Thursday, March 5, 2020

Reflecting on The Year of the Cancer Eviction

When I was diagnosed, in January 2018, one of the first things my husband said to me was, "This doesn't need to define you." That was my mantra that year, because while cancer didn't necessarily define me, it was an unquestionable constant in my life. It was a year of scans, biopsies, test result after test result, genetic testing, surgeries, four and a half months of chemotherapy, a bout of a rare, bilateral, fungal pneumonia (two weeks in the hospital and for half of that, being a stone's throw away from being put in the ICU), weeks of radiation and now 10 years of endocrine therapy. Two-thousand and eighteen was fully dedicated to eradicating Stage 1, Grade 3 breast cancer.

And yet, when I look at photos from the year, very few are of the hospital. There were horseback riding lessons with Willa; walks with Sam; four visits to four different state parks where we hiked, rode bikes, went swimming, saw the beach, saw the mountains, saw waterfalls and caves; garden tours with my parents; spending time with my brother and my parents; laughing with friends; working in my garden, sitting on our porch looking out at the mountains. (During the last month of chemotherapy and post-pneumonia, truth be told, there was also a lot of Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu TV show and movie watching.)

It was a reminder about how you can find courage and strength and soul food just by being surrounded by your tribe, community, family. The light and love I felt on a daily basis was, honestly, humbling. We had so much beautiful food brought to us. The nurses and doctors and the care they gave me still makes my heart hitch. The check-ins from friends and family - through letters, emails, texts, cards, gifts - gave me life. Each time they cheered me on, it was like a booster.

I lost my hair. I lost weight. I have permanently lost the feeling in my fingertips because of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy. I was scared at times. But I rarely felt alone.

One sweet friend gave me a pin - 'Kept Going.' A lot of getting through a cancer diagnosis is just showing up and accepting the care. So, I need a second pin - 'Kept Showing Up.' So many said to me how they admired my bravery. I never felt brave, but I felt loved and appreciated that my body allowed me to complete each recommended treatment.

I was/am also a big believer in alternative therapies to help take care of my body while it was being pummeled by the various treatments. I have an amazing acupuncturist, oncology massage therapist, yoga teacher. I used full spectrum CBD oil and other plant-derived tinctures (a-hem) to help with sleep, anxiety and nausea. I walked or hiked every day that I could, even on days when I wasn't sure if I had a walk in me.

By January 2019, I was sledding with my kids. Willa and I completed a 5K together that March. I had a life-altering experience at a nearby yoga ashram, which reinforced my love of that practice. We traveled - a lot - in 2019. Probably a slingshot reaction to having my treatments dictate our schedule in 2018 - Hocking Hills in Ohio; Baltimore with my college best friends; a drive up to Corey's family lake house in Michigan by way of Pittsburgh/Detroit/Columbus/West Virginia; the Outer Banks; Nashville. And a ton of hiking with family and friends up in Shenandoah National Park - including an overnight with Sam (just the two of us!) in one of the park's lodges.

Last autumn, my oncologist stated that, based on my recovery and the related statistics, he thinks I am done with breast cancer and that it will probably be a one-time occurrence for me. I am not going to hang my hat on that. I did NOT have breast cancer on my radar in the first place - no family history, no previous scans that were worrisome. But if I am asked to go through it all again, I know I can do it.

There isn't much that I still mentally wrangle with these days after 2018 except one thing: I feel like I lost a more innocent, simpler understanding of life. Before 2018, I was mostly focused on my family, our life in the country, being present for the kids, working a part-time job at the University, tending to the garden, spending time with family and friends as much as possible, going to art classes, cooking and baking, being the music and book geek I always have been, seeking adventures.

But then life just . . . decided to come for us. I still don't know if this will always sit on my heart, or if it will get better with time. I do know, a few years ago, I had a weird premonition about the cancer-thing. And I remember saying over and over to myself, I can handle it, what would be hellish is seeing a family member or child suffer through it. The Universe then said BOOM.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In The Garden, Outside Of The Garden

From The Hollow: Lots of weeding, harvesting, napping. New porch furniture and outdoor movies and bonfires in the garden.

Outside The Hollow: Local swimming hole; Gloucester, VA; and Wildrock.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Green Is Where It's At



Spending lots of time in the garden; exploring SW Virginia via The Virginia Creeper Trail, Hungry Mother State Park and Peaks of Otter; a weekend visit to DC.