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 up...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 them...do 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 ;-)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When Friends Become Family

Sometimes people disappoint you; it's just a fact of life. But you hope, when the shit really hits the fan, that the people you love the most will step up and be there for you. Sometimes you're wrong. You think that by fulfilling every obligation; weddings, communions, birthday parties, etc., that you have made an investment in your relationships. Well, not every investment pays off. An illness separates the men from the boys; or to put it bluntly, the people who really care about you from those who just provide lip service.

When you have been raised to think that family is everything this can be especially painful. Coming from a big Irish family where every event is a raucous affair, things have fallen eerily quiet. With a few notable exceptions, I haven't heard from most of my family since the initial diagnosis. My sister, who is a rock star in my mind for all she has done for me, brushes it off and tells me not to care. My mom does the same but I think it's more out of not wanting to get me or my dad riled up. It's funny because I've been told my whole life that blood is thicker than water. But, really, isn't it water that truly sustains us?

During my year long battle I have been amazed by the outpouring of love and support shown to me by my friends. It really has been extraordinary. They have rallied around me and buoyed my spirits in the darkest of times. Not a day goes by when I don't receive prayer cards, gift baskets, calls, visits or, at the very least, an email check-in. How is it that friends I haven't seen since high school and even some from elementary school can reach out while others have kept their distance? Is it that people don't know what to say? Well, let me clue you in...NOT saying something speaks volumes. These are the lessons that you learn when you're on the other side. So now I try everyday to let them know what they mean to me. To paraphrase the great Tim McGraw, I've become a friend a friend would like to have.

So, kids, today's lesson is...if you love someone, show them how much. Don't let not knowing what to say prevent you from reaching out. If you don't want to talk about illness talk about baseball or music or the weather...but talk. Or say nothing and just bring cake...cake makes everything better.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Letter to a tumor

Cancer,

I'm begging you, please leave me be. We have been going around and around for the last year and I'm growing very tired of your games. I don't know how our relationship came to be. I thought I did everything to keep your kind out of my life. I ate well, kept my weight in check, worked out regularly; hell, I was even a vegetarian who had regular colonics. But somehow you crept in and now you won't let me go. Well fuck you. In December I cut you out of my body and now you think you can come back and claim it? Well you can't. So now I have to burn you out. Will that finally do it? Please tell me what it will take to get rid of you. I refuse to live the rest of my life with you on my mind. You fucking suck and thinking about you has already consumed too much of my time so fuck off.

PS-after viewing you naked on my last scan, my oncologist and I laughed at how small you are

Kathleen

Friday, June 1, 2012

Shadows

Growing up in Brooklyn, I considered myself pretty fearless. I was never afraid to walk anywhere. Never afraid of going out after dark. Never afraid of shadows. Maybe because I've seen some things in my life since then, but shadows on CT Scans scare the shit out of me. So when my oncologist walked in yesterday and said there was a questionable shadow on my latest scan, my body froze. Once again, emergency MRI's were scheduled and my life returned to a state of panic and rushing from one office to another.
Today I got the call that a lesion a size no bigger than half of a pencil eraser was spotted on my liver. FUCK. She said it could be a remnant of a tumor they thought they removed but didn't get all of. FUCK. "You have options, Kathleen", she said, "There are things we can do." Heart pounding, I begin to shake as I sit in my car in a Whole Foods parking lot listening to her list the attack plan. New appointments to be made, new doctors to see. FUCK. I have to call Joe. He's waiting to hear from me...so are my parents, my sister, my close friends. I drive to the beach and make my calls; each one takes another piece of my heart. Sean...how do I tell him? He's been through so much. FUCK. All I want to do right now is put my head in my mom's lap and have her tell me this will all be ok. She's so fucking strong, she manages to keep it together until the end of our conversation; we cry together and vow to keep fighting. Joe leaves work, takes the train home and drives to the beach to meet me. We sit in the car and just stare at each other. There are no words. He puts his hand on mine and says, "We are going to beat this, this is just a bump in our long road together." At that moment I love him so much my chest hurts.
That end of treatment party we were planning will have to wait. We're back in warrior mode.