Thursday, June 19, 2014

"See me beautiful"

288 days ago, Jack started Kindergarten.  He had just dealt with me having been in the hospital for a week and losing our beloved cat, Buck.  I recall spending time talking with his teacher, expressing concerns that he may have trouble transitioning into the classroom environment.  Of course, it was more about me and my fears and guilt.  As my health continued to decline, Jack and I had our struggles.  Then, I was diagnosed with cancer and although we provide Jack details about my illness in small doses, I imagine his 6-year-old brain thinks I should be able to do something about it!  I get angry with myself for being sick and then get frustrated with him for not listening to me and then he acts out because we are all just one hot mess.  It's a roller coaster we've all been on as parents, it's just an even uglier one that you can't get off of when cancer is also a member of your household.

Today, I attended Jack's Kindergarten recital, a celebration of his graduation to 1st grade.  It was really special for us to attend along with my mom and Gayle, our wonderful daycare provider.  It was a bit hard for me to focus because I found out today that I'll be having 2 more surgical procedures next week - my surgeon needs to go back into the breast tissue and I also need to have a biopsy of a cyst found on my liver.  The fatigue from being part of the Frequent Flyer Surgical Club and our pending move to Virginia has been challenging.  I try to stay positive, but today felt like a day to use my, "I have cancer, I can be an entitled bitch if I want to be" card.  I haven't started any form of chemo or radiation yet, so, not knowing what lies ahead during the treatment phase of my cancer journey scares me that much more.  I'm overwhelmed by the fear of not being the mom Jack and Anna need me to be, the mom that I want to be.

The students sang many wonderful songs, but the following song, performed using sign language, stopped me in my tracks:

  See me beautiful
Look for the best in me
Its what I really am
And all I want to be
It may take some time
It may be hard to find
But see me beautiful

See me beautiful
Each and every day
Could you take a chance 
Could you find a way
To see me shining through
In everything I do
And see me beautiful

Thanks for teaching me, Jack.  Message received, message received.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Gotcha wallet? Gotcha watch?"

Father's Day offers a time to reflect on all the great memories I shared with my dad and to be so very thankful for Steve, a dad who was made for Jack and Anna.  It's also a time that I grieve for my dad. Both he and Steve's dad would have been such wonderful grandfathers.  Whether it's Father's Day, my dad's birthday, or the holidays, I often get that empty feeling knowing my kids won't get the benefit of hearing his stories and advice or getting the best hugs from a 6 foot 3 inch gentle giant.

Since being diagnosed with cancer, I've thought about my dad quite a bit and wished I could get one of those hugs.  Whenever we headed out on vacation or even short road trips, my dad would ask all of us, "Gotcha wallet? Gotcha watch?" - even as young kids who had neither, he would still ask us that question every time. My sister and I would laugh it off, but we did ask one day why he kept saying that question.  He told us that we should always remember to "take inventory".  As a military man, he had to have everything in his barracks checked every morning and night, so I can see where he got into the habit of "taking inventory", but I see now he wasn't just talking about the material things.

Our upcoming move to Virginia and my diagnosis came together in such a ridiculous fashion.  I literally had to stop and take inventory - thanks, Dad!  Steve and I have never quite had the same style of packing - he packs in a flash and makes decisions later.  I, on the other hand, painstakingly go through everything and am paralyzed by whether I should keep something or not.  A bitch slap like cancer made the packing decisions of keep, toss, recycle, or donate a whole lot easier. No, I really don't need to save that Crate&Barrel wrought-iron candelabra from 1997.  The logistics of our upcoming move is still stressful, but I think our de-cluttering efforts have helped us to focus on the intangibles and to deal with our new normal a little bit better each day.

Having my mom be by my side in this early stage of living with cancer has reminded me just how positive my parents, as partners, were in any situation - and really, they had so many reasons in their lifetime to be bitter, depressed, and pessimistic.  It's that positive spirit that has gotten me through each step since the lump was detected on April 24th.  am thankful for my party-filled last day at BU, I am grateful for having been able to give my children fun birthday parties, and hopeful to continue to spend quality time with close friends before we move.   These moments, these connections are the inventories that matter.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

It is what it is

Every day since leaving BU, I wear the bracelet pictured above.  My wonderful ERC family was smart to remind me of my own words that I would commonly say around the office, "It is what it is".  They contacted Steve to get the navigational coordinates of our building so they could have them engraved inside.  Now, if I could only practice what I preached...

My last day at BU was Friday, May 30 and in what seemed like a flash, I began my journey as a breast cancer patient on Monday, June 2 when I had my lumpectomy and lymph nodes extraction.  During this first week without my BU family, I've been in quite a lot of pain, both emotionally and physically.  Of course, having a buffet of pain and nausea medications to choose from helped to not really have to think about my new existence.

When I woke up on Friday, June 6, I was in some pain, but really anxious because I realized that in this coming week, everyone around me would be "back to normal".  My mother has returned home, Steve and the kids will be going to work and school, and my BU colleagues will be catapulted into presenting orientation sessions, preparing for fall, and enjoying their own summer vacations with family and friends.

I'm not sending out invitations to a pity party (yet).  I know how fortunate I am to have people checking on me post-surgery and will continue to be thankful for the support offered and provided.  What this anxiety is about is that, in my mind, my professional identity fades a little each day.  To look at my cell phone and not have e-mail to check is hard for me - I'm not needed anymore.  Yes, Steve and the kids need me and I'm trying to be the best I can be given the circumstances.  But, it's hard to turn that student affairs switch off - the one that drove me to help a student in crisis or solve a myriad of logistical problems.  I even had a dream about catering orders the other night!  In my mind, I know that I'm being illogical and that this time off will not negate my entire career, but in my heart, it just hurts and it's scary not knowing what lies ahead.

Since my diagnosis, my friend Colleen sends me cards regularly and one just came in the mail yesterday, the classic, "Keep Calm and Carry On".  Perfect timing. That card helped me to get these emotions out on "paper".  I also watched the video for Fun's song, "Carry On" - I always feel better after watching it.  It is, in fact, what it is and writing this has shown me that I have the tools and am learning more to cope with my breast cancer. Professionally, it really doesn't matter what I do in the future, I'll have that much more to offer when it's time to get back out there.