I get so tired of New Age Gurus and other “Experts” telling me I have to focus on the present. My memories are a great source of joy; they also contain the lessons I’ve learned that make me who I am today. The future is my goal, it’s why I endure today.
Because, let’s face it: sometimes NOW sucks. Sometimes it’s downright unbearable.
If I focused only on the present, I wouldn’t endure the hives that come with exercise. If now was all that mattered, I’d eat chocolate all day. I wouldn’t be taking classes required for graduation in subjects that don’t interest me. I wouldn’t have the goal of graduating. I’d never take the potential hangover into consideration when opening, or finishing, a bottle of wine. I’d spend my rent money on airfare to Hawaii, or France, or Greece.
If I lived only for the moment, I wouldn’t have gone through chemotherapy.
If I lived my life in the now, I likely wouldn’t have a family. My marriage started with the idea of the two of us spending the rest of our lives together. You have to look ahead to make those kinds of dreams. I would also be repeating the same mistakes over and over, because learning from those mistakes requires looking back.
I realize that there may be a time at the end of life when now is all I have. I’ll take that when I get there. Until then, I will continue to enjoy my memories, and reach for my goals.
I’m not opposed to embracing the moment. I’ve written about how my daughter gave me the gift of now. It’s important to live in the present, but it has it’s time and place. We need a balance. Each moment of our lives must be informed by our past, and driven by our dreams and goals for the future. Otherwise we’re just stagnant hedonists, and that’s just pathetic.
Today is the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. This is actually a big day for me. It’s the anniversary of the day my life was turned inside out, and it has put me on a wild emotional roller coaster ride. Thinking about this cancerversary has eaten up all my energy and focus lately – right in the middle of midterms for my school and due dates for my other writing projects, as well as finals for daddy’s school, and his preparation for teaching classes next quarter, and all the other urgencies and emergencies we tackle day after day. Here we are less than two weeks away from your second birthday, and I’m just now getting around to writing this letter for your 23rd month. I haven’t even started planning your birthday party.
Don’t go thinking you are being neglected. You are by far the best part of my day – the one I will drop everything for, no matter what.
But it’s important to know that there are times when life is like this. There are times when everything seems to be coming at you from all different directions, right while you’re dealing with an emotionally heavy load, and you just can’t seem to get anything done. Forget everything, it’s hard to accomplish even one thing. It’s hard to focus; when you react to one urgency, 3 more show up right away from other arenas. You bounce from crisis to crisis, putting out fires without ever touching those all important items on your to do list…
Yup, everybody has days like that. It’s part of the human condition.
That is the most important thing to know about this situation. That when you are overwhelmed like this, you are not alone. Everyone else has been there, they know what it feels like. The details may differ, but the everything-all-at-once-ness of it is universal.
Lately, you’ve taken to holding your little hand up, palm out, and telling me to “Stop” when things aren’t going quite the way you think they should. I’m not quite sure where you got that from, it’s not something that I do, but that idea might be right where you need to start in order to get through a situation like this. Well, without the hand gesture. Most grownups don’t respond very well to that particular gesture. But take a minute. Stop everything. You might even need to tell people that unless someone is bleeding or on fire, you need 5, or 10, or 50 uninterrupted minutes to sort things out. Lock yourself in a closet if you have to, and take some time for yourself.
Taking a long walk is also a great option, if you’re in a place where you can do that. An outdoors walk is best. Yoga is also a great option for releasing nervous energy and helping you regain focus.
Then once you’ve expended a good bit of that nervous energy, come back and pull out a notepad and start writing. Write whatever. Anything and everything that comes into your head. Just dump it all. Let it all out. I call this the brain dump. I got the idea from the Artist’s Way, where you start each day with writing time. The idea is that all these little stressful bits and pieces of everything that you’re carrying around with you are keeping you from connecting with your creativity. While I don’t necessarily do pages every day in the morning, I do agree with the general idea. I find that all that crap floating around in my brain gets in the way of my productivity as well. So just empty your brain onto the page. Shred the pages when you’re done if you like, this is for you and no one else. You’re just clearing your head of all the noise and static.
Now you can start writing your to do list and prioritizing items. This whole process could be done in half an hour or less, but would likely be more effective if you invested a little more time.
Of course this wont make all those emergencies go away. But it will help you dodge, parry, duck, or deal with all the crap that comes flying at you.
I went through that process myself today, and as a result, I’ve decided that your birthday party is not going to happen in March. And since I have a conference and finals in April, it might even be later. I suppose we could just cancel the party altogether, but I do love getting all our friends and family together, and it doesn’t happen very often. I have also been looking forward to using your birthday party as an opportunity to say thank you to all the people who have been so supportive of us through this entire cancer ordeal (and I can’t bear the thought of missing one of your birthday parties). I still don’t know what I’m going to do as far as that is concerned. I just know I’m not going to put the time and energy into a party for this month.
