Day 10 of WEGO’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge tells me to post a favorite picture of myself. I don’t generally like pictures of myself because my eyes are huge and spaced far apart (which worked well for Jackie O but for regular people, not so much) and I always look a bit depraved in photos. However, in a rare showing of open-mindedness and willingness to play along, here ya go. In fact, I’m so open-minded and willing today (but only today, so get it while ya can), I’m posting not one but two pics of myself.
This one is my #1 son’s second birthday, in May 2001. We had a party at the neighborhood rec center and all went swimmingly until the mini fire truck we rented for the kids to ride in broke down and the dads who attended the party had to push the truck around the parking lot. Good times.
I chose this pic because at that time in my life, cancer was the farthest thing from my mind. I was much more focused on coordinating my and Trevor’s outfits to match the party theme. In a totally random aside, I found those toile pants I’m sporting in this photo when I cleaned out my closet last weekend, and they still fit. Barely. But I’m calling it a win.
Photo #2 was taken on my 36th birthday, before cancer so rudely interrupted my life. Again, I have the depraved look in my eye, and knowing myself the way I do, I can see an undercurrent of “hurry up and take the damn picture” and “Sweet baby Jesus I hate having my picture taken” but I love, love, love the proud look on Payton’s face as he wraps his arms around the two ladies in his life. My favorite girl has her usual impish look about her, and she was likely wise-cracking as Trevor took the picture.
Day 9 of the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge is all about caregivers. Today’s prompt asks me, the patient, to give advice to the caregiver.
I have two pieces of advice. First, take care of yourself so that you can better care for your ailing loved one. It seems simple, but in the midst of all the caregiver’s duties, it’s easy for this to fall to the bottom of the list.
Second, delegate! If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help (says the woman who’d rather open a vein than be dependent on someone else). People in your social circle want to help, and often are at a loss as to how they can help. Whatever task can lighten your load, delegate it. When someone says, “Let me know if you need anything,” speak up!
Day 6 of the WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge nearly made me give up on the daily task of blogging about my “condition.” I don’t like my “condition” and I don’t like the touchy-feely side of dealing with that “condition.” I like to keep my word, though, and I said I would take on this challenge, so here goes.
Today’s prompt: Write a letter to an older you. What lesson do you want to make sure you remember?
Well, with my dilapidated body, blown-out knee, and menopause-induced lunacy, the older version of me scares the hell out of the current version of me, so I’m going to write a letter to the younger version of me.
Dear Younger Me,
Listen up, missy: that college dream of yours to light Madison Avenue on fire with clever advertising campaigns isn’t gonna happen. You don’t like the Big City — too many people and way too many germs. That other dream of writing children’s books isn’t going to happen, either. You do end up reading a whole lot of good ones, though, to a couple of precious kids who look so much like your baby pictures it’s scary.
Your smart mouth will get you into a fair amount of trouble. I’d tell you to be careful, go easy, and use restraint, but we both know you’d flip me the bird and keep right on sassing. I can tell you that eventually you do learn the fine art of holding your tongue, but it will never come easy.
That sweet, loyal, smart, cunning and unmatched yellow dog who grips your college-aged heart will never let go. She will protect you, and then your children, for nearly 15 years. She will guard the entrance to the nursery and sleep under the crib. She will show you her back when you get out your suitcase, because she knows you’re leaving, if only for a few days. Her time on this Earth will grow short but she will stick it out longer than anyone expects because she will insist on seeing you through an even rougher patch: the death of your sweet mama.
Guess what, girlie? Your sweet mama keeps a tight grip on your heart, too. Not a day passes without you feeling the loss, in big ways and small ways. (Note to self: don’t give up on trying to make her pie crust. It won’t ever be like hers, but keep trying.)
Just about the time cancer steals your beloved mama, you’ll start getting an annual mammogram. You’re ahead of the schedule thanks to that mama-stealing cancer, and every year the mammogram will come back funky. Don’t settle for the “dense tissue” rationale. There’s a tumor growing, and it ends up taking up a lot of space, both in your body and in your life.
Look, I know you’re going to be busy living your life and raising those two little kids when the diagnosis comes, but please, brace yourself, because it’s going to get ugly fast. And say a little prayer to the environmental-services gods who control your operating room on the day of your mastectomy; maybe we can avoid that post-mastectomy infection that will reorder your life. And BTW, the bilateral mastectomy was totally the right choice. Good girl for following your gut. There will be no hint, not a single whiff, of cancer in your left breast, but it’s there.
Give up right now on thinking your cancer “journey” will be “one and done.” It will be more circuitous than you can ever imagine, and it will change you in ways you won’t discover until years later. Oh, and before you even begin that circuitous journey, you’re going to have to deal with melanoma on your right foot. I know, who puts sunscreen on their feet, right? Hate to tell ya, that even though you catch it early, the surgery to remove the melanoma will be the most painful thing you will experience. Yes, it’s worse than childbirth and a bilateral mastectomy. Oh yeah, about childbirth–when your water breaks, the baby is coming. Yes, he’s early. No, you haven’t finished the birthing class or packed your bag, but it doesn’t matter. And you’re going to get teased for decades for reading ahead in that “What to Expect” book on the toilet in the middle of the night when your water has broken and your much-better-prepared spouse sleeps peacefully, unaware of your foolishness.
It turns out fine, the baby is healthy (but hard-headed). Even the cancer thing is manageable. Not easy, but manageable. I think we both know you can handle it. You’re going to learn a lot, whether you want to or not. Your limits will be tested. You’re going to make some true and life-long friends along the way. You’re going to unload friends, too, in one of many hard-learned lessons. You see, there are people who are willing to give what they want to give, not what you need. This is a very important distinction. Trust me, you’re much happier without ’em. A couple more pieces of advice: first, don’t ignore that knee pain while you’re running. Stretch before and after you pound the pavement. Listen to your body. Pain is its way of saying something is wrong. Ice your knee after each run. I know it’s a hassle, but so is living with constant pain. Years down the road, you’re going to be embarrassed by how you hobble down the stairs like a woman twice your age. You’re going to be frustrated by the ways in which your body fails you. I don’t have an answer for how to deal with that, because I haven’t figured out how to deal with that. I do recommend drinking champagne as often as you can. I don’t have to tell you to never, ever pass up an opportunity to drink some bubbly. The lesson I want you to remember is that the sound of that popping cork will soothe your soul, every time.
Day 5 of the WEGO Health Activists Writer’s Month Challenge: “If I could do anything as a Health Activist…”
Since it’s my dream, I’m claiming two superpowers. In addition to kicking cancer’s ass, I would eliminate all the stupid/inane/insensitive/uncaring/clumsy/offensive things people say to those of us in cancerland. Yeah, yeah; I know sometimes people mean well and just don’t know what to say, but that’s no excuse. No cancer patient needs to hear a comment like this, or certainly not this, no matter how well-intentioned the awkward speaker should be.
Day 3 of the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge:
“Wordless Wednesday. Post a picture that symbolizes your condition and your experiences.”
My first thought was of the many powerful images in David Jay’s The Scar Project. I’ve written about this amazing body of work here and here. The photographs are raw and real, just like cancer itself.
The WEGO HAWMC is quite a mouthful! WEGO Health describes itself as “social media’s most active online health community — Health Activists. These influencers, organizers, connectors, leaders and contributors are passionate about helping others lead healthier lives.” WEGO Health Activists have thrown out a challenge: the HAWMC, or Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. It’s a post-a-day challenge taken on by several bloggers I greatly admire. One of them asked if I was planning to participate, so here we are.
I missed Day 1, so will start with Day 2, which is pretty scrambled logic for this Type-A girl, but part of the challenge is thinking — and blogging — outside of our comfort zones so I guess I’m in.
Introduce your condition to other Health Activists. What are 5 things you want them to know about your condition/activism?