Archives for posts with tag: cancer anniversaries

I had a wonderful three day weekend with my family at the beach. That is, during the day. Saturday and Sunday nights were full of nightmares. As I mentioned yesterday, three years ago yesterday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a wonderful day yesterday, during the day. Last night I dreamed that I had a scan and that there was evidence of a recurrence. I spoke with a radiologist on my dream phone. I can’t remember quite what he said, but I recognized it immediately as a segue to bad news. I told him, “You are saying that to tell me that my cancer has come back!” He admitted that he had. Healthcare professionals, for the record, I am also a deliverer of bad news. I know your tricks, especially when it is  dream and my unconsciousness is writing the story.

In the dream, my husband looked at a written report and in a tone that communicated a lack of sufficient concern, he said, “It says here that it is an 18 meter mass.”

I grabbed the paper and saw that it said that it was a .18 meter mass. “Oh my God, John! It’s a .18 meter mass, not an 18 meter mass! That means it is a 1.8 centimeter mass NOT 18 METERS!”

(Dream mind does not always move the decimal point correctly, I admit. I also think dream mind perfectly illustrated the most stupid of the stupid marital disagreements, the one that MISSES THE POINT. I have DREAM CANCER GOD DAMMIT! Stop fighting with your husband. Neither one of you know how to treat DREAM CANCER!)

People, you get it. My brain is working crap out. Mom, if you are reading along, my brain needs to work crap out. I am doing my very best to keep the crap to a minimum. It is easier during the day time. I had a wonderful day yesterday and a wonderful today. I have less control over the worlds that my brain creates in my dreams.

This year was easier than last year. Perhaps next year will be easier than this year. Healing is a process that is approximately linear over time. But it has its fits and starts.

This morning, John and I took a walk on our own. That time together, along with the sweet historic buildings, and the beautiful farmland, did much to quell the nightmares.

I wish I did not still have them, but I do.

I am, in sum,  a pretty happy person. It has been awhile since I let the fears in my nightmares ruin my waking hours. I didn’t do that today, either.

Living with the uncertainty of life, the horrible, the traumatic, all of the things that I have experienced thus far, for me, is not about pushing it out of my mind. I can’t! My mind does not work that way. If I can’t notice both the good and the bad, I can’t help people as a psychologist. I can just spout platitudes that are not true and do not honor the hardship that many people experience.

And if I don’t notice and validate the good and bad in my own life, I can’t live with the kind of truth that gives me a sense of purpose and integrity.

I need to notice and remember in my life. But I’m living, too.

And pretty darned well if you get right down to it.

My selection of a  Boho Chic outfit thumbs its nose at nightmares!

My selection of a Boho Chic outfit thumbs its nose at nightmares!

The gentle farmland is decidedly not nightmarish.

The gentle farmland is decidedly not nightmarish.

Even pink, in its original form, is not scary to this breast cancer survivor.

Even pink, in its original form, is not scary to this breast cancer survivor.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today I am exactly 49 1/2 years old. Today is a new day. Three years ago today, at about 10:00 am, I was told that I had an approximately 1 centimeter tumor, invasive ductal carcinoma, in my right breast. I was about as surprised as I could be. I had only a limited idea of how my life would change. Today is today. I am spending it in rural Washington, on the beach. Yesterday was a wonderful day, much better than I expected. Today, I may be in the mood to write, I may not. (I wrote this post yesterday.) I am hoping that today is a good day. I try to be grateful for each day. I mostly succeed.

DSC01011

The view from the rental house in La Conner, WA. Can you believe this?

Deception Pass Anacortes, WA

Deception Pass
Anacortes, WA

Old warehouse in La Conner. The exterior was dilapidated. What a surprise to see this beautiful ceiling. Also, we probably should not have been in this building.

Old warehouse in La Conner. The exterior was dilapidated. What a surprise to see this beautiful ceiling. Also, we probably should not have been in this building.

I look at poppies all of the time and very closely. This one held a whole new universe.

I look at poppies all of the time and very closely. This one held a whole new universe.

My best food photo from tonight's dinner. In all, I made salmon, salad, oysters, and these clams.

My best food photo from tonight’s dinner. In all, I made salmon, salad, oysters, and these clams.

One of the requirements for my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology was completing a one year long internship at one of many sites around the country. The application process is a very stressful rite of passage for students. I often say, “You can have time or money but not both.” Well, in grad school, most of us had neither. But we managed to fill out internship applications and travel for interviews to the sites that were most promising. I remember traveling from North Carolina to Oklahoma City, Seattle, Chicago, and Gainesville, Florida.

Internship offers were made by phone back then on “Match Day”, which started at 10:00 am Eastern Standard Time and I believe was on a day in March in 1996. Prospective interns would wait by the home phone (no cell phones back then), hoping that it would ring right at 10:00 am and that we would hear the sound of the voice of the director of the desired internship. We were allowed to say, “yes” or “no” on the spot. There was no, “I’ll think about it after I’ve considered all of my offers.”

