Yoga Mats and Tears

I was nervous. Wringing my hands in the car, I was trying to convince myself it was a good idea to come here. I’ve signed up online and flaked on more events than I want to admit.

I grabbed the green yoga mat with tiny raised marks from where my cats used it as a scratching post before I got married two years ago. I didn’t need directions – I knew exactly where I was going. The big sign for “Cancer Center” illuminated the sign for the hospital as I went into the same building where my hematologist is housed and their infusion center. Finally, I arrived to the Life with Cancer suite with another first timer who looked as confused and apprehensive as I did.

We chatted casually about when we finished chemotherapy and who was wearing a convincing wig as a few others came for the class. As we filed in and got settled, I grabbed the medical waiver for PiYo. Filling out my name, diagnosis date, and date of last treatment, I peeked at someone else’s sheet and saw their date of diagnosis: “2008” – the same year I graduated high school.

I knew this class would be hard on my body, and as we stretched upward and then into downward dog, I realized this was my first real exercise I’ve done since cancer. The assumption I made that the instructor, a pretty, kind, and flexible soul, was going to be easy on us because we all had cancer, was terribly wrong – but I appreciated her for treating us like we were all “normal”.

As the music thumped, my muscles ached and wanted to collapse. I wanted to stay in child’s pose forever, hugging my emerald mat, but I found the strength to push on from the other women around me. At one moment, the room was silent between the transition of the songs in the playlist, and the only sound was the labored breathing of us all. It was that moment which seemed suspended – stretching longer and more vivid as I remember it. The room did not smell of alcohol wipes but with sweat, our jagged thriving breaths echoed off the mirror instead of incessant IV pole beeps.

Never have I been in a room with so many like me, survivors. And that’s what we were all doing. Surviving with every breath – and all trying to live though we know that our bodies may once again try to kill us.

When we finished and packed up, I pushed myself to say hello and gave my name. Then I cried. I told them that this was the first time I’d been in a room full of people who survived cancer like me. The lady next to me said it’s okay to cry, and another, Murry, chimed in, “we all do it”.

Then I told the truth, I’d been avoiding going to anything that supported cancer survivors because I felt if I did, it would mean all of it was real and that I’d be admitting that it all happened. 

The woman to my left showed me her MediPort scar on her chest as if it were a perfect faded beauty mark. “This is a sisterhood,” she said, and she was right. And I cried more.

My heart kept saying, “This was hard. This IS hard!” and my survivor sister said, “I know” by showing me her scar.

Sometimes, I think God shows up in the places we are most hesitant to go – especially when we must realize and accept painful past experiences. When I’m at my lowest and want to bury that cancer was hard or ever happened or is still hard, I feel Christ showing me his pierced hands and saying, “I know”.

I’m glad I went to PiYo because I was able to see a glimpse of myself and a glimpse of God. I was also able to finally meet my sisters.

Thank you for accepting me.

Thank you for letting me know I’m not and never was alone.

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Vlog #6: Rest and Resolutions

After a very restful Christmas and New Year’s, it’s time to set those forgiveness resolutions and “showing up” for those most important.

Resolvere: Letting them fly

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – JUMP! When the Ball dropped in NYC, we were in the air. It’s a tradition Daddy started for New Year’s Eve. Between the years, we all jump so if anyone were to ask where we were at the turn of the year, we could say we were in the air. So if anyone’s asking, I was in the air holding my crazy blue eyed Husky Luna-bug next to my husband holding Shiloh, my parents, and brother.

Scrolling through social media, people are making resolutions. The gyms are packed with beach body potentials while the only thing I can think about right now is a can of wildly unhealthy canned cheese. Last year, I just wanted to survive until March 14th, my last chemo infusion, and wanted my hair to grow back. Now, I tug my strands daily to confirm they are firmly in place – trying to figure out what I should “resolve” to do and hope it sticks past January 20th.

I love looking up the etymology of words – the origin always helps me get a deeper sense of what it used to and should mean.

Resolution traces back to resolvere in Latin meaning, “loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin”. It was through time where the word resolve and eventually resolution meant to make a decision to better oneself.

I think it’s a fitting journey for the word. Sometimes in order to make a decision and stick with it to have a healthier and better life, you need to loosen and release things from the old year.