I have already started rounding up and just telling people you are two years old. There’s a part of me that resists this still, but you are behaving like a two year old. Yes, the temper tantrums, and the back arching, and the constant testing of boundaries, but also a more sophisticated sense of humor, you can count to ten, know all of the letters, and draw these amazing little smiley faces.
We’ve had a rough, and very busy month. You even had your first Emergency Room visit with a significant fever and cold. But we got through it all, and we had a lot of laughs, too.
You bring so much joy to our lives. I’ve had a very difficult year, but there has not been one day since you were born where you did not brighten and improve my day.
Curious what radiation treatment is like for cancer patients? This post will walk you through one day of radiation treatment for a patient with breast cancer (me).
Disclaimer: It is important to note that cancer treatments are tailored to the patient and their pathology, so there can be quite a bit of variation in the way treatment is experienced.
Here’s a peek into my experience getting radiated for breast cancer.
My first day with the radiation team did not involve radiation at all. On this appointment, I spent the bulk of my time in a CT Scan machine (no contrast) that was used to take measurements that would be used to design my specific treatment plan. They spent quite a bit of time aligning my body into a specific position, with my arms up over my head, gripping a post at the top of the bed.
Then I was tattooed: four little dots, one on each side at the bottom of my rib cage, and two down the center, one right in the middle of my breast bone, and the other, just below the bottom of my breast bone. They also placed a bag of chemicals under my head and shoulders; as those chemicals reacted to each other they formed a sturdy foam that conformed to my shape and would be a cradle that would hold me in this position for my treatments.
It took about a month to get the radiation plan squared away. Then they called me in for another appointment – no radiation this time either, but this was a run through to make sure all of the calculations were in order. On the last field, they discovered that the frame touched my chest, that’s why they do the run through, so they to called in the dosimetrist, physicist and a physician to make an adjustment to my treatment plan. They also gave me my fifth tattoo two inches below my collarbone. The next day I went back for my first radiation treatment.
Radiation is administered every day except for weekends and holidays. My plan was for 28 days, which was six weeks once you fit in the two holidays. The team was amazing. There was always at least two radiation technicians, and usually three or more, involved in my treatment each day. They worked together, double checking every single setting, and making me comfortable at the same time.
The room in which the radiation was administered was behind a foot thick door.
The ceiling lights had pictures, just like the dentist, only the pictures are nicer.
Tools are laid out, and ready to go. Those markers, very important medical devices. These guys scribbled all over me every day.
When I first enter the room, I lie down on the bed and they put a band around my feet to hold them still, and cover me up with a warm blanket. Oh, I love those warm blankets. I fit my head and shoulders into the foam cradle, and there is a post sticking up at the top of the bed for me to wrap my hands around. The form and the post help a lot with holding still. The bed is driven around a bit to line my tattoos up with the equipment, and then to make adjustments for each field of the treatment.
The machine that administers the radiation is also capable of taking digital x-rays. Once a week, treatment started with x-rays to make sure everything still lined up correctly (this helps them course correct in case of swelling or changes in weight during the 6 week course of treatment).
There’s Jerrod, drawing lines on my chest. The lines were actually drawn on to make sure I was lined up correctly while they administered the field.
The first two doses of radiation are administered with the use of metal fabric called brass bolus. The brass bolus is used to help trick the radiation beam into focusing closer to my skin rather than deeper into my body.
If you think my breast is a weird shape, sitting up like that while I’m laying on my back, you’d be right. It’s not really a breast. The breast is gone. That’s an implant called an expander that was put in place during my mastectomy, and it makes it possible for me to get new boobs after I’m healed up from treatment. Aaron calls it my bionic boob.
The expander does require some working around when it comes to the radiation treatments. The brass bolus is used, rather than the foam bolus, because it conforms to the shape of the expander better. You can see from the picture below that its a bit slinky and hugs the curves. Once they get it placed just right, they tape it to make sure it doesn’t move.
Once they get everything lined up perfectly, the team leaves the room. There are several video cameras and the room and they can hear me and speak to me, so it’s not like I’m completely isolated. I don’t feel the radiation, but the machine does hum while it’s being administered. Then they come back in, position the equipment to focus on the another area, and repeat.
For me, there were two positions with the brass bolus, then two more that focused on my collar bone, and then the final shot involved this contraption; they referred to it as “the boost.”. The purpose of this last shot was to put an electron field right up under the corner of that expande.
Much of the time while they were lining me up, the lights were out so they could more readily see the lasers and make other measurements with light that was projected on to my skin.
