Archives for category: grief and loss

My neighbor Frances is 89 years young. I would estimate she is just as much, if not more of a southern spitfire as she was back in 1924 on the day she was born in farmhouse down east (as we say here in NC) in Elm City. Frances has seen me through many a life trial always without fail, inviting me into her grandma like home when I ring her buzzer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Last week, I found myself on the receiving end of a big, fat, loud “Pshaw.”

I guess Pshaw is what you call it, that’s what it sounded like at least. An exasperated sigh plus eye roll; an unspoken, “Oh brother, give me a break.” Read the rest of this entry »

I treat children for sexual abuse.

It is not so much a task of erasing memories, but of diffusing them; decreasing the impact and diminishing the power of the symptoms of trauma. Helping kids sort and put fragments into drawers and compartments and teaching them how to manage how the trauma; the triggers and hypervigilance are now a part of their life. Read the rest of this entry »

I was sitting quietly in my infusion chair at chemo, surrounded by very sick, very bald people; feeling and looking very much like a weary, sick, bald person myself. Yet inside my head, I was brutally beating myself up.

“God damnit Lauren, you have got to find your A-game to kick this shit.” Read the rest of this entry »

Once, when Amelia was just a wee little one, maybe 6 years old, she was going through a particularly hard time. She was so, so worried about an assortment of things; anxious in the way that kids get at that age when development moves them into more abstract thinking. Simply, it is an age when kids start thinking thinks they never thought before, things that never occured to them before, so it is hard for both you and them to get your hands around the free-floating anxiety. They cry for no reason and they are afraid of things, but can’t tell you exactly what it is that is spooking them. Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween is a coming and it’s time for ghosts and goblins and all the spooky stuff that makes you quiver and quake! (I mean of course beyond the onslaught of bone chilling pink neon of October reminding you that A) you had cancer and B) there is still not a cure, but I digress.) I’m a pumpkin carving, costume making girl myself; a girl not too keen on hard-core horror shenaniganry. But it is Halloween and I realize some people enjoy that edgy fear that is brought on by terror and fear so, if you are NOT one of those thrill seeking people, this blog is not for you. And for you adrenaline junkies out there who crave a little foray into dark crevices of a psychological thriller, I won’t disappoint.

Follow me to a place where anxiety whips you around the craggy corners and “What Ifs” taunt you as they dangle from the trees like sinister Spanish moss come alive, waiting to grab you with its gnarly fingers. Let’s go to a place where cesspools of bubbling yuck abound, spewing slime on you as they percolate endlessly. In this little House O’ Horror, you’ll find that the unexpectedness of the path is the worse part, cause one second you are on the Pleasantville train all safe and buckled in, and the next you are hanging out of the window as it careens over a cliff and you holding on by your fingertips. Ghosts from the past whisper warnings of death, wrapping around you like a filmy, wet covering of doom you can’t wipe away and skeletons jangle their bones in a rhythm that is hauntingly familiar. You run, but you cannot hide.

You my dear, have entered the haunted hallows of my neurotic little mind. You timidly tread on a path worn by years of the anxious wanderings of the crazy woman in the attic and her vigilant pacing back and forth as she scans the horizon for what is to come. Madness drives her repeatedly back and forth back and forth as she screams her banshee laughter and cackles, “It’s coming!”

Spoiler alert.

It occurs to me that I am a little neurotic. I know right? Big freaking surprise to those of you who have had the honor of standing next to me during what I personally perceived to be a high alert situation. Shocking to those who have felt the anxiety shed off of me like a constant molt of yuck and who  have heard me endlessly repeat things, as if  that could contain the worms in the can. Truth is, I come from a long line of anxious people, my momma and daddy were both Nervous Nellies; and I seem to have gotten a double whammy of the worrywart gene on my catastrophic death spiraling helix. Add to that mix a healthy dose of cancer trauma, and yep, you’ve got yourself quite a psychological horror story.

Quick psychology lesson. DSM-IV will tell you that the trait known as Anxiety shows up in a host of outfits; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Attacks and Phobias are some. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Social Anxiety are also members of the family and Anxiety, not being chintzy can also give people a combo platter of several types. Me, I have always been a garden variety catchall Generalized Anxiety kinda girl, little bit of this and a little bit of dat; nothing special about me. 