So like butterflies, I release all the false expectations I had of people of whom I expected support in my most dying hour but were absent. I loosen the guilt I felt for missing out on the lives of my students for six months as I was in a hospital bed. I let the fluttering sadness of not being able to bear another child for my husband disperse among the icy January trees.

A dear friend told me this year how important it is to “show up” for the people you love and how that is the biggest gift of friendship.

I resolve to show up for the people I love – for the people who have become perennial comforting arms and powerful praying palms.

It is only by releasing that I can fully embrace.

Fin.

Grateful through the Grit

About this time, everyone is publishing their obligatory Christmas posts about how grateful they are for family and holiday gatherings and days off of work.

This is NOT that post. This is about being “that” mom in a Target the day after Christmas.

Something was off about the day. I couldn’t put my finger on it. We were all exhausted from Christmas – not from libation hangovers but from jovially chugging celebrations from both families. Husband went off to work, and since I’m off until the 2nd with the school system, I got to stay home with Shiloh. After spending the morning playing stay-at-home-mommy, I became antsy and wanted to go out. I should’ve known by his ominous whining that something was amiss, but I ignored it along with my unwashed unkempt hair and haphazard appearance. I just needed to get out of the house. So after getting us buckled, I gave him half a granola bar, brought juice, and thought I had it all under control.

Anyone with kids knows the whole business of readjusting them to their normal schedules after a holiday is just about as enjoyable as giving your cat a bubble bath. As a first time mom, I underestimated this factor until I wound up in the Target pharmacy family restroom, sweating from a surgical-menopause hot flash, realizing I forgot to take my medicine, trying to go to the bathroom (because honestly after radical surgery and a baby it’s a blessing to go every few days), and holding my child on my lap because he absolutely refused to stand next to Mommy and wanted to be held.

Exhausted, I got out of the restroom and strapped him back in the cart and prayed my body temperature would regulate as I sweat through my husband’s t-shirt and popped cereal into my child’s mouth. My Starbucks cup was buried somewhere under our coats and boxes of mac & cheese, and I didn’t care as long as the scarlet cart wasn’t dripping my caffeine. I only needed a few more things.

After Shiloh finished fishing the crunchy marshmallows out of the lunch bag, he began dropping the oat shapes onto the floor like breadcrumbs every few feet. My sincere apologies to the team members at Target for the mess. I wore the red and khaki before I became a teacher, but it just was not my day.

I wanted to make it look like I cared when someone gave me a side eye, but I didn’t. I just wanted to make it out with sanity intact. We were in the home stretch when Shiloh decided to try to roll around in his seat, twisting his body and yelling “BA?!” as if I hadn’t fed him a few minutes ago. Another hot flash and glares from people around us. I also realized I haven’t eaten all day.

I was now “that” hot mess momma in the grocery store with the loud child. In my head, I steel guarded my heart and preconstructed a retort in case anyone were to say something to me. If I were ever in a situation where I would play infamously on loop on someone’s social media feed, I at least wanted to look cool and not like I was unraveling. Grabbing a potato, throwing it into the cart, holding Shiloh on my nonexistent hip, and steering away, it was time to go.

Hot flash number three. In the check lane, I tried to get everything on the belt as fast as possible. Grabbing my wallet, I found the two gift cards and pulled up a coupon on my phone. As I turned back around, Shiloh grabbed a can of tuna off the belt, slammed it to the floor, then waved “bye-bye” to it. It is hysterical now, but at the time I wanted to scream.

When I got us settled in the car, he stopped yelling. I used the jug of milk I just bought and sat in the driver’s seat and filled a bottle – because somehow he chugged all the juice I brought and only wanted milk.

I pulled into the parking spot in front of our town home, my pants damp from the sweet tea I spilled on myself and the seat during the ten minute drive, and looked to the back seat. Shiloh was blissfully unconscious. I took him upstairs to his room, let the dog out, took my pills, got all the bags into the house, and crashed on our onyx couch then waited for the world to stop spinning.

My point in all this is that it’s incredibly easy to be thankful and grateful when things are easy – when all the Christmas lights are just perfect, when gifts are still newly opened and the bright colored wrapping paper is still on the floor – when all the family is together eating and singing and celebrating –

– when the CT scans come back all clear – when your hair begins to prickle back – when I finally look like I just have a hip haircut instead of having suffered from cancer –

– but true gratefulness is being grateful through the daily grit.

