Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Be The Change You Want To See..

While reading the New York Times this morning, a particular article stood out. It was regarding God's presence in the world. It questioned where He was during times of great evil. It stated, as I believe, that God shows Himself through the mercy of others, through kindness shown to those in need. One theologian described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another." That's what we do, right? Or, at least, that is what we are supposed to do. Each day, in some form, we are given that choice to enter into someone's world and make a difference. 

During this last year and a half, many people chose to enter into my chaos. Some in the form of letters or calls or a quick text. But others truly immersed themselves and surrounded me with their love; ensuring that I would never feel alone. To me, they were God's mercy. They were the reason I didn't become angry and bitter. They were the reason I gave thanks. There were also some who stayed away, who didn't want to enter the chaos. I get it. It's been scary and ugly and difficult to deal with. In life, there will always be heroes and there will always be bystanders. In 2012 we have seen many examples of both. In Newtown there were teachers who gave their lives for their students. In Staten Island there were neighbors who wouldn't help a woman find her babies in a storm. It is the split second decisions that define us as human beings. 

I have learned a lot about myself during this period; who I was, who I am and, most importantly, who I want to be. Everyday I ask myself that question; "Who do you want to be?" Everyday I have the opportunity to answer it differently. Some days I want to be the person who gets everything done on her to-do list. Other days I want to be the person who is comfortable being alone. But always, I want to be someone who would enter in another's chaos to bring them peace. Not every act of mercy needs to be a grand one. It could be as simple as not being impatient with the elderly person in front of you, or helping someone with kids load their groceries in their car. Perhaps you know someone who is ill or grieving. Reaching out to them will make more of a difference than you can imagine. Instead of asking what this world is coming to, let's become the world we want to see. It starts within.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Needle and the Damage Done

Every two weeks for the past year and a half, Joe has disconnected my portable chemo bottle. But not today. Today I decided to go it alone. I laid out the saline and heparin. I took two alcohol swabs, a band aid and adhesive remover for my bandages. I put on the surgical gloves.  There was something empowering about doing it myself; taking charge of my own health. We've done it so many times, I knew exactly what to do. Clean the port, inject the saline then the heparin, squeeze both sides of the external port and pull out the chest needle. Then I am free to shower unencumbered by the port and the bottle and the need to keep them dry. But, again, not today. After the disconnect I stood there staring at the needle that 5 seconds earlier was in my chest. The needle that has delivered chemo to my body for the last 17 months. The needle that saved my life. 

"Is this really over?", I asked myself. A huge part of me can't believe it. Unless you've been through it, you will never understand how an experience like this changes you. It does more than shakes your foundation. It jackhammers it until there is nothing left but rubble. It is then up to you to decide what to rebuild. Right now, I feel like a shell of a human being. Everything is so raw. I sit out back and let the sun warm my face. This feeling will pass, I know. All I can do now is keep breathing. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oh Please Shut Up...

What a great day I was having. The rain stopped, chores were quickly accomplished and, my God, did my hair look awesome. I promised Sean I would drop him off at his friend's house so off we went on the LIE blasting Rush. When we got there his friend's mom, whom I had never met before, came out to introduce herself and asked how I was feeling. Clearly, Sean told her what was going on. "I'm doing really well, thank you," I said. Then she gave me the look and reached out for my hand. "Oh Jesus Christ, here we go," I thought. She told me her best friend had fought breast cancer...and died. "But she had Stage IV and there's just no coming back from that," she said.  I sat in my car just staring straight ahead. I couldn't move. I didn't respond. "Well, best of luck with everything!" she said as she waved goodbye. "Thanks" I said. Thanks. That was the best I could come up with. I looked down and my whole body was shaking.

As I drove away, Joe called to check in. I told him what happened and began sobbing so badly I had to pull over. Then I did what I always do in times like these; I called my sister. We discussed at great length the cluelessness of people and the insensitivity most display at the worst possible times. This woman had no idea what she was saying, that much is clear. I know she meant no malice and would most likely want to crawl in a hole if she ever found out my entire story. But somewhere in her mind wasn't there a voice that said, Shhhhh....don't say that? If so, she ignored it. Obviously, her need to tell me superseded my possible need not to hear it.

I'm writing this because I know someone reading it will soon encounter a similar situation. 1 in 4 people in the US have some form of cancer. We're everywhere!!! So listen up. Are you with me? Good. When you find out someone has cancer tell that person you're sorry, but don't be dramatic. I've had acquaintances become so hysterical I was afraid my eyes were going to be permanently stuck in the upright position. Follow their lead. If they don't elaborate keep your mouth shut. Don't ever, ever say you knew someone who had it and they died. Don't talk about stages. Offer to help in any way you can, if you so choose, but then leave it at that. Remember what your mama told you growing up. If you have nothing nice to say...keep your big, pie hole shut! And back to my happy place.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Your Life Is Now...

Today during my meditation I broke down in tears. The realization that Wednesday is my last treatment hit me hard. It wasn't fear that made me cry though; it was gratitude. As I sat trying to quiet my mind, a thought came to me. How many people get a second chance in life? A chance to hit the 'do over' button and start anew. I've made mistakes in my life. I've been thoughtless and cruel, reckless and selfish. And, yes, everyone makes mistakes but most people move through their lives so quickly they often don't give their actions much thought. This year, I had nothing but time to think.

One night, about a month ago, I was suffering from major insomnia. It was 3:00 AM and I was feeling restless with no hope of sleep anytime soon. With everyone asleep and the house in total silence, I walked into my bathroom and locked the door. I stood in front of the mirror staring at myself for what felt like an eternity. I began to pray. I gave thanks for all I have learned since my diagnosis. The change in my approach to life, the strengthening of my relationships, the outpouring of love I have received; these have all been such amazing gifts. To truly love someone and to be open enough to accept someone else's love is the most incredible feeling in the world. I've never been more vulnerable yet felt so safe. I did have one request; now I need time. I prayed for more time to spend with those I love, time to dig deeper within myself so I can continue to grow, time to fully appreciate the life I've been given. A week later my scan results came back clear. I remember leaving Sloan and heading straight to St. Pat's where I knelt and cried and said thank you over and over again. 

While I am thrilled by the latest test results and ending treatment is a dream come true, I'm not delusional. I know the rate of re-occurrence for late stage cancer is extremely high. I've met many people who thought they were done, only to have it come back again. But I refuse to live in fear or be angry about my situation. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” I like the notion of breaking life down into minutes; it makes it seem longer. When you go through something that makes you realize our time here is finite, you want to make every moment count.Will you choose happiness or lose sixty seconds to anger? In one year there are 525,600 minutes. How will you spend yours?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

How Time Flies...

 A year ago today I was prepping for the surgery I was told couldn't happen.The cancer was too far gone, the doctor told me. The tumors, too numerous to remove. Then I went to Sloan-Kettering and everything changed. Within the span of several hours I was given my life back. I met with surgeons who had seen cases like mine before and were sure they could help me. Pre-surgical testing was scheduled, instructions were given and an operating room was booked. I walked into Sloan that day a dying woman and walked out with hope.

