Breast Cancer Family Mom No Whining Soulful

Five Years in the Blink of an Eye

My beloved mother passed away five years ago today. She spent the last two and a half years fighting for her life against breast cancer and her body was destroyed in the process. It was an ugly battle, but at least she was given a peaceful end. There was no pain or fear as she was carried away while she slept with her son watching over her. It was supposed to be my night with her, but he really wanted to stay that night. I’m morbidly jealous not to have been with her at the very end, but also grateful to have gotten caught up on sleep. It was a wrenching and traumatizing day as I tried to comfort the kids and family, helped finalize her pre-planned funeral arrangements, cleared out her room and contacted family members. Praise Baby Jesus for Chooch, is how I can best sum it up the months before and after her passing.

Today I honor the memory of her life, but to be honest it’s easier to do on her birthday. I frequently get flashes of the ugly stuff, but not as frequent as it used to be. I’ve forgotten some of the finer details, which I’m grateful for and don’t explore. Some things are better off forgotten, after all, especially since I was her primary caretaker for the last five months of her life. Ugly stuff that can’t be unseen, but is finally starting to fade.

It’s hard watching someone you love so much waste away slowly. The only good thing about having as much time as we did with it looming was that there was no “unfinished business” left behind to haunt us. She adored and was adored. Friends, family, co-workers and neighbors all came together for her and she knew it. There is only peace and love surrounding her memory, and for that I’m grateful as she certainly deserves such an honor.

Much in the same way I took back my anniversary in November, I’m taking back today as well. I will not “grieve” in the traditional sense. Five years is long enough for that, as I know she would tell me. Instead, I’m taking this as a Day of Power. I’m challenging myself to do something that I’ve been afraid of doing, for my own personal reasons. It will take bravery and confidence, two things I traditionally lack but I’m trying hard not to let that stop me. And as I look back at how much my life has changed since she started looking over me in a different way, I know she’s proud of me. Proud of the bravery I’ve demonstrated, the positive changes I’ve made, and the woman I was and am evolving into.

I take my inspiration from this photo of my mother from the day of her high school graduation. I never saw this photo while she was alive to ask about it, but to me she’s embracing her future as a woman of power. She certainly did her best to raise me as one. I’m slower to it than she was, but I’m getting there.

Love you forever, Pocket Mom.

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Taking Back November 1st

Today is the 8th anniversary of the first date that Chooch and I went on. We were already in love, thanks to our long distance courting, but it was still a first date. Full of nerves and awkwardness in spite of all the times we’d hung out over the previous year.

Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. We didn’t plan for it to be exactly one year later, it just sort of happened and we didn’t even realize the coincidence until some time later. We’re goofy like that.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the doctor telling my Mom that the cancer had won out, and there were no more treatment options available. He gave her six months, at best. She passed away 2 1/2 months later.

In the intervening years, our wedding anniversary has been bittersweet for me. My life changed in ways that I’ll never be able to truly express, and although our life isn’t perfect, it’s perfect for us. My husband has given me strength, confidence and unconditional love. He gave me wings to soar as high and fast as I wanted to, and the confidence in knowing that he will be there to catch me if I fall. I don’t speculate on whether or not he’ll be there, as we’ve done that for each other countless times over our short time together.

In fact, I always have add the years up a couple times, as it seems so short. We joke that we were already married before he even crossed the country to live here, so completely devoted and comfortable were we with each other. We feel like we’ve been together forever, and in a good way. I have complete and utter faith in his devotion, something I’ve never had before.

But since the day we learned that hope for my Mom was gone, it’s also been tinged with pain. I may write about that later, but for now I want to focus on what November 1, 2010 has become, as of this moment.

I’ve now deemed it my day of freedom. It sounds nonsensical, and the steps that led me to it may not suss out on close inspection, but that’s what it is.

