Welcome to funk-ville, population 1

If you’re looking for a laugh or an inspirational story, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m in a funk and there’s no amount of lipstick that’ll pretty up this pig (the funk, not me). My thoughts are scattered like leaves falling off a tree (if only that conjured up visions of the russet colors of fall, of leaves parachuting off of trees as they ready themselves for the change of season. That does happen in some parts of the world, but here, in the land of eternal summer, and in this infernal record-breaking, never-ending summer, the only leaves falling from the trees are brown and crackly, dead from the drought. How’s that for a cheery thought?).

I’ve been struggling the last few days. I’m frustrated with the pace of the healing from the latest surgery–yes, I’m a whole lot better, but I want to be done. I’m madder than a wet hen about the effect of the last surgery on my tennis game, and wonder if I’ll ever get my serve back. I’m worn out from the swirling, worrying thoughts of whether I’ll ever have the results I want. I’m both impatient for and dreading the next round of revision. I’m tired of being tired. I’m pissy about the fact that I’m still battered and sore. I’m ready to rip the port right out from under my skin because it catches on my clothes and shoots a sick sensation up my neck that reminds me the damn thing is sewn into my jugular vein. Oh, and it looks weird, too. I’m sick of cancer and all its many fallouts.

Normally, my solution to such a funk is alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Every night is ladies’ night when the funk shows up at my house. But there’s a niggling voice in the back of my head reminding me that alcohol is a major contributor to breast cancer, both initially and in terms of recurrence. And since not a day goes by that I don’t think about recurrence, perhaps I should avoid using alcohol as a balm for my beat-up soul. Dammit. Yet another way cancer has wreaked havoc in my world. If I can’t in good conscience comfort myself with booze, I’m in real trouble. This is no fun.

When I was diagnosed last year, Dr Dempsey gave me a stack of play money. She handed it to me and said it is very important currency. Each “dollar” bill was a free pass to be in a funk. To throw a fit. To have a pity party. As she put it, “to lay in bed watching Lifetime and eating ice cream.” I laughed and thought, pfffft! I won’t need that. I got this. Me and my positive attitude can kick this cancer no sweat. 

While I am happy to report I’ve spent not one day in bed watching Lifetime and eating ice cream since cancer shat upon my head, I’m thinking I may need to pull out one of those dollars. How crazy is that — after all the crap I’ve been through, after seeming like I was finally getting close to the finish line, now I fall into the funk?

Don’t worry, I’ve already run through all the reasons I have to be happy: I’m alive, the worst is behind me, I’m not in the hospital, I have neither drains nor a wound vac attached to me, I’m cleared for exercise, I have great doctors and comprehensive insurance, I have a stellar support network, blah blah blah. Yes, all of that is true, and I know in my heart of hearts that there really is more good than bad  in my life. I know that one day this whole “cancer journey” will be a speck of dust in my rearview mirror as I travel along the grand highway of a happy life. But right now, the funk rules.

Those of you who are within shouting distance have been hearing about it. The frustration, the impatience, the pissy-ness. What you won’t hear, though, is “Why me?” because really, does it matter why? Not so much. What matters is how ya sweep up the mess that’s dumped on ya, and most days I’m armed and ready with the broom & dustpan. But for now, I’m frustrated, impatient, and pissy. And mad. I’m mad, too.

I’m mad that this damned cancer “journey” has to be so hard for so long. I’m all for rolling up my sleeves, gritting my teeth and getting through it. I fully support Winston Churchill’s idea of “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I believe Eleanor Roosevelt 100 percent when she said “A woman is like a tea bag — you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” I gather strength from Robert Frost telling me “The best way out is always through.” But geez, does it really have to be this arduous? The ways in which cancer robs us are seemingly endless, and breast cancer in particular is a repeat offender, a pathological thief.

I just read this article, “What’s It Really Like to Live Through Breast Cancer?” Today especially, I needed to hear other women’s stories. Valerie, age 52, said that “she needed symmetry. She needed things to be as they should. She needed, after two years of surrendering to the opinions of doctors and the input of the cancer Web, to have an ounce of control over her body.” Yeah, me too.

Renee, age 47, said that “when I had her mastectomy sutures taken out, I asked the surgeon to remove the Sharpie mark she’d made—the black line that went across my ribs like a big smile—and the surgeon asked what line? I pointed. Her eyes got big and she said, ‘That’s your incision, Renee. We opened up your body. We removed a lot of tissue.’ ”

There are lots of Valeries and Renees out there. One in eight women will be diagnosed with this dreaded disease in the United States alone. Worldwide, there are 1.3 million new breast cancer diagnoses a year. That’s more than a million women who will endure this disease. Of them, some 465,000 will die from it. But even those who survive it, like me, will carry the weight of the disease. The physical scars Renee spoke of are nothing compared to the emotional ones. People say we’re lucky that our cancer occurs in a body part that can be removed. True, but it also means that we see evidence of that cancer every day; if I had a kidney removed, I wouldn’t be confronted by the railroad tracks of a long, harrowing journey every time I undress.

Sure, it’s better to be scarred than dead. No question. But being alive doesn’t mean I have to be happy all the time. It doesn’t mean I won’t get in a funk and be frustrated, impatient, pissy, and mad sometimes.

