To quote from Alexander, the hero of Judith Viorst’s timeless children’s book, today was a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
Actually, truth be told, it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good very bad month. It’s been a death-by-a-million-paper-cuts month.
I didn’t wake up with gum in my hair or miss out on dessert at lunch like poor Alexander did. But it’s still been a THNGVB day.
This is dangerous territory. As a cancer “survivor” I should be grateful. I should be happy. I should be thankful to be alive and (more or less) in one piece.
To which I say, screw the “shoulds.”
Of course I’m grateful to have “survived” cancer (and of course I recognize that the “surviving” only hold true until the day in any given month in any given year that the cancer comes back. Which it does for some 40 percent of women diagnosed with early-stage, favorable breast cancer). I am happy that I’m not currently metastatic. I am thankful to be alive. None of this, however, cancels out the rest of the yucky stuff involved, and sometimes a girl’s gotta vent.
Today was the tipping point of my THNGVB month. A punctured tire this morning turned today’s to-do list into a scrap in the recycle bin. A cut on my leg from two weeks ago has become red, hot, painful, and pussed instead of healed. My attempts to slather it in Neosporin and cover it with a band-aid didn’t cut it (heh heh) so I’m now back in antibiotic hell. Cue the nausea, thrush, and terrible taste in my mouth, which join the dizziness, joint pain, neuropathy, fatigue, mental fog, muscle weakness, hot flashes, and sweating. Sheesh. I mean, sheesh.
I’ve been blaming this fresh hell on Aromasin, the latest aromatase inhibitor I’ve been taking to stave off a recurrence of my cancer and (theoretically) live a longer life. However, I’ve had the luxury of being off the dreaded Aromasin for a two-week period in advance of and following surgery. Yes, another surgery. Don’t be jealous. Perhaps it takes more than a two-week window to rid oneself of the nastiness Aromasin brings. Perhaps I’m just a whiner. Either way, I don’t feel good and I firmly believe that in some cases, the cure is worse than the disease.
Attempts to ameliorate any one of these symptoms are for naught. Taking a probiotic. Counting my blessings. Backing off of the intensity of my workouts. Viewing photos of baby donkeys and Golden Retriever puppies. Lighting a yummy-smelling candle. Drinking more water. Making an appointment with a neurologist. Doing a good deed for a friend in need. Nothing is helping. Nada. Nuttin.
In my most recent attempt to carve out a moment of not-hell, I read this quote in the current edition of Oprah’s magazine:
In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with responsibilities and challenges. Having enough time to give to everybody who needs you and have any left for yourself is a constant struggle. But in the long run, designing space for you is the only way you can survive without burnout and resentment. There is no life without a spiritual life, and spirituality is like a muscle. It must be fueled. Fuel yourself with beauty, inspiration, music, laughter, nature, a hot soaking bath, silence. Whatever form it takes for you. Know this for sure: You have more to give when your own tank is full.
Dammit, Oprah! I’m trying. I’m trying to design space for me and to fuel myself. But what does one do when nothing is working?
I get a handy-dandy email in my inbox every day from Oprah’s magazine. I like her magazine and always find something useful, whether a book review or an article about a do-gooder in some random far-flung part of the world. Because Oprah is queen of the world and can cover whatever stories or topics she chooses, you never see ridiculous headlines or teasers on the cover of her magazine, like what we see on so many magazines. Sometimes I’m downright embarrassed by them while waiting in line at the grocery store: do we need to know that Hilary is cheating on Bill with a lesbian lover? Do you really want to guess which celeb’s backside is completely covered in cellulite but only partially covered by a yellow bikini? I’m never embarrassed by the cover of O Magazine.
So today’s email had Dr Oz’s tips on 10 things you can do to live to 100 — or beyond.
I’m all for healthy living, but I most definitely do not want to live to be 100 — or beyond. I’m exhausted just thinking about that. Perhaps living to 100 — or beyond — but never growing old, feeble, and/or dependent on others wouldn’t be too bad, but given my not one, but two bouts with cancer, coupled with my degenerating joints, I’m guessing that won’t be in the cards for me. If I live to be 100 — or beyond — but my knees won’t bend and I’m stuck in a wheelchair, or even worse in bed, relying on others to care for me, I’m going to be hopping mad. Not that I have a death wish, but I am realistic. The average age of women diagnosed with breast cancer is 61; I was 20 years ahead of the curve. While strides have been made in treatment, and while my personal recurrence rate was predicted to be low, I don’t know that I can rationally expect to live another 57 years — or beyond.