This morning, with Chooch fighting some nasty cooties, I headed out for our usual run alone. My back has been bothering me since last week so I didn’t even take Kaylee along. As I headed out the door, I realized to my horror that my iPod battery was dead. No Couch to 5k coaching for me, and no music play list, either. I debated waiting until later when it was charged, but as I was in my gear already, I headed out. I decided on the longer route, because I was alone. It’s my favorite route, but Chooch doesn’t usually have time before work and since it’s over three miles I have to take a water container when Kaylee is with me. I was free to do it, so I did.

Without Robert Ullrey to prompt me, I decided to just run until I couldn’t run anymore, then walk the rest of the way. This is a very hilly route, and I just hoped to run for 15 minutes. When I finally stopped, I had run for just over 36 minutes, passing my starting point. This is my personal best on running time, especially impressive with the size of the hills. And I don’t just mean since I got hit with this weird illness a year ago — this is my all-time longest running time.

As is usual, when I’ve visualized a landmark goal and I start to think I won’t make it, I chant to myself. It’s different things, but usually at the really hard push it’s something along the lines of taking steps that Mom could no longer take, and that she couldn’t take for the last 2 1/2 months of her life, since she lost the ability to walk. It may sound creepy, but it works and I take great pride in taking those steps for her.

Reflecting on this, as I walked in my state of shock at beating my personal best by a significant number, I’ve decided to change my attitude about November 1st. Maybe it’s the approaching holidays, or maybe it was because I so much time working on the interview I did for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month topic for my Girls’ Rules Podcast, but I’ve been missing her and thinking of her so much these last few weeks. While Chooch and I celebrate our marriage, I also grieve this day as when we lost hope for Mom.

In taking back the day, I will instead focus on it being the day that she was granted freedom. She no longer had to worry about the petty concerns of living — her lifelong struggle with weight, managing the household and most importantly being strong for those of us that she loved so completely. She finally let me take burdens from her, as they were no longer her concern. She became focused in the now, and anything beyond the door to her hospital room was not her concern, once she knew that my dad was going to be okay without her there to do almost everything in the running of the house.

Reclaiming this day is already taking a lot of self-convincing to maintain, and I was crying while trying to explain it to my patient and loving Chooch. But it’s something that I need to do, because I know my Mom. She doesn’t want me crying for her on my anniversary. Knowing how much she loved me and Chooch, and how much she loved us being together, I know she wants us to celebrate our love and the unlikely circumstances that brought us together. So I’m letting go of all that pain from that day five years ago. I’m setting myself free, as I know she would do for me if she could.

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Breast Cancer Confessional – Pink Terror

Following my Mom’s passing from breast cancer in 2006 (Jesus, how could it have been so long?), I felt a sharp stab of pain every time I saw a pink ribbon. As you can imagine, after her 2+ year fight she valiantly put up on this second occurrence, almost everyone at both of her services was wearing a pink ribbon in honor of her battle. I spent a lot of time looking at the ground.

I even took my sons and nephews shopping because they wanted to get a pink item for their suits. Two chose pink shirts, the other two chose pink ties. I was never more proud of them for that, proudly laughing in the face of potential mockery and homophobic comments (I’ve got a rant on this I’m saving for another day), in order to honor their bigger-than-life and beloved grandmother.

It’s actually a blur to me if I wore any pink at all, maybe Chooch remembers as he is my memory bank for the few months before and after she passed. The family talked about everyone wearing one, but I didn’t. It felt wrong to me for some reason that I can’t really explain. It was like kryptonite to me and I quite literally winced every time I saw a pink ribbon.

I can quite clearly remember the first time I wore a pink ribbon again, as it was on my participant T-shirt at the 2008 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Richmond. I can tell you I wouldn’t have made it ten steps without Chooch and good friend Paulette Jaxton there that day. Although I don’t think she really knew what she was in for when she decided to join us. It was more than just a fundraiser and 5k for me; it was a crucial step in my healing process. And what a painful step it was. Talk about immersion therapy.

