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….

Jo

Okay, it’s not exactly how I imagined we’d spend our first Christmas together as a new little family…

I’m recovering from major surgery and still moving a bit slow. We didn’t have a chance to buy gifts for each other or anyone else. We have company coming in from out of town and I’m not physically able to “host” in my typical fashion. Several members of my family are sick with colds and therefore can’t be around Maggie or me. Mark’s parents are spending the day on airplanes and in airports. Not exactly a traditional Christmas.

However, when I make a gratitude list of all of the amazing things in my life right now, I have to say that this has to be my best Christmas ever. At least so far.

This is mine and Mark’s first Christmas together as a married couple. He is one of the best gifts I’ve ever been fortunate enough to receive. He continues to amaze me more and more each day. I still can’t believe that we found each other and that he is my husband and I am his wife.

I’m a mother now (!), mother to Magnolia Grace Montgomery, the baby neither of us ever thought we’d have… the little girl who changed our lives for the better before she even opened her eyes. She makes us laugh with joy and shake our heads in amazement on an hourly basis. We had previously wondered how she would fit into our lives; now we can’t imagine life without her.

Our incredible families, and how recent events have brought us even closer together. We were both blessed with great parents, siblings and extended families. They are sources of tremendous support and comfort for both of us in an endless (and ever growing) list of ways.

Our friends, new and old, far and near. The outpouring of love and support we’ve received and continue to receive, some from the most unexpected of sources, continues to blow us away. I never knew I had so many friends, and that list continues to grow as well.

The fact that I have a job that allows me to be flexible; and that I have co-workers and colleagues who, after nearly 20 years, have become like a second family to me. Even the timing of this diagnosis is serendipitous….my chemotherapy jives with my maternity leave, time off I had already pre-arranged.

And these are just the top five items on my list at this very moment. I spent the better part of the the time between two Maggie feedings during the wee hours this morning on a gratitude list (my heart was so full, I could not sleep), and never made it to the end. I suspect that that is because the list actually has no end.

A close friend of mine recently commented about how “strong” I seemed in the wake of the cancer diagnosis. I told her that I didn’t always feel nearly as strong inside as I might sound on paper, but that I was applying the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy. Because there are no coincidences (at least, I don’t believe there are), it is no coincidence that I received an unexpected gift this morning that put that philosophy in more eloquent terms.

As I said, my husband and I did not buy gifts for each other this year. And circumstances have prevented us so far from gathering with our respective families for a traditional gift exchange. This was not a big deal to either of us, as, to us, spending time with our loved ones is the real gift of the holidays. Plus, neither of us is very big on gift receiving anyway….we both have more than we need or could ever want. However, this morning my husband suggested that we each open a gift or two from under the tree – gifts that we had been stashing there as they have been arriving from far and wide for the past few weeks.

The first gift I opened was a beautiful set of chimes from a friend of mine who had received moved away with her family. And on the clapper (is that what it’s called?) of the chimes was engraved the most beautiful quote:

“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.” – Emory Austin

Sounds like faking it ’til you make it to me. And I know that it works.

The other gift I opened was from some wonderful friends of my husband’s, friends I have not yet had the pleasure to meet in person. And enclosed with the gift was a beautiful, heartfelt letter addressed to me from the wife. In it she shared a deeply personal story, and the reminder to move through difficult situations minute by minute, because each minute that goes by is one more minute that the “event” is in the past, and one more minute spent moving forward.

This cancer diagnosis, and now the surgery, is in my past. It’s part of my history. And each day that I receive treatment and endure the necessary side effects of the treatment, is one more day marked off of the Chemo Calendar. One day closer to treatment being in my past. One day closer to Cancer Free.

I’ve received so many gifts, so many invaluable life lessons in the past 20 days alone. And I know that the events and experiences to come are all part of a bigger plan for me and my family. There’s no way that all of this is happening without it serving a greater purpose. In the meantime, I’m just going to try to enjoy each and every moment as it unfolds. Each day on the calendar.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from the Montgomery Three. May you be as blessed as we are. My guess is that if you take some time today to make a gratitude list, you’ll find that you are indeed!

Love and gratitude,
Jo & Co.

Driving to the hospital three days ago, all I kept thinking was, “I can’t wait ’til this surgery is behind me.” Well, now it is. The surgery is over; we know what we are dealing with; and we’re now headed home for the holiday. AND we have a chemo date….the 18-week eradication process begins Thursday, January 5th.

Onward!

Fucking cancer – the verb form, not the adjective intensifier – takes a lot out of a girl.

