Say Thank You

…6 rounds of chemo down. Thank you Lord.  I am still in the tunnel...but I can see the light and with every step, that flicker grows stronger.  Chemo has been the hardest mental and physical challenge I have ever faced. Knowing I had the BRCA gene meant that I had an 87% chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime.  Looking at that number, its crazy how blindsided I felt when cancer actually came knocking on my door.  Because I am young and my type of cancer is so aggressive – I am hit with the big guns when it comes to being aggressive with my treatment.  I am dose dense so I get chemo every other week (vs. every 3 weeks)…I have the strongest chemo cocktail they offer (8 rounds of it) and I will also have 3-4 surgeries and 6 weeks of radiation.  When this is all said and done it will be an 18 month journey.  I’m not messing around and I’m fighting like hell.  I have kept my hair through this by wearing special hats (Penguin caps). On days that I have chemo, I wear these for 8 hours.  They are put on dry ice and brought to -32 degrees are changed out every ½ hour.  It’s beyond the worst ice cream headache you can imagine.  It’s nauseating wearing them for that length of time…but I have my hair and during times of taking the kids to the park or going to the grocery store, it’s sometimes nice to externally be anonymous and have no one know what I’m going through.  It has been a good lesson for me that you never really know what struggles people are dealing with just by assuming or looking at them.  We are all fighting our own battles daily.  
My first four rounds of chemo were called AC (Adriamycin and Cytoxan)…it is fondly referred to in the medical community as the red devil (since it is red in color)…not exactly my first choice of things to pump in my body...but hey, it’s saving my life so bring it.  This medication leveled me and brought me to my knees.  I was severely nauseous, could hardly walk or get out of bed, was really achy and every time I closed my eyes (day or night) I would spin uncontrollably - nonstop. This lasted for about 9 days. Mark would have to spoon feed me and carry me up the stairs to bed.  I can only relate this to feeling really primitive…almost like an animal…like a dying dog.  At one point I crawled out of bed, dragged a pillow outside and curled up in a ball on the grass.  I need to be outside and feel the ground.  I felt so untethered to everything I had known.  I was in a constant state of free-fall and I needed the ground beneath me to carry me through the next hour.  On my next 4 rounds of chemo I am on cocktail called Taxol.  It’s made from different tree barks so I lost the nausea which is awesome.  The side effect of this is severe achiness…like my body is stuck in a wood chipper - grinding on low - for 5 days. Bone crushing aches where I wake myself out of a dead sleep to the sound of moaning in pain.  At one point, I was so stir crazy and sick of it, I had to get out of the house.  I went for a walk that actually was a painfully slow shuffle – tears started to flow uncontrollably down my face as I couldn’t recognize myself in this state while I slowly placed one foot in front of the other.  I shuffled and through my tears and distressed head space, I realized I went too far and struggled to get back home.  It was a pitiful sight and hard to see yourself in a reality that was so unrecognizable.  On Taxol you have to take steroids the first 4 days to ease your body into it so it doesn’t freak out with what’s hitting it.  Steroids make me crazy.  My mind races - one minute I’m up – the next plummeting down.  God bless Mark since he is strapped in next to me on this rollercoaster to hell and back.  Put your arms up honey – big hill ahead!!  One night I crawled into bed and casually said to Mark “I feel like I could take all the dishes in the kitchen and smash them all over the floor”.  He looked at me trying to quickly navigate how to respond… then he said “Honey, I think that’s called roid rage”…Ahh, right…let me slip into something more comfortable as I climb into bed…like my straight jack over here.  Night!! 
Part of me wanted to write out what I felt while going through chemo as a reminder to myself how tough it is…and this doesn’t even touch on the mental aspects of this journey. The paralyzing fear, anxiety, and hopelessness that can creep in from time to time.  Layer on a few 100 doctor appointments and being on hold with insurance companies on top of everyday life with little ones and it’s just enough to tip me right over the edge. What has saved me is simple…I have found being in the moment helps…not getting ahead of myself and worrying about things I can’t control…staying in the here and now, and enjoying it.  I want this documented as a reminder to myself to only focus on controlling what I can – eat well, exercise, make time for myself, be mindful to manage stress, give love away freely and often…and most of all be in the moment and give thanks.
