wide-eyed at 4am


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Am I a New Person?

The journey changes you. I AM the same person and in some ways I’m getting back to “normal.” But I’m also totally different in some ways. It has to do with perspective and priorities.

I have a new concept of what is important to me and the things that aren’t, I can for the first time just let go.

This is represented very clearly in my need to clear things out: get rid of what is useless to me. Before the journey, I would think …. Hmmmmm ….we might use that if we have a party where we want to have this or that on the deck… or I might want that if we ever go to this place or that.

I’ve finally seen the light and realized that I should use a formula when deciding what to keep and what to “release.” The formula is calculated by the answers to these questions:

Is it used regularly? Or used at all? + What is the chance that it will get used for what “might happen in the future” + how valuable is the space that it is taking up? = keep or release

This formula makes it quite easy to get rid of items that I just “couldn’t part with” before.

We’ve cleaned out our cloths closets several times. We’ve cleared out lots of space in our craft and supply closet and in the shelves and cabinets of our office. I “released” lots of old client files and duplicate samples and examples (if I keep them at all).

I was surprised (but not really) at how old some of these items were. We found cords and chargers for old phones and old Blackberries and cases for Blackberries. I found ink for printers that no longer work, coffee makers that we will never use and espresso machines and mini fryers that we will never use. I found “spare” irons and – oh yes – empty boxes from phones, and other devices, and handbooks for long gone of the same.

Amazing what gets pushed back and covered up in such rooms, closets and cabinets.

The attic is next. Lots of stuff will go.

I’m not sure if it is a southern thing or just something with my family but we all have always saved gift boxes so that you don’t have to get or buy more the next Christmas. My Grandmother had a supply of them as does my aunt, mother and sister so it’s not just me. But looking at them when I’m in the attic gives me a headache now so I will get up there a get rid of the heat baked and crushed ones and select what should be kept and break them down to store. We also have tax records that go WWWAAAAYYYYY beyond when even the IRS would find them informative. They are going. There are Christmas decorations (like individual window candles) that I don’t use anymore and are mostly broken, yellowed or burned out and too old to even find replacement bulbs for. There are heat-baked bows and door wreaths that once were but have now ceased to be attractive. It’s just time.

I’ve figured out that if I REALLY ever do need or want one of these space-consuming, past their prime items again, I can purchase a brand new, updated one.

What is it that produces this phenomenon? Is it that you realize you could leave this earth is a second and you don’t want someone to have to clean out your house? Could it be that staring cancer in the face makes you realize that you just don’t need all this stuff. And if it isn’t useful, it really is just crap.

That is where I am. Even when I’m out shopping, I have a more specific and selective eye. There is no more “Oh, we could use this for XX is we ever XX.” Or “OMG this is a great price. I might wear it.” Nope. Those days are gone.

Could it be that I’m more focused on what is important and more focused on clearing out the clutter that might be getting in the way of it. Sort of like how focused you get on the finish line when you can actually see it. When I’m coming to the end of a run and I’m thirsty and panting, the sight of my endpoint makes me even more determined about getting there.

There is clarity in focus. It’s really a good thing.

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A Calm Understanding

It’s new that stress is always on my mind. I know I was under stress prior to the cancer journey, but I never really thought about how I handled it or how it affected my physical well-being.

Now I do. Once you hear that stress can definitely be a factor in cancer’s occurrence, you think about it differently.

Some things have happened…job related….that I may have had a different reaction to prior to the cancer experience. I think they would have stressed me out MORE.

Basically, several folks moved on to other employment opportunities, we’ll say. These folks were the core positions of the team that I work on and some that made up a closely related team. Structure is changing over to match what customers need in a better way so it’s a good thing for the company. What is difficult is how departments change during times like this.

So the marketing team is now pretty much three contractors (me and a two graphic designers) and an interim manager.

And I’m OK with it. Even though my workload has greatly increased, it’s OK. A company that I’ve been with for almost 10 years needs for me to step up and be consistent and I will.

But I’m calm about it. It’s a funny inner peace.

After this journey – during which I worked full-time keeping up with everything for 4 clients – I’ve not been strikingly stressed over anything. Not even the surgeries and treatments.