I remember how nervous I was the morning of the surgery; unsure of what was ahead and praying it was successful. Me being me, I packed as if I was going to a spa retreat. A full suitcase of pajamas, hair products, makeup, some aromatherapy candles and several pairs of slippers. Even through the fear of surgery, I was concerned with proper footwear. That morning I showered with the anti-bacterial soap they told me to use and with no jewelry and no makeup I headed to the hospital.

Operating rooms are not like what you see on TV. They are white and chrome and huge, with one entire wall covered in computer screens. They are also freezing. The last thing I remember is my nurse holding my hand and having me countdown from 10. I don't think I made it past 8. I woke up in another room with Joe on my left and my parents at the foot of my bed. "You made it, Kathleen! They got all of it!", said Joe. I reached out for his hand, started to cry and fell back asleep.

The next few days were a whirlwind of visits and flowers, drugs and doctors. The thing I remember most is the nighttime. The silence of the night being interrupted by the beeps and alarms from patient's rooms. When I was strong enough to walk alone, I would take my iPod, roam the halls and think. Many times during my walks a memory would hit me so hard I would need to stop and compose myself. I missed Sean so much the thought of him made my chest ache. I grew angry at past mistakes, vowing to change. I also smiled a lot, thinking about all of the good times I've had. In the morning I would look out my window at the people passing by and wonder where they were going; if they gave a thought to those inside the hospital they were walking past.

The best feeling in the world was seeing the hospital in the rear view mirror of the car as we drove away. The recovery wasn't easy. I had countless sleepless nights. I couldn't take any stairs and needed help sitting and getting back up. Looking at my new body in the mirror took some getting used to. I was literally cut open down the middle of my torso and had about 50 staples holding me together; I felt like Frankenstein's monster. A hockey puck sized pump was placed below my left rib cage to deliver chemo directly to my liver. It's strange, I hardly think about it now but back then just touching it was enough to send me into hysterics. It's funny what we learn to accept.

A year later I'm still healing. But, this time it's not my body but my soul. For a year and a half I have been a cancer patient. Who am I now? Who do I want to be? I had my second to last treatment on Wednesday. As I was getting ready for bed I looked at a picture of me and Joe from 2006 and it made me cry. Joe held me and said, "We're almost done. Just one more." I screamed at him, "Don't you think I know that?" and immediately apologized. Looking at that picture made me long to be her again; just moving through life, unaware. But the truth is, I don't want to be her. She was always hoping that the NEXT THING would be the one to make her happy. The next job, the next boyfriend, the next anything. Today, I realize that it starts and ends with me. Nothing outside of myself is going to bring me the happiness I sought after all of these years. I have found a peace within I don't know I ever would have found without having had this experience.

No matter what happens from this point forward I won't be afraid. I am loved, I am happy and I am free.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Brand New Day

She walks in
My hands grip the chair
"Scan looks great", she says
My legs stop shaking and tears begin to fall
She touches my arm
"We're almost there"
But where is there?
Back to the land of the living?
Back to a time when I trusted life?
She can't answer that
I don't expect her to
That is for me to discover
Fear and joy and relief are like whirling dervishes in my mind;
Each taking its turn in the center of the circle
I enter the bright sun and head to my sanctuary
I kneel before God and give thanks
The weight of it all is crushing me
I rest my head on the pew and cry
I don't know what the future holds
But for today, at least
I am alive

Monday, October 22, 2012

Letting Go...

We all have a voice in our head that pushes us on when we most need it. It's the voice heard by the marathon runner, the exhausted new mom or the cancer patient trying to get through her 20th round of chemo. I don't claim to know what that voice is. Some say it is God or angels or the spirit within each of us. It is whatever you think it is, I guess. But it's there and it's real. I know because I hear it all the time; right before the nurses insert the needle into my port, when my body crumbles from the effects of chemo, when I look in the mirror and don't recognize the person looking back at me. "Keep fighting", it tells me, "don't give up." But what happens when that voice tells you to stop fighting...when is starts saying to let go?

Last December, as I was recovering from surgery, someone very close to me was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There are no 'good cancers' but pancreatic cancer is a bad one, a terrible one. I have watched her struggle with its effects and it has been heartbreaking. The words 'battle and fight and war' with regard to cancer are so trite but I can't think of anything more appropriate. Your body is literally at war with itself and you have to gather all of your strength to keep the good side fully armed. But after awhile the fighting starts to wear you down. I know the depths one can sink to during treatment and how hard it is to climb out of the abyss. I think she is tired and ready to put down her arms. Our conversations are different now. She doesn't say things like, "Next year at your birthday party..." Now she talks of funeral plans and getting her finances in order for her children. I don't want to hear this; life without her is unimaginable to me. But there is that voice again in my head, this time though it is telling me to not is telling me to accept what is happening with her and let go. But I can't.

Watching someone you love suffer is a pain I wish on no one. I feel helpless and angry and am sometimes overwhelmed with crippling sadness. I become enraged at this fucking disease. My mother had cancer. My father had cancer. My grandmothers died from it, as did my uncle. I have it and so does she. It's enough and I'm worn down from it. But I can't give up; not on myself and not on her. I can learn to accept what is happening but I won't let go. I won't let go of our bond, our connection, our love for one another. I won't let go of our memories, her laugh, her smile. When the day comes that I have to physically let her go, I can accept that. But her spirit? That will stay with me  forever...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Oh The Horror...

I've always been a huge fan of horror movies. Even as a kid, I would read Fangoria magazine and rent the films on their top ten lists. Nothing was ever too gory for me; Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Faces of Death, Hellraiser...I loved them all. I read Stephen King and Clive Barker as bedtime stories. I longed to feel my heart race and my body tense up right before the killer appeared. That was then. Lately, I would much rather see a Judd Apatow or Coen brothers flick. My life needs more humor and far less horror.

When people hear that I'm waiting for test results they always say, "I can't imagine how nervous that must make you." Well, nervous isn't really the word. The only way I can accurately describe the feeling is to ask...have you ever seen a horror movie? Do you know that moment right before the busty coed pulls back the shower curtain and you get those butterflies in your stomach because you don't know what to expect? Yeah, it's kind of like that except multiply it by 1,000 and it lasts for days and never lets up. See, I'm waiting to hear if the killer that lives inside of me is ready to attack again or if he is gone for good. Any fan of the genre knows that even when the killer is supposedly dead there is always that chance he may resurface. I thought he was dead once; I thought the nightmare was over. Then he once again appeared; lurking in the shadows on a scan. I burned him alive. Not wanting to take any chances, every other week I go to Sloan and together we destroy the village he built; house by house, cell by cell.  I don't have many weapons left in my arsenal so I'm hoping this one finally did the job. I wonder if for the rest of my life I will always be looking over my shoulder, waiting. 

