Blasted October!

This is another one of those posts. You know the type. The kind where I start out trying to put my jumbled thoughts into some semblance of order and by the time I get to the very exhausting end it looks more like a dictionary threw up. I apologize up front for the chaos.

Secondly this post may require a hankie or two. I suppose it depends on the reader, but some of you are more sensitive than others. You know who you are. So read at your own risk.

And now I begin…

I grew up close enough to the beach in Southern California that our house didn’t require air conditioning. I remember only a very few times when it was hotter and more stagnant than usual, but for the most part a/c simply wasn’t necessary. And generally no matter how warm the day was, the night was always pleasantly cool.

Imagine my horror when I moved to Arkansas in June of one of the hottest, most humid summers on record to date. The stifling, oppressive humidity did little for my confidence in my new future. Evening didn’t bring any relief as it was usually as heavy as the day had been. I moved there for Todd and I loved him, but I sure didn’t like sweating profusely every time I opened the front door.

By October, however, the humidity and temperatures started dropping. The air became cool and crisp and the leaves started turning the most beautiful colors. I felt like I was being rewarded for enduring such a brutal summer. At nearly 23 years old I was finally experiencing my first true autumn. October became my favorite month.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned how seeing my latest reconstruction procedure just stirred up unpleasant emotions. October did the same thing this year. I don’t remember this last year, but maybe it was because those feelings were still so close to the surface.

My response to a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 39 was pragmatic. I hated it, but I knew it would eventually be over. I felt confident that between surgery and chemotherapy I was going to beat the monster. I never panicked, never truly thought I was going to die. I had my bad days and my moments of utter despair, but on the whole I went through it as well as possible because I didn’t feel I had a choice. I also had a little supernatural help through the whole thing, if ya know what I mean.

My head tells me all that should be behind me. I AM A SURVIVOR! And for the most part it IS behind me; the crisis over. But I wasn’t able to escape it last month. Everywhere I looked; every magazine I flipped through; every channel I surfed over; every station I listened to; every news program I watched – they all talked about Breast Cancer Awareness.

When you’re in the midst of treatment your every thought is consumed with cancer. There’s no escaping it. It’s there with every spell of nausea or the fatigue or the aches and pains or the loss of hair and eyebrows and lashes.

And then you finish your treatment; your hair starts to come back; you’re not as fatigued as you were; and all of a sudden you realize you went three hours without even thinking of cancer. Those three hours turn into five hours and so on until you might go the entire day with hardly a thought to the disease.

But in my case I went through reconstruction a year and a half after my mastectomy. It was a long and tedious surgery and a long and very unpleasant recovery. My entire day without a thought to BC was brought back to every minute because everything I was enduring was a result of the cancer.

Each procedure I’ve been through has been a little like pulling a scab off a healing wound. There’s a little less pain and oozing each time, but it still hurts. Eventually the reconstruction is completed, the trips to the oncologist are farther and father apart and life resumes a bit of normalcy.

You think to yourself, “I’ve finally moved on.” Then October comes along and everywhere you look is a plea to help find the cure. And you desperately want a cure to be found because you’re tired of hearing about yet another woman diagnosed with breast cancer or another recurrence. But even more than that, you have a daughter and even though you know it’s not your fault, she’s at higher risk now. Especially since your mother was diagnosed a year after you were. There’s truly a family history now.

Selfishly, however, I don’t want to be reminded of what I’ve lost every time I turn around. I don’t want to be overwhelmed with emotion when I see huge pink ribbon balloons in the grocery store because they’ve taken on a whole different meaning for me. I don’t want to face the reality that my daughter will always have the niggle of fear as she gets older unless a cure is found.

I’m a contradiction of emotions. I’m proud to be part of a sisterhood of some of the most incredible women I’ve ever known – including my mom – but at the same time I don’t want to be in that sorority. I don’t want anyone to be in that sorority. So I want a cure to be found and the support for BC research is astounding. But I don’t want to hear about it at every turn. There’s just no pleasing me.

