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How To Believe

nugget daddy and her grandmamie brought nugget to my hospital room to get ready for  trick-or-treating.  she was, of course, beyond adorable in her tinker bell dress and wings, sparkly green tinker bell shoes, tinker bell wand, and ballet pink tights.  i pulled her tiny tresses up into the best tink-like puff i could manage, fluffed it up with plenty of hairspray and added a clip with tiny white flowers.  she politely shrieked, “dada! dada!” and beamed with pride as she was showered in nugget daddy’s hair product. what, you didn’t think it was mine, did you?

then we selected where she wanted her green star stamps placed and where best the pink star stamps were suited for.  earlier, i ‘d done a sample patch of each color on each of my cheeks so she could see how they both looked.

then we applied a very liberal dusting of pixie dust.  i should have gotten her some “pixie dust” glitter of her own to keep in her “berry bucket” for dousing unsuspecting passers-by.  ah well, there’s always next year!

tinklet

we made a few rounds though the halls to the different nurses’ stations.  nugget was heartbreakingly cute and insisted on holding my hand, always unsure of how to navigate around all the wires attached to her mama.  i told her it was almost time to go to the mall for more trick-or-treating and that her grandmamie would be getting her the tinker bell movie while they were there.

we said our goodbyes and i swear, i just couldn’t get enough hugs or kisses from my sweet baby girl.  i watched as they made their way down the hall, all the while nugget was cheerfully waving goodbye, happy as a clam, all pixied-up and ready for more candy collecting.

goodbye, mama

i stepped back into my room just as the tears started rolling down my face.  i tried to sob silently for my own selfish sadness.

i hoped she was having the time of her life, holding out her fat little felt flower bag – surely that’s what fairies collect halloween candy in – and squealing with delight with the acquisition of each new piece of candy.  she had oh-so-politely signed “thank you” for each treat she’d collected from the nurses and i hoped that trend was continuing at the mall.  i’m so very proud of my little tinklet.

i hope i can get out of here  this weekend in time for the good post-pumpkin day costume sales at the disney store and old navy.  otherwise, i might have to send someone armed with a fully charged cell phone and a whole lot of patience on my behalf!

Shark Attack

Have you ever been swimming in the ocean and wondered what was lurking underneath you…eying your body…sizing you up to see if you would make a tasty meal? That’s what I call the breast cancershark attack syndrome.”

I liken the physical and psychological impact of a double mastectomy to a shark attack. It happens quickly and violently. In a matter of minutes you are struck hard and parts of your body are carried away into a vast ocean by a predator much bigger than you. It isn’t personal. The attack is random. You are left alive but amputated–stunned and with a life long fear of the water.

People who know about my diagnosis gawked at my chest like an accident scene on the freeway. Family, friends…they can’t help themselves from looking. I chose not to have reconstruction due to the lengthy recovery…an infant and a toddler don’t lend themselves to extensive plastic surgery. My daughter was 8 months old and my son was 3 years when I had the surgery, not exactly the age where I could be out of commission.

I don’t wear the prosthetics I bought…they constantly remind me I am amputated, and the first time I took yoga one of them fell out! My beloved yoga teacher said, “Just take them out, honey.” I never looked back.

Rough Waters

The journey through a breast cancer diagnosis with two small children was so very hard. I searched for the words to tell my son…

”The Doctor found a lump in mommy’s breast that isn’t good for her body and he has to take it out.”

Thanks to my son’s school and my amazing husband, we got him through it…but he STILL talks about it and recently asked, “Mommy, why don’t you have boobies?” At that point I realized my beautiful daughter would grow up never knowing her mother’s body to look “normal.” She only knows the scars. That is the day my heart broke forever.  As if depression didn’t make me feel inadequate enough, now I felt like a carnie act. Come on down and meet the lady who was attacked by sharks!

I will never truly recover from knowing what I look like and what I represent to my children. But I am here to be their mom and truly thankful. Thank god I had it checked. The mammogram showed no abnormalities! If I had just had the mammogram I would have faced a diagnosis of invasive cancer and perhaps required chemotherapy or radiation. As of now, they tell me I am “cured.”

And I found it myself.

Not a minute in the day goes by that I don’t worry that it will return and take me from my children. Every woman who has had breast cancer knows exactly what I’m talking about. Every cold, every headache, every stiff muscle, still scares me into thinking I am still out there in that ocean—defenseless to another shark attack. What part of my body will  they take next time?

I saw my mother lose her breast early in life. The same month I was diagnosed, she was diagnosed with Stage IV colo-rectal cancer. I watched the sharks circle her for six years, taking feet of colon, and eventually her life.

But it isn’t a pity party. I am glad I got cancer. It was a hell of a lot easier to deal with than postpartum depression, than life-long depression, than the cancer that is depression. And it got me immediately in touch with impermanence, and subsequently, my spiritual practice.

