Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blue Stars All Around (or Why I Love Roller Derby)

Tonight the 'Paign got together to enjoy some sushi and great company. I made some homemade caramels and white chocolate "blue stars" for everyone. I wanted to bring something homemade from the heart so my teammates and coach know how much they mean to me. It is always so much fun to get together outside of derby because we truly like each other. On the drive home I was thinking about how tight this team and league are and why that is. This is what I came up with:

Playing roller derby is like being part of a cult. At first, it seems innocent enough. I will get in shape! I'll meet new and interesting people! I will wear funny socks! And once roller derby has her little tenterhooks in you, that's when she starts to reel you in. Your family sees you less and less, unless you are trying to sell tickets for an upcoming bout. You work out to get stronger. Your sock drawer will no longer close. For me, roller derby is a way to just be my own person out in the world with an awesome group of women. It's athletic and a fun way to get exercise and move my body. I love that roller derby girls are tough as nails. After all, the game we play involves dashing around an oval track on roller skates, intentionally colliding into opponents and oftentimes sending them careening off the track. Bruises and other injuries are common. Roller derby can certainly be about testing one's stamina, patience, balance, strength, fortitude and overall athletic ability, but it is about so much more, from creating a common bond with others to discovering things about one's self, as well as being involved with the community.

You know your attachment to roller derby has reached the level of "love" when you've given up all forms of normal life: you no longer watch prime-time television, hell, you dumped cable because you don't have time to watch t.v. anymore. You haven't been out with your significant other in months (unless they are also involved in derby) because date night usually occurs on Friday or Saturday night, and you have derby - every weekend. A small corner of your house (or car) smells like a decomposing body, because that's where you air out your gear. You find yourself frequenting bars advertising drink specials because you need your cash to buy new knee pads. And it's why your Facebook friend requests are multiplying faster than a communicable disease.

There is an instant kinship among derby folks. That's not to say all of us are lovey-dovey with each other (although I do love you all), or even that we all get along all the time. There is certainly some "trash-talking" between teams and individual skaters but nothing serious. There is a camaraderie among the derby world, even when we are each others opponents. I suppose derby is unique in this aspect, and much of it stems from the fact that the roller derby resurgence began just as much, or more, as a cultural scene as an athletic one.

And we offer up this support system because we all recognize how unique the roller derby experience is. This is an exclusive club: not one of those douchey clubs where the people inside are wearing sunglasses, talking crap on everyone who walks in that they don't know and only drink imported beer. This club is exclusive because there is a true obsession reverberating through us all: WE LOVE ROLLER DERBY!


Sunday, November 27, 2011


"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival."

- C. S. Lewis

The Thanksgiving theme continues. Today's tarot card was again the Nine of Cups, which was appropriate, as I was still feeling quite satisfied and content. It has been a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. And as you can see, I was again wearing my Elf hat and decorating the Christmas Tree. [And those ornaments are all for sale] Today was a day of reconnection. I ran into a former colleague (from ~12 years ago) and it was great to have a chance to reconnect. Then later this evening, I ran into another former colleague and got to catch up with her, too. Plus, my mother came down for Thanksgiving and spent the last 3 days helping out at Community Green, which was fun.

And as a reminder to leave nothing unsaid, my childhood chum, Debbie, reminded me of an essay I wrote in elementary school. We were asked to write about the person we admired most and I chose Debbie. I gave that essay to Debbie once the teacher returned it. Debbie confided that if she felt down she would read it and it would give her a much needed boost as she got to see herself through someone else's eyes. Now, I don't remember what I wrote but I do remember that Debbie was a good friend and she, along with her grandparents, mom and brothers always treated me like family. They often took me on vacation with them which was the only time I got to go on vacation because my family certainly couldn't afford it. They only asked that I bring souvenir money as they covered the rest. I never forgot their generosity and always did the same whenever we invited one of Hannah's friends along on vacation. I am pleased that I gave her that essay and that she re-read it when she needed it most. I am grateful that she shared that memory with me as it made me feel really, really good. I smiled at the thought of my younger self being so kind hearted. But then again, my friends have always been extremely important to me.

