still standing…one year post diagnosis

The anniversary of my cancer diagnosis passed with little to no fanfare, despite the fact that I spent a good portion of the day reminiscing over the past year and looking at the photos of myself nervously posing topless on the beach. July, 2008 will most likely always be a time that I will be able to recall and to react to on a visceral level. I can bring up the smells and sounds of the day I was diagnosed, but I can’t even remember what I had for dinner yesterday. Probably an exaggeration, but not far off…

I can remember distinctly the feeling I had when the radiologist called me personally to tell me that I should contact a medical oncologist and a surgeon right away. I told him that I would begin the process on Monday, as it was Friday afternoon, and he urged me to begin making calls as soon as I hung up with him. I was stunned and distracted, thinking that I couldn’t possibly have such a diagnosis, and that if I did, in fact, have breast cancer, that I had no time for it. I thanked him for being so kind as to call me personally, and he asked several times if I was going to be alright. I wanted to ask him the same question. I had no idea what the future held. I still don’t. But I knew at the time that I had resolve and that I was going to begin the process of healing before people saw me as sick.

Now, a year later, I am still a bit stunned at the magnitude of it all, but I am also quite amazed at how naturally life takes on a new normal. At this point, I’m used to periodic infusions and scans, and dressing to hide my scars and the port that remains until I finish treatments. I am usually careful about what I put into, onto, and around my body, and I am skeptical of more than I ever was before. I recognize bullshit from a mile away.

My body is still not back to the vibrant and energetic state that it was at last summer, and I question whether it ever will be. Cancer has in some ways motivated me, and in others, has taught me to respect the fact that perfection is overrated and unobtainable. It’s ok to slow down and to enjoy sitting in the garden sometimes, even if it’s been days since my heart has experienced aerobic exercise.

Although I’m still working full time and I’m back to taking a full course load at school, I no longer feel the necessity to keep up a frenzied pace. I don’t have the capacity for the stress that I had before, and I recognize the importance of enjoying the ride and learning along the way. I want to feel into my days and to experience each moment for what it is rather than racing through to see how much I can accomplish.

Even the mirror reflects my changing self, complete with my short, curly hair, which is filling in quite nicely. I still admittedly feel like I look like an adolescent boy on occasion due to my lack of a chest, but I attempt to radiate my sassy feminine qualities, and to remember that my scars are proof of what I’m capable of; a badge of honor. Imperfection is a sign of strength and uniqueness, and in some ways, my differences give me more courage than I’ve had before. Like a warrior, I have gained clarity through my experience

the not-so-naked truth

I stood on the deck of the ferry today and stuck my head out into the cold wind just to feel the rain against my cheeks. I had every expectation that I should be blessed with an orca sighting, which didn’t happen, though I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of the wind whipping salty water at me as I took in the sights of the San Juan islands. It seemed fitting that my first weekend without chemo would would be one filled with icy rain, wind, and a power outage. Because of the extreme weather, Irene and I were forced to rest more and to think of creative ways to enjoy our celebratory weekend on Orcas Island. It was fantastic.

Doe Bay Resort was a good place to land as we marked our first official infusion free Friday. The  sun was actually shining at the very time I would have been receiving my chemotherapy a week before, and I honored that moment by bowing toward the water and smiling at the sky. I didn’t feel any need for more than that- just a simple acknowledgement of my gratitude for the end of one leg of my journey. We then checked in and made house in the cutest little cabin we could have hoped for. Our cabin, “Churi”, was nessled under some trees and sat just above a meadow where we were graced by the presence of a local cat and a heard of deer. It was perfect.

