Friday, February 4, 2011
Day 274: The Great Snow
It would be hard to sit down right now and write something that is not about snow, as I'm a Chigagoan. We had the kind of blizzard the other day that happens rarely in a lifetime. It's the third 18 inch+ in 24-hours snow of my 35 years. The first was in 1979 when I was four years old. Though many people don't believe me, I remember walking to preschool--that's right, preschool was open--with my grandma, and I remember how the snow seemed almost taller than her and the drifts were definitely taller than me. It's possible that the preschool was snowed out for a day and I remember walking the next day, but that seems less interesting, and in truth, we all lived close enough to school that there was probably little reason to close since we could walk.
The next big snow was in 1999, 20 years later (so I missed out on snow days for my entire childhood--lots of big snows but none big enough to warrant school closing). My best memories of that snow also verge on the absurd. My boyfriend decided to try to get home from my apartment--I think mostly because he wanted to see if it was possible, not because he had somewhere to be--and he got the last train going downtown. At around noon. The CTA just gave up after that. I also remember dealing with the residents of my apartment building. I was 24 years old and worked full time, but as a second job I managed a 30-unit building for reduced rent. Boy, could I write a book about that. Anyway, folks were calling me, asking why we weren't shoveling during the blizzard (in 60 MPH wind) and complaining that they were snowed in, trapped. One guy was so insistent on this last point that I had to remind him: "our lobby doors open to the inside. You can get out." I wanted to say, can you just relax and realize that wherever you think you need to go, it isn't open anyway?
I could say that it's cancer that made me slow down this time and not panic about getting places, but in truth I've always figured that in a tempermental climate, weather sometimes just trumps. Sometimes life stops or is different for a span of time, and I didn't need cancer to teach me that, just the midwestern seasons.
This time, during the great blizzard of '11, I got home from work before all hell broke loose. Gabe didn't believe the forecasts, and I blame that on him spending too much time in California. I left work on Tuesday at 12:30, when there was not much snow on the ground but there was already crazy wind. Lenny almost blew over in the parking lot of her school. I got both kids inside safe and warm, and within two hours you couldn't see out of our windows. No matter, I sent Gabe to the store to buy some milk anyway since he was getting home in the middle of it. Through the drama that ensued over the next few days, we only lost our power for about 10 minutes, so it was actually relatively enjoyable for us. The storm was amazing to watch. We really did have "thundersnow." There was lightning, and huge thunder bursts, and the snow was moving so fast that it was horizontal, laying like sheet cake on our window screens. We would have lost every single item in our backyard to the wind if there hadn't been enough snow to keep them buried. Schools--that's right, Chicago schools--were closed for 2 days.
I have felt a crazy amount of cabin fever, having worked from home for the past two days with the kids here. I've been incredibly busy with work, and very frustrated for a variety of reasons as well. Cancer is not the kind of thing that was intended for young, working-age parents. But that's a different blog for a different day. I finally got out of the house last night by driving to water aerobics. Today it's almost 30 degrees, so I went for a long walk (I took the kids to school/daycare so they wouldn't lose their minds). I figured I should enjoy this now before the temperature plummets again next week and we sit in 5 degree highs for days on end.
This was a long introduction to the following statement: February is my least favorite month of the year. It's the shortest, but damn is it also the longest. When I was on modified bed rest for the whole month of February before Lenny was born, I just looked out the window from my bed, with my laptop on my huge belly so I could work from home, and thought about dread. And no, I don't mean I thought about things with dread. I thought about dread itself, because that's what February is like. You think you can see your way out of the cold, but it's dark and dreary and the snow turns black and your boots are worn down and your shovel is broken and the month just keeps going for what seems like forever.
So perhaps that's an explanation for my state of mind, to some extent. I am definitely feeling that post-treatment malaise, that indescribable worry. My back is hurting and I try not to think about it. I made the mistake of looking into the searches that bring people to this blog again (I love "my hair short" and "I want to look like GI Jane" and "can thin women with small breasts have a lumpectomy"). One of them was about triple negative breast cancer and liver metastasis. I was the fifth hit on that one, because of a blog where I talk about the fear of metastatic disease due to the aggressive nature of triple negative tumors. I poked around in the other top four hits and was sent to a site where a woman who was stage 1, triple negative, found out 2 years and 10 months later--after chemo and radiation--that her cancer had bypassed the breasts and gone to the liver and lungs.
This is my absolute worst nightmare, and obviously hers as well. So close to that three year mark! Stage one! Clear nodes! No matter. When people tell me these things will not happen to me, I just smile and nod. Of course not. Everything bad that happens always happens to someone else until you realize that you are someone else to everyone else but you.
Sometimes I think that having three tumors should be a problem for sure, especially since whenever I tell another breast cancer survivor that, she looks at me with wide eyes and says "three? wow." And I know she's thinking honey, you're doomed. But no one ever says that, because how could you? It's tough. I've had several dreams about my upcoming mammogram. The reality is that the BEST place for my cancer to spread would be to my breasts. It's the other stuff that would mark the end for me.
