Tag: #metastaticbreastcancer (page 1 of 2)

Cancer, Grief, and COVID19 – The Isolation Trifecta

Isolation. A feeling we most certainly can all understand in our current circumstance. #StayHomeStaySafe #CoronaVirus #COVID19

It seems every post on social media these days is a reminder of what is going on in the world. And rightfully so. Everyone is scared and feeling the walls closing in.

Cancer

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003, I was not prepared for the feeling of isolation. Even when people were surrounding me, there was still that feeling of isolation. The words “you have cancer” floated around my brain constantly. And while others tried to share their own experiences with cancer, this new path was one I had to walk alone. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and many friends were there. But it felt like I was running a marathon by myself and they were all on the sidewalks, behind barricades cheering me on. The treatments were mine alone to bear.

In 2010, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the feeling of isolation came back with a vengeance. This time the isolation was more tangible. I was unable to walk because of where the cancer had attacked. My husband would get me situated on the couch or in one of the recliners before he would leave for work. At lunch, either he would come or he would make arrangements for a friend or family member to come over and keep me company for a while. But then it was back to work. I was alone, while the kids were at school and he was at work, left to wonder what this new life was going to look like.

For me, metastatic cancer came with a new set of physical challenges. But also mental challenges. At home with nothing but time on my hands, I discovered the average life expectancy was 36 months after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (thankfully I have far exceeded that life expectancy, but I had no way to know that at the time). Friends and family once again rallied around us, but the isolation sat heavy in my soul.

Grief

Similarly, when my father passed away and then four days later my husband passed away, I was surrounded by friends and family. There to lift me up, to give me a shoulder to cry on, or to make sure that I had food to eat. But again, it was the times in the middle of the night, when I was unable to sleep that I found so isolating. Even going out with friends was hard. Most of my friends are happily married. I never felt more isolated than going to dinner with a group of happily married couples when I was now a widow. I have gotten better at being in those situations, but there are still times when that pain of isolation will rise up and make me understand what I lost when I see the looks that pass between husbands and wives who have known each other for decades.

COVID 19 – The trifecta of Isolation

In some way, I feel like I have been in preparation for the isolation brought on by COVID. But, it is just a little different. This one is being felt by everyone in some way.

And yet, even this new circumstance brings about a different feeling about grief and isolation.

During each of the previous life events, there were people around me. Helping me. Comforting me. Bringing me meals, sitting with me at doctor’s appointments, in the hospital, at the funerals, driving me to appointments, cleaning my house. They were sharing in my isolation as much as I would allow.

COVID 19 has reignited the feeling of isolation that I have struggled to overcome in the last few years. The isolation and grief from a cancer diagnosis, to loss of my father and my husband.

I have discovered I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my connection to the outside world right now, however, the posts also remind me of the other things I have lost: my husband; my limited mobility (makes it really hard to do things I used to be able to do easily), even my healthy immune system.

Thanks to my metastatic cancer and a compromised immune system, I have not left my house, other than to take the dog for a walk or go to my oncologist appointment, since March 18th. Days upon days of no contact with friends and family except via phones/computers.

The physical isolation is hard. But the reminders of the emotional isolation of past experiences is like ripping a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t finished healing.

If you, like me, are feeling the isolation from cancer, grief, or COVID I have found the following help me get out of my isolation funk:

Papers burning in fire pit
After writing down the things causing anxiety, burn them and let them go
  • Keep a pen and paper or some kind of notebook on your nightstand. When I can’t sleep it is usually because I need to process what is going on, no better way to do that than to write it down.
    • If what you have written is something you don’t want others to read, I have also found that burning the pages in my fire pit is very therapeutic.
  • Go for a walk or run (I don’t run, but you might enjoy it)
  • Find a good exercise video or sign up with a virtual trainer (I just signed up with Camp Gladiator for a 6-week challenge – all classes are on Zoom). Sweating out the frustrations has always helped reset my mind.

What have you found to help you not feel so isolated?

Good News – it needs to be shared not just during a pandemic

Tell me something good! (Who remembers Shaka Khan signing this? Because everyone has heard of Shaka Khan after Season 3 of The Masked Singer)

We seem to all be looking for the good news these days. If you don’t believe me, just ask John Krasinski. He made a video about “Some Good News” and he even speaks with his friend Steve Carell which made us all happy. If you haven’t seen the video, click here (I promise it is worth your time).

