One of the most surprising things I have found about having cancer, so far, is the different reactions I have received from people. I am talking about my friends. I have been reading a great breast cancer book called “Just Get Me Through This” and I continue to refer back to it. If you have a friend who has recently been diagnosed, please buy them this book, they will really appreciate it. It has a section on the reactions, and non-reactions, you will see from your friends, and the following paragraph says it all:
Some of your friends will immediately move into helpful mode and know exactly what to do to help you. Others, however, may be either paralyzed by fear of losing you, or simply awkward and embarrassed, and will not know what to do until you offer specific suggestions. And still others will be unable to deal with your diagnosis due to their own insecurities and fears of mortality and will disappear, either temporarily or permanently.
I have been very surprised by certain people who have stepped in and taken over jobs, support, and love, with the attitude of “anything you need, I am here”. Other people in that circle, I am not surprised by and I could have listed them, by name, if anyone would have asked me a head of time who I thought would be in my “inner circle”. The list of disappearing friends also could have been made with names I was fully expecting to step back and disappear, but there were some surprises for that list also. My biggest surprise has come from the women I have not spent time with in a long time, women who I was once very close to, and in the past few weeks I have been fortunate to spend time with them again. Some with facebook messaging, some on the phone, and lots of visits. This has been a HUGE silver lining in this whole cancer fight. I loved these people way back when, and after spending time with them again, I realize we still are who we were way back then, a little older, a little weathered, but deep down inside – the exact same girls we were before.
I have had some of my girlfriends disappear – hopefully after of this is over, they will come back, and I will welcome them with open arms. I know that I cannot expect people to give what they do not have. One of my girlfriends that was MIA since my diagnosis, wrote me a sweet email this week, she told me that SHE cannot deal with this and her shortcoming had nothing to do with me. She is frightened and freaked out by this. BUT she loves me, and I love her, and I have already welcomed her back, openly, and we will have our friendship without sharing gory details of this dreaded disease. She cannot handle it. Do I love her any less ? No I do not. Isn’t that how we are supposed to be ? Love our friends not in spite of their shortcomings, but because of them? If my friends didn’t love me due to some of my own personal “warts”, I would be one lonely chick.
I want to thank each of my inner circle support people – you know exactly who you are….my secondary layer of support people – you also know exactly who you are. My long distance friends who continue to call, email, send cards, prayers, and love – thank you. And even my friends who have disappeared during, and because of, this path I am now on….if and when you decide it is time to come back, please do. I will welcome you back and I will understand why you were missing for this part of my life. It’s ok.
I especially love my “new” friends who have moved into a very special category for me. They have been friends, or acquaintances, who are breast cancer survivors. People will not be able to understand this bond unless they are going through something like this. These girls share the most intimate details of their bodies, their minds, their hearts, their insecurities, and their experiences with brutal honesty. There is no judgement passed on either side, there is no detail too gruesome, no question is off-limits. I can ask these women ANYTHING, and they can also do the same with me. It is a very special bond that I will protect and be grateful for, forever. Thank you, I treasure each one of you !
My special thanks goes to my one girlfriend who stepped WAY out of her comfort zone to approach me this week and put a spark back into our friendship. I know this was very hard for you – and I promise not to discuss my side effects, treatment, and cancer crap. I am just glad you are back in my life – even if it’s only by email for a while ! I still love you. I am still the luckiest girl in the world for the gift God has given me, the never-ending gift of friendship.
Attitude is everything. Silver linings aren’t just discovered, they are created.
Yesterday I was extremely lucky and fortunate to be able to go to a baby shower. I haven’t left the house much in the three weeks since my surgery except for doctor appointments, a trip to Target, meeting Rita’s grand baby, and a lunch outing. I do not drive yet so I am pretty much stranded except for the kindness of others !
Morgan (my daughter) came home Friday night and she was the one invited to the shower. It was for one of her girlfriends and I sort of tagged along so I could see Stephanie (the pregger) and so I could finally meet her Mom, Debbie, face to face since we have only been facebook friends. Debbie is also a cancer survivor, battler, warrior – but she is fighting bladder cancer.
Morgan and I walked over to an empty table and sat down with three empty chairs beside us. Debbie sat with us when she could but she was up and down a lot greeting people and helping host the shower. Two other women, who each came alone, sat at our table. One was named Valerie and one was Amy and they didn’t know each other – but were both friends with Debbie. We were talking about Debbie’s cancer battle and upcoming treatments etc and we got on the subject of chemo and baldness. Debbie asked if my hair was beginning to grow back and I said “it is a crew cut right now – but still too short to be without the wiglet”…I could tell that Valerie and Amy were very surprised by the fact that first of all I had on a wiglet and second of all, that I am coming out of my breast cancer battle. They said they had no idea my hair was fake and they never wondered why I was wearing a hat. We chatted a little about my situation, again, they seemed surprised I was less than three weeks post op of a double mastectomy and in reconstruction now. They both admitted that they had NEVER had mammograms. NEVER ? They both had teenaged children and I know one of them had a 20-year-old. NEVER ?? I asked them why they had never had a mammogram and they both just said they have never made the time for it, too busy, knowing they should but never making it a priority. I told them a short summary of my breast cancer “situation” and what my life would be like had my lump gone another few weeks or months creeping along inside me and what my life (or lack thereof) would be like had Mr Lumpcake gotten into my lymph nodes. I was probably a very short timeframe away from really having a death battle on my hands. I explained that most people who have triple negative cancer have lymph node involvement once the tumor is one centimeter – mine was .9 cm. Weeks or months away from a real problem. (And I thought my battle was tough already) ! They both listened intently and then they agreed to make mammogram appointments within the next two weeks,! they pr omised each other and shook hands on the deal. They were going to both check in with Debbie and let her know that each one was keeping up their end of the promise.