So a great big thanks to Debbie for sharing the memory and much love to all my friends, who help make life worth living!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Nine of Cups

If any of you saw my Facebook status earlier today, you know that I was at Community Green, wearing an Elf Hat and playing Christmas Carols on the radio. I think I was even singing at one point! Since I was feeling especially cheery, I thought I'd see what today's tarot card was. As it happens, it was the Nine of Cups. One of the most positive and uplifting cards of the entire deck, the Nine of Cups shows satisfaction on all levels - emotional, physical, sensual. It is little wonder that most Tarot readers refer to this as the Wish Card, and its appearance is often taken as a sign that, whatever your heart's desire is, it shall be granted in the coming days. It may not be granted exactly as you expected but you can rest assured that you will get what you want. The Nine of Cups usually refers to an emotionally fulfilling situation. It shows that joy and happiness are certainly within your grasp, and that you probably already have them. It is a sign to enjoy the abundance of life for as long as it lasts. Feel each of your emotions as if you had never felt any of them before. Take some time to value every person you love - and all those who love you back. See the perfection all around you.

On a more physical level, this card signals delight and pleasure, contentment with what you have and a steady foundation for the future. Your worries are all in the past, and you can look forward to a bright future. The Nine of Cups shows excellent health, though when badly dignified it can often point to an overabundance of physical pleasure that can lead to intoxication and illness. But this is really the only caution of the Nine of Cups: enjoy life and enjoy living but don't take it too far, because pleasure without regard to the consequences is rapidly lost. It is rare that the Nine of Cups refers to a sense of spiritual bliss, since the cards of the spirit are the Swords. But with the Swords suit so full of strife and danger, the Nine of Cups would look out of place anywhere else but in the Cups suit. And if you think about it this makes sense, because when the pleasure and contentment of the physical plane is transferred to the spiritual level, it becomes inner peace and harmony with the Universe. The Universe is, after all, the source of all the love and pleasure that flows through the Nine of Cups into our lives. It only makes sense that we can sometimes follow that river to its source.

The Nine of Cups card further suggests that my power today lies in satisfaction. I have the self-respect, space or esteem that I need to "bartend" my resources or to live large emotionally. I am confident in and gratified by expressing what is close to my heart or in sharing my happiness like a buffet of joy. I take pleasure and pride in the new order I have created by clean sweeping emotional clutter or in honoring what has meaning. I am empowered by recognition and my gift is contentment. It's been a while since I felt content.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving everyone. It's been a lazy day. I have lounged around in my pj's all day, watching the Arrested Development marathon on IFC and eating too much! And what's this about stores opening up even earlier for Black Friday? A 5am opening isn't good enough anymore? I abhor Black Friday and all its craziness. Luckily, I have to work at Community Green tomorrow. As a matter of fact, that's where I've done most of my Christmas shopping. We get some nice things at the shop!

Thanksgiving is one day set aside for giving thanks, but researchers are finding that a daily dose of gratitude promotes health, happiness and social relationships. Researchers are finding that gratitude is a key element of human well-being. It’s getting increasing attention from psychologists, especially those within the growing movement known as positive psychology, which studies well-being. They are finding that grateful people are optimistic and energetic and deal better with stress and illness. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others. Gratitude, in short, can make you happier. Socially, gratitude builds connections.

One way to "practice" gratitude is to start with "gratitude lite". Keep a journal listing five things for which you felt grateful, like a friend’s generosity, something you learned, a sunset you enjoyed. Just one sentence for each of the five things — and done only once a week. So what am I thankful for? Two years ago at this time, I had just started chemo, having recovered from surgery. Today, I’m truly blessed to be in good health. I’m thankful for all of my family and friends who supported me through these past two years. And I’m so fortunate to have my derby family —my team, league-mates, coaches and refs, who were all there for me during that trying time.

