Archive for November, 2011

My Thanksgiving “Thankfuls”

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

“… and so we are grateful for ALL experiences in our lives, because they have come to teach us.”  …Mastin Kipp, The Daily Love

Every Thanksgiving, our family begins each meal with “thankfuls”.  Before we dig into the turkey, mashed potatoes and my favorite, the stuffing, each of us takes a turn to share something we are thankful for. 

Dinner will be cold if I share all my “thankfuls” before mealtime today, so I decided to share it with all of you in my blog.  Something my kids will truly be grateful for.

To begin, I am done with my cancer treatments.  Done, finito, fin!

It was exactly one year ago this week that I found a lump in my breast, had a biopsy and received the dreaded news that I had cancer, one year, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 5 surgeries, 5 chemo treatments, and 23 doses of herceptin ago.    

But today, on this Thanksgiving Day in 2011, the dog days are over.  No more treatments, no more tears, no more sleepless nights, no more daunting decisions, no more nausea, no more bald head, no more “it opens from the front”, no more cancer.

I may be done with the treatments, and the cancer is gone, but it has left its mark on me forever, the scars a permanent tattoo on my heart.  As Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman and breast cancer survivor shares, “Breast cancer is not just a disease that strikes at women. It strikes at the very heart of who we are as women.”

As a woman, I am changed forever.  Something has shifted in my inner most core; a continental drift, convergent and divergent activity, leading to gradual expansion, transforming my boundaries.  It’s the plate tectonic theory, internalized and personalized in the deepest recesses of my soul.  I would equate this movement to a form of enlightenment, a spiritual shift in clarity of my perception of myself, my life and my place in the universe.  The Zen Buddhists refer to this shift as Satori, “a sudden inexpressible feeling of inner understanding similar to an epiphany.”  I can’t claim to be fully enlightened, that belongs to the masters like Buddha and Jesus.  But, I can say that my experience with cancer has given me a glimpse into this spiritual world and it is beautiful.

 

I am not the only one that has been changed forever by breast cancer.  Melissa Bank, author and breast cancer survivor says about her experience, “During chemo, you’re more tired than you’ve ever been.  It’s like a cloud passing over the sun, and suddenly you’re out. You don’t know how you’ll answer the door when your groceries are delivered. But you also find that you’re stronger than you’ve ever been. You’re clear. Your mortality is at optimal distance, not up so close that it obscures everything else, but close enough to give you depth perception. Previously, it has taken you weeks, months, or years to discover the meaning of an experience. Now it’s instantaneous.”

That is Satori!  And I am so grateful for the experience.    

To sum it all up, I need to put the turkey in the oven if we are to eat before midnight:  If something profound didn’t actually happen, it sure feels like it did.  This crazy confluence of events this past year, work, play, and cancer has brought me to my knees.  Not in defeat, but in triumph.  And, I am grateful.   

My Thanksgiving “Thankfuls” this year:

I am thankful to be alive.  I am thankful for the roof over my head, although it leaks.  I’m grateful for the food on my table albeit a bit bland for Casey’s pallet.  I’m thankful that I am surrounded by people that I love and love me.  I am grateful for all of you.  I am grateful for breast cancer.

Diagnosis by Casey Brown

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Casey with his band "Mother Function"

It wasn’t long ago (almost a year now) that my life made a drastic change. It wasn’t because of something I did; rather, it was something that happened. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She dropped the news rather well, informing the immediate family at a sit down. My mom, laughing as she told the story, about how suddenly the nurse’s face turned from that of business as usual to an overzealous smile, “How are you today Deanne?  Please sit down.  Are you comfortable?  Can I get you anything?”  Of course, the nurse was trying to pretend everything was ok, smiling to comfort my mom I suppose.  My mom said at that moment, she knew.  Anyhow, it wasn’t the news that hit me hard; we had been prepared for it upon discovery of the lump. It was how my brother and I reacted.

How is one supposed to take the news of your mother’s cancer? He and I went about our dinner, listened, and didn’t say much. We didn’t pretend that we didn’t hear it, we just didn’t respond to the news in a way some people would (OMG, gasp, tears, you know). I definitely know that I didn’t freak out in any way.  I can’t speak for my brother.  I wouldn’t know how he took it.  He certainly did not betray any feelings that he may have had.

But what about me and my reaction?  Why didn’t I find myself laden with fear?  Is that normal? Am I just a sociopath of modern society?  Maybe I’m just greatly desensitized with the rest of my peers.  Considering the way we are raised today; a generation raised on TV, movies, video games, etc… Could that have an effect on my reaction to the news?

It is now that I am finally processing all of this.  One year later.  The idea that desensitization is the cause of my near indifferent reaction is hard for me to take.  I can be a sensitive person, I think… but after hearing the news of my mother’s cancer, life continued on as before, with the exception of a change to even healthier foods, which in my personal opinion are rather bland. Thank god for fast food.

My mother’s cancer definitely affected the family in many ways. Money was tight and the world was collapsing around our shoulders.  Though, I continued to act the same way in my house.  I kept a same smile on my face, like everything was fine.  Hell, life was actually not so bad for me at the time.  I was doing well in school, chilling out with friends on a regular basis, and going to the beach.  Not often did my mind cross the fact that my mom was fighting a battle with cancer, except the occasional, “your mother had chemo today, she can’t drive you anywhere” which was fine, I understood, I understand.  I could stay home and play video games anyway.

My mom bought me an “I love boobies” bracelet, which I haven’t removed since. That was the one way I would express the entire ordeal, through the shaved head, chemo, herceptin, etc… A symbol to bright the fade that is my reaction to what was my mother’s cancer. That’s quite the mouthful.

Back to my question, why do I act that way?  I actually see the bigger picture.  It’s broader to me now than just a single event in life.  Nothing has happened to me that caused me to not worry about things.  For instance, at the moment I write this I’m putting off my math homework and I should probably be studying for a world history exam. But again, I don’t worry about my grade in math; I could skip homework for a week, even pretend the week never happened. Though that may seem too small an example compared to breast cancer, it is a look at the way I do things.  I can’t say it’s “looking the other way” because I’m quite aware of the consequences if I don’t do my math homework for a week.  I just am indifferent to the consequences of those actions.  Much like the way I reacted to the breast cancer ordeal.  It’s another bump in the road of life, another branch on a tree, branches which can fall or be changed and twisted, but there’s still the trunk holding it up.  So, math might not be my thing, a twisted branch protruding from the trunk, but there’s plenty of other room to grow instead of numbers.

My reaction to my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and the way I acted this year may be based on the fact that I live life to its fullest no matter what small road bump (or a cancerous lump, for that matter) rises in my way.  Maybe it’s indifference and insensitivity.  I don’t know.   It’s just a reaction, a natural process, even a chemical process to look at it scientifically.   So, take my reaction to my mother’s breast cancer, it wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid for her, or for my family’s way of life.  It’s that I knew life goes on, stuff happens you can’t control.  Roll with the punches and see what happens.

Casey being Casey