How to tell your mother…

August 3, 2008

How to tell your mother that you’re going through menopause (again), that it’s making you crabby (again), that the HOT FLASHES are crazy (again), and that you’re really, really, REALLY sorry that you complained about the incredible heat in her house the first few days you were visiting ….

Well, if you’re me, first you tell the internet.

Then you hint around for a couple days.

Then you wait until everyone is gathered at the table for a big, friendly, family dinner.

And then your husband tells everyone.

Lovely.

Hi, internet.  I’m in menopause.

Yes, I’m still 35.  No, I’m not in chemo again.  But I am taking tamoxifen, an oral chemotherapy agent that prevents my body from using circulating estrogen and using it to feed any remaining cancer cells.  It does wacky things to the body, including inducing menopause.

Again.

All this is making me not worry so much about the oopherectomy (removal of the ovaries) that looms on the horizon.  I mean, if I’m already in menopause, and I’m not going to have any more kids, what’s the big deal about losing my ovaries?

I think.


Off-site today

May 4, 2008

Oops!  I’m not here today.  I’m over at DC Metro Moms, telling my story and my reaction to the Avon Walk here in Washington, D.C. today.  Feel free to drop by and say hello!

Before you go, though, a BIG THANKS to the MOMocrats, both for their steady writing and analysis, and for this gift that they’re sending me this week!  A bunch of us just won in their Mother’s Day comment contest, and I’m getting a brand-new MOMocrats tank to wear out and about.  Hurrah! 

Did you see their exclusive interview with Barack Obama?  


It’s all been a jumble

February 8, 2008

It’s all been a jumble lately, an unsavory gumbo of pain and darkness and anger at the cancerS, seasoned only slightly with goodness and light and the corners of friendships peeking through, friends who don’t want to intrude but are there, ready to step in again when it looks like the right time.

I don’t know when the right time would be, exactly.  I’m not handling this well at all.  I thought that surgery would be the end of fighting the cancer, and that I would feel so much better afterwards, but I’m just not there yet, to be honest.  I’m in pain still, and can’t move my right arm worth anything, I’m so tired, and it all feels so much like I’ve been here before.

My yoga teacher actually verbalized that for me.  When she saw me on Monday, she hugged me, helped me modify the exercises (since I wasn’t even 2 weeks post-mastectomy then), and reminded me, “You’ve been here before.  When you first came, you couldn’t use your right arm then either.  But you worked through it, and it came back.  You can do it again.”  At the time, I was cheered by it.  Of course!  I have been here before!  I’ve been in pain before.  I’ve done bed rest before.  I’ve suffered the loss of the use of my right arm before.  Only then, it was due to the heavy tumor pushing aside my nerves.  Now, there is no more tumor.  There is nothing left to fear.  We just need to soothe the nerves that were jumbled and put in disarray by the mastectomy, and help the muscles stretch back to their original length and place.  It should be do-able.  It is do-able.  And I left with new resolve.

I slept all afternoon, and then, worried about the fluid sloshing around on my chest, made an appointment with my surgeon for Wednesday.

She, however, looking at the scars where my breasts used to be, feeling for the fluid, and tenderly tucking the swollen dog ears behind me, determined that I was healing well and did NOT need to be drained of fluid with the large syringe that she had ready.  She told us that I was healing well and better than expected.  I left with a light heart, and we walked around the city until my next appointment, delighting in the sky, the breeze, the construction site (yes, I have two young sons; it’s now a habit), the chance to stop at Trader Joe’s without a mini-cart and a balloon, and the opportunity that maybe — just maybe — I might run into someone I used to know, in another time and place, perhaps.  Well, this place, but another time, and another me, the me before I became a body that carried cancer around with me, and a soul to match.