To be more specific, undergoing chemotherapy – one really good and proven way to fuck over many kinds of cancer – can be quite difficult.

Some of those who have ridden the chemo train, either personally or alongside someone they love, may have shaken their heads ruefully upon reading my upbeat account of how the first and second days immediately following the first two chemo sessions weren’t so bad. They may have been thinking, “‘just you wait, you poor girl…that train is going to hit”.

Well, for those of you who were thinking this, you were right. It did hit.

To recap: I had my first chemotherapy treatment, intraveneously, last Thursday. I then had my second chemotherapy treatment, via the interperineal port in my abdomen, last Friday. The IP infusion was the big daddy of treatments and took all day. What I know now but didn’t know then is that only about four out of every ten patients are physically able to complete six cycles of IP chemo infusion….sometimes the body just won’t cooperate. It’s heavy duty shit, and it takes a heavy toll.

The train hit on Monday, Day 5 of treatment, and didn’t leave until Wednesday. It wasn’t a high speed rail, mind you, like the Eurostar or that crazy train in China that goes 300 miles per hour. Fortunately, it was more like the tame old (I said tame, not lame) Opryland Railroad that leisurely circled the famed theme park back in the day. (Yes, I am proud to say I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. And I’ve just shown my age.) But I was still slowed and a more than a little bit humbled by the effects of the treatment.

I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t up to doing much other than taking careful care of our little one and finally learning what all of the hype was about Downton Abbey. I never got sick, but I did feel like I had the flu, and was very dizzy and weak at times. It made me realize that I’ll likely need to have help on the “down” days following treatment, if only to make sure I don’t pass out and drop our girl on her head. And we’re very blessed to already have options for such help in the cue.

Cut to yesterday, Wednesday, Day 7. I was feeling pretty good by comparison. I was able to be productive, and my husband and I were actually able to have our first night out with (or without) the baby since her birth. We had dinner at one of our favorite little local places with two of our favorite people in the world, and it was quite nice. Normal, even. (And the Magpie kicked ass at being out in public, by the way….one would have thought she had been doing it for ages.)

I felt so good, in fact, in the wake of my relatively normal day and evening, that I started to get that old dread feeling in my stomach around midnight last night…the pit. At first I thought I was starting to feel sick, as though I might have overdone it; then I realized that what I was feeling was anxiety. I was just starting to feel good. I didn’t want to go back today, Day 8, and have more IP chemotherapy. I didn’t want to feel like shit again; to be non-productive; to need help.

This is where that old phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes into play.

Long story short – medical details can be so tedious – due to a (hopefully short-lived) complication relating to the prior IP treatment I received, I was not able to have my third session of chemotherapy today to complete my first cycle. And I – the girl who wasn’t looking forward to chemo – was not happy. I was pissed. At my body, mostly, because it was no one’s fault. And as my oncologist pointed out, I am not my cancer. I am a person. And every person is different. Every person reacts differently to treatment. And they are treating me, not my cancer.

That’s all well and good, but, dammit, I did not want to wait another two weeks to try again. I did not want to have to have a seventh round tacked on to the end of my treatment, thereby extending my 18 weeks to 21 weeks (assuming my body can withstand it). I wanted to stick with the original plan, but my body just wasn’t cooperating.

This reminded me of two things. First, my wise younger brother lovingly pointing out to me a few weeks ago my penchant for setting expectations. And we’ve seen where that has gotten me in the past.

Second, it reminded me of a quote by author Marie Stilkind:

“Today I know that I cannot control the ocean tides. I can only go with the flow. When I struggle and try to organize the Atlantic to my specifications, I sink. If I flail and thrash and growl and grumble, I go under. But if I let go and float, I am borne aloft”.

I know this. I’ve been given this lesson countless times in the past. I own the t-shirt (but apparently keep misplacing it).

So, here’s yet another reminder. The best way to make the universe laugh is to make plans. And all I can do is remain determined to follow the best medical advice I am given; to stay strong so that I can see this motherfucker through; and to take it one damn day at a time in the meantime.

And there’s still plenty of silver lining. I had the pure joy of hearing our daughter laugh out loud in her sleep this week. And she’s going to have a killer laugh, I can tell. A dear friend in London, who actually had a darling baby boy the same day we had our darling baby girl, recently experienced the same phenomenon, and said that she believed she then knew how angels must sound. She wasn’t kidding.

