Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Less worrier, more warrior

It is 2:59am.  Tomorrow I go to the hospital for surgery.   I will be getting a skin sparing (hopefully) nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy with sentinel node biopsy.  This next sentence has been re-written about ten times at this point.  It is hard to put in to words exactly what I am feeling.  Angry that I am forced to make a decision that no one would ever want to make.  Afraid of what could happen in the six to eight hour surgery or of the complications that I could encounter afterwards.  Sad that I will be different physically when the surgery is over.  Relieved that I will finally be getting what remains of this cancer out of my body.  This is what I must do in order to increase my odds for survival.  And with two little ones who count on me, I am all about increasing my odds.

There is a t-shirt I saw that says "Yes they are fake, the real ones tried to kill me."  Although it is a funny shirt, I don't feel the sentiment rings true for me.  I feel this cancer happened to me and my breasts.  They are as much innocent victim as I am.  But unfortunately, they will be sacrificed so that I might live.   So, I wanted a way to honor them before tomorrow.  I have been working on this art piece over the last several days.  It has been hard.  I have been easily distracted away from the pain that making this piece touches in me.  It is easier to wash the dishes or do the laundry than to mourn.  But I know I need to in order to go into surgery without the emotional knots my psyche is tied up in currently.  I feel deeply that releasing these emotions will help me in my recovery.

The project began with picture taking.  I set a timer and took multiple pictures so that I might remember what I looked like prior to February 26th.  I found an old cigar box that I had been saving for a special art project.  I spray painted the box gold.  I needed it to be precious.  I then searched through years of photographs trying to find images of me breastfeeding my two children.  Luckily I found one for each child.  I printed up a selection of photographs and assembled my mini shrine. I used small vellum envelopes to hold the pictures.   But it felt very incomplete.  So, I sat down and wrote a goodbye letter to my breasts.  I talked about how my relationship with my breasts developed.  I thanked them for nursing my children.  I apologized for not finding the lump earlier.  When I finished the letter, I did feel more at peace.  I placed a small red envelope in the back of my shrine with the letter inside.  And then I decorated the box with strange little nipple flowers because I can't be too serious!

This shrine has been important to me.  It has helped me move out of that worrier state back into my warrior mode.  I  realize that I can still be afraid and feel strong. 

So the pictures are a little blurry.  Not much natural light at three o'clock in the morning.  Thanks for being on this journey with me.  Thank you for all of your support and well wishes.  It has meant so much to me.  Virtual hugs, prayers, and wishes of good luck are all much appreciated.  I will write soon to let you know how I am doing.

Now it is 3:46 am, and  I still need to go clean up my mess!  I guess I can sleep in the operating room.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Calming the anxious

My oncologist had wanted my surgery to be three to four weeks from my last infusion.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't work out that way.  I thought my surgery would be on February 20th, which would have been today.  But it wasn't.  Conflicting schedules between my breast surgeon and my plastic surgeon made it necessary to schedule the surgery for February 26th. 

I have been living in awareness of this cancer inside me since August 3rd, 2012 the day of diagnosis.  When the radiologist told me that some cancer possibly remained after chemotherapy, I had a visual image of a time bomb strapped to my chest.  The wait for surgery has created extreme amounts of anxiety that no amount of ativan can quell... and although I know that I should be creating art, I feel stuck.

Today, I didn't feel very well so I went to the after hours clinic to see about getting some antibiotics.  I don't want anything to jeopardize surgery for next week.   While there, I waited for an extremely long time before being seen (even though I had an appointment).  I sat down in the examining room and started to bawl... not just cry, but sob uncontrollably.   Yes, I am an anxious hot mess.

So how do I find ways to move out of this state of anxiety towards peace?  How do I metaphorically disarm the time bomb I have been carrying around?  At first I started drawing a picture of myself with sticks of dynamite inserted in my bra- but found that it wasn't very helpful.  It kind of made me feel more anxious.