So for the next 5 years, every three months I'm going to pull back that curtain and pray he's not there. But if he is, I will never be that stupid girl who runs and falls. Too often I have watched helplessly as he tortured and killed people I love. I won't go down like that. I'll be the one who is ready for the fight.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

You Mean It's Not All About Me??

Ugh...wouldn't it be nice if our brain came with a shut off switch? Or, when things get really bad, a shutdown system like power plants have. If I had one of those, sirens would have blared like 3 Mile Island last weekend.

Joe surprised me with a puppy last Saturday. This dog could melt anyone's heart; small and sweet with huge brown eyes and a fluffy white coat. He had us at hello. Watching Sean cuddle and play with him made me imagine how he would be with his own children and that thought was enough to open the flood gates of fear. All weekend my mind was stuck in 'what if' mode. What if this treatment doesn't work...what if the next scan shows something new...what if I'm not around to see Sean grow up? I constantly felt like I was 10 seconds away from a total meltdown. I tried talking to my friends about it but when a few of them said, "I feel the same fear about my own kids" my mind screamed, "NO YOU DON'T! YOU DON'T HAVE A FUCKING CLUE HOW THIS FEELS!!" I became enraged, sick of people trying to relate to my problems, sick of hearing people complain about their bullshit issues. So I did what I always do when I'm feeling down and sorry for myself; I went shopping.

Still wallowing in my own misery, I walked around the store hoping for something to grab my attention and get me out of this funk. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an extraordinarily handsome man. Umm...ok he's not the pair of shoes I was hoping for but I'll indulge myself for a moment. As he stepped out from behind the table I noticed he had a titanium prosthetic leg. We locked eyes briefly and smiled at each other. I began to wonder what happened to him. Is he a veteran? Was it an accident? Was it cancer? Then I understood. Ok God, you got me again. Everyone has something going on in their lives which makes them fearful or angry or deeply sad. Cancer doesn't trump everything. I was so wrapped up in my own self that I forgot about others. I had forgotten my pre-diagnosis life when I still had problems that devastated me and they had nothing to do with cancer.

Yesterday showed me another example of how we never know what someone is going through. While out to breakfast with friends, a woman walked in kind of stumbling and dragging her right leg. As she sat down to eat with her friend she began nodding off a bit and was slurring somewhat. My friend made a comment about how she was possibly on drugs. Having been in her shoes several times, I said, "She may be on medication for whatever is causing her leg to drag." Many times I have been out to lunch with Joe a little too soon after treatment and have nodded off at the table and needed his assistance to walk. You can never, ever know for sure what is going on in someone's life just by looking at them. I've been guilty of it myself many times.

I have judged people too quickly without stepping back and wondering why. Why is the person on line so short tempered? Well, maybe she has an ill child at home she needs to tend to. Why did that person cut me off in traffic? Maybe he was rushing home to his wife, like Joe does for me on chemo days. Not saying this is always the case; sometimes a person is just an asshole. But, I'm going to keep these things in mind as I go about my day. Maybe you can try it too. That person walking slowly in front of you when you're in a hurry might just be me on a bad treatment week.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

And The Award Goes To...My Friends

I promised to use this blog to not just document the rollercoaster ride that is cancer but to also highlight the wonderful people in my life who have gone above and beyond for me. I would like to acknowledge the kindness and generosity of a few folks who have, in recent weeks, made me realize how extraordinarily blessed I am. 

My people at Atlantic Records. I can't believe one company has so many outstanding individuals working there:
Erica and Aryanna- Thank you for helping Sean realize his dream, for making me feel so special and for being two of the kindest, funniest chicks I know. I can't imagine getting kicked out of a bar with finer people. 
Michele and Chris- You never forget a chemo week and will rearrange your schedules to sit with me and make me forget where I am. The amount of laughing we do in the waiting area is insane and probably puts a lot of people off but I don't care. If laughter is a form of medicine, you guys are healing me in profound ways. 
Dawn, Pia and Corey- Thank you for recognizing my amazing dance skills and my ability to accessorize the hell out of an outfit. You always make me feel like a rock star. Please know that I smile each time you check in with me. I miss dancing past your offices. 
Cathy- What can I say? You have talked me down from the ledge almost as many times as my sister. You have served as an inspiration, a source of info and a source of strength. Thank you for being all that you are. 

Now on to a few others:
Marcelline- I am in awe of your spirit. I love the days we spend together. You are my Broadway loving, Anthro shopping kindred soul. You have boundless energy and radiate sunshine. Being around you just makes me happy. 
Nicole- My old friend who holds a new space in my heart. You get me. You never give me "crazy eyes" when I talk about the evolution of the soul or aligning my chakras. You have permanent squatter's rights in my Den of Zen.
Jen- You are a triple threat of beauty, intelligence and charm and have always been way cooler than I could ever hope to be. Seems like we've been friends forever. Our memories are some of my most cherished. Thanks for never letting me down and always having my back.
Brett- You have a whirlwind of things going on right now and yet always take the time to see how I'm doing. You bring out a side of me that no one else does. Thank you for seeing that in me.
Trish- It takes me some time, but I get there eventually. Thanks for being there when I am ready to learn. The lake house is waiting for those chairs...

Finally, to my cousin Jen- You're so much like your parents; warm and loving and thoughtful. Thank you for your letters and the beautiful gift you sent. I can't fully express how grateful I am. Your support pushes me on and always seems to come right when I need it.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Much Love,


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Closer To Free...

I've never been to jail; although I can't imagine it's much different from what I've experienced this last year. Often, I feel imprisoned by my own body, trapped and unable to break free. I count down the days until I can feel the sun on my face again, feel the ocean breeze or simply walk without being carefully watched by others. The portable chemo I take home serves as a constant reminder of my limitations. Each appointment with my doctors is a parole meeting of sorts. Will I be free soon or will I be given more time to serve? I suppose I should just be grateful for the week I get of freedom but I can't. See, the thought of going back to prison the next week hangs over me like the sword of Damocles and sometimes it makes gratitude damn near impossible. But I try. 

Why am I so melancholy today? Well, I happen to be looking at a bunch of pictures I took to chronicle this experience and I'm realizing just how much I've been through. Yep, it has finally started to hit. 56 weeks and 20 treatments which means almost half of those weeks were spent in bed, miserable and sick. Yes, that is very 'glass half empty' and a more positive approach would be to focus on those weeks that were rockin'; the ones where I was living life to the fullest. I get it. But, I'm not there right now. Right now I'm looking at images of myself when I had my port put in, when I had my first chemo treatment and others that show the physical manifestations of chemo such as hair loss, weight loss and the lack of color in my face. I realized after my 7th treatment I stopped taking pictures. I didn't want to see myself anymore. 

I'm scheduled for another treatment this Wednesday which also happens to be my son's 17th birthday. How ironic. 17 years to the day I gave my son life, I will continue to fight for my own. Maybe it will also be the day when my doctor tells me I will soon be released from the confinements of chemo. If not, I will just continue doing my time and fighting until I'm finally free.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Ties That Bind....