When I'm in the house too long and I feel isolated, or I'm not able to exercise enough to not think at all, that's where my mind goes at times. People talk about this being the toughest time of my life and say I will get over these feelings. I'm sure that's true to a certain extent, but it makes me wonder: is life ever really that easy? We want it to be, we need it to be, we even change our memories to accommodate that desire. But that doesn't make it true.
When I was 4, my grandmother walked me through the snowdrifts. Why? Because my mother had died due to internal hemorrhaging on the operating table after a hysterectomy a few weeks or months before, at age 29. She was resuscitated, they induced a coma, and after a long recovery, she is still with us today. But for weeks she was in the hospital, and I didn't understand. And for months she was in bed fighting to live. So my grandma came to live with us to help out, and that's why she walked me through the snow. Life is never easy.
When I was going through chemo and feeling guilty about how it affected my kids, my mom had an interesting perspective. She said she never felt guilty about missing out on things when she was bed-ridden because she knew she had to get better to take care of us later. No one worried that we would be traumatized or scarred for life. Was I confused, angry, scared, and all of that? Sure, but you know what, I also got over it. I don't believe I had any long-term consequences of that time from an emotional or psychological standpoint. I hope the same is true for my kids.
I think the worst part for Lenny was seeing me bald and knowing how I would feel after chemo. I don't think she ever thought I would die, she just didn't understand why things had to change so much. In the end, it probably helped her with math. 33 days of radiation, I just did my 25th...my four year old looks at me and says, 8 days left mom!
For Augie, being forcibly weaned was arguably the worst part. I never really wrote about what that was like in the blog, though I wrote about it happening. The experience was just too painful to describe back then. My daughter never nursed well but Augie and I had a great thing going there. He was excited and kicky all the time (it's possible that cancer lowered my milk supply and he got frustrated) but extremely efficient and happy at the breast. He had been in daycare for several months by the time I was diagnosed, and he was used to the idea that sometimes we went out at night and he got a bottle from a babysitter. But I still nursed about 5 times a day, and I think only once in his short life did he get a bottle first thing in the morning, when Gabe and I stayed somewhere overnight. Those mornings in early May after I was diagnosed, I refused to feed him the bottle. I just couldn't do it. It was the look he gave me that I couldn't stand. He wasn't angry, or sad, he was just confused. Mom, why aren't you coming in here? Why is dad here?
Because I have cancer, I would silently tell him. And that thing we did five times a day for months? Neither you nor I will ever do it again. It was impossible to be in denial about it in that situation, and I cry when thinking about it even now.
Sometimes I wonder if these weepy times of mine are hormonal, though I think they are definitely normal even if they are not. I've had that monthly glimmer of libido again, though my cycles seem pretty hell-bent on disappearing from my life. It's been five months since my last period and I'm starting to think that Gabe should forgo the vasectomy for sure. What's the point? I still have hot flashes and I still feel like a different person. I look like one too. Who is that woman with the short, dark auburn hair? Yes, I recognize that my hair is red, albeit dark, but there's so little of it that it's hard to tell. I recognize that it's no longer curly. I recognize that I'm smaller. Even when these statements come in the form of compliments, it's hard to know what to say. Yes, I know I'm different. I know there's no going back. What can I do? Rock the earrings, I guess.
It seems that Day 274 is another day for non-sequiturs in this blog. Again, what can I do? Sometimes that's how my mind works: I go from snow, to childhood, to metastatic cancer, to public transportation to womanhood and back again. On some level in some universe I do believe these things are related. Or maybe it's just because I live here, in this strange city.
To complete the random nature of this post, why not throw in another poem? I think I wrote this after the last big blizzard, but it's just as likely that I wrote it after a major heat wave. Either way, it's been about ten years. It doesn't seem worth trying to write something new, because for whatever reason I haven't changed my mind in this past decade. I'll leave you with that phrase Chicagoans always use: "Stay warm."
Really you could live anywhere
occupy space haphazardly,
become worldly and acclimate
to different weathers,
fit your bones
to a more ancient wisdom,
be fluent in a cacophony of languages,
buy clothes for only one season,
see so much farther across horizons
that always remain,
or learn a new physics
through intricate knowledge
and you wouldn't have to brace yourself
and invent new hairstyles
when the cold or the heat
in their extremes
came rallying through,
you could be so much closer
of land or darkness,
and there are things
in the world
you could know about
that would amaze you,
and you could write, then,
about having been
a part of them,
you could learn to
and be made better for it,
you could then remake
and choose, and choose
and always move on into
an infinite possibility
you could remember
how things were there,
you could become
it would take years
to get the stories out.
You could, but you choose
to live here because
the love in your blood