Maybe I’m taking Dr Oz too literally. Does he really think that by following his 10 tips, we can live to be 100? I dunno, but here are his suggestions.
1. Eat red foods. The examples he give are beets, which relax blood vessels, and red cabbage, which protects against cancer. I love, love, love beets, so perhaps my blood vessels are relaxed. However, I clearly did not eat enough red cabbage, as it most definitely did not protect me from cancer.
2. Drink a cup of black tea. It’s supposed to boost survival rates of those who suffer a heart attack by 28 percent. Ok, I admit that stats like these confuse me. Does this mean that black-tea drinkers who have a heart attack are 28 percent more likely to not die from the heart attack, or 28 percent les likely to have a heart attack in the first place? I’m confused, but I do drink a lot of iced tea, so hopefully I’m covered either way.
3. Dial one phone number from memory every day. Not using speed dial or your cell phone’s memory exercises the brain’s “chunking” ability. By grouping info into chunks, you can keep your brain active and alert. I think working a crossword puzzle does the same thing, but don’t quote me on that.
4. Use the first stall in a public restroom. Ok, I do this whenever I am stuck and must use a public restroom, although I avoid public restrooms at all cost. Being the good germophobe that I am, I already knew this trick. See, most people seek privacy in a public restroom, so they tend to use the farthest stalls. More use equals more bacteria, which freaks me out. Now I’m wishing I hadn’t shared this tip, though, as I predict a rush on my preferred first stall. Some days I wonder how I’m able to leave the house at all.
5. Take the stairs, two at a time. We all know that taking the stairs instead of the elevator is preferable for good health, but Dr Oz says take that a step further — literally — and take two stairs at a time. Easy for him to say, with his long legs. I’ll try it, even though my legs aren’t long, but I’ll probably have to use the handrail, which I’m pretty sure is covered in germs. Never mind.
6. Stretch after you shower. Stretching is good. Tight muscles and tendons are bad (says the girl who hates to stretch). Once your muscles are good and heated from the shower, it’s easier to stretch them, and stretching promotes good posture and helps decrease muscle soreness from taking the stairs two in one go.
7. Hold your breath. Dr Oz touts this as a mini workout for your lungs, and something that can be done anytime, anywhere. He recommends holding your breath for 10 seconds, then blowing it out through pursed lips, which activates all the little nooks & crannies in our lungs. I tend to hold my breath while using a public restroom, so as long as I blow it out through pursed lips, I guess I’m good.
8. Do the reverse warrior. Dr Oz does a lot of yoga, and if he says the reverse warrior is the most important pose, I believe him. Click here to see how to do it. This pose strengthens the legs, increases flexibility in the spine, and stretches the hips, inner thighs, and groin. Get to it, y’all.
9. Chew your food 20 times. Grandma said it first, but Dr Oz tells us why: not only does it slow us down and helps us avoid eating like a pack of wild animals, it can decrease our risk of diabetes. Horking down food too fast leads to overeating, which can lead to obesity, which can lead to diabetes. Dr Oz says if you don’t want to count out how many times you chew, get into the habit of putting your fork down in between bites.
10. Cut your cravings in half. Instead of trying to deny your cravings, Dr Oz recommends giving in to them, but only by half. So instead of gobbling down a bag of potato chips, eat half the bag. Instead of devouring the carton of ice cream, just eat half of it. Actually, the example he gave was a cookie. One cookie. Which he wants you to break in half. So I’m guessing he would counsel me to go ahead and pour myself a glass of champagne, but to only drink half of it. Yet another reason to not live to be 100 — or beyond. I want the whole glass!
I take Oprah’s magazine, O. My friends who aren’t from around here laugh when I say that I “take” a magazine. I never knew that was a southern way of saying I have a subscription. Learn something every day, even if it is from Yankees (kidding, of course — I love my Yankee friends. Just hate the team the Yankees).
