Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Waiting to Unfurl

The past couple of weeks I curled into myself, tightened up into a ball, hardened my shell.   

First it was to get through the last part of treatment.  Being snapped into that radiation mask those last few times was the hardest thing I've done through this cancer journey.  Climbing up onto that table when every cell in your body and mind is screaming RUN! required me to dig deep, use every tool I've got.   

But I did it, and I'm proud of myself for that.

The doctors told me I wouldn't feel better once treatment stopped.  They said I may even feel worse for a couple of weeks, because my expectation would be that I should be getting better day by day.  "It will be at least three weeks before you start noticing daily differences in how you feel,"  they said.

They were right.  Both that I don't actually feel better now that treatment has stopped, and that my expectations  that I should feel better are making me feel worse, at least mentally.

I'm so, so tired.  I'm tired of fighting.  I'm tired of brave and strong. 

I just want to get up in the morning and fix my kids' breakfast, go to the gym and then do some grocery shopping.  I want to drive my car.  I want to bite into a crisp apple or a gooey slice of pizza.   I want to cradle a toasty Starbuck's latte between my hands and anticipate its deliciousness.  

I start to unfurl, sometimes; I'll peek out from behind this self-protective and simple world I've created for myself and see the world whizzing by like usual, people rushing from here to there and from there to here.  It exhausts me, and I tuck my head back down to wait.

One thing I know for sure is that the woman who will emerge from this cocoon is not the same woman who began this journey.  Just about everything about me has changed, at least mentally and emotionally.  Even physically - I've lost so much weight that I weigh what I did my senior year in high school.   

I believe, though, that the woman who emerges at the end of all this is the real me - stripped of pretenses, of bravado.  All of my priorities have shifted.  I have spent so much time unable to be present for my children, upstairs curled in my ball and listening to them laugh with sitters, play games with my Mom or have movie night with Steve - even if I todder downstairs for these things I'm not really present, I'm so very tired - that being with them without Cancer in the way will be the biggest gift of recovery.   I want to be there NOW, and I still have to wait.

I'm not online much.  If you have sent me an email, tweet or Facebook message and haven't heard back - I'm sorry.  I am reading them all, and your support makes this part of my recovery tolerable, makes me less isolated, less depressed.  But I can't respond to everyone, and for this I'm sorry.  I drift off to sleep after about four minutes of typing, wake up and can't remember what I was doing.

The woman who emerges from this cocoon will be stripped down to the raw essence of who she is and what she wants.  I suppose this is a gift, because for so long I navel-gazed about the meaning of it all, what I want to do with my life, how I can make the most impact in the world.  

I don't care about any of that anymore. To make the most impact in the world I need to hug my children. And what do I want to do with my life?  Live it.  The meaning of it all?  Appreciate everything you have while you have it.  Always.

It's so simple it's almost laughable.  I knew these things before, of course, but I couldn't feel them. 

For now, I will stay curled up in my safe little ball for a while longer, waiting.  I have faith in the doctors, and if they tell me it takes three weeks before I start to feel better, then I will wait three weeks.  I will wait longer if I have to, but I hope I don't have to.  

I can't wait to be back in my life.  To laugh on the couch with my kids, to have a family dinner, to make oodles and oodles of new jewelry.   

The simple things that were always my biggest gifts, it just took the jarring experience of cancer for me to notice.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

What Do Vlogging and Kung-Fu Movies Have in Common? THIS:

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I tried to Vlog  (for the one or two not in the know... "Vlogging" is when you Video a Blog.  Hence:  VLOG.

I don't think I'll be vlogging again, but now that it's done I'm too stubborn to back down, and I'm posting it "as is".  The sound doesn't track to how my lips are moving, which gives it an interesting artsy Japanese Kung-Fu  movie effect. I'm just gonna pretend that's exactly what I was going for.  
If it gets too disorienting, you may find it easiest to close your eyes and just listen.  And avoid operating heavy machinery for 2-4 weeks.  Like carpools to the kids' events or vacuum cleaners.  Certainly not those.

Anyway, this is my attempt at a big, giant, in-person THANK YOU for all the support you have given me and my family over the past few months.  You guys ROCK.

video

Someday soon I hope to be back on track, blogging away (the traditional way) with my usual insatiable enthusiasm. 

Until then, please know you are in my mind and on my heart.  Thank you.

-Ellie


Friday, February 3, 2012

Thank You, Cancer

As I lie on the bathroom floor in the middle of night, sick to my stomach and pressing my face into the welcome cool of the tiles, it is hard to think of getting cancer as a gift.

And again, when I'm strapped down into the radiation mask and it is digging into my increasingly red and sore neck - the idea that cancer is a gift can seem very far away indeed.

I'm tired all the time.  Typing this post will take me several hours, because I can only get a few sentences in before I drift off to sleep.

The worst of the symptoms are in full swing now, as I head into the home stretch.  I count that I have only seven more radiation treatments, and the thought of strapping myself onto that radiation table seven. more. times. is almost more than I can bear.   Yesterday, I had a panic attack in the mask; I'm surprised it took me this long.  I just couldn't take one more second of the screeching sounds and searing heat.

The feeding tube was put in place last week; I finally have hang of how the feedings work, and am grateful for the extra energy getting enough calories (or almost enough) provides.   But I will never, never, get used to the idea that I have a tube that goes directly into my stomach.  It's kind of cute, actually - it's called a "Mickey Button" and it lies flush with my skin, which is nice.  It comes with all kinds of tubes and attachments  - the food is gravity fed, flowing from the top of a tall IV pole next to my bed directly into my belly.  

I try to sit with Steve and the kids as much as I can while they eat their dinner; sometimes it's the only way I get caught up on the kids' busy days.  But sometimes the smell of food is too much, and I just need to curl up and sleep until dinner is over.

The world swirls around me, moving at its usual hectic pace, and I feel frozen in place, taking it all in, from a mental space that is very far removed from everyone else's reality.

Cancer has reduced me, as a corporeal being, down to four bare essentials:  eating, sleeping, medicine and pain.  My body is weary, and the most basic task can reduce me to tears of pain or frustration in an instant. My body is not enjoying this cancer experience one bit.

But getting cancer is the best gift my spirit has ever received.   I don't know if I can adequately describe how it feels like the scales have fallen from my eyes, how I see everything so much more clearly now.  I see what a miracle my kids are, how lucky I am to have them in my life.  I see how profoundly blessed we are - with each other, with friendships, with a comfy house on a pretty tree lined street.

I don't want for anything. Everything in my life is perfect just the way it is, even with the cancer, because the cancer is the instrument that shows me - like a treasure map - how valuable every single moment truly is.

I know how hokey that sounds; how Hallmark Card-y.  But it's absolutely true:  cancer has enabled me to treasure my life, my family in a way I'm not sure I could have without it.  Cancer brought me right up to the this-could-be-taken-from-you-edge, and instead of fear, what I found was gratitude and grace.

God willing I will come out on the other side of this cancer-free some day.  But I will come out a changed person.  I will be more joyful, more patient, more loving.  I won't be too busy - ever again - to notice how lucky I am.  How lucky we are.

Cancer is taking a profound physical toll on my body, which I expected... dreaded, even.   What I did not expect was this feeling of completeness, of understanding that I have all that I need, right here, right now, and that I always did.