That was a huge day for me, as I had enough distance from the loss to be able to embrace the community once again and proudly take steps for such an important cause, when my Mom could no longer do so. We did several Races for the Cure in Washington, D.C. after her first diagnosis in 1991. Hell, she even stood on the stage with other survivors one year, lined up in their pink t-shirts as the opening ceremonies were held. She truly believed that doing the Races made a difference, and not just for raising donations. It also raised awareness and was an awe-inspiring sight, that sea of pink on the news that night.

My hope is to raise funds for breast cancer research every year, in her name. I’ve done this since that first race in 2008, with Paulette and Chooch at my side. When I was physically unable to do the race this year, I signed up for the Sleep-In for the Cure. This allowed me to raise funds even though I was unable to attend. They even sent me a t-shirt. I’ll be doing the race, every year, and am considering adding other Komen races in different places. Even if I don’t raise any money through donations, they still get my registration fee, after all. And every penny counts. Someday, I’ll work my way up to the 3-Day race, as I’ve wanted to do for years and am freshly inspired to finally reach that goal. Who knows? 2011 may be the year.

It’s taken me weeks to write this post, and it’s more confessional than I first intended. All I really wanted to do was:

  • Remind you to do a breast self exam. Male or female, you need to know how your breasts feel to be able to determine if and when something changes.
  • Urge you to immediately get to your physician to get it checked out if you find anything that concerns you, no matter how small. You have a brief window for early detection, and it can be the difference between life and death.
  • Ask you to get another opinion if you feel your doctor is dismissive of your concerns. If you don’t have health insurance, check into local programs for a free or lower cost mammogram. It won’t go away just because you don’t have insurance.
  • Tell you NOT to rely on youth for protection. You’d be surprised at how many people get breast cancer in their 20’s and 30’s. In fact, my ex-husband’s sister recently won her battle against breast cancer, and we went to school together. She’s 41, just like me.

Every race I’ve done has been wonderful in its own way, and each time it is a bit less difficult staring down the pink ribbon.

I’m including some pictures from breast cancer fundraiser races I’ve done, starting with May of 2008. Other folks in the photos include Paulette Jaxton, Allison Duncan, Mae Breakall and Jett Micheyl.

Family Mom Soulful

Never Call It A Bad Day

I’m using some of my migraine-free time to try and get us better organized, with the hopeful result being that I will be far more productive. We’ve had a lot of changes in the last year, and I’ve not kept up. While digging out from all the paper on/around/under/stuffed in/ flying around my desk, I’ve had hideous task after painful issue to clean up and deal with. Some nasty demons, and some really big disappointments in the last few days.

I had just tweeted in commiseration with my friend Jett a wish for this day to be over, as it has not been pleasant by any stretch of the imagination.  Within two hours I found a note I had written to myself sometime last year.

I was thoroughly puzzled for a moment, until I remembered a hectic day at work last year when I reached for the phone and accidentally dialed my deceased Mother’s cell phone while calling my sister’s cell. It’s happened a few times, as the numbers are identical except for the last digit being one higher. I usually curse and hang up before anyone picks up, and then lick my wounds of missing her. This time I didn’t realize I had done it until a recording played, but I grabbed a pen and wrote down the message so I wouldn’t forget it.

I’m grinning ear to ear with teary eyes, like an idiot, because this is how little it takes to make me feel like she’s still a part of my life. I’m stunned every day when I realize that my world hasn’t collapsed without her huge presence, and am never happier when the Universe brings me a smile because of her. Being reminded that, as I believe, I will feel her arms around me and hear her infectious laughter again some day is a tremendous joy on a great day, let alone a not-so-great one.

So, I’m reverting back to my old saying of “It’s Not A Bad Day Until You Proclaim It To Be One”, and never having another bad day again. Because you never know when something wonderful will happen, small as it may be, to put joy in your heart.