Saturday, July 11, 2020

Bras, Boobs, and Blueberries

The day after my sixth cancerversary, I made a trek to Fayetteville to pick up my new bras and boobs. Every two years, insurance allows me to get 4 new bras and a set of new prostheses. Most people don't know silicone prostheses degrade over time and two years is about as long as they keep their shape with normal wear.

Usually, when I drive to the little boutique that sells the mastectomy bras and prostheses, I feel anxious. I don't know why I feel that way but I assume it's due to post cancer PTSD. This time it was different. I felt elation. I was going to pick up a vital portion of my femininity.

Since having both breasts removed in 2014 and foregoing reconstruction, the only way I felt I looked feminine was with the addition of mastectomy bras and prostheses. Oh sure, I could have taken a old bra and stuffed it with polyester fiberfill or socks or something, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't feel like my natural breasts and it surely wouldn't look like them either.

Silicone breast forms are as close as one can get to the real thing. The weight, appearance, and texture trick the body into believing what was once lost has now been found.

When I arrived at the little shop to pick up my goods, I noticed a sign on the door asking me to wear a mask. Since the Covid -19 pandemic, so many things have changed. Pressing the door handle to the front of the shop, I found it locked, even though I had an 11:00 a.m. appointment. I was right on time. I wondered what was going on so I pulled out my cell phone and called the shop owner.

She thanked me for my call and assured me she'd be right up to unlock the door. (She was inside working along with her co-worker. They were keeping the door locked to prevent the possible introduction of germs by any unscheduled visitors.)

When the door opened, the owner greeted me wearing a mask and presented me with one, too. I placed the mask over my face and we entered the shop as she asked how I'd been doing. Just a few steps inside, I was asked to stop at the hand sanitation station they'd set up.

I squirted a big blob of gel sanitizer into my palms and vigorously rubbed my hands together.

Since I'd called and placed my order in advance, there was no waiting.

Before submitting payment for my 20% portion of the bill, the owner had me fill out a corona virus questionnaire - Had I visited a country outside the United States within the last 30 days? Had I been running a fever? Etc. Etc. To every question I was thankful I could check the NO box.

I paid my portion of the bill and tucked the sales slip into my bag. My eyes noting the total, $653.45. My 20% was $130.69. One set of breast prostheses was $556.22. Three mastectomy bras were $94.23. Post mastectomy products were so expensive.

Before leaving the shop, I asked about swim prostheses. I was pleased to find they did sell them but insurance did not cover them. Inquiring as to the cost, I was told each prosthesis would be $50. It didn't take but a few minutes to rationalize buying these lightweight, fast drying prostheses. What was another $100 plus tax added to my already mounting credit card bill?

I left the shop with two large pink and white shopping bags in hand. My husband smiled as I came out the door. He'd seen these bags before. The closet in our guest room was full of them. They were a high quality vinyl product and had been recycled often for many a family birthday gift.

As we left the shop, I checked my phone messages and found one from a local farm I'd visited two weeks earlier. It was a family run farm that sold vegetables and fruits. Today, the message said, the farm was selling off some of their thirteen year old blueberry bushes.

Turning to my husband, I asked in my sweetest and most convincing voice, "Honey, could we run by the farm and dig up a blueberry bush?"

I had no idea what he'd say. It was well over 90 degrees and very humid.

"Of course we can," he said, so we did.

It took about half an hour to dig up the huge plant and get it to the car. When we opened the back of the van to stuff the bush inside, I had to laugh. My bags of bras and boobs sat just at the top of the blueberry bush.

As we worked to push the large plant in far enough to close the van door, some of the ripe berries fell into the bag with the prostheses. Watching them fall reminded me how quickly I'd lost my breasts. For 42 years they'd been attached to my body and in an instant they were gone never to be seen or felt again. 

The blueberries, on the other hand, would be plucked from the bag and added to ones still clinging to the tree. I'd make muffins, pancakes, and jams with those. We'd enjoy them for months to come. Their plump ripeness a sign summer harvest.

We left the farm with our van full of bras, boobs, and blueberries.

The day had been productive and satisfying.

While hubby was busy transplanting the new blueberry bush into the ground, I went inside to try on my new bras and prostheses. Tucking the molded silicone into each side of the mastectomy bra, I noticed  something wedged inside one of the boob pockets - a nice, fat blueberry.

Plucking it from the bra, I quickly popped it into my mouth letting the sweet juice explode there.

A huge smile spread across my face. Bras, boobs, and blueberries. What a combination! And that's when it hit me. I wasn't crying. A feeling of joy had replaced the past sense of sadness I'd always felt after coming home with new bras and boobs.

All it took was a blueberry. One fat, juicy berry to remind me life can still be sweet, even after breast cancer.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Berry picking thoughts

When the sun came out and the rain stayed away, I made a decision. Today I would go berry picking.

The past few days, we've had heavy rain. I'd planned to go picking but knew the ground would be too soggy so I stayed home.

Gathering up my bottled water, keys, purse, and phone, I headed out the door knowing my trusty GPS would guide me. I'd only braved this trip alone once before.

I was surprised to see about ten cars already parked on the gravel lot outside the farm entrance. I assumed there would only be one or two cars at most since yesterday was a complete washout.

Making my way up to the check in desk, I was greeted by a young girl. She wanted to know if I was there to pick strawberries or blueberries. I told her both.

She handed me two baskets and pointed me in the direction of the open rows. I decided to wander down the strawberry rows first since I knew it was the end of the season and there wouldn't be many berries to pick.

The rows were rain soaked and muddy. I wished I'd worn my old sneakers instead of my new ones. Doing my best to dodge the puddles, I bent over to check the strawberry mounds. The first few I checked had no berries, so I made my way further down the row hoping no one else had gleaned the fruit there.

The sun was beginning to rise and I felt the heat on my back. At the end of the field, I found a few berries. Most of them were overripe and mushy. The others were under ripe. Yellow jackets hovered near damaged fruit and I made a point to veer away from them. I didn't need a sting.

After picking half a basket of subpar berries, I decided to shift my focus to blueberries. I knew they'd be abundant and quick to pick.

Heading over to the blueberry bushes, I meandered to a shady part of the row. A neighboring dog barked loudly and startled me. Thankfully, he was behind a tall fence.

Turning my attention back to the bushes, I noticed they were weighed down with fruit. Beautiful, lush blue berries clung tightly to the branches. Among them were scattered dots of light purple, unripe berries and tiny pale green baby berries. The contrasting color was so stunning. I stopped to take a few photos. 

A cluster of berries caught my attention and I moved to pluck them one by one. Dropping them into my basket, I continued picking a few at a time until I realized the berries were so ripe, I could grasp a handful and pull gently allowing them to drop steadily into my basket. Soon I found myself thinking about friends and life in general.

Every berry I picked reminded me of how my friends were slowly disappearing. One by one, they were finding themselves facing a recurrence of cancer and then, days, weeks, or months later, they'd pass away. It seemed so unfair.

I wanted to keep my friends in a tight little cluster, healthy and whole instead, they were ripening and falling - ripening to the devastation of cancer, slowly and surely.

It was hard not to cry as I worked my way down the rows, picking, and sorting the berries. I wished there was something I could do to help my friends.

Each of them was in a different stage of decline. Most of them were waiting for test results that would determine their fate. None of them had a positive perspective. My heart hurt.

With my basket full of berries, I didn't want to leave the farm. There was such solace there and although there were other people picking, none were near me. I felt alone.

Finding my way to the shade of a large pin oak, I lucked up to find some empty wrought iron lawn chairs. I almost sat down for a spell, I was hot and tired, but noticed a large red bull in a pen adjacent from the tree.

The bull and I locked eyes. As he lifted his head from chewing, I spoke to him. "Hey buddy, how ya' doin'?" He listened attentively for a few minutes and then went back to munching on grass. I stood watching him for a minutes wondering how such a large animal could survive on grass.

A bluebird flew out of his nesting box and startled me. The distractions of nature kept my mind busy and pushed the depressing thoughts about my friends' health to the back of my mind.

I wished I didn't have a heart of empathy. It would be so much easier. But I do. And I'm invested. I love my friends. I want them to live.

I left the farm with 8 pounds of blueberries. I was tired and hot and smelly, but it was a good day. I enjoyed the solitude among the berries. It's always good to take time to process your thoughts, even if it's hard to do at times.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

When a Voice is Silenced

You never know when you're going to be blindsided. Today was my turn. As I was reading through my emails, I got notification of a friend's death.

It's always hard to learn the death of someone you love but it's easier to accept when it's expected. When it's unexpected, it feels like a betrayal.

This past week has been extremely difficult as I've learned of not one or two friends who've been faced with a recurrence of cancer, but 4! That's a lot and it makes me so sad.

I don't understand how these sweet women get chosen to go through breast cancer again and I do not.

My 6th cancerversary is coming and while I am looking forward to celebrating July 9th with great anticipation, I'm also feeling a little guilty that I'll get to celebrate while they will not.

Instead of being able to revel in the fact that they're cancer free, these ladies are starting from square one. They're having to fight all over again.

I can't even imagine what they are feeling.

If I were to get the news that my cancer was back, I think I'd be devastated. I'd feel like everything I'd been through had been for nothing. I'd wonder why I'd fought so hard to win a battle that was never going to end, but then, I'd remember why. My why was because I wanted to live.

And I'm sure they do, too. And that's why they'll fight again.

Cancer sucks and I hate it! I wish with all my heart we could find a cure. I don't understand why a cure can't be found other than the fact that there are so many different kinds of cancer. But surely there should be something that could provide hope for the fight. Surely there should be some kind of strong medication that could by more time.

If I was a doctor, I'd make it my goal to find a way to help victims of breast cancer. I think I'd make it my life's goal to improve the odds.

But since I'm not a medical professional, all I can do is pray. And I do, all the time.

I have a running list of prayer requests in my journal for all of my friends with breast cancer. The only updates I've been able to list so far have been to notate the entries with death dates. I don't like that. I'd much rather write in big bold letters, COMPLETELY CURED! NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE! But I can't.

Maybe one day, I can. Until then, I'm going to do my best to help give my friends with breast cancer a loud, clear voice. And when one of those friend's voices is silenced, I promise to remember to keep on hearing it. I won't forget what they had to say.

Breast cancer voices matter and so do all cancer voices. Sometimes we have to shout to be heard and other times, we silently whisper.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

A hard day

Today's been a hard day. I didn't realize why until a few minutes ago. Since waking, I've been an emotional wreck. I've cried at the drop of a hat.

At first, I thought it was just hormonal but then I realized, I don't have those issues any longer. I'm long past menopause.

When I walked into my office and saw my calendar hanging on the wall, the red ink just about jumped off the page. Six years ago, this was the day my life changed forever.

I didn't want to think about that phone call that would forever be etched in my memory, the one that let me know I was and never had been in control of my life.

Finding out I had cancer was devastating. And even after all these years, I still struggle. There are just some things that won't ever heal.

It's not because I don't want them to, I do, really, I do. But it's just so hard.

I've never sought counseling. I've tried to handle everything on my own. I've tried to process each feeling, each emotion, each breath taking blow as its come, but I've failed miserably.

So today, I'm going to extend myself grace. I deserve it.

And as I go through the motions of the day, I'm hoping I'll be able to hold it together. I need to hold it together.

I'm going to do my best to focus on the positive.

I am still alive. I am currently cancer free (as far as I know), and those things are vitally important.

Cancer isn't easy to understand. No matter how a person tries, it's something that must be figured out second by second. There are no guidelines and it doesn't matter how much anyone else tries to help. All you can do is do the best you can. And that's how you survive. That's how I've survived.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Color should not determine a person's worth

Our nation is in a state of civil unrest as protests continue over the recent death of George Floyd. Emotions are high and rightly so.

I listened to an interview about a black woman telling how she was fearful for the lives of her teenage sons. As she talked about how she'd raised them to always be respectful and obedient, she shared she also taught them what to do just in case they were ever stopped by a policeman while driving. She said she told them to immediately place their hands on the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 position telling them not to speak unless spoken to and not to move. My heart went out to her. I couldn't imagine having to think ahead like that. What a shame...

I can't wrap my head around how their can be such hate just over the color of a person's skin. I was raised to love all people no matter their race. Of course, we saw the color, that couldn't be helped, but it didn't determine whether or not we could love or accept them. People are just people and we all descended from one man, Adam. Just because the color of our skin is different, we are the same. We all bleed red.

It breaks my heart to know black men, women, and children are still struggling with racism in today's world. You'd think it would have gotten better after all these years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, but it hasn't. In fact, I believe it's only gotten worse.

I don't know what to say to my black friends. I want them to know I care but I don't want to sound flippant.

How will we ever remedy the current situation? The Bible tells us we're to love one another as we love ourselves. The only way I see the world changing is for true love to conquer all. And that will take a miracle of epic proportions.

Until things change, we have to do what we can to show others we care. One of the best ways we can do that is to listen, truly listen. We need to hear not only the words being said, but those that remain unsaid and we need to learn to have empathy.

The color of a person's skin should not determine their worth. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Maybe this generation can learn that truth.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Processing emotions

It's almost the end of May and I'm feeling emotional. It seems this has happened every year for the past five years. As it draws closer to June 6, the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I start to feel overwhelmed. You'd think those feelings would have dissipated by now, but they haven't.

Breast cancer isn't a once and done kind of thing. It's a life long trauma. Daily I deal with some sort of post cancer PTSD. Whether it's overwhelming anxiety or debilitation insomnia, the after effects of cancer are always with me.

I've done my best to process things on my own. When I feel overcome with emotion, I talk it out either with myself or one of my children. I know it's not healthy to keep things inside but I don't want to seek professional help. Surely, I can handle this on my own.

Cancer does a number on a person. It comes in like a wrecking ball and destroys a life. The pieces have to be slowly put back together but they don't always fit properly and no matter how hard a person tries, there will always be shattered or missing pieces that can never fit back into the puzzle.

I've been working on a book chronicling my breast cancer story. I had hoped to have had it completed before now but life has gotten in the way. I'm thankful I thought to blog each day from diagnosis forward otherwise, many of my thoughts and feelings would have been lost by now. As I re-read those posts and relive each moment, I find myself working through a variety of feelings.

I'm still dealing with self esteem issues and body image issues. I'm still dealing with feelings of grief and loss. I'm still dealing with the lack of physical intimacy between my husband and I and all of those things hurt.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if cancer had never come into it. What would I have done? How would I have felt? Would I have been stronger or weaker than I am today? As I ponder those thoughts, I think I have to be grateful to cancer for so many things even though, I still hate it with all my heart.

But cancer has been a good teacher. It's caused me to focus on daily gratitude. It's caused me to live in the moment. It's caused me not to take a thing for granted.

So even though the emotional stress can be consuming, I'm still here and I'm still working through it. I'm extending myself grace and I'm moving forward. Daily I fight to survive. I.AM.STILL.HERE. I'm still standing!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Corona, Corona, Corona

Wow. I'm so tired of hearing all the news about this darn coronavirus and to top that off, I'm really tired of hearing all the fantastical fake news. Lately, when my husband flips on the TV to watch our local news station, I beg him to turn it off. It's too overwhelming and I just can't take it any more.

You may think I'm being an extremist - ignorant and unintelligent in my choice not to partake of the daily news feed but I don't think so. I think I'm enacting my right to self protect. I don't have to listen to all the boring statistics and fear mongering if I don't want there.

Yes, I know. People are dying. I'm not making light of the situation and believe me, my heart goes out to all those people who've lost their loved ones. It does. I'm just tired of hearing the depressing, overwhelmingly discouraging news that I have had to take drastic measures. If I didn't, my post cancer PTSD would flare up so drastically I'd have to pull out the anti-anxiety meds or even worse, the anti-depressant ones.

We're all tired of Covid-19. We want it to be gone. We want our lives to return to normal, or what we used to know as normal, anyway. But will we ever see any semblance of normal again in our world? I don't think so. I think this is all part of the grand scheme of moving us toward a new normal. A new, new normal, because the phrase new normal belongs to a life post cancer. One I'm well familiar with as a breast cancer survivor.

So what can we do to help ourselves return to a safer world? We're all washing our hands, keeping our distance, and being good little Americans obeying the new rules for existence. But what if it's all a bunch of malarkey? What if Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Anthony Fauci have cooked up this great plan to force worldwide innoculations so they can get rich and implant a teeny little device into all of us transdermally to keep track of our movements....what if?

It almost makes a person want to grab a tall glass and pour a cold Corona (we're talking beer here, not viruses) and suck that baby down right fast, doesn't it? At least if we were soused, we might not care so much about what news broadcasters are feeding us. But there's an easier way to take back the power, just turn it off. Just say no. Do your own research and don't be so gullible. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Bras, Boobs, and Blueberries

The day after my sixth cancerversary, I made a trek to Fayetteville to pick up my new bras and boobs. Every two years, insurance allows me t...