This week I also shared some of my own good news. And for those of you who follow me, yes, it has to do with my latest scan results.

I shared this post on my personal Facebook page.

Even though I shared this news during the #StayHomeStaySafe pandemic, I was still shocked at the number of likes and comments I received.

Granted, people are usually happy for me when I post good news about my scans. But this week I heard from people who I haven’t heard from in years even though we are friends on Facebook.

It doesn’t bother me that most people on my friend list don’t comment on my posts. I have close to 500 “Facebook friends”, but honestly I probably interact with about 75-80 regularly. I usually receive a lot of likes when I post good news regarding my cancer. But this time I got over 150 likes and about 50 or more comments.

After 9 plus years of living with metastatic cancer, I understand not everyone is as concerned as I am about my latest scans, especially since I get them every 3-4 months.

Since last June my two previous scans had both shown progression. The results from my latest scan showed some of the spots from the past 2 scans were actually smaller, which means the new medication is working. Yes, I am doing my own happy dance (I even pulled out Just Dance 2016 on Xbox to do some at-home exercise – whew, it’s a good thing no one is recording that).

I would postulate good news is not just what we need today, but we need to do a better job of celebrating good news on a daily basis. Now and going forward.

So tell me something good! I really do want to celebrate with you.

Own Your Story – the chapters already written AND the chapters waiting to be written

“Like the story you’ve been given because it’s not going to change” 

I was listening to an interview recently and the interviewee (Sally Clarkson) made this comment. (I’m not going to lie, I have never read anything by Sally Clarkson, but I subscribed to her podcast after listening to her in the interview. I loved her energy and her insight.)

At first, I was like “Yep! Own it!” 

Then I let it percolate some more. 

Did you ever read those books as a kid (or maybe played the computer games) where you had a choice about how the story would go? Every choice you made in the book or game, would determine where the story was going to take you. Every time it could be different based on the choices you make.

Those books/games mimic life. Every day I get the opportunity to make choices that help determine where my story is going. 
While what Sally said still resonates with me and I do (mostly) agree with it, I also believe my story is not fully written.

Sally is right. The past chapters of my life are not going to change. Even if I don’t like it, I have to own it. I was dealt a hand that if I had not gone all-in (in life and living), I would have folded and walked away from the table. But life is a precious gift, not something to walk away from.

The more I pondered this quote, it reminded me of a book by Adam Hamilton that I read several years ago. “Why? Making Sense of God’s Will.” There was a subsection in one of the chapters titled “Is the Story of Your Life Already Written, or Is It a Work in Progress?”

I was going through a tough time when someone gave me this book. After reading it, I wrote my own interpretation about God being “The Great Architect” – I would post a link but it was on another platform that I don’t use any longer so here is an excerpt:

My interpretation, after reading the book, is that God has a blueprint.  I’m not an architect (nor have I played one on TV as the old commercial goes), but I do know that a blueprint is a plan, a starting point.  Thinking in terms of building a home, it is easy for a new homeowner to think “oh, I would like to be able to put the refrigerator over there” after seeing the walls go up.  A thought like that can have several different impacts to the architect.  If you put the refrigerator there, we can’t put the sink here and the stove won’t fit there.  The cabinets that were ordered may not fit.  Or perhaps while looking through design magazines the excited homeowner sees a new design that they want to incorporate. While these changes may seem small to the owner, the architect is behind the scenes adjusting the blueprints so that the new homeowner’s vision becomes seamless. In this scenario, I am the homeowner and God is the architect.  Decisions by me, or even by those around me that may impact me, or perhaps even a force of nature like a tornado or fire, change the plans.  God takes the decisions/events in our lives and makes adjustments to the blueprints.  It is our choice to look at the new blueprints and decide if we like the new design.  God can take the challenges and the decisions that may not have been in the original plans and turn them into something beautiful. Every day the new blueprint is placed before us, we have to make the decision to accept the changes or throw them out.

(P.S. This was written many years ago and instead of editing I am reposting an actual excerpt from the original post)

So, yes, I do agree with Sally that we must embrace the story that is already written. But I believe I also have the chance to embrace the story that is still being written and make it even better than the one in my rearview mirror.

Are you embracing the story that has been written? How are you embracing the past to write the story that is yet to be written?

A daily reminder to Choose Joy as I start each day

My house has one of those weird art niches. It is in a strange place. Only I see it regularly.