I’m grateful that I even get to have those hot mess momma moments in the store because this time last year I couldn’t drive. I didn’t have hair to be unkempt and holding my child took almost everything out of me between infusions of chemo.

I’m still learning, but I’m grateful I’m still alive to keep learning.

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

It’s okay –

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve started and stopped too many blog posts in my head and deleted them with my imaginary blinking cursor. I’ve come home from teaching with the intention of creating something – soap, art, writing, anything at all – but I end up only creating a me sized impression on my side of the bed. The creative churning of my mind I’m used to pumping out steam and ideas has slowed to a slow meander.

I want to say it’s because my body is still recovering from chemo – which it is – or that I’m giving all my energy to my family – which I am – however it’s that I’m simply tired. I needed to stop before I crashed again. I’m used to thrusting myself down a hill and wedging gravel into my elbows and knees when I inevitably plummet to the ground – I’ve got the scars to prove it.

I’ve looked at the dates of videos and writing and noticed it’s dated two weeks ago, during which I’ve done the best thing I could do for myself: sleep and recharge.

Honestly, I needed a period where I created nothing at all.

No writing. No videos. No soaps. No ideas.

– because anything that would come out wouldn’t be something I’d be proud to birth.

I want to release things into the world that mean something, but powerful things are born from powerful minds, and my energy waned.

It’s okay to rest. I’ve learned that much from the past year.

After the last two weeks, I’m recharged and renewed.

It’s okay –

It’s okay –

It’s okay to rest –

Thankfulness

I hate to cry, but the tears threatened to spill as I strained to keep them locked up. The table spread was polka dotted with all our favorite Thanksgiving foods with more dishes I was able to help concoct and less my mother had to shoulder.

My family has a tradition of going around the table every Thanksgiving and saying three things for which we are thankful. This year, I was last, and no one took my “cancer-free” out.  When it was my turn, I didn’t expect the emotions to bubble out like a child holding foam too tight in the tub between clumsy wet hands.

A year ago, I laid on a mattress in the look room feet away from my family still sitting at the table. My arms were staccatoed with healing IV needle pricks as I tried to rest but listened with closed eyes to the sound of Shiloh’s sleepy baby breathing and my family still clinking silver to ceramic plates. My biggest reasons last year around the table were thankfulness for Shiloh’s life, my life, and my family.

This year, I’m thankful for our thriving and the strength it takes to stare down illness in its irises and win.Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving.

Calling

I love to feel busy. It’s the way I feel some purpose and how I also battle creeping depression. I have fervor for creating new hobbies and goals – novel writing, soap making, my YouTube channel – I’ll be making organic lip balm tonight.

I’m constantly looking at my calendar for the next deadline: Shiloh’s appointment is tomorrow at 10:30 AM, drop Luna off tomorrow at 1:00 PM at Healthy Hounds, Thanksgiving dinner at the Lucas house on Thursday at 2:00 PM, Abalos Thanksgiving dinner at 4:00 PM the same day in a different town, and get my blood drawn before noon on Saturday at the hospital to check my levels, especially CA-125. Sometimes, I make things up for myself to get things done or be productive – to create something that matters.

During high school, I looked forward to college. During college, I looked forward to a full time job. After I landed a job, I looked forward to marriage. After marriage, I looked forward to being a mother. When I became a mother, I had cancer.

We all looked forward to my last chemotherapy date, March 14th 2017 and a clean CT scan.

In the last year, I lived my life in a revolving door toward doctor appointments: GYN Oncologist, Intervention Radiologist, Hematologist, blood draws, hydration days, and chemotherapy. Now, my next appointment for a check-up isn’t until the end of January with my oncologist. I don’t need to see any other doctor again for a year. I only get blood draws when I want to check my numbers with my standing order. No one is calling my name in sterile hospital waiting rooms.

Other than our daily goals and holiday gatherings, there are no big milestones on the horizon – just us – and that’s okay.

Our family of three and the pets (Sherlock, Watson, and Luna) are all happy and healthy. This Thanksgiving, I will be able to participate fully and not watch my family finish their meals from a mattress holding my weight in my mother’s look room.

Moving on after cancer is not an event or goal, it’s the day to day process – enjoying each breath and smile from family and friends. My loved ones will be calling me into warm rooms.

I’m still learning to enjoy it.