In an oversimplified version, Anxiety is controlled by a little almond-shaped thing in our brain called the amygdala.(ah mig dah lah)Powerful little nut that amygdala is; a little panic button per se. When a normal person sees something that feels worrisome  like say a snake, that little almond is in charge of sounding the warning (or “Uh-Oh” response as Reid Wilson-anxiety guru calls it.) The “Uh-Oh” is the signal that sets off the adrenal glands, makes us fire cortisol, and engages all the other chemical responses to act; responses which are generally helpful in a normal threat situation. Note the word “normal.” 

When someone like me has anxiety, a whole, whole lotta nebulous stuff has the ability to set off that “Uh-Oh” response, things that likely the average bear never even notices as she goes about her day. Experiencing a trauma, like say CANCER introduces yet a multitude of new, invisible to the naked eye of a normal non traumatized person items to set off the panicked feelings. When these triggers, the things that poke at the amygdala and shout “DO SOMETHING!” are related to past trauma, we professionals call the response hypervigilence and PTSD. I think its fair to say that most of us who have worn the pink dress have a wee bit of PTSD after almost dying and all. And its fair to say that a lot of the cancer related triggers seem to make absolutely no sense to us or our family and friends, until of course, you backtrack to the fall of the first dominoes in the series. Phobias are a little different in that they really don’t have an identifiable precursor, but triggers generally have trauma as the culprit.

Admittedly I had this cute, overworked lil almond of an amygdala long before cancer; but now I seemingly have a whole bag o’ nuts. Cancer and all the wonderful experiences that go with it, simply makes us scared of things that the normal chick probably never even notices, like illness, wearing hats or say the smell of band aids, sharpies or skin burning. Sometimes, we are scratching our now hair covered heads going, “What the hell? Why am I wigging out at a baseball hat?”

So add trauma to an already anxious girl, and my amygdala came out of cancer in “Uh-Oh” overdrive with a hair-trigger to boot. To manage it, I have decidedly taken an offensive stance to heading the “Uh-Ohs” off at the pass. Scanning the horizon as good PTSD patients do, I remain ever watchful on the widow’s walk of my mind. Then when I spot something on the horizon (whether real or conjured in my banshee imagination) I rapidly assess the “What If’s” to proactively diffuse it. I generate a plan a,b,c and d if  “What If” happens. This serves, in my crazy little mind at least to stem the tide of adrenalin when it does occur by providing it with premade, neat little controlled channels in which to flow like levees in a hurricane.

Cancer made me start considering thinks I never thought before; new and improved“What if’s” materialized because in part, the notion was reinforced that small things can indeed rapidly become BIG things. Cancer also blindsided me, and made me feel I missed something, its cackle of BwaaHaHa! resonates to this day, echoing the notion that had I been on a more watchful guard, it wouldn’t have gotten to me. 

Cancer made me crazier. Cause I now spend likely an unhealthy amount of my life in, “What If?” It is hard for me to imagine that a lump on my thigh could possibly be cellulite and not cancer. 

I like to think, being the positive spinmeister that I am, that I spend so much time in “What If” to innoculate my brain with controlled little doses of adrenalin, so when real things occur they are not as overwhelming. (Sounds good in theory doesn’t it?) My dad always says that worry is money spent on a debt not yet owed, and boy debt scares me; I have gone bankrupt emotionally at times with worry. Ironically in the face of this habit, I will swear to you I am an optimist, because where some might see a pessimistic doomsday Eeyore I see a good Boy Scout. Albeit a good Boy Scout who annoys the hell out of others with endless preparedness drills. 

Blindsides, of which I have had many over the years, make my free-floating anxiety worse and have put my amygdala on a constant state of heightened alert. When I get blindsided, I’m useless for days; I get paralyzed by the flood of adrenalin, like a deer in the headlights, I can’t move and think.  See, I can handle a “What do we do now?” as long as “now” is played out in my head long before the event actually takes place. But when I am in blindsided like I was with cancer, I spend my time grieving in my angst and anger over my failure to see it coming. In the end, I am left not trusting myself, not knowing what is solid and true, feeling like the worst Boy Scout on the face of the earth. Blindsides have made me suspicious that the status is never ever really quo, and amplified my global need to take the pulse of everything, over and over cause certainly I missed something; some sign of sickness in the relationship or my body.