There is a small alcove that leads to the master bedroom. The niche is directly across from my bedroom door. Unless someone intentionally steps into the alcove, no one knows it is even there.

I’ve never really known what I should put in the niche. I’ve tried several things, but nothing has ever truly resonated and I am always looking for the next right thing to inspire me.

Recently I made a big decision in my life. Making the decision released in me the chance to rediscover who I am.

I’m not going to lie. I am not a minimalist. I have a collection of penguins that rivals the Antarctic (well, maybe not, but you get the point). I like to see things that remind me of who I am and where I have been. Yes, Marie Kondo, these things do spark Joy in me.

When I was moving things around in my garage in an attempt to organize it (still a work in progress), I found a small display shelf that was my husband’s. I had been searching on Wayfair and other sites for shelves that would fit inside the niche and there was one just sitting in my garage.

Choose Joy Niche
A daily reminder to Choose Joy

I started gathering small things from around the house that as Marie Kondo says, “Sparks Joy”. A clock my grandfather made for me, a Choose Joy sign I made at a lettering class with some friends, a few penguins, a butterfly watercolor that I made at another class (can you tell I’ve been exploring my creative side?), a frog made from one of my husband’s shirts after he passed away, a ceramic horned frog a friend gave me when I was accepted at TCU, another TCU stuffed animal, and a collection of fly fishing ties I received when I went on a retreat with Casting for Recovery.

Each morning when I walk out of my bedroom I see these things. They remind me where I have come from, who I have loved, and that I am still a work in progress like the butterfly.

Finally, I am reminded each morning to Choose Joy.

How do you remind yourself to find Joy every day?

Is “Living a Great Story” enough to make the story worthy of sharing?

“You should tell your story.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that. 

But what is my story and who really wants to hear it? More importantly, what can people learn from my story?

I have been hesitant to take the next step as far as writing a book or searching for places to speak about my story. In my head, I don’t have the answer to the questions that I think people want to hear.

  • How do you get up and face the day?
  • How can you keep a positive attitude about life and what’s around the next corner?

 If I don’t have a good answer should I stand in front of people who are looking at me expectantly and just shrug when the questions start?

This past week I had to fill out an application. I was applying to be a model for the Breast Cancer Resource Center’s (BCRC) annual gala/fundraising event: ArtBra Austin

One of the questions asked the applicant to write a brief bio (in 3rd person). I stared at the screen for a solid 15 minutes. I started to write something and then hit the delete button. Then I did it again. And again and again. I finally texted a friend who was also applying and asked what she wrote. As most people would, she started with “xxxxx was born and raised in such and such, Tx”. She went on to say where she went to college and what kind of career she had. 

I started typing “Kim was born in Germany”. Delete. 

“Kim was raised in the military”. Delete

Was that really the story I wanted to say in my bio? I had to discern what really makes Kim, well, Kim. What would an audience want to know about this woman walking down a runway, in a bra, with a slight limp?

Obviously I had breast cancer because you can’t be a model unless you have been a client of the BCRC. But what else makes me unique? Do they want to know the details of the limp – thank you metastatic breast cancer. Or that I have been metastatic for 9 plus years?

After much consternation, I decided to briefly state that I have been metastatic since 2010 and then wrote about my daughters (no explanation of the limp but that’s another story). I followed with a quick sentence about finding new opportunities to express myself through writing. (I mean I am trying to tell my story through this blog and I have a very rough draft of my first attempt to write fiction). 

When it was all said and done, I was not pleased with the bio but it was sufficient for what I was doing. But once again it got me thinking about what is my story and who really wants to know more. 

Live a Great Story Sticker
#LiveAGreatStory

If you were to drive around Austin, you might notice stickers on cars or even signs around town that say  “Live a great story” (you can learn more about that here). I love the simple, yet profound, words. Although I’m trying to tell my story through words, I realize my story is not about cancer or grief. My story is made up of so many more things that have helped shape who I am and how I have persevered through some of the ugly to continue to have the opportunity every day to “Live a great story”. 

My story is still being written. Maybe not eloquently. But every day I can get up, be present and ask “what will I do today to continue the story of Kim?” And maybe I don’t have to have the answer to those questions. Maybe by seeing me “living a great story” it is enough to encourage those on the path behind me that sometimes just getting up and being present is enough. And maybe, it will give them the strength to ask themselves “What can I do to continue my story?”

Now excuse me while I go order some of those stickers to remind me and those that I encounter to “live a great story” 

Bucket list memories – who are the memories really for?

