Archives for category: Identity Change and Cancer

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 »

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Years ago, then President Kennedy made a speech about the space program and our need to keep advancing it. He referred to the story of some little boys running through the green, green fields of Ireland and coming upon an orchard wall that seemed perhaps too high to climb. Instead of turning back the boys took their hats and threw them over the wall, and thus, then had to climb the wall to go get their hats; the toss leaving them with no choice but to go over the wall to retrieve their caps.

I have always been a throw my hat over the wall kind of girl. Sometimes it’s because I am just dying to know what’s on the other side, sometimes it’s just for the thrill of the climb. Being an eternal sunshiny optimist, I think it’s mostly because I believe that what is on the other side of the wall is not better than what I have, but something new and different and grand to experience. Mostly though, just like those little Irish boys the toss is made to force me to do something I thought I couldn’t do, to make something happen, to experience something that would not have had I not done so. Truth be told, I get a wee bit agitated when there are no walls to climb, my fingers itch and fidget with a cap in hand, and I start to actively search out walls when that happens. 

When we are making our way through our life and come across the cancer wall, I think that most of the time our oncologists and surgeons rip the cap out of our hand and toss it over the wall for us. They lay out their neat tactical plans of how we will scale the wall and give us visions of how 85 or 95 percent of the people have made it over, and how they are living life on the other side of the wall. We want to visit this magical and unbelievable land on the other side and really don’t have much choice but to go after our cap to cover our bald heads; then too, to go after it is infinitely better than staying on this side of the orchard wall, where things appear to be dying.

But after cancer, as we continue onward through the vast field that is our life, what do we do when we come upon a wall? Do we bemoan the fact that it is unfair, because we already had to climb the big wall o’ cancer? Do we even have the strength or gumption to climb anymore? I mean honestly what’s the use if we are gonna die while trying? Do we avoid walls altogether? Do we see it as a positive or negative? An adventure or labor? 

Cancer makes us hesitate. It makes us want to hold on to what we have and clutch tightly to our caps because well, we might need it to cover our bald noggin again sometime soon. Cancer makes us afraid to plan and take on new things. Throwing our hat over a wall feels like buying green bananas. Cancer eats zest. Cancer makes us afraid. Cancer makes us tentative and bit distrusting of planning for the future. Cancer makes us think the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. In the months just after treatment is completed it is hard to believe there are better days ahead, it feels counterintuitive to trust that the ice is thick enough to skate out on and into our future.  

After five years, I prefer to look back at that time of caution and fear as a time when I was just resting and gathering my strength. I remember it now, with my sunshine spin, as a place where yes I may have taken the cap off and considered the toss but in the end held kept it in my hands as I sunk down with my back against that wall to as they say in the south, sit a spell.

But I can tell from my perch high atop of yet another wall, five years and a million walls out from cancer that once you catch your breath and no longer need that cap to cover your head, cancer becomes a catapult sailing you high over the wall and into life after. Cancer catapults both our caps, and us. Cancer makes us want to experience everything that is behind wall number one and two and three and four. Cancer in the end, makes us adept and easy hat tossers, and skilled climbers with a penchant for finding even higher walls. Cancer makes us grateful for the toil of the climb.

To move from a place of fear, from a place of clutching our caps to our chest to a place where we are making the toss we have to believe that the days ahead are better than the days behind us. We must believe we are capable of making the climb and will live to see the other side in order for us to throw. We must be willing to give up the status quo and the safety of what we know, for perhaps the devil we don’t (which may in fact, be a devil of a good time.) We must toss our hats over with glee and sense that an adventure beholds us, not a tragedy. We must be excited about the climb. But mostly we must actively find our own walls by beginning to move through life again. That is what life is all about Charlie Brown; making the run to kick over and over, even though the ball may get pulled out at the last minute.