I am a shoot my ducks down as soon as they pop up girl, but now I have taken it one further, aiming my gun at the place I suspect they will pop up and sometimes even shooting  rounds at the empty space. I am a pre griever, a pre worrier, a preparer for the worst. I exhaust my friends, my dad, my kids and Grandmother Willow. And me. Sigh. I blame cancer.

Cancer did a lot of bad things to me, it took a chunk of my body, it made me have to get poisoned on a regular basis, it burned my skin, it financially devastated me and it stole a few years of my life by making me too sick to do anything. But one of the worst things it did to me was reinforce the notion that a limp in the dog could mean he will die tomorrow, that someone not calling me means they ending their relationship, that a fever could mean meningitis, and that I could die from a dog bite. It made me afraid of normal life events, like checkups and even getting a cold and made me live in “What if?” A friend admonished me the other day when I talked yet again, about Scout dying. “Jesus Lauren,” he said with the beleaguered exhaustion well-known to my friends, “You have had that dog in pine box at least five times in the last three years.” And he’s right, and I have had me there too.

Cancer made me a bit of a drama queen I guess.

Cancer leftovers suck.  They are cold and even yuckier when reheated. And the trouble is you never know when your mind, like the frugal,well-meaning grandma is gonna pull the foil off an old unidentifiable clump covered with mold and say, “Oh yes, this will be yummy reheated.” Your mind smells it and says, “Uh-Oh.”  Hell, your mind just hears the crinkle of the foil, or the refrigerator door open and you are off to the adrenalin races.

And you know what? Cancer stocks our fridges to the gills with that shit.

I talk a lot in this blog about the PTSD that comes with cancer. The smells and feelings and visual things our minds and muscles secretly recorded unbeknownst to us, and meticulously covered with foil and stuck in the freezer drawer. Vapory, ghostly wisps that covertly reheat later to poke and prod at our sweet lil’ amygdala, sometimes without us knowing it until it boils over. Double, double toil and trouble for sure. Yeah, I am a drama queen alright, but damn it, I earned it.

~ Meandering~

David Sedaris does this hilarious piece about a purchasing a genuine human skeleton as a gift for his artist partner, Hugh. He suspected Hugh would take the skeleton his art studio but Hugh instead decided he wanted to keep it in the house, hanging it in their bedroom. David writes that every time he sees it, he hears it whispering to him, “You will die.” In fact, he can hear it whispering from the other rooms in the house, pestering him as he works….”You will die.”

~Meandering~

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend on the phone. He had a head cold and as we talked, I could feel my amygdala kicking in and I got all squirmy. I got kinda freaky in that weird way that your body feels fear, but you don’t know why. I wanted to hang up quickly and I did.

It has started to occur to me that I get a little too hinky about getting sick, about being around people who are sick or by being exposed to things that I think will make me sick. While the germaphobe thing was likely always there for me, it was dialed up a thousand notches by cancer. Illness, and all the  smells and feels of it are all too familiar and I spend a lot of time and energy avoiding it. The potential of catching something, of getting sick is the first domino; it tips all the rest of the triggers and let me tell you, it’s Guinness Book qualifying long line of them after cancer.

Getting sick scares me now because my mind travels down that well-worn Path O’ Terror to the place where small things can morph in a millisecond into big things. It is hard for me to believe now that strep throat won’t kill me by attacking my heart. I tend to pay way too much attention to small things that are wrong, a tiny red bite that may be a harbinger for lyme disease or even the interplay of my stress levels causing cancer.  Because I realize how what I wrongly assessed as a small thing in the past, was in fact a big thing and it blindsided me.

So now it’s all BIG. Cancer makes it hard for small things to stay small ever again, working like a trick mirror on the haunted trail, distorting…distorting and magnifying. “Uh-oh” comes with the slightest sniffle, with the smallest pea of a nodule in your thigh and with the slightest murmur from a lymph node.

When you are trutzing around with a grand total of about fifteen white blood cells circulating through your system, you suddenly realize a small thing like a cold can take you out. A fever can put you in the hospital, where you are susceptible to even more illness, and funny as the notion sounds, being sick delays chemo treatments, and that too can kill you. And when you get sick now those fears, silently recorded, get played.

