My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


8 Comments

In Memoriam: Jessica

Jessica Wilt, taken from her Facebook page.

Jessica Wilt, taken from her Facebook page.

Some people say that cancer is a gift.  I’ve never seen it that way.  I’ve seen it mostly as a curse.  But there are some gifts that have happened in my life because of cancer.  One of those gifts was, Jessica Wilt.

Jessica and I both work in arts education but we met through cancer.  She was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, Ewings Sarcoma right at the time I discovered the lump in my breast.  Some of her friends had started a Crowdrise campaign to help Jessica with the costs of treatment and shared it on Facebook.  I know this sounds silly but I donated to her partially because I wanted to put out good karma into the universe.  Maybe if I did something nice for someone with cancer, that lump in my breast would turn out to be nothing.  It’s funny how the mind works to protect itself from the inevitable.

On August 1st, 2014, the day I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer, Jessica sent me a message thanking me for the donation.  I wrote back that I had just found out about my own cancer and asked if we could be friends and support each other through treatment.  That was the beginning of our friendship.

Jessica’s cancer was very different from mine and she was diagnosed just a month before me but I saw her as knowledgeable and experienced in the world of cancer.  I looked to her for guidance and example.  The first thing I noticed about Jessica was her ability to smile through the challenges and the pain.  The first picture I ever saw of her was in a hospital bed, smiling with her thumb up.  That thumb up would become her signature gesture that let cancer know it had a fight on it’s hands.  It was her warrior pose.

I think if it wasn’t for Jessica showing me, the world and cancer that you could fight with a sense of humor, with a smile and a thumbs up, my cancer experience would have been much different.  For example, when she was losing her hair due to chemo, she shared a video of it being shaved off.  It was because of her that I decided to turn the shaving of my own head into a ritual and share that very vulnerable moment on my blog for everyone to see.  When she got scan results that showed growth of her tumor, she would give that famous thumbs up and proclaim that she was not going to stop fighting.  When I was having a bad day due to treatment, I would remember this and find joy in my day.  I’m not sure I could have done this without her example.

One week ago, Jessica posted in her Facebook page that her tumor had spread to her spine and other parts of her body.  She had been in pain for quite some time and the scans finally showed why.  Her oncologists declared that her cancer was now terminal.  While this news was devastating, she was still giving that thumbs up and writing “I AM NOT GIVING UP HOPE.”  She never gave up hope.

Jessica died last night in the hospital surrounded by her family.   She endured cancer for 18 months with grace and courage.

I don’t know what a world without Jessica will be like.  But I know that it is a little bit smaller…tighter…strangely claustrophobic.  Or maybe the world is bigger, emptier with a space that can never be filled.  I’m not sure which.  Maybe it’s both.

Jessica was a dancer and believed in the power of the arts to be a movement for change.  She loved NYC and dreamed of coming back and reclaiming her life here.  She loved her family and friends fiercely.  Her community was everything to her.

Jessica, I will miss you so much.  I will miss our late night Facebook chats about cancer and life.  I will miss knowing that I had someone out there who gets it.  All of it.  I regret that I only met you in person once and that our friendship couldn’t have lasted longer.  Your spirit will always be a part of me.

Today, I had a hard day of scans.  It was awful, especially after learning you were gone.  But that’s ok.  I laid there and gave the machine a thumbs up.  And all will be well.

IMG_1360

That time we met in Washington Heights after we both finished our final chemo infusions. We ate, drank wine and thought about the future.

All that I know is I’m breathing.

All I can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing

Now.

-Ingrid Michaelson

Advertisements


9 Comments

Head Bowed, Heart Heavy

“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. ” -Lupita Nyong’o in her Oscar speech

There are some days when something happens that snaps you back to reality.  A chance meeting with someone that lets you know how good you have it.  A story in the newspaper that reminds you that you are loved and have others to go home to tightly hold.  On Thursday I had one of those days.  Boy, did I have one of those days.

If you haven’t noticed from my posts in the last few months, I have been in a survivorship slump.  People often think that when treatment is over, life goes back to normal but I have been dealing with anxiety and depression due to what I have experienced over the last year and also from the side effects that I have.

I was in the waiting room this past Thursday morning to see my therapist.  While I was waiting, I needed to use the restroom.  Both were occupied but quickly one of the doors unlocked and I noticed something was banging against it.  My therapist is in the ambulatory care hospital so it’s common to see people with canes, walkers, wheelchairs and in stretchers.  I went over to the door and offered my help.  The man accepted.  He was in a wheelchair and thanked me for opening the door.  “It is so hard.  It is so hard,” he said to me.  “It looks like it’s really hard.  I can’t believe they don’t have a button for people in wheelchairs to press that automatically opens the door!  It’s ridiculous!”  He agreed and began to tell me his story.  He is a stroke victim and this has caused him to lose a good deal of his mobility on his left side.  Then after his stroke he got hit by a car and lost his right arm.  The only extremity that works as it should is his right leg.

We talked for a good ten minutes.  He really needed for someone to hear his story.  I was humbled that he trusted a stranger like me with his life’s tragedies.  “If I want to wear jeans, I have to leave an extra hour to get ready because I can’t zip and button the pants.”  “I don’t have a home care attendant anymore.  No one comes to help and take care of me.”  “I’m working hard.  I can’t do much but God has spared me.  But I try.  Do you want to see me walk?”  And up he stood, walking carefully close to the wall to brace himself.

I don’t know how in the face of such challenges he can remain so positive.  My challenges in comparison are small, they are real but small, and it has plunged me into depression.  I live every day in fear of my future.  And uncertain of it.  But his eyes were bright and hopeful.  He was going to walk again and be free of that chair.  That he promised me.

Right after that I took my seat in the waiting room again.  I opened facebook to pass the time until my therapist came out.  And just as she did and said hello, I saw some terrible news.  A cousin of mine, who I don’t really know but who I recently connected with on facebook died in a car crash.  He married his beautiful wife just three days before.  They were on their honeymoon and for some reason he swerved his SUV out of his lane and hit a bus.  I found this news to be devastating.  Again, I barely knew him but it’s funny how social media makes you feel closer to someone than you actually are.  I watched in photographs as he made a beautiful box for his then girlfriend in which to put the ring that he proposed to her with, and as he excitedly prepared for his wedding, their beautiful wedding day and pictures from their honeymoon that were posted in real time.

You know when you see something or read something and it’s so shocking that it makes no sense?  This was one of those things.  And upon understanding and clarity there is fear, sadness and that feeling in your gut and hands that make you sick with confusion of life’s uncertainties.

Not long after this, there was the shooting on a college campus in Oregon where a shooter entered a classroom and killed ten people.  Another national tragedy at the hands of a person with a gun.  Ten families were changed forever.  Ten families were whole just a few hours before and now they aren’t.

I just wanted to go home and crawl under my bed and hide from this day.  At the same time I just wanted to hold my family tight and be grateful for their lives and my own.

Why does it take tragedies like this to be reminded that we have so many good things in our life?  Even though we struggle, there is so much to be grateful for.  I hate that it has to happen this way.  That my joy and my gratitude are because of the pain and suffering of others.  But grateful I am.


5 Comments

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.