And my concern about our child and animals not wanting to be around me once I had been filled with toxic chemicals? Unwarranted. They are as sweet and snuggly and attentive as ever, probably even more so now. (When our Australian Shepherd can be pried away from our baby, that is…he has apparently imprinted on her like some werewolf in the Eclipse series….)

However, perhaps the most gratifying news of the week stemmed from a conversation I had with my obstetrician…my long-time physician who saw me through my high risk pregnancy and delivered our little girl 41 days ago. I contacted her to let her know how very grateful I was that the cancer wasn’t discovered at any point during the pregnancy, which allowed us to fully enjoy the experience and not have to make any difficult decisions. I also wanted her to know how glad I was that we did not receive the lab results until five days after our baby was born, giving us five days of bliss during which we were oblivious of the cancer that had invaded my body.

During our conversation, she told me that she had gone back and looked at the numerous ultrasounds that had been taken during the pregnancy and confirmed that there was no sign of the cancer. She also told me that there was no good explanation for how I was able to get pregnant and carry a healthy, perfect baby to term, given the extent of the cancer. By the time Miss Magnolia Grace came along, both Fallopian tubes were totally shot, consumed with cancer, and it had metastasized to both ovaries, the uterus and beyond. Yet here she is, laying across my lap as I type these words. This little girl was clearly meant to be here with us.

So, again, onward. Today was a minor setback, but I’ve come to believe that there are no accidents. I am right where I am supposed to be. And I’m going to enjoy the hell out of my husband, daughter and life every day that I can….especially during this two-week hiatus from treatment.

Love and gratitude,
Jo

IMG_0344Well, that certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Not at all.

I didn’t realize it until after the fact, but, like my husband, I had been telling myself a certain story about how all of this cancer business was going to go down. Because it wasn’t known whether the “questionable” spots on the CT scan were malignant or benign, I chose to assume they were benign. And because it wasn’t known whether more cancer existed inside me beyond the mass that was found on my fallopian tube, I chose to assume that none did. I also told myself that once the doc got inside and took a look around, she would realize that an IP port wasn’t necessary…that I likely wouldn’t need chemo to be hosed directly into my abdomen.

We had been telling ourselves these stories, my husband and I, unbeknownst to each other. And apparently our close friends and family had been telling themselves similar stories as well. This was certainly a living example of the phrase, “expectations are premeditated disappointments.” If we had kept our expectations in check, the outcome of the procedure would not have been nearly as jarring.

This wasn’t like me, this erring on the side of optimism. I’m the girl who, in the past, would wonder if her headache wasn’t a brain tumor, or who would speculate that the mystery ache or pain was cancer of the whatever. But, for some reason, with this cancer diagnosis, I was telling myself that surely it wasn’t as bad as all that…that surely this was a “mild” case of cancer that would be easily treated and stomped into submission. It was quite sobering to find out that I was wrong.

I feel sorry for my poor husband, as he ended up having to be the one to deliver the news to me. It seems that I was so out of it after surgery that I did not remember my oncologist or primary care physician repeatedly telling me the results of the surgery.  Apparently, I asked them several times what had been found, and they told me, but I was too drugged to process the information or retain it. When I was finally lucid enough to take in the information, Mark and I were alone in our room at the hospital and it was the middle of the night. I began peppering him with questions, which he patiently answered for what was actually the umpeenth time. My reaction this time, however, was different, because I was actually able to understand and absorb what I was being told, which was this:

The cancer had spread to other areas. The “questionable” spots were definitely cancer, and there were other cancerous areas too. There was a particularly large cancerous tumor on my omentum (area of the abdomen) that had not even shown up on my CT scan. It was not necessary to wait for the pathology reports….the cancer was visible to the naked eye, nothing questionable about it. Because of the nature of the spread, the cancer was graded as a Stage III-C, one step below a Stage IV. And there is no Stage V in cancer world. An inter-perineal port had been installed so that the chemo could be administered directly into my abdomen, as well as intravenously.

Fuck. This was the real deal.

The first day post-op was basically spent trying to get pain under control and get me physically comfortable, which we did. The incision wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, although it was still a bit gnarly to look down and see railroad tracks of surgical staples marching down my abdomen and around my belly button and beyond. Plus, that ominous port-thing at the top of my rib cage. Adjusting to these physical differences was the goal of Day One.

Getting up and down was a bitch. Still is, although I’m much better today. Today, Day Two, I woke up with a new attitude, determined to do whatever I could to heal as quickly as possible so that I could get on with the next phase of treatment. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I successfully met all goals today. As I result, I’ve been cleared to go home in the morning. I think I even impressed my uber hardcore oncologist, whom I happened to pass as I was power walking through the halls on my floor. After seeing me in action, she had no choice but to give me the all clear for discharge. A small victory. Plus, we’ll get to be home in time for Christmas.