When all else fails, remember the Monty Python mantra of the Black Plague victim: “I’m not dead.” It’s all a matter of perspective.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Breast Cancer Is Not A Pink Ribbon


Scars all over my body
To remind me of my battles

Scars all over my mind
To remember all the trauma

Scars all over my heart
To feel the losses

Scars all over
Healing along the way
But never disappearing.

--Rachel Baumgartner

My esteemed teammate, Polly Nator sent me a link about The SCAR Project. {Thanks so much, Polly.} Feel free to follow the link to be better informed. The SCAR Project is a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. Primarily an awareness raising campaign, The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women.

Dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone, The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The mission is three-fold: raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in young women ages 15-40. The SCAR Project participants range from ages 18 to 35, and represent this often overlooked group of young women living with breast cancer. They journey from across America – and the world – to be photographed for The SCAR Project. Nearly 100 so far. The youngest being 18 years old.

Although Jay began shooting The SCAR Project primarily as an awareness raising campaign, he was not prepared for something much more immediate . . . and beautiful: “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride."

I agree with Jay's statement above because my scar is my badge of courage. I have fought that battle and won! My scar is a part of me. I even made reference to it in my poem I Lost/I Found. The gallery of pictures is a powerful reminder of breast cancer's aftermath. It evokes a myriad of feelings within me that is hard to put into words. The pictures intrigue me as true courage and victory shines through. I personally have a long scar but it is rather light (a testament to the fine job my surgeon, Dr. Haynes, did). I also have a "breast mound" [affectionately dubbed "The Boobette"] that remains in case I ever choose reconstruction. My life does not revolve around the scar tissue. My scar is neither repulsive nor pleasing -- it just is.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nothing left unsaid

This is a picture I took at Hannah's senior photo shoot. She chose 3 locations: Trevett/Finch park (that awesome tree on the corner of Prospect & University), Kaufmann Lake (where this picture was taken) and the Boneyard Creek basin. She invited me and her Aunt Bert to tag along. {I certainly never invited my mother along, nor would I have even considered it!} I guess it means that as much as I embarrass her, I don't. And it was incredibly important to me to have been a part of it. Amy Scott from RAARS PhotographY was the photographer. I'm looking forward to seeing the proofs as she is an awesome photographer. Amy deserves special thanks for allowing me to "interfere" and do a photo chronicle of her photo session.

I was reading the VOICES column in today's News-Gazette, authored by Tim Sinclair. He describes an anticipated reunion between a father and a long-lost daughter that didn't happen because of a 3-hour flight delay. The daughter's flight landed in Champaign 48 minutes after her father passed away. Tim believes that they will eventually reconnect, in heaven. This story serves as a reminder to make sure nothing is left unsaid. So, if I'm yelling "I love you" across a crowded bar, it doesn't just mean that I had too much to drink, it means I want you to know how much I care. Or if I message you on Facebook to tell you I miss you, it means I need you to know that you are important to me (I don't allow douche bags in my life, so you must be pretty special). If I tag along on your senior photo shoot (I was invited after all), it's because you are the most important person in my life, although you may not always believe that.

I'm having a hard time believing that my baby is about to turn 18 and graduate from high school. Actually, her high school graduation is the first milestone I set for myself when I learned I had breast cancer so it will be bittersweet. I'll be happy to see her graduation day but sad to see her all grown up. I just don't think I'm ready to face the "empty nest" syndrome. And speaking of Hannah, she too, has a blog. Feel free to visit her blog at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

All the right things

I know that I've spent a great deal of time bitchin' about all the insensitive jerks you have to deal with when diagnosed with cancer. And since my sister always likes to remind me to be grateful for what I do have, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize all of you who said or did the right thing at the right time. While there were many, these stand out most in my mind, but in no particular order:

