As the dawn of a new year is upon us, let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
For those of you who haven’t stopped your lives to faithfully read my every word for the past 8 months, first of all, how dare you and secondly, this will serve as a Cliffs Notes.
We will go month by month to examine the general happenings and, hopefully, come to some conclusions.
We opened strong in January. My dear and beloved mother-in-law passed away after 6+ years of Stage IV ovarian cancer. You heard that right. She surpassed the average life expectancy for that diagnosis, 6 fold. She fought beyond bravery for so long and made my cancer look like a paper cut. My husband, his brother and their stepfather became her hospice nurses for 3 full weeks. They watched her die, inch by inch, every moment of those 21 days. When she passed, they each helped carry her body out of the family home on a gurney. Thus began the gut-wrenching 2016.
Lesson learned: watching a beloved family member die is both a curse and a privilege. There is much to be learned from watching as someone exhausts the breath in their body. Treasure the life you have.
Calm before the storm. February was a wash. Can’t think of anything notable that happened at all. Thank you, February, for just being you. Cold, dreary and cancer free.
Lesson learned: Even if it is cold and crappy, if you can still do a leap in a parking lot while wearing boxing gloves, you are winning at life.
This month we took a family trip to Florida and my husband and I splintered off to vacation alone in the Bahamas for a few days. It was relaxing and lovely. During this trip, I noticed that I was randomly still lactating 18 months after finishing breastfeeding. Stay tuned…
Lesson learned: If your body is giving you suspicious signs, listen to your gut and see a doctor. This decision saved my life.
I began this month in arguably the best physical health I have been in in my entire adult life. I felt very fit and empowered by my physical strength and capacities. I also sought out my primary care physician to discuss the random lactation. Though she was sure it was normal, she suggested I get some blood work and a baseline mammogram. The blood work came back fine and off to the mammogram I went.
It goes like this- tiny suspicious cluster of calcifications. More pictures are taken. An ultrasound is done. They see nothing on the ultrasound. In an abundance of caution, a biopsy was suggested. I was told my odds of DCIS (described to me as pre-cancer or ‘baby cancer’) were 20%. 80% chance of ‘nothing serious.’ 0% chance of stageable cancer.
24 hours after the biopsy I was called, after-hours, by the breast doctor who asked me if it was a ‘good time to talk.’ I was told I had invasive ductal carcinoma. The very thing they said I had a 0% chance of having.
Lesson learned: Do the follow-up test that may seem preposterous. It may save your life.
Bilateral mastectomy scheduled for May 18. I have approx 2+ weeks to live my life as I know it. What does one do in that time? Here are a few things I did: I celebrated my 36th birthday, I exercised like I was training for the Olympics and I had a professional photoshoot of my body, as it was in its natural state. All of these were extremely important to me.
May 18 rolled around and I had my bilateral mastectomy. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I remember very little from those first weeks. Here is what I remember: drains, pain meds, a recliner chair and Sweet Mandy B’s frosted sugar cookies.
Also in late May, my stepfather-in-law passed away suddenly. The one who was married to my mother-in-law, who died in January. We think it is entirely possible that he died of a broken heart.
Lesson learned: Get yourself in as good shape as you are capable before surgery. It will serve you well. Take all the painkillers and muscle relaxers you are prescribed. You need to rest. Have help around the clock because you will need it. Get a recliner and have frosted cookies on hand.
Oh June, you were a bit of a bugger. In June came some complications with my drain sites as well as a second surgery to remove more nodes. It was a 2 steps forward, 1-2 steps back kind of month.
I also decided in June to cut and dye my hair, in order to start the transition to balddom, as well as have some fun along the way.
Also in June I had my port surgically placed in my arm. As usual, I found the anesthesia pretty dang awesome:
Lesson learned: Whoa, cancer treatment is no joke. Do your best to try and find ways to make it fun, if not for you, then for those around you. Disarm them with levity. It will help them better care for you and not be so afraid.
July and August were real rat bastard months. Chemo started and kicked my ass. Not much to report other than it being LAME and a time in my life that I would like to erase.
Also in July I lost my hair, a giant milestone in the cancer odyssey.
I also incurred another infection that caused me to go back onto the drain-train which by the way, is my least favorite train.
Lesson learned: Losing your sense of self is almost as hard as the physical pain and discomfort you feel throughout the process. Look for pieces of who you are that are able to shine through. Revel in the support that rallies around you. You will never feel more loved.
August is another wash as far as I am concerned. It was more of the same chemo BS, but I learned to handle the in-between times a little better. I got out and exercised here and there, I attended events in order to attempt to maintain some level of normalcy. My husband and I took a mini-weekend away. But mostly, I just laid on the floor.
Lesson learned: Get out and enjoy yourself when you can, but if you can’t–allow yourself the space to lay in bed and just be. Healing takes all forms and, for me, most of those forms were supine.
Last chemo! I spent the majority of this month sweating and wearing an ice pack on my bald head. I didn’t exactly feel victorious. I felt sick and exhausted.
Lesson learned: Appreciate the endings. Who knows? Maybe I will need chemo again in my lifetime, but for now, this is a closed door. Allow yourself to celebrate and be proud of what you have endured.
With October came more healing and my transfer surgery from temporary breast expanders, to permanent silicone implants. This was a very exciting prospect for me. I hated my expanders as they felt clunky and uncomfortable. I have gotten used to surgery and even looked forward to a solid nap (general anesthesia).
Also in October my grandmother passed away. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to fly down and see her right before my surgery to say goodbye. I think it gave her great solace to see me in the flesh and know that I am going to be just fine. She could leave this earth knowing I wasn’t suffering, as I know she so greatly feared.
Lesson learned: Life does go on. Even in the wake of a death of a loved one, we are still here and alive and have endless opportunities in front of us. This month, my opportunities happened to be made out of silicone.
November was a month of taking baby steps to move ahead. Treatment was over. Surgery was over. What was left was the enormous task of healing. Physically, of course, but I am going to go ahead and say, more importantly, emotionally. Thus begins the ‘What the f**k just happened’ stage.
I had to try old things again for the first time. Like acclimating to my new body, trying on bras and traveling. All mundane tasks, that become monumental as you look at them through your new prism.
Lesson learned: What choice do we have but to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving? Being acutely sick sometimes feels like a safe place. You are being taken care of meticulously, appointments and treatments are routine. Healing is a nebulous ball of WTF.
I decided at some point that I wanted to do a photoshoot to commemorate this craptacular year. My friend and photographer Katie who I have mentioned many times before, worked with me on what started out as a ridiculous concept, but turned into what I am going to go ahead and say is one of the finest forms of satirical art that I have seen in recent history.
Concept: Get dolled up in black tie attire and pose like you are the subject of an Annie Leibovitz Vanity Fair cover mixed with the essence of British aristocratic portraits. Try to come across as so damn regal, that it is almost criminal. Take all the garbage that has come our way this year and mock the s**t out of it through photographs.
I will leave you with a taste of these photos here, as well as the holiday card we sent out to friends and family.
2016, you have been a giant bitch and I feel incredible amounts of disdain for you. But I am going to be the bigger person and slap on a gold sequin gown and, instead of throwing you the literal middle finger, I will flip it proverbially through my smug, satirical smile.