Friday, July 31, 2009

Why I Didn't Write For So Long

This is perhaps the hardest entry I have ever written. The bottom line is I can't really explain why I didn't blog for so long. My silence also included a complete drop out from all communications. Phone calls, email, Facebook, letters. Literally everything. Pretty much if you weren't literally with me, I was succeeding in disappearing.

My best explanation is that NOTHING went or turned out as I planned. I had intended to blog all the way through transplant and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance experience. I do have lots of pictures, stories, and thoughts to share. I just haven't figured out HOW. Each day I would be sure the next day would be better and then I would write. I felt guilty every day for not writing. Then I thought I would get back on track once I got home. Again, nothing has gone as I expected it would.

My second explanation is that I that I lost my "groove". I didn't feel the creative urge to write. It just hasn't been there. It has been a little scary feeling that way. It seems I always have something to say. I did have lots to say, just not the skills to say it.

I also wanted to write with a positive and upbeat spirit. Yet that spirit remains elusive. I couldn't handle writing about the challenges rather than reporting successes. I feel this weird responsibility to end the transplant story with a smile, with good news, with a conclusion. Without the prayers, emotional support, and financial support from all of you, I wouldn't have been able to have the transplant in the first place. I want to give back to you only the good. Does this make sense?

I am also ashamed that I am unable just to celebrate the gift of life I received from a total stranger. I feel ashamed that I can't just be grateful, not mired in all the other crap.

I also have not been well most of the time. I don't know that anyone really wants to read about that.

Ultimately I haven't known how to explain to others what I can't understand myself. Again, it feels like if a person literally hasn't been there with me that I have no way to describe it. This transplant journey has kicked my ass. Our family has been turned upside down and shaken. The words elude me to adequately describe it all. So I guess with not realizing it, at least at first, I just hid away. And waited for some magic to come. It's still not here but I am giving it a shot anyways.

I end with a sincere apology to those who I have offended by not communicating sooner. The fact that it has totally and indescribably overwhelmed me is not a fair outcome for those of you who have been there for me. I owed you better than that. I pledged to you that I would try to take you with me on my journey, and I failed to do that. Again, I will try to honor my commitment to write, including going back in time and sharing the best I can. I've got some pretty amazing pictures to post as well.

I am sorry.

Now that I have stumbled all over myself and then offered an inept apology, I am logging off to get sick. This may take awhile or not. I would also benefir from some sleep, my goal if I feel a little better. I may be back in a few, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe a week from now. Until then......

Cancer Is a Small World After All, Part I

I never really knew what a small world my cancer world was. There was me in the middle, of course. (Egocentric, no?) Then there were my family members, both biological and through marriage, who have traveled their own cancer journeys, some winning and some who had succumbed from the disease. Naturally, there were others, including friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, whose experiences have affected me. Have you ever stopped and really thought about YOUR cancer world?

I spent last week in the hospital, on 7-South, the Oncology Ward. While I was walking the floor, a gurney carrying a woman downstairs, presumably for a test or procedure, went past me. In the flash that she went by, I thought I knew her. Then some of her family rounded the corner, accompanying her on the way downstairs. I definitely knew them. One of them stopped as she recognized me. We both kind of mumbled something to the effect of "what are you doing here?. Who knew that one can actually run in to people you know on the cancer floor?!

A few days later when I was feeling a bit better, I asked my nurse if the woman was still in the hospital and if so, would she ask her nurse if I could come visit. What is the etiquette on running into someone you know who is also a patient? This was definitely not covered in the Emily Post books I have read.

The woman told her nurse to tell my nurse to tell me that yes, I could come visit. So after I squirreled up the courage, I walked three doors down to see a friend who I didn't even know had cancer. (A very embarrassing side effect of my being a hermit and completely out-of-touch with the "outside" world.) Of course, true to herself, she was beautiful despite her battle, and even had the nerve to have eye make-up on! My IV pole with attached machines and I got seated and situated. It was now time to look her in the eye and figure out what to say. Naturally, cutting right to the bottom line, I ask, "What the Hell are you doing here?".

This super cool, super hip, successful business woman, family matriarch, who I have always admired, answered my question in her typical style. The ice broken, we had a pretty long visit for two people whose bodies are not cooperating and who frequently forget what we are talking about or what has already been said. And we had some laughs, too. Fancy seeing you here.....

My friend prefered she remain anonymous. And I am keeping the details of our conversation private. But some of you may know who she is anyways. I can confidently report that she's kicking ass as usual. And to you, my dear, if your read this, thank you for sharing and for listening. And I am here for you any time. And I apologize for not being there sooner.