Faith gives me the understanding that everything will work out. Support from loved ones gives me confidence that I won’t be alone during any of it.

So I learned that this concept doesn’t disappear as the most difficult parts of the cancer journey are behind me. It’s lifelong. It’s always with me and always has been.

My plastic surgeon’s nurses are amazing people. One in particular has been especially supportive. During a recent appointment, we were talking about the silver linings and gifts that do come from the cancer experience. For me, one of the most reassuring ones has been the discovery of this strength, assurance and calm that exists within us all – if we will just let ourselves find it.


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Thanks Giving – Really

And giving thanks is exactly what I’m doing this year even more than years before. Even more than last year, I think.

I fought it, my mom insisted on doing most of the cooking and work for Thanksgiving this year. Actually everything except dessert…I made my 3-layer dark chocolate cake.

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We had a good visit – although sometimes frustrating – as it is every time the fam gets together.

Dennis and I got there early to help if it was needed. And it was.

I helped with the gravy, getting the dressing in the pan, setting the table and carving the turkey. Thankfully, mom had done several things ahead so the last minute things weren’t overwhelming.

I tried to help minimize the clean-up by washing and putting away dishes, pots and utensils as we went along, but there was still lots of clean up once we were finished. We stayed afterwards to help in that department too. I know they could’ve gotten it done, but I know that my mom was tired and needed to relax the excitement died down. Stress is  not her friend with heart failure…

We’re actually treating ourselves to a deep fried turkey that we purchased from Wild Wings. I’m making apple-sausage stuffing and giblet gravy, brussels sprouts with figs and pancetta, and walnut cranberry sauce.

We wrestled enough chocolate cake from my dad to have for our dessert….

At least I feel like cooking. That wasn’t the case last year: I chopped a few nuts but mostly watched as our 2 daughters combined efforts on an impressive Thanksgiving feast in Tampa.

Thinking back, it’s hard to imagine that just two years ago I had no idea that this journey lay ahead of me.

Now that I’ve had my “final” surgery, we can move on, right?

Lots of people are congratulating me and that’s great. But (unless they’ve experienced “the journey”) it just isn’t clear to them that the journey is one for a lifetime.

The fear looms that a check-up will reveal that “it’s back.”

I’ve learned that and I’ve had very few procedures (only 2) or “check-ups” since completing treatment. But procedures, scans, samples and tests are lining up already so that I will understand the constant anxiety that my sisters in the journey have told me will accompany each appointment.

Regardless of how beautifully I recover and how amazingly my plastic surgeon rebuilds me, the journey will never be over. Marked for life as a prime candidate for re-occurrence, each milestone will be a check-off to add another month and eventually year to the cancer-free time tally.

So as I reach this point, I’m thankful for it. But I’m more thankful for the people who support me, the people who are also on the journey and understand, the doctors who “keep the watch” and the nurses who encourage me every time I see them, for the medications that help me check off those milestones and for my body’s amazing ability to revitalize itself from the barrage of surgeries and treatments.

I’ve never hidden the evidence of the journey. Not when I had hardly any hair or when my port scar showed.  I think I’ve frightened a few people in the athletic club locker room. No one says anything but I can see that they stare. And even when these scars have diminished, they will never totally disappear – just like the journey. Hopefully those who gawk realize what they can do to keep themselves out of the same predicament.

I’m actually thankful for the experience because of the realignment of priorities and perspective it has caused. I’ve let go of some things and continue to be able to let go of things that I once thought I couldn’t part with. I’m passionate but about some different things. I’m still OCD and driven but understand more clearly what I do and don’t have control over. I’ve met some amazing people: doctors, nurses, specialists, other patients. I’ve seen amazing advances in medicine put to work for me and learned some amazing things about how my body and many other organisms, foods and nutrients work together.

So this weekend I realize that I’m a lot more than grateful. I’ve experienced enlightenment, renewal….and thankfulness.

 


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Getting Detailed

Pretty funny, my friend who immediately compared my surgery tomorrow to a car getting detailed. Doing a little body work to smooth out some dents and bumps, repairing a scratch and adjusting the headlights. Cracks me up – only a guy would compare the tweaking surgery after mastectomy reconstruction to something related to a car!