Cold’s whisper, “You will die, I will kill you.” And your amygdala does not forget that lesson. Sneezes by the guy behind you line at the grocery store scare the shit out of you, even after five years.

I have had this little heart flutter thing of late. While I got checked and was told it was normal, but it still has a stranglehold on me when it happens. It feels like when Herceptin almost killed me, like the day 38 treatments in, when my heart almost stopped. One minute I said to the chemo nurse, “Hey Marci, listen to this,” and the next minute there was panic in the chemo lounge as my line was pulled and I was whisked to cardiac care.

Flutters rattle the skeleton and he whispers, “You could die from this.”

By week 32 of chemo you feel like you have had the flu for well, 32 weeks. Feeling sick, fatigued and vomity, swallowing oodles of pills and feeling dizzy all becomes a constant. When you look in the mirror, a sickly ghostly being looks back at you whispering, “You could die from this.” And suddenly, all the things associated with being sick, become cattle prods to the amygdala.

Now, just feeling sick scares the hell out of me. It rips the foil off the old stuff from the back of the fridge and makes me taste it again as it shoves it down my throat. The few times I have had colds or illness since cancer I am miserable, not a whiny sniffling way but in that edgy free-floating fear as you walk through a haunted house kinda way. Like a pink-eyed zombie, any illness has the ability to grab me and takes me back to the visceral depths of the places I hoped never to visit again by mimicking what I felt all those months. The muscle memory kicks in, the hard wiring fires, the tape recorder hits play and you hear, “You will die.” And even if in your mind you know better, stopping adrenalin is like stopping a train; no can do.