Saturday, the day of the soon to be infamous Orcas Island power outage, Irene and I braved the elements to hike in the muddy but gorgeous Moran State Park. When we returned to the cabin (which had power by this time), I decided I was ready to exerience the soaking tubs and sauna while Irene napped. I packed my bag with 2 towels and a bottle of water and made my way through the meadow to the tubs. My hope was that the stormy weather would keep most people in their cozy cabins. Even so, I believed I could be open and loving toward my body and that I was ready to sit in the hot mineral water regardless of who was there. When I arrived, the tubs were filled with young naked couples. Undaunted (yet), I prudishly undressed in the shower, and wrapped my towel (tightly) around my very flat chest (or lack thereof). I walked within 2 feet of the tubs and all of my courage melted. I made a beeline for the sauna in hopes that it would be empty. When I walked in, there was a young naked man sitting in a meditative lotus posture on his towel. I sat as far away from him as I could and decided that I would make the best of my experience by resting in the heat. As I sat there, I realized that I was (am) not even close to being ready to exposing my scars in public. I had no idea what a visceral reaction I would have to being around whole bodied people enjoying an evening of nude bliss, and it was painful to recognize what I can only describe as envy for their wholeness and grief for what I am so obviously lacking.

To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have been prepared to sit in a tub with naked strangers prior to my surgery. My hope was that I had become wiser and emotionally stronger since surgery and undergoing five months of chemotherapy. I truly believed that I had come to a place where I didn’t care what other people thought of my appearance, and that I could be a beautiful representation of a self confident breast cancer survivor. I also hoped that I could return home from our weekend at Doe Bay victorious in my bravery. Despite the fact that I couldn’t disrope to enter the tubs, I still feel strong and beautiful. And victorious.

could it be over?

hey there, cupcake!
hey there, cupcake!
I’m finished with chemo! And now everyone is wondering- how excited am I?!? Well, to be honest, the enthusiasm and thrill hasn’t hit yet. I don’t think it will hit until the heartburn and urpy belly goes away…and even then, it may take a while for me to fully comprehend everything that my system has had to undergo this winter. I’m pretty stunned that the main part of this treatment is over, and that I only have six more months of Herceptin treatments. I want to be able to rely on my body without questioning what kind of crazy symptom will reveal itself. I also want to be able to trust my bowels and bladder again. So, as happy as I am to have Fridays free from chemotherapy infusions, I still have trepidation about what the future holds and about my body’s ability to create vitality. For my final infusion, I donned a blue wig and tiara. Irene brought 2 dozen Trophy cupcakes (delish) and Jenn smoothly asked the main nurse to put a couple bottles of sparkling wine in the fridge until we could properly toast to the end of my chemotherapy treatments. Katie, Suza, Gol, Lena and Connie all showed up to mark the occasion and we laughed and made small talk while the last of the carboplatin and taxotere entered my blood stream. It was a truly sweet and anticlimactic evening, considering the fact that I have had nearly five months of weekly chemotherapy treatments. I don’t know what I expected- but it was strange to thank and hug the nurses goodbye before walking through the abandoned waiting room with my crew of supporters. Odd to have such a quiet end to something I dreaded so much.
celebrating after NIA!!!
celebrating after NIA!!!

written 2 weeks ago…(February 15th)

Funny to think about the many ways a life can change in one year- to consider how challenging it can be to make it through that year in one piece (or at least without losing so much of ones self as to become completely unrecognizable). And, truly, when I look back at one year ago, I hardly do recognize myself. In this year, I have had to reach down and pull from every ounce of courage and strength that I could muster, borrowing many times from friends and family, and outright faking it much of the time. I’ve come a long way, baby, but I have a long way to go.

After a one week break from chemo, I’m looking at three more infusions. Even though it’s been over a week since I’ve had my last treatment, I’m still feeling pretty crappy. The heartburn and urpy sensations continue, along with some very raw nasal passages. This chemo thing is no joke- it’s pretty damned unpleasant. I have no clue how I will muster what it will take to make it through the next three treatments. I used to think of three as such a small number…

On the beautiful bright side, this weekend I enjoyed a lovely visit from my sister Tami and her family. Although I was nervous about the initial shock of everyone seeing me in my post chemo state, it was actually quite an affirmation that family can be a good source of unconditional love. Even with moments of chemo brain, hot flashes, and a bald (or at least mostly bald) head, I felt like me- wacky and silly Wendi who says off the wall things and is a walking contradiction. Who couldn’t appreciate that? And even though I was tentative about having any strength to make it through a full day of family fun, I actually experienced a surprising amount of energy and had an incredible time being a part of a tribe- no matter how dissimilar we all are. That’s the beauty of family- that a person can be whoever he or she is and he or she will still be loved. Warts and all.