Physically, I’m ahead of the recovery game. Wrapping my head around the new information about my diagnosis is another issue. I’m doing much better today on that front as well, but it still seems quite surreal.

Right now, my primary goal is to heal as quickly as possible from the surgery so that I can start chemotherapy the second week of January. I’ll do six rounds of chemo, with the drugs being administered on the first, second and eighth days of each three week cycle. The chemo will be administered directly into my abdomen as well as intravenously…aggressive therapy for an aggressive cancer. At this point, I just want to do whatever it takes to ensure that the disease is eradicated altogether. So that’s what we’re going to do.

My perspective today is very different than it was 72 hours ago. And I’ve learned a valuable lesson about setting expectations. My goal today is to try to take this, all of this, a step at a time. Next steps…go home with my husband and baby; celebrate the holiday together with our families; then focus on getting as strong and healthy as possible before starting treatment. And continue to enjoy every minute of the process.

My doctor is encouraged by all of the motivators I have in my life, my husband and daughter being at the top of the list. And he’s right. I have so much to live for, so many reasons to get this behind me and get on with living. I have to admit it was a bit eerie this week to find us in the same configuration we had been just a few weeks ago…me in a hospital bed, Mark on an uncomfortable pull out chair/bed next to me and our little daughter in a hospital bassinet between us ….with the circumstances so incredibly different this go-round. But the point was, we were all still together.

threeAs one of my best friends reminded me today…three is a magic number for our family. So, Stage 3? We’ve got this.

Thanks to all of you for the support, prayers and positive energy. We have felt so surrounded by love and optimism. We know that we are not alone in this journey.

Love and gratitude,
The Montgomery Three

Greetings from Vanderbilt Hospital.  We are now on the other side of phase one of what we hope to be a four phase process with Joanna’s unwanted adventure.  The last 24 hours have been very up and down, and I’ll say for me, have taught me (more) about unrealistic expectations.  I think perhaps Joanna has also learned a bit about more that walking through this.

In a nutshell, here is a variation of story I was telling myself:

The doc walks in post surgery to give the family the update, and says “we’ve made a horrible mistake, Joanna didn’t have cancer, when we got in there, we discovered that there was just the one tumor, and everything else was benign.  She’s recovering, and once she wakes up, she’s free to go.  And, she doesn’t need chemo… have a great rest of your life.”

Unfortunately, that was not the message Dr. Crispins delivered.

Joanna has stage 3C Fallopian cancer. As I understand stages, 1-2 is very confined to a localized area, stage 3 is when the cancer has moved beyond a local area, and the A-C classification is based on the size of additional tumors.  They found on large tumor (4cm) in her omentum, along with some extraneous smaller cells in the general area. All of this is the bad news.

The good news is that we caught this early (thanks to Maggie Grace), and there was much less visible cancer in and around the abdominal area than in many cases.  The doctor removed nearly all of the visible cancer (leaving behind less than a half a cm trace – a process called debulking) and what remains will be dealt with in phase three.   Along with all that, Joanna is young, strong (and I’ll add feisty has hell), and has a lot positive going on in her life today.

Phase two is simple.  Recover from the surgery. Recovery in the physical sense will be fairly easy, assuming there are no complications.  Crispins is a rockstar in the field (actually, I called her a badass, which clearly was a compliment she had never been paid before, based on her reaction to it…think I’m going to get cards printed with that in her title…) and the folks at Vandy have been unbelievable to us…including letting Maggie and I stay with Joanna during her recovery time in the hospital.  Home is a great place to continue that recovery.  We have built a sanctuary, and along with the physical space, both my family and Jo’s family will be on hand to help us as we need it.

Phase three is also straightforward.  Chemotherapy, both intraperitoneal and intravenous.  Agressive cancer calls for agressive chemo.  This part will suck ass, what’s that line “sometimes the cure is worse than the disease”?  In this case, I think I’d take chemo over dying.  Jo will lose her hair (gonna shave my head bald in solidarity) and her particular reaction to the chemo remains to be seen.

Phase four; survival, remission, cure, get on with your life, wow – my priorities are way different (for both of us), motherhood, enjoying the moment, good friends, music, sunsets, life!

This is a marathon.  Persistence and attitude is paramount.  We will do everything in our power to beat this thing’s ass (fuck cancer is the new house mantra), and recognize that the footwork is our business, the results are God’s.

