Because I really love words, I often come across a quote that speaks to me. I usually scribble it on a receipt or piece of scrap paper at the bottom of my purse, or I hastily type it into the notes app on my phone, with every intention of revisiting the quote and why it caught my attention. Sometimes the revisiting results in a blog post, but more often than not the note languishes until I clean out my purse or go to make another note on my phone. Then I wonder, where did I find this quote, and what did I intend to do with it? I blame cancer and infection and their long-reaching tentacles for compromising my previously functional brain.
The latest scribble in the bottom of my purse is a good one:
Ah, yes, the letting go. I’ve never quite understood the idea of “just let it go” when bugged by something. While I don’t endorse fretting and harumphing, I wonder what manner of insensitivities would be committed if people just turned the other cheek and acted as if nothing wrongful had occurred.
Needless to say, I’ve never been particularly adroit at just letting things go.
When someone cuts in front of me in line, I point out that I was there first. When a doctor keeps me waiting for hours in the waiting room, I mention that while I understand that things come up and emergencies do arise, my time is valuable, too. When my son’s All Star team was wrongly accused of misdeeds this season, I let the accusers know that their underhanded tactics did not go unnoticed. When a member of my inner circle acts unkindly, I don’t hesitate to bring the errant behavior to her attention.
Sometimes speaking out changes things: the line-jumper realizes he/she isn’t the only person on the planet. Sometimes it doesn’t change things: doctors overbook themselves, 12-year-old baseball players are punished because of so-called grown-ups’ selfishness, and friendships run their course.
I’ve been told that people admire my willingness to speak up in the face of blatant wrongdoing. “I wish I was ballsy like you” or “I’m too chicken to say what I really think” are among the comments I’ve heard on this topic. I’d love to take credit for being brave and outspoken, as if it were planned and orchestrated for the greater good. The truth is, however, it’s not something I plan; it comes out because I don’t have a very reliable filter. I’m not so good at letting it go.
Change does come from having cancer and facing all of its myriad unpleasantries and challenges. I have learned during the course of my cancer “journey” to let some things go. While I won’t insult you with the platitudinal idea that cancer has made me a better person (I was just fine before, thank you very much), it does have a way of forcing things into perspective. I will never go quietly into the night with the idea that any of this is fair, but I won’t fight it, either. Sometimes bad things do indeed happen to good people. Sometimes life intervenes to rearrange the order of things, to shake things up a little, or a lot. I’ve learned a lot on this cancer “journey,” from the technical to the philosophical, from the underside of fear to the crushing tyranny of bad breaks and complications straight through to the unmitigated joy of coming out the other side, battle-weary and scared shitless yet proud in the knowledge that no matter what this beast flings at me, I can take it.
I will likely continue speaking out against what I perceive as the injustices in my life; a tiger doesn’t change its stripes, after all. I will nag the line-jumpers of the world until they see the error of their ways. I will savor Tao’s words and reflect on the idea that in letting go of things or friendships that may not be working, I open myself up to receiving something even better.
If you’re like me, once you read the title of this post, you’d end up with “Don’t Stop Believing” running through your head.
“Hold on to that feeeeeeeeling….”
Yes, we are simple creatures at times, and prone to even simpler suggestion.
As I wrap up the Napa series of blog posts, I reflect back on a fantastic trip, an outstanding weekend, and the kind of memories that would keep me warm on a cold winter’s night if I didn’t live along the Gulf Coast of the great state of Texas. Not that the memories aren’t that good, but that there’s little need for warming around here. Especially with my hot flashes. Thanks, early-induced menopause, because pre-summer in Houston isn’t steamy enough.
Thinking about the trip and preparing to say good-bye to our visitors from Boston today makes me a teensy bit sad. I don’t like transitions. I’m in for the long haul and can work long and hard at a steady pace, but I don’t care for the ups & downs, the twists & turns, the stops & starts. This sentiment applies, for me, whether we’re talking about vacation or illness. Going from my “normal” life to vacation mode takes me a little bit of time. Getting into the vacation frame of mind is a conscious shift for me, even when it’s a vacation I’m looking forward to. Having our friends from Boston here is most definitely something I look forward to, but it still requires me to make that shift in my head.
Now that our vacation with them is ending, I find myself again shifting, from the luxuryof sleeping in on a school day and spending the day by the pool, drinking early and often and into the evening; to hauling my carcass out of bed to pack the kids’ lunches, sign their folders, forge notes about their absences, and getting back to my normal life. I like my normal life, so this isn’t inherently a bad thing; it just required me to shift gears and change my mind frame.
I’ve never been good at handling change, and that may be why I’m not a great traveler. I don’t like the idea of having to decide in advance what I’ll be wearing, and then pack it, taking care to not forget anything. It seems that once I get used to the new location, it’s about time to go home, and then there’s another adjustment to handle. I do it, and without the need for intervention, but it’s an effort.
That’s why this phrase spoke to me:
It was on the wall of the Cost Plus World Market in San Francisco near our hotel, where we popped into for supplies (and by supplies, yes, I do indeed mean champagne) our first night in California. We were at the checkout, clanking bottles and deciding whether to add chocolates to the purchase, when I saw this saying on the store wall. The other shoppers might have thought me a bit mad to be snapping a photo in the middle of a store, but I stopped caring about things like that a long time ago.
The saying spoke to me because I know that Lao Tzu is right. He was a mythical figure in ancient China and is said to be the father of Taoism, so you know he’s smart. His ancient quote about the good traveler retains relevance today because people like me continue to buck the journey in favor of the destination. I know that it’s not about the destination, yet I can’t wait to get there. I will jump through all the requisite hoops along the journey in order to get to the destination, but for me, the destination is the goal. Wrong, I know, but still I persist.