Ahh...alone at last. After having a house full of family for a week it's nice to get a moment of "me" time. Not that I didn't appreciate their help or their company; but sometimes you just want to hang around in your underwear. That's hard to do when your 5 year old niece catches a glimpse then keeps asking what the sparkles on your thong spell out (Angel, for the curious minded) Gotta love the little ones.

My parents have been staying with me during chemo weeks and, God bless them, I know it's been a lot of work. Mom makes sure I'm hydrated, fed and that I don't fall and kill myself while showering. Dad makes breakfast, cleans the house, assists me when I'm up to walking and chauffeurs Sean to and from work. It's a good system we have worked out, although it's not without its glitches. Having your parents basically move in with you after being on your own for a good portion of the last 17 years isn't easy. They have their way of doing things and I have mine. Everything is organic in my house so I'm constantly hearing, "Ugh, what is this tofu crap?" or "Don't you have any real food in this house?" I finally snapped and said, "Dad, you eat nothing but garbage and fill your body with preservatives!" "And look how well preserved I am!" was his response as he twirled around in my kitchen.  He did have a point. He'll probably outlive us all. Oh, and they hate my cats, excuse me, my "goddamn cats" as my mother so affectionately calls them. Sam scared the hell out of her by jumping off the bed when she came in to check on me. As I drifted off to sleep I heard her mumble, "I'm going to kill this little bastard." Sam should beware; this is NOT a woman you want to cross. 

A few things you should know about the dad is deaf in one ear and the other one is going fast. My mom is legally blind and this causes great difficulty for her in new environments. Together their handicaps, if in a movie, would be zany and quite hysterical. On chemo weeks, not so much! One morning Dad didn't hear me call out for breakfast then walks in my room with a fake mustache and a fedora to tell me a joke. When I lost my balance and fell in the kitchen my mom didn't see and almost tripped over me. She then asked what I was doing on the floor. Oy, someone should be taping this. 

I really can't complain though. They've been amazing. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for my parents to see me in this condition. I would rather suffer through this 1,000 more times than have Sean suffer through it once. I notice how they look at me and it tears at my soul. My dad won't break in front of me. He walks into another room or outside and will stay there for awhile, alone with his thoughts. My mom sits with me most times; rubbing my head or my back. She's not an emotional person but I do know she's hurting and I hate being the source of her pain. Cancer doesn't just affect the person with the disease, but rather all who love that person. I watch as my family struggles, each in their own way, through this with me. It pushes me on to fight harder; so I can ease their suffering along with mine. So that one day maybe we can look back and laugh at the absurdity of it and hold each other a little tighter because we made it through together. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Night At Farrell's

I walk in
Friends are there
Can't have alcohol
Smoke marijuana instead
Start feeling giddy
Run to jukebox
Select some songs.  
 Begin to dance
 Forget about cancer
Feeling like myself 
Joe takes notice
 He sweetly smiles
I smile back 
Guys love Joe
They drink beer
Watching, I laugh
He's a wasp
 Normally drinks wine
 He is drunk
 Truck is there
 He loves me
He gets emotional
 No tears tonight
Only good times
I look around
Surrounded by love
I am happy

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Last week was hell. I've never been that sick in my entire life and it's possible I might be that sick again next week. It occurred to me on Monday, as I sat in my bed and looked at the clock, that in 7 days I would be getting another treatment. The thought alone sent me into an emotional tailspin. Sobbing hysterically, I told Joe I didn't think I could do it again; wasn't sure I would be able to withstand two more months of this. He reminded me of all I have been through in the past year and firmly said "You CAN do this and you WILL do this." He must be receiving some lessons from my sister on how to deal with me because he used to be much more delicate! But, he was right. I looked down at the balled up tissues that littered my bed. What a pity party! This is NOT how I want to spend my non treatment weeks. So, I made a decision; I'm going to live those weeks to the fullest. I'll allow my body the rest and recovery time it needs after treatment. But then I'm kicking my ass into high gear as soon as I start to feel good again.

That's what I did this week and, honestly, it was the happiest I've been in a long time. I made the decision to be happy, to LIVE my life. I put my desire out there and the universe gave it back to me and then some. I saw a play, went to a jazz club, saw a burlesque show, danced to the jukebox at an old man's bar, visited with family, went to a piano bar and talked for hours with Joe, had lunch with Sean and got together with friends. I opened my heart and people made space for me in their lives. I'm so grateful to each and every one of them.

So maybe next week will be rough but that's ok. I can do this...I've decided.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Love and Marriage...

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Yesterday, I became an adult. This realization didn't come to me because I looked in a mirror and saw crow's feet (thank you microdermabrasion) or because I shook an angry fist at the neighbor's kid ( I've been doing that for years...those little bastards better stay off my lawn). It was a conversation I had with Joe over Sunday brunch.

With the chaos of the restaurant swirling all around us, we were quietly holding hands across the table when I looked down at our wedding bands. As I sat and stared at them I was overcome by emotion. I reflected on our wedding day in Virginia 7 years ago. We went down to Williamsburg for a family vacation and quickly realized this was where we wanted to marry. See, we didn't want a big wedding and whenever I sat down to plan something, I would become overwhelmed by the whole process. I had been down that road before and didn't need the big dress and fanfare. I knew it wasn't the ceremony that makes the marriage; it's finding the right person that matters and I was pretty certain I got it right this time. So on that warm spring day there stood Sean, Joe and I under a gazebo on the sprawling lawn of Colonial Williamsburg with a pastor the hotel had recommended. He was straight out of a Margaret Mitchell novel; an older gentleman with white hair and a linen suit to match. He had that slow southern charm that's just incomparable to anything you might encounter up north. He began the ceremony with a prayer:

Now you will feel no rain
for each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold
for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there will be no loneliness for you.
When I heard those words spoken on our wedding day, I didn't fully comprehend their meaning at the time. But, I do now and, clearly, so does Joe. How can I convey to him how much he means to me? How do I thank him for being so true to the vows we took that day, for making me feel so damn special and for always being my shelter from the storm? Still holding his hand, I simply looked at him and said, "I love you with everything I have to give." Not with the desperation of a child, but the devotion of a wife. He was quiet for a bit then responded, "All I need...all I want, is for you to get better." We sat in silence for a while, allowing the gravity of our exchange to settle in.