If I were thrown back into the dark ocean again and a recurrence reared it’s ugly head, I have my faith to thank for curing me of my fear of sharks.

Loss and Faith

Have you ever lost something that you held dear?

Maybe a favorite piece of jewelry? Time? A friend?

My mother-in-law lost her battle with cancer just a few weeks short of my second wedding anniversary. She was an amazing woman. And I’m not just saying that. Everybody adored her. When you think of the ideal mom, that was her. She had a ton of friends that sang her praises. She volunteered with the American Cancer Society to drive elderly people that couldn’t drive to medical appointments and to run errands. She would do anything for anybody. Thoughtful, warm, beautiful smile.

Clearly, she was not a likely candidate for cancer!

Clearly God wouldn’t tear an angel from our hearts!

But we were wrong. Less than a year before her death, she was diagnosed with cancer.

Religion doesn’t play a huge role in my life. It is important to me, and I pray and thank God every night for our blessings. My mom’s best friend, a practicing Christian and strong believer, once told me, “God doesn’t care where you worship him as long as you worship him.”

So I prayed. I prayed that she would get better. I prayed that chemotherapy and radiation would work. I prayed the homeopathic treatments that she tried would work. I prayed for a miracle. I tried to bargain with God. If he let her live, I would never do X, Y, or Z again. If he let her live, I’d be a better person.

A few months before she passed, it was clear she wasn’t getting better. And that’s when I started to get mad. Why would God take someone so loved by so many? Someone that had not even met her son’s children yet? But I continued to pray.

Up until the night we got the call that she had passed away. We had been over to see her earlier that day, and knew that she was getting worse. We knew what was coming. We got to say that we loved her, and spoke to her privately. When we got the call that she was gone, I was shocked that she had actually died. I expected my miracle.

And I was pissed. Pissed off at God. All those prayers? They meant nothing. Why would he take someone that was so loved by so many people? There are thousands of murderers, rapists, and child molesters that deserve death – why not take one of them?

WHY, WHY, WHY?

The prayers stopped. I ignored him when I heard him trying to “talk” to me. Religion? Obviously a joke. Why believe in HIM if he can’t even help when you asked for it. There was no lesson to be learned. No epiphany to wait for. There was just sorrow and grief.

IT WAS NOT FAIR.

Does time really heal all wounds? I think it does. Because ever so slowly, over that first year after her death, I started to listen to him again. And I started to pray…occasionally. And when I invited him back into my life because I missed him, he gladly accepted me with open arms.

I still haven’t figured out the “why,” and I still don’t know what I was supposed to learn from her death.

Maybe I never will.

But I am glad I found my faith again.

Like The Deserts Miss The Rain

oh, how i miss the simplicity of our nursing days.  life without breastfeeding is hard, and cancer certainly isn’t making it any easier.  crying was limited to brief moments following boo-boos and over-tired minutes post car seat strap-ins.  it was never part of naptime or bedtime.

a balanced diet was effortless.

i never knew the struggle of naptime.  now i have to walk and rock nugget in my arms or in a peanut shell while she chews on a pacifier, maybe holds her blanket and always twiddles at least one nipple.  at night we lather, rinse, repeat or if i’m really lucky we just lay down and she holds on to each boob, binky clenched between her teeth and drifts off, dreaming of nursing i imagine.

i never knew a picky toddler.

whenever nugget was hungry or thirsty the milk bar was always open.  trying new and different foods was fun instead of stressful.  nugget’s tummy was never upset.  her favorite snack was always handy.  we never had to pack a meal to go out.

i did at least have a few weeks and the foresight to work in the concept of “kisses make boo boos all better.”  nugget still kisses my port and scars everyday.  recently she’s added my breasts to her fix-it list and kisses and hugs them all day long.

she’s trying her best to make mommy all better with her kisses, because she knows that’s when she can have her nursies back.

The Glamorous Life

i’m almost bald. i only shower every few days. as soon as the nausea ends the muscle pain starts. then comes the bone pain. after that subsides then it’s time to start all over again. i give nugget everything i have regardless of the overwhelming exhaustion.

this is the reality in our home. this is what my cancer looks like. this is how my daughter copes with my illness.

Don’t Tell Me

don’t tell me i don’t have cancer anymore or that i “just have chemo now.”

don’t tell me to go outside and get some fresh air when i can’t be in the sun.

don’t tell me that taking a shower will make me feel better when my skin hurts too much to touch.

don’t tell me that i have the “good kind of cancer” unless you’ve had it and know how “good” it is.

don’t tell me how nicely shaped my bald head is.

don’t tell me how tired you are.

don’t tell me you’ll be there for me and then not follow through.

don’t tell me your medical opinion unless you’re my oncologist.

don’t tell me how to be me, because you aren’t.