Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Brick by brick

I don't have a particularly interesting story to tell about this poem. This isn't based on a true story; in fact, I am pretty sure I was watching a Hallmark movie and had an idea bubble up. It's a little hazy. This was a poem I sketched out in 2014 (!). Nothing like digging up and dusting off old pieces to flex the writing muscles. Well, anyway, here it is in all its glory.


Sticks and stones can break my bones
but your words are the one thing I will never forget.
As my defenses started to crumble
The rubble fell at your feet.
Even in defeat I couldn’t help but give those broken pieces of myself to you.

Your words found a place to hide out in the curve of my ear.
Taking shelter, finding a safe space to live forever
Your voice ringing out clear and pure.
(It really was the strongest thing about you.)
There is something hypnotic about a beautiful weapon.
A silver tongue spitting brass bullets.
Perfect white teeth gnashing.
Pushing out soft words with jagged intentions.

Your words were an unforgettable cadence.
I still can’t stop hearing you say it. “There’s someone else.”
(It really was the worst thing about you.)

Each one of your words was another brick.
Baked in the heat of my fury.
Every smug platitude was mortar and filler.
Watch me build this wall.

You keep saying it over and over.
"We can still be friends, right?" 
"You understand, don't you?"
Brick. Brick. Mortar. Brick.
I crumbled and fell. But now I’m rebuilding.
Up and up and up and up.
And then finally…
I’ll be over you.

I call this photo "Love in an alley". Taken in 2017, Lincoln, NE.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The lady in the painting

I can often feel the itch to write, just nagging at the ridiculously hard to reach point between my shoulder blades. The frustrating part of this is when I can't rope one single idea out of the clear blue sky and let my pen run with it. So, that's when I fall back on the talent and creativity of people in my circles and use one of their creations as a writing prompt.

David Quinn is a talented award-winning artist based in Co. Mayo Ireland whose piece titled, "Necklace" serves as my most recent creative inspiration. He's ever so graciously permitted me to link to his work here (what a lovely guy!):

Necklace, David Quinn, 2007, Mixed media on board, 70cm diameter
View this piece (and so many beautiful others) on his website

So now that you've had the opportunity to fall in love with this painting like I did, here's the poem I wrote:

Lady Like

It hurts to remember you
Your laughter feels like tiny bursts of flames licking across my skin
Your touch feels like a million paper cuts left in the wake of your trailing fingertips
What used to give me goosebumps now stings me

But this is life; c’est la vie
One stupid mistake
Two fingers of whisky
Three fingers on a ledge
But forever hopeful

Never totally prepared to defend my heart
My battle armor is deceiving
Looks like perfect hair and makeup
Two swipes of the blackest eyeliner
Three spritzes of the most romantic perfume
It makes you feel comfortable
It makes me feel confident
Then I rip apart the silky illusion with ten manicured nails on my dainty lady hands

My hands hurt from
Clutching these pearls
Oh how I wish I was clutching the back of your shirt
Soft thin cotton bunching up
In between my fingers
My wedding ring snagged a tiny hole
I can fix that later
Can you fix this now

We were quite the dazzling pair
Now I’m a single earring with no back
Cherry lip gloss with no lid in the bottom of a bag
This promise should have been set in stone
Like a 3 carat stone set in a platinum gold band
But instead I just wrote “xoxo” in the dust on our dresser
Memories caught in the cuffs of my jeans
Spilling out around my feet as I walk through the door

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The one about September 11th...but not THAT September 11th

On September 11th, 2015, I was an emotional basket case just doing my best to hold it together. Literally. It was two days after my double-mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and I was a mess of stitches and bandages and tubes. I had these new Frankenboobs and I looked like I was in a knife fight (and lost). It was a shitty day (for so many obvious reasons) and I remember watching a documentary on 9/11 and desperately wanting the phone to ring - I was waiting for a phone call from my nurse. I was waiting for the results of my lymph node biopsy. I wanted her to call and tell me that my lymph nodes were all clear. No cancer found. Success. I was willing her to make that call and tell me some good news. If I kept putting the positive thoughts/juju/vibes/wishes out into the universe, it would come to fruition, right? The last time I received a phone call from Kelly it was good news. (She was the one who called me way back in February 2015 to let me know that my original PET scan did not show any signs of cancer anywhere else in my body.) I was desperately hoping to continue the "Kelly only calls with good news" streak.

I love Kelly Fields. She helped me get through some of the worst parts of my life with honesty, optimism, and genuine kindness. 

On Friday, September 11th, 2015, nurse Kelly called to tell me that the six lymph nodes they removed and tested all came back CLEAN. That meant the cancer cells didn't pass through those nodes and didn't spread to other parts of my body. The only other time in my life when I felt relief like that was in the moments after I delivered my daughter and I heard her cry for the first time and knew she was alive and well. Monumental amount of relief. Relief the size of oceans. Seriously, that much relief. No hyperbole intended.

So here we are, one year later. It's September 11th again and guess who I saw today? I got to meet with the one and only nurse Kelly for my one-year post-surgery check up...and it was great.
Here I am in the parking lot right before my one-year, post-surgery check up. Oh what a difference a year can make.

September 11th, for all of the still very obvious reasons, is a day I'll never forget. But despite all of the sad connotations surrounding this day - - there will always be a smile on my face and extra big hugs for anyone who wants them. I can't help it. While I will absolutely take a moment (or two, or fifteen) to reflect on the loss and heartache and confusion our country experienced in 2001, I will also remember that this is the day I knew I would get on with my life. MY LIFE. LIVING, you know, definitely not dying. With the help of an extremely talented medical team and the support of my friends and family, I kicked cancer's ass.

Yes, this day means something to a whole lot of folks. But every year, in the late afternoon of September 11th, if you see me grinning like a fool, you'll know why.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The one where I get my purple shirt

This year I participated in my first Relay for Life event as a survivor.
Let me tell you a little story...

This might sound a little cliche, and borderline trite, but stay with me. When I was going through chemo, in some of the very worst moments, I would picture myself walking the Survivor's Lap at a Relay for Life event. I would see myself wearing one of the coveted purple t-shirts, walking the survivor's lap, smiling and waving at my friends and family, knowing that it was all done and I made it. This daydream was the carrot at the end of my chemo stick. My mind was made up and I was going to get me one of those damned purple t-shirts.

There was a Relay event during the summer of 2015, but I didn't feel comfortable participating because there wasn't definitive proof the chemo had worked and I couldn't be sure the cancer was gone. I couldn't bring myself to wear the purple shirt if I didn't know for certain that I was a survivor. Surviving is one thing, but being a survivor is quite another.

On June 18th, 2016 I walked my lap wearing my purple shirt. I smiled and waved like I was frickin' Miss America. I waved to my family, my friends, my doctors and nurses. I smiled at other survivors. Hell, I even smiled at strangers.

Me and  my caregiver (AKA, my husband, Ben) kicking off the survivors lap. 

Here I am, waving and grinning like a fool! (...if you look right behind me, you can see my oncologist. Pretty cool that he was right behind me. Serendipitous and lovely.)

Me and my oncology nurse, Lisa. She coached me through my treatment and is nothing short of amazing. 

Me and two Lincoln Police officers, I may have gotten a little camera happy on my first lap!

In addition to the survivor's lap, which is emotional in its own way, there is the luminary lap. This takes place after dark, with all of luminaria lit. There is total silence except for a lone bagpiper playing Amazing Grace. Yeah. It's just as much of punch to heart as you think it is. This is the time for remembering those we lost and being immeasurably grateful for those still with us. This lap is powerful in a way that I have a tough time describing. I might have actually felt all of the emotions on the spectrum - even if only for an instant, I am pretty sure I felt each and every single emotion.
Me, the hubs, and the kid. I am so lucky and grateful.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't tout the virtues of the outstanding members of my relay for life team. These folks took time out of their lives to join me in raising funds and awareness in hopes of getting us one step closer to a world without cancer. They supported me during my treatment, and they support me's pretty amazing.


You know what the cherry on top of all of this is? This team, "The Self Checkouts", was awarded the Relay for Life Rookie Team of the Year award!! We showed up en masse, we had the best t-shirts, we walked and talked, we laughed (and cried), we participated in Jazzercise. We remembered those we lost, celebrated those who survived and each of us did our part in trying to raise awareness about doing breast self exams.

Now, there are a solid 50 more pictures I could post and at least 50,000 more words I could type here. But I'm not going to. Just know that this event was something I was looking forward to throughout the entire year of chemo, surgery, radiation, blood draws, blood transfusions, and countless doctors appointments. This was a thing I could focus on instead of worrying about whether I was going to die or live. Because that's the truth. It's a scary truth that you don't want to admit until it's all over, but there you go. I lived. I survived. I got my damned purple shirt.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The One Where I Realize An Entire Year Has Passed

On February 5, 2015, I received the official news that I had cancer. I was at work when my doctor called me. There was no beating around the bush. She told me I had cancer and I should hang up the phone with her and call an oncologist immediately. I did not immediately call an oncologist, instead I called my husband. And then I walked across the hall and told my boss. And then I turned the corner and went to my friend's office and told her. I am pretty sure I smiled, laughed, and dropped the cancer bomb. I laughed because I didn't want to cry and didn't know what else to do. Because that's a totally normal thing.

February 5th is my baby brother's birthday. I remember feeling horrified that this was happening on his b-day. I contemplated putting off telling him by a day so it wouldn't ruin his birthday. Now, I know that is kind of presumptuous and a bit conceited to assume that this would ruin his birthday, but I just didn't want to risk it. I remember calling my dad and being more preoccupied with figuring out if I should say anything or wait, than actually telling my dad I had cancer. I guess we fixate on weird stuff when we are stressed out. (In case you're wondering, I did tell my brother on his birthday. He doesn't seem traumatized and he still speaks to me, so I think we're okay. We even texted back and forth to make plans for a birthday dinner this year. Dessert and all.)

