Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Gosh, it’s been over a month since I last wrote. I just haven’t had the time. It seems like even my evenings are becoming consumed with stuff. A lot can happen in a month’s time. But don’t worry- if it was bad news, I’d write right away.

Let’s see…….Al and I took our trip to New Orleans last month. He spent the majority of his days in business meetings. I met up with the wife of a co-worker, as my co-worker was also in town on business. Imagine that. I had never met his wife before, but it was comforting to have someone else from ‘home’ to hang out with for a little while. She actually convinced me to take a cooking class with her at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Because cooking is not something I enjoy, and especially if it’s cajun/creole food, I would have never done that on my own. But it turned out to be fun, and the food was actually good. New Orleans was an interesting place, and I appreciated the trip, but it’s not a place I’d ever go back to vacation. I did manage to pick up some Mardi Gras beads- they have plastic boobies that squeak when you squeeze them. I originally bought them for someone else who would appreciate them perhaps more than I, but my officemate at work found the idea novel and funny, considering I no longer have breasts. She dared me to wear them to my appointment with Dr. Patel last week. Which, I did.

So, my scans did come back clear. I didn’t anticipate any problems. Of course as classic Kern Rad, they couldn’t find a trustable vein, so decided to use my port, after scaring me half to death with terms like, “port could fail”, and “contrast is to thick”, and “not made for this”. I had these immediate mental images of this thick and syrupy contrast blowing out my vein and causing me to bleed to death because my blood was too thin. But I made it through without a problem. Last week I went in to see Dr. Patel with the hopes that he would understand my plight and agree to a shortened treatment protocol of Herceptin. I was shocked when I asked him my prognosis at this point, and he said that it’s “not that great”. I mean, I’ve been disease free since November 2003- almost a year. And I’ve had a whole heap of treatment since then, just to make sure. He said to me, “if you were 85 years old and told me you wanted to quit treatment, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But you’re a young woman with a long life ahead of you. You have to finish a year of this.” There are many implications in what he said to me. And my feet definitely hit the ground. I guess the reality of this disease had slipped my mind, and I wanted to forget how sick I was, and still could get. That has been a constant tension throughout this experience- accepting death while embracing life. Learning to die while living. I think that’s one of the main reasons I chose to accept my officemate’s dare to wear that string of plastic boobies- because I wanted to make a statement about who I am and what I’m trying to do. Bring some life into the house of death. And I guess it worked, because all the nurses loved it, and Dr. Patel had a squeeze at them too. That was something probably totally out of character for me, but as I’ve said before, this cancer has changed me. Al’s so funny- obviously out of embarrassment he tells me that my string of boobies is “stupid” and that it’s “practically nudity”. I’ve never really seen any kids at the cancer center, so I wasn’t worried about that.

I’m currently reading a book that my confidant recommended- “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston. If you remember hearing it in the media, Aron was the guy who got his arm stuck between a boulder and a rock surface, and facing imminent death if he didn’t free himself, made the horrific decision to amputate his own arm. This is my kind of book. When I read it I am so inspired by Aron’s free spirit, but even more, I can profoundly relate to his singular and life changing experience. Even my confidant tells me that she can see the parallels- Aron and I both had to cut off a part of ourselves in order to live. And while that fact addresses the obvious, I think it cuts deeper too. I haven’t gotten far enough in the book to determine exactly how Aron handles it, but some of his words are haunting:

“These places and the experiences I had in them, were mine and mine alone. The senses of solitude, ownership, and place that I felt on these trips were creating a private world that, by definition, was impossible to share. Nevertheless, I tried. I took photographs and posted online albums of my trips; however the images failed. They were unsuccessful because they were removed in time and location from what I went through to be in that place at that time…… A picture couldn’t do the experience justice- no matter my photographic talents, I couldn’t make the viewer feel the transcendent combination of depletion, fatigue, hypoxia, elation, and accomplishment I felt in reaching such a sublime vista at that twilit moment…The further along I got with my solo winter fourteener project, the larger this private world grew, and the more it intertwined with my sense of self……Climbing fourteeners in the winter by myself wasn’t just something I did; it became who I was……each time I scaled another high peak, I explored and developed another part of me.”

While Aron is obviously sharing about his triumphant mountain climbing experiences, unbeknownst to him, he is also writing about my cancer. I was sharing with Al how this book has been tremendously relative to me, and he says, “ya, but there’s big difference. This guy wanted to go out hiking with a goal in mind. He went out by himself. He made the choices. Cancer just happened to you. You didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t a risk you were willing to take for a greater gain.” While he is right in that, and I think perhaps for the first time is expressing some of his own sense of powerlessness over this disease, I don’t choose to see myself as a victim. I was chosen for this. It was chosen for me. Consider the words of Oswell Chambers yet again, in devotional this week:

We must be able to “mount up with wings like eagles” ( Isaiah 40:31 ), but we must also know how to come down. The power of the saint lies in the coming down and in the living that is done in the valley.

I didn’t copy the entire devotional this time, because it seemed very familiar, and sure enough, it was this same devotional that I shared with you at this time last year. This obviously struck a chord with me. Discovering that it was a devotional I had already shared last year caused me to reminisce about what I was doing last year. It was October 10th, 2003- my last day of work before a much earned leave of absence. It was a Friday. My last scheduled treatment was that day. Saturday morning I woke up in the wee hours with the sings of a blood clot. I nearly died, and spent several days in the hospital. I’m still on blood thinner because of that. A month later, in November 2003, I peaked my own private little mountain, having both my breast surgically removed. Yes, it has already been a year. In some ways it feels like I have aged 10 years. But really, it seems not far enough in the past to have been a year away from me already. My body is still healing from that surgery. While God has given me a measure of faith to be able to say that my path was laid out for me, I wish I could say that my mountaineering experience was a real experience- a goal driven agenda to achieve unity with nature, to seek adventure in all it’s unknowns, to overcome my physical resistance to the harsh conditions of the terrain. As for my quasi-mountaineering experience, I think I got to the vista point, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for. And I don’t think the profundity of what I saw will hit me until I’m on the backside. An older woman walked up to me at the gym, a complete stranger to her, on the second day after I joined, and she simply said, “you inspire me”, as she walked off to begin her own exercise routine. I guess my still chemotherapy short hair and flattened chest was a dead giveaway?

Speaking of hair and exercise and all that junk, I guess that Herceptin is slowing down my hair growth because I still only have about ¼ inch of hair on the top of my head, and my last chemotherapy treatment was in late July. The last time it grew back in it started growing 3 weeks after treatment, and by this time in the game was already about an inch long. Since I’ve been diagnosed with my cancer, I’ve always wondered secretly if my fast growing hair and nails have been a product of my wonderful HER2 status? Sometimes what a woman envies about another woman actually turns out to be the detriment to the envied woman. Not that there is a connection, but if there was, I’d trade cancer for slow growing hair and nails any day! So, I’m still getting a workout in three times a week. But my diet has been erratic, and I still struggle with the fluctuating hormones. I haven’t seen a lot of improvement other than an inch lost and some body fat percentage decrease. I know part of my emotional eating has to do with all the corollary things going on right now: Justin’s so 15, Amanda’s so 12, and Jared’s so 9. There’s been a lot of negativity coming at me from every direction- and not just at home, but from other family, work, etc. Last week I asked Amanda to pick Jared up from his after school program, since I had my appointment with Dr. Patel and wanted Al to come with me. So she did, but in her own frustration with his behavior, when I got home she belted out to me, “Why do you have to go to the doctor?”, in a demanding and critical tone. Justin seems to think that he should get to do everything he wants to do with his friends, and it’s our job to provide the transportation and funds for him to do that. I sympathize with him because he’s at a difficult age to be at, but he doesn’t seem to sympathize with me a bit. So I hear a lot of complaining about how much his life “sucks”. Jared’s trying to get re-adjusted to school. That’s always been a challenge for him- he’d much rather go play than sit and concentrate on schoolwork. Al’s having work issues. I’m having work issues. Every direction I turn- up, down, sideways, a barrage of negativity and expectations come my way. We’re trying our best to be all things to all people, and for the most part, seem to be getting very little in return. But, such is life, I suppose.

It’s hard to believe that fall is already at out doorstep. Nine more months of weekly treatments. Another Christmas will go by. And another Easter too. I will be 32 years old this December. And I’m still alive.


In His Grace-


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