Do you have a bucket list? My guess is you do. Most people have ideas and dreams of things they want to see or accomplish before their time is up. I even wrote a post about bucket lists before my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

I have some items on my bucket list. But lately, I’ve been rethinking my idea of a bucket list. I still want to do some of those things in the link above (yes, I still want to go to the Ellen show and fly on a private plane). However, instead of making these memories for myself, I have come to realize it is the memories we make with our loved ones (be it family or friends) that will be how we are remembered.  

A year after JR died my oldest daughter graduated from college. To celebrate the fact that we all made it through the toughest year of our life the girls and I took a cruise. It was a time to get away from everything. What we discovered (aside from the fact that my snoring had gotten really bad) was that we weren’t really “cruise people.” I wanted to go on a cruise because it had been on my bucket list. JR had planned a cruise for our honeymoon, but plans had to be changed and he promised me for years that he would take me on a cruise one day. Unfortunately, that day never came and I shared this bucket list item with my girls instead.

If you were to ask the girls if they liked it they would say no. However, we did make some good memories on the trip. Like the boat ride where the dolphin played in the water beside us. Or their excursion at Roatan where they played with the monkeys. The mysterious midnight WiFi that brought us text messages even though we didn’t upgrade to the WiFi package. Watching Moana on a big screen at midnight in the middle of the ocean. And even the day we stayed on the ship when most got off (definitely one of the better days).

This weekend my youngest jokingly (but seriously) suggested I take her to Vegas to see the Jonas Brothers. She turned 21 last year and she just graduated from college a semester early. At first my reaction was “I don’t really want to go to Vegas”. The last time I was in Vegas was on my honeymoon. It would be bittersweet to go just a few weeks after what would be my husband and my 27th anniversary. But the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that I should go and make memories with her. Because when we are gone, the sweet memories are what get us through the days of sadness. And who better to make memories with than those you love the most in the world. 

So I’m going to dust off my bucket list and figure out who wants to make memories with me – memories that we can share now and they can use to reminisce when I’m gone (don’t worry, I don’t think that will be anytime soon – I have lots of items on my bucket list and adding more every day).

God’s gentle reminder to take out the trash

If you are new here, welcome. Several years ago I was talking with God. I wanted a sign, kind of like a hand signal, to remind me that He is around me and in control. Like a lot of conversations, I tried to lead it in the direction I wanted it to go. I was determined my sign would be a ladybug. I think I had just read a book where a ladybug was present at many crucial times. But as I was telling God I wanted the ladybug to be my sign, He gently whispered in my ear “Butterfly.” I really didn’t want a butterfly because it sounded so cliche. But there it was. And now, God’s sign to remind me that he is here with me and in control is the butterfly. What does that have to do with a rainy Friday in January, you ask?

Lately, I have been feeling a little out of sorts. Recently, the medication I take for metastatic breast cancer had to be changed because of some slight progression. I am still getting used to the new side effects from the medication which has not exactly been a joy ride. In addition, it is the height of Cedar season in Austin, and with an immune system that isn’t quite as strong as years past, I am struggling with allergies.

Today, God reminded me He is still with me and in control…

Friday is trash day. Last night, in the rain, I was taking the trash can out to the curb. When I pulled the can away from the wall, I noticed something on the wall. I didn’t think much about it. Mostly because it was 10 PM, it was chilly and raining and I just wanted to get the trash out to the street. I had procrastinated earlier in the evening, and then it started raining, so I procrastinated some more. Since it was raining, I knew I just needed to get the trash out and I would have time in the morning to get the recycle out.

In my neighborhood, the trash pickup comes earlier than the recycle. This morning, even though it is still chilly, I caught a break in the rain to get the recycle bin out to the street. I noticed, again, that there was something on the wall behind the trash and recycle bins. With a little more light this morning, I could see that it was a butterfly.

Butterfly
A gentle reminder from God

I don’t know about where you live, but in Austin, Texas you don’t really see a lot of butterflies in January.

There it was, attached to the wall. A butterfly. A gentle reminder from God. Nudging me to move the trash out of the way.

I have all sorts of trash that I allow to pile up. Whether it is my diagnosis and the recent progression, the loneliness of being a widow, the cedar fever, disagreements with friends over small things, or just plain old procrastination – be it taking out the trash or working on my book. All of these things pile up and I find myself separated from God.

