Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I am by nature not one to entertain depressive thoughts, at least not for long.   I have always felt that the best anti-depressant is action.  So, when I was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago-  I began to do an enormous amount of researching.  I made compulsive lists of things to prepare for each treatment.  I rearranged my bedroom anticipating the need for a comfortable place to heal.  I bought art supplies preparing to meet trauma head on with prismacolors and permanent markers.  I also found support groups, both in my community and online.   Breastcancer.org has online forums organized around types of treatment, receptor status, stage, question, etc.  I joined a group of women who all started chemotherapy at the same time.  

I can not overstate the importance of these women in my life.  Anytime I had a question, I would post it and find answers.   They would validate the crazy feelings that were at times overwhelming and help me feel sane again. (I typed many a post while sobbing).   They would offer support and make me laugh at the absurdity of our situation.  And when so many of my "real" friends all but disappeared, they were there and ready to offer me a big virtual hug whenever I needed it.

At one point, when things were super rough, one of the women comforted another woman with a promise... that next year, we would meet in Vegas.  Exactly one year from the month that we began chemotherapy, fifteen of us packed our bags, boarded planes from all over North America and Canada and met in Las Vegas, Nevada for a long weekend. 

I wondered on the flight what it would be like to meet these women.  Would it feel awkward?  Would I have things in common with them aside from cancer?  Would they understand my weird sense of humor?   Any fear I had was quickly put to rest.  These women were amazing - and I felt so proud to be in their company.  We talked about how our club had the worst initiation rites of any club we had ever heard of.   In many ways, I was shocked at how much it felt like I had always known these women.  But, I guess it makes sense.  We have shared a traumatic history and through that, our friendship has intensified in ways that most can't understand. 

I also felt, for the first time in over a year, normal.  I was surrounded by fourteen other women who understood.  I laughed when one of my friends tried to play the cancer card to get an upgrade at the rental car counter.  I showed my scars without feeling I would need to take care of the other person's reaction.  I could talk about cancer without worrying that I was boring or too self indulgent.  I felt like I could breathe- and I am beyond happy that I went.  I am looking forward to meeting again next year. 

Coming back home was difficult.  So much of the trauma of the last year has left me anxious and broken - and yet I often feel that there isn't time or space to really co-exist with those feelings.  I instead find ways to pretend that they don't exist.  Last week on Wednesday, I became emotionally overwhelmed.  I had no idea what triggered the feelings.  I thought perhaps it was all of the emotions of this past month - the death of Zinn, my amazing trip...  It wasn't until Saturday that I realized that it was exactly one year ago on Thursday that I had my first chemotherapy infusion.  Although I may try to repress these feelings, my psyche has not forgotten.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Cat

I haven't written a post in a while.  I feel a strange mix of emotions regarding this fact.  When I first began writing this blog, thinking about cancer was all I did.  I was constantly researching medications, research trials, and symptom relief and I was making a lot of art to cope with the overwhelming nature of being a cancer patient.  Today, I find that I am back to being overwhelmed with the "normal" day to day rhythm of living.  And I guess that is something to be thankful for.

But there are moments where I am reminded of my status as survivor.  It would be nice to say that these moments are infrequent, but in actuality, they happen many times a day.... the doctors appointments are still frequent, the lingering side effects of chemotherapy continue, the fists full of vitamins, supplements, and medications that I take every evening, and the fears of recurrence.  And although I try very hard to use any and all defense mechanisms to keep thoughts of death at bay - they are still quietly present.

This last week, death came and took my beautiful cat, Zinn and broke the hearts of everyone in my family.  The death of a pet is often the first experience that a child has with death.  And when your family has been struggling with a life threatening illness, this concept can be extremely provocative.  I knew that I needed to be careful with my children.  I needed to find ways to talk about the death of Zinn honestly, allow space for mourning, and discuss ways to move through grief.  Although I am not planning on dying until my children are old with children of their own, the way that our family handled Zinn's death felt beyond just important. 

My husband called to tell me that Zinn had died.  He was at the vet office. I realize that my husband's insistence that we try everything we could to save Zinn had a great deal to do with what an amazing friend Zinn had been to him, but also might have had a small part to do with how much my husband wanted to feel he could protect his family from death. One thing that cancer has taught me is the importance of making decisions based on what I value.  Although I have hardly any vacation days in reserve, I needed to be with my husband.  So, I left my office and drove directly to the vet office. We both said our goodbyes, I kissed Zinn's forehead and stroked his paws, we made arrangements for Zinn to be cremated, and then my husband and I went home together.  We lay in bed in each others arms telling stories of adopting Zinn.  We talked about how frightened we were of bringing our daughter home from the hospital, since Zinn was always a bit wild.  But Zinn was amazing with our children.  He adored my daughter and if she cried, he nipped at our heels until we helped her.   We talked about how to tell our children. We cried.   My husband wanted to go to the ocean.  And since the ocean is my healing place, it seemed like a good idea. 

We picked the kids up from school and told them the news as we drove to the ocean.  My daughter was extremely distraught.  My son didn't quite understand.   At the beach, we wrote Zinn's name in the sand... we drew pictures of cats... we shared stories... and we expressed gratitude for having such wonderful family member.

11 years ago, Zinn had a terrible reaction to Ketamine, the anesthesia they gave him during the neutering process.    Zinn was paralyzed and blind when we picked him up from the veterinarian.  The vet couldn't tell us for sure what might happen.  We were hopeful - and we were able to nurse him back to complete health.  I feel so lucky that we had the last eleven years with Zinn.  I wish it had been more.   My daughter remarked how there are moments where she is so sad and then moments where she forgets. We talked about how those moments of sadness will lessen and will be replaced with all of our wonderful stories about Zinn and how much we loved him.  My son tells me that Zinn will return on his birthday because my son will bring cat treats.  I gently tell him that Zinn died, and won't be coming back... but that we can remember him in our hearts forever.    I will miss Zinn.  My beautiful wild cat.  And one day, when I do die (which again will be like fifty years from now), I take comfort in feeling that maybe Zinn will be there waiting for me.