment. We stay in a nice hotel and eat a hearty meal for dinner. No food or drink when the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella. We always pick a movie prior to bedtime- it keeps my mind occupied partially at least.
I love traveling, so having a vacation booked also helps me keep my mind off scans and the possibility of having cancer. It gives me something big to look forward to rather than something big to scare the caca out of me. It genuinely makes a noticeable difference in my mood and I highly recommend scheduling something for yourself to look forward to at all times, even if you’re not a cancer fighter/_________ (change that word: read my first post if you don’t know what I’m referring to.). If you can't afford a vacation, planning a special night with family or friends that is out of the ordinary has a similar effect. I usually attempt visualization of my future escapade while lying in bed wide awake not wanting to sleep for fear the night will inevitably fly by too fast and scan day will come sooner rather than later.
Lights out, alarm bright and early. I head to the doctor’s office for check in… and here’s where my psyche starts playing a game with me. I've developed quite an elaborate routine that the nurses in clinic and outpatient imaging both agree to which results in much less anxiety for me. I cannot go into detail here but I will say that I'm likely the only one that manages to do this at the grace and mercy of all my nurses. Bless their souls! Of course, the veins in my arms are pretty much non-existent and I’ve come to terms with believing they each have a personality of their own- I should just name them. How do they know they will have a little hole in them soon? Seriously!? They move! (Rolling Veins) So, having gone through this routine too many times already, I quickly learned that my hand is a much better option for a needle than my arm. Not only can you see the vein in my hand, but it’s much more of a FLAT surface which helps me psychologically because I absolutely cringe at the thought of bending my arm with a needle or IV in it. Just make sure the alcohol is 100% dry before inserting that needle please or it stings horribly! (Nurses must dread my appointments with all my needs.) Fortunately for me, the people who are caring for me truly do actually “care” for me. For my blood draw, I am distracted with pleasant conversation as the nurse struggles to suction out about 17 tubes of blood, depending on the day and the order. Just like my veins, my blood seems to have a mind of its own too. I know that keeping my body warm allows the blood to flow better. I also know that pumping my fist and getting my body moving sometimes helps too. In addition to these techniques, the amount of water I consume the days prior to this extravaganza has an effect. Yet, sometimes, no matter how great I think I’ve done preparing for this draw, the blood simply retreats and I wonder if my vein is going to just be sucked out into that little tube one of these days… poor vein. It’s a great vein though, I love that vein. It’s definitely one of my favorites because without its presence, I’d have more pain and agony every 6 months.
Once my labs are complete, I am ready for the CT scan. It’s here that my brain goes into panic mode because these are the images that are going to show whether or not there’s something to biopsy… the scan machine… the God proving machine… the medical version of a crystal ball. Oh, the power that machine has over a mind is quite amazing. The standard chalky, milky substance they usually give to patients dehydrates me so quickly and badly that I cannot lay on the scan table for more than a minute at a time without having to rush to the restroom and they cannot inject the contrast, so this princess receives the alternative cocktail which is like a metallic, sweetened water. I’m not complaining about this at all as I much prefer water over liquid chalk. I'm just surprised they haven't served it to me on a silver platter while wearing white gloves. Now, I wait... in my hospital gown and pants.
For those of you who have had scans, you know the wait. For those of you who have not, you have to wait an hour for your cocktail to get around your body before they can scan you. So the WAIT is one of the hardest parts and this is wait number one of two, the second being the wait for results, which is far more challenging. I sit there and think a million thoughts. The TV is on, but I can’t watch it because I’m preoccupied with praying, trying my hardest to believe that I have been cured by Jesus, but still questioning it. Why? Why do I do that? It does no good. I am sometimes able to calm myself, but I sometimes (ok, "usually") just spiral down and end up in tears. (Watch for the future post on the story of the cure from Jesus.)
Maintenance after cancer still feels like having cancer- at least for me it does. I know it's not as bad, but when you could potentially go right back to having it... well... it feels the same. I recently read about studies on this subject with regards to after care as often being the hardest part of cancer and wow did that ring true to me.
On any given scan day, my life can change in a single moment. It is the day that I get to live for another 6 months until the next scan or it is the day that I begin scheduling more procedures which could ultimately lead to fighting cancer again. So, this awareness NEVER GOES AWAY. How does any cancer fighter/___________ NOT live their lives around cancer. I'm still working on figuring this one out. I just scheduled a cruise for March right before scans. In the back of my mind, the thought that I may have to cancel this vacation if I don't receive an "all clear" lingers and haunts me.