A tad impulsive I am yes, and admittedly I have been known many a time to toss before I totally think it through. Sometimes I have created my own walls just so I can toss. But I have found that ninety-nine percent of the time the climb is worth it and that the sweat and toil of working toward a goal remind me I am alive. If I thought about it too long, I might not make the toss; cancer has given me the luxury of not having a lot of time to think about it.

Life is in the preparing to climb. Life is in the climb. Life feels like drawing the deepest of breaths when you are on top of the wall. Almost always, I find not greener pastures but my hat, and lots more life experiences to fill it with.

There are a million things that cancer took from me but two million more I have because cancer, many found on the other sides of walls I would have never thrown my hat over had it not been for cancer, and many found while making the climb.

And heck, I’d rather die while climbing a wall than die while standing at the bottom, anxiously peering at it, clutching my hat, trying to screw up the courage to make the toss. As Mr. Buffet says, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

I didn’t survive cancer to just stand there. Neither did you.

Walls don’t come to us, we must go to them. As they say, ships in the harbour are safe, but that is not what ships are made for.

The prospect of a short life has made me to run gleefully to them, and throw my hat over the wall again, building my wings on the way down the other side.

Just not angel wings…not yet at least.

“One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on”

~The Polar Express

Once when Amelia was just a tiny little cutie pie (as opposed to the even bigger cutie pie that she is now,) I woke up to a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. It said in little kid printing, “Thank you for protekting me.” Read the rest of this entry »

I am a woman of extremes. 

In Lauren’s world, there is very little middle ground; to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, no nix that, extreme reaction. I frequently find myself either somersaulting into a dead of black night chasm or leap frogging into dazzling Clorox white. Little Miss A or Z, I am. Like in Wonkaland, my emotional elevator doesn’t just go to the top floor; it explodes through the ceiling and into the stratosphere. Conversely there is no end to the rabbit hole into which I can tumble, plunging into the earth to depths unknown.

“Grayness,” I insist to those trying to reason with me, “lacks luster.” Middle ground is bland and ho-hum; unemotional and flat, passionless people perplex me at times, I mean, how could you exist in that way? Extremes feel passionate and remind me I am alive; stretching the rubber band as far as it can go, I say, go big or go home.

Oh I know, I know, it’s a little worrisome. Even the psychologist in me points out to the anxious me that the edges of the bell curve are often not good places to be. Grandmother Willow reminds me on a quite regular basis, as she reels me in like the expert fisherwoman that while I go back and forth, I always come to the middle and will every time.

“Pshaw…” I say.

Now before you start thinking bipolar nutcase here, I will assure you it is simply not so. In fact to observe a day in the life of me, you’d think, “boring old middle-aged woman.” Nope, no drama queen here, no erratic borderline-ish, histrionic-ish crazy cat lady stuff. My polarity is mostly covert, just a little seesaw endlessly seeing and sawing in my lil’ noggin.

I give 200% or nothing. I don’t just feel hurt, I feel crushed. I give and give and rarely take. I let people either kinda suck me dry or surprise them when I completely buck up and tell them to knock it off. I am in or out, on or off, too good or not good enough. I am either working full steam or being avoidant. This dichotomy is what makes me either a whole lotta fun depending on the circumstance, or a whole lotta exasperation and exhaustion.

Maybe it’s because I really have had an all or nothing adult life. Many, many really, really good things have happened to me, and many, many really, really bad things have happened to me. Little of my life has been just status quo and middle of the road. Perhaps because I know better what to do with extremes, I tend to jack things up or down a bit. Perhaps as is with my life, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Perhaps status quo is just uncomfortable and foreign to me. Perhaps…I dunno.

Ok so maybe I experience things a tad bit more extremely than others, but it just feels wholehearted to me is all. I feel life and passion in Technicolor; where the rest of the world has a box of 8 Crayola’s to feel and describe their world, I have the jumbo box of 64 and perhaps a box of the Metallics in my holster as well. Raw Umber and Maize just can’t do what Green With Twinkling Turquoise Glitter can do for me and I said good riddance when they were retired. And boy do I love to color.