I've been with Joe for over 12 years but I don't think I really knew him before this year. Truth is, I don't think I knew myself either. This experience has stripped away all facades. We may still keep our game faces on for others but, when we're alone, they're too much work. What we're left with is the  vulnerable side that we share only with each other. We can scream at the horror of what has happened, laugh at the absurdity at times and cry at the sadness of it. And I love that, just like I love our inside jokes, our sideways glances and our shared love of Mob movies and the amazing quotes they contain (... get to live the rest of my life like a schnook) 

So this is marriage? Now I understand. It means something. It's not just a piece of paper and a party. It's standing in the kitchen when the party is over and cleaning up the mess together. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

You Can't Handle The Truth

Everyone always asks me how I'm feeling but, really, do people want to know the truth? I think they want the sanitized, "I'm doing great" version. Well, the truth is I'm not. This new chemo is unbelievably rough, I've never been more sick in my life. Just imagine for a moment being trapped inside your immobilized body. Your mind makes demands that your body can't carry out. I can't leave my bed for days, I can't walk without assistance and I can barely feed myself due to the neuropathy in my hands. It takes about 5 days for me to even begin to feel normal. I'm weak and I'm nauseous and I fade in and out of consciousness. I can't believe anything this horrific is actually benefitting my body.

I've been told, "well at least you're not throwing up" or "at least you're not in pain." Really? Live one day in my life and then dispense your pearls of wisdom. If I seem angry to you it's because I am. I'm pissed that this is my reality for now. Don't tell me I only have 3 more months of this and expect that to bring me comfort. Thinking about one more hour of this makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and cry.

You want the truth, there it is. Can you handle the truth?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Misty Water Colored Memories....

I've been doing some fierce strolling down memory lane lately. The last few weeks have been spent going through numerous photo albums and getting all teary eyed. Damn you, emotions!! How is it possible that people I loved so deeply are no longer in my life? How did I let these relationships fade away? More importantly, how can I reconnect?

I began by reaching out to an old friend I hadn't seen in a while. We met for tea one afternoon and it was like slipping into a pair of great, old jeans; you know the ones you're shocked still fit and make you add a little bounce to your step?? We talked for hours, not about the past, but about the present. We discussed our kids, our lives, our journey. I've always admired her strength for soldiering through some pretty tough stuff and was honored to know she felt the same about me. We shared laughs, war stories and scones and promised to never let so much time go between visits again. It was exactly what I needed to push me to reach out to others.

Since the diagnosis, I no longer take my future for granted. While yes it's true that life itself is terminal; people with a life threatening disease are acutely aware of the fact. We live each day knowing our lives could turn in a moment and that turn could be devastating. I've stopped putting off what I need to say and how I need to change. Now I'm working on reaching out to those I care about. I want the people who have affected my life to know what they mean to me today and never have to wonder. I want to document our time together. I want pictures of backyard bbq's and drunken bar hugging and dancing in the streets. I want it all and I want it now. Why wait? Tomorrow isn't promised.

There is a great line from the movie 'Fever Pitch' where Jimmy Fallon is talking about his undying love for the Red Sox and a kid asks him, "Have they ever loved you back?" I think about that line often and when my answer is yes, I know I'm going in the right direction. I guess, in the end, I want to know I made a difference in a positive way. What have I taught you, what have I learned from you, did I make you laugh? Did I love you and did you love me back?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

And The Award Goes To....The Caregivers

Sometimes I feel like the Lead Actress in "The Cancer Show". I receive all the attention, the sympathy, the accolades. But, just like a Hollywood movie, the real magic occurs behind the scenes. Without the efforts of my team of caregivers, this already difficult road would be unbearable. So I'm going to use this platform to give the occasional shout out to the people who work so hard to make my life easier. I literally thank God for you everyday.

For those who haven't reached out to me, that's ok too. People get weird with cancer; I get that. You don't know what to say or how to say it. Maybe you're afraid to see me because it makes you uncomfortable or you haven't reached out since the initial diagnosis and think too much time has passed so you feel awkward. Well don't. I'll be happy to hear from you. Also, don't assume I won't be comfortable going to a bar or other party atmospheres. I don't need to drink to be entertained; I'm fucking hilarious sober and you're funnier when you're drunk. It really works out better ;-)

For my first shout out I'm going to start with my team captain, my husband Joe. Where do I even begin? From doctors and acupuncturists to spiritual retreats and massages, there is nothing I need that he doesn't provide. When I'm sick at 4:00 AM, he is right there beside me on the bathroom floor. No matter how many times I get up during the night, he's there telling me we're going to get through it. He is my lion at the gate and will tolerate no bullshit from anyone who is messing with my zen seeking self. He keeps the world at bay for me so that I can just heal. I am blissfully unaware of the chaos he surely endures and I love him for that. He is my best friend, the father of my child and one hell of a husband.

I'd like to thank Sean for being an outstanding son. He has been given a pretty heavy situation and to watch him navigate these waters so well fills me with pride. He couldn't be any more attentive and nurturing. He is so much like his father.

My final one for now goes out to my sister, Joe's co-captain. Thank you for your constant research, your emotional support and your faith in my ability to heal. You keep me sane during an insane time. I know you're not big on emotional displays but I just want to say, you're an incredible sister...Elephant Shoe

Expect future shout out posts because there are so many people I want to acknowledge. Team Leenie just keeps on growing!! Xoxo

Thursday, July 19, 2012

365 Days

So today is the big day; the one year anniversary of my diagnosis. Usually anniversaries are celebrated as happy milestones in a person's life. I don't feel much like celebrating though. My mood today is a bit more reflective. I close my eyes and think about July 19, 2011. By now everyone in my life knows about my diagnosis, but very few people know the exact events of that day. It plays in my mind like a movie.

8:00 AM- Joe and I drive into the city and park the car in a lot. I was told not to eat anything but I couldn't eat now even if I tried. My doctor has scheduled me for a CT Scan to confirm what he found during yesterday's colonoscopy; a mass in my transverse colon. The technician is all jokes and smiles as I go in, telling me to relax and how I'm too young to have to worry about this. He isn't laughing as I get up from the table; this should have been my first clue that something was terribly wrong.

10:00 AM- We are walking out of the diagnostic center when I get a call from my doctor's assistant. He wants to go over the results so we need to go to his office now. Joe and I grab a cab and are there in no time. The assistant directs us not to the examining room but to his personal office. It is gorgeous, like a Ralph Lauren ad; all earth tones and dark wood. We are seated in the 2 brown leather wing chairs across from his desk when he walks in and closes the door. He looks like he's been crying. He sits down and says, "This isn't good." My body begins to get very hot. He says, "The scan shows a 7cm tumor in your colon and several lesions on your liver." I stare at him for a moment, unable to process what he is telling me. "Tumor? Do I have cancer...are you telling me I have cancer?" I ask. He says yes and follows it up with words I can't comprehend because everything goes blank...I can't hear, I can't move. All I feel is this heat radiating throughout my body and then I go numb. I look over at Joe who by now has slid halfway down that beautiful wing chair. His face is chalk white. I put my hand on his arm and say, "You cannot fall apart on me. I need you to stay strong." He shakes his head but remains silent. The doctor tells me he knows the top oncologist at Beth Israel and has already scheduled an appointment for me to meet with him at 1:00.

11:00 AM- It's a gorgeous summer day so, with time to kill, Joe and I walk around Union Square. I am somehow stunned to see life going on all around me. People are laughing and chatting and going about their day like nothing has happened, like my world wasn't crumbling before their eyes. We sit on a park bench and hold onto each other for what seems like an eternity. Joe is thirsty so we walk into a store where he grabs a Diet Coke. He asks me if I want one. I tell him no, that shit gives you cancer. I can tell by his face he is not amused. "Too soon?" I ask.