Now that we’ve cleared that up, back to the magazine. That I take.
In every issue, the last page is Oprah’s column on what she knows for sure. It’s the first place I turn to each month when the magazine appears in my mailbox. Then I go straight to the food section, followed by the book recommendations. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a recipe from O magazine, but the food stylists and photographers do an outstanding job. I have definitely taken book recommendations and have not been disappointed.
The What I Know for Sure column was spawned by Gene Siskel asking Oprah what she knows for sure. On the surface, it seems like a simple question, yet it had Oprah “flustered and stuttering and unable to come up with an answer.” She explains it: “The late film critic Gene Siskel used to ask in his celebrity interviews, ‘What do you know for sure?’ The first time he asked me this question, it threw me. Since then the question has become a way of taking stock of my life—hence the monthly column, in answer to Gene.”
Siskel inspired her to find out what she knows for sure, and every month she shares what she’s discovered. Say what you will about Oprah — some people think she walks on water while others can’t stand the sound of her voice — when she talks, people listen. Sometimes she gets a little too “out there” for me, but for the most part, I agree with what she says and usually come away from her What I Know for Sure column thinking, “Yeah! What she said.”
Because it’s the holiday season and I’m in the giving mood (and because I’m still waiting for the answer to the question of my next surgery to be handed down from the mighty GYN oncology tribunal at MD Anderson), I give you Oprah’s Top 20 List of Things She Knows for Sure.
1. What you put out comes back all the time, no matter what. (This is my creed.) [Oprah’s creed, not mine. Although it is a good creed.]
2. You define your own life. Don’t let other people write your script.
3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.
4. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (A lesson from Maya Angelou.)
5. Worrying is wasted time. Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.
6. What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.
7. If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that will be enough. (From the German theologian and humanist Meister Eckhart.)
8. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.
9. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.
10. If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.
11. Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn’t lie.
12. Love yourself and then learn to extend that love to others in every encounter.
13. Let passion drive your profession.
14. Find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Then every paycheck will be a bonus.
15. Love doesn’t hurt. It feels really good.
16. Every day brings a chance to start over.
17. Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.
18. Doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t answer. Don’t rush forward.
19. When you don’t know what to do, get still. The answer will come.
20. “Trouble don’t last always.” (A line from a Negro spiritual, which calls to mind another favorite: This, too, shall pass.)
My favorites are 2, 5, 10, and 17. Because I’m a little on the OCD side, and because it’s the biggest storyline in my life to date, I equate most of Oprah’s list to cancer. Well, numbers 2 and 5 have been my style from the get-go, way before cancer so rudely interrupted my otherwise fabulous life. It’s just the way I was made and it’s how I roll. I don’t know how it happened or if it is just imprinted into my DNA, but I don’t give a fig what other people think. Sure, I want the general impression of me to be one that’s positive, but when everyone is wearing skinny jeans, I’m gonna pull out my boot-cuts. My swim-against-the-current ways predate my diagnosis, for sure, but those trend-bucking ways have defined my cancer “journey.” From eschewing lumpectomy to questioning the doctors to rejecting that status quo and doing my own research, I’ve bucked the system and made choices based on what I truly believed. When a Very Important Person took offense with this little blog, I said it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. I will be fair and will endeavor to be balanced, but I will tell it like it is.
Number 5 has been a harder row to hoe than numbers 2 and 10. I’m a worrier, and that too is stamped into my DNA. While I make a real effort to not let the worry overtake my more rational side, it is definitely an effort. My good friend and health-care sherpa Amy Hoover has a saying: “Don’t borrow trouble.” That saying has become my mantra in this cancer “journey,” even if it is quite the effort to leave the borrrowing behind.
I’ve never loved Oprah more than when she declared to millions of people around the globe that motherhood is the hardest job ever. For someone who doesn’t have children to get this is quite gratifying. I adore my kiddos and feel immensely grateful to be raising them but it is a hard job. Not hard in the sense that it takes a lot of education or training, but hard in that you never know if all your hard work will pay off. You can do all the right things as a mother and still end up with kids who lose their way or thumb their noses at your values or vote Republican. It happens. There are plenty of how-to books on parenting, but none of them can guarantee the outcome you seek. Sorta like with cancer.