Sunday, March 27, 2011

Letting Go

Of all the lessons I have had to learn in my life, letting go has been one of the hardest for me.  Maybe it was a control issue.  Maybe it was out of fear.  Whatever it was, holding on so tightly to things has not served me well.

As with most of my life lessons, I had to learn the hard way to let go of things.  In teaching it has taken me a long time to start to learn to let go of some students who simply refuse to learn.  With my children, I had to let them go so they could find the truth on their own.  When I did let them go and they did discover the truth, they both came running back home to me.  I have had to let go of dreams of a nice house where I could have big family dinners and celebrations, at least for now. 

But the biggest thing for me has been learning to let go of what I thought of as a great love.  Sometimes there are people that we cling to because they impacted us so deeply, so profoundly.  As time goes on, I am learning that not everyone comes into our lives as a permanent fixture.  People and experiences come to teach us lessons we need to learn.  Now that I am finally beginning to see the big picture, I am realizing the great lessons I learned from all the people in my life - the good, the bad, and the ugly have helped to shape who I am.  For that I am truly grateful.  Even with all the heartache and frustration I experienced, by letting it all go I have become an incredibly strong woman, independent, still passionate, still hopeful. 

Recently my daughter and I thought very seriously about moving away.  I was so excited, anxious to leave this place and all its memories and start fresh.  My nights were spent dreaming about our new life.  Then she decided she didn't want to leave her friends and her school.  I didn't want to force her.  It's only three more years and then she'll graduate.  I thought I'd be really upset, but I wasn't.  I just let it go.  Just like that.  And it was easier this time.

That's the beauty of aging I suppose.  Your body may hurt in weird places and you start to get strange colored spots on your skin, but your mind, your heart, your soul....they start really coming together beautifully in a way that leaves you feeling as if maybe, just maybe you are beginning to figure out this whole thing called life.  And if feels good.  It feels really good.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Independence and Loneliness

I’m tired of doing this alone. I’m tired of being the only one around to solve problems, pay the bills, discipline the kids. I’m tired of not having anyone to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with me.  I want someone to come home to at the end of the day, someone to say goodnight to as I curl up next to him and drift off to sleep.  I want someone to talk to besides my teenage kids.  I want someone who wants to be with me and I want to be with him.  I want someone who understands and encourages my alone time.  Because I do need my alone time.  I don't want to be alone, but I also don't want to be smothered.  I like my independence.

I’ve been this way my whole life. I guess I’m sort of wired for it. My family loves to remind me that from the time I could talk I went around saying “I’ll do it!”. And I did. Whether I was doing the dishes by myself at five years old after Thanksgiving Dinner or exploring the creepy basement below our house, I was always doing things by myself, off on my own, in my own world. I envisioned myself doing something big in my life, being someone important, doing things my way.

One day when I was only four years old, I had been playing outside by myself. I went inside and told my daddy I was going to the store. Apparently, I left the house and went on my very first adventure. Walking out of our neighborhood, I crossed the railroad tracks, made my way through downtown Elk City, right past Montgomery Ward where Grandma Peach worked, and eventually walked out onto I-40. Fortunately, an old babysitter of mine saw me, brought me into her house and called my parents. She asked them if they knew where I was. Relieved that I was alive and well, they came to pick me up. They told me later that the experience hadn’t scared me at all.  It would seem that the butt busting I got from my dad didn't scare me either because I have continued to go off on my own in pursuit of new adventures.

When I was in elementary school, I would leave on a Saturday morning and roam the streets of Sentinel on my bike. Lost in my thoughts, I became characters in a book, solving the world's problems.  I traveled the globe in my imagination, exploring lands I had read about, dreamed about.  I loved being off by myself, doing my thing.  These were the days when kids really could have the freedom to roam about unsupervised.  I loved it.  But maybe we were a little more supervised than we realized.  I remember one day skidding into the gravel in front of our little house on Whitmer Street and falling down.  I shouted, "Shit!"  Mom heard me.  I think that's why I remember the vile taste of soap so vividly.

We moved to a different house in Sentinel that was close to downtown.  I was in fifth grade.  In the mornings before school, I would go sit on the back porch, dreaming about my life.  I would sneak away from the house and walk downtown.  I didn't tell anyone I was going.  I felt so independent, so brave, so rebellious and secretive.  First of all, Sentinel is a tiny Oklahoma town.  There was no reason to even BE brave.  Second, I found out years later that Mom always knew when I left.  She could see me from the kitchen window and was watching me the whole time.  She never said a word to me.