Scan the horizon I do, for coughing ducks.

~~~~

The good catholic girl in me would like to believe (and does) that the avoidance is not so much of death, as much as it is avoidance of the ghosts of cancer; of the tastes and smells and fear and fatigue and feelings that whisper with their haunting familiarity, “You have cancer. You will die.” I will do anything to prevent those bones from rattling. I will do anything to manage ahead of time that of which I am most fearful. An acrobatic and exhausting avoidance of the haunted place where I once lived and almost died. Avoidance of anything that makes me, my muscles and my sweet little amygdala hear, “Cancer.” Anything… to avoid fear. A fellow blogger coined the phrase, “My fear kicks my other fears ass.”  Boy ain’t that the truth?

Skeletons in my closet indeed.  Boo.

 

“You got serious thrill issues, dude”

                                                                          Crush–Finding Nemo

Read the rest of this entry »

Yes,  a re-run of last years blog on mothers’s day, but I read it this morning and it still rings true.  I feel lucky that I had yet another year of doing what I love best, being a mom.  Thank you mom, for showing me how to do it right; I miss you.

I was going to just take the day off of the blog today, thinking folks would understand, as I am a mom and all…but I just couldn’t. Truth is, I’ve been feeling a bit giddy with good thoughts lately, so much so I feel I could burst. Like my birthday, this is another one of those holidays that is morphed by cancer into a Yippee Yahoo Celebration that I am here another year for my kids and that I got to be a mom for another year. This day is so big and juicy. And yes I am thankful for my mom of course, but for so much more in this wonderful world, wider than my arms can stretch. I feel effervescent and ginger ale-y inside and out. Like I have this wand in hand and am blowing an endless stream of bubbles, each sparkly one floating about me, carrying within it a story of my gratitude.

First I am thankful for this most amazing day here with my kids, for the fact that this again after five years, is a happy day for them and not a sad day; for my two little monkeys who have indeed made my life a barrel of fun every single day. Two sweet-smelling beings I could eat with a spoon and who I’m certain, hung the moon.

I am grateful for my mom who gave me so much, but most of all the gift of child whispering. Because to fully get this gift, I had to be on the receiving end of it for 30 years. Because of it, I am a solid and happy person who brings my best to the world. With it, I have a career that I love and am such a better parent. I am thankful for every birthday party she had for me and how she made me feel special every single day of my life; for teaching me the language of cupcakes and Disney and the true meaning of the word nurture. For teaching me that the very best thing a person can do in this world is to say something that makes a little kid’s chest puff up with pride. I am so thankful that I had her for a mom, however short a time it was. For how she loved and nurtured me to the tips of my toes, and for whose warmth I still feel surround me, especially when it is dark and it seems everyone else is gone.

I am grateful for my pop, who has done a peach of a job being a mom in all the major good and bad events of my life, you know, those ones when a girl sure coulda used her mom.

And I don’t know what I’d have done without all the women who absent my mother, have encircled me like a pride of lionesses; who with gentle swats of those giant paws, guide me when I stray.

But wait! There’s more!

I am grateful that cancer has taught me that driving carpool, and doing laundry, shopping for groceries and making five trips to school in one day is privilege not a chore.

I am thankful for my 85 year old friend Frances. For the days I appeared on her doorstep with two little screaming kids and said, “Please take them before the social services come to my house and take them away,” and she, without hesitating swooped them into her home. I am thankful for finding those kids an hour later sitting like the King and Queen of Siam in adult arm chairs with TV trays in front of them, a glass of milk and saltines on the tray, both calmed by the specialness good grandmothers give. I am thankful for Frances teaching me that sometimes, the time you spend away from them is as important as the time you spend with them. And for shoo-ing away with indeed a breath of kindness, the notion that I am the Worst Mother in the World on those days.

I am grateful for the first five minutes in the car every day after school, when the day just bubbles out of both of them. For teachers who have mothered them during the day and said kind things about them both to me, and for tests hanging on the fridge.

I am grateful for the day my thoughtful son said he would skip something after school so I didn’t have to make two trips downtown within an hour, and that I was able to say, “Absolutely not, that is what moms do Colton; that’s my job,” and that I meant it with every ounce of my being.

It simply takes my breath away that I was lucky enough to see my kid do something I never would have thought he would do, be in a Shakespearean play. I am thankful that I lived long enough to have complicated discussions with him about moral dilemmas of the world, to take him on college tours, to see the world turn his way finally, and to feel inside the complicated emotions that follow as he rather confidently takes those first steps out of my grasp; I am lucky to have lived long enough to now have a glimpse of kinda guy he will become.

I’m eternally grateful for the warm fuzzy of being here as my daughter “crossed over,” to be able to shop for dresses with her, and talk with her about boys, and mean girls and how not to be “that girl”; to see her little shoulders shake and feel her tingle as she cried for hours after she got a hug from Taylor Swift. To see her garden bloom, and witness her sweetness grow wildly along the trellis of her solid sense of self.