One thing that really made an impression, however, was how she expressed her joy, her dreams, and her hopes. Her family has been through some pretty amazing stuff in the past year. I am so proud for her that she is not defining herself by her disease. It is clearly just a part of the big picture. My hat is off.

We also talked about another woman we both know, a former colleague of mine, Bernadette. I did not know her well, but I had truly enjoyed the homemade soup and bread she had brought me during my battle. I has also learned that she frequently inquired about me with various friends. While she was reaching out and giving to me, she herself was battling cancer and unfortunately losing the fight.

Her memorial service was held the day I was admitted to the hospital. She had begun hospice just three days before she died. I have deep regret that I was not there for her or even able to pray for her. Thank you, Bernadette, for your beautiful soul that cared about me, despite hardly knowing me, even as your cancer was ravaging your body. May God Bless you always.

Before and After Cancer Came to Town

Thought I'd take a trip down memory lane, back to the defining "Before" and "After" moments of when cancer came to town. I feel a need to tell the story in its entirety. I have often referenced things simply as facts but never really offered them as full experiences. Please bear with me as I write......just trying to get it all out......

Breast cancer has been rather rampant in my family history. I've learned that this was my first "cancer identity", beginning with concern and screening. Those that went before me, and vigilant screening, perhaps saved my life. It was this perspective that allowed for my early detection. It also caused me to really think about what I would do if I were to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

I remember the day when the phone rang and the caller id indicated it was my surgeon. Just two days before I had undergone removal of a suspicious lump. When your surgeon calls on a Saturday, picking up the phone is the beginning of your "new" life. Craig and the boys were visiting our friends Keri, Gordy, and their daughter Jessi for the afternoon, so I was home alone on the mend. I sat on my bed to answer the phone. That was definitely a before and after moment. I spent the new few hours dealing, accepting, and checking my preparedness for what would come.

When my boys got home, I told Craig we needed to talk, so we went to our room, shut the door, and I prayed for a few minutes before milk was needed or somebody hit someone or looked at their brother funny. How quickly can you tell your husband that you have breast cancer? Pretty damn quick. How long can this new diagnosis make time stand still? About as long before a little guy knocks on the door. Suddenly life goes on.

I saw the surgeon Monday morning, but my treatment decisions were already made. I had already had a number of lumps removed, all on the right side, where the cancer had been found. My poor little breast was getting smaller by the year. It simply was time, for me, to say enough is enough, and move on. Take 'em! Why screw around with this? I had been blessed with a wonderful husband, had born and breastfed two beautiful children, my family was complete. Never having had an identity defined by my breasts, and actually perhaps the opposite, I was okay with my originals going. Why not trade up?

When I was off blood-thinners for the required number of days, I underwent a double mastectomy. I remember looking at my breasts while I was in pre-op and saying goodbye. I remember showing them to Craig and my best friend Jenny, both there to support me, as ALWAYS, and telling them to say goodbye. They didn't appreciate the moment as I did.....

I woke up without breasts. It was now "After" for sure.

Someday I will write about the recovery from the surgery and my boobless life. But enough for now.

In closing, I have been fortunate to have some of my friends and family ask frank and sometimes difficult questions, as sometimes, some people, would like to learn more and have felt comfortable enough to ask. I am 100% open to answering ANY question, regardless of how personal it may seem. I genuinely think this is part of my purpose: to talk and communicate the very real journey I've had. People will either want to know or not. But I am committed to getting the personal side of cancer out there. I certainly am not a clinical expert and frankly, it seems that most information out there is dry and technical. PLEASE tell me what you are curious about. Or skip the blog entries. Whatever makes you comfortable.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Sally Got Her Groove Back

Okay, so it's not back yet. And I am still completely unsure how to get it back. Or if it is even possible to get it back. I'd say it's a work in progress.

Nothing about my life has been what I "expected" since the end of February. You may have noticed that this time period is also when I stopped writing and stopped communicating. I want to tell you, my friends, my family, and all of you who have followed my journey and willed me through my transplant, that I am sorry I have not kept you updated and not responded to your efforts at keeping/getting in touch. I have intended to write on this blog every day. I just haven't known how. I am not who I used to be but haven't finished figuring out who I am. Or who I am going to be. So I humbly ask for your patience and tolerance while I go through this process.


I am determined to write regularly, with some current news mixed in with a trip down transplant lane. I literally have so much inisde to share with you all that I don't know where and how to start. Ignore my new posts and emails if you like. I do worry that I might exhaust you if the flood gates really open. But I NEED to tell you, as I can, about where I have been and who I am getting back. I genuinely feel that I have some things to say that need to be heard. And I also genuinely feel that until I get it all out, I can't move on.

I am so nervous that I am shaking. Learning to open up again will be difficult for me. If you can, come along for the ride. And as always, welcome to Sally Land.