One of my new mottos is “Why the eff not me?” I think my life shall forevermore be divided by cancer: pre-cancer and post-cancer. Pre-cancer, I let myself believe that extraordinary things happen to other people; I am but a simple girl. Post-cancer, the playing field somehow seems more even, and I feel like a Christmas tree that has just been lit up. (My branches may be a little sparse and my star is slightly crooked, but I am shining.)
I’m not just telling you this to toot my own horn (because that would suck — and I really feel pretty awkward about that part). I am telling you this because I am thinking bigger than I ever have, and even though I have asked for your help before, and it didn’t pan out, I need your help again. I saw how you guys blew Hanson up for me. Could you blow this up for me too?
It may seem silly to you and not that big for that matter — competing with IBS and menopause blogs — but two things. It would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because who doesn’t love to win things? And there’s a $1000 cash prize, and who doesn’t love a little extra money?
As it stands, the leader is only 405 votes ahead of me. I know that I can close that gap and keep a steady hold. Voting is EVERY DAY until January 15th. I know that’s a lot to ask, and I feel like that needy friend that keeps coming to the party empty handed, but if you could so kindly add it to your daily routine, I would be so grateful.
You know — wake up, make some coffee, feed the goldfish, vote for Heather’s blog, brush your teeth, twerk to the shower, blow dry your hair… It’s that easy. But, like, *everyday*. You can set an alarm. Or I can text you a #selfie everyday to remind you. But I have no selfie game. You probably don’t want that. My 12 year old cousin recently informed me that there are definite selfie rules. Things like how pretty you are determines how much of your face can be in the picture. And she said something about your eyebrows being “on point.” I don’t think mine are “on point” right now. I might need help with that too.
As an incentive to you, my dear readers (uhh, friends and family), I will even let you decide how I spend that grand if I win it.
A romantic getaway, just Josh and me.
Putting a slight dent in my mountain of medical bills. (Cancer is expensive, yo.)
Babysitters and possibly a cleaning lady so I can have time to write a book.
Ecstasy and glow sticks.
So there you have it. You can choose between being responsible, wanting to read some more things that I probably shouldn’t say, and voting for Josh and me to get it on. Also, please don’t vote for the drugs. You have no idea how many times I’ve had to say no to drugs since I’ve gotten cancer.
I’m going to be pretty annoying about this, you guys, because seriously, why the eff not me?
Although I had my reservations, this weekend one of my best friends and I celebrated our birthdays and also hosted an “I Beat Cancer” party. The party had been in the works since before I even started chemo, but as it drew closer, my superstitious side came out, and I wondered if it would be some kind of bad karma to celebrate “beating” cancer when the sumbitch can certainly rear its ugly head again to spite me. In the end, I went ahead with the party because, truly, that sumbitch is going to do whatever it’s going to do whether I party to its end or not. I decided to throw all superstition out the window and from here on out, error on the side of fun.
And fun I did have.
Brandy and I planned so much fun that there was a first (Girls Only) part and a second (All Welcome) part. I am loosely sworn to secrecy about the first part, but I will say that everyone should celebrate the end of a really tough year with a room full of your best girlfriends and favorite lady family members AND a paid entertainer. So yeah, that happened. And I will admit; I may have had/needed a few glasses of wine. (A few glasses of wine, after not being able to drink for the last, oh, two years due to pregnancy, nursing, surgery, chemo = a really happy Heather).
When we got to the all-inclusive party, among many inappropriate conversations (because I am nothing if not always treading that line), I think I tried desperately to hug my thanks into my loved ones. Like almost a year’s worth of thank you’s in one hug. It’s possible, you guys. This is what it looks like.
I also ran into my very first ever boyfriend, Drew Long. If it’s any indication of how seriously I took this relationship at 13, I had his name carved into my desk at home, and I still remember his birthday.
Among the obligatory greetings, Drew starts telling me that he has been reading my blog and that he’s happy to see that I’m okay.
“Ohmygosh! DREW! You were my firsteverboyfriend!”
“And my first kiss! Remember that?”
“Uh. Umm…” and he laughs some more.
I get the impression that he does not, in fact, remember our first kiss so I relay the details — because did he not lay in bed for months after replaying the events of that night in his head? Oh, just me. Oh, well.
“I do remember that,” he laughs.
That’s maybe where I should have stopped, but I didn’t. And I still don’t really regret it.
“And you FELT ME UP!”
Drew stammers, laughs, turns red.
“You did! You felt me up!”
All of my friends are acutely tuned in now.
