Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 259: Much Ado About Nothing

I am starting to understand what the new normal is all about. Just like with anything in life, cancer has become a part of the things that I think about, and I can't imagine that it wasn't always there. It's like that with kids, when you wonder what you did before they were born, though of course you remember perfectly well what you did, and it was normal too, but it just doesn't seem like YOU. I just can't relate to people who go through some life epiphany due to cancer. Life is full of so many things--things that need to get done, things that come up, that I don't know how I'd have time for any epiphanies. I don't think I've ever really understood the mindset of finding yourself. I remember once when Gabe and I were talking about how people go through that, and I said, I mean, who do you THINK you're going to find? There isn't anybody else there.

And that's the truth. You only get the one vessel, the one time around. Who else do you expect to be there after the dust settles? There's Katy, or there's not Katy, and those seem to be the only options for me. I'd like to choose Katy, please.

Cancer has just kind of melted into my life. That sounds strange, but it's true. Here's an example. I have been having some crazy aches and pains recently. My hips have hurt so badly I couldn't sleep. Now, I'm 35, and that might be one new reason right there. At the same time, I've just gone back to work, so I sit at a desk all day, which I haven't done in months. I wear heels--something I don't do at home (sometimes I think I like going to work just for the train, and the gym, and the shoes). And I am back at the gym, I started rowing, I'm still doing pilates and water aerobics and I work out at home. My body has a million reasons to be mad at me, especially with all the conflicting muscles from the different exercise routines I do. So I contemplate all of these things. And then I think, well, my hips hurt because of that "old wound", and arthritis is normal for me. Another minute passes and I think "Or, it's bone cancer." And then I say that out loud to someone, they give me all the other reasons for the pain, I shrug and keep cooking dinner.

It's just there, all the time, the way every thing else is there all the time that is your life. I never seemed like someone other than me because of epilepsy or my car accident, and yet I know I am who I am in part because of those things. I am still the same me as I was before kids and yet I feel that being a parent has changed me. I feel like life has just changed me, and cancer has just done it more obviously. Everything else is subtle. I think, for example, that I used to be really hilarious. Now I'm not UNfunny, but some of that got lost somewhere down the line, it seems to me.

Or maybe I just got harder on myself. Regardless, cancer did some obvious things--it took my hair, for example. People could see that change, so I couldn't hide what was happening, but is it really so different? I don't really know what I'm trying to say, except that while there's not much new related to cancer in my life, cancer is still here, probably to stay. If not in my body, then in my mind.

Now, mind you, it's there with its not so subtle reminders in my body too. About 10 days ago I started using the estrace, the estrogen cream I mentioned a few blogs ago. The purpose of the cream is for menopause-induced vaginal dryness. You use it every day for two weeks and then twice a week. It's worked for its intended purpose so far, but I also was convinced that it was helping with hot flashes. I had the only kind of epiphany I care too much about recently when last Saturday night I slept for more than six hours--WITH NO HOT FLASHES. Gabe was sick, so he slept downstairs. He came to bed around 6:45 in the morning, at which point I immediately had a hot flash. Ironic, no? So many nice things in life cause this horrible reaction: drinking coffee, having my husband snuggle with me, coming in to the warm house after a cold walk, eating a piece of chocolate. This time, I was actually thrilled when this happened because I realized that I slept all night without waking due to hot flashes! I can't remember the last time I slept more than six hours in a night.

Think about it. I've had terrible hot flashes since September. Before that, hell, until October, I had chemo-induced insomnia. Before that, there was the general insomnia brought on by, you know, worrying I would die from cancer. And before I was diagnosed, I was nursing a baby. So I think it has been almost two years since I had that much uninterrupted sleep.

As I said, these are the things that just melt into your life. I've gotten used to it. I will never get used to the nights with only 2 hours or less of sleep, but 4? I'm good to go then. Six is like an unheard of luxury. Gabe was trying to sleep on Sunday morning since the kids were not yet awake and I was shaking him saying, No hot flashes! I can't believe it! That cream is working on this too!


Wait, is that bad? Does that mean I have too much estrogen coursing in my body? Will this give me more breast cancer, uterine cancer, kill me somehow? Is this the reason my legs hurt (not the million squats or lunges)--do I have a blood clot?

