My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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When Your Mind Goes “There”

thinking-about-death-1943

Frida Kahlo’s “Thinking About Death”

One of my earliest memories is when I was about two years old.  I was having an asthma attack.  I was always having asthma attacks.  It must have been pretty bad because I remember being wrapped up in my blanket by my mom and being rushed into the car.  I remember the urgency.  I don’t remember being in pain or discomfort.  I don’t even remember my parents.  But I remember the tension and fear around me.

For much of my early childhood I was sick because my allergies were so bad, it would cause bronchitis.  I was always missing school.  One Halloween, I sat at my doorstep in my Strawberry Shortcake costume as other children rang our doorbell to get candy.  My hay fever was so bad I couldn’t go outside and trick or treat.  I also remember going on a trip to High Rock, a nature preserve near where I lived in the spring.  By the time I got back to school, my eyes were swollen shut and I was wheezing.  This is how I spent my childhood.  I was sensitive.  Delicate.  I believed that even the smallest thing could set off an explosion of discomfort and pain in my body.  I lived cautiously.

Eventually, I outgrew the severity of my allergies, although I still suffer from them today.  You would think, after all the sickness I experienced, I might be a bit of a hypochondriac.  But I’m not.  I’ve never been one of those people who got a headache and thought it was a brain tumor.  While my imagination can get the best of me in other circumstances, when it comes to sickness, I’m pretty logical.  If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

Then I got breast cancer.  And while I won’t say that my experience of sickness has drastically changed, my mind will go to dark places.  Now, when I get a headache, logically I know that it is just a headache and I need to hydrate and take two Tylenol, but a little voice inside my head whispers to me, “It has spread to your brain.”  And I know it hasn’t.  But tell that to the little voice.

In my last post, I talked about how the plague had hit our home and we all came down with a stomach virus.  While stomach viruses are generally awful, this was particularly hideous because I was only weeks post my DIEP Flap and the stress that was put on my abdominal area from vomiting was intense.  That night, I was so uncomfortable that I didn’t sleep.  If I did sleep, it was only for 15 minutes and then I would wake up and not be able to fall asleep again.

There’s something about being sick in the bowels of the dark night that makes your brain do weird things.  You see, I knew that it was a stomach virus.  My son had it just days before.  It couldn’t be anything else.  But I started to convince myself that it was more.  That maybe the cancer had spread to my stomach and I was dying.  I knew it wasn’t true.  But maybe it could be.  I started to convince myself that I was dying.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this next part.  It’s macabre.  It’s dark.  But I like to think that I’m not the only one who has done this so, I’m looking for camaraderie here.

I started to plan my funeral.

I’ve never really thought about what kind of funeral I would want if I died.  But I was up the whole night and it’s all I thought about.  While I practice Atheism religiously, I grew up reformed Jewish.  Most of the funerals I have attended have been solemn events with tears and silence.  I’ve heard about other traditions and cultures where the recently deceased is celebrated and there’s a party.  Neither of these sounded right.

Well, let me amend that statement a little bit.  If, when I go, you want to cry for my loss, I won’t say no.  I’m a theatre person and I like a little drama.  So a well timed wail would be okay with me.  But that’s not what I envisioned for my funeral.  As a theatre person, one of my favorite things to do with the groups I work with is share stories.  So, this is what I was thinking.

After a speech by a non-denominational person (I don’t know what you’d call him/her), a video will be played.  It will be of me.  “Well, I guess if you are playing this, that means I’m dead.”  I’d go on about how much I loved everyone and wish things could be different.  But then, in true applied theatre form, I’d instruct everyone in the room to turn to someone next to them or find someone they don’t know.  I’d ask them to share a story.  Maybe a story about how we met, about a time I made them laugh, a time I made them angry, a time I surprised them, or any memory that came to mind.  I’d have them share the story.  Then, if someone wanted to share it in front of  the whole group, they could.  And then, when everyone finished what they had to say, I’d play a photo montage of all the people I have met in my short life, thanking them for being my friend, my colleague, my family.  As the pictures passed, I’d choose appropriate music (from musicals, of course, like “For Good” from Wicked) to accompany the photos.  And then, we’d say our goodbyes.

The next day, after my stomach virus had run its course, I knew I was going to live.  I felt a little silly about where my mind had gone the night before.  But it’s not the first time since my cancer diagnosis that I have wondered if my little aches and pains could be something more.  I’ve been to that dark place more than once.  My mind has gone “there.”

 

Have you had more dark thoughts since your cancer diagnosis?

Do you get scared when you have little aches and pains?  Are you more of a hypochondriac now?

 

 

 

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In Memoriam

Maya_Quote_4801Last night, I broke our nighttime ritual which can be dangerous with a toddler.  We usually have a bath, read books, sing a song and then go to bed.  But last night he asked if we could watch one of his favorite cartoons, Feast, before bed.  Normally that would be out of the question but I didn’t have it in me to say no.  So, we walked over to the couch, snuggled together and watched and laughed at all the parts we always laugh at.

Yesterday I found out that someone I met just one time at a party died three weeks ago.  We met at my neighbor’s son’s birthday party.  We both had cancer.  We saw each other from across the room, me with my head wrapped in a scarf, her with a simple hat on her head.  We knew instantly.  She was there with her husband and her two and a half year old son.  Her name was Christina.

We sat down and discussed what kind of cancer we had, where we were being treated, how we were handling chemo.  It was the first time I have ever felt guilty for not being sicker.  She had stage 4 gastric cancer.  She was dying.  The chemo was keeping her alive and she knew that when her body could no longer take the effects of treatment, the cancer would progress and she would die.  She thought about a year.  We were both in the middle of chemotherapy but she looked sicker to me, more tired and weaker.  It broke my heart.

Christina lit up the room that day.  She smiled and took pictures of everyone’s children on her phone, documenting every moment.  She laughed, told stories and mingled.  Christina loved her son.  She didn’t talk about it much but you could see it in her eyes when she looked at him.  He meant everything to her and she was fighting for every minute to be with him.

I often thought about Christina after we met, wondering if I should contact her, try to befriend her.  It never felt right.  I didn’t want to intrude on her time.  I felt that reaching out would be more about me.  About doing “the right thing.”

Then there is the other side of the coin.  I didn’t want to get too close to someone I knew that I was going to lose, who would make me face my mortality every time we spoke or met.

I don’t know which one is more selfish.  I don’t know which one is more selfless.  Is there ever a right answer when it comes to cancer?  Is there ever a right answer when it comes to loss?

My worst nightmare since being diagnosed with cancer has not been the treatment, the alteration of my body or missing out on life.  It has been the possibility of leaving Oliver without a mother.  What it must be like to lose a mother at such a young age, I can’t even fathom.

Alone at night, when I couldn’t sleep, I would imagine that, if I died, that he’d call out for me, look for me in rooms, wonder why I had abandoned him.  Wonder if I loved him and what he had done to deserve my leaving him.  Because children don’t always understand, not when they are so young.

Christina and her family lived and are living that nightmare.  Cancer has taken her away and that’s not ok.

I will honor Christina’s memory by giving Oliver extra kisses, snuggling for just one second more, putting my phone down more often, taking deeper breaths when he is acting out, rubbing my nose and cheeks in his curls every day and being grateful that I get to see him grow up, experience his daily changes.  I will never, ever take that for granted.

I was at a store recently and I met a woman who is a 6 year survivor of breast cancer.  She said to me that she is better because of cancer.  Today, the world is worse off because of it.  How can cancer be good when it brings pain, breaks up families, leaves children without their mommies?  This point of view, I will never understand.  Especially today.

Christina, I will never forget you.