So, I have loved my alone time from a very early age.  But even then, I dreamed of a soulmate to have by my side, exploring the world with me.  I envisioned what he would look like.  I dreamed about the life we would build, the family we would have, the adventures we would share.  My dreams would be fueled by the movies...old black and white movies, cheesy love stories, it didn't matter. In my little world in Sentinel, Oklahoma, movies and books gave me an escape, a vision of a life that I could have someday.

I went through middle school with boyfriends here and there.  When I moved to Mustang in High School, I only really had two boyfriends.  I didn't date.  I only got asked out a couple of times.  It kind of made me feel like a freak.  I didn't think I was ugly or overly weird.  I still don't know what the deal was.  Maybe that independent streak was so strong it scared the guys away. 

Off to college...I dated some, but nothing really serious.  I just kept thinking that surely by now someone would have come along for me.  At nineteen, I met the man who I would end up marrying.  Sadly, I felt washed up at nineteen.  Tony was the only guy who had seemed totally into me.  He wined me and dined me.  Being a poor college student struggling for money, he introduced me to a new world that I had never experienced.  One with money.  Not a lot of money, but certainly more than I had at the time.

We had what I thought of as a grown up relationship.  We dated for three years.  I remember some of his behaviors as being the opposite of what I was looking for in a man, but decided it was the fact that he was still young and would grow out of them.  Boy was I wrong.

Fast forward....almost eleven years of marriage, divorce, met someone nice that I dated for a while.  He wasn't into me as much as I was into him.  He found someone new while we were still dating.  I started seeing someone else who had started out as a friend.  We were together for six years until he found someone new while we were still dating.  We had been on again and off again for years.  I felt I had finally found my soul mate with him even though we drove each other crazy.  But in the end, I guess it just wasn't right for us.  I wish him all the best with his life.  I truly want him to be happy.  It left me wondering what was wrong with me though.  Everyone around me always had great things to say about me.  But the men in my life.....that didn't go so well.  Maybe I just was making bad choices.  Maybe I needed them in my life to help teach me and to help me become who I am today.

But now, I'm ready to have someone.  Sonja Peach once told me that when I was ready I would find him.  I think I'm ready.  I feel like I'm ready.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, I continue to go on my solo adventures.  I continue to dream of having someone to come home to who is interested in hearing about my discoveries....someone who also wants to go with me on the journey sometimes.  And sometimes just wants to let me go alone.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quiet Time


As a mom of two teenagers, a fourth grade teacher, and a morning daycare director, those things are rarely attained.  I feel lucky if I can steal a couple of minutes to inhale my breakfast or lunch in silence.

My goal for weeks now has been to wake up early and meditate, do some yoga, have a little quiet time to myself.  Each morning the alarm goes off at 4:00am, and each morning I hit snooze, again and again.  "Not today, not today.  I'm too tired.  Just let me lay here for a little longer", I would always say out loud to no one in particular.

This morning when the alarm sounded at 4:00am, I hit snooze again, but only once.  After falling asleep around 8:00pm last night, I was fairly rested.  As I lay there snuggled up in my warm bed, thinking of coffee, my body stiff and achy, I thought how ridiculous it was that I wasn't getting up every morning to stretch and have some quiet time.  Since I go to bed earlier than the kids, this is the only time in the day I have completely to myself.  I crave it and get cranky when I don't get it occasionally.  Plus, I am always preaching to everyone how important it is to keep your body flexible as you age.  Clearly I need to follow my own advice.  I've seen my reflection walking down the hallways of my school.  I look like Sasquatch, lumbering heavily, leaning slightly forward as I slowly make my way to wherever.

So this morning, I rolled out of bed at 4:15am, got a cup of coffee and turned on the tv.  Cox Communications has a Health/Wellness channel with a meditation segment.  I chose the desert setting and sat there stretching my body, trying to release all the built up tension from the night before.  With relaxing, soulful music playing softly, the only light in the room coming from the desert images on tv screen, it was a perfect way to wake up my body and mind.  It felt amazing.  With each stretch I felt myself coming to life, slowly.

I am only 44 years old, entirely too young to have my body hurt so bad at night that it is hard to roll over.  And it is completely my fault.  I've been working on my mind for the last few years and have neglected the body. 

As I write, it is just after 5:00am.  I feel energized and relaxed.  I am a morning person and feel most productive in the morning.  I know what a difference morning stretching and quiet time can make in my life.  Now I just have to implement it daily. 

So, here's to a great day everyone!  Sasquatch will have a spring in her step this morning!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Breast Cancer

The photo above was taken in June 2007.  I was forty years old and heading to Mexico for a caving, completely oblivious to the fact that upon returning my life would change drastically.