Here we are a while back at a Bulls vs. Mavericks pre-season game. Much fun was had by all. 
So, it's been one year since this whole debacle started. Wow. I feel like everything has changed and nothing has changed. It's an odd combination of feeling like it took me forever to get here and that it all happened in the blink of an eye. A very odd feeling and even more odd that I struggle so hard to find the words to describe it. Be prepared for a meandering post as I try really hard to get to the point...

Fuck. I survived. I had two huge tumors and now I don't. I am still alive and hearty, healthy, and hale. Please understand, it's not that I feel guilty and I am not sitting here wondering "why did it all work out for me and not those other cancer patients". I am smart enough and rational enough to understand the nuances of modern medicine, science, and sickness.  It's just that there are days where the enormity of it all hits me, right in chest. My heart hurts a little, my breathing gets a bit accelerated, and I get a little light headed. When I fully absorb what happened, it sort of freaks me out. Which is kind of stupid considering it's all done. I am cancer free. I beat cancer. I survived. So why am I freaking out on a random Friday afternoon? I dunno. Maybe all of those days where I just put one foot in front of the other, focused on one small piece at a time, plowed ahead and refused to be anything but positive and optimistic and certain that it would all work out finally caught up to me? Maybe my subconscious is finally cracking open just the tiniest bit and letting me see all of the fears I buried way down deep?

It's been a whole entire year. How do I feel about that? Like I said, some days the enormity of it all grabs me by the throat and I panic all over again. But mostly, I feel good. Really good. I feel like I have a much better sense of what is worth arguing about, and what is worth letting go. I feel like I search even deeper for the positives. I am trying so much harder to tell people what they mean to me. I am freer with compliments and gratitude. I want to take advantage of every opportunity in front of me. I am trying really hard to make sure I'm not raining on anyone's parade. I feel really good and I want everyone around me to feel really good.

I feel good emotionally AND physically. I joined the YMCA so I can work out and get my strength and endurance back. I got a Fitbit (thanks, Mom!) to make sure I keep moving and don't get too sedentary (let me know if you wanna be Fitbit friends - or whatever the cool kids call it). I've cut waaaaaay back on my caffeine intake (decaf coffee, more hot tea, little to no soda). More fruits and less Little Debbie.
Check out my nifty compression sleeves. From the right distance it looks like I am super tough and have these bad-ass tattoos. FYI - these guys help keep me from getting lymphedema, in case you were wondering. And yes, I did punch  myself in the face while trying to put them on the first time. It's cool. I'm fine.

That contraption right there? I have no idea what it is called but when I use it - it makes muscles in my chest area flex that I didn't know I had. I have a love/hate relationship with it. 
Oh, and another thing. A friend of mind messaged me recently asking if I had any idea about what I wanted to do with my wig now that I'm no longer using it. I told her that I had planned on donating it to the local cancer center, but just hadn't done it yet. That wig really did help me get through a rough spot - I was surprised at how much more confident I felt with it on and I wanted someone else to have that same experience with no worries about the cost associated with purchasing a wig (they can be kind of pricey). Turns out my friend had a friend who needed a wig. While it broke my heart that there was a reason to pass it along, I was more than happy to do so. What surprised me most about this was the little touch of sadness I felt about letting the wig go. It really was like a security blanket and I had a brief 10 minutes where I was truly sad about saying goodbye to Samantha. (The style of wig was called "Bewitched". Of course I named the wig Samantha. Duh.) I mean, don't misunderstand, I was 95% happy to be helping someone out by giving them the wig to use, but there was absolutely that 5% of sadness. Very weird, but that's the truth.

Why yes. I did have a Raquel Welch wig. 

Me having my last moment with Samantha. 

In retrospect, letting go of the wig was kind of a nice way to sad goodbye to the cancer and all of the horseshit that came with it. A nice way to physically let go, you know? Symbolic in a way. Which is a good thing. I want to let go, but I refuse to forget. This process could have easily been overwhelming and could have sent me into a depressive downward spiral. But it wasn't and I didn't thanks to my wide and deep pool of friends and family. I am learning to let go of the lingering fear and anxiety, but I will not forget what I went through. I think I have accepted my physical scars, and am working through the emotional ones. (Gotta stop waiting for the metaphorical "other shoe" to drop.)

This process showed me that I wasn't the weenie I thought I was and that it's okay to depend on other people and ask for help every once in a while. This process made me open my eyes and see the value in things that I was absolutely taking for granted - - and it's made me see that despite how good I had it before, I was missing out on so much more.

Wow. Yes. It's been a whole year. I am still a little shocked that all of this happened, but I am so grateful and relieved and awed that everything worked out the way it did. Guys, I did it. I beat cancer. Holy crap. Now, I just need to figure out how to 1) use the grill properly and 2) not burn bacon...I can beat cancer, but apparently cooking certain meats is outside of my skill set.