But God always finds a way to reveal himself. Today it was ever so gently by placing a butterfly on a garage wall behind a trash can.

What kind of trash do you need to move so you can see God at work in your life?

Where will you be in 10 Years? Reflections on a Decade

10 years…one Decade…Gone in a Flash

I could never have guessed 10 years ago, on the eve of a New Decade what the next 10 years would bring.

What have I learned in 10 years? Just like the Bertie Bott’s Beans in the Harry Potter books, you never know what you are going to get. I have learned to enjoy the highs and use the memories created sitting at the top of the mountain to get through the lows of the valleys. I’ve also learned that friends are there to help carry you when you think you can’t go on anymore and will help you look to the next mountain top and remind you of the view that is just over the hill.

Where will I be in 2029? I have no idea, but I plan to try to capture as many highs as I can before I get there and focus on those when (not if) I find myself in a lowly valley…

Here’s the highlight reel of the last decade…

At the end of 2009, I was married to my best friend. We had 2 beautiful daughters – one in High School and the other in Middle School. Cancer was in my rearview mirror and my husband’s business was beginning to find footing.

2011 Rose Bowl Champs – TCU

2010 – Hello Cancer, my old friend (not really, but it is definitely a constant companion). If I’m honest, I should have been diagnosed much earlier in the year, but October 8th was the date of the Stage 4 diagnosis. Definitely not one of the highs of the year (or the decade). The year brought lots of pain (from the cancer metastasizing in my bones) but we ended it on a high note (thanks dad and Judith for the trip to the Rose Bowl and thanks TCU for the win! #gofrogs).

2011 – Cancer was still the highlight of the year. Since the metastasis practically destroyed my left hip, there were many trips to San Antonio to meet with an orthopedic oncologist. And in August 2011, I spent 2 weeks in San Antonio rehabbing from a surgery that made me feel like the bionic woman – lots of metal in my hip, but it didn’t give me any superhuman powers like leaping over buildings or running as fast as a train, but I was able to walk again by the end of the year.

2012 – Seemed like life was settling back into a routine. Nothing exciting happened. But after the past 2 years, we were fine with no excitement.

2013 – Our oldest daughter graduated from High School and got accepted at my alma mater to study Athletic Training. Super proud frog mom moment.

2014 – Still riding a roller coaster, but the drops are getting smaller and the hills not so large. We learned to live with the cancer diagnosis and even began to think we had it somewhat on our terms. The medicine I was taking was keeping things in check and although I had a minor setback with my hip (unexplained pain after many, many tests). I was stable as far as cancer goes and was still here to watch my kids grow up.

2015 – Cancer once again took control of our lives. Only this time it was my husband and not me, I was still stable (not sure how with all of the stress, but thankful nonetheless). J.R. had not been feeling well for months and on September 22, he ended up in the hospital with a diagnosis of Stage 4 Renal Cancer. Friends and family rallied to support us during this time. My daughter and I even got to welcome in 2016 at the Alamo Bowl. One of the all-time greatest bowl comebacks in history. TCU defeated Oregon in one of the craziest games I’ve ever had the opportunity to see in person.

2016 – We had some highs, my youngest graduated from High School, but mostly the year took its toll on our family. My dad, who was also diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in September of 2015, passed away on July 20th. My brother and his family had made the trek to Texas to see everyone and I’m so grateful that he was there that week. July 24th, exactly four days later, my husband passed away. The rest of the year is a blur. But, with the help of great friends, we managed to get my youngest daughter moved into her college dorm and she began her college career.

A fresh start in a New Home #BuiltaHouse

2017 – I #BuiltaHouse. – we always talked about building a house, and in March 2017 I moved into my new house. It was bittersweet and I told friends it was an anniversary present (I closed on March 1st and March 6th would have been our 24th wedding anniversary). My oldest graduated from TCU and got a graduate assistant job at Angelo State University (my husband’s alma mater!). The year did not end so well, as I spent 10 days in the hospital and had to have all of that beautifully rebuilt hip removed due to an infection. Once again friends and family rallied to get us through Christmas and the coming months.

2018 – Hey, I’m walking again. No one saw that coming. Who walks without a hip joint? This girl, that’s who. Other than learning to walk, 2018 was a pretty mellow year, but again, didn’t I deserve a pretty mellow year after the rest of the way the decade had gone?? I think so.