For warm cookies on a snow day, for fits of laughter between us three in a hotel room one night, for hugs after arguments, for the smell of clean laundry on their beds, for being able to discipline them, for seeing them tip their heads to have a medal put around their neck, for holding hair back for a sick kid, for just doing nothing, together. For being able to be able teach them that you don’t get everything you want, but when you want what you have, you have it all.

I am tickled for every Halloween that I got to carve pumpkins and wrap a boy mummy in gauze, and stand at the curb while a rather brave tiny princess walked up to the door by herself to say trick or treat.

There’s so much more…..

I am grateful that I get to in some small way, teach other mother’s how to mother children, and that I get to rescue children from mother’s who are just incapable of doing so, at least at the moment.

I am grateful that there is so much information in the world right at our fingertips, to help us all be better mothers. Our mother’s did what they knew how to do and while they had Dr. Spock, there was nothing to help the emotional life of a mom, not like there is now.

And yes, as much as I have been at war with it, I am thankful for my mom body, for my stretched out belly skin that will never go back to bikini land, but which served me well to get two healthy babies into the world. And for this body’s ability to ward off the evil that tried to steal my kids’ mom from them.

So for Mothers Day, with a gentle blow of the wand, I am launching three wishes into the world. Now be warned, I have been known to frequently wish for the impossible, but if you’re gonna wish, wish big.

I wish that all women whose past has inhibited their ability to be the mom they want to be, find a way to change that path. That all women grasp what a gift parenting is, and get that meetings and work and TV and girls nights out will always be there, but that making candy apples with a 7 year old won’t be. Every day is an opportunity to make their child’s chest puff up; I wish all women will see the, oh so quickly slipping through our fingers gift that this is.

I wish that we could all take a more focused, more compassionate look at other moms both near and far, and practice what action should follow that empathy in understanding how it would feel to not have food for your child, to not have medicine when they are sick and are crying in pain, or to watch your child die from malnutrition. That we consider kindly the women I have met who have taken a hit to spare their child being a target. That we grasp how hard it is for some mothers to find their way out of a mess, and realize that if we all used our own mothering ability to take the hand of just one other woman and guide her into the light, we could change the world.

The last, most special and delicate wish is this; for all the women for whom cancer has made the road to becoming a mother difficult in one way or another, I wish that their children find them. Children, our children, find us in so many ways. I wish that each and every child finds their way into the sweetness and the shining goodness and warmth that is being loved by a mom who thinks they hung the moon. Sometimes, when you look over here and the answers aren’t coming, you must look over there.

There are bubbles everywhere… floating softly about us, waiting…just waiting for us to reach out and capture…and cup gently in our hands, just as we do our children.

Come stop your crying
It will be all right
Just take my hand
Hold it tight

I will protect you
From all around you
I will be here
Don’t you cry

For one so small,
You seem so strong
My arms will hold you
Keep you safe and warm
This bond between us
Can’t be broken
I will be here
Don’t you cry

‘Cause you’ll be in my heart
Yes, you’ll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more

You’ll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You’ll be here in my heart, always

I’ll be with you
I’ll be there for you always
Always and always
Just look over your shoulder

I’ll be there always…

Phil Collins ~You’ll Be in My Heart

I’ve been avoidant. 

Okay, maybe a little lazy with a capital Z mixed in as well. 

A little unfocused. Perhaps a little scattered and overextended.

But really.

Mostly avoidant.

Despite the urging and friendly Yoo-Hoo’s of others to come back out to play, I have dug my heels in and looked away. 

In fact, I have a confession to make. Please forgive me y’all. I’ve been avoidant of reading the other bloggesses blogs as well.

Truth is, way back yonder in December I promised I’d be back soon. And “soon” by any stretch of the definition well, “soon” has done come and gone. And I still sit here, avoidant.

At first I thought I just needed a little break. I really loved writing my lil blog every week, and kinda got to where it was a part of me. Initially, it felt good to empty out the trash can, and to spill out the rummage left behind in my head by cancer. I felt humbly, that I had figured out why I was still here. At first.

My little über analyzing brain has tried and tried to figure out what’s up with the delay of my return to the blogosphere. After a year of writing about the ick and nonsense and cancer drama, I can only describe to you more what I didn’t feel than what I did.

What I didn’t feel anymore was the gratification of the purge; I didn’t feel the expected satisfaction of succinctly tying up so many loose ends and setting them free. At the end of it, I no longer felt the organized glee of putting them all into neatly categorized drawers and boxes and sliding the drawers shut.

No, I didn’t feel the satisfaction of the emptied attic. It left me with nothing to do with my hands. And really, what’s the point of being the crazy old woman in the attic if there is no fodder, if there are no chests to open and frantically grab and wildly throw the contents about while screaming about cancer? 