So tomorrow should finish me up. Well almost. I suppose I still have a little tattoo work coming after the skin heals. Amazing what they can do. I will have a 3-D nipple where there is none now and then the colors tattoed to match the other side…

This entire topic brings out some interesting reactions from people. Some men get tremendously embarrassed. Some men are tremendously curious as are some women. Some people shut down the conversation and others want more details. It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round, doesn’t it?

I will be sure to arrive at Same Day Surgery at CMC Main prior to 8:30 am. I’m sure I’ll get antsy before they call my name to “come back” to the prep area….you know, that tiny room that barely fits the bed they’ll soon wheel me to the OR on plus the little cabinet that holds nothing. I will have dry mouth and a growling stomach and be slightly self-conscious about the way I look because I can’t put on any make-up. I will feel like I need to apply antiperspirant but I can’t. I don’t really  need it anyway since I have yet to grow any hair back in my armpits to speak of and haven’t been able to detect any body odor. I always wear it for fear that the day that I don’t, I will suddenly develop BO again.

But soon enough, I will go back and adorn my lovely wardrobe of a hard-to-tie gown made of slightly scratchy fabric in a rather tasteless pattern with grippy socks (probably the same nasty looking brownish color that I was given the last time I was there). I deposit my clothing in the plastic bag with my name written in Sharpie and take my position on the bed. It’s cold in the room and my feet are soon icecubes. I always need a warmed blanket wrapped around them. (BTW, those warm hospital blankets are the BEST.) Next comes the fun of getting my IV port so the anesthesiologist can easily drug me up. Used to this by now. It’s sort of a guessing game when I meet my prep nurse as to whether she is good at the needles. It seems like they all would be. After all, they get oodles of practice.

At this point, I may or may not remember the ride around to the OR. This is one thing that has not been the same for each of my surgeries. I have felt really clear-headed all the way into the OR. Clearly remembering the amazingly huge screen they see everything on and the meat-locker cold temperature in there. Wondering how the surgeon’s fingers aren’t frozen stiff…. I even talked to the nurses – telling them that I bet they wanted me to be quiet. Other times I’ve conked out before I make it around the corner.

Regardless of how it begins, it will seem like only 15 minutes have passed when I awaken. Usually I’m not even very groggy, although the time it takes me to come out from under the anesthesia differs. Hoping nothing changes in my reaction to anesthesia.

The one who gets the *@*! end of the stick is Dennis. He will have a looooonnnnggg day. Starting at 8:30am, he’ll be in that waiting room, waiting through the 3 hours that it’s predicted surgery will take. He’ll watch my number move across the progress panels and eventually see that I’ve been moved to recovery. My plastic surgeon will report results to him and eventually he’ll get to come to my recovery partition and wait for me to gain enough focus to be kicked out.

I’m guessing we won’t be headed back down Providence Road until at least 3pm. I’m imagining that I will be hungry and thirsty and want to lie down soon. Not sure if I’ll have pain at this point. But I will probably be sore. I try to avoid pain meds. Not just because of their digestive impact but because the ones that work make me goofy as goofy can be.

Maybe I will be up to telling you more tomorrow night while it’s fresh in my mind….or I’ll be resting in goofy land.

The thing is….my partner in crime will be there the entire time. He won’t even leave to get lunch…. or maybe just a quick walk to the cafeteria to grab a snack. He will take me in and bring me home. He will get my pillow and put a blanket over me on the couch so I can doze in front of the TV and then – even though he will want to watch some far-off golf tournament or soccer game or another game of the World Series – he will ask me what I want to watch….knowing that I will soon be asleep and never know the difference.

I don’t know what I would do without him. I can’t imagine any day since April 15, 2015 (when I got my needle biopsy results) without him. He’s a loving husband, a generous soul, s funny spirit and a real trouper. He’s made the journey with me and it’s coming to some sort of finality.

For this part anyway.

For sure I know that any test or procedure I have from here on out will be tempered with the thought that it could resurface somewhere else. I know because I had a colonoscopy a few weeks ago and I suddenly thought as I was prepping for the procedure (and what fun THAT is) that this procedure could show colon cancer. Aek! I suppose I will feel the same way when I have a gynecological exam just after Thanksgiving and a mammogram in February. It will never end – the lurking fear. Never end.