Some say that dealing with cancer gives you greater clarity on “the things that really matter.” Or that having survived cancer, you become more aware of and grateful for the things around you. Then there are the idiot-balls who say that cancer is a gift. To them, I say choke off. This is no gift. Yes, it does afford the opportunity to re-evaluate priorities and habits, but it’s no gift.
I spend a lot of time in my personal “cancer journey” marking off time and accumulating milestones. Maybe that’s a coping mechanism, I don’t know. I do know that I can tell you to the day how long I’ve been on oral antibiotics (251 days), and how long it’s been since The Big Dig (49 days). More likely, it’s because I’m focused on the destination and not the journey. I can’t wait to “be done” with this cancer business: the disease itself, the surgeries, the recoveries, the uncertainty, and the drug therapies. I don’t aspire to ever be free of the worry that the cancer business drops on my doorstep like an unexpected and oversized parcel. It will always be there, in the back of my mind. I liken it to the childhood sensation of rolling your tongue through the newly-created hole of a lost tooth. Your brain knows the tooth is gone, but your tongue can’t resist checking for sure, by sliding through that narrow, slippery, and slightly nauseating space. My brain knows my cancer is gone, yet it can’t resist double-checking.
I refuse to live in fear, however. I don’t want to have any regrets: about life in general, and certainly not in this “cancer journey.” Each decision I’ve made along this “journey” has been nitpicked and examined half to death, with risk and reward calculated to within an inch of their lives. Some decisions have been difficult, and some have been easy, but none have come without a lot of thought.
I heard from a fellow breast cancer blogger who is dealing with an infection, possibly of her tissue expander, just as I did. She’s on IV Vancomycin, like I have been many times. I commented on her blog to tell her that the Vanc works and it will cure her, hoping to offer some support. She replied that she can’t imagine how I endured that process multiple times because it’s so stressful. Yes, it is. No doubt there. And if someone were to ask me how I endured it, I don’t know that I would have an answer. I don’t know how I got through it, other than I just did it. Just gritted my teeth, tucked my head and did it. Because I didn’t see any other choice. Saying “I can’t” wasn’t going to make it go away.
I do like to make myself focus on good things, or to “walk on the sunny side of the street” (thanks, Mom!). Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well, for the 3rd day in a row, and was a little put-out that my “cancer journey” was once again interfering in my fun. I wanted to visit and eat & drink with my friends who were in town, but instead I had to lay down and take a nap. Take a nap. In the middle of the day, and in the middle of my friends’ visit. That made me grumpy, and I was just starting to think about getting out the pity-party supplies.
Then I told myself to shut the hell up, get in the shower and get on with the day. There was dinner to prepare for our last night together and 3 bottles of bubbly in the fridge, so there was no time for a pity party.
While in the shower, I was wondering why the hell my belly incision is still so tight and sore after 48 days, and when in the sam hell it’s ever going to heal all the way so I can take a shower like a normal person, without wincing as I lather, rinse & repeat, and just be done with it.
Then I realized: I AM taking a shower like a normal person. There were no JP drains to deal with. There were no holes in the side of my body to keep dry. There was no dressing over the accessed port-a-cath that had to be kept dry.
When my port is accessed, i.e., has a butterfly needle piercing my skin and the port to deliver medicine, it has to be covered to keep it sterile. The port itself is smaller than a quarter, and the butterfly needle (while really thick) doesn’t extend the area. Yet the whole thing has to be covered with this giant dressing. That’s it above, stuck to my clavicle, shoulder, and neck area. My skin hates these dressing with a passion. The sticky tape irritates my skin as much as Sarah Palin irritates me. After I peel the dressing off, there remains a red, raised outline in the exact size & shape of the dressing.
And yet, I’m sans dressing. That’s a bright side, a good thing to be tallied and counted. I’m also sans sling bag. Not having the JP drains means I don’t have to wear the sling bag, cute as it may be, 24/7. That’s another bright side, and a very good thing.
Yep, it’s cute, and it served a wonderful purpose, and I love my runnin’ buddy for getting it for me. Being able to camouflage the drains by stuffing them in the sling bag, then hide the protruding rubber tubing by the cross-body bag, gave me freedom and kept me from being house-bound.
There’s nothing in there — look, Ma, no drains!! — and that is a reason to celebrate. I’m no longer tethered to plastic bomb-shaped udders collecting all manner of gross stuff, fluid and solid, that my battered body is shedding after yet another major trauma. I don’t have to plan my very limited wardrobe around the bright orange pattern anymore, but now I can do that just because I want to.
I will always be grateful to the sling bag for carrying my drains, and my drugs, in such style. The clear plastic compartment in the inside front is not likely designed for slipping in the essential few pills, but it sure worked well for me. I’ve heard that some people keep their driver’s license there instead. How weird is that?! Instead of my TX ID, featured here are my constant companions Bactrim & Minocycline, the antibiotics for the post-mastectomy infection; a muscle relaxer for the super-tight 17-inch belly incision; and a Xanax for any and all calamities, just in case.
So while this “cancer journey” is far from a gift and certainly does suck, I can still “walk on the sunny side of the street,” look on the bright side, and find moments of goodness contained within as I move forward, always searching for the finish line.
This signpost, sent to me by Jill in the Oakland airport en route from Napa back home, is a good mile marker in my journey. I love that my friends see bubbly-related things and think of me, and I love that no matter where this journey takes me, I’ll have great friends, a sassy sling bag, and plenty of bubbly for the ride.