We kept my second appointment, walking up the steps of the Integrative Healing Center where my new physical therapist and lymphodema prevention specialist works.  Stepping inside felt like stepping into a suite of healing light, a community of caregivers for the soul as well as the body, a place where hot herbal tea was always available and the examination tables were always comfy.  Bretta welcomed us to the space, and performed such amazing work over the next hour I was delighted to pay whatever she asked, even though my insurance is no good here.  She brought healing to my wound sites, softness to the swelling under my arms, and she worked on my poor shoulder that has caused me such problems and pain; it was immediately apparent, and she took it up like a pet cause, stretching, bending, popping it back into place, and explaining what I was to do at home to train it back again.  I left a new woman, delighted and relaxed, and turned to my husband telling him again and again, “I’m going to live!”

And then I went to support group that night at the hospital.  A group of young women with cancer, banding together to support selves and each other.  I was happy to share my news of cancer caught early and thrown away, happy to hear the news of others: chemo finished, mastectomies upcoming, radiation burns healing, hair finally beginning to regrow.  A pregnancy.  The first in our group of young women so concerned about fertility, but first concerned about death.  We all rejoiced with her, and peppered her with questions.  How did your ovaries survive the chemo?  Is ovarian suppression fully approved?  What about the hormone therapy – did you do that too, and how did you get pregnant through that?  We were so happy for her you’d think we were a roomful of pregnant women welcoming her into the secret society.  But instead we were a roomful of women without breasts.  Without ovaries.  Without, in one case, a rectum, actually, as we have a rectal cancer survivor/fighter in our group as well.  Pregnancy seems so far away.

But it isn’t, really.  I have to remind myself sometimes that it was only a year ago that I was pregnant.  That my body worked so well that I was able to carry a new life inside it, nourish that life, give birth, and support another little body with my own.  Milk that I made myself, and served up at just the right temperature and just the right time.  I was his world.

Now I am only a part of that baby’s world.  As has been true for so long, I can play with him on the floor, but I cannot pick him up.  I cannot hold him, or rock him, or put him to sleep in the crib when he falls asleep in my arms.  And my heart is breaking.  I want to be all things to him again.  And yet, I know now that that can never be so.

For while I have been broken and healing, he has been forming relationships with others.  He is the darling of four grandparents, the heart of his father, and the constant companion of his big brother.  Even the dog is getting used to him. 

Soon he will come along on every playdate, gaining friends my age and his, and then it will be time for school.  He never will be mine, and mine alone again.

So I watch eagerly as Canape births her baby, nourishes her baby, snuggles her baby, and loves her baby.  Make no mistake, the time with a newborn is not easy.  There are so many things to learn, and to do, and to provide comfort to another little person while one is so overwhelmed still by birth, by healing, by lack of sleep, and by the inevitability of change is not easy to do.  Nothing about having a newborn baby is easy, despite the hallmark images and oohing and ahing that we more experienced parents are prone to do as we see, and as we remember, but we don’t really remember, do we?  We don’t remember all the struggles and the scares and the counting of the wet diapers and the recording of the breastfeeding, and the is he eating? moments and the fears that maybe he stopped breathing overnight, or maybe just in the last five minutes since I put him down, I should go check on him, and the oh, he’s squealing, he needs his mama, even though we haven’t so much as been to the bathroom by ourselves today, much less showered, the anxiety that comes when we’re not sure what he needs, but the fear that overwhelms that, because shouldn’t we know what he needs? he is our baby, after all, and he was a part of us just last week, but then the tears come, and the weepies, and the worries that maybe we’re not a fit mother after all. The fears that are universal, but we just don’t know it.  The fears that threaten to make us question our fitness to be a mother, and that is the question that will cleave us in two, and hurt more than childbirth itself.  But little do we know at the time that it is these questions, and these fears, and this perseverence that arises, and the determination to solve the problems and comfort the baby and make everything right again that are still part of childbirth.  It’s the birthing of a new mother that happens in these days after childbirth.  It’s not easy, and it’s not quick, and it’s surely not pretty, but it is important nonetheless and will help each new mother grow to become baby’s mama (or mommy or momma or mother, as chosen by mother and child).  These are fears and worries and doubts that have plagued us all.  This time of mamabirth is so very hard, and so dark in that few women talk about it in the light, and so very few before this wonderful communal journaling that is blogging.  So with this I wish her and all newborn mamas luck, and stand by to offer any advice and comfort that I possibly can, but one thing stands out to me still:

He is yours, and you are his.  And for a time, that is all that matters. 