2019 – This was finally going to be the year. I was walking, my oldest finished graduate school and got her first “real” job, and my youngest graduated from college a semester early. Unfortunately, cancer had decided it was time to flex its muscle again and after 7 years of being stable, I had some new “spots” show up on my scans, one in June and a couple of more in October.

2020 – I will be welcoming the new decade in with some new medication to try to get back on the stable train. Fingers crossed that we can find a medication that will be as successful as the last one. I plan to finish writing a book I started in 2018 and find as many mountain top views to enjoy as I can.

What are your hopes and dreams for the roaring 20’s?

Traditions – This newest one is something I don’t really want to continue

At this time of year, our family has many traditions. I imagine you do too. We make Christmas cookies together (always a TCU stocking and a purple penguin because we don’t make black icing). On Christmas Eve we have tamales for dinner (it’s a Texas thing), we go to the Christmas Eve service and, either before or after depending on which service we go to, we watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Now that the kids are older we all gather the stocking stuffers we have accumulated and we try not to peek at what others are putting in our stockings.

This year marks the 4th Christmas without J.R., the love of my life and best friend. He passed away in July 2016. For Christmas that year, my girls and I traveled to New York to spend Christmas with my brother and his family. It was nice to not have to think about how to “do Christmas” without my husband and their dad. But it was also a little more difficult than just the first Christmas without him. Part of the trip also involved going to Washington DC to bury my father in Arlington National Cemetery. (He died 4 days before my husband). It was not the Christmas that any of us wanted and some of our traditions were put on hold as we didn’t know how to celebrate with J.R. and dad that year.

In 2017 I moved into a new house and was hoping to start some new traditions. I wasn’t really sure what they would be but we had survived all the firsts and I was hoping to make Christmas a celebration again. Instead, in November I started fighting an infection. I ended up spending 10 days in the hospital in December and came home with one leg 2 inches shorter than the other from the removal of the hardware that had been my hip since 2011, unable to walk without a walker (and even then not more than a few feet at a time) or do much of anything other than give myself the daily antibiotic infusion and watch everyone around me try to make Christmas not quite so depressing. Needless to say, we did not start any new traditions that year.

For Christmas 2018 we celebrated at home, no hospitals, no surgeries, no antibiotics, no funeral, just me and the girls and my mom. It was quiet but after the previous 2 years, it was a welcome change. I was walking with a cane and could participate in helping get things done. All in all not a bad Christmas, but still no new traditions that I had been hoping for. 

This was going to finally be the year – 2019. Both of my daughters are grown – one lives in South Carolina and the other in West Texas. As of this December, they both have now graduated from college. We could start some new traditions. Something that could be aimed toward more adult aged things. {At one point we talked about going to Ireland for the holidays, but with the move by the oldest halfway across the country, we weren’t able to coordinate our plans.} But once again my body decided not to want to play nice. In early December I started a new treatment (thanks to the progression in my spine they found on my last scans). The new meds may have had something to do with the excruciating pain that landed me in the emergency room last Monday morning. Thankfully I haven’t spent 10 days in the hospital, but I did spend 6 hours in the emergency room and another 4 hours in a doctor’s office trying to determine the source of the pain. They finally decided to give me antibiotics and with 3 days left before Christmas, I am beginning to feel like myself again. Not sure what this means for my new treatment plan (since I have stopped taking the drug that the doctor changed me to at the beginning of the month) but now I’m pretty sure we won’t be squeezing in any new traditions that we want to build on.

But one thing is certain… I’m hoping next year will be antibiotic and hospital free (this is not the kind of tradition I want to continue).  And maybe I should quit worrying about any new traditions and just learn to appreciate the wonder of the season for what it is…A Gift.

Dear Cancer…A letter about how I really feel

I’ve never been good at expressing my feelings. I generally like to find the good in things. Don’t get me wrong. Situations can get me frustrated. But I can usually get past it after a few days and see things in a better light.

I have been able to do that for years with cancer. I have written about how cancer has given me hope and how I don’t let it tell me what I can and can’t do. But the reality is, cancer has taken a toll on me mentally and physically over the years. And it really pisses me off sometimes. So here is my Dear Cancer letter…

Dear Cancer: It’s not you, it’s me. 

Wait, that is so NOT TRUE – it very much is you and I’m tired of being nice to you. If you could just leave now and never come back it would not be too soon. 