They call me back. I almost always cry slightly on the scan table out of nervousness. I always pray. I like that this particular place has a ceiling that has been transformed into soothing color changing lights. It’s a nice small distraction that makes a big difference. I always freak out a little when they put the contrast in because that’s what anxious people do. I’ve heard that people develop allergies to things… I’ve heard of stories where people were fine with contrast then suddenly became allergic to it and then had to be carted off to the ER because their throat closed… my mom is allergic to it and went to the ER once… did I inherit that from her? We’ll find out one day, or not… meanwhile, I tug at the neckline of the gown so it's not touching my throat so that I can feel it better (that makes absolutely no sense at all, but I do it anyway). Then I feel the warming sensation within my body that the contrast creates... but there’s no use in worrying about it since I can’t change it. Yet, here I am, worrying about it. The thoughts are crippling, but I am unable to revise the scenario so I try to fight them off with prayer, breathing techniques and positive affirmations. At least I’m in good hands and if I die here, I’ll get some pain meds for it surely, right? Either that or I’ll have another vasovagal episode, pass out and not know what happened… even better. So why am I even worrying? Whichever path I end up on, I’m ok anyway: I’ll live through it or I’ll die and end up in heaven. It’s good either way, really, right?
I’ve learned that for every negative thought, I must find 2 positive ones to change the pattern and downward spiral. (That’s just another technique that sometimes works- I’ll tell you, one cannot have too many techniques stashed in the back of the mind because some will work while others will not and it may change next time around.) My vacation. Today will end. Tomorrow will begin. And then... eventually, tomorrow will be vacation day! Just make it through the day, as I always do!
After scans, mom and I have lunch at the appropriately chosen restaurant for a hospital, “Au Bon Pain.” Whoever was in charge of securing that deal needs to be spoken with. I realize the meaning is about good bread, but come on, there are so many other great options without “pain” in the name. In any case, it’s a quick lunch, I grab lots of water to flush out all the contrast, force myself to eat though my nerves always churn my stomach and we go elevate ourselves up to the 29th floor for results: the doctor’s clinic.
Walking in, I’m immediately overtaken by severe guilt. So much so that it creates a large lump in my throat. I’m probably THE most healthiest patient in this large waiting room of around 40 people and yet I’m obviously the one with the most anxiety. I have struggled with this guilt from the beginning. I look around and see the effects of chemotherapy on too many people. Some with walkers, some with canes, some in wheelchairs. Some have hair, some have wraps, some are swaddled in warm blankets hooked up to their fluids… some are sleeping, some are reading, some are chatting. Then there’s me. Most of the time, I’m the youngest one there, though I know I am not the youngest one with cancer (or rather, who has gone through cancer). I get jittery. I feel more upset right now about being nervous for myself while others right in front of me are fighting for their lives. I am not on their path and they are not on mine. I can only imagine and make-up what I think they are going through. Maybe if we all talked to each other more, we could help each other out, but there’s not many who care to talk about it, and rightly so, they have to live it every minute of every day… so I never even attempt conversation. I don’t particularly care to talk about it either most of the time either. I just flash nervous smiles to those I make eye contact with. My mom, on the other hand, has no problem talking… which is probably a good thing for me because it keeps me distracted and helps time go by. I so prefer her mouth moving rather than her eyes in a book. She loves to read. I didn’t get that gene passed to me. I hate reading. Sorry. I like drawing though… that’s an equal alternative, I think. But, I have no creative energy to draw while I’m in that waiting room. It’s pure nerves.
I get called in for a vitals check and immediately go into internal panic mode because surely my BP is elevated and my heart is already racing. I cannot recall exactly when this “white coat” syndrome started, but I do know that I didn’t always have it and it gradually became worse. Now, taking my BP is even nerve-wrecking and for no good reason. Of course, in natural form for Ms. Anxiety, I immediately assume those numbers are going to be so high that the nurse will become alarmed thus plummeting me down into the pit of self-destruction which will end with me in the ER lucky to live after horrifying procedures to assist me in regaining consciousness. OK then! Again, I do breathing techniques and look at my “happy” folder of images on my phone to try to “feel” what I felt at the time each photograph was taken. It works half the time. Now back to waiting.
I usually wait about 4 hours to see the doctor. He’s worth it and all the people he sees before me are worth it too. Now I’m in the room, after they weigh me and remind me that I’m “obese” on their charts, even if I take my 30 pound pair of shoes off! I’m not yet convinced the scale is properly calibrated, but that’s the least of my concerns, most of the patients in the waiting room could be trying to gain weight and here I am trying to lose it. More guilt melts around my body as we enter the exam room. Right now, all I need to do is try not to have a heart attack or vasovagal episode- just breathe and chill out already and try not to end up on the floor. CANCER WILL NOT KILL ME! I’ll end up subconsciously doing it myself if this nervousness continues. Thank God for planned vacations! I can visualize myself on that beach or cruise ship, soaking up all that natural vitamin D from the sun, drinking a tasty beverage in my husband’s protective arms and not worrying about the time at all for an entire week… and when I can visualize it, I can breathe in the feeling I get when I am actually there. Memories can create physical feeling. Good ones or bad ones… depending on what you focus on.
The doctor is in.