“You’re making me blush,” Drew says.
As if I can keep the memory of my breasts alive by making Drew reflect back on our 14 year old adventures of Under the Shirt, Over the Bra, I push further. “You felt them! They’re gone now, but you know what I’m talking about!”
I’m pretty sure that’s about where the conversation ended. With Drew red-faced, shaking his head, and laughing. And that’s probably what I should have been (be?) doing too, but honestly, I think it’s hilarious. Josh wasn’t quite as amused upon hearing this story. Somewhere in the discussion, he asked me if I was going to call up all my ex-boyfriends for a recount.
And you know what? That’s not a half bad idea. I’m not really going to do it, but hear me out.
When you lose someone you love — or even a pet — it’s okay to talk freely of your loss, your grief. People relay heartwarming, funny tales of your loved one to help you cope or to give you an extra little piece of that person to carry around with you. And since you’re in such a grief-stricken state, sometimes, it’s all you talk about. When my mom died, I only wanted to talk about her, and people listened. They added to the conversation.
Well, I lost my boobs, and that’s pretty seriously sad to me. I have actually spent a little time grieving them. But noooo, I can’t post posthumous pics of them on facebook. Some would say that’s inappropriate. (Okay, it’s way over my line too.) It’s not socially acceptable for me to whip out one of my best boob stories in the spirit of coping, and we are not going to sit around the campfire with beers and honor them by each telling a good story about them. (Hey friends, can we actually do that? Just kidding. Unless we can.)
If I really tried to compile memories as Josh jokingly suggested in a Chicken Soup for the Soul: Heather’s Lost Boobs kind of edition, it would really be more a pamphlet or even a flyer because, you guys, you had to be pretty special to get a peek, and there would be few calls to make. But that’s not actually going to happen because I’m not really that weird.
So what am I left with? Harassing the first boy to ever (kind of) touch them?
Yeah, I guess.
Actually, I reran into Drew and his little brother later in the evening and had a more legit conversation that ended in a few tears. When we were puppy loving in middle school, his mom had breast cancer, and when he was too cool to be my boyfriend anymore (or maybe it was because my brother trash canned him) at 16, the Sumbitch came back, and he lost his mom. I told him that I have often thought of his mom over the last eight months, and I have. I knew exactly three things about Mrs. Long:
1) She cared enough to chaperone our middle school dances.
2) She didn’t like it when Drew and I would dance cheek to cheek, chest to chest and would often put a little space between us.
3) She packed him a well crafted lunch. Where my mom threw in a ding dong, Drew’s mom peeled and cut up kiwis.
Basically, she was a good, caring mom, and cancer did not take that into consideration. Even at my “I Beat Cancer” party, I am reminded that this is still really scary. This may or may not be over. In the meantime, I’m going to keep having fun and living life more alive than I’ve ever known. So Travis Wolfe, watch out! You’re next. Just kidding. For real. Sometimes, I like to end things on an awkward note.
I have two Thanksgivings to go to this year, and ever since I became a bona fide adult (around the time I had Penny), people expect me to bring things. I mean, don’t get me wrong. In that period before I had kids but was a grown, married woman, I chipped in. I’m not rude. Soda and ice? Fine, and I’ll even get some cups if you need them. Rolls? I’m all over it, but next time, I’d really prefer not to have to heat anything up. Now where’s the whipped cream…I mean, pumpkin pie?
Those were the days.
Something very sneaky happens as you get older. It feels like, one minute, you’re drawing on your grandma’s walls and putting gum under her table with your cousins, and the next, you’re responsible for contributing to making this holiday happen. And if you put gum under the table, you’re just a gross jerk. And your little cousins are somebody’s parents.
So for the past few years or so I’ve been expected to bring, like, a legitimate side dish. The problem is that I don’t have a go-to side dish. My mom’s signature side dish was her salad. Every Easter and every Thanksgiving, that was her contribution. But to be honest, I would rarely put my signature on anything I cook.
For the last few days, I have been mulling over and over what I should bring to these two Thanksgivings.
“I could bring baked macaroni and cheese or corn casserole,” I would say to myself. “I’m sure someone is already bringing the green bean casserole. Ugh…I don’t feel like cooking anything. I just started making dinner for my own family again, and yesterday we had Arby’s. Maybe a fruit or veggie plate then. Oh, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t go near a fruit or veggie tray on Thanksgiving! That might even be un-American. Okay, maybe a broccoli raisin salad. That’s FULL of mayonnaise so it meets the caloric requirements. And you know what, Schnucks makes a good broccoli raisin salad. Maybe I could find a copycat recipe… Ooooor I could just buy it from Schnucks. I’m pretty sure no one will say anything. It’s been a hard year, and I just went back to work. They know how tired I still am. Besides, I HAD CANCER! Schnucks it is.”