Every member of this team was so professional, at the same time, they were able to crack a joke, and keep me laughing through treatment. They made it so I didn’t dread going in every day.
Today is my last treatment, so I want to take a moment to shout out to the team. Dr. Janice Kim, Dr. Ermoine, Dane, Jarrod, Randall, Lorena, Jeannette, Sue, Jenny, Talina, Tony, Kelly, Christine, Rowena, and Sheree (and I’m so sorry if I left someone’s name out) – thank you so much for taking such good care of me. And thank you for tolerating the photo shoots while you were working.
I hope this post will help ease your mind if you are facing radiation treatment. If you have received a cancer diagnosis and are wondering what you can expect from treatment, you might also check out my post: Walkthrough of Chemo Day for a Cancer Patient.
I was running late for a meeting, but I just had to stop and capture a couple shots of this sunset. I pulled over alongside the lake, rolled down the passenger-side window, and clicked away.
As I continued on my way to the meeting, the sunset intensified. Each time I pulled through an intersection, the break between buildings revealed a different sky, full of different colors. It was changing by the second. This was during rush hour traffic. I was looking around for a place to pull over so I could catch some more shots when I pulled off on a side street – and in to gridlock. The sunset, of course, completely blocked by the concrete monstrosity of a building where the road curved in front of me. Now, not only was I late for the meeting, I didn’t get that additional shot I was looking for, and I was trapped in place by traffic. Crap.
It occurred to me at this point that the sunset was not there to stress me out, or even for me to “capture” on film; it was there to bless my day. At that moment, a spot opened up for me to pull a U-turn and get back on my way, and the next break between buildings revealed the Space Needle, backlit by a fully fuchsia sky. Breathtaking. And just for me. I did not capture that shot of the sunset, but it did bless my day.
This has been an amazing week, full of wonderful news and new opportunities. Much of it I can’t discuss just yet. As if full-time school, cancer treatment, and motherhood were not enough, I’ve had a few writing gigs come my way as well. I’m stealing this idea from The Bloggess and creating a regular post that will link to some of my other writing on a (hopefully) regular basis, as well as drawing your attention to other creators of awesomeness on the web.
The Pioneer Woman: Daisy the Dog – I love the Pioneer Woman, but I usually don’t highlight her because she already gets more hits than Google. However, this post reminded me of the cow I had when I was a kid. The one with the oh-so-clever name of Milky, who then calved, and I assigned the even-less-original moniker of Calfy for her offspring. Yeah, my naming skills have improved since then. No, Milky and Calfy did not have this much access to the house.
A year ago I stood at the mirror, glaring at my left breast which was starting to show the strain of breastfeeding my baby. The good boob, the one on the right, remained as firm and perky as it was when I was 18. I couldn’t have guessed that all that perkiness was supplied by 11 centimeters of cancerous tumor.
I now have a scar that runs from under my arm almost all the way to my sternum. I have 5 little pin-sized tattoos that are used to line me up in the beastly machine that irradiates my skin – which is now burned rough and red from collarbone to abdomen, and breastbone to armpit. In the place where my breast used to be is an implant called an expander (Aaron calls it my bionic boob) with the mission of stretching the skin to hopefully make it possible for doctors to manufacture a new breast once I complete treatment.
My left side is scarred as well, with the tell-tale 2-inch horizontal line just below my collarbone where the medi-port was installed for my chemo infusions. Cancer survivors recognize each other by this this little scar that peeks out from any kind of V-neck top. The port shows through my skin, and my husband and I joked that with these implants and my bald head, I should have dressed up as a Borg for Halloween. Beneath the skin and ribs, my heart has been damaged by the chemo drugs as well.
The memory of wishing that my left breast was more like my “good” boob now brings a chill. But the left breast will soon become a scar as well, as I’m having a second mastectomy with my reconstruction this summer. The type of cancer I have has an extremely high rate of recurrence.
My attitude towards these scars is changing. Each scar tells a story, and since I’m still kicking, each scar represents a challenge I overcame. I’m learning to accept them as a kind of private little merit badge. Having a supportive husband helps. And since the perky boob, the “good” boob, turned out to be evil, it’s worth mentioning that just because something is pretty doesn’t mean it’s good.
I stopped to capture a few pictures on my way to the medical center yesterday afternoon. I was feeling a little cranky about having to go in every day. It was cold. frigid. Chunks of ice were still clinging to the edges of the 8-inch-deep potholes in the road.
But views like this make me pause a moment.
Views like this make stepping out of the car to take in the environment so worth while.
It didn’t take very many shots before I was so cold I had to get back in the car (my arm is all bandaged up so it doesn’t fit in the sleeve of a coat – another story for another post). But, what a difference it made in my attitude.
There’s nothing like a little time with the camera to help me hit refresh.