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.