I start making my calls. First to my parents. My mother picks up; I know she has been waiting by the phone all morning. I can barely get the words out before I start sobbing. "Kathleen, you need to calm down and tell me what's going on" she says. I tell her as much info as I can and wait for her response. She starts to say something and then her voice cracks..."Oh Jesus...Oh God" is all she can get out between her cries. I ask to speak to my dad and she hands him the phone. As strong as I've tried to be all day, once I hear his voice I am 6 years old again and desperately need for him to make this all better. "Daddy can you come, can you come to my house tomorrow?" I beg him. "I'm coming today" he states. I tell him no, that I need time to pull myself together. He says, "I love you, Katie. You're going to be ok" over and over like a mantra as he cries. I tell him that I love him too, and I very much.

My next call is to my sister. She is the level head in the family; the sensible one. Nothing rocks her. I tell her that she needs to listen to me. In the middle of the street I begin sobbing and beg her, "If anything happens to me, if I don't make it through this, promise me you will take care of Sean." She is crying and telling me to not talk like that. "You are not going to die" she keeps repeating. I'm hoarse with emotion, almost screaming at her to promise me. She does and it quiets my mind for the time being.

I call my Aunt Linda, who 3 years earlier lost her husband, my beloved Uncle Tom, to cancer. I hate to do this to her; she has already been through so much. Aunt Linda is my great defender, my most trusted confidante and my fiercely loyal protector. She lets out a cry so filled with anguish that my heart breaks for her.  I hang up and begin to slide down the wall I was leaning against. I sit on the pavement with my head on my knees as people walk by.

I need to call work and tell them what's going on. I let them know I won't be coming in today or probably any other day. I was leaving anyway but didn't plan on leaving like this. Within minutes I receive a text from my boss telling me not to worry about anything else but taking care of myself and he's here if I need anything. I'm touched and reply with a simple thank you. I don't know what else to say. I call my 2 closest friends. No one can believe it. I'm having a hard time believing it myself.

1:00 PM- Beth Israel is enormous and we need to be directed to the proper elevators by a security guard. Joe is leading the way and I follow in a daze. We get off and walk down the hall. There is a large plaque that reads Cancer Center with an arrow pointing to the right. My mind goes blank. In the waiting area are a handful of emaciated men and women with headscarves. I start to go numb again and Joe helps to steady me. We meet with the oncologist who tells me that today is the worst day, that it gets better after this. He goes over the medical aspect; in 2 weeks I'll have a port placed in my chest which will deliver the chemo without having to hit up the veins in my arms. I'll have 6 rounds of chemo and then be re-scanned. "Any questions?" he asked. I had just one..."Am I going to survive?" "We are going to do everything we can" is his reply. He leaves the room and the emotional baggage part is handed to his nurse. She is so kind but everything that is coming out of her mouth is white noise. I rest my head in my hands and rub my eyes.

We go back into the waiting area to schedule my chemo appointments when I look down at the pamphlets on the table. There is one with a mother and son titled, 'How To Tell Your Child About Your Diagnosis'. I finally crumble. Sean. My sweet boy. Oh God, how am I going to tell him? I become hysterical. Loud, guttural moans erupt from my now shaking body. Both Joe and the nurse try to calm me down. She hands me a pill and some water and tells me she is going to give me a prescription for a sedative. Joe gets the car and I cry the entire way home.

7:00 PM- We are sitting in the living room, acting out our nightly ritual of tea and Law and Order like everything is normal. I try to remain calm when I tell Sean that we got the results from the test. "They found a tumor" I say to him. I can tell he is rattled. He seems so confused. He looks at me and asks, "Do you have cancer, mom?" I tell him yes but that I'm a fighter and I need him to remain positive. I smile at him and he nods his head. The conversation doesn't go any further but he sits a little closer to me while we watch the next episode.

That night I can't sleep. Every 20 minutes or so I wake up and think "I have cancer." It's on loop in my brain. I begin to pace the floors of the house. I go into Sean's room. He wakes up as I get into his bed. "Can I sleep here tonight?" I ask. He says sure and even allows me to hold him. I cradle my baby as he falls back asleep. Taking in his every breath, smelling his hair and kissing his head, I finally sleep.

So here I am a year later. Cancer has changed me in ways I could not even fathom on July 19, 2011. I once told someone cancer was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I dont know if I would use the word 'greatest' anymore but I stand by the sentiment. Cancer forced me to stand still and look at my life, really take a hard look at myself. Springsteen once wrote, ''It's a sad man my friend who's livin' in his own skin and can't stand the company'. I'm now working on shedding that skin and finding out who I am. Do I wish I could have gained the knowledge without the horror of cancer? Absolutely. But I didn't get to choose how I learned life's lessons. What I did learn is that I am strong, that I can endure and that my life is worth fighting for.

Happy's to many more

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What We Resist Persists...

Having cancer was easier to accept when I had no hair. If ever I needed a reminder of what was going on inside my body all I had to do was look in a mirror and there was cancer staring right back at me. It's not that simple anymore. Appearance wise, I'm fine. I'm not at my all time best, but at least I no longer look like the Sloan Kettering poster child. Only when I go to perform an activity that requires endurance am I acutely aware of my physical limitations.

Yesterday a few friends came over for a BBQ and everything was perfect; the food, the weather and especially the company. After a morning of running around to get everything ready, I was prepared to sit and relax poolside. I sensed the fatigue approaching but I was determined to push through it. As the day progressed from water gun fights in the pool to eating lunch while discussing a certain trashy novel, I couldn't fight it anymore. Joe always says that my eyes give everything away, so I slipped on my sunglasses hoping for a bit more time before anyone noticed. It felt like watching sand run through an hourglass. I knew soon my body would give out but I wanted to feel normal just a little while longer.

It was early in the evening when I dropped my friends off at the train; waiving goodbye as I watched them board. I thought about their plans for the rest of the night; one friend had a date, one was going out to dinner, the rest were playing it by ear. I remembered a time when I would have had those same plans. Now, I could barely keep my eyes open as I drove home. When I walked in the door I took off my sunglasses and looked in the mirror. There it was again, cancer staring right back at me. My eyes were bloodshot and my face was drained of any color. I looked tired. No, worse than tired; I looked beaten. I sat on the couch, put my head back and felt the tears running down my face. I was crying not just from the exhaustion but from the frustration of my body once again failing me. But was it really failing me or am I failing my body by trying to push it beyond it's current abilities? Why can't I accept the fact that I have cancer and my body needs time to recover from fighting this battle? Why do I see acceptance as surrender? My mom's favorite line to me was, "You would argue with the dead!" In a way I guess I'm still doing that. My body is telling me what it needs and I'm basically saying "fuck off", as usual. I realize I'm never going to win this if I keep resisting.

