Archives for posts with tag: grief and loss in breast cancer

I am so sick of talking about breast cancer.

In fact, Grandmother Willow and I recently had a fifty minute-ish chat about it as I crawled all over my psyche looking for clues to my blues. This little Suzy Sunshine was très dissatisfied with her last months of little black rain cloud funkity funk and darn it, I told her, I needed to find the source of my gloomy river and fix it pronto. I speculated, as I have during several recent chats that the business of tiptoeing around the mine field that is cancer while writing this blog has had a little something to do with my sad state of affairs. Maybe even a big little something to do with it.

A minefield indeed; a desolate battleground from a long ago war. A place where still, even years later, I must tread carefully as mines are left that have yet to be detonated. Shards of shrapnel remain, ready to slice into my still tender skin as I wander through, and the remains of what was lost still litter the ground creating sometimes massive obstacles to my progress. A land where I occasionally find a bullet in the soil; a tiny yet lethal missile that missed its mark many years ago, which in my hand weighs heavier than I would speculate of its tiny mass, as I mentally gauge the potential it carried as it was fired in my path all those years ago.

I spend most of my days in my professional life seeing and talking about very ugly things; cesspool of human failure things. Over the last 20 or so years in working with abused wee ones, I have learned a little about the cost of caring, the cost of going over and over traumatic events and quite awful things. Compassion fatigue has often been an unwanted traveling companion in my life. It takes a toll on your psyche to care and listen, and it is the high internal price you pay for dealing with highly emotional traumatic events of others over a long period of time. 

Like with the artist formerly known as Prince, PTSD is the reaction formerly known as Battle Fatigue, (the cost of dealing with your own highly emotional traumatic events over a long period of time.) And you know what? Cancer is a long ass battle for sure, its got physical and mental staying power. The endgame (that is really the never-ending game) is that dealing with cancer and thinking about cancer and worrying about cancer is freaking exhausting. Revisiting the war zone that is and was cancer, even years later, is exhausting.

I my friends, have cancer fatigue. Cancer has done wore me out.

Because even after five years, there are still bombs that have yet to detonate and that scares me. Daily, I find a bullet in the soil and pick it up and realize how close it came to taking me down; while that act of holding the bullet in hand is in itself is frightening, more terrifying is the realization that there may still be bullets in the gun.

As I write this blog, I realize that I have been anxiously and cautiously tiptoeing along, carefully calculating each step and holding my breath even as I sleep. I’m feeling physically exhausted and mentally fatigued by the constant mindfulness to cancer, from the perpetual heaviness of the armor I attempt to don as I write, and by the tiny yet constant effort needed in the hunch up of my shoulders as I tread.

Years ago, when I got fired for having chemo brain and then opened my own practice I found, as cliché as it sounds, a gift in it (I mean besides not having to work with really dysfunctional people anymore.) I made my own schedule, and likely worked 100 more hours a week but all the sudden one day I realized that my 20 years of amassed compassion fatigue had virtually disappeared. 

Now, statistics people could find all kinds of confounds in the causal nature of this phenomenon in my life, such as I was so focused on cancer that work ick seemed small next to it, or it was because I had a break from all the yuck during treatment. But because I know me better than anyone knows me, I will tell you my theory. In owning my practice, I can schedule cases as I like. I can review quite ugly photographs when I am ready and I can say no to the task when I am not ready. I can set boundaries about when and where and how I talk about the sometimes very violent/graphic details of sexual and physical abuse. I can set the pace of cases I see, and take breaks as needed (although I find I don’t need as many breaks as I thought I would.)

The compassion fatigue evaporated as the trauma was more in my control.  Work and trauma no longer controlled me; I controlled it. I could control the ebb and flow of kids and cases, and set boundaries about not talking about child abuse in the walls of my house or on weekends or at cocktail parties for that matter (and not look like a bad/rude/chemo brain employee for doing so.)

When I first got sick, my oh so wonderful Pop and bestest friend MJ called me at least once, if not twice, if not three times a day through diagnosis and in those early weeks of the crazy firehose of test results and treatment plans. Cancer was coming at me from all angles, as you all know it does when diagnosis is fresh, and tests and results are being done, and war strategy is being made. I talked cancer, and ate cancer, and I slept cancer, and like poor Jan Brady lamented with sister Marcia, “Cancer Cancer Cancer,” was all I heard.

One day I just got to where I wanted to talk about something else, anything else, but cancer. Heck, discussing toenail fungus or dead pets would have been infinitely better than talking about cancer at that point. I had to set the limit and say, “Look, I want to take a week off of talking about cancer okay?  Let’s take a break and talk about something else, anything else for a while when you call.” And because they are good people they did just that, and it helped. A lot.

The moral of the story here is that sometimes you just have to take control and set a boundary with cancer, even after five years. Sometimes, you have to place a moratorium on cancerspeak, and that goes for you, the people around you and for that neurotic little voice in your head.

One of my girlfriends told me that right after she was diagnosed and just before chemo started, she and her 12-year-old daughter (with her onc’s blessing) took a long before cancer came a knockin’ planned trip to Greece. My girlfriend really has the coolest kid; I adore that little cutie pie for her effervescent and eccentric grooviness. Don’t you know that girl took a piece of paper and wrote “CANCER” on it, put it in a box and placed it on the mantle in the house. As they left for the airport, this cool kid was pulling the front door shut and she turned back and said to the box, “Cancer, you are too heavy to carry all over Greece. We know you will be here when we get back and we will be ready for you.”

After five years, it is sometimes still all about cancer. Some months it’s worse than others (if you get my potentially ungrateful sounding drift.) So for the rest of this week, I am declaring a moratorium on cancer. I am instead painting my toenails a delightful shade of robin’s egg blue and with my sweet daughter, I am boarding a plane to Disneyworld.

And with that I will say, “Cancer, you are too heavy to carry all over Disneyworld…even in an elephant that can fly.”

Look out! Look out!
Pink elephants on parade
Here they come!
Hippety hoppety
They’re here and there
Pink elephants everywhere

Look out! Look out!
They’re walking around the bed
On their head
Clippety cloppety
Arrayed in braid
Pink elephants on parade

What’ll I do?
What’ll I do?
What an unusual view

I can stand the sight of worms
And look at microscopic germs
But technicolor pachyderms is really too much for me

I am not the type to faint
When things are odd or things are quaint
But seeing things you know that ain’t, can certainly give you an awful fright

What a sight!
Chase ’em away! Chase ’em away!
I’m afraid, need your aid
Pink elephants on parade
Pink elephants…
Pink elephants…
Pink elephants…

Pink Elephants on Parade~ Disney’s Dumbo

 

 

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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~

I don’t want to talk about 9/11. Not here, not now. Sometimes intense emotional experiences are so private, so personal, and when people around us launch into their own personal narrative of how it unfolded for them, it flavors it for us. And that is not what I want to do. It is not fair to you. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

This week a friend of mine posted on Facebook:

 “You are never too old or too young to be working ‘the bucket list”….love having the freedom and ability to live mine…so much gratitude….how about you??!!”

Love it for sure girlfriend….And yes, how about me? 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 »

Cancer treatment is a veerrrrrryyy, looooooong haul for all of us, starting the day we feel the lump, or see the look on the mammogram nurse’s face, or on the day we hear, “unfortunately there is bad news,” and ending well, honestly never, cancer is never-ending. Read the rest of this entry »

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