Shortly after coming home I went in for my first mammogram.  I had been told to have my first one by forty years of age for various reasons.  Not knowing what to expect, just anticipating some discomfort from having my breasts squished between two cold plates, I wasn't really nervous.  Mainly I just wanted to get it over with and enjoy the rest of my summer vacation before school started back in August. 

I went in to the Women's Center at Mercy Hospital on June 26, 2007.  After waiting for what seemed an eternity, I was finally called back and got to put on a flimsy top with its two icy cold snaps in the front.  Then I waited in a different, smaller waiting room until I thought I might freeze to death.  Is there some medical reason to keep those waiting rooms so frigid?

Eventually I was called back to the room where the mammogram would be done.  Luckily I am not a modest person.  Otherwise I might have been mortified by having a complete stranger handling my breasts, moving them, repositioning them, and then squeezing the hell out of them with the machine.  However, the woman having her way (medically) with my breasts made me feel very comfortable as she got out of the way of the machine and said, "Hold your breath" and then made image after image.

Since this was my first mammogram, I wasn't sure if I should be worried about the way she kept looking at my images, repositioning me, looking at the images further.  But, trying to be a positive thinker, I told myself they did this with everyone...that it was routine.  After my breasts had been mashed like potatoes, I was told to go to the waiting room and wait...again...while she showed the images to the doctor. 

The next part is fuzzy for me.  I don't remember exactly what happened.  I just know that either that day or the next day I was told I needed to have a biopsy, which I did, immediately.  That experience is hazy as well.  Everything was so rushed.  I remember lying on a table with a Patient Advocate or someone like that talking to me and explaining how she'd be there for me throughout the whole process.  I think I maybe saw her one other time.

I wasn't scared.  I remember going over to Keith's, my boyfriend at the time.  I think I told him what was going on.  He said not to worry, it wasn't cancer.  I didn't really believe him, but I still wasn't scared or freaking out.

The next morning I got a call from the doctor.  It was pretty straight forward.  She said I had cancer.  Breast cancer in my left breast.  After getting all the information from her, I thanked her and hung up the phone.  I remember thinking, "Damn, that's just what I need.  Just one more thing to deal with." 

In a way, I had known for a long time that I would get cancer at some point and that I would just be frustrated by having to deal with one more thing, and that it wouldn't be fatal.  Maybe I brought it on myself, who knows?  Anyway, I wasn't at all surprised by the diagnosis.

So much happened over the next few days or weeks.  I met with a surgeon who was just plain cheesy in his golf shoes and gold necklace.  His bleached blonde trophy wife nurse fit him to a "T".  They looked like something from a Saturday Night Live skit.  However, I had many assurances that he was a fine surgeon and would do a great job. 

He told me that I had ductile carcinoma in situ.  It was in Stage 2, but barely.  So, that was good news.  According to the surgeon, this tumor had been growing for about four years.  Interesting.  The last four years of my life had been beyond stressful.  The issues with my ex-husband escalated daily which caused stress with my boyfriend and children which affected my job, all of which affected my health and sanity.  Most days I felt as if I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

The doctor gave me several options to choose from.  I chose to just whack the thing out instead of having my breast totally removed.  I had paid damn good money for my implants and had no intention of losing money on them.  Surgery was scheduled almost immediately.

The morning of my surgery, my mother was in town.  She decided that with all the medical mistakes that had become so commonplace that she'd ensure the doctor worked on the correct breast.  Below is a photo of what she wrote on my chest the morning before surgery.  On the right breast she wrote, "Keep Out!!" and on the left one she wrote, "Take very good care of me!" with a heart and a smiley face.

Surgery went well.  While I was in surgery, the doctor inserted a mammosite balloon into the cavity where the tumor had been removed.  Attached to this balloon was a long tube that hung out from the side of my chest.  This would be where the iridium seed would be fed to the cavity during radiation.  I think it was during surgery that they inserted the port into my chest, just above my right breast.  It looked like someone had stuffed a plastic bottle cap under my skin.

For about a week, I went daily to get my dose of radiation.  I laid down on a table as a team of very young and good looking radiologists (I guess) took care of me.  At one point I even asked them if there was a requirement that they all be young and attractive.  I felt as if I were on the set of a soap opera.  This room looked like something out of a science fiction movie.  I was basically barricaded in the room while everyone else went for cover.