Another pause. Nah. Gabe was looking at me like I was nuts.

These thoughts are there, mixed in with the happy ones. I wish I could say that this cream is a miracle worker on hot flashes, but alas, I started having them again the next day. They are lesser in severity, and I have fewer. It could be the cream, it could be that I'm getting farther from chemo. But I know something about my hot flashes now, doctors opinions be damned.

I'm still having cycles. Not periods, but cycles. Everyone and their mother can tell me this is impossible and I don't care, I know it's true. I was feeling some of the other side effects of ovulation--a little bit of my old libido, stomach upset, a few cramps--on the day of my good sleep. Every month I have this few days where I tell Gabe or my mom that my hot flashes are getting better, and I happen to have these other symptoms too. As soon as I say this, the flashes come back. Just about every 30 days. So there it is. My body, my fertility, my woman's hormones are just not going silently into that good night. There's still something there, just a hint, a reminder. Don't forget about me! This is what your body is supposed to do!

Does this mean it's possible that my normal cycles and hormones will return? Who knows. It doesn't seem likely, but how much of this trip has been likely? Not a damn minute of it.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about recurrence, or metastasis. And other times, I get overwhelmed thinking about the lack of those things. If that was it--all that shit I did for breast cancer--and I get to live the rest of my life, to some normal old age, why is that? Why would I get to be the "lucky" one? What did I do to deserve a life other people never got a chance to live? I mean, I know I can't say that now--I haven't even gone to my first follow-up mammogram, much less made it to the magical three or five year marks, but even if I make it there, these questions are in the back of my mind. Not exactly survivors guilt, but a general questioning of the randomness of life.

It makes me think about how the only things that my oncologist has said to me that were remotely comforting weren't intended to be. He told me at the beginning that I needed to do chemo to lower the chance of recurrence because I was triple negative but also because I was young, and since I could have 50 more years to live, that's 50 years to have a recurrence. He also said to me once that the hope was that I would live a normal life span, unless there are other things that happen, other illnesses, accidents. The guy just couldn't say, we want you to live to be old. You have a chance to see your grandkids. He had to throw that death by other means in there.

But still, I came away from that with this small notion that it was possible. And if so, that is kind of incredible. Here I am, 35. I've built some kind of strange career for myself. I'm married. I have two pretty cute kids. As an aside, I need to throw this parenting moment in here. I have recently learned that my daughter will be playing Dorothy in the preschool Wizard of Oz play. My shy girl! The nerdy one who reads at parties! The one who just today in the car was talking to us about how she complains about eating, but she eats more than she drinks, and she went on to say "whereas Augie would not eat much, but he would drink until he was full." We went on with more of the conversation, but something was sticking in my mind. Gabe said it out loud: "Lenny, did you just say "whereas?"

I got to see that moment. I lived to see it. I lived through that car accident. I came through epilepsy relatively unscathed. I was reminded of that today in water aerobics when a young woman had a seizure in the pool. I was turned away so I didn't see it happen, but I saw two other women holding her up. In all my years with epilepsy, I never had a seizure in the water. I talked to her and her family and I realized how I've seen her for years at water aerobics, and this, like all things, is just a part of life for her too. You keep going and doing things you want and need to do. Sometimes a seizure is thrown in there and enough people pay attention and you don't drown. And after talking about it with some baldish lady for a bit you say see you next week and you go home.

It still makes me wonder though. Gabe has said that he thinks it's unfair how many things I've gone through. Sometimes I think it's unfair how many people go through these things and don't live to tell or just struggle so much more with them.

God I look back on this blog and it's just like some weird figure 8 of mental jumps and it truly seems like much ado about nothing. My mind is just so strange like that. If anyone made it this far in the blog, I would be shocked.

Since few people will be reading, I've decided to include a poem again, because I have actually written a grand total of one cancer poem now. (It usually takes me literally years to share a poem, thus my hope that no one is reading this thing I wrote two weeks ago).

First, I want to explain why I decided to write it. I like this blog because it is a physical manifestation of the way my mind works, and it's funny for me to go back and see the evidence of that. I also like how the tool--publishing on the Internet--brings in other moments of absurdity.