We are blown away by the offers of help, prayers, support, “I’ll do anything”, from our individual & joint circles – and beyond – total strangers… certainly not what we’d expected.  Gratitude is not a good descriptor of how we feel at this outpouring.  It’s truly amazing.

I’d expect that Joanna will be back on the keys from here forward.  While I’d really prefer to not have this particular life experience, I have already learned from it, and look forward to the lessons yet to come.

Peace, M.

(do me a favor, hug your wife – husband – mate; call your Mom and tell her you love her; do something nice just because you can… savor your relationships, they are all we have in the end.)

 

 

From my wonderful, ass-kicking Aunt Lynda in Arizona:   “I would be honored to have my butt on your blog. That damn cancer can just kiss my big white ass.”

Sharing genes with this lady can only bode well for me and poorly for the cancer.

So, tomorrow is a big day in our little world. I’ll be going in for surgery to remove all of my reproductive organs, plus the three questionable places that turned up on CT scan. While she’s in there, my surgeon will do a thorough casing of the joint, taking some lymph nodes and sample tissue in order to determine just how much at home this cancer has made itself.

Of course, we’re hoping for the best news one can receive in these circumstances…. that the cancer is pretty well contained and that they were able to successfully remove it all. I’ll still have to undergo chemotherapy, but it’d be nice if that process was more precautionary than defensive.

It’s a weird feeling, knowing that at this time tomorrow I’ll have an incision from one end to the other and will be lighter a few organs. I’ll never be the same again. I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time today….looking at the smooth, unscarred skin of my torso. I’ve also spent some time trying to imagine myself with no hair, as I’ve been told that there’s no way I won’t lose it. I think of all of the times I’ve complained about my hair, or my stomach for that matter, and wish I had been more grateful for being healthy and disease-free. I do not think I’ll take my health for granted in the future. If you catch me doing it, I hope you’ll give me a good smack.

I’m trying not to get too schmaltzy or melodramatic on the cusp of this procedure. I’m trying to think of it as a positive thing, because it is. After all, I’m having a highly trained expert come in and extricate unwanted invaders from my body. Then we’re going to fumigate the place to make sure they never come back. That’s got to be a good thing, right? Certainly better than the alternative. I’m looking forward to waking up with these things out of me. To walking around and not thinking, “I have cancer inside me right now.”

I’m scared and nervous and emotional and anxious. But I’m also feeling surrounded with the love of my family, friends old and new, and even those of you I haven’t met but who have sent well wishes and messages of strength and encouragement. I feel like I am going into this surgery enveloped in love and light and good energy. For that, I am so very grateful.

See you on the other side…!

With love,
Jo

So, it’s only been a dozen or so days since my diagnosis – with much of that time spent holed up in the little sanctuary we call our home – and I’ve already become familiar with the phenomenon I’ll call Cancer Face. Even my husband, who is thankfully cancer free, has already been the recipient of Cancer Face, also known as “the Look”.

For someone with a serious illness, the Look is the expression of pity, sadness and concern bestowed upon you by someone who Knows (about your diagnosis, or your spouse’s diagnosis) and is seeing you for the first time since hearing the news. (At least I hope it’s just the first time…) An added bonus (or not) is when the eyes of the bestower of the Look actually well up with tears as soon as they are laid upon you.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been touched beyond belief by how many people care about what’s going on with my health, and are truly concerned for us and the outcome of all of this. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it, actually…the sheer volume of people who have reached out to us during this time. I feel loved, honored, grateful (and more than a little unworthy of all the attention, but that’s my stuff).

The flip side of being the recipient of these strong reactions is the feeling that maybe this diagnosis is worse than I thought. Given the fact that I still look and feel the same (not having yet been sliced open or pumped full of poisonous chemicals), it’s a little surreal to watch friends, family and strangers freak out over the news. It’s like it’s happening to someone else. I mean, people I do not know are running marathons in my name. There is a “community quilt” being made in our honor. Meal calendars are being established to provide food for our family. I’m receiving cards, gifts and e-mails from strangers all over the country. Crazy. Very, very nice, but still crazy.

I feel very detached from all of the hoopla, at least so far. My inner voice is saying that all of this energy shouldn’t be spent on me. After all, I’m going to be just fine. Maybe it’s denial, but right now it’s hard for me to imagine that I might be incapacitated for a period of time at some point. And there are way better causes out there, those with far greater needs. Plus, accepting help is something with which I’ve always had difficulty. It’s clear that my higher power has some lessons in store for me in that arena, among others.

