Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cancer: One Year Later. A Year In Pictures

Almost a year ago, I wrote this about the day I found out I had cancer.

Tomorrow, November 14th, my daughter goes back to school after her tonsillectomy, exactly one year from the day I had my tonsillectomy and the doctors found the tumor.

The Universe has a strange sense of humor, sometimes.

Last November 14th, I had four days left of blissful ignorance of not-knowing.  In my heart, I was pretty sure I knew, but there was still the chance my heart was wrong.

So, a year ago I was living out my last pre-cancer days, and it's got me thinking about how my life has changed.  How I've changed.

I say my last pre-cancer days, because I understand, now, that even if I stay in remission for the rest of my life, that I am forever changed by the diagnosis.  Cancer is no longer a death sentence, thank God, but it is a life sentence, of sorts.  Because once you've had cancer you are never the same again.

I looked back over the past year and a huge part of me didn't understand how we got through it.

Then last week I was searching through some pictures - looking for photos for Finn's birthday video - and I found some memories I had forgotten about. Things that at the time I swore I'd never, ever forget.

There was the one taken the day I had my feeding tube put in:



I was scared and feeling about as low as I had during the whole cancer ordeal that day.  I was on the verge of tears, full of fear, and my cell phone beeped that I had a message.  Heather and some amazing friends had put together this video for me. It arrived - quite literally - just exactly when I needed it




There was a picture taken of my neck at the worst of the radiation:


I remember I chose not to post this at the time it was taken, because even I didn't want to acknowledge how badly I felt (the white bits are pieces of a compress I had on it to cool it down).

As I found myself staring, awestruck, at this picture, I remembered exactly how I got through it.

I was supported by so many people - friends who brought meals, gave rides, the unflagging support of my mother, even in the early months of adjusting to life without my Dad.  Steve's steadfast and loving presence, constantly asking: what can I do? what do you need?  Help from amazing, loving babysitters that took care of my kids just like I would have. Maybe even better.

And then, of course there were the kids.  Their certainty that I would be okay, because I had to be okay, fueled my strength to fight when I could, and let go when I should.  They were constant "you can do it" cheerleaders. Kids have such a pure way of processing difficulty, and it rubbed off on me, helped me fight the battle one moment at a time.

There were some pictures of the little notes Greta would leave me in my prayer box, to lift my spirits and give me strength during the worst of days:



Finn and Greta, with the help of a babysitter (Hi Lindsey if you're reading this!) made a pillow case with their picture on it, and colored it with loving messages and words of hope



Lindsey and the kids also put together a scrapbook to cheer me up:


When Lindsey went back to college, I was scared that everything was going to fall apart, because she left just as my treatments were getting really tough.  But the Universe was still smiling on me, and along came Nikki, who was just as fabulous as Lindsey and cared for the kids every afternoon for weeks:

Nikki and the kids

And then there was "the chart"; a spreadsheet Steve put together (complete with graphics) to track my medications, my mood, my pain scale, my food intake and my, er, regularity (yes, that is a poop giving a thumbs up you see there in the upper right hand corner):



I still have the cards of support and encouragement I received from friends and family.  I read through them every now and then, when I'm having a moment of doubt, or fear, before a doctor's appointment or a scan, and I remember that I didn't get through cancer.

WE did.

That's how cancer changed me the most. I evolved from someone who had to fight all her own battles, be in control of as much of her life as she could (even though I would have sworn to you on a stack of Bibles that I was not this way), to someone who was humbled and grateful for the all the love and support.

I admit, I fought it at first.  I didn't want to be the sick person, who couldn't care for her family, cook a meal or drive herself.

Once the pain and fatigue kicked in full force, though, I was overcome with gratitude.  There is NO WAY I could have gotten through everything without all the support.

One last picture, taken last Thanksgiving. I knew I had cancer when this was taken, but that week we had heard the words "treatable and curable", and so we were filled with hope, despite the underlying fear.  I look into our faces and part of me thinks: thank God we didn't know what was coming.  But another part me looks back and thinks:  you have no idea, yet, how many people love you and your family. You don't appreciate, yet, how lucky you really are.