  • My friend Karen, who, when I complained about all those people saying how brave I was, told me that you never know how strong you are until you have to be. I realized that what others viewed as bravery, I saw as necessity.
  • My colleague, Mike, who said upon learning my diagnosis, "Cancer doesn't know who it's messing with". He made me smile at a time I wanted to cry.
  • My friend, Steve, who was always willing to listen to my crazy ramblings and fears.
  • My friend, Deb, who simply said, "I'm here for you". I never felt so loved.
  • My sister-in-survivorship and leaguemate Coffey Break-Her, who immediately recognized me as a survivor and has been right there with me since day 1 in roller derby.
  • My leaguemate, Ghirley Manson, who told me to "Put on your big girl panties and skate". It was the best piece of advice I have ever been given! [much love to Ghirley]
  • Coach La, who always seemed to know when I needed those words of encouragement.
  • The 'Paign and Coach RAH for always having my back. It's like having my own personal, cancer-fighting army. I love you all and could never have gotten through this without each and every one of you. Go 'Paign!
  • My friend Mary Vita, who, when I had hardly any hair, said, "Let's go to lunch". She didn't care what others thought.
  • My daughter, Hannah, by whom I set those milestones to meet: her high school graduation, her college graduation, her wedding, meeting my future grandchildren...She's always believed that I would survive this battle.
  • My sister, Bert, who said, "Do what you have to do to get better; take all the time you need".
  • My mother, who was always here with me through those trying chemo days.
  • My co-workers at A Woman's Fund, who held down the fort when I couldn't.
  • The most awesomest roller derby league, the Twin City Derby Girls. You never let me wallow in self-pity and certainly never treated me like a cancer patient. You all saved my life by letting me be a part of something so great!

As I started to think about all the wonderful people in my life, I realized that I do have a lot to be grateful for. And if I missed anyone, I apologize, I'm old and suffer from CRS {Can't Remember Shit}. Hugs and kisses to you all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tell the bitch off

I saw this letter in today's Dear Abby column and was incensed by the response:

Cancer patient is stunned by woman's tasteless joke

Dear Abby:

I have been battling breast cancer and have been blessed to have a lot of support from family, friends and some awesome medical providers. My husband’s best friend and his wife socialize with us quite often, and the friendship is important to him. I recently celebrated a birthday and these friends had us over for a belated birthday dinner. They bought me beautiful flowers and a gift. The card attached made a joke about my “aging breasts,” which she found quite funny.

Abby, I had a mastectomy, which she knew about! To make matters worse, my hair has just started to grow back from the chemo, so I decided to have some highlights put in, and she told me she didn’t like my new hair.

I am hurt and dumbfounded by her insensitive behavior. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time she has said things like this. How do I tell her I’m offended by her rudeness without compromising my husband’s friendship with them?

Harried Friend

Dear Harried Friend:

You nailed it. The woman is insensitive — but you said she has also made tasteless comments in the past.

For the sake of the friendship between your husbands, tune her out and spend less time with her one-on-one. It’s OK to tell her that her joke about your “aging breasts” hurt your feelings in light of your mastectomy, and that as your hair is growing back you thought you’d like to try something “different.” However, if you use the word “offended” she’ll probably become defensive, so avoid that word.

A final thought: Most people are terrified of cancer. People sometimes try to make jokes about things that make them uncomfortable in an effort to diffuse those feelings. This may be the reason the woman tried to joke about it, so don’t let it cause you to carry a grudge.