Prior to Match Day, we had the option to send an internship site a “first choice” letter. The communication was, “If you call and offer me an internship, I will accept it.” There were a number of rules around this. Sites weren’t allowed to ask us if we were going to “first choice” them and if we “first-choiced” a site and didn’t take it, it was considered a very uncool thing to do. We were also not allowed to “first choice” more than one site.

After my visits to sites, I made a rankings list, weighing professional and personal variables. My first choice for professional reasons was the University of Florida. However, getting back to Seattle was a high priority so the University of Washington made it to the top of my list. Both sites were prestigious and offered excellent training. I sent a “first choice” letter to the University of Washington. A few days later, I received a call from the internship director there. She told me that I was a “very strong candidate” but that it was not in my best interest to give U.W. my first choice letter. She recommended that I withdraw it, which I did. This was a painful phone conversation, but even at the time I knew that it was very kind of her to let me know I was not one of their top candidates. I sent off a new “first choice” letter to the University of Florida.

Meanwhile, John and I were nervous wrecks. John was researching job markets for all of the potential cities in which we might live. Fortunately, since Gainesville was a drivable distance from where we lived, we had gone together and he’d gotten an opportunity to check out the area, which he liked a lot. The job market there was terrible for him, though.

There was nothing for us to do at that point but wait for 10:00 am on Match Day and hope that the phone would ring. I was well trained, having completed some ridiculous number of supervised clinical hours during my years at UNC. (If memory serves, I’d logged 2700 hours when the requirement was 500.) Oh, the other stressful thing was that sometimes, no one called a student. There was usually one student each year from our program who despite their excellent application and the strength of the reputation of our program, did not get an offer. Those students had the chance to go through the “clearinghouse” process and be placed in one of the leftover spots. (These days, incidentally, there are no “leftover” spots. There are more applicants than there are spots at accredited internship sites.)

Match Day came. All of the worry about where we would live, what I would do, and would I be able to work anywhere would hopefully be reduced. 10:00 am came and went. I willed the phone to ring. At 10:02, the phone range and I answered it. It was the University of Florida and they made me an offer, which I accepted. It was really quick so quick that I said, “You just made me an offer and I accepted it, right?” The director chuckled and said, “yes.” We said our goodbyes. The first one I called was my husband. He was happy. The second call was to my parents. My mom was happy. My dad was happy though said, “Florida? You are moving even FARTHER away from home.”

Exactly two years ago, I found myself waiting by the phone again. The call that I would receive would say a lot about my future. I was waiting on a call from the Swedish Cancer Institute with the results of my core biopsy, which had been performed two days before. I knew that a call would arrive at any time. As fate would have it, I was called at 10:00 am, just like Match Day. The diagnostic radiologist told me that I had an invasive ductal carcinoma tumor of approximate size of 1 cm. She said, “This is the most common breast cancer. A surgeon will call you within the hour. I’m sorry. We will take good care of you.”

The first person I called was my husband. He told me that he was taking the bus from work to be at home with me. Then I called my parents. My mom answered and I told her, “Mom, I have cancer. Mom, I am scared.” She was comforting and I was able to stop crying so that I could get information and make decisions. (Not everyone copes this way. I like to work fast and get things in place.) I called my friend, Nancy, a 12 year breast cancer survivor and psychologist who works with breast cancer patients. I got her voicemail so I left her a  message. I had not even previously told her that I’d had a biopsy. Then I left a voice mail for my friend, Jennie, who had known about the biopsy. As soon as I finished my message to Jennie, Nancy called.

Nancy was reassuring and also gave me a list of surgeons who had excellent technical skills but also good people skills. Dr. Beatty was on the list. His office called while I was talking to Nancy. I got off of the phone with Nancy and picked up the call from Rhea, who was the scheduler at his office back then. I made an appointment for the next day. I was not required to accept the first surgeon who called. I could have met with another surgeon after I met with Dr. Beatty. But I immediately adored him and didn’t feel like I needed to see anyone else. Nancy, who had accompanied us to the appointment, and John agreed.

My family has been through a great deal in the last several years and not all of it was related to my cancer. If you’d asked me even as recently as five years ago, how I would cope with all of the life events that were in store for me, I would have guessed that I would go into an anxiety spin, followed by depression, and some kind of severe mental breakdown. I certainly would not have guessed that along with the anxiety, anger, and pain, I would also find more joy and peace than ever before in my life.

I feel a mixture of feelings and thoughts today. And maybe that’s part of what these “anniversaries” are about. Experiencing a year or several years’ ups and downs in the span of a few days.

I will never say, “Cancer, you have met your match.” I know that cancer can kill. But I can say that right now, I am a match for its aftermath.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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