Today, I do.  I know how lucky we are.  I live more in the moment than I ever have, even though it took a boatload of fear, anxiety and resistance to get there.

I think this quote sums it up well:





18 comments:

  1. Wow, hard to believe it's been a year, Ellie. I think of you each time I wear my jasper ring, I gave the purple stone to my daughter and we wear them together sometimes. My sister-of-another-mother finishes radiation Thursday for invasive BrCa; both of you have amazed me with your resilience, strength and ability to just keep on going when you really don't wanna. Thanks for showing me what strong is.

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    1. Thank you, Lynda. You were (are!) a huge part of my support system, and I'm so grateful for your friendship. I'll be praying for your sister-of-another-mother. She's lucky to have you, too.

      -xo

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  2. Sometimes you have to walk through the fire to see the beauty in the ashes. You are loved by many and I"m glad you realize it!
    K :)

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    1. So true. Thank you, Katie, for your kind words, and for your support!

      -xoxo

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  3. Must be hard while posting these photos. Thanks for sharing. Glad to know there are so many people behind you supporting you all the way. So sweet. With so many supporters, no matter what you will get well very soon. All the best to you. Stay healthy and happy always. Happy blogging too

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    1. Thank you so much for your words of support and encouragement!!

      I appreciate them, so much.

      -Ellie

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  4. I read this in tears. Oh, Ellie, you are such an inspiration, such a reminder of all that is good. Thank you for this message that tells me it's okay to accept help (in fact it's more than okay - it has power in it). Your daughter with the "cancer has the word can in it" ... wow. She's your daughter, all right. xoxo

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    1. Thank you, Lindsey. Your comment made me cry, so we're even. :)

      -xoxo

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  5. I hit the 5-year clear mark this summer, and I hoped I would feel free of it, but it's still here, this knowledge of cancer. It has made me more mindful, though, and appreciative, and my life is greater as a whole as a result.

    I'm so glad for your health and the amazing people who've carried you through.

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    1. Thank you, my sister in survivorship (totally a word). In more ways than one. :) I am grateful for your five years free - everyone says that is a huge milestone, but I know from others who say it never really leaves you. I don't think I'd want it to, because of the perspective it brings into my life (when I remember to let it).

      I'm glad for your health, too.

      -xoxo

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  6. Oh my gosh - this post is beautiful - so filled with the fear and hope and gratitude and love and caring and healing - it's just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing, Ellie. We are all so blessed that you're one year cancer free - you give so much to so many with your willingness to share your experiences, strength and hope.

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  7. Bless you. You are an inspiration, and your work repays every gift you've been given a thousand times over. Thank you for all you do and for sharing your beautiful words and perspective here.

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  8. Well, for better and for worse that last quote explains your surplus of wisdom.

    What a year, Ellie.

    xo

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  9. Oh Ellie! Cancer has can in it. Wow. And that video is the sweetest, most inspiring thing I've seen all day (and I'm sitting at the ocean). I love your spirit so much and am so grateful to call you friend. Xoxoxo court

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    1. Thanks, Courtney. Right back atcha, babe. You are a constant source of inspiration for me with your courage, grace and strength. So grateful to call you friend, too.

      -xo

      -E.

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  10. Ellie - you've been through so much. "Wisdom...is healed pain." You must be very wise - that is a wonderful quote - I am going to put it up in my office. And thanks for re-posting that video... I must confess, when I saw it originally I fell in love with every woman on that video...I watched it enough times that I actually feel like I know your friends! It was such an awesome expression of tenderness and care, I was deeply touched by it. And yes, cancer changes us - we are more than we were before!

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    1. Steve - that makes two of us that are in love with every woman in that video, then! :)

      Yes, I am so blessed to have such incredible people in my life, including you! You have been/are an amazing source of support, information and encouragement, and I'm so grateful for you!

      -xo

      -Ellie

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  11. Wow. So glad you're through the other side of that year. What strikes me here especially is the stark contrast between the family photo you shared here and the other one you shared recently. You were facing down something tremendous in each one, yet this one is so different! (Sure, you didn't know how hard it would be, or how frightening exactly, but even so, you had been diagnosed.)
    -K. Telling

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