chemo

Blessings & Curses

Cancer has been both a both a blessing and a curse. Strange as that blessing part may sound, it’s true. At least it’s true for me. And I don’t mean it in that sentimental now-I-know-what’s-really-important-and-just-living-every-day-is-a-blessing kind of way. We’re talking practical blessings here. A lot of the time, strangely enough, they just happen to show up right in the middle of the curses. And a lot have shown up in the past couple of weeks.

Take my latest crazy PET scan. Enlarged liver, messed up lungs, yadda, yadda, yadda. But what it doesn’t show is the new lump I found. That’s where the blessing comes in. I don’t miss a thing going on in my body. Knowing your body from head to toe is your first line of defense. Always check yourself. Always go with your gut! I asked for a biopsy on the lump, and this time, I was lucky. Benign. But I believe in me. I will always trust my own instincts and never let my guard down. I am my best hope.

Another recent blessing-inside-a-curse involves my daughter. This summer, she’s been playing a lot of soccer. (Quite well, I might add.) A couple of weeks ago, her premier team had just won the championship, and she was pretty happy. Then she started getting sick. Normal flu-like symptoms, but she’s tough and didn’t complain a lot. It went on for about a week. She was feeling better as we headed for the beach, and while down there, she started getting terrible headaches and running a low-grade fever.

I started getting nervous. My antenna was up. I saw a rash on her back and rushed her to the emergency room. I’d never seen a bull’s-eye rash before, but i just knew. Even when others around me were downplaying the symptoms, I went with my gut. (To be fair to the others, the doctor had just given her a clean bill of health at a well visit, plus it seemed possible she was just having a reaction to vaccinations.)

Turns out, she had Lyme disease. It was diagnosed early, and she’s now on treatment and back playing soccer. Again another blessing: Cancer has given me not only medical knowledge but a certain strength — or courage, if you like — to not listen to anyone but myself! To believe in me and what my gut tells me to do. Had I not, my beautiful daughter might be facing a more serious illness. I sat on the beach the other day and watched my brave and lovely lion play in the sand and jump the waves with her long, red hair flying behind her. Tears ran down my face. I’m proud of me and the mother I have become. The mother with the courage to stand up for what I believe in and what I think is right. I’m going to pass that strength onto my daughter.

I’m not always so smart. Sometimes I think I’m superhuman and just want to forget I have cancer. It’s fun to forget once in a while, but not when it comes back to bite me!! Last week, I didn’t listen to my body and paid the price. I overdid it, got very sick, then went to my maintenance chemo session without telling my doctors I hadn’t been well. I knew if I told them, they wouldn’t have let me get the monthly dose of chemo I count on. I thought I could handle it. Now I know different. With my immune system compromised, I got VERY sick. Scary sick. Live and learn, they say.

As mothers we want to do everything and be everything for our families, but our bodies don’t always allow us to do those things. Be smart … listen to your body!!!!  I learned my limits for sure and with all my blessings, I don’t want to squander them. Like I always say, I’m the luckiest girl around. … I just happen to have cancer.

Loss of Hair, Loss of Self

I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself.

It’s not like it’s bad, but I don’t really look like me. Even though its been a year, I still don’t feel like myself.

Losing my hair was a huge deal. I’d never realized how much I identified with my hair. So much so that when I lost it, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to face my friends and family.

You can never really prepare for what chemo will do to you. It made me feel so sick. And my shoulder-length, straight, thick hair kept falling out and out and out. I needed to get a broom to sweep up the bathroom every morning.

The constant shedding got to be too difficult, so I went to my trusted, longtime hair stylist on a Sunday when the shop was closed to shave off the remaining strands of my hair. I had no idea just how emotional it would be for me, so, when she asked, I allowed my sweet daughter to join me. Big mistake.

When my hair was shaved, tears just rolled down my face. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep them from falling. My daughter was rubbing my leg and telling me how beautiful I looked. My 8-year-old daughter. It is a memory I don’t enjoy bringing to mind. Yes, I had a beautiful wig to wear (which is a long story in itself), and felt OK with it on. But from that day on … even still today … I don’t see the same woman in the mirror. I remember my husband’s face when he saw me when I returned home. It was that swift look of horror before he could put his game face on. My son gave me that same look.

From that day, my son and daughter never wanted me to leave the house without my wig on. As time passed, I didn’t care so much anymore and the wig was itchy, but my children felt better when I wore the wig. My Bella would say, “Mommy, are you going to wear your wig when you come to my school?” “Mommy, if my friend so and so comes over, will you wear your wig?”

So today, even though my hair is growing back — curly! — I still don’t see Viki in the mirror staring back. It’s not like I hate the person I see. It’s more like I’m resigned to the person I see. My mom asks me why don’t I cut my hair short and spiky like when it was first growing in? It looked so cute and contemporary then, and I know it looks more like a mullet now or something out of Vegas in the Elvis days, but I need to get it back to that shoulder length. Somehow, I’ll get control back then. If I want to cut it off at that point, at least it’ll be on my own terms. I’m in control, not cancer. But I wonder, when it’s shoulder-length again, will I look like me again? I fear not.  Certainly, there is the possibility that it will never get that long hair again because my disease will return and I’ll lose all my hair again … but mostly I fear that that person I’m looking for in the mirror is gone.

I realize it doesn’t have to be bad to be different, but when you are used to something for 40+ years, it takes more than a year to grow accustomed to someone else when you look in the mirror.