This past weekend I felt good so Mark and I (sans kids) went to a small mountain town called Kernville about 3 hours away.  Our friend has a cabin right on the river nestled in the pine trees.  It was beautiful.  We were surrounded on all sides with Mother Nature.  A mama deer and her two fawns hung out in the back yard with us all weekend.  We sat by the river and savored the sound of moving water which is such a healing melody. We went on small hikes, fly fished, and just enjoyed our time together. At night we sat on the deck in adirondack chairs with blankets.  We listened to the sound of the river, with the lullaby of crickets, and then looked up at the starry filled sky. Together Mark and I created space in nature to finally let this detour of our life...sink in.  We sat in silence for an entire hour looking up at the stars…we just were. It was so peaceful.  It was so healing.
I was reminded of one of the most beautiful and touching things my dad ever said to me while looking at the stars that night.  My dad was sick for a lot of my childhood.  He ended up having 3 liver transplants.  The last one stuck and gave him 3 really healthy wonderful years.  We called it Christmas every day during that time.  He ended up building our family’s cottage on Lake Superior.  It is holy ground and such a special place for us.  Eventually, his borrowed time ran out and complications to having a donated organ occurred… doctors said there was nothing more they could do.  He knew he was going to die and we got the gift of 9 months where nothing was left unsaid.  We shared a lot more laughs than tears during that time.  Those 9 months were some of the most meaningful in my life. What my dad told me during that time that I was reflecting on while looking up at the stars in Kernville was this…He said that every night since he had built the cottage he would go out on the deck at night, look up at the starry filled sky, and out  loud say “Thank you”.  He said that some nights he could easily just say it once…but other nights it would take him a lot longer and he would have to say it over and over and over.  He would say it for as long as it took and sometime it would take a really long time…but he would say it until he meant it…and until he felt it.  This is one of the most beautiful things he ever taught me.  To say thank you till you mean it.  It’s easy to say thank you when things are going you way.  It takes digging deep to say it when you don’t like what life has handed you.  For him, he said thank you even though he knew he had to leave right when life was getting sweet… with retirement, dreams of traveling with  my mom, and most of all the lost joy of not meeting his grandbabies.  I had River 6 weeks after he passed away.
The silence while looking at the stars was comforting that night sitting next to Mark.  After our long silence, I quietly said to him “We’re going to be okay Mark”.  A couple minutes later he reached over and held my hand and said “I know baby”…then less than a minute later, heaven confirmed this to be true.  The largest shooting star both of us have ever seen in our lives filled the entire length of the sky.  Mark and I both gasped out loud.  It arched growing with intensity getting larger and larger… then it blazed turning orange then pink – and eventually a huge bright white pure ball of light finished it off in all its magical glory.  It was incredible and a confirmation…It was going to be okay.  After our giddiness wore off from that miraculous act of nature…I was ready to do what I knew I had to do.  I was ready to say thank you.  I sat quietly and said thank you…till I meant it.  It took me a little while, but I rounded the corner.  I felt it, and meant it....and made peace.  Thank you.  For this journey…for all that it has taught me and how it has changed my life for good. Thank you for the people that have helped carry me through this experience. Thank you for the lives I will touch because of this.  Thank you for supporting me and loving me through this journey.  Thank you for Mark.  Thank you for my family and friends.  Thank you for the abundance and outpouring of love.  Thank you for humbling me…yet making me feel great and mighty all at the same time.  Thank you for this life…for this day….for this moment.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 
Feel it – mean it – live it – know it.  Life is beautiful, you just have to open your eyes and notice it…and then say thanks.

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