Categories
cancer Diary life mindfulness

How’s It Gonna Be: Dealing With the Prospect of Another Cancer Diagnosis

I’m a young adult cancer survivor.  It’s a label I’m proud of, but obviously a club I never would have willingly joined.

Diagnosed with cancer three months before my eighteenth birthday, it’s safe to say I was not quite a grown-a$s woman yet. So there were a lot of things I said and did…a lot of ways I responded to my diagnosis that I’d like to think I’d handle differently now that I’m almost…(gulp, inhale, exhale)…thirty years old.

Back then I was hormonal, and angsty, and ALREADY mad at the world.  Add a cancer diagnosis on top of all that adolescent aggression and you’ve got a recipe for a big-ole, bald-headed s**tshow.

I recovered…nicely…from Ewing’s Sarcoma, I suppose.  Some kidney damage here, a little infertility there.  But I learned over the years what triggers me and how to maneuver myself through the bouts of depression and anxiety that occasionally pepper my survivorship.

I do not, however, do well with the prospect of having to face another cancer diagnosis.  Through my twenties, it seemed like it would take a pretty drastic twist of the ole “magic wand” for me to get cancer again once I was clear of the usual relapse timeline.  “Lightnin’ don’t strike the same tree twice” was my creed of choice and I felt so normal with each passing year that it became easier and easier to blot cancer fear out.  

So in the spring of 2019, when my mom tested positive for one of the breast cancer genes, I was…how you say…shooketh.

Thinking I still had at LEAST a few years until my first mammogram, imagine my delight when, at my next check-up, my oncologist said that in order to be smart with the information we have, it was probably time to start mammograms and breast ultrasounds.  

OOOF.  

I don’t need to tell you that I was scared and angry and resentful.  

I also don’t need to tell you that after the scared and angry and resentful phase, I eventually got my s**t together and scheduled the tests.  No matter how many times I shouted “it’s my body, and I don’t have to do everything they say,” I knew I’d never be able to live with the idea that I might get cancer somewhere along the line that could’ve been caught much earlier if I’d been more cautious.

My mammogram was quick and easy and, thankfully, unremarkable.

Yesterday, I had my ultrasound and was anticipating a similar level of ease and simplicity.  So when the ultrasound technician pointed at the screen and said, “see this?  This is what we call a fibroadenoma,”  I thought I was going to literally poop on the table.  

She explained that fibroadenomas were common in your twenties and thirties, and that they were benign.  

“This one here is just a bit darker than the rest, so let me see how he wants to proceed…”

She had eased my worry and then slapped me in the face again with it in the same breath.

I was left on the table while she consulted the radiologist, and for the first time in eleven years, I really, truly considered what it might look like to have cancer again.  

If they say you need a biopsy, are you going to fling yourself to the floor and perform a Shakespeare tragedy in this exam room? 

If this turns out to be cancerous…

How’s it gonna be?”

In those twelve brief minutes, there were many deep breaths.  There were closed eyes.  There were speedy heartbeats.

And there were three clear conclusions:

  1. Nothing about my everyday life would change until it had to.  

In my first bout with cancer, as soon as I was diagnosed as a sick person, I IDENTIFIED as a sick person.  I EMBODIED a sick person.  I immediately got into bed or burrowed into the couch.  And I wasted no time victimizing myself.  

I lived like I was dying in a bad way.

This time, there would be no “sick-person-syndrome” until the results of all biopsies and tests were back.  And after that, there’d be no slowing down until my body truly needed to slow down.  If I had energy, I’d be putting it to good use as often as possible.

  1.  Anyone outside of immediate family and s/o who texted or called my cell phone for “updates” would be blocked.

It sounds drastic, but for me, it would be crucial.  

I truly feel like mine AND my family’s boundaries were not respected during my battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma.  I think my parents were too kind to demand it, and I was not mature enough to ask for it in the proper way.  I think we all would’ve fared better mentally and emotionally if we’d been stricter about “dropping by the house” and “calling to check in.”  

This time around, I would designate either e-mail or Facebook messenger to well-wishers/update seekers, and I would be hella strict.  I’d get back to people as I felt able to, and unless my house was on fire and they were texting to let me know, anyone who could not respect those wishes would have their numbers BLOCKED.  

  1. There would be meditation. Every. Single. Day.

I’m not a perfect meditator.  I’m not even a truly faithful meditator.  I meditate when I’m really stressed and feel like I need silence and calm.  In fact, I probably spend more time reading about meditation than I do actually meditating and it’s something I really want to work on.  But from all that reading, I’ve learned that it can truly ONLY have positive effects on your body and mind.  

It can’t hurt you.  And I’ll take any free, non-toxic, non kidney-killing, fertility-destroying medicine that I can should I ever have to battle cancer again.  

The technician came back into the exam room and told me that they just wanted to keep an eye on the fibroadenomas, and to come back for another ultrasound in six months.  

That twelve minutes of planning wouldn’t need to be practiced.  The world came back into focus.  

Do I wish I had left the building with a completely uneventful ultrasound?  Of course.

But I did leave with what felt like a solid and effective outline for battling another cancer diagnosis.  

I think even if other cancer survivors don’t agree with my list, having a little “coping” plan tucked away for a rainy day can be extremely beneficial.  There aren’t a lot of perks to having had cancer.  But knowing how you want to cope with health crises in the future is one.

For a “scan”xiety worry wart like me, it might be even more valuable than a fibroadenoma-free titty. 

-*-

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Categories
mindfulness Silly

Forced

I told myself I would force myself to write something today. The problem is I have nothing to ‘say’ but I have, like, 3 billion things to SAY.