Big Ways to Help

November 29, 2007

The last post wasn’t exactly complete.  There are, of course, other ways to help a friend with cancer, and I hope you’ll help me fill out the list in the comments to this and the other posts.  Already, there are some amazing comments about helping the spouse of a person with cancer and specific household help for the day after chemo.  Genius, guys, thanks! 

The most amazing help that I’ve personally experienced are all Big Deals, but I would be remiss in not recounting them here.  These take quite a bit of effort but can be done more easily in groups.  One friend can take the lead in organizing help — a great idea in any case, as there is SO MUCH going on when a person is newly diagnosed with cancer that offers to help can easily get lost in the shuffle.  A lifechanging event like a cancer diagnosis can feel like a whirlwind.  The person with cancer may not feel like accepting help at first (trust me on that), but later it may become necessary … or at least welcome.

One of the greatest gifts is organization.  Are you a listmaker?  Or good with spreadsheets?  Offer to organize the offers of help for the person with cancer.  If you’ve got a group of her friends that want to help, great!  If not, offer to respond to those other friends that contact her with offers of help and help them figure out what is most needed.  Remember, everyone will offer to help at first — but the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, so the help may be most needed at the end when she is most tired.  (Not always true if, for instance, the chemo regimen changed like mine did.  But even the later Taxol treatments, gentler than the original AC doses, have been much harder than the first ones.  And the cumulative effects of the diagnosis alone do add up to tears and fears after weeks or months of living with cancer.)

The organizer can make a list of friends and their specific offers to help, spacing them out appropriately so that everyone doesn’t bring dinner all at once, for example.  Perhaps there’s a specific need that the person with cancer has, like driving her to chemo and sitting with her once a week.  That can be a big job for one friend but much easier for a group of people that can each spend a few hours once.  There are other long-term ideas that you can come up with.  Perhaps she needs help at the grocery store, if lifting and bending are difficult and her husband works long hours or has a big commute.  Perhaps she is having trouble making the bed because of the neuropathy in her fingers from Taxol or Taxotere.  Maybe one week she’s got really bad bruises from the IV and is having trouble with the baby.  The ideas are endless, but the thought is the same … keep her company, and keep yourselves sane … figure out a way to spread out the help because the weeks get long and cancer, unfortunately, has no quick fix.

These are the most amazing ways that my friends have helped me through this.  Each is a Big Deal, which is why I didn’t mention them in the last post.  The last thing a friend needs is guilt or overextension.  But if you have a group of friends or can organize one, these have been lifesavers:

  • Team WhyMommy – a bunch of online friends and blogneighbors that get together to keep me company, especially on the low days, but most importantly EVERY day, just in case;
  • MOMS Club support – they divvied me up and each mom took a week to take care of me.  Each Sunday, I get a call from a friend offering babysitting, shopping, cleaning, cooking, or company, and we set something up for the week.  (I’ve been lucky to only need babysitting, cooking, and company.  But God Bless Them for offering to clean.);
  • Morning out – one of my mom friends babysits Widget each week while I go to yoga, giving me “permission” to spend a couple hours on myself.  I know I can truly relax in the darkened yoga room if my little Widget is out having an adventure with his friends and not missing me that much; and
  • Chemo Fairies – every Thursday morning before chemo, one of the moms drops off a little gift bag filled with treats, mints, and happies to help me through the day.  It’s totally spoiling me, but and it’s made a huge difference in how I view Thursdays.  Although I dread getting up to go to chemo in the morning, I also know that friends are thinking of me and I’m NOT ALONE as I fight this beast.

Like I said, these are all Big Deals and commitments.  But they have made all the difference to me.

I’m off to chemo again this morning … number 12!  I’m in good spirits now, but it’s been a tough week this week and I’d appreciate a little company today.  I’ll be checking email/web … if you’ve got a minute and you’re so inclined, would you please leave me a comment to say hi?