The empty space, albeit peaceful, haunted me more some days than a head chock full of trauma bits.

I mean, who was I if I wasn’t the girl with cancer? What should I do with a mind born to dissect and analyze everything to death when there was thankfully, no apparent death to analyze? 

Perhaps (I entertained but for only a moment) I am a tad histrionic after all, thriving on drama and needing crisis to feel like I was alive, forever needing something to do with my racing mind and hands. Perhaps it’s why the stillness, which I did not really resent, felt odd.

What I felt was nothing. Not good or bad, not relief or angst. Nothing. A void. An absence of something that had taken up a whole lot of space. Emptiness where the cancer was, a big empty attic previously taken up by the cancer.

And a reluctance to refill the room with those thoughts again.

Early on in my cancer diagnosis, I was sitting in Grandmother Willow’s office. This was shortly after the dirty little secret of breast cancer was whispered in my ear; that the trick is not it getting rid of it the first time, but in keeping it away. Grandmother Willow was trying to stem my rapidly racing thoughts as they made loop after loop, trying to assure me that one day this cancer would all seem an afterthought.

Because I can sometimes be a Little Miss Know It All, I often tend to call bullshit on theories that don’t match up with my picture of the world, and that day was no different. I remember thinking maybe she was the crazy old lady in the attic because I could see nothing but a life from here on in with the grim reaper as my constant traveling companion, forever bound like members of a chain gang with his endless whisper distracting me for eternity.

I distinctly remember her telling me about woman who recently came to see her who, after a whole first session of spilling her current emotional history said, “And oh yeah, and I had breast cancer ten years ago.” “Oh yeah,” like she had forgotten about it. “Oh yeah,” like it was an afterthought.

“Bullshit,” I thought.

Sitting bald and frightened on her couch, it seemed inconceivable that cancer would one day take up so little room in my life; that it would become such a non entity in my identity. That in the game board of Lauren’s life, cancer would become such a non player in my current emotions on any given future day.

Yet, this is how I have felt these last months. I have felt the absence of cancer. 

After years of thinking about nothing but cancer, I have somehow managed to get to where it is not part of the complexion of my being. One day last week, a neighbor stopped to tell me she had gotten her port out that morning. I felt this blankness when she said it, not lack of empathy, but more a situation where I was unable to summon the empathy because I had forgotten how it felt to be in her shoes. I knew she must feel relief, but I couldn’t feel the taste of it in my mouth anymore. When I started to try to remember what I had blogged about ports, I couldn’t even remember what I had written. All I could remember was how hilarious it was that Wendy had made hers into a daisy.

When I went back to read that blog, I swear to you,  it was as if someone else had written it. Sometimes this happens with my mom; I can’t remember what she looked like until I look at pictures, and then I am surprised at features in her face that I forgot.

I was detached from cancer. Detached from the chain gang.

Years ago, big surprise, I had to take Concerta for my ADD. With that drug, the thought of food and hunger vanished. I’m not saying I wasn’t hungry or my appetite was curbed, I am saying that the thought of food no longer crossed my mind. I’d be sitting there feeling faint and go, “Oh, yeah, I haven’t eaten in two days.” This little pill took away the emotion and rituals and grooves in my brain that were attached to food and eating; it eliminated the craving and the timing and desire to indulge in this so familiar and daily ritual.

This little blog did the same with cancer. I don’t indulge in cancer much these days. But, it’s not healthy to not need food, nor is healthy to avoid part of your being.

I remember reading how Lance was in an doctor’s office finding out he was just covered with cancer. It seemed insurmountable, yet a few days later after he talked to doctor after doctor about what each intended to do with each and every metastasis he proclaimed, “We had talked this thing down to size.”

Blog by blog, a bite of the proverbial elephant (or grim reaper) at a time, I too had talked the memories and trauma, the cancer down to size.

While the bell can never be un-rung, somehow, somehow….swirling my pen around in the well un-cast the dye. Like a magnet, my pen pulled the dye cast long ago from the water, bringing it from pink to very, very pale, almost indiscernible pink.

Perhaps I lived my way into (at least some of) the answers.

Perhaps I am just reluctant, not avoidant. Perhaps I am detached; not sure that I want to re-attach, or how to re-attach without it filling the room up again.

Perhaps, I have just moved seamlessly, as we do with grief, into acceptance.

Perhaps, I have indeed outlived it.

So in these last months, my life has been filled with all the stuff of teenagers. Colleges visits, college apps, obsessing about the right high school and college choices, proms and dances, driving lessons, graduation preparations for two and undergoing some good old-fashioned teenaged drama teaching me I better grow some thick skin real fast. (Suddenly, I have become a whole lot less smart and a whole lot less funny.) My pop survived another wicked pneumonia, and Scout is still the best dog ever made at the dog factory. Through all of this, I have worn some very good friends down with my new looping obsession; my anticipatory grief that life is gonna change real soon as the kids and people and dogs I love fly away. But in all this, we are busy, busy, busy here at the ranch distracted by life not death; indeed life is moving forward at warp speed.

And oh yeah, six years ago I had cancer.

 

 