My advice

I take issue with Abby's response. My advice: "Tell the bitch off"! I found cancer to be very "freeing" and a good time to "cut loose" all of the insensitive jerks in my life. If your husband is really supportive, he won't mind and might even be relieved to do so. You don't need the aggravation. Save your energy to battle the cancer-your life is far more important than a "pseudo friendship". I agree that most people are terrified of cancer but it doesn't excuse their rudeness. As the old adage goes, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". A so called friend/supporter should always take their cues from the survivor. If that is your type of humor, fine, if not, don't joke. A cancer battle is serious stuff. Some use humor as a tool, where others need a stiff dose of love & support at all times. Ditch the crappy friendship!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Boob Squishing Day

Some of you might have seen my Facebook post earlier today about my mammogram. For the first time in 2 years, it was all clear! [Great big collective cheer here!] Even the spots they saw last year are gone! [Apparently the right boob does not want to become a boobette like the left one]. Perhaps the tamoxifen is working?! Tamoxifen helps prevent the original breast cancer from returning and also helps prevent the development of new cancers in the other breast. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) is a drug, taken orally as a tablet, which interferes with the activity of the estrogen. Estrogen can promote the development of cancer in the breast. Since I recently passed my 2 year cancerversary, my odds of recurrence have decreased slightly. Unfortunately, new research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that the risk of breast cancer relapse remains present even 15 years after a woman is initially diagnosed with the disease. {Damn, 2 down - 13 to go!}

And I learned this: Women with dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer, and their cancers may be more aggressive, recent research has found. Those who've already had breast cancer are more likely to have a recurrence if they have dense breasts. {I am so screwed}.

We know that being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Now, growing scientific evidence shows that it can also help lower your risk of developing or dying from breast cancer. Studies show that physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis is associated with a lower risk of recurrence and increased chance of survival. Findings from one large study showed that breast cancer survivors who got between nine and 23 MET hours of activity a week (roughly three to nine hours of walking) had a 35 to 40 percent lower risk of recurrence compared to survivors who were less active. The largest study to date on physical activity and survival followed nearly 4,500 breast cancer survivors for more than five years. Survivors who got between three and eight MET hours (roughly one to two hours of brisk walking) of activity a week had a 40 percent lower risk of death compared to less active survivors. Women did not need to do intense exercise to get a survival benefit. Activity equal to a 30-minute brisk walk several times a week improved survival. Women who got more activity got more benefit. So, when I say Roller Derby saved my life, it really did!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Luminaria Ceremony

Tonight I had the opportunity to be the survivor speaker at UI's 2012 Relay For Life Kick-Off Luminaria Ceremony. Relay For Life is a fun-filled overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs of your American Cancer Society. During the event, teams of 8-15 people gather the University of Illinois Track and Soccer Stadium and take turns walking or running laps. Each team tries to keep at least one team member on the track at all times. Relay For Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day, cancer will be eliminated. The kick-off was sponsored by UI's Chapter of Colleges Against Cancer (CAC). CAC is a nationwide collaboration of college students, faculty, and staff dedicated to eliminating cancer by working to implement the programs and mission of the American Cancer Society. With hundreds of chapters nationwide, CAC is showing the world that young people care and want to make a difference. I'd like to thank Alma, Christa and all the others for inviting me to speak.

My speech was as follows:

I lost
one breast
most of my hair
mental clarity
all sense of modesty
a few friends along the way
my life's work

I found
gray hair
tremendous respect for my family
true knowledge of who my friends are
new friends
a sisterhood with other survivors
a realization of how resilient I truly am
freedom to be my "true" self
roller derby

Two years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 5 days ago my life changed forever. I remember sitting in the doctor's office as the surgeon said those dreaded words, "You have cancer". I felt like I stepped into the middle of a silent hurricane. There was a roar and a rage that spun my life in a direction I had never anticipated. When you are told you have cancer, it amounts to being given a death sentence. All sorts of crazy thoughts run through your head. Mine were "Will I live long enough to see my daughter graduate High School? Graduate College? Get married? Watch my grandchildren grow up?". Next you realize that you have just set milestones to meet. Then you dive right into the self-pity. When you finally come up for air, you prepare for your recommended treatment. Then you vow to fight the cancer with all you've got and set out on your survivor's journey. And it can be a tough one. Your safety, security and optimism about your life and the future is shaken. The world is revealed as unfair. And with those three little words, I became a breast cancer survivor.