For the radiation itself, a seed of iridium was fed through the tube hanging out of my side.  It went into the balloon and radiated the hell out of me for about eleven minutes.  Before I was able to leave the room, a Geiger counter had to be used to scan my body for any radiation leaks.  One time after I had already left the room and was in my dressing room changing, I hear a frantic voice calling my name.  Someone had forgotten to wand me to check for radiation!  It was pretty funny at the time.

After radiation I began chemotherapy treatments.  Since I had begun to gain weight over the last year or so, I was actually happy about having to go through chemotherapy.  From what I knew, chemotherapy meant throwing up and losing tons of weight.  I thought at least there was a bright side to this whole cancer thing.  But, as I soon found out, they have fabulous anti-nausea drugs that they give you so you do not throw up.  Oh well. 

Chemotherapy was one of my favorite times.  I started it in September 2007, right when school was getting into full swing.  Chemotherapy was the one time I could sit and read, pay bills, nap, whatever.  I actually looked forward to it.  There were so many different people in with me.  They were all in different stages of cancer.  I saw strong people, weak people.  I met an old man who was feisty as could be.  What a flirt!  He and his buddy would sit and talk and talk.  They'd flirt with the nurses.  The nurses would flirt back.

But, chemotherapy also weakened my immune system.  Being a teacher around hundreds of germ filled, snot-nosed kids didn't work well with me.  I got sick a lot.  It didn't take long for my principal to decide that it would be best for me to take off while I was going through chemotherapy.  It wasn't my decision.  It was hers.  So, I took off for about four months while undergoing chemo every other week.

I slept a lot.  I'd have one week right before chemo where I felt somewhat normal.  The next week I had no energy at all.  All I wanted to do was sleep. 

I had been told by my medical oncologist and the nurses that the chemo would make me lose my hair.  Many other people told me that lots of people did NOT lose their hair.  Since I had long, blonde hair that I loved, I thought I'd wait it out.  At first it was fine.  But then, I started to have hunks of hair falling out as I brushed my hair.  I thought about it for a few days as the hair continued to fall out and decided I didn't want to look like a mangy dog as it took its sweet time coming out.  I would shave my head. 

So, we decided to have a head shaving ceremony.  My kids and Keith and his daughter would all help me shave my head. I wanted to try to save my long hair to send it off to Locks of Love.  So before the "ceremony", I braided my hair all over in small braids to help keep the hair together and also to make it easier to cut.

You can see the port in my chest.  It sort of looks like a freakishly huge zit.  Eeew!  I had Caroline and Holly around me ready to start chopping my braids.

My son Bradley taking his turn.

Kind of a cute cut here

I felt like I was in the military

NOW I look like a mangy dog

almost gone....

There I am, shaved, with a huge port in my chest, but with both breasts!

That night my head was so cold.  I was shocked that hair kept your head so warm.  I had to resort to sleeping in a stocking cap for several weeks before my head finally adjusted. 

During this time my hair still grew but fell out at the same time.  One beautiful autumn day, I took the Brad and Caroline to the zoo.  Not thinking ahead about my shaved head, it didn't occur to me to put on sunscreen.  So we bought a small tube of it in the gift shop and I started to rub it on my head.  As I did, hundreds of buzzed hairs came off in my hand.  I showed my hair and sunscreen covered palms to my kids.  Their father, my ex-husband, had told them that I hadn't really needed to shave my head, but just did it for the attention.  All it took was for them to see the hair in my palm to know the truth.

Eventually all the hair did fall out, completely.  My eyebrows were gone, eyelashes were gone, even my nose hairs were gone.  People were very sweet saying that if I had to be bald I had a good shaped head for it.  They lied.  I've seen the pictures!  Seriously, it wasn't all bad.  It is definitely easy to get ready in the morning when you don't have to do your hair.  I missed it long blonde hair.  I suppose it had defined me over the years.  Now I had to define myself, without it.

I think that has been the most important lesson I learned from my breast define myself, by myself.  It has taken several years for it all to sink in.  But day by day, I get stronger inside.  I don't ever worry about the cancer coming back, not really.  On particularly stressful days I have a little chat with myself, ok more like a knock down drag out.  I remind myself that I have to live my life the way I want to live it and do things that enrich my soul so that I can be of use to everyone else.  I remind myself that life is meant to be lived fully, abundantly, and passionately.  And there is no one out there that can make that happen for me, except me.

I also have another couple of daily reminders.  I have a lovely port scar above my right breast and an indented left breast with a splotchy red scarring over it.  It's lovely.  But, both of those scars are there every morning as a visual reminder that I am the only one in control of my life and it is up to me how the journey goes. I want my journey to be the following:

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming 'WHOOOO HOOOO' what a ride!!"

So...take care of you....

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