Thursday, June 28, 2012

Support Is as Support Does

It's been awhile since my last post; not for lack of ideas or things to say, but more uncertainty about what to say and how to say it.  I had so many ideas of things to write about for Father's Day but the day came and went and I remained post-less.  It was my 31st birthday this week and I was thinking about all of my blessings - but it's hard to celebrate when your mind is elsewhere.  Don't get me wrong; I had an amazing birthday.   I had my big birthday celebration a few weeks ago.  My actual day started with a great walk with my little man on a beautiful morning.  Nana showed up and we ran a few errands with Evan.  Then Nana and Evan went out while I attended to some conference calls.  I got a pedicure with my mom and sister and then dinner at my favorite restaurant - THE MELTING POT!  (I love this place; no one else really does, so I have to make sure we make an annual birthday trip there).  Perfect day, perfect way to celebrate 31!

But my mind has been elsewhere.  When you are in treatment for cancer, or a cancer survivor, you become part of a club.  You share stories and empathize over doctors and work extra hard to provide smiles by sending cards, gift baskets and little things to bring cheer.  Last December, was the first time I made a real "cancer" connection.  My friend "Barb" (not her real name, but I didn't ask her if I could share what a superstar she is) was a breast-cancer survivor and approaching her five year mark.  Barb gave me advice on what to do with my hair, ideas for conquering pain, and insurance company grievances.  Brian and I felt a kinship with Barb and her husband.  Not only were we amazed at Barb's strength, but she was beautiful, had younger children, worked full-time and was so relatable.  Brian and I started talking about Barb a lot; if Barb could get through this journey, we could get through this journey.

So, imagine my devastation when I learned that Barb was experiencing extreme pain and something didn't seem right.  Barb had to undergo many tests and a lot of waiting time to find out the results.  Although Barb did EVERYTHING right when she was diagnosed five years ago, it didn't work.  Barb's cancer is back, infiltrating her chest wall.  The cancer is pressing on her lymph tract so she is suffering from severe pain in her arm and back.  When I found out the news, I called Brian right away and cried.  I love Barb; she is my role model and inspiration.  I don't want Barb to suffer and I hate to think of what her family is going through.  This shouldn't be happening to her and she shouldn't have to  worry about cancer again.  When I talked to Barb she said, "I will be ok".  She was reassuring me!  I am sending all of my love and prayer to Barb and her amazing husband and ask that you do the same.  She deserves a happy ending and victory over this once more.

I had another special family member touch my heart last year; a cousin of my dad's, "Peg" suffered from sinus cancer.  Peg and I didn't know each other intimately, but she sent me cards every week when I was diagnosed.  Peg would call my Dad and ask about how I was doing, all while she was going through her own battle.  It was Peg's sincerity and generosity that amazed me most.  In some of the cards she sent me she would say, "You are so strong", all the while she was going through her own intense battle.  Peg's cancer metastasized from her sinuses to her lungs.  It quickly spread to her spine.  I was shocked to find out that Peg's fight came to an abrupt and unfair end a week ago.  Once it had spread to her lungs, a doctor told her it was time to get her affairs in order.  I am horrified that it can happen so quickly.  And how on earth was Peg sending cards of support to me, when I should have been doing the same to her.

I don't know if it is happening more often or I am more aware, but even Robin Robert's announcement of her blood disorder sent my mind on a spiral.  Is she going to be ok?  I admired her fight from afar, always carrying herself publicly with such poise and grace.  Now, with the rest of her loyal morning audience, I wait, and root, for a clean bill of health.

I suppose it's only natural to run into these situations more since I am connecting with people going through the same thing I am.  On my great days, I think that I am strong and young and will take charge of my health.  On my sad days, I think that I have bad luck, with Stage 3 cancer and am just waiting for  it to come back.  It's coming back to my friends...why not me?  This line of thinking isn't good for anyone; especially the people that need me to be strong for them.

My mom gave me some great advice: this is my time to be there for others the way they were there for me.  It's my turn to send the cards, make the phone calls, surprise with flowers.  I am going to try to push my fears aside, and even cast them away, so I can be the amazing support that I once had.  It also helps to know that every night in my prayers, I say a special prayer for Barb, Peg and Robin.  All strong, amazing women that are giving, and gave, everything to their fight.

Monday, June 4, 2012

An Army of Love

There comes a time in every life when we are called to a role we didn't anticipate: caretaker, support system, guidance counselor, guardian, etc.  Although it may not be easy and our tasks are not immediately understood, most of the time, human nature compels us to act swiftly and with courage.  This is what I have come to call my "Army of Love".  Most of my friends and family didn't realize they would be called up to serve, but when my diagnosis of cancer was announced, most rose to the challenge.

Certainly, it can be expected that during times of hardship, you can lean on friends and family.  These are the people we count on for phone calls, mind distractions and hugs. But the needs of the army are unique and demanding.  My Army has to be strong when I am weak; they need to be positive when I am negative; they need to be encouraging when I am discouraged; and they need to tell me to keep going when I feel like throwing in the towel.

The past fourteen months have been the most challenging of my life.  I wish I could say I faced every obstacle with grace instead of fighting a few of them along the way.  My husband has done his fair share of negotiating with me, when truly, living my best healthy life should be enough of a bargaining tool.  My family has given up a lot of weekends, vacation days and personal time to take care of me.  They've had to change bandages, run out for last minute prescriptions, pick and drop kids off, make many meals and spent countless sleepless nights with Evan...and at times, with me.

Most close friends have listened to me tirelessly talk about my hair.  They have heard me express paranoia about my port and discomfort with my expanders.  My Army has watched me grieve and try to accept not having any more kids.  There have been endless amounts of wine, gifts, notes, cards and flowers that my Army has sent to brighten up my day and make me remember I am not alone.

But the toughest thing about being an Army member?  Their struggles and challenges don't stop just because mine seem big.  And that is what hurts my heart.  Sometimes my Army feels like they can't talk to me because I've had a tough day.  But, I'm part of the same army and I know there is no person left behind.  While my year has been full of challenges, some of my Army members have suffered losses of loved ones, miscarriages, infertility, break-ups, divorces, job loss, financial hardship, physical ailments and other various forms of devastation.  My challenges aren't bigger or better than anyone else's.  They don't trump others pain.

Imagine my surprise when my Army showed up in force this past weekend.  I was amazed and utterly delighted to find my family and friends piled in my living room on Saturday night to celebrate my 31st birthday.  I spent my 30th birthday in the chemo chair for 7 hours - most of it pouting - and feeling badly that I was in the chemo chair.  So my Army made it up this year, three weeks before my birthday.  It was a celebration of fighting and work and making it through another year.  I don't live very close to my family and friends; many of them drove over two hours to celebrate and then drive back home.  But I was honored that they put their lives aside to come support me, once again.

I am surrounded by an Army of Love.  I know that in my darkest days, I can reach out and find someone to talk to. My Army has surrounded me, lifted me up and walked by me when I've needed them the most. And I'm ready to be a part of everyone else's Army.  I have experienced these circumstances so I can help be there for others.  I know how to listen and grieve and support.  But as I saw the smiling faces standing before me this weekend, I realized that when I stumble, and I know I will, there is a lot of love and faith to help lift me up.