Thursday, April 13, 2017

highly personal

One day I was out riding my bike on the trails in Washington. It was a warm summer day in August. I liked to go in the morning before the sun got too hot. The wind was blowing through my coarse head of hair affectionately referred to as "Brillo pad" by my husband. I loved the trail, & I loved the exercise. Midlife had hit, & I was trying to get in shape. Riding my bike 10 miles a day made me feel good about myself. I felt as though I was truly shaping up, & I was thankful I was doing something to help myself.

The winds of change had drifted our way, but we were clueless. We had just taken a trip on a ship, a cruise ship on which our soon-to-be son-in-law played his trumpet. We were empty nesters now, & it seemed as though we would enjoy our new stage in life. We were helping our middle daughter plan her December wedding. Our youngest was getting ready to return to College. I remember thinking about a few changes I had noticed on my left side. It happened on that cruise ship. The thing is... those changes didn't stay. I figured everything was fine. I didn't give it much thought. I did not notice the lump under my arm. I think I didn't realize that when a woman does a self exam, she needs to check her underarm area.

I was diligent about my monthly self exams (even though I didn't know to check my underarm areas). I was diligent about my mammograms even though they caused me immense anxiety, & frankly, I hated them. Just 7 months earlier, I'd had a clean mammogram. The thought never went through my mind that my life was hanging in the balance. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror & noticing a discoloration. This change stuck in my mind, but the discoloration went away just as it had done on the cruise ship. Hmmm... weird.

FAST FORWARD 1 YEAR:  I am finishing up a year's worth of treatment. My hair is just growing back in. It looks like salt & pepper. Will it be curly like it was before, or will it be straight? I have survived not having hair. I have even decided hair is highly overrated. Getting ready each morning is much simpler without hair, & hats are stylish. I don't really look like myself. I haven't ridden my bike in a year, & I no longer feel very feminine.  My life is so far from normal, I don't know if I were to run smack dab into my old self if I would recognize her.

For 365 days, I awakened each morning with a deep heaviness of heart. I would wake up, lay in my bed, & realize my heart was sad. Each morning I realized why I was sad. "Oh yeah," it would come back to me. "I have cancer." I am afraid. I think I must have PTSD. I feel as if this curse will never leave me. I am filled with turmoil, & I don't know what to do. I never miss a doctor appointment, but I dread each of them. "What strange words will be thrown at me today?" It's all so over my head, yet so many decisions must be made. My family weighed in, but ultimately, I am the patient. I have to make the decisions. How am I to know what to do? I can't even speak the doctor's language. It is foreign to me.

5 YEARS, 8 MONTHS LATER:  I am preparing for my 6th Race for The Cure as a Survivor. I am trying to reach my goal which I fear I have set too high. Too high for what? Not too high for Susan G. Komen. Because of her research, I live. I have grandchildren, none of which were even a thought when my lump was found. None of them would I know if not for Susan G. Komen.  I have made new friends that I didn't know before my biopsy, but some of them are no longer with us. I would never have known them if not for Susan G. Komen.  My faith is bigger than the day I was diagnosed. I would not have lived long enough to know this new depth of faith if not for Susan G. Komen.

TODAY: I am changed. I don't ride my bike 10 miles a day. My hair is soft & curly. My weight has been up & down like a pogo stick. I take 27 pills a day. I attend a support group. I go to counseling. I love my friends (old & new). My grandkids bring me unspeakable joy. I am stronger in some ways & weaker in others. I still have anxiety. I try to live in the moment. I try to live each day to the full. I celebrate life. I cry when I lose my Survivor friends. I am raising money for the 6th year in a row. My goal is $10,000. Currently, I am in third place. Last year, Team Sweet Potatas came in second. 2 years in a row before that, it came in first. The farther I get from my diagnosis, the harder it is to raise money. I don't care if my team comes in first or last, but I do care about my cause. I care about research. I care about a cure.

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