Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Little Guide To Life

My birthday is next Tuesday. Election Day! If you want to give me a gift go vote and then let me know about it.

I love birthday cards. Especially the ones from my parents. The cards always arrive in the mail a few days early. I like the anticipation of walking to the end of my driveway and peering inside the mailbox. You see, I've spent most of my adult life living far away from my family. They are in Georgia and I'm always somewhere else. So the card from my parents is like the birthday hug I'd get upon waking up when I was a little girl.

My parents are older now, 81 and 79. My mother is the card buyer in the family but things have changed. She stopped driving earlier this year. It's a chore to go to the store for anything. I understand completely and still, I yearn for the past when she was energetic and demanding (read with a whisper - she's still demanding).

My loving parents

When I tacked last year's birthday card on my kitchen wall it was in honor of all the birthdays my parents helped to make special. Forty-six of them, to be exact. Also, this particular card had a message I wanted to remember and two handwritten notes penned at the bottom. When I'm feeling down I look to the left of my kitchen sink and take a moment to read the beautiful, pale green card.

A Little Guide To Life
for a lovely daughter on her birthday

Be good to yourself. 
There are some things everyone deserves -
Love, respect, time to recharge.
Never settle for less.

Seek out your dreams.
Start small. Take it as it comes.
Even a butterfuly has to inch along
before getting its wings.

Listen to your heart.
Trust your gut.
If the way seems unclear,
look within you.

Let your voice be heard.
You have a story to tell and opinions that count.
And a different to make.

Stay curious.
Take every opportunity to learn.
Knowledge is a gift.
It will take you places.

Hold on to what's important.
Let worries go.
No matter how you look at it,
some things just don't make sense.
The way you choose to carry on
is that really matters.

And when you make a list of what you want in life,
make another list of what you've got.
Be sure to start with all the things
that make you a beautiful person.
There are so many.

I can imagine my mother brushing her hand along the card display at the drugstore, choosing one with a cute picture of a puppy, reading it, and finding it lacking she puts it back in the rack. She scours the cards until her eyes land on this one particular pale green card. It speaks to her and it's filled with the important advice she wants to pass on to her

I know it makes her sad, too, that the time has most likely passed for endlessly pacing the card aisle at the CVS near her house. It was also very sad and frightful for her to be so far away from me while I was so very ill. She doesn't fly anymore, but her and my father's love came to me in cards, phone calls, and notes scribbled on little scraps of paper.

The card is signed...
Hope you have a good birthday.
Wish we could be there to enjoy it with you.
Remember how much I love you.
With my love as always,

Have a good birthday.
Hope to see y'all soon.
Take good care.
Love you,
Daddy Rabbit

Daddy Rabbit...that's a story for another time.

This card is my gift to you. Print it out on colorful paper. Draw roses, daisies, and curlycues to frame the words. Tack it to the wall where you can see it every day. Remember that all this is true for you, too. No matter what you are going through today, these sentiments remain to carry you through. Smile and feel the hug.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That's Not Your Life Anymore

One year after Chemo

I'm down to seeing my oncologist once every six months, a welcome change from the almost weekly visits I'd become accustomed to. This changes our relationship. Meeting Dr. Allison now is like having lunch with a friend. I notice she's wearing new glasses and her hair color is slightly darker than back in April. She notices my shoes, a pair of Teva slip-ons easily dressed up with a skirt. I think it's cute she doesn't remember commenting on them several times before. It's clear Dr. Allison's taste has remained steady over the years. She's a woman who knows her what she likes. Picture this...We are sitting at a patio table. I'm toasting our successes with a fruity drink and dabbing the corner of my mouth with a linen napkin.

Reality check...We are in her gaily decorated office. Wizard of Oz memorabilia everywhere. I'm wearing a pink paper napkin and she's discussing how to tweak my pharmaceutical cocktail. It's okay though. Just like friends, we laugh and crack jokes about my ten pound weight gain. It's the holidays. They last from October to January. Ha, ha, ha.

Then it's straight into business mode.

I take five pills a day. That's five too many for me. I ask about eliminating Neurontin, a yellow capsule that helps stave off night sweats brought on by  the Tamoxifen I take and early onset menopause. Menopause at 44 years old, a gift (read with sarcasm) from four months of TAC Chemotherapy.

"I haven't had a problem in a long time. What do you think about dropping the Neurontin? I hate taking so many pills. Before I got cancer I hardly ever took a pill."

Dr. Allison rolls her eyes and waves her pen at me. "That's not your life anymore. Keep the Neurontin. Trust me. It's not that many pills. Just toss'em back in one mouthful."

She tells me to lie down and for the millionth time she examines my breasts, paying close attention to my left side--the side that had the audacity to grow a rather large finger-like tumor and forever change my life. This is the side I lost to a mastectomy and had reconstructed with a silicone implant. Two weeks ago my plastic surgeon attempted to sculpt a new nipple. Two headlights are better than one, so I've heard.

The process did not go so well. It's not Dr. Spann's fault. My plastic surgeon's skills are beyond compare. He's brought me this far with superior results. It's the fault of my radiated skin. See, after a round of radiation treatment the irradiated skin becomes taunt and less stretchy. Think back to my imaginary lunch date with Dr. Allison. I'm more of a linen napkin girl as opposed to a jersey knit sweater. My irradiated skin also has a difficult time healing, so any operation in that area carries the risk of failure.

Before my mastectomy, I scared myself sh**less with post-surgery pictures of breast cancer patients on the Internet. I came away with the solid belief that I'd never be even close to normal again. I've been lucky up to this point. I have a talented plastic surgeon and my skin recovered nicely from the deep burns of radiation. My reconstructed breast mound has a pleasing shape (alibeit, a little like a very firm grapefruit sitting high on my chest) and normal peachy skin tone.
Back to my exam where Dr. Allison is looking at my left breast, particularly the black, inky nub protected by a plastic shield.She sucks in her breath and says, " Yikes. So you're not going to try that again, I'm assuming."

Nipple failure. Constricted blood flow has caused half of my new nipple to die. For now, I am babying it with a slathering of triple antibiotic ointment, protection from accidental rubbing or bumping, and heartfelt prayers to God.

"Carol's sells stick on nipples. There a really nice option." She closes my shirt with a crinkle of paper and helps me sit up.

I tell her I'll think about it. On contemplation, a sticky, pliable, silicone nipple did seem the easiest way to solve my one headlight problem at the beach or on a cold, wintery date night with my husband. This might also be less traumatic than a skin graft from my intact, right side nipple or my labia (that one makes me cringe), as suggested by Dr. Spann. Another option is a very cool tattoo to disguise the nippleless area. Maybe a dragon lounging across my mastectomy scar.

I give Dr. Allison a hug and a smile as I leave the office but  her words play in my head. That's Not Your Life Anymore.

As if she'd poked me in the eye with her index finger, I was left with blurry, slightly off kilter vision. Honestly, it ruined my day.  After an evening of sulking, I have a better understanding of my reaction. I truly believed that one day soon I'd be the Lisa I was in the spring of 2010. I'd be that healthy, never say no, never take pills, vibrant, sexy-for-my-age woman again. She was coming back. I just had to keep moving forward to find her.

But that's not true. She is not me anymore. I am the post breast cancer me and I have to learn to love this me as much as I did the old me. I have to take my top off, look in the mirror at the mastopexy scar on my right breast and the mastectomy results on my left and say that I love me. Scars, black nub, everything. If I'm going to be me again I have to love what I see.

So I'm trying this affirmation:

This my life now and I am happy to have it.