Breathe

This time of the year is always a bit difficult for me. I arrive back in San Diego to get all my medical and dental completed for the upcoming year.

Dr appointments loom or have already been finished. My annual mammogram is complete. Although it has been almost ten years since my diagnosis of breast cancer, this time of the year I notice I become slightly anxious as I await the results of the mammography. I have about ten days to go before the results are in.

This year, 2019, is a bit more difficult. I have surgery on Friday to remove the other half of my thyroid. I have cancer. I have papillary thyroid cancer. My left thyroid will be removed to prepare me for the radioactive iodine treatment that will seek out any thyroid tissue that is left anywhere in my body.

Today I had my pre-op appointment with my surgeon. Dr. Ressa has followed me through breast cancer treatment and now the thyroid. These visits are never easy for me. I have a lot of questions. Being a nurse makes it harder because I read a lot. Being a one-time cancer survivor increases the number of questions and concerns as well. Having had almost six months to anticipate this coming Friday has allowed me to evaluate and add more questions in my mind.

Here is what has not helped me while waiting to have this surgery.

  • I have heard the good stories and the bad. It does not help me to hear that this is a “good” kind of cancer to have. There is no “good” cancer!
  • It is good to hear positive outcome stories, it truly is, however, I would encourage those who say this not to devalue my situation. At present I am anxious and a bit worried.
  • Surgery is surgery and not to be taken lightly. I am not taking it lightly and I would like others to not brush it off either.
  • Don’t question if I caused this cancer. Don’t tell me that if I had done something different I wouldn’t have cancer. It seems that only people who have not been challenged with this diagnosis say these things.

The bottom line? I have cancer. That statement alone is overwhelming and a bit lonely. How is it lonely? I have found since Jim died, I have no one to talk to daily about things that make me happy or things that concern or frighten or discourage me. I miss having that daily person to check in with and support me no matter what. Even when I might have done something stupid or said something out of character, Jim was there to give me a hug or counsel me through indecision and worry and often lead me in the right direction to correct wrongs.

It is hard for me to do this for myself. I can, it is just harder. In my current lifestyle, I find I have to push myself to interact with others. Often the campgrounds are full of air-conditioned RVs. When these hot Santa Ana days are upon us, very few people come outside or interact with their neighbors. I don’t blame them. It is “hot” in San Diego county these days.

Joining cancer support groups sounds like a good idea. I have joined a few thyroid support groups on Facebook. They are filled with nice, mostly women. Here is the deal with these sites. The women who post are having issues pre or post-surgery. I now avoid them as surgery looms nearer, they scare the heck out of me. I find I am overwhelmed on these sites. I feel sorry and sad for these people who are going through difficulties and I worry about me and my outcome. I have taken a hiatus from these groups until I am post-op.

When things like this arise, I miss my family. I have two sisters and two nieces that live over two thousand miles away. Their lives are busy. When things like this come into my life, even if I recognize it is complicated, I would love to have them show up on my doorstep and take over for a week or two. As a rational adult, I recognize this is not possible, yet the little girl in me still wishes that one of them would show up anyway.

This is where friends have stepped forward to help me out over the next few weeks.

 

Miss Elsie the Cat

  • My friend, Nancy, is taking Miss Elsie the Cat into her home and life. She loves kitties and Elsie has always really liked her. It is a good fit.
  • Cynthia and Ward are taking me into their home for the weekend post-surgery. When I think of this offer it brings tears of gratitude and caring to my eyes and heart. I am so thankful for their caring and support. With their support and encouragement, I will be on the road to recovery and dancing quickly. (They are members of the Scottish Dance community in San Diego).
  • Phyllis is my go-to friend. She will help in any way that I will let her. After traveling for two months in Africa we still remain good friends. That is an accomplishment in itself.
  • All my friends near and far will be loving and supporting me. I feel so fortunate to be loved by so many.

Now I need to take a deep breath, push worries aside, walk into Friday with positive thoughts for the best of outcomes. I need a mantra for this. So far the only one I have come up with is “breath”. The other mantra I have had for years is “You are a good and caring person and worthy of being loved”. I often say this to myself as I look in the mirror morning and night. Now I say Breath.

Asking for thoughts and prayers is a statement that has been degraded over time. There have been too many situations over recent years that have made me hesitate to ask people for this. Instead, I will ask you to send a breath my way on Friday filled with whatever you want to fill it with. It will help me walk into a current unknown future. I have no doubt that I will feel the love and support.

Moving forward, one step at a time.

 

 

 

Living With or Without Cancer-Getting Ready to Roll

“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” – Terry Pratchett

Today I am changing my story. Instead of dying with cancer I am now living with cancer. It is possible that I am fooling myself and there is no cancer within me to live with. Well that is a cool thought.

Moores Cancer Center

Last Wednesday, with the support of Yvonne, we drove to the Moores Cancer Center at UCSD (University of California San Diego). I had a second opinion appointment with one of the primary head and neck surgeons. I define second opinions as a way to gather more information, so that I can be comfortable making a decision that will shape and define my life.

This whole complex of buildings that makes up the cancer center and other technologies are imposing as you drive in. The structures are big and impressive. There is one building that is dedicated to all things radiological speaking. The Novel Technology building is so new that the staff is not sure what it does. I was curious enough to do some on line research. It appears that it is a specialty that works with deep brain tumors and microscopic surgery. Interesting. It is good to be impressed by what I see.

My appointment went well. I met with Dr Brummond and his associates. They were kind and amazingly good listeners, especially the medical student that did the intake interview. Most of the information that I was given was not new, but that is what I wanted, a confirmation that my surgeon and endocrinologist were on the right track. I will have the other half of my thyroid removed upon my return from Africa (yes I am going). I did receive one new piece of information. This doctor feels that if the biopsy on the left thyroid comes back negative for cancer he believes I don’t need the radioactive iodine treatment. So I will gather that information into the ongoing puzzle of thyroid cancer.

Dr Brummond feels it will be OK to wait until my return in the fall to have the surgery to remove the other half of the thyroid. That is good news, really good news. I am relieved that this appointment is over and that I can begin to really plan for a trip of a lifetime. I imagine my friend and travel companion, Phyllis is glad to hear this too.

With the help of a therapist I am now getting ready to go into the final planning mode for this trip. Today I got my typhoid shot. All the other meds are gathered and ready to go. I am planning to leave San Diego this coming Monday and begin an amble east. Elsie says her bags are packed as well. I am daring to allow myself to get excited without getting overwhelmed. Living with cancer allows me to dare, to get excited, to dream. I was already getting weary of the feeling of dread that has been hanging over me. As I take each step towards Africa, the dread will disappear more and more.

My life is too short to be fearful and experience dread. That is a hard way to live. I would rather live hopefully and with a little or a lot of joy, depending on the day. These are always personal choices we all have to make every single day of our lives. Yes even you, dear reader are included here. Sometime the choice to live with hope is easy. Other days well we all have to dig a bit deeper to find that place. And so dig I shall.

Getting to Roll…New Jersey here I come….AFRICA here I come.

 

“The Power to Rise Again”

There are times in my life when I can use encouragement, support and more from known and unknown sources. When life gives me a hard push or I am struggling with indecision or fear, encouragement in positive outcome helps me so much.  The known sources are my friends or people I know through social media, like those of you who follow this blog. The unknown sources may be inspirational books, poems, and news articles.

About four months ago a good friend of mine, Pat, introduced me to the “Sunday Paper“. The Sunday Paper is Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter publication that offers news and views for a meaningful life.  This newsletter is one I quickly began to look forward to receiving each week. I like to go to my inbox before I even get out of bed to read the inspirational message at the beginning of the Paper. Each week there is usually something in this message that resonates with me and gives me courage when I need it most. I feel like each week there is something in these messages that speaks directly to me.

Now before, you of different political beliefs begin to think, “Here is that liberal Janet speaking out” or “Maria Shriver-just another Kennedy” I encourage you to go to the web site and have a look around. It is amazing what she comes up with week after week. She posts you-tube videos that are pertinent to the weekly theme. There are interviews with authors. There is so much in this paper, that I rarely read or listen to everything before the next week’s paper appears in my in-box. Some weeks I just read the inspirational message and short prayer at the end of the message.

This morning’s delivery in my inbox is titled The Power to Rise Again. If you click on this title it will take you directly to her page.

I have considered and thought about this article of inspiration often through out my day. I needed to read or hear what she had to say. At times it is hard to deal with other human beings. I am dealing with some issues with another human being at the moment. It feels unfair how I am being treated and even though I know “this too shall pass”, well right now I am in the middle of it all and it is a struggle.

Here are some of the quotes that I have found encouraging in Maria Shriver’s message this morning.

These days when I go to church on Palm Sunday, though, I find myself really thinking about the significance of the day. I also find myself thinking about how fast the court of public opinion can change someone’s life, just as it did for Jesus Christ.

On Sunday, he was met with adoration. By Friday, he was dead on the cross. I mention this because if we spend our whole lives working for other people’s admiration and validation, it’s worth remembering that external validation can change on a moment’s notice.

“The game is going to test you, never fold. Stay ten toes down. It’s not on you, it’s in you. And what’s in you, they can’t take away.”

He was right. Life is a test. It was for Jesus Christ, it was for his mother Mary, and it is for each and every one of us.

Life will always test us. I know it has tested me, and I know it has tested you. On many occasions, I have found myself saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” Or, “Wow, I have no experience for how to deal with that.”

But over the years, I have also found great moments of awe and wonder and joy in life’s surprises. Time and again, these surprises have led to me discover strength within myself that I never knew existed.

I say all this to remind you that if your week starts out great, but hits a bump along the way, you can still rise again by the following Sunday.

Life will test you and it will surprise you, but you have everything you need to rise up and move forward with strength and courage. I love knowing this to be true. I love believing it.

I have found such support in these words today. I will spend the rest of the week digging deeper into the Sunday paper for joy and enlightenment and support.

And then next Sunday….a new edition will be there to greet me.