You guys, that’s the cancer card. I hope you don’t have one too, but them’s the perks.
And since I decided to whip it out for Thanksgiving, it got me thinking about some of the times I played my cancer card this year.
We all four stopped at this four way stop at the same time? Well, I’m going first. I have cancer.
I have no makeup on, I haven’t brushed my teeth, and I’m still in my pajama pants. I’m going to Target anyway. I have cancer.
I’m at an 80th birthday party and no one wants to be the first to eat. I will. I’m hungry, and I have cancer.
We don’t have the money for me to get a pedicure, but I do anyway. That’s okay. I have cancer.
I keep not texting my friends back. They’ll understand. I have cancer.
Josh wants to watch a music documentary, but I have cancer so we watch The Mindy Project.
I just ate half my daughter’s Halloween candy. You can’t judge me. I have cancer.
My library books are late, and now I have a fine. Can’t you just waive that? Haven’t you heard? I have cancer.
You want me to donate to AIDS research? No. I have cancer. Actually, can you donate to me?
There’s “stork parking” at the mall, and I make Josh park there. I have been both pregnant and chemo’d. Cancer is worse. Let them ask me why we parked here.
You have to fire half your employees? I’ll do it. No one can get mad at me right now. I have cancer.
I have to wait in this checkout line? Are you kidding me? I have cancer.
In the beginning, I was super serious. I mean, I didn’t ever say it to anyone (Except for Josh. “No, I cannot help bathe the girls tonight. I HAVE CANCER!”), but it was always reverberating in my head. I have cancer. It was unbelievable, and I was indignant. I almost felt above the law.
These days, the shock has worn off, I guess. I still can’t believe that this happened to me, but I have digested it. I have gone through the treatment and come out the other side. I am feeling better every day. And I am afraid (umm…ecstatic, really!) that my cancer card carrying days are coming to an end. In the meantime, please don’t tell my family this until after the holidays because I really, really don’t like to cook.
I think my eyelashes have PTSD. They mostly hung in there through the war that was chemo, but now that the official assault is over, they are ditching me, and it’s really bumming me out. Straight vanity: I always kind of thought that my eyelashes were my best feature. You know, those and mybadonkadonk. jk. jk. (That thing actually landed me the clever and very humiliating nickname of “watermelon butt” in the seventh grade.) But seriously, my once beautiful mane of eyelashes… People would ask me what kind of mascara I used. If I curled them. If they were fake. And now… well now, I am desperately coating my remaining ten or so, and it’s ridiculous. DON’T THEY KNOW CHEMO IS OVER? Someone PLEASE tell them.
On that note, I really hope I don’t get pulled over right now without my beautiful eyelashes and boobs and what not. I might actually get a ticket! Unless I pull off whatever wig or hat I may be wearing and play the cancer card. Is that too far? I mean, my mom told me you gotta use what you got. How about I just try not to speed?
So my birthday was last week, and it was such a strange day. The day before (because age 32 officially hated me), Josh and I were sick. Like, real sick. We spent the night and day playing toilet bowl relay and one of us may have been exerting so hard that she peed her pants a little. Twice. But I’ll leave it to you to figure out who has the weaker pelvic floor (because I know that’s the kind of thing you come to this blog to think about).
Anyway, on my actual birthday, I was overly emotional and spent half the day at Siteman getting my Herceptin infusion. I decided to put on my party face by putting on my party hair, and it actually helped. I was in a pod (Are cancer patients aliens? Peas?) with four older men and a couple of wives, and they just LOVED the pink wig. One of them wanted to know if his hair would come back that color too, and I tell you it was hard to be in a bad mood being surrounded by all those cute, funny old men.
Here’s where the day got strange though. As I pulled out of the parking garage, I also pulled off the wig because four hours of wig is three hours too many. I pulled out of the complex and hit a red light. As I stopped, I looked over and saw a man about my age with a sign that said something like “HOMELESS. Please help. God bless.” All I had in cash was one dollar so I grabbed it and held it out to him. He walked over, grabbed it, and looked up at me.
“I can’t take this from you,” and he handed me back the dollar.
“What do you mean? Here. Take it.” And then I saw his eyes. Probably the saddest, emptiest blue eyes I have ever seen.
“No, I can’t take this from you,” and he looks at my baldish head.
“Oh, it’s okay. I want to help you. Here.”
“No, no, no.”
“It’s only a dollar,” and I hold my hand out farther.
“No. I feel sorry for you.”
What the whaaaaat? You feel sorry for me? I feel sorry for you! Excuse me again…whaaat?
“I’m okay,” I say. “Just take it. I’m going to be okay.”
“Are you sure? I can’t. I feel sorry for you.”
I nod (even though I’m not really sure I’ll be “okay”), and he takes the dollar, says thanks, and walks away as the light turns green.
I drove away totally confused. Think what you will, but since my diagnosis, I have driven back and forth to Barnes many times, and I have given countless dollars to the homeless that I see, something I didn’t used to do on the regular. I didn’t know how to process having to talk a homeless man into taking my money. It bothered me for the rest of the day, and that night I realized why it bothered me so much…and what I wish I could say to him.
This? This bald head. THIS is why I’m helping you. This is how I know what it feels like to need help. To really need help. And this is how I know what it feels like to fall. This is what taught me that we are all connected. That we need each other. This is how I know that I love you, and this let me see you. This makes me think about you and your sad blue eyes every day and wish that I could have seen them in a better time. (Much like my eyelashes were my signature, I’m sure that your blue eyes were once yours.) Please don’t mistake this bald head as a weakness; it is my strength.
It’s such a strange life right now. I’m trying to move on from cancer, but I’m finding that it isn’t possible. My eyelashes aren’t letting me forget. My bald head and discolored nails aren’t letting me forget. My Herceptin infusions aren’t letting me forget. Even homeless guys that I don’t know won’t let me forget. I suppose even if all those things didn’t remind me I would remind myself every ten minutes because it’s most of what I still think about. What I’m learning, really, is that the battle wasn’t going through treatment or “fighting” the cancer. The battle has just started. The battle is in my mind, and it’s to learn how to live with the unknown and the ambiguity and the fear. I don’t really know how to do that yet. I feel like if my eyelashes would stick around, my game face might be more convincing though.
Today is my thirty third birthday, and I am feeling grateful and scared. Grateful, now more than ever, for another year. (I can promise that I’ll never dread another birthday or celebrate another anniversary of my 29th birthday.) Scared because I might not get to raise my daughters. Only time will tell.
When I lay in bed awake at night (something I never used to do–Underhills are of a tribe of glorious sleepers), I think about how all I want to do is be with my family. Then I think of my mom.
My mom died at 46. Forty six. I’ve always known that was young. The older I get, the more I realize just how young that is though. And then I think about the fact that I am only 33, and I am desperate to make it to 46 (and beyond). I have shed many tears wondering if I’ll live as long as my mom did. Wondering if I’ll get the time to love my daughters the way she loved me. Wondering if I’ll be lucky enough to leave them with enough of me to get through their lives having known my heart. A mother’s love is irreplaceable. It’s something that I am all too aware of.
But I can’t go through this day without just smiling. I am another year older, and approximately 72 and a half years wiser. I will always remember 32. It sucked — and I am still sorting it out — but it was the year that taught me that I can do anything.
My hope for 33 is that it will be the year that I have enough courage and dedication to myself to follow my heart. To really live the way I want to live and to be who I want to be.
I had a sudden realization whilst at the Halloween parade with Penny. What happens if I go to New Orleans? Mardis Gras? How am I supposed to get beads, you guys?
My girlfriend pointed out that I would never have employed such tactics anyhow, but that’s besides the point. What if I needed some beads to save my life? Like, a murderer said he would only let me live if I could get some beads RIGHT NOW, and I can no longer do the international signal for “give me a cheap plastic necklace?” It’s a problem I’m going to have to add to the list.
Sometimes I hope my daughters will never find this blog. (Just kidding about almost everything I ever say. Mommy loves you. Please don’t flash your boobies. Use your brains to get what you want.)
Anyway, I went back to work last night. Kind of. I only worked a four hour shift, and they let me work with another nurse just to get used to being there again and to learn some of the computery things that have updated since I last worked. I was really nervous that I had forgotten everything ever and that chemo brain would render me useless, but it’s funny how things just come back to you. Like, I even remembered the IT help desk number, which I called maybe three times in five years.
I was nervous, too, because there was a massive turnover in the months of my absence and a lot of my friends left. I didn’t want to show up in my beanie, not knowing anyone, and be only known as “the cancer girl.” I don’t know if that happened, as there were so many new faces, but I guess I don’t care. It was just so nice to see and catch up with the people that I do know and love. Plus, I’ve learned a thing or two about holding my head up and/or mentally blocking stares, head tilts, pity glances, and that look people give you when they’re trying to figure out if your eyebrows are real. (Since I learned how to fill in my eyebrows a few weeks ago, people keep telling me how much healthier I look. Smoke and mirrors, my friends.)
Overall, it was a good night at work and with friends, but I do have to mention this. Because this did happen.
After all the pleasantries of being back:
“Heather, have you gained some weight?”
::Mental pause to see if my coworker really just said this to me::
“Why, yes, I have. About fifteen pounds. Thanks!”
“I can see it. Especially in your face.”
To which, I think I launched into a mini diatribe about how breast cancer specific chemo (and the steroids) actually make you gain weight. Even though my family was worried I would lose weight in the beginning, my doctor assured them that I would, in fact, probably gain 10 pounds. And I’m an overachiever. Don’t people know about the chemo fifteen? Duh.
And don’t people know not to look you straight in the eye and ask if you’ve gained weight? Aaaaand then proceed to tell you that your face is fat.
What do you want from me? When I gain weight, it goes straight to the cheeks. The ass and the face.
Oh, well. Although I was initially appalled, twelve hours later, I kind of think it’s hilarious. I also kind of think it’s time to get to the gym. Remember when I said I got a gym membership and was working out? You see, about that… That stopped after about the second chemo. With my blood counts so low, I got winded going up one flight of stairs or trying to vacuum or walking into the library from my car. And then there was the inexplicable soreness. And just all the other things that chemo does. I am starting to feel better these days, and being called out like that only reminds me that it is time. Time to bring it back.
I’m just not sure how to fit everything in. Even working minimally, my life sometimes feels like a circus of laundry, bill paying, grocery shopping, and itsy bitsy spidering. Some days I feel like the only thing I accomplished was thrice making a mess of the kitchen and thrice cleaning it back up. I know that I am not unique in this way so how do you guys do it? Does anyone have a magic system that suddenly makes it super easy to balance all the adulty responsibilities? (I’m much more of an adult now, you know.) And please don’t tell me to wake up at 5 AM while my children are still asleep because that’s not happening.
And please don’t tell me my face is fat. I just don’t like it.
I titled this post and left it blank over a week ago. I owe you guys an update – plus, I like to write — but I just don’t know what to say. I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out.
During treatment, I had all kinds of little moments to myself. They may have been when I was lying in bed hugging a pillow or when I was doing the business that chemo makes you do in the lady john, but I was alone much more often than before. It was usually at the expense of my husband’s sanity or my mother-in-law’s free time, and I often didn’t feel very good. But in these moments, I thought. And I thought. And thought some more. A brush with death will do that to a person, and facing my mortality has been difficult and wonderful.
Now that the bulk of my treatment is complete, I am back to professional momming, i.e. slinging milk and goldfish, wiping butts and faces (not in that order), doing preschool drop-off and making play dates. I don’t know if I was just so excited to get back to my life or if I just opened my eyes and saw what a mess my kids and house were…or even if my kids sensed that mom was back, but I jumped right back in. And now I am exhausted, and my head if so FULL of kids and cleaning and stupid worries. I got mad at Josh for putting a dish in the sink. (Seriously, though, the kitchen was clean; the sink was empty. How much harder is it to put the bowl in the dishwasher rather than the sink? But no, you put it in the sink so I can put it in the dishwasher. Gah.) So yeah, things are back to normal.
It’s just that six months ago, or two months ago, that bowl wouldn’t have been a blip on my radar. Because who cares about a bowl? I kind of miss the days (of, like a month ago) when I had time to think.
I’m trying to find the balance between getting on with my life and changing the things that I want to change. It’s really hard to do when I have these amazing little people who need, want, DEMAND so much of me and my time. I suspect that even without kids, it’s a hard balance to strike.
Truthfully, I don’t know where I stand sometimes. I really am still processing what just happened. I only found that lump in my breast less than seven months ago, and here I am bald, boobless, anemic, and aware of so very much more. And even though I suppose I don’t have cancer anymore and I’m trying to “move on,” it’s always in my face.
At the grocery store: “Ma’am, do you want help out?”
Who? Me? Oh, right. I’m bald and frail.
And I start to feel a little offended.
No one ever offered to help me out before! Not even when I was juggling a crying infant and a petulant preschooler. Do I really look that bad?
“No, thanks,” I say and walk out.
Crap! That might be the last time they ask me that for, like, 30 or 40 years. I should have told him yes! I should take advantage of this. He doesn’t know that I don’t have cancer anymore. Next time, for sure.
I don’t know. I’m pretty unsure of where to land except for exactly where I was before (because it’s habit and easy), and I don’t want that. It’s not that it was a bad place. I just know better now. I just don’t know where to step.
Good news, you guys, I am officially done with chemo, and about half of my eyebrows and most of my eyelashes made it! My brain, however, was not so lucky. Chemobrain is real, and it just feels foggy up in here. Like the set of an 80s video — without all the hair and boobs because duh. I have been affectionately referring to myself as a chemotard (Oh, please don’t try to go all PC on me. I am just poking fun at myself, y’all.), and I am having a hard time focusing, remembering things, and sometimes, retrieving words. I was already terrible at trivia, but if you invite me to your trivia night now, I will blame it ALL on the chemo. I will make up for my lack of brainpower with extra delicious snacks though because I’m not afraid to be that girl. And my love for baked goods and cheese-based dips remains unaffected.
In other good news, I finally saw a radiation oncologist last week, and he nixed the radiation plans! I was a little like, “Dude…I mean, good doctor, are you sure? Like for sure, for sure?” He then drew pictures for me, threw a lot of statistics at me, and repeated certain things over and over so I could let them sink in. The short story is that, in my case, radiation would only lower the odds of a local recurrence by maybe a couple percent, and, in his opinion, the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
Since my oncologist was all, “We’re going to throw everything we have at you,” I really didn’t think it was an option for this new doctor to come back and say, “Nah, you’re good,” but his nurse practitioner put it like this. “If you want a good cake recipe, you can go to your hairdresser and ask for one. You might get a good recipe or you might not. But if you go to a baker, you know you’re going to get a good one.” Obviously, the hairdresser is my oncologist, and the baker is the radiation oncologist.
So anyway, they told me I was free to go and to get dressed and left the room. Josh and I sat there in complete shock, and, yeah, I started crying. What they had just told me was that I was done. I was DONE. DONE. DONE. DONE.
I’m not gonna lie. This last six months has been a little slice of hell. It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. (And, trust me, I do realize how much worse it could be or could have been.) I have learned and lost a lot, but I really think that’s all for a different post. My point is that cancer and its treatments are pretty all consuming, and to be abruptly told that you are done is dizzying. That’s part of the reason I’ve kept this news closer to home for over a week. I feel like I’ve spent an entire night at the carnival riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, and I’ve just stepped off. I can’t see straight. I can’t walk straight. I’m nauseated. I’m tired. And I don’t know which way is home.
I don’t even know how to get back to living my life. Things like going back to work feel so absurd. I’m just so dizzy. And the truth is that I’m not really entirely done with treatment. Every three weeks until June, I still have to get Herceptin (a non-chemo drug) infusions and blood draws. I will be getting an echocardiogram every three months with that, and at my next appointment, my doctor and I will discuss which drug I will take for the next five or ten years to block to effects of estrogen on my body and possible ovary removal.
But that night, after I found out that I wouldn’t have to go through radiation, I woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t back to sleep. I laid there next to Penny (How do you keep your kids out of your bed? Ugh.) and did something that I’ve been doing a lot of lately — thought about my life and how I want to use it. After about an hour of that, I decided to check facebook, and just when I thought I was done with cancer, the harshness of it slapped me in the face. Do you remember Sam? The little boy I bonded with (maybe it was one-sided. Ha.) over ports and cancer. Well, Sam, the six-year-old son of former coworkers who just completed his treatments for liver cancer, was back in the hospital already. His cancer had returned. And my heart broke.
Although cancer hasn’t given me all the answers, it has given me the right questions, and when I ask myself how I want to spend my time, helping people is in the top five (along with loving on my family, laughing with friends, stalking Taylor Hanson, and eating cheese while playing board games). Just kidding. Kind of. But helping people, yes.
I never knew how much help I could need. It took a village, or, like, a clown car full of awesome people to get me through this. It really did. And I also never knew just how financially devastating one diagnosis and six months could be. But it was. We, truly, wouldn’t have been able to pay our bills if it wasn’t for the kindness of you guys. Sam and his family have just gone through what I went through — chemo and surgery — and have already turned back around to do it again. In the spirit of helping people, because when you realize what’s important in life, it’s really only people, I’m just going to throw this out there. It’s a link to Sam’s donation page if you feel so inclined. And I hope you do. Sam was diagnosed just weeks before me, and I remember donating the first time thinking, “We don’t really have the money, but if this were ever my family, I would need the support too.” True story. And then it was. Yikes.
Also, I’m pretty mad at Hanson right now. I told them I’d either take the trip or a wig made out of their hair. I don’t know why they never got back with me…
Just before my first chemo treatment, I spotted “the bell” on a wall in the waiting area. No one rang it that day, but it gave me hope. That stupid little bell gave me a goal. It gave me focus. It even gave me an outlet.
After that first meeting and making it through my first chemo, I started to form a strange relationship with the bell. I would sometimes stare at it across the crowded waiting room like we were in the school cafeteria and I had been practicing writing “Mrs. Heather Bell” in my Lisa Frank notepad. I would picture myself ringing it. (How many times would I ring it? How hard? Would I cry? Who would be there? Should I look directly at it? Away? Should I buy it dinner first?) I would watch other people ring it and, almost every time, be moved to tears. Eventually, I started to trash talk the bell. And, like, straight up threaten it. I’m pretty sure I told it that I was responsible for cracking the Liberty Bell and it better watch out. I told it that I was lifting weights (pshh, yeah right). I may have even thrown a few yo mama jokes its way. I definitely did that “intimidating” move where you jerk your head forward with crazy eyes. IDK. I’m not very good at intimidation…or trash talk.
Well, last Monday, I FINALLY got to ring that damn bell after my sixth and final chemo! I have to say that I started the day pretty down. Josh and I made our way to the hospital, and I knew that I should be excited…but I was in a funk. I mean, part of it could be that, whether it was my first or last, I was still on my way to chemo and a couple more weeks of feeling not so hot, but I also think it’s pretty scary to come to the end of this. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t in a good mood. And I *almost* made it through the day without crying.
I actually felt a little sorry for the resident. We had been discussing things just fine, and he mentioned that my daughters would need to start “vigilant screenings at 25, including breast MRIs,” and I just started crying without warning. He immediately looked like a confused fifteen year old boy, handed me an empty box of tissues, and did a lot of stammering. He obviously doesn’t have children, and I obviously overreacted. I apologized profusely, and he did not mention my daughters again.
But, 25? At 25, I was standing in the same church that both of our parents had been married in and saying “I do” to my husband. At 25, I was figuring out that I wanted to go to nursing school. I was living off of diet coke, cereal, and love. I was poor and so very carefree. At 25, Josh and I read books to each other every night and went on walks whenever the mood struck. We drove around, endlessly, looking at houses for fun and listening to music with the windows down. At 25, I was not worrying about breast cancer. (Should I have been??) At 25, I was not facing my mortality, and I was not inside of an MRI machine fretting. I’m not saying that maybe I shouldn’t have been. I’m just saying that it’s not the 25 I wanted for my daughters, and it just makes me sad.
Afterwards, chemo went as well as chemo goes. I watched some HGTV, sent random texts, wondered why everyone at chemo had hair, and did not inform my nurse that she was supposed to ice my nails when she forgot.
My brother, Paul, and his wife showed up at around 8 o’clock to watch me finish and ring the bell. By that time, I was in a better mood and wondering why there were no late night chemo party rooms. I am always there late, and overall, I am very disappointed at the chemo round table. The movies taught me that I would make my new best friend at chemo. We would laugh and cry with each other when our hair fell out. We would trade foobs (fake boobs) and fingernail polish. We would go to puke into the same trash can, bump heads, look up, and laugh while finger pointing instead. Obviously, one of us would die, and it wouldn’t be me. But that’s just how it goes. jk. jk. For real. And also, does it make you uncomfortable when I say “die?” I’ve noticed that. I can’t just say, “These shoes are KILLING me!” or “I’m DYING to go to the pumpkin patch next week” anymore. But I still do. Because you guys get a little uncomfortable. And it makes me laugh a little on the inside.
Seriously, though, there are six to a chemo room, and they should group them by some demographic. Like the old guys who just want to sleep but bring along their super talkative old lady wives. Group ’em up. Single and ready to mingle. Put ’em together. A knitting club, movie buffs, people who are always coId, retired truck drivers, cat people, people who love Hanson, Harry Potter, cheese, and laughing at cancer. Oh, or BINGO room! I would totally hang out in the bingo chemo room and set out my troll dolls and pictures of my kids and cats. I really think these are solid ideas, you guys.