There is much discussion in the breast cancer world as to when you start marking the point at which you went from being an average Jane walking down the street to the "breast cancer survivor." Is it from the point of diagnosis? Is it from the point at which you had you surgery to remove the cancer? Is it when you are done with treatments? A "cancerversary" marks the annual recurrence of the date of a survivor's original diagnosis, although it can also mark any notable event in someone's cancer journey such as the date of the completion of treatment. Though these are all important milestones, for me the process of "surviving" began the minute I was diagnosed. If you are thrown into the pool and tread water for a while you don't count your journey from when you are pulled out of the pool, you mark it from when you were thrown into the water. Some days it seems like it has taken forever to get here and other days it seems like only yesterday.

September 21, 2009 is the day that my life as I knew it ended, and a new life began. Because no matter what the outcome, life is never the same after a cancer diagnosis. My cancerversaries feel rather momentous, partly because my life took such a dramatic change on the day I was diagnosed, but also because of the relief that I have made it through these past two years. I think about my cancerversaries with a combination of pride, dread, sadness, happiness, and relief. Sound schizophrenic? Welcome to the life of a cancer survivor. These past two years have been filled with ups and downs, good days and bad, and a lot of emotions. So what does one do to celebrate a cancerversary? Go out to dinner? Throw a party? Buy yourself something nice? My answer is this: you celebrate that you got to wake up this morning. And that's enough for me to want to pop a bottle of champagne. This may not be the life I ordered but it is the life I’m living. Today, I rarely think of the cancer, choosing instead to live life. While the diagnosis of cancer shattered the illusion that I was immortal, the most surprising side effect of cancer is that it has given me more courage than I ever thought possible. My life after cancer is more courageous, more honest and fuller than my life before. A cancer diagnosis encourages us to know both the fragility and the hopes of life, and with that knowledge to live as fully as possible. And like I always say, time flies when you're having cancer!

They then read this poem for the luminaria lighting:

I light a candle
A brightly shining flame
For all the ones who’ve gone before
Remembering each by name

And I light a candle
For those who live today
Who suffer with uncertainty
Praying one day for a change
And I light a candle

I light a candle for those who are still yet to come
That they will never face the pain when
The battle has been won

And I light a candle
For victories today
For survivors who have fought the fight
We celebrate today
And I light a candle

I light a candle
That every child will have the chance
To ride a bike, learn how to swim
Walk barefoot in the grass

And I light a candle,
That one day we shall light no more and
Offer up this simple prayer,
Praying one day for a cure
And I light a candle

Powerful stuff.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Things I wish someone had told me

