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the whipped cream conundrum

"would you like whipped cream with that? hell yeah!"

Month

July 2015

#TBT to Jimmy V. – “Don’t Give Up … Don’t Ever Give Up”

There’s been a lot of press lately about the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  All of the talk about the award reminded me of its inaugural recipient over 20 years ago, college basketball coach Jim Valvano, affectionately knowns as “Jimmy V.”  It is important to remember his message.

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Less than two months after the speech, Jimmy V. died of cancer.  Click here to read the full text of the speech.

Meet My “Roommates!”

These are my “roommates”… they also happen to be my parents, Sumner and Carol.  Married for over 40 years, they are each other’s best friends.  They would go to the ends of the earth for my sister and me.  I am so grateful to have them in my life.

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I don’t permanently live with my parents.  They make their home in a two-bedroom townhouse in the Boston suburbs.  My permanent home is in Bath, Maine where I work as the Director of College Counseling at a prep school.  I have a great apartment on campus with a big red couch that Sadie and I love!  I am settled and take comfort in my space.  “Home,” however, has many meanings – it can be fluid and be different places for different people.  For me, right now, “home” is where my family lives.  Therefore, Sadie and I are living with my parents while I undergo treatment.  Sometimes it’s challenging to be home when old patterns emerge, but it is mostly a comfort.

For those of you who know my family, you know we are a tight-knit team.  So, when one of us is facing a challenge, we are there for each other.  My Mom and Dad have my back.  Whatever I need, they are “happy to do it!”  They never complain.

My Mom has never – in the 5 years I have been fighting cancer – missed a doctor’s appointment; she has been to every chemo treatment and scan; she is my advocate when I can’t advocate for myself.  My Dad would be at every appointment if he could; I just find it overwhelming to have more than one person with me.  Instead, he helps alleviate some of my burdens – he takes care of Sadie while I’m at the hospital, he makes sure my gas tank is full and my oil is changed; he even does my laundry (ok, so I’m a little spoiled!).  Perhaps most important, he walks to Starbucks everyday to get me a coffee (no whipped cream this time of year, as it is strictly iced in this heat!)!

As roommates go, I’m pretty lucky these days.  While I get frustrated from time to time that I have to live with my “roommates” because of my circumstances, I am thankful every day that I have them to turn to when I need them the most.

The Bug

Do you have a theme song?  Mine is The Bug by Dire Straits.  The chorus of the song is what resonates most for me:

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re going to lose it all

It’s probably true for everyone…sometimes you feel invincible like the windshield, while at other times, you feel smacked down like the bug.  For me, lately it’s been hard not to feel like the bug – over and over again.

I’m not going to lie – I’ve had several pity parties over the last six months.  It’s not fair – why did this happen to me again!  My life was going great and then, BOOM!  It’s back and it’s changing everything!  My resilience is low and my fear is high.  Sometimes I let cancer get the best of me.  I let it sap my motivation.  I let cancer kick my ass.  I see smiling, bald cancer survivors on my Facebook feed representing cancer advocacy organizations with the tag line that they survived with a positive attitude.  Bullshit…you know they had these moments, too.  I certainly can’t be the only cancer patient who feels sorry for herself.  I can’t be alone in this!  Why can’t we all just be honest?  Cancer sucks.  Intellectually, I know attitude is everything (it’s what I teach my students), but it’s impossible when you are facing cancer, or any other life-changing illness, to be positive all the time.  I am the bug.

But, the key word in the song’s lyrics is sometimes.  I don’t always have to be the bug. The other day, this quote by Voltaire popped up on my American Cancer Society Facebook feed:  “The most important decision you can make is to be in a good mood.”  You can probably imagine my initial reaction – “Yeah, right!” I thought to myself.  Then I thought about it … with all the decisions I have had to make over the past six months, this may be the easiest.

So sometimes I can feel sorry for myself.  Yes, this does suck.  But it doesn’t have to all the time.  I can decide. I can be the windshield, too.

How are you TODAY?

A friend of mine told me you’re supposed to ask people dealing with illness how they are doing TODAY.  It makes sense because having an illness is like being on both a physical and emotional roller coaster.  I don’t know what to expect from one day to the next.

Some things about today … I thought about naming my tumor Donald Trump because it’s a pain in the ass, won’t go away, and just keeps growing! Today I have serious pain in my abdomen that is only relieved if I am sitting or laying down.  I am basically housebound (Hello, Orange is the New Black!).  Today I am grateful for my Mom because she knows what I need without even asking and she takes care of Sadie when I can’t.  Maybe today I’ll write two blog posts.  Today I am trying not to think about tomorrow because my life is unpredictable; I want to live in the moment without worrying about what comes next.

Today isn’t such a bad day.

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Opinions are Like…the Treatment Conundrum

You know how the old saying goes, “Opinions are like ass holes, everyone has one!”  It’s easy to joke, but not so easy when you actually have to bet your life on one.

There’s the first opinion – “You have endometrial cancer and this is how I want to treat it.”  Then there’s the second opinion – “I have the utmost respect for my colleague, but disagree with his treatment plan.”  Whaaaat?  The funny thing is, I actually got the second opinion first.  Here’s how it went down:  before they knew about the tumor in my abdomen, I was slated to be treated with radiation and I wanted a second opinion.  Between the appointment discussing radiation and the second opinion appointment, I had a scan which showed the growth in my abdomen.  So, the “first” opinion was from a doctor I went to for a “second” opinion.

The First Second Opinion:  The second opinion oncologist explained that I had an “aggressive tumor” and the standard of care is to treat with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and hormones.  He believed the other doc would agree and I walked away with a plan.

The Second First Opinion:

I assumed the discussion would be similar with the second oncologist.  I was wrong…Instead, the doctor came bounding into the exam room, never met him before, and declared “No chemo!”  Music to my ears, right?  No chemo…what cancer patient wouldn’t want to hear those words!  They were followed by “No radiation!.”  What’s happening here?  Are you about to send me to Disney World?  “We’re going to do pills,” he told me.  His strategy was to shrink the tumor with an endocrine therapy – the goal being to treat with the least amount of side effects.  The concern was that I have had so much chemo in the past, along with the stem cell transplant, that my body may not withstand the treatment.

Conundrum…easy way or hard way?  Aggressive way or safe way?  Proven record way or novel therapy way? In the end, I chose the endocrine therapy.  I had few side effects and I still had my curly mop of hair.

But, I never really bought into it.  There was something about taking this non-traditional route that didn’t sit right with me.  I know chemo works and in my heart I knew I had to change course.  However, the course was changed for me after a scan showed the hormones did not do their intended job – the tumor grew.

I no longer have a conundrum.  The next steps are plotted out – radiation and chemo are no longer options; they are mandatory treatment.

To be continued…

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