But anyway, I did manage to make it out to the bell and finally get a piece of that action. I’m not sure what I expected, but more than anything, I was just excited. Since it was so late, there wasn’t a crowd in the waiting room to clap for me. It was just Josh, Paul, Rachael, and me, but I think it was better that way. I got to ring it as much as I wanted. There may have even been some attempts to judo kick it.
A week later, I have to say, there should be another bell for when you’re REALLY done with chemo. Cuz it sho don’t feel like I’m done yet. Soon enough, I know.
I’ve also got some other things on my mind that I need to fill you guys in on, and I’m sorting through a lot of emotions and, really, this whole year. I will update very soon, but for now, I’ll just leave you with this video. It dually represents how awkward I feel while being filmed and how happy I was to ring that thing.
In my early college days, a couple of my best friends and I spent most of our money driving all over the midwest and the south to see different bands that we loved. We drove for hours, stayed in cheap motels, and lived off of Taco Bell, vending machine food, and that weird peanut butter and jelly mix that comes in the same jar. It was amazing.
But the thing is, as twenty year olds will do, we also played lots of tricks on each other. You know, like making your friend think you left her at the restaurant while she was in the bathroom. Or filling her water bottle with vodka from the mini bar and dying of laughter the moment she takes a huge pull. Or passing off dog treats as cookies. Basically, we messed with each other’s food. A lot. Like, you better not leave your drink unattended or it will likely be salted. Or worse yet, thrown out the window of the moving car.
You guys, chemo is trying to be that same kind of friend to me but doesn’t know how to play it. It’s kind of an asshole.
For example, the other day after feeding the girls lunch, I baked some lasagna roll ups that I made and froze before chemo for myself, and my thoughts went something like this:
I’m so hungry! And these smell so good!
Nom nom nom.
Wait, this tastes funny. Is this bad? I can’t tell. I never can tell anymore. It’s probably okay.
Nom nom nom.
It does taste funny. It’s probably just my mouth. But they have been in the freezer for over three months. And they are made of cheese. How long can you freeze cheese anyway?
Nom nom nom.
I wish Josh was here to taste this and tell me if it was safe. Oh man, I remember that time he tasted my breast milk, and it WAS bad. Twice. He puked that second time! He would definitely tell me if this was bad.
Nom nom nom.
I should invent the seeing eye dog equivalent of dog food testers for chemo patients. It could, like, smell a food and let me know if I’m about to poison myself since my own taste buds are so unreliable. Someone could totally poison me right now, and I wouldn’t even suspect it!
Nom nom nom.
Oh, here comes Penny. She wants a bite. I’m not sure if I should give her any. What if it really is bad? But how can I tell her she can’t have a bite as I sit here and eat it? Okay, I guess I’ll just see if she says anything. Am I being an awful mom? What if I’m food poisoning her right now with rotten lasagna?… Oh, she wants another bite. I guess it’s okay. Here comes Alice. She wants some too. Geez, I JUST fed you guys. Why can’t I ever just have something that’s mine? Or eat in peace? Or poop in peace?
All the Lagemann girls: Nom nom nom.
Oh, they lost interest. Yeah, this tastes funny. I’m done too.
Seriously, a lot of food just tastes weird right now. My mouth itself, like just sitting here, tastes like poison — bitter and muddy. Some things tastes worse than others, and drinks are definitely worse than food. At a time when I’m supposed to stay suuuper hydrated, water is the devil. It tastes like dirty, well water and pennies. Josh is ever so nurturing and gets very frustrated and worried when I’m not drinking enough water. But I kind of feel like we’re on Fear Factor and Josh is Joe Rogan asking me to drink the urine of a dying warthog or a pitcher of sharts or something. I did once eat a bug for a dollar, but water is almost out of the question for about two weeks after a treatment.
For the ultimate eff you, first chemo makes me more tired than I’ve ever been in my life (and yeah, I’m laughing at you first and third trimester Heather, and you nursing-a-newborn Heather), and then it takes away coffee. Chemo and coffee must be sworn enemies. But sometimes, I choke it down anyway because I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to take care of a one year old and a four year old without coffee. And you don’t get between a white girl and her pumpkin creamer.
Oh well, there are worse things, for sure. And maybe, in this case, chemo mouth will make the palate grow fonder. Or something. I’m hoping I’ll be all like, “Oh hey, kale and beets! I never properly appreciated you guys! Now that I know how truly disgusting things can taste, you guys are just delicious. From here on out, you and your vegetable friends are all I ever need!” At least, a girl can hope.