Like, for SAYING’s sake, I thought I had a blackhead on my upper lip because I felt something stinging it, and in retrospect it was probably just a cut or irritation, but once I decided it was a blackhead I just sat there and squeezed and picked and poked and stabbed at it and finally it became a giant wound that’s scabbed over and definitely looks like a giant herpe.

Which I guess…I GUESS…if I needed something to ‘say’…I could tie the previously described scenario into a great big beautiful metaphor about idle minds. Idle minds make trouble where there is none? Something like that?

Oh, oh, and Arnold Rothstein told Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire that man’s greatest flaw is his inability to just sit quietly in a chair. Something like that. It blew my mind, because I’ve been very zen and contemplative lately because what the hell else do I have to do?

But like…do you get it? Like, why can’t we just sit still and shut up? Like birds and dogs and shit sit there for so long doing nothing and they seem way happier than us.

And like, a cactus? A cactus is alive, don’t forget!

I lost the point.

The point is, don’t pick at your skin because you are bored or you will give yourself a giant herpe-lookin’ thing. Don’t go looking for trouble where this is none.

Oh my, god f***ing BRILLIANT, Jesse, you SAID something AND you ‘said’ something.

TUNE IN FOR MORE ENTHRALLING HIJINX FROM THE RANKS OF THE UNEMPLOYED!

@itsmy_pardee

Categories
mindfulness

NEEDLES

It seems to me we spend our entire childhoods wondering who we will be.

Will we be beautiful, tall, successful, happy, rich, married, etc, etc.

We ask these questions and say we want to be a This or we want to be a That. We play MASH and determine we will live in a mansion with Aaron Carter and drive a blue punch-buggy.

We work hard to get good grades, good SAT scores, good everything so we will get in to a good college and be good and do everything good, so that when college is done, our lives will be good.

It seems to me that once we grow up—once we get the degree, get the things, find the cow as white as milk, the slipper as pure as gold—once we get our wish, or alas, we do not get our wish…there is a strange reversal.

We start wondering, and this time it’s more of an investigation because this time there are solid clues—real evidence. We start wondering who we were.

What were we thinking?

Why did we do that?

Why did we want that?

*

I have spent quarantine-time up at my childhood town in Upstate New York.

It has been both lovely and strange.

I have nothing but time…time to go through old boxes in my bedroom, time to go through plastic, dust-covered bins full of photographs in the basement. My boyfriend, who also lives in town, (and who I conveniently met three and a half weeks before quarantine began), has now sat through many dinners with my family and heard countless stories about me and my sister growing up:

“Jesse used to run upstairs and lock herself in her bedroom when we tried to sing happy birthday to her.”

“Jackie refused to face the audience during her 4th grade chorus concert.”

“Jesse touched the burner on the stove to see if it was hot the first time she made a grilled cheese.”

We all laugh.

But now with all this free time, I really, truly think about these things. I wonder why I couldn’t stand the attention of a “Happy Birthday” chorus. In a shyness all her own, why Jackie could not stand the audience watching her sing in a chorus concert.

I search my face in piles of old photographs for a sign of what I was thinking on that day in history. Was this the phase where I worried constantly about my pimples, or was I struggling with math…why did I love that T-shirt? Why that haircut?

Looking at a few, I wonder had you even met a black person yet? Had you had a black classmate? A black schoolteacher? When did you first know it was better to have your skin?

*

On HBO, Lorraine Bracco leads Tony Soprano, the famous, fictional mob boss, through therapy. Uncle June used to tease him about not making varsity, and why was his mother so cold and volatile and how has it impacted him? Why is he broken today because of who he was yesterday?

How will he ever stop fainting at the sight of sliced meat after watching his father cut off Mr. Satriale’s pinky?

*

I sit at a table with my mother and three of my aunts, listening to them talk about their parents (my grandparents). What they used to say to them. How it made them feel. What they said to “you and not me”, “he was that way with me and X”, “she’d say that to me, too”, “he never was that way with Y”.

“I remember a moment on my first trip home from college—” says Mom, “X, do you know what I’m going to say?”

X remembers, and she remembers how she sat on the front stairs waiting for her in the freezing cold and how later on Papa wouldn’t sit with her at the table. How that made her feel.

How that made Mom feel.

These women—these strong, influential women of my life—remember these tiny needles from their past, and they work through their memories and words to figure out how these needles lay in the giant haystacks that have become their lives.

It makes me all the more curious about my own needles, and I think I must have a lot of needles.

Nearly four months outside of my New York City life, I have enough space to speculate on my world there—my behaviors and habits, wants and needs, triumphs and failures. I can see the whole haystack that was my life there.

And here upstate, I have nothing but time to sift through it.

*

We became someone. We became adults. But who even were we back then?

Categories
mindfulness

Birds of the Moment

Daddy Cardinal

When my parents retired, I teased them for turning into bird-watching old people. It seemed like as soon as they had extra time, all they wanted to fill it with was commenting on birds in the yard, setting up birdbaths and bird feeders, and looking up any birds they thought were remarkable.

My dad even liked to break-up bird fights.

When the weather finally changed this spring, and we could finally spend time outside-but-quarantined…I found myself falling Alice-first into the rabbit hole that is birds, and I thought ‘maybe there’s something to this…maybe the reason it happens to retirees is because they’ve finally stopped working long enough to smell the flowers. Taste the spring. Listen to the birds.

Mama Cardinal

Feel the moment.’

Being on unemployment during this pandemic is a lot like being a retiree I suppose—I feel so much more attached to the moment because I have no choice but to notice the moment.

The only difference besides my age is that the promise of a return to the “real world” looms on high. And it is frightening.

There is a cardinal nest in the bush outside my window. The babies are a little less than a week old. Each day I check on them, check on their progress and wonder which will come first:

My departure from the nest, or theirs?

@itsmy_pardee