In the Disney movie Tangled, Rapunzel runs free on the ground after living her whole life in the tower. We watch as she goes through the day; her feet feeling the tickle of the Aquamarine water and the Granny Smith Apple grass, yet she is continually voicing the tick and the tock of her internal tug of war between the guilt of leaving her mother yet the joy of experiencing her freedom. In a scene I just love, she teeter totters between the elation and guilt shouting, “This is the best day ever!” and then, “I am a despicable person!” 

I so get that, that tangle of stuff.

For me, if it’s not the best day ever, it’s what a client of mine cleverly and accurately coined, “The Catastrophic Death Spiral.” When you are in The Catastrophic Death Spiral, it’s never just gonna turn out bad, it’s gonna turn out very bad. It’s not going to be just an unfortunate outcome, it’s going to be the worst possible outcome ever and everyone is gonna die likely involving thumbtacks in your skin, weepy lesions and a horrible burning sensations in unfortunate places as well.

Here is how the spiral goes. Last week, Scout the Wonderdog had a back injury and I was in tears on the phone with a friend, explaining to him just how very very very bad it was. He calmly said, “Now stop. Don’t be putting him in the ground just yet,” and he added a bit snarkily, “Because we know that would be so unlike you to go there already.” He suggested perhaps a good idea would be to go to the vet for an opinion before I decided on a time for afternoon euthanasia. A wise man indeed; accurately assessing my parachute-less run toward the rim of the catastrophic death spiral, and lasso-ing me just before the jump. And voila! By that afternoon, a vet visit and couple of tranqs and pain killers later (for Scout, not me silly) there I was considering what Santa was going to bring Scout for Christmas this year. That is how it goes.

So it follows that when I got cancer, I was gonna die.  Not only was I gonna die, but die quickly and likely painfully. I didn’t just have breast cancer; I had bone cancer and mets in my brain and lungs for sure. I had body cancer.

In this Spiral O’ Tragedy the future was Granite Grey bleak, my motherless kids would be dressed in rags, chronically starved for home-made chocolate chip cookies…emotional orphans crying out in their sleep for their mommy for the rest of their lives. They would have no one to guard them from the Copper Penny evils in the world, and all types of peril would befall them from bad manners, to not having clean underwear, and chronically unsigned homework. They would have no more fantastic Christmases making cookies and finding wonderful gifts under a beautiful Green with Glittering Turquoise tree, and they would have to subsist on junk food. They would have eternally dirty Licorice Black fingernails and the worst part of all of it was that they would have to have store-bought Halloween costumes! They would go to proms where their Tumbleweed stained suits and Burnished Brown dresses were wrinkled, and of course, they would be forever scarred by losing their momma at a young age and would likely be unable to ever function as adults.

And poor Scout! He wouldn’t have a home either! He’d be wandering the streets with his matted dirty coat, (instead of his current Baby Powder White fur) an empty dog food bowl in his mouth, begging for milkbones with hungry children trailing behind him eating milkbone crumbs and…. OH MY GOD, it would was all gonna be just awful because I didn’t just have cancer, I had BBBAAAADDDD cancer. This scenario of course, unfolded before any diagnostic testing was done. In fact this was all worked out and settled in my head before the phone was back in the cradle after the call where I was told that unfortunately, I had cancer.

The catastrophic death spiral makes us think a lump in our thigh is thigh cancer, a headache is brain cancer, and shortness of breath after running is surely announcing lung cancer.

The catastrophic death spiral is the vortex that is cancer.

Is there any value or good in extremes? Do extremes serve any function? Sometimes. Without them life doesn’t break loose and move like it should. I once heard a story of the Sequoia and the forest ranger’s efforts to save and protect them. For years, they did all they could to keep forest fires away from the giants, guarding them from being burned like a human firewall. But one day they realized that no little baby Sequoia trees were sprouting anywhere, as it seemed no fertile seeds were being launched from the way up yonder cones in the Jungle Green canopy. It was then they realized it takes extreme heat to cause the pinecones to launch and release fertile seeds, and without the heat, nothing happened. So the next fire they let burn as nature intended, and what do ya know, the trees lived, able to withstand heat they never thought possible. And soon, new baby Sequoia sprouted; new Sheen Green leaves, and Illuminated Emerald shoots and tiny Blast Off Bronze trunks emerging from the Milky Way black charred ground where once it seemed, all was lost.