I can look at my blog stats and see what search engine keywords lead people here. I'm not doing anything to advertise the blog, so I'm not very high up on the hit list among the 100,000 breast cancer sites out there. But every once in a while people find me. My favorite search was a google search for "I feel like I'm doing everything halfway."

Some poor soul got sent to my "Halfway to Done" blog about being almost done with radiation. I love the illogic of that and I can imagine the look on that person's face when the link came up and they thought "what the ***?". More than anything, I love living in a world where someone feels that life is just too crowded, so they do a google search with that phrasing, and they end up being sent to a bunch of random sites, some of which might be on point, but at least one of which is a rambling blog with this bald lady in some weird pictures, and they read it anyway and maybe that even makes sense in some universe.

It makes sense in my universe anyway. The mind makes lots of strange associations. One person's attempts for perfection lead to another person's radiation treatments for cancer. Words lead to other words, life to other lives. That's really what this poem is saying. I know that if that's all I wanted to say in this blog, I could have saved all these other words and just cut to these crisp 144. But I'm still experimenting with what I called an exercise in vanity in my very first entry, when I couldn't imagine how day 259 would be, and that it would seem like day 2590 and day 2 all at the same time. Make sense? No? Maybe this will.

Reading a Poem in the Oncologist’s Office

The poet had written maestro,
But I read it as metastasis.

It’s possible he meant master,
But why not change in form, spread of disease?

They fall off the tongue like close cousins.
Perhaps music and suffering are not so far apart.

You might say that my mind plays tricks.
I’d ask you if death is not lurking behind our other words.

Life can be like that now;
Normal is a double-take into a dark place.

If someone says beautiful or brave
I know they are saying interesting or terrifying.

Poets could learn something
From this total loss of control.

How a thing starts is not how it ends.
Your intentions and your meaning are not the same.

Besides, who would question my interest in definitions?
Who would blame me for always reading the last line first?


  1. The poem is brilliant. And by brilliant, I mean cutting. The meaning of interesting BTW (at least when referring to the Christmas trees we chopped down and displayed in our family home when I was a kid) is "oddly misshapen". :)

    You know you're fooling yourself that no one's reading any more. I'm not alone in reading every word. But hey, if that's what you have to tell yourself to share a poem...

    On the "everything changes after..." theme, I felt like life didn't change nearly as much as people said it would when we became parents. Tony and I both still have a sick sense of humor, and we thought that might be the first to go. I've noticed only one small change in perspective. The snowblower accident I witnessed as a child never really made me FEAR snowblowers with this irrational intensity that I have now. The guy was just stupid. So why does every snowblower suddenly seem like a ticking timebomb to me?

    Essentially, the new normal (or rather, the current normal) is you aren't letting the idea of growing old be your default position. But maybe in the future, I hope you feel that way again. You're not ready to let down your guard, OK. It's only been a month since the end of treatment, and you're prepared to brace yourself for the worst for at least the next 3-5 years. I just want to contribute that maybe when this doesn't feel so raw, you're going to remember that living and growing old is the norm, and you get to re-join that norm a little more each day, month, year.

    I like imagining the jolt of Mr. or Ms. Does Everything Halfway when they came upon your cancer blog. Doh! Maybe it cheered them up. That (half of an) existentialist crisis just cleared right up from there.

  2. What I find interesting are the changes you see in yourself, wondering if the cancer caused them or not, while I see those same changes in me and my friends out here who have no first hand experience with cancer treatment. Okay, obviously, we all think about our mortality from time to time, but you do get to play the trump card on that one, so that's not what I mean. But stuff like becoming more unfunny as we get older. And then there's other stuff that you refuse to lay claim to despite the cancer, when I couldn't imagine you associating with yourself at any point that I've known you. Katyisms. Like not trying to find yourself, because who the hell else would you be? (Classic. Katyism.) You know me, I've been trying to find myself since I was about seven years old (I think I'm getting close, I swear...) Or maybe that's just my way of avoiding responsibility for what I've become. Hmm, but that's another blog.

    As usual, Jennifer hit it on the head. You are very normal, as far as whatever the "current normal" is.