The other thing that has evoked strange emotions (foreign, at least, to me) are the offers to “take” or “keep” my brand new baby girl. She’s just two weeks old – technically not even yet full term – and you’re talking about me farming her out? Hell no. I hate being away from her for even a couple of hours right now. The thought of being away from her for a longer period of time – or for strangers to be taking care of her so early on in her life – is inconceivable to me. This was supposed to be our time to bond as a new little family, and I don’t want to lose a minute of that experience.

I was feeling something I’ve never felt before in the wake of these offers…something on which I couldn’t quite put my finger. Then I realized: this my newly awakened, inner “mama bear” coming out. In all of my 44 years, I’ve never felt anything quite like it. But, all at once, there it was…this feeling of wanting to protect and shield my child, to hold her close and never let her go.

I think there’s also something else at play here – a place to which I can’t and won’t fully allow myself to go at this point – and that’s the urge to spend as much time as absolutely possible with this little girl while I can. I’m feeling something very close to the the same thing about my husband as well. I just want to swallow them up right now. I can’t get enough of either of them.

These feelings made me feel kind of selfish/kind of bitchy until I processed them out loud with a couple of trusted friends and also ran them by my doctor. And what I now realize is that I can give myself permission to be selfish with my time with my husband and baby right now. Also that this little girl, and my fervent desire to be here to watch her grow up, is going to be key to my recovery.

This is a hell of a motivator:

And if you’ve never held a baby skin to skin, you’re missing out on some good medicine indeed (just ask my husband). It’s good for both of your souls.

So right now, that’s my focus….all of the wonderful things in my life that make this fight worth fighting even more. That, and staying as strong as possible so that I can take care of my child and be present for her first few months.

As for getting Cancer Face, I have to realize that this isn’t just happening to me. It’s happening to my husband, daughter, parents, brother, friends and family. And to all of you too. We all process fear and grief differently. My way so far is to just pretend to be strong so that I don’t slip into the territory of wallowing in the “what ifs”. And my discomfort at your tears is very likely because my tears are very close to the surface too.

But we’re going to get through this, all of us, each in our own way. Whether you’re walking through this with me personally, or you’re engaged directly or indirectly in your own battle with cancer or [insert shitty situation here].

Love and gratitude,

Joanna

First, I’ve been totally and completely blown away by the support of so many people – friends and strangers alike – in the wake of our news. The stories of triumph over this disease and the words of encouragement have shored us up in a way we never dreamed possible just a few days ago when we were in a collective puddle on the floor. The more we learn about how many of you and yours have beaten cancer, the more we believe we can do it too.

Second, I’ve heard from more than a few of you that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you. I’ve heard it said that cancer helped some of you grow up, show up, pay attention, adjust your priorities, and appreciate all that you have. And I totally get that, although I’m not be quite there yet. Right now, I’m still in the process of processing this curveball that has been thrown our way. I’m spending a lot of time bouncing between joy and determination and fear and grief. But I get it. Already I can see how this diagnosis has adjusted my priorities. The things I was worried about 10 days ago seem plain silly now. The list of things that are truly important just got real short, real quick. And that’s not a bad thing.

However, it has been pointed out to me by several of you that I may actually owe a thank you to the cancer that has set up shop inside me. We knew that our little Magnolia Grace was to thank for allowing the doctors to find the cancer when they did. But it seems that we can also thank the cancer for saving Magnolia’s life. If it weren’t for the mass on my Fallopian tube, I would not have ended up in the emergency room on December 1st with pain that I could no longer ignore. And if I hadn’t ended up in the ER, the doctors likely wouldn’t have discovered the placental abruption before it was too late. Maggie would have lost her source of nourishment, and very possibly her life.

So, even though we hate this cancer – really, really hate it – I guess we also have to thank it. Because without it, we very well could have lost our daughter. And already we can’t imagine our lives without her. Me having to fight cancer is a very small price to pay for her presence in our lives and on this planet.

Talk about an amazing chain of events. When I think of all of the elements that had to fall into place for us to have this beautiful being and for my condition to be discovered in the process, it is clear that the universe has a plan in place that is far greater than anything we can imagine. There are no accidents. I just have to have faith and trust the process. And I’m working on that, a little more each day.

Some friends posted this sign today and I have adopted it as my motto, at least for today.

Photo11

That, and fuck you, cancer. You’ve served your purpose and I’m grateful, but now it’s time for you to go. Love and thanks,

Jo