I’m so sorry you have cancer. You deserve better.
Now that you have been diagnosed, lots of people are going to give you advice and sympathy for the next few days. Most will never understand what you’re going through, but they will try to make you feel better. You’ll hear lots of things like “You'll beat this” and “I’ll be praying for you” and “Never give up!”.
But most people won’t tell you what to expect, because they just don’t know.
I’m here to tell you what the next few days, weeks, months, and years will be like. And I promise not to lie to you.
First things first. You’re about to go through some of the suckiest experiences of your life.
There are not enough words to describe how much this truly sucks.
  • It sucks that this happens.
  • It sucks that it happens to nice people.
  • And it really sucks that it is happening to you.
Life isn’t fair. No honest person has ever told you life was fair. That you got cancer isn’t fair either. But there it is.
And it isn’t anyone’s fault.
Let’s get that part out of the way right now, shall we?
Everyone tries to blame something or someone for cancer. Because it’s really hard to stay mad at something that is growing inside of you. It’s easier to be mad at environmental factors or at yourself for not living “right”.
But it doesn’t really matter what caused or triggered it, does it? Doesn’t change a damn thing and you can’t turn back time and live differently. You can’t go turn off the industrial smokestacks that are bellowing out tons of toxins into our air everyday, and you can’t go back 15 years ago and never eat a cheeseburger either.
Besides, new research seems to indicate that viral infections are the cause. So, remember that really bad flu virus you had that winter? Yeah, that was probably it. Or not. Who knows?
So, get over it, and stop blaming yourself or the world for it. Focus on what’s important right now. The next few weeks and months are the only important things you need to be concerned with.
Here’s what you can expect in the immediate future, so that when it happens, you won’t be shocked.
Stages of Cancer Treatment (From the patient’s perspective)
First is the Education stage. This is the part where everything you could possibly read about cancer will be all you think about. You’re going to try and learn everything you can in hopes of conquering it with your willpower and brains alone.
That’s good. That’s healthy. Knowledge is good. Go for it and get it out of your system.
And then, listen to my first piece of advice…
1. Trust your medical team. They know what they are doing.
Your doctors and nurses have your best interest at heart. They have years of medical experience dealing with this disease, and they want you to get better. They want you to live. If for no other reason, they want you to live because it makes them look good.
So, when they tell you which treatments are advised for your medical condition, do your research if you must. Learn whatever makes you more comfortable with the wisdom of your doctors. Then trust them and do what they think is best for you.
Which brings me to #2:
2. Be patient with the “armchair physicians”
They will attack you in droves now, thrusting out their lotions, potions, and magic drinks that claim to be the “secret cancer cure” no one knows about.
It will be a challenge for you when 100 people approach you with 100 completely different “cures”. They mean well, even though they are being less than helpful.
Try to remember that they believe in their nonsense, and because they believe it, they are trying to be your healer. They think they are going to save your life by telling you all this.
They care about you, but they are dangerous. Thousands upon thousands of people die each year because they fear doctors so much they are willing to forgo actual tested treatments in favor of untested root chewing.
Learn to nod gently and say “Thank you. I’ll look into it”.
3. Be patient with your friends and family when they tell you “let me know if you need anything”, but then disappear completely.
It isn’t easy for them to know what to do for you. They feel helpless. You remind them of their own mortality, and it scares them.
So, understand that if you want help, you have to sacrifice your pride and actually ASK for it. Lean on them whenever possible. Call them and ask them to help you with housework, groceries, dinner, etc. Give them some busy work. It’s good for you and good for them too.
Let yourself rely on your family and friends. You don’t need to be tough all the time. Rest your head on the shoulders of your family who has always loved you, no matter what. They need to be there for you. Let them.
Do it because if worst comes to worst, this is their one chance to make great memories with you. If you die and you didn’t let them help you, they will feel guilty the rest of their lives.
So, don’t be a jerk. Give them stuff to do.
4. You are going to die, but not today
I don’t mean to be morbid here, but you need to remember that just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you know how you’re going to die. You could still get hit by a bus tomorrow or fall in the shower and split your head open on the faucet.
If you remember this, and remind yourself of it often, you will find that you will fear death less and enjoy life more.
Enjoy the moments. Take extra time to do the things you always meant to do “someday”, and do them now. None of us have a clue when our expiration date is, but we behave as if we’re immortal, always procrastinating, always putting off the fun stuff until “later”. Pretend you are dying tonight and do TODAY what you would do if this was your last day on earth. Trust me. Your life will be a lot more interesting!
5. You aren’t helpless to anything.
Although you cannot control what happens TO you, you absolutely can control how you react to it. That is 100% yours. So, do whatever you need to do to kick cancer’s ass. Do your treatments. Take your meds. Take lots of naps. Give your body a chance to fix itself.
Which brings me to #6
6. Laugh.
  • Laugh at yourself.
  • Laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
  • Laugh at bad jokes.
  • Laugh during comedy sitcoms.
  • Laugh at stupid YouTube videos.
  • Laugh as often and as loudly as you can.
It will keep you brave.
Once your treatments are all finished, and you can start growing your hair back, and more importantly, start living your life again, there are some things you need to know.
The next few years will be weird for you.
Every headache will make you think “Oh God, it’s metastasized to my brain!!!” If your back hurts, you won’t be able to stop yourself from worrying that it has moved to your bones. It’s scary as hell, because just when you think it’s over…it isn’t.
Try not to worry too much about it. Get back to your life. Enjoy whatever life you’ve got left. Show up for every doctor’s appointment and do your follow up exams.
But don’t stress too much about whether or not it will be coming back again.
If it does, worry about it then and start the whole treatment process again.
But if it doesn’t, make sure you celebrate each day you have on this earth, ok?
Because from the first moment you were diagnosed with cancer, you felt like you were handed a death sentence. And because you were brave enough to go through all those treatments, you survived it, didn’t you?
That means that every single day you live past your original expiration date is an amazing blessing. You need to enjoy it.
That means you need to LIVE with as much joy and fierce determination to survive as you possibly can.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Moon Card

Today's tarot card is the Moon card. The ordeal of the Moon is that you must travel in the dark, not knowing for sure if your path is the right one. There is no sunlight to guide you, no distant landmark in the hills to direct your steps, no one to travel alongside. This is a journey that must be made alone, in darkness and without a map or a compass. You must learn to rely on your own inner light to lead you along the true path. Any hesitation, any doubt, and that light will be extinguished forever. But if you believe, your light will shine forever, as brightly as the sun that will inevitably rise once this night has passed. The Moon's appearance in a reading almost always means that something is not as it appears to be, and that vigilance and perception will be necessary to find that which is hidden before it is too late. In a generally good reading the Moon shows that not all is as wonderful as you would think. You may be idealizing the situation, and ignoring the fact that potential for failure exists among success. A negative reading that includes the Moon often shows that you are letting your imagination run away with you, and that things are not nearly as bad as they seem. In both cases you must open your eyes and see what it really going on.

This card can also show times when you are not sure of your destination, or even of the path you are traveling - but you travel nonetheless. It's quite possible that you have lost your way, and are stumbling around in the dark. If you wait until the sun rises again the path may have changed and the opportunity could have been lost. So what should you do? The Moon is a card of intuition and psychic forces, so let go of your conscious mental blocks and let your intuition guide you. Not only will the way forward be revealed, but in a lot of cases you will learn lessons about yourself that will be valuable in later journeys.

I'm always amazed at the timeliness of the cards as I have been desperately feeling like I need to find a "real" job, not just my volunteer position. As much as I love Community Green, I fear that it won't become a paying job before my unemployment runs out. Or maybe that's the paranoia that comes along with cancer. I once wrote that I didn't know if my paranoia was caused by the chemo drugs (which mess with your brain) or the cancer itself (because it makes you feel like "less" of a person). There have been more than a few instances where the paranoia has gotten the better of me. I think it has to do with the fact that cancer somehow makes you "less" of a person. It's hard living with the paranoid demons in my head that say, "uh oh, your head hurts, must be a tumor" or "uh oh, your body aches, must be the cancer". Believe it or not, it was sometimes hard to live day-to-day once I was diagnosed with cancer. Although there really is no other way to live once you are diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Whether the outlook for recovery is good or not, the days go by, one at a time, and you must learn to live each one. It wasn't always easy. Each person must work through individual feelings of possible death, fear and isolation in her/his own good time. It is hard to overcome these feelings if they are never confronted head on, but it is an ongoing struggle. One day brings feelings of confidence, the next day despair. Many people find it helps considerably if they strive to return to their normal lives. I tried to do so, but lost my job in the middle of all of it, causing yet another blow to my self-esteem. Battling cancer was hard enough but to then have to give up your life's work? Nevertheless I did learn a lot about myself and my priorities shifted. And I have yet to discover where this journey will take me.