Yes, sometimes a good old butt burning makes us grow and move and release what is needed and yes, sometimes we all deserve and thrive with wide open fantastic Technicolor joy. Sometimes yes, extremes serve us well, sometimes.  Not all the time.

Life is rarely A or Z . I must fight myself to stay in LMNOP, and trust that LMNOP  is how life most often is, and that despite the initial blast off or leap into, LMNOP will find me, if I just wait.

If it sounds too good to be true it likely is, and nothing is as bad as it seems. LMNOP. This will be on my tombstone.

This old Sequoia has learned a lot in life, through some wicked Wild Blue Yonder storms and trials by Burnt Orange fire, and by living through many joyful Laser Lemon days. The tonic of time simply passing finds balance. Stretching the band of that extreme reaction, I ride it out like a wave, and it passes. Middle ground and balance always finds me in a day or two. I arrive at LMNOP just like that, perhaps a day late, perhaps a dollar short, but better late than never.

Things always do look better in the morning, maybe not an Atomic Tangerine, Metallic Sunburst morning, but good old Yellow sunrise for sure. And who could ask for more than that?

There is inherent mental comfort and calming in the rubber band snapping back.

Taking pause before selecting the color of the crayon with which to color my life may not yield the most stunning and exciting picture, but likely it will produce the most accurate one. And it’s infinitely easier to stay within the lines that way.

I don’t think that even after five years I have reached the opposite extreme of the “I’m gonna die” vortex-like Catastrophic Death Spiral that is cancer; I have not gotten to where I am blasting into the stratosphere of “I am gonna live a long and happy life.” Truth is, the reality of what will unfold in my life is likely somewhere in between, somewhere in the LMNOP range, simply because that is life.

Still, some days Red Violet With Glitzy Gold Glitter, Inchworm Green and Deep Space Sparkle remind me I am alive and that life is better than good, and some days life is still just a reckless back and forth aggressive scribble of Onyx Black. But most often, the box of 8 is really all I need to get by. To crack open the tiny box and breathe in their fresh smell, and see the optimistic faces of the ordinary colors of life all lined up expectantly waiting, that is LMNOP. 

Everything in moderation. Walls and lines keep us safe inside, but wow it’s a big world when we let our hair down and go over them…once in a while….once…in a great while.

Stay in center and embrace peace, simplicity, patience and compassion. 

Embrace the possibility of death and you will endure. 

Embrace the possibility of life and you will endure.

~tao te ching~

Last weekend, with the approach of Irene we once again went through the oh-so-familiar drill of preparations for the coming storm. Hurricanes seem to find our little state a magnet, and here in North Carolina we are seasoned pro’s at prepping for these events. Read the rest of this entry »

Clear as a bell, like our wedding day or where we were when 9/11 unfolded, we Cancerchicks can recite verbatim how we were told we had cancer. We can tell you who was with us, where we stood, what we had on, and how many times the phone rang before we reluctantly picked up. Read the rest of this entry »

I was chatting with a friend the other day about our respective surprise! divorces. He is about 5 years behind me in the recovery process and admittedly, still struggles with all of the anger and turmoil and the in-your-faceness that is the devastation of a spouse walking out on you. Read the rest of this entry »

I have a vision of how it will be. I’ve seen it play a thousand times over in my mind; so real, as if I am there in the theater, popcorn absently mindedly moving from hand to mouth, mesmerized by the screen. Read the rest of this entry »

I am on a tear these last weeks because quite frankly I am tired of hearing about “that guy.” Read the rest of this entry »

I am at war right now.  Read the rest of this entry »

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