Because they are often so bizarre, my dreams rarely directly correlate to what’s going on in my waking life. I usually have to sit with them for a couple days and delve into what my subconscious is trying to make out. The recurring driving-at-night-but-unable-to-see dream, for example. Or the dream that has me on the highway or another busy road, feet or hands pumping furiously while I kneel or lay stomach-first on a skateboard—wholly believing this is my preferred mode of transportation—while cars zoom all around me.
(These are manifestations of my feelings of not being in control, obvs. Took me a while, but I figured it out.)
Twice, however, I’ve had cancer nightmares that are SO vivid, that really all my brain is telling me is that we are scared shitless. I alluded to the first one a while ago, which happened right before my infamous vagina tattooing appointment. Nightmares of doctors coming at me with long needles (even if it was in a Civil War era sick tent) don’t take much figuring out.
The second one was last night, just two days before my very first followup pap smear. I’m now in the observation phase of recovery, where they’ll test me every three months to see if any cells have begun to go rogue again. I’ve not thought much about it, other than the sometimes disaffected reminder that pap smears didn’t catch my cancer the first time around, so I have waning faith that even if it were to recur, these expensive trips to San Francisco will actually find it in time.
So last night’s dream had me at the appointment, getting a scan instead of a pap smear (for reasons I can’t remember). The tech was very matter of fact. “You have a 1.5cm tumor, deeper in your body than what a pap smear would’ve found… closer to your back,” she told me.
“But that can’t be,” I told her. “We got it all with the treatment!”
“Obviously, you didn’t,” she said. Then she recommended I cancel the pap smear scheduled for the next day.
Clearly, though I haven’t really expressed it in real time, I am afraid of recurrence. There is a nagging fear, choