Monday, October 31, 2011

Worry and waiting...

Dear Cancer-
With you comes worry and waiting. Worry--What's that weird pain in my side? Well, I've had a headache for three days now, should I call my oncologist? My intestines are jacked up again, hope this diarrhea doesn't last much longer. What if I don't catch it early enough next time? Waiting--1 week to see if you've spread, 20 weeks of chemo to see if you've shrunk, only 2 days till I loose my breasts, 2 months for the stupid genetics test, 3 days till blood work results, 1 week till scan results put me in the clear, 6 months till implants, 6 more for nipples.  Worry and waiting have become easier to deal with, the longer I've had you. In the beginning, it enveloped my thoughts and actions. I put off eating, because I was worried.  I couldn't sleep, because I was waiting. I didn't smile, because I was worried. And, I cried because I was waiting.

After about two weeks of that I had enough. I was having this back and forth dialogue with you, and I almost exploded. I yelled out loud, "STOP, CANDICE! YOU'RE INSANE." Then, I laughed. I laughed out loud for about a minute at how crazy I was. I was giving you all the control. Control you didn't deserve, and control I'd be able to beat with you with, once I took it back. So, here's what I did...

I put on these fantastic pink shoes with my sweat pants. I grabbed my funky yellow purse, and I went to the mall by myself. I swung by Starbucks, told the barista a joke, and sipped my caramel moch as I drove. I blasted, "Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I've ever known. Like a drifter I was born to walk alone. And, I made up my mind, I ain't waistin no my time. Here I go again," singing my face off. I did a little retail therapy, buying my first frilly headband in preparation for a bald head. And finally, I called my friend Lisa and made dinner plans. We laughed, and made one rule, no talking about you for 1 hour.

I can control worry and waiting. Not you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy 1 year anniversary cancer!

Dear Cancer- I had just called requesting paperwork to separate from the Air Force. Ryan and I were about to embark on a new journey. He was going to keep flying, and I was leaping to civilian life. We were planning a wedding, buying a house and planning European travels. I can’t remember what I worried about that morning. All I know is life as I knew it ended in a single second. At 2:32 p.m. my phon...e rang at work. Dr. Amy Vertrees’ unsure tone confirmed the worst, and I knew. She said, “Candice, it’s not what we wanted.” She didn’t say your name.

The only thing keeping my feet on the ground was her calm words. Amongst the words, ‘chemotherapy,’ ‘mastectomy’ and ‘radiation,’ she said ‘life,’ ‘babies’ and ‘future.’ More importantly, she said, “Candice, we’ll get through this, together.” I now understand what it feels like to literally have the world stop. Things moved slowly, except my body convulsed with shakes. I broke out in an instant sweat, and then chocked back vomit. I got through the next few days with family and friends telling me I was going to be okay every two minutes. Ryan and I were separated by an ocean at the time. When I told him, he said, “I’m going to love you even if you don’t have hair and if you don’t have boobs.” I said, “Well, that’s going to happen,” and we laughed.

I went back to being an infant, unable to be without my parents, or function on my own. Worst then diagnosis day was clinic day. My dad and I sat for eight hours meeting every doctor; breast surgeon, therapist, oncologist, fertility specialist, radiologist, genetics doc, multiple nurses, and my plastic surgeon. Both our worlds stopped again when my oncologist told me I had triple negative breast cancer. He explained only 10% of breast cancer patients are triple negative, chemotherapy sometimes doesn’t work, recurrence is high, and there aren’t any additional therapies at this time. My dad caught my arm as I almost fell off the exam table. I can’t imagine what that was like for my dad. I looked at him with a face covered in tears and he said, “Chemo will work, babes.” I called my best friend Crystal that night and lost it. I cried, yelled, spit words of pity and asked her, “What if I don’t make it?” After taking a breath, she yelled right back at me through tears. She said, “I never want to hear that come out of your mouth again, Candice.”

Two days later, I went for my first ultrasound and scan to get a grasp on if you spread through my body. I couldn’t imagine a worst situation, and I was mad at God. Why was this happening to me? My mom and I turned the corner at Walter Reed Army Medical Center towards the scan room, and we saw a soldier in his early twenties holding his baby girl. He was holding her with his only remaining limb. With a big smile on his face he greeted us as his wife pushed his wheelchair down the hall. Cancer, that’s when my world changed again to life as I know it today.

Life throws all kinds of things our way, but it’s what we do with challenges that build character. Shitty things happen, end of story. There are no explanations for why. At the end of the day, we make our life what we want. Perspective is a gift we should cherish. You changed my perspective on my life. I spent the next months slowly grasping the road ahead, and finding my way through the fog. I dealt with each thing you brought my way, and eventually found beauty. Beauty means something so different now. The most beautiful women I’ve met in my life, I met because of you. My breast cancer sister survivors epitomize beauty. I beat you the only way I know how. I put on a smile, made fun of you, and danced in kick-ass shoes through the past 12 months.

I wish I could articulate how I see life now, even as I stare out this window on an impeccable fall day; I struggle to find a way to explain my sated life. It’s been a year and the women who dealt with you before me were all right. I’ve found a strength I never knew I was capable of.

Pink Kisses, cancer. It’s our one year anniversary.