I also get angry when I see the “Breast Cancer Checklist”. You know, “You’re at a higher risk for the disease if you check off however many of the following.” BAH! Three years ago I couldn’t check off any of them. I had no family history at all, I very rarely drank, I wasn’t obese, I was under 40, etc. I wasn’t even old enough for routine mammograms. Thank God I found my lump when I did.

I worry women will dismiss the possibility of breast cancer if they can’t check off anything. . Did you know that while having a family history may increase your chances of breast cancer, the majority of breast cancers are found in women without a family history? Sounds crazy, but that’s the way of it. The bottom line, people, is it doesn’t matter whether you can check off anything from the risk list or not. You must be diligent in monthly self exams and yearly exams by your doctor.

I also had more than just a moment or two of profound sadness last month. Memories were stirred without invitation. Every person who has had or has breast cancer has a similar, yet different, story to tell. My battle was compounded when Todd had to relocate to Pennsylvania ten days after my mastectomy. The difficulty of treatment was greatly magnified by having to go through it without him for the majority of the time.

One memory in particular brought up emotions I didn’t realize I still had. I received my treatments on Thursday and the following Thursday I always had a very low white count. Because of this I received Neupagen injections Thursday and Friday and sometimes even throughout the weekend, depending on how low the counts were. As thankful as I was to have this wonder drug available to me, I hated those shots. Neupagen is like fertilizer for your white blood cells, putting your marrow into hyperdrive which, in turn, causes pain in your bones and joints.

One of these Saturday nights when Todd wasn’t coming home sticks in my mind. I was so exhausted talking was a chore and my back, knees and shoulders ached so badly I felt like I had the flu. What I wanted to do was go to bed, but instead I stayed awake with the kids until they went to bed. I tossed and turned and couldn’t find a comfortable position, but I was so fatigued and desperately wanted to sleep.

After making sure the kids were asleep, I closed the door to my room, crawled into bed and sobbed. Todd would have taken care of the kids if he’d been home. He would have rubbed my back to ease the aching. I missed him so much and worried about how hard it was for him being so far away, all alone, wondering how I was.

Between my parents, neighbors and two church families I had all the help I could ever want. But there were some things no one could do for me – only Todd. The treatment and its effects were not pleasant, but having my husband living 1,200 miles away was much worse. Sometimes when I look back and think of the many times such as this I can’t imagine how we did it.

I suppose the memories, however painful, serve a purpose even now. It’s good to remember where we were, how God carried us through those horrible times and how He’s brought us through that valley to where we are now. Still, I’d rather be in control of those memories and not have them thrust upon me when I’m not prepared.

My suspicion is I’ll eventually love October as much as I used to, but it’s just going to take time. Next year my reconstruction will be completely done, I’ll probably only see my oncologist every six months or so, my gynecological problems related to the breast cancer will be so far behind me…

So if any of you found it curious that I didn’t post something about breast cancer awareness last month, now you know why. I started to several times and the posts came out so angry and bitter and I was afraid I’d cause more fear than encouragement.

In the end I do offer this encouragement to anyone who may be where I was two years ago. It DOES get better. Much better. Time heals both physically and emotionally, but it doesn’t forget.

0 thoughts on “Blasted October!

  1. Jen, thanks for the hankie warning. I’m so sorry October stinks. I understand completely! I feel the same way about September, for similar reasons. I always loved the beginning of the school year, both when I was a student and later when my kids began school. My 1st diagnosis was Sept 5, 2006. And while the 2nd diagnosis came in late August, I still associate it with September.Starting the school year knowing more breast cancer treatment was in my family’s future? That is the pits. October following right behind doesn’t help matters either!Thank you so much for sharing this. I will try, if you will, to find something about the season to look forward to (and maybe they’ll invent blinders for us to block out all that “October is for breast cancer” stuff! Would rose-colored glasses make all that pink become invisible?)Take care, Katie

  2. Once again, I admire you Jen. You are a SURVIVOR and a great example for everyone who goes through something life changing. If we must go through something life altering, may we all do it with the same grace and class that you have!Hugs!

  3. Lisa – A hug ALWAYS helps! :o)Dev – Thank you, friend.Tanya – I can’t imagine how much more horrible the bad days would have been if I wasn’t a Christian. I know a lot of women go through the same thing who aren’t Christians, but I don’t know how.KT – I hadn’t thought about rose colored glasses! I took mine off the day I was diagnosed, but maybe it’s time I put them back on. lolJen – Thank you. But I’m only one of thousands of graceful women who have fought the battle and came out better for it. And I know you plenty well enough to know that you would come through any hardship with great strength.

  4. I have this strange niggling that I may have already mentioned this story to you, but reading this post I’m reminded of a wonderful story I heard somewhere about how ship builders of the 1500’s sought out trees from mountain tops to make their mainmasts of. No other tree would do, because trees on the tops of mountains were subjected to the elements from all sides, and it produced in them a superior grain that was strong yet flexible…a quality that was not found in the trees in the valleys and sheltered areas. Only these rugged trees from the mountain top would produce a mainmast that would hold up under the beating it would regularly take from the elements on the ship it would became a part of.In much the same way, it seems the Lord has been developing in you a well-honed strength of character which can only mean He’s got big plans for you. Your story, each step, is so deeply inspiring. Your book will help so many in their own journey from diagnosis to cancer survivor. YOU GO GIRL!

  5. We will always have conflicting and contradictory emotions over breast cancer. Our bodies never forget what they went through, nor do our minds. We can push things back and “get on with it” but something will always be a trigger, and it might always be a different trigger and not the same way. This is the way of grief. It hits us when we least expect it and nothing is ever the same again. We rebuild and recreate.After my radiation was finished it was spring. I had done my 8 chemos and my 30 hits of rads…and I was preparing to move on to herceptin. I threw out every pair of socks I had ever worn to treatment. Why? Because every single time I opened that drawer and took out socks, all I could think about was “cancer”. My new socks don’t make me think about cancer at all.Big hugs Jen, really big hugs!

  6. We will always have conflicting and contradictory emotions over breast cancer. Our bodies never forget what they went through, nor do our minds. We can push things back and “get on with it” but something will always be a trigger, and it might always be a different trigger and not the same way. This is the way of grief. It hits us when we least expect it and nothing is ever the same again. We rebuild and recreate.After my radiation was finished it was spring. I had done my 8 chemos and my 30 hits of rads…and I was preparing to move on to herceptin. I threw out every pair of socks I had ever worn to treatment. Why? Because every single time I opened that drawer and took out socks, all I could think about was “cancer”. My new socks don’t make me think about cancer at all.Big hugs Jen, really big hugs!

  7. Aw, Jen… what a good post. I especially like the poignant memory you explained about being away from Todd during that difficult time. It had to be really hard on both of you.October *is* a beautiful month. I hope it becomes beautiful for you again soon.

  8. Becky – I don’t think you’ve told me that, but I have heard that before. Thank you for your incredible encouragement!Sherry – I so get the sock thing. There was a certain soap I had to get rid of. If I smell it even today it makes me feel squicky.Lainey-Paney – Thank you so much for that link. His explanation was perfect.Monnik – When I look past all the pink and see the beautiful fall colors I still LOVE October. :o)

  9. You are a powerful writer, Jen. And a powerful, mighty woman. Sounds corny, but look what God has produced in you–increased faith and all this testimony for sharing. Share it! The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s all true. It’s all magnificent in its own way, and its part of your story. I am so sorry that October was hard for you. Sometimes the bandwagon needs to slow down and regroup and focus on the survivors there are, not just the ones for the future. You not only survived, but triumphed in His Spirit. I’m humbled and proud all at once to say I “know” you. xxxooogretchen

  10. I’ve been very fortunate that no one in my close family has gone through this…but it also means I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be. And yes, I can understand how October can be a non-stop reminder of one of the worst times of your life. I also hope one day you may enjoy October once again.

  11. Lori – And it’s enough. :o)Gretchen – HI!!! Thank you so much for your nice and encouraging words. You’re the bomb! (do people still say that??)Em – Someday there will be a cure for BC and it won’t be BC Awareness month anymore. That will be nice!

  12. Jen, I’d love to respond to every single one of these points. Time being of the essence, I’d like to say 1) no apologies accepted for the “chaos.” Your breast cancer (and mine and Katie’s and Sherry’s and everyone else’s) is a “beautiful disaster,” to quote a song my daughter listens to. Chaos rules. 2) I could so entirely relate to the Unveiling…beautifully written. At my unveiling, I was crestfallen–and I’d always wanted to use that word. I have 2nd/3rd opinions in the works. Probably like you, I’m not lookng for perfection or even what was; I’d just like to not be reminded every time I look in the mirror that I had breast cancer.Off to finish a project. Loved this (and Sunday’s) post, Jen.Jill

  13. I just want to give you a huge hug and let you know how much your post touched me. I have not had breast cancer, but have so many good friends who do. Your openess and honesty about such a difficult and private time is so appreciated, and I hope begins a bit of the healing (but not forgetting)process for you. You are such a beautiful person,inside and out. I wish you never had to go through this, but thank God for your healing. Yes you are a Warrior, in so many, many ways.XOXOXO

  14. Hey Jen- Wow…I think you are as glad as I am the “Pink Hell” month is overI had an on-line friend die from breast cancer on the same day as the school district I worked for had everyone wear pink “In celebration” of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I wore a black sweatshirt and my Cancer Sucks button. I was in NO mood for a pretty pink day. Now here is the funny part….I had a co-worker come up to me, give me a HUGE hug and in the fake cheerleader voice, say: Happy breast cancer awareness day! How come you aren’t wearing pink? This is YOUR day. I was speechless…and for me, that is saying a lot! I just gave her a hug and moved on, because, well…how does one respond to something like that? By saying, Happy irritable bowel syndrome day to you too? Or Merry coronary bypass week?? You have to laugh or you cry….Thanks for sharingHugsDeb C

  15. I know the emotional condition that you speak of, even though I haven’t the history with BC. There are several events in my life that have left footprints all over a date or a period of time. Yes, we will heal or have healed, but those things live in us and make us who we are. I love the analogy Becky brought to this discussion. Without the hard times, we could not possibly be so strong. The idea of that kind of strength and survival can be understood by any of us and shared with each other. Whatever that challenge has been for each of us, Hurray for us! A heartfelt hug sent your way. :’)

  16. Jen-hard to read, but glad you wrote as it is always amazing to me to hear stories from the other side of things. I am sorry it was hard . . I couldn’t imagine a reminder such as that of such an experience as often as it is seen in October. i think i would scream and flail and do inappropriate things . . Thank you for sharing it and sharing it in a way that makes it real for those of us who think that this can’t happen to us–you are a prime example of why we must stop thinking we are immune and take it seriously.Not that is it your job or role to do this, it is just what I got from it. I am looking forward to getting to know you-

  17. I do so appreciate this post. My mother is a survivor too. I love your candid thoughts and thank you for opening my eyes to the way you see cancer and your struggles. I hope I can be more sensitive to those who have it. Blessing to you, friend.

  18. Jen, the month of October took on new meaning for me this year. Everytime I saw a pink ribbon I found myself stopping and thinking of you. My desire to support Breast Cancer research grew with a fierceness. I became more aware of the women around me who are suffering and struggling to survive. Your candidness in speaking about your battle has brought deeper understanding and compassion in me. Thank you.And no, I don’t see you as just a big pink ribbon. 😉 You are so much more! And yes, I’m back on good ‘ole Canadian soil. 🙂

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