As much as I want to “fly under the radar” and go unnoticed in this battle, it seems God places these opportunities in front of me that I cannot sit there quietly and say/do nothing. I feel like I am being told “say what you need to say”…whether it has been thru this blog, speaking in front of people, facebooking, or just talking to my friends, this is what I feel I have been led to do.
I don’t know if these two women will get their mammograms, but I hope they do. I don’t know if either one of them will find something, God knows, I hope they don’t. But if I hadn’t been sitting at that shower, where I wasn’t even “supposed” to be, and met those women…who knows how long it would be before they would actually take the time to go and get this test and put themselves first for a moment. Valerie’s Mom died of ovarian cancer. Is that tied to breast cancer and part of the BRCA gene mutations? It sure can be. Was it a random coincidence that those two women, who didn’t know each other, sat a our table during this shower and left having made a promise to each other to take care of themselves ? I don’t think coincidence has anything to do with it – or with the path I am on.
The real silver lining of that shower was seeing Stephanie all cute and beautiful and pregnant. Ready to be a Mom – and her lovely Mom Debbie ready to be a Grandma. New life, baby showers, holding new babies, they are always just such a joyous boost to my life, especially now.
Today I had my second session for physical therapy. I found out the name of what Peggy (my PT) is doing to me and after I research it online I will post something about it. If you are a mastectomy patient you know what I am talking about when I say I feel like I have on a metal bra that is six sizes too small and how weird it is to realize you have no bra on – at all. The process that Peggy is doing to me is relieving a lot of the tightness and giving me back my range of motion with my arms. It doesn’t hurt and it feels sooo much better after she is done. Another blog on that later….
While I was waiting for my appointment today at PT I looked around at everyone who was also waiting. There were wheelchairs, canes, walkers, crutches, people limping, people bent over, and people who could not walk at all. I started watching them and you could easily see how much pain they were in, just sitting there, and it made me think back to my bone pain and my chemo days and I began to thank God for how far I have come in the past few months. Double mastectomy or not, I have come a long way. So, I am still watching the waiting room people and a man with a little boy walk out of the back room and sit down across the room from me. The man seemed to be in his fifties and the little boy looked to be about 5 years old. The little boy didn’t walk “right” nor did he move his right arm or hand “right”. They sat down and the m an looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. The little boy got out of his seat and stepped toward his Dad’s chair and lifted his arms wanting to be picked up. The man easily put the boy on his lap and the boy seemed to have immediate relief. The boy put his head on his Dad’s chest and the Dad closed his eyes and breathed in a big breath and they seemed to settle into a comfortable position. This is probably a position that is very familiar for them. You see, when the little boy walked past me I didn’t notice his walk or his arm or hand right away – what I noticed was his lightly fuzzy head (yes, he had chemo hair), his gray skin, and the dark green lines drawn all over the back of his neck and up the back of his skull. They looked like they were lines for radiation. The little boy had the funny teeth of a kid that age – some in, some out, and some half-grown in and he was very very thin and appeared….fragile, exhausted, scared, depleted and sad .
As I sat and watched the little boy and his Dad rest, I began to feel extremely thankful. You all know how thankful I have been through this breast cancer battle because of my support system, friends, and family. But at this moment, today, I realized how lucky I have been in the past year that I have been the one battling cancer – and not one of my children. I don’t think there could EVER be a harder position to be in than to be the parent of a cancer patient. All through my cancer battle it never entered my mind how lucky I was that it was me – and not Morgan or Kyle – fighting cancer. I know that God would step in and help me be strong so I could help them, but today, in that moment, I felt like the luckiest person sitting in that waiting room. I got it….loud and clear. No one else seemed to even notice the Dad and his little boy, but I did.
I still feel sorry for myself at least weekly with my boys crew cut hairdo – and my rock hard hockey puck breasts – and my ongoing discomfort, but you know what ? I could not be more thankful, than I was today, that my children are healthy and we never faced a battle like that when they were young. That little boy was absolutely precious and his Dad looked exactly as you would picture a Dad holding his little cancer patient in his arms. He was fragile, exhausted, scared, depleted, and sad.
This moment of clarity is what I am thankful for today