In 2003, without any warning, you came into our home and disrupted our life. You were an unwelcome guest that barged in and made yourself at home. When you finally announced yourself on October 8th after a surgery to remove what we believed was a just a non-cancerous fibroadenoma, I was in shock. By the end of the month, I had 2 more surgeries and met the doctor who would be my oncologist. Less than one month from your intrusion, I began chemotherapy. It was all very fast and very surreal.

In the summer of 2004, after 8 rounds of chemo and I can’t even remember how many rounds of radiation, we packed your bags and kicked you out of our house. You had already overstayed your welcome and it was time for you to move out. I hated you then, and I still hate you. You took away my kid’s childhood by just being in our lives and for that, I will never forgive you.

We thought we had dealt with you and kicked you out to the curb, but unknown to us at the time, you had left a small unpacked bag behind for us to discover at a later date. 

When you interrupted our life in 2003, it felt like just a bad dream. For 10 months, we let you run our life. You told us when we had to be somewhere, you took my energy and my hair. But what you didn’t take was my spirit, as much as you tried. We had friends and family help with meals and house cleaning and other odd jobs that popped up. My husband took up a lot of the slack and didn’t even really complain. 

We fought with you on our terms and thought we had put you in our rearview mirror. That is until October 8, 2010. After months of pain in my back and hip, you once again came storming back into our home – that small bag that you left behind had turned into a huge duffel bag (kind of like those sea monkeys that you “just add water” and they grow). 

As you came in and unpacked the huge duffel bag, we discovered that you were there to stay this time. An uninvited guest that was now living in the house and had no intention of ever moving out. You had changed your name from breast cancer to Metastatic Breast Cancer. It was like you wanted to make sure you were in control again. Discovering the pain in my back and my hip was actually due to breast cancer metastasizing in my bones, we now understood that you were here to stay and there was nothing we could do to kick you out.

Through the pain and the uncertainty that you brought I really hated you. Not only had you disrupted our life in 2003, but now you had taken my ability to walk. When we saw the scans and the xrays that showed how much of my left hip anatomy was now gone, it was no wonder that my pain level had soared to a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10. 

You moved in and still wanted to run our life. Frankly cancer, your gift-giving abilities SUCK!

Surgeries, chemo, radiation, more radiation, another surgery, more chemo and drugs, another surgery, recovery and learning how to walk with a rebuilt hip, And you just kept giving.

After the surgeries, you decided it wasn’t enough and you had to move to my ribs which meant more chemo and drugs to try to keep you in your place.
My oncologist, through some trial and error, finally found the drug that managed to keep you under control. The chemo finally turned the water off that was making the monkeys continue to grow and we finally learned how to keep you in your place.

For 7 glorious years, we were able to tame you – to the point where I sometimes wondered if you really had decided to move on. I still had doctor appointments every 6 weeks to remind me, a daily pill to keep the faucet turned off, and scans every 4-5 months in which your distant relative anxiety would show up and we would all hold our collective breath until the results would come back with the words STABLE. 

But controlling my body and my life wasn’t enough for you. Maybe you thought I wasn’t paying you enough attention, but for whatever reason, in 2015, you opened the door for your cousin renal cancer and introduced your cousin to my husband. At this point, I had made my peace with you and had learned to accept your constant presence in my life. But DAMN you for thinking that was not enough. 

Kim and J.R. December 2015

Your cousin was not as well behaved as you and after 10 months, you brought your second cousin Grief. Why? I have no idea. I thought we had an understanding, you had taken up residence within my body, but if I thought I hated you before, I discovered a new level of hatred. Taking my husband and the father of my children was a new low that frankly I never saw coming. 

My girls have had to live with you since they were 8 and 5. They grew up with you as part of their life and they too had learned to accept that you were the distant relative that you had to put up with. 

I feel as if you have just piled on one thing after another and I’m F#@*$%G tired of it. Breast Cancer, Metastatic Breast Cancer, Renal Cancer, Grief. You can all just go take a leap and leave me the hell alone for a while. I’m so tired of you and your dirty relatives.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, you finally found a new way to turn the water back on. And this summer you decided my body was your playground again. Now we are back checking the arsenal to find something that will slow down the leak that you have created. I am not willing to put my life in your control again. I have every intention of fighting you and sticking around to watch my daughters as they embark on the life that you have tried to steal from them not once, not twice but 3 times.

I want you to know that you have just begun to see me fight. And although I know one day you will have the final say, until that day, I will fight you till hell freezes over and then fight you on the ice (#GoFrogs).

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