Ok so this weekend's lesson is about control. There are some things I can control and others that I can't. I can't control the fact that I have cancer. I can control my ability to listen to my body when it tells me to ease up. It's just that I've always had a problem taking orders, even from my own body! Maybe I need to read 'Fifty Shades of Grey' to learn to be a little more submissive ;-)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sad Cancer Face

What is "Sad Cancer Face" you ask? It is the face people give you when they find out you have cancer or they haven't seen you in awhile and are asking how you feel. It is often accompanied by the "sad shoulder squeeze" or the "that's too bad arm rub". If you or someone you know is guilty of such behavior, stop it now. Know that when you do this to a person battling cancer they are secretly calling you an asshole and using Jedi mind tricks to prevent you from touching them again. I know I do. Don't fucking pity me. I wouldn't give someone a "sorry your husband is cheating on you" face or a "wow your kid is annoying" shoulder squeeze.

And while I'm at it...please don't say the following phrases:
1. Colon cancer? Oh my aunt died from that. Thanks, I didn't realize people died from this! Good to know
2. I don't know how you do it. If I were you I wouldn't be able to leave my bed. Yes you would and you would also be able to brush your teeth and shower...really these things aren't that difficult.
3. What stage are you? If I told you I would just get sad cancer face.
4. Wow, that sucks! You think?? Because I was trying to lose weight anyway so I'm thinking this is a good jump start!
5. Did they say how long you have? No,did the girl at the Krispy Kreme counter tell you how long YOU have...because at almost 300lbs I'm thinking your next one might be your last

There are so many more that I could add but you get the idea.

Go ahead and ask me how I'm doing. But do it without pity. Because chances are, emotionally I'm probably doing a hell of a lot better than most people and physically my boobs have never looked better (the steroids are hitting all the right places) So if you want to give me an appreciative, "damn your rack looks great face", I'll accept that. But please, I beg of you, stop with the sad cancer face or I will possibly strike you and blame it on the meds :-)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Person Can Learn A Lot From Dr. Seuss...

"You oughta be thankful
A whole heaping lot
For the people and places
You're lucky you're not"

Having just returned from a weekend with my nieces, my mind is flooded with memories of Sean as a young child. Not many people know this, but when Sean was an infant I was living in Florida and about as broke as broke can be. I'm not talking "no dinners out this week" broke. I mean "I have no money for diapers" broke. It was bad and lasted for several years. If not for my parents and Sean's grandparents we would have been in a much more dire situation for sure. 

Raising a small child with very little money means you have to be creative regarding activities. Everyday, weather permitting, I took him to the park so he could play with other kids, but mostly it was just the two of us. Since I was only 19, I had no qualms about going down slides or riding a bouncy horse in public. We collected rocks to build fortresses for his toy soldiers and shot at each other with our finger guns as we hid behind trees. We both had very active imaginations! But by far our most treasured activity was reading. I would pack a stack of books and a blanket and we would go down to the lake and read for hours. Dr. Seuss was his favorite due to the sheer silliness and flow of rhymes. As a parent, I loved how each book helped a child gain a sense of themselves in the world. For that reason "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" is the one I most admire. 

“Be grateful you’re not in the forest in France
Where the average young person just hasn’t a chance
To escape from the perilous pants eating plants
But your pants are safe, you’re a fortunate guy
You ought to be shouting how lucky am I” 

I thought about this book on the ride back and somehow managed to find it in the old book bin when I got home. What a powerful message it delivers! No matter the situation, always remember to focus on the positives in your life. Being poor sucked but without having that experience I might not appreciate all of the comforts I now enjoy. Currently, I often find myself playing the "what ifs" game. What if this treatment doesnt work? What if it comes back? When what I should be asking myself is "how lucky am I?" I have access to the best care in the world and a loving, supportive team surrounding me. Cancer is a bitch, no doubt about that. But, it has also delivered to me a great gift. The gift of clarity. Most people take years, if ever, to learn what I am now being taught. I've learned the importance of authenticity, how to love freely without fear, and, most importantly, forgiveness. I have forgiven myself for past mistakes and others for theirs. They say resentment is like drinking a poison expecting it to kill your enemy. Well, I have enough poisons coursing through my veins; I don't need to invite in any more.

So as I look back on raising Sean and especially our time in Florida, I do so with gratitude. Maybe if I had money then I would have put him in activities where I would not have had the opportunity to learn along with him. Because as much as I have taught him, he has taught me more and for that I am grateful...a whole heaping lot.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours...

I debated on whether or not I should share this but I figured what the hell. Lots of people think I'm nuts anyway; might as well go all in...

In addition to chemo, I've been seeking alternative healing methods to kick cancer's ass. This has included acupuncture, meditation and reiki; I refer to them as my hookie bookie magic. Well, my hookie bookie reiki lady kept telling me amazing things about this healer from Paris who comes in 2x a year. Every time I would see her she would ask if I booked an appointment. It seemed a little too "out there", even for me, so I always brushed her off. Then a few weeks ago the shit hit the fan and I said fuck it, what do I have to lose? So I met with her and damn it if she didn't absolutely blow me away. I won't get into everything she said and did but it rocked me and had me in a daze all day long. One thing I will share is that she told me my energy was off and I needed to get to the core of what was blocking my normally groovy vibes. Ok, time to roll up the sleeves and clear some emotional clutter from my chakras. Sorry, was that too "new-agey"? How about, "It's time to get my shit together?" Better? Ok, moving on...

Normally, this would be a time for self flagellation. I would sit down and think about the myriad of ways in which I have fucked up in life. I'd go down the list of shitty things I've done, people I have wronged or the variety of mistakes I've made and I would begin to feel terrible. I thought of this as a sort of penance for my wrong doings. But this time was different. Focusing on the negative just wasn't cutting it. Somewhere inside I knew I needed to just let that go. There comes a point where you just can't apologize anymore for the past. It's done and beating yourself up over it only serves to keep you in that negative, self loathing shame spiral. Where's the growth in that? I realized this time I had to instead focus on the goodness inside of me; the stuff I've gotten right.

In the past few years, especially the last one, I've really worked on becoming a better parent, wife, daughter, sister and friend. The payoff has been enormous. My relationships deepened once I asked myself, "what does this person really need from me?" Sometimes it was as simple as making them laugh, letting them cry or saying nothing at all and just listening. As I sat and thought about the times I've been there for people; either family, friends or strangers, a picture began to form in my head of who I really am. I have a tough facade, but I'm actually pretty sensitive and at my core I'm a good person. There, I said it and I didnt preface it by adding anything negative. Good person...period...end of sentence. That's where my focus should be. That's what I need to cultivate and that is what's going to help me heal. Hmmm...I'm starting to feel better already. Maybe this healer was on to something.