But the funk will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later. Like in Carl Sandburg’s beautiful little poem, the funk, which can come in like a herd of elephants or on “little cat feet,” will overlook my city “on silent haunches,” and then move on outta here.

(thanks to google images for making it so easy to pretty up my blog today)

E Roosevelt said it best

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Well, I did indeed live through the horror (or horrors, if we’re counting the previous surgeries, procedures, and nastiness), so I guess I can indeed take the next thing that comes along.

That next thing better be something good.

It’s been a long road, and while a lot of people have even longer and more pot-hole-filled roads, I’m thinking only about mine right now. I’m still recovering and can be selfish like that. I won’t ride that wave too long, or play that card too often, but for today, I’m thinking about my road and no one else’s.

I really like the quote above from Eleanor Roosevelt, and thank Susan Christopherson for passing it along to me in the early days of my “cancer journey.” In those early days, I had no idea that the diagnosis and mastectomy were going to be the easy parts, that a nasty infection would make those previous experiences seem like a walk in through a rainbow-infused meadow with my pet unicorn. Ha!

Another quote of Ms Roosevelt’s that’s always been a favorite of mine is “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” True dat.

I’ve had a lot of comments about my fearless attitude, and some people have kindly suggested that my sunny outlook has helped propel me through this “cancer journey” without much trouble. If you want to know how I do it, the answer is: I don’t know, it’s just what you do.

I grew up with the “it’s just what you do” principle, and maybe it’s like freckles or pigeon toes–you either got it or ya don’t. My parents did instill that principle, and they did a good job, so it took. I certainly don’t wake up every morning with cartoon birds singing out my window and little woodland creatures bringing me my robe & slippers (although that would be pretty cool). If they could bring me a skinny latte, that would be even better.

I suppose there are two ways to face a horrifying situation: head-on, like Ms. Roosevelt suggests, or with your head buried in the sand. I’m a head-on kind of girl, and the head-in-the-sand approach has never worked for me. I kinda admire the people who can do that, though, because it seems a lot easier. But here’s the thing: no matter how you face a scary situation, it’s still scary.

Cancer didn’t make me brave. I don’t think it’s a gift (as I’ve written about before, and will continue to rant about at any given time, so get used to it!). Good things can come from a bad situation, but the bad situation does not magically become a good thing.

The truth of the matter is that cancer sucks. Whether it’s an early diagnosis and best-case outcome or late-stage and aggressive, it just sucks. There are untold ways in which it sucks. And there are innumerable ways in which it affects your life and body. For me the scariest and suckiest thing about cancer is that once you have it, you can do everything right and face everything head-on with no guarantee that it will all work out ok. That’s just not right. Our society is based on the idea that if you work hard, you will propser. The American Dream, right? Well, cancer doesn’t subscribe to that idea. It’s random, and vicious, and unfair.

But guess what? We don’t have to fear it. Yes, it is one of the worst things that can happen. Being diagnosed (with no family history) at a (relatively) young age was a serious sucker-punch. My world has been topsy-turvy for the last 10 months. But as my sweet friend and survivor sister Jenny reminds me, it’s temporary. In fact, she was kind enough to make me a poster right before my reconstruction last week to reiterate that idea. I wanted to take it to the hospital with me, but the extreme heat of the ICU room would have melted the glue dots and cute sparkly stickers. 

Jenny has reminded me from day one of my “cancer journey” that it is temporary, which means I can endure it. I can get through it. Some days I’ve questioned that, and Jenny has texted me a simple message: it’s temporary. Knowing that removes some of the fear and shifts that balance of power from cancer back to me, where it belongs.

Cheers to 2011

“The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!” ~Edward Payson Powell

I have to admit, I didn’t know who Mr. Powell is, but I sure like his sentiment. About the New Year. About the past being just that — the past. About the ripe possibilities contained in a brand new year.

(BTW, Powell was a journalist and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s who died at age 83 while on a fishing trip with his daughter.)

Every January, the dawn of a new year is exciting and full of potential. Many people make (and quickly break!) resolutions in an effort to shrug off bad habits and assume good ones. Personally, I abstain from resolutions. I’m more of list-maker and goal-setter year-round. Not that there aren’t things I’d like to improve upon, for schizzle. But I’m wise enough in my advancing age to know that a promise made at the tail-end of one year for sweeping change in the next is an unrealistic proposition.

January is one of my favorite months, as it signals the end of the hectic holiday season– which typically is not my favorite time of year– and it ushers in the celebration of the entrance of Macy into the world. (I feel the same way about May, and the celebration of all things Payton.) 

This year, this fresh new year, of all years, I’m not looking for sweeping change. The last 6 months notwithstanding, I have to say my life is pretty sweet. And even when I factor in the calamity that ensued since May, I would have to give myself an above-average grade in coping, managing, and reinventing.

Not to toot my own horn, but I think I handled it all just fine. There was a decent amount of bloodshed, but all of it was mine and I didn’t cause it to happen to anyone else (namely Dr S, who could have suffered at my hands more than once!), so that’s a good start. I made some new friends, always a good thing, and learned an entirely new vocabulary. I like to think I passed the “Eleanor Roosevelt test” in which a woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.

So I won’t make any resolutions for this newly minted year. I will resolve, however, to keep on keeping on. To not let the turkeys get me down. To keep on truckin’. To mind the gap. To live free or die. To do unto others. To keep calm and carry on.

And my new favorite platitude: