The Longest Shortest Year

(Alternate titles include: Fuck You 2016 but that was taken, Bad Hair Day Year, and That Time I Had Cancer.)

Today marks one year since I received that phone call. Those three words that changed my life forever – for the good, the bad, and the ugly (because let’s be honest, shit got pretty nasty looking). I know what you’re thinking, You Won $1,000,000,000 is a wonderful thing to hear! You may also be thinking, Elissa, you cheated by writing it numerically. But no, I’m referring to that time on December 22, 2015 when a faceless woman nonchalantly uttered the words, You Have Cancer. 

It has been the longest shortest year of my life. I’ve lived every day waiting for the next – six rounds of chemo, 25 rounds of radiation, three more Herceptin infusions, three more months until my next surgery, nine months and nine more years of Tamoxifen. My mantra became, if I could just get to ________. What a strange way to live.

How in one year can a person experience so much darkness and such profound enlightenment? How in the span of a day can you age 40 years and regress back to childhood? My pendulum swings between gratitude and anger, wisdom and immaturity.

A couple months ago something prompted me to ask the question, what are the three most important things in life? (Don’t judge, I think I was in one of those dark, Tamoxifen spirals.) The question stuck with me, so here are my answers:

Love, I truly believe is the foundation of our essence. Time is always too short. Health, I will never take you for granted.

Advertisements

What Not To Say To A Cancer Patient

Disclaimer: If you’re a close friend or family and you’re reading this, these words are not directed at you and please continue to ask me how I’m doing (if you’re inclined do so). You are my anchors and I love you. 

This is a topic I’ve really struggled with over the last year. Being public about having cancer means you expose yourself to everything, from wonderful acts of kindness, support like you couldn’t even imagine, to the awkward, how are you feeling innocently said in passing. I’m still not sure I have the words to describe how a simple, well-meaning question, or silence for that matter, can completely rattle you. The internal aftermath of some cancer related conversations is dark and stormy and often lingers with me. I was prompted to write about this by an article I read a few days ago in the New York Times. So instead of trying put it in my own words, I’ll just copy and paste a few excerpts.

• Don’t talk about other patients with similar cancers, even if they fared well — no two cancers are alike. It’s fine, though, to ask if the patient would like to talk with someone else who’s been through it.

• Don’t say the patient is lucky to have one kind of cancer rather than another, which downplays what the person is going through. There’s nothing lucky about having cancer even if it’s a “good” cancer.

• Don’t say “I know how you feel” because you can’t possibly know. Better to ask, “Do you want to talk about how you feel, how having cancer is affecting you?”

• Don’t suggest that the person’s lifestyle is to blame for the disease, even if it may have been a contributing cause. Blame is not helpful. Many factors influence cancer risk; even for lifelong smokers, getting cancer is often just bad luck.

• Don’t preach to the patient about staying positive, which can induce feelings of guilt in the patient if things don’t go well. Better to say, “I’m here for you no matter what happens,” and mean it.

• Don’t ask about prognosis. If the patient volunteers that information, it’s O.K. to talk further about its implications. Otherwise, it’s better to stifle your curiosity.

• Don’t burden the patient with your own feelings of distress, although it’s fine to say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of interacting with a person with cancer, it’s better to say, “I don’t know what to say” than to say nothing at all or to avoid the person entirely, who may then feel abandoned and think you don’t care.

Hi.

Hi there. Long time no post. How about a quick summary? Since my last update I’ve:

Completed 25 rounds of radiation (once a day for 5 weeks).

Started Tamoxifen (I’ll be taking this everyday for the next 10 years).

Booked my second surgery (March 28, 2017)!

Have continued to receive Herceptin (my last dose is in February).

I’ve obviously been at a loss for words which is why I haven’t posted. The two weeks after radiation were hell. I basically  had second degree burns on my boob and in my armpit and was on an emotional roller coaster known as Tamoxifen (think bad birth control pill). I’m happy to report that I’m no longer insane (debatable) and my skin is healing. I wasn’t ready to sink into a depression after radiation. I was on such a high knowing that I’m almost done with treatment I failed to recognize all I had been through to get there. I’m working on healing now, physically and emotionally.

We all  have different realities and I just want to be as honest as possible about mine. My goal isn’t to paint an ugly picture, but let you into my heart – which isn’t always a cheerleader or stand up comedian… orrrrr maybe that’s just the Tamoxifen talking.

I’d Rather Watch Homeland

It’s been a while since my last post. Not because I haven’t been thinking about cancer. (I go to radiation daily at the Cancer Center, it’s a nice reminder.) I haven’t written in a long time because I feel pressure to write, pressure to please you all with my insightful thoughts on life. I realize this is self-inflicted and it was particularly obvious to me today when I said out loud, “I’d rather be watching Homeland”. So the truth is, I’m avoiding you, and perhaps myself a little bit. I’m caught up in GETTING SHIT DONE – work, radiation, doing things*. It’s easy and feels so good to bury my head in the tornado of life but quite honestly, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by it all. It’s puzzling, balancing treatment and work and sometimes I wonder how much space I have in my head for everything to exist (enter Homeland, again). Confused yet?

So that’s where I am right now. Head in the clouds.

Oh, and in the event that you’re wondering, physically I feel pretty good. I’m not too tired and I’m not too burnt. I’m no longer bald on the top of my head and I’m rocking an 80s brow. I’m really trending, guys.

And that’s where this post is ending. Abruptly and slightly awkward. And mom, since I know you’re reading this, please don’t email me if there are any typos in here. 🙂 Love you!

*”Things” include cooking, cleaning, doing yoga, taking care of other people for a change, staring at the TV, obsessing over throw pillows, reading US Weekly, hunting for the perfect leather jacket at the perfect price… these types of things take dedication and time.

Gallery

Life According To My iPhone

So Many Rain References

Being alone, truly by yourself with your thoughts and your reflections, is such a treasure. We don’t do it enough. There’s no time.

I walked home from dinner tonight under a canopy of trees, lightning in the background, the heavy scent of summer at my nose and rain, holding itself back from letting loose but coming down hard enough to wet my skin. You know the feeling and the smell so I won’t waste my time trying to thesaurus the adjectives. There’s just something about summer rain that provokes observation and peace. It makes me yearn and yearning gives me hope that amidst the confusion of identifying myself with a stage or a cure I will find some truth.

I’m not always happy these days. I’m facing new realities and I’m grateful for even having them but also coping with the loss of what they used to be. It’s hard to explain this. I should be grateful, right? I am. Beyond appreciative (I have arms and legs that work, that should be enough!). But I’m also human and I’m just not ready to celebrate. I’m putting this out there not because I want your pity, I want your empathy, your understanding. The subject matter is irrelevant and the heart of what I’m trying to communicate is so real for so many of us. I’m no therapist, I don’t have the attention span to get a PhD (I literally had to google how to abbreviate PhD). Beyond the physical (I’m talking chemo, pregnancy, aging), life can be emotionally grueling. So let’s take a second, or in my case a walk in the rain, to appreciate that and simply be ok with it.

I’m not GREAT! I’m not FEELING POSITIVE! I just am (with gratitude). And it’s ok if you are too.

Cue A Little Fall Rain because I like a little drama (obviously).

Let’s Get Physical (therapy)

I think I was so relieved after surgery I forgot about recovery. Relieved and on copious amounts of Valium and pain killers. The last three plus weeks have been a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t completely ready to head back to work, yet I was tired of being at home. I haven’t been able to cook, clean, or get my heart rate up. Most people would rejoice at a vacation from housework, right? Well, the lack of physical exercise and mobility has manifested itself into a wee bout of depression. As a person who just put their body through chemo and surgery, I can assure you that there is no need to worry about me jumping off any bridges. I’m just taking myself a little too seriously these days. Simple stuff like trying to determine the meaning of life. It’s all very Bridget-Jones-All-By-Myself on repeat.

But today, LET THERE BE LIGHT (in the form of a physical therapist named Brianna). Ever wonder what it would be like to have your boobs massaged by a stranger? Don’t answer that question. It’s glorious. In the event that you’re concerned about my choice in providers, she didn’t massage my actual boob, just the surrounding areas. You do lie there naked from the waist up though. #boobarm