Why DO we feel more comfortable showing people our "flaws" instead of our fabulousness? What's wrong with telling the world that you're awesome? Years ago we had work done on the house and my neighbor came over to see. He couldn't stop admiring the room and saying how beautiful it was. I, of course, pointed out the cracked tile in the ceiling telling him how it annoyed me. He looked at me strangely and said, "The room is beautiful; I didn't even notice the crack. Why would you point that out?" Why indeed. Next time someone comes over I'm going to show them that room, the room where my family spends time together laughing and making memories. If they happen to point out that cracked tile I will tell them the story of how Joe broke it by trying to be Mr. Fix-It and I will smile at the memory :-)

Obnoxious, yes, but totally made me laugh.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kathleen and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Any parent reading this will be familiar with the title. If you don't have kids, might I suggest picking it really sums up a shit day nicely.

The day started off well enough; in bed with a hot cup of coffee and my iPad. I open my email to find a note from my aunt. In it she tells me what a great time she had the other day and how much she loves spending time with me. This makes my heart ache. For those who don't know, my godmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the day of my surgery. She wouldn't allow anyone to tell me so that I could focus only on my own healing. When I finally was told weeks later, it was like a knife in my chest and I struggled to breathe. She has always and continues to be everything to me and the thought of her suffering breaks me to my core.

Later in the day I decide to work on one of the exercises given to me by my writing coach. She asked me what I feared the most. My answer was simple; I feared not being alive to watch Sean become a man. She suggested I think of every milestone in one's life and write a letter to be given to him on that day. So when he graduated college, I would be there. When he gets married, I'll be there. When he has his first child, in some small way I can still be a part of the experience. As I sat to write these letters to my son the tears began to flow and the pain in my heart became unbearable. I am not ready to leave him. He is not prepared for life without me. Who would I even give these letters to? Joe fell silent when I mentioned it to him; he refuses to let his mind go there. I'll give them to my sister; she'll know what to do.

I need a break from cancer so I head out to run some mindless errands. Coming out of Whole Foods, I pass two women smoking and suddenly I am filled with a rage that makes my body shake. It's as if all of the anger and fear and hatred I feel towards cancer is directed at them and I want to hurt them...badly. For the first time I actually thought to myself, "Why me?" Why me and why not them? Not saying I've lived the cleanest of lives. One doesn't hang out at The Newkirk Pub until 5:00 AM because they love playing darts so much. But I basically kept myself in shape and stayed relatively healthy. How is it that I got cancer and Keith Richards is sill kickin' it? Then I think about the kids I see at Sloan and I feel like a jerk for complaining. What did any of us do? Yes, there are some cancers that are brought on by certain behaviors. But mostly you're just a member of the unlucky gene pool. I hope Keith realizes how fortunate he is.

So as I wrap up the day, back in bed with my iPad and a hot beverage, I am filled with a sense of gratitude. I'm glad I broke down because it's real ( did I really wish cancer upon 2 unsuspecting people?? Not good, Emmets). I learned that it's ok to be pissed off. This sucks and it's healthier to admit that than pretend that everything is just wonderful. I'm grateful to have another day with my family and I hope for many, many more. Mostly I'm glad I started on those letters. Even if I live to see Sean reach all of those milestones I'm still going to give them to him. He will know that in my darkest hours he was always on my mind.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ignorance Is Bliss??

Why oh why do I Google? It serves no purpose other than to scare the living hell out of me, yet I do it all the time. It's like a scab I won't stop picking at.

After a great day with the hubs, I get all cozy on the couch and whip out the iPad for some mindless entertainment. Instead, I find myself googling my oncologist, which leads to articles and interviews. Statistics begin to jump out at me; like how several years ago there was an 8 month survival rate for the type of cancer I have. Fuck. Then I read the 5 year survival rate has now gone up to 56%. Yay...I guess. While that's a pretty significant jump; what about the other 44%? 5 years post diagnosis I'll still only be 40 and that's young. Well, not "young" like beer pong and booty calls...but certainly too young to die. Fuck! Let's not go there. Time to put the mental brakes on. Ugh, Google!!!! Damn you to hell.

It's taken me quite some time to absorb the enormity of what has happened. I knew nothing about colon cancer except that my mom had it and beat it. No big thing, right? Wrong. Mine, as luck would have it, was far more advanced. I didn't want to know what stage it was because I didn't want that number in my head. I figured what did it matter, I was going to throw everything I had at it anyway. Then one night I googled. Stage IV. Fuck. There's no Stage V. No wonder Joe went pure white when the doctor diagnosed me. He knew what we were dealing with. Ok, cue the breakdown. Done and done. When the thing you fear the most happens to you, it really frees you up to stop giving a shit. Stop caring what people think about you, stop trying to live up to others' expectations of who and what you should be. Living authentically. What a concept! For the first time...EVER...I am at peace. At peace with who I am, with my life and with my future; however long it may be. Truth is, no one knows how long they have on this planet; people with cancer are just more aware of it. Because of this, I'm choosing to see cancer as a gift rather than a death sentence (fuck you Google). I've been wondering how I can turn this experience into something truly positive for others. While I can't donate my body to science (too much beer pong and booty callin', but that's for another post) or fund a new hospital wing, for now I can impart some newfound wisdom. Here's a nugget....fear nothing. Really, absolutely nothing.  Every day try to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Whether that means setting your own personal boundaries, applying for that dream job or telling someone that you love it and do it now. Live your truth. Let me know how things change for you. In the meantime, I'll be working on my 5 plan....40 never looked so good!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Wake Up Call

I woke up this morning to the sound of the front door closing. Could Sean have gotten himself ready for school without me? Why yes he did! Great start to the day! I had lunch plans with an old friend so I begin to get my ass in motion when out of nowhere the clouds come in and dark thoughts fill my mind. I start to panic because I can't seem to shake them this time. I call my sister and cry hysterically into the phone. I know I'm incoherent and she is telling me to breathe but I can't. I'm crying about Sean and life and death and how this sucks. It takes some time but she successfully talks me down from the ledge. I know I've now ruined her morning. A minute later the phone rings and it's my friend calling to check in. She hears the instability in my voice and asks what's wrong. I start to tell her what I'm thinking and she says, "I'm giving you today and 4 more times to cry about this then you're going to get your shit together." I give her a hearty, "Fuck you, how can you say that to me? I have cancer!" Her response, "Yeah, so did I." Damn, she got me there. We circle back to the importance of staying positive, believing in one's self and having faith. It's enough to at least get me back on track.

Fast forward to lunch...I'm sitting there talking to my friend and updating him on everything that's been going on when I realize something; I have a pretty great life. Do I have cancer? Yes, but that doesn't define me. I also have a phenomenal husband, a son who is happy and pursuing his dreams, great parents, an amazing sister, incredible friends and a beautiful home. I have everything I've ever asked for...WTF am I complaining about? I was seeing things all wrong; allowing fear to block my view of the wonderful things in my life. I love when the universe smacks you in the face! So I call bullshit on those who say if you don't have your health you have nothing. I say if you have love in your life you're doing pretty damn good. Now excuse me while I go bask in my own glory ;-)