I’m back.

 A little at a time, so as not to fill the attic,

but I’m back. 

xoxo

Lauren

(Oh I know, last week was the last one, but it just didn’t feel right ending/starting the year without one to grow on!)

It happens every year. 

As I start to put the Christmas stuff away, I find myself wondering what my life will be like next year when I take it out again. Today, as I held each little ornament or snowman in my hand for a moment before bubble wrapping him up, I thought to myself, “The next time this is in my hands, what my life will be like?” Being a bona fide Suzy Sunshine I almost always feel hopeful, so I imagine things like that perhaps by this time next year I will have found true love and a lifelong partner, perhaps I will be a published author, and my son will be happy in college. Somehow this forward thinking helps me shape my goals for the year, not so much as resolutions per se, but in defining what I want to make happen in the next year of my life.

Many a year throughout the holiday season, a particular lyric in the song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has resonated to my toes. The line is, “In a year our troubles will be far away.” Man, have I had some years that lyric just played over and over in my head and it seemed, was playing in every elevator and store I stepped into during the holiday season. I felt like God was reminding me that it would get better. Like say the year my husband walked out two weeks before Christmas, or say, the year I got diagnosed two weeks before Christmas. This year my life was even and good, so while the words didn’t pound in my ears like other years, I did see other people struggle during these holidays with family troubles and illness and such. This year, the song reminded me that the world is indeed fair, and that we all take our turn with that lyric for sure. And we can use that lyric to whine, or use it to instill hope and say. “Yes, the troubles will be far away, because I will make that happen.”

This practice of “envisioning” as I pack up the holiday stuff has served as a good exercise in establishing what I want and don’t want, what I need to eliminate and what I need to put effort into finding. It has also taught me a lot about what I wish for and understanding that God is in control of that.  Because each year when I unpack it all, I re-evaluate what I hoped my life would look like last year at this time, and almost always, it’s not like I envisioned; I never reconciled with my husband, I didn’t die of cancer. But almost always, it’s better than I could have dreamed.

My son and I giggled last week about how it would be nice if after life events and experiences, like the holidays, you could fill out a checklist and rate your experience. Handily checking off quantifiers like “met my expectations” or “exceeded my expectations.” He, being the statistical whiz that he is reminded me that however exceeding your expectations might not always denote a good thing. Another friend reminded me that expectations are planned failures. I dunno I think it goes both ways, I always expect the best and yes often do find myself disappointed…but I’d rather go through life expecting the best, than like Eeyore.

I prefer to think of it as thanking god for unanswered prayers.

I also drive my kids nuts as I get somewhat weepy too when packing up Christmas (and no not because it means the season of eating is over.) No, I weep when I think about how a few of the people and one dog I love oh so much are getting older. As I pack the stockings, I find myself wondering if a little paw print stocking will still be hung next year with care, and it makes me cry. But all the same, this practice pokes at me like the pine needles on the floor and makes me cognizant of the need to embrace every day with that person, or tripawd as be the case.

The year I got cancer, the packing away ritual was especially difficult and emotional. As I bubble wrapped my collection of Christmas kitsch, I only wondered, “Will  I be alive next year?” Would I ever unwrap this crocheted candle again, or would the task be done by tiny motherless hands?

Being thrifty, I am one to go out the day after Christmas and stockpile the usual suspects I know I will need for next year like wrapping paper, bows and those sorts of things. Occasionally in the post-Christmas shop, I come across some kind of deeply discounted Christmas decoration and I pick it up imagining how it will look on my mantle next year. In the days that followed that Christmas cancer diagnosis, I was in a store and came across this little five-inch tall concrete Santa. He fit solidly in my hand; his heft felt reassuring. He had a little divot in his Santa sack allowing a spot to put a votive candle, or perhaps a small red Christmas ball as he stood sentry on the porch steps for the holidays. I loved him, yet I vividly recall putting him down in the store thinking, “Why should I buy this; I may not even be here next year.” 

But eventually as with all things Lauren, several days later I climbed out of the catastrophic death spiral, getting a toe hold on the edge the canyon rim and hurling myself up over the edge onto steady ground.  I decided that if I didn’t believe in my future, no one else would, and certainly a number of cancer cells would be doing an end zone dance if I didn’t get on with it. 

So, while admittedly I didn’t buy wrapping paper, I went back and bought Santa. Curiously, I chose not to pack him away, perhaps unconsciously avoiding the internal talk of death in my head as he was rolled in bubble wrap. Instead, he stayed next to me on my desk all year. He was a sentry alright, a guard of a belief in a future, of belief in life and good things, and of belief that in a year my troubles would be far away. Until the next year, he solidly stood guard, seeming to onlookers with an empty pouch, but to me with a pouch full of expectations and a life ahead of me.

Go ahead everyone. Buy Santa. Expect the best. Make it happen.

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