I need to dig deeper into what this anxiety is about.  Am I fearful?  Sad?  Angry? or some messy combination of all three? All of my BC sisters say that waiting for surgery is the worst part.  That once it happens, I will just feel relieved that it is over... and although there will be pain, I will get better and stronger each day.  Those BC sisters are pretty great like that.

So- I don't have any great piece of art to share today, but I promise to create something fabulous before surgery.  In the meantime- check out my cool hair growth!  Lots of gray, but I don't mind. I remember how anxious I was about losing my hair.  Now I have become accustomed to seeing myself this way- and I have grown to not just accept it, but be almost pleased that I was able to experience myself bald.  Without the distraction of hair, I actually could really look at my face.  I like my face.  I don't think I would have ever said that before.

Friday, February 8, 2013


When I was young, I fantasized about being
an eccentric old lady with long gray hair,
who wore evening gowns at noon
and played her accordion at bus stops

Six rounds of chemo
eyes closed imagining success
"This is what we call a Pathological Complete Response"
they would say...
"the chemo has worked wonders.  The cancer is gone"
A complete response is the holy grail
you will be one of the lucky ones.
your chances are excellent
smiling through tears I would call my family
and we would breathe  

but today didn't look like I had imagined
I watched on the monitor as she measured the 
dark shadow that sits in my chest
it is still there
much smaller than it was in August
but it is still there
and I am heartbroken

I try hard not to cry... but
I can't control that either.
As I get off the table
the technician hugs me and tells me 
not to worry.  

The radiologist confirms what I already know.
that the chemo worked extremely well, 
but it looks like there is 
still some cancer left.
Will know for certain after
they cut it out
Surgery will take care of it.
She tells me I am so strong
and amazing.
But I just feel tired and broken.
and I cry some more
and try to catch my breath

Everyone says don't look at statistics...
but it is hard not to.
My chances are still good.
I know that I will have surgery
they will take out the fragments
and then radiate anything that remains.
I will take a year of herceptin
and possibly ten years of tamoxifen.
and pray that one day
I can be that old lady
annoying people
at bus stops.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


My Medusa 2013

Every January, I choose a card from a beautiful Goddess deck  that I have owned for nearly a decade.  The paintings are utterly beautiful- and the Goddesses include everyone from Hera and Mary to Tlazolteotl and Changing Woman.  I close my eyes, and shuffle the cards in my hand until a card feels right.  I then read the corresponding myth associated with the goddess that I have chosen- and listen for what wisdom the myth might have in my current life.  Okay- hopefully I haven't lost any of you yet.  I know it isn't exactly conventional.  I was raised Catholic- and I am sure that this kind of practice would be frowned upon... but no one has ever described me as conventional.  I love a good story and I am a believer in archetypes- those ancient images that are passed down through the collective unconscious from one generation to the next.  I find it both beautiful and comforting how a story could bring enlightenment to me in the same way it did to someone a thousand years ago.  And so back to my card...

This year, I pulled Medusa.  At first, this frightened me.  Medusa, after all, was a hideous gorgon with snakes for hair that would turn anyone who looked at her face into stone.  And she had her head lopped off by Perseus - not a great ending.  She is considered to be symbolic of fear.  The way fear shuts off parts of the brain- causing many to feel paralyzed or turned to stone.  But the wonderful thing is that once Perseus killed Medusa, Pegasus, the winged horse, sprang from her blood.  Pegasus was the image on the front of the Medusa card.   Pegasus is a symbol of wisdom, imagination, life force, and intuitive understanding.  So when fear is slain, wisdom is born.  When I think about it in this way, the card seemed more than appropriate. 

My surgery is in 17 days.  To be honest, I have tried very hard to pull the blankets over my head and not think about it at all.  I have important decisions to make at a time where I don't even know what I want for dinner.  Decisions that can not be changed.  It would be so easy to allow these feelings of paralysis to envelop me - but the 20th will still come whether I am ready or not.  So, I am doing what I can to face this fear.  To learn from others' experiences, to prepare my hospital packing list, my return from the hospital shopping list, to allow friends and family to come and be with me,  to educate myself on my choices, to cry when necessary, and to remember that I am strong.  I got this.