Monday, August 19, 2013

Cancer days

Life putzes on, new joys, new stresses, adjusting to old joys and stresses- the days happen around you no matter what is going on in your life. Which is great- it's the dynamic force of change that keeps us from becoming moldy before it's time.

The cancer dance, just when you think it's over... not quite. It's not always that cancer has come back physically, but sometimes it comes back energetically. Sometimes you're thrown right back into that wacky fear that makes you a little neurotic and needy. I'm kind of there right now.

I can hear about cancer any time and while a teeny portion of me goes back to my own experience, I don't get terribly triggered by the day-to-day mention of it. Like anyone, sometimes I get a little emotional but really I feel the experience is fairly integrated.

Recently I discovered that a friend of mine has had cancer return. It made me so angry to hear it, and then it absolutely terrified me. I learned this just a few days ago and in a way I am adjusting, and still reeling- we are capable of feeling so many things at once, it's marvelous sometimes. I spent the evening in the bath tub with a drink, pondering how safe I have felt on the 'other side' of cancer. In my head, I know that it can come back. In my daily life however, I'm on the other side, never to return. This was a sharp detour sign not meant for me, but that reminded me that there could be curves ahead and not to get too comfortable at the wheel.

I was surprised and immediately buckled when I woke up on Saturday morning feeling a familiar sensation - the lymph node under my right jaw was swollen and felt like it was infected. It's not the same feeling as when you are sick and your lymph nodes get swollen. Energetically it feels like.. illness. I don't know how to describe it. It's a sharper, yellow sensation that is very distinct (I know, you're asking, yellow? Just go with it.) I could feel the node on my left side flaring a bit too and I immediately thought, Oh shit. It's back.

After I'd found out I had a lump in my thyroid and before my biopsies, I had a lymph node under my jaw become infected. Full on high fever, antibiotics, the whole shebang. I didn't even know lymph nodes could get infected, but this was very obviously the case. Dr. Googe said, "If there is cancer nearby..." so it gave me a chance to consider that maybe I had cancer and my body was giving me the heads-up, so to speak, before I got the diagnosis. It was helpful to get to try it on but it scared the living shit out of me too, because there was so much still I didn't know. Don't know why I had an infection, but I did have cancer, so in my mind, the two are irrevocably connected.

Saturday morning, waking up with this sensation, it shook me. It has still left me shaken, I don't know where to catalog things that were around cancer- Before Cancer, and After Cancer, and Signs of Cancer. I'm sure there are other buckets to plop things into, those are just the ones I'm working with right now. On the heels of the giant detour sign I drove past in my friend's experience, I wasn't exactly on watch but this particular 'sign' was too large to ignore. It cut past my defenses, my cognitive dissonance.

I had to do henna all day at a festival and my lymph nodes were hurting off and on all day. Late in the afternoon, a delicate soul walked into my booth, with her new hair painted pink on her head and eyebrows. Bright pink. Her spirit was so very fragile, she was recently on the other side of a second bout with cancer, her second bout with chemotherapy, and her hair was just starting to come back. She wasn't strong yet, but she would be, she will be.. she's still very delicate. Her friend accompanying her sat her with me and left while we worked out what she wanted done. She wanted flowers on her face. She said she'd freaked out her husband by dying her new hair pink and she really wanted to get him by having henna on her face. We chatted briefly and she shared bullet points of her story. She sat with me for maybe five minutes, but we got to talk a little about a cancer retreat where she could go with her husband and be tended and fed for a while.

Her friend returned to pay me and asked me what I required, I said, "It's on me, my pleasure." It was such a small amount of work and my heart was cracked open so deliciously just meeting her- I truly had already been amply compensated. He took money out of his wallet and paused, and said, "Wait a second.." He pulled a larger bill out and put it in my tip jar and looked me right in the eye very intentionally and said, "That's for you. Thank you." And they walked away.

Even writing that little story, it makes me cry. I don't know why. I was gifted so beautifully just by her being her, and me being me, that the money on top felt so generous and made me feel seen and appreciated. Still, what I am stuck with is that two people who walked a similar journey, granted, hers far more challenging than mine, we touched each other for that moment.

I kept hearing the word cancer all day for some reason, and it was triggering me deeply. It felt like a billboard from the Universe. I went to bed that night and had weird dreams. I developed a little fever, which broke in the morning. I felt better. A little shaken still, vulnerable, but more steady.

Sunday a dear friend of mine was visiting from out of town and we were walking in the park when I ran into my Sistah, Leah. Leah had leukemia and found out right after I did that she had cancer, so we've been pillars of laughs and frank honesty for each other over the last year. Whenever we run into each other (and we do, OFTEN), one of us cries. This time it was my turn, and honestly, it scared me again to have this new reminder of CANCER! screaming me in the face. Our bond is because of cancer. We went to high school together and have common friends, but cancer was what really brought us closer, into a no-maintenance-high-appreciation friendship. Seeing her fills my heart and breaks it at the same time, I'm sure that it goes both ways.

Leah and I parted and Erin and I continued to walk through the park and she looked at me and said, "Are you going to call your doctor?" I'd tossed it around a bit but it just seemed very bold-faced-in-your-face-font which was great, it allowed me to just address the question without all the feelings of not wanting to be a pain in the ass.

I have an appointment coming up, my lymph node isn't bothering me as much but it is still bothering me, so I'm going to just get a little peace of mind and ask for my ultrasound six months early. It's a new doc so we'll see what she says. I hate to think I'm setting the stage that I'm high maintenance right out of the gate, and at the same time, I'm paying for this, and I had cancer, and it's okay if I'm high maintenance, damnit.

Hopefully there is no follow up needed. :)


  1. Hopefully :) I'll be thinking of you.

  2. Frankly you get to be, "high maintence" forever. I know people, as in plural, who might have lived had they made that appointment to get seen. I hope every time you get yourself checked out that you feel like you over reacted because that will mean you don't have cancer again.