I think Day One of a brand new year is an appropriate time for a dose of raw honesty, no?
Lest anyone think I’m some sort of naive Pollyanna-esque freak who only smiles in the face of adversity, I have to admit that just two nights after I laid awake for hours making a lengthy gratitude list, I found myself laying awake and running through a list of my fears and apprehensions. And the second list – made in the dark of night, when things are at their most ominous – definitely gave the first list a run for its money in terms of length and scope.
Cancer is some scary shit, no matter what the circumstances.
So to give the fears equal time – under the theory that voicing them takes away their power – here are some that are in heavy rotation these days:
– That I’m going to die of cancer in the near future; and that I won’t be able to grow old with my husband or watch my daughter grow up beyond toddlerhood.
– That I won’t deal well, physically or emotionally, with the side effects of chemotherapy…that I’ll be bald, bloated, dried up, unattractive, chronically nauseated, and unable to take care of my baby or be a good partner to my husband.
– That I’ll no longer be the woman I used to be, in every sense of that word, now that so many of my lady pieces and parts have been taken in a radical hysterectomy.
– That I’ll become a burden to my husband and family.
– That some other woman will end up raising my child. Someone younger and way hotter.
Heavy stuff. And I could go on with that list, but I don’t want to give the fears more air time than the good stuff. They are there, though, right under the surface.
Last week was a bit of rough week, with many reality checks along the way. One of the biggest was receiving the pathology report from the prior week’s surgery. Although I knew that the cancer had spread significantly and had been graded a Stage IIIC as a result, I wasn’t prepared for the cold hard facts as determined by the lab.
My oncologist’s chemotherapy nurse called early in the week to let me know that the results were in and that there had been “no real surprises” beyond what my doctor had seen with her own eyes during the procedure. Because I was still a bit foggy as to precisely what the surgery had uncovered, I asked the nurse to run them by me. She obliged, and began reciting the conclusions of the report.
I soon realized that this was no short list, grabbed a pen and paper, and started scrawling notes:
“Pelvic biopsies – cancerous
Abdominal biopsies – cancerous
Colon – cancer
Left Fallopian tube – cancer
Right Fallopian tube – cancer
Left ovary – cancer
Right ovary – cancer
Uterus – cancer
Cervix – no cancer”
I was crying so hard by the time the poor nurse finished reading the report that I terminated the call without asking any questions.
Later on, I obtained a bit more clarity and realized that I didn’t actually have all of these different types of cancers – colon cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, etc. – but rather that the original cancer on my left Fallopian tube, found during the C-section, had metastacized, spreading to other parts of my body. And that micro-tumors had developed on the surface of all of these other organs. This was the bad news. The good news was that my oncologist had successfully removed about 98% of them. And that the hard core chemotherapy regimen I’d be undergoing was designed to eradicate the remaining 2%.
I am catching on slowly, but I have so much yet to learn about this disease and the treatment of it. Right now, I’m just trying to take it in a bit at a time and not overwhelm myself, i.e., I’m trying to keep freak outs to a minimum.
To that end, I’ve tried to do one thing a day to prepare for the upcoming treatment. I’ve shopped for cute handmade hats on etsy.com, one of my favorite sites. I’ve begun researching macrobiotic diets. I got my hair cut super short, to an inch length all over, so that when my husband shaves my head in a couple of weeks, the change (hopefully) won’t be so drastic. I’ve gone wig shopping, just in case I ever decide to wear one. I’ve had my nails cut short and begun giving them intensive treatments to keep them strong and moisturized. I’ve arranged for childcare and rides to the hospital for the first few treatments. I accepted a beautifully generous offer for donor breast milk for my daughter and let go, finally, of the notion of being able to breastfeed my daughter as I had hoped. I’ve been spending more time with my family.
One thing at a time; one step at a time.
A new friend of mine, and old friend of my husband’s, who happens to be a kick-ass cancer survivor herself, recently passed on to me a piece of advice that had been given to her when she was in the midst of her own battle with the disease. It’s called the “50 Minute Hour”. Under this methodology, you give yourself 50 minutes of each hour to “cherish, love and engulf yourself in what’s important”, and 10 minutes to give yourself permission to “be scared, tired, pissed…whatever” about whatever challenge you are facing.
I’ve been trying to apply this methodology to my day-to-day life, and am finding that it works. And having such loving support around me, and so much beauty and wonder, makes it easy to keep the scary thoughts to their allotted ten minutes per hour. Sometimes I don’t even use all ten minutes.
A dear friend of mine, and truly of of the most beautiful souls on earth, recently hipped me to a school of thought about the coming year. There has, of course, been a lot of buzz about 2012 being the “end of the world” in light of the fact that the Mayan calendars end in 2012. However, another theory about what 2012 may have in store is that feminine/goddess energy has been building, and will finally balance the masculine energy that has dominated the planet for so long, giving women inner strength, courage, confidence and determination to rise above their circumstances.
I like this theory much better. And I have to say that throughout 2011, beginning with my becoming pregnant against all odds in early April, feminine energy has been pouring into my world. Since my diagnosis in December, the levy containing this goddess energy appears to have literally broken open, flooding me with strength and love and protection. A small army of cancer fighting goddesses has quietly formed and is surrounding me….some of them people I had never before known and have still not yet met personally.
My feet were knocked out from under me by this diagnosis, but I have quickly been swept up, shored up and lifted up by this growing group of loving supporters and co-warriors. And this group, while female dominated, includes many wonderful and evolved men with amazing nurturing energy…my husband being at the top of the list. For this, I am so very grateful. This is what is getting me through. This is what will get me through.
In the meantime, I’m determined to take the advice of one of my beautiful new cancer co-warrior goddesses. When I expressed to her my fears about the upcoming chemo treatments, she told me:
“Cancer can’t take away who you are and what you want….and so much of it has already been removed. Remember that. It’s out of you. Chemo will do the rest. Just focus and breathe and soak it all in. Give your body to your oncologist and build your strength from those who surround you. Fear doesn’t stand a chance. No more chance than the cancer.”
So that’s what I’m going to do, or at least try my damndest to do – turn my body over to the professionals. Let myself become infused with what I have to believe will ultimately save me, knowing that no matter that is taken away from me in the process, even temporarily, my “Joannaness” will always be there. Unless, of course, I allow it to be smothered by fear and insecurity. And I’m not going to let that happen.
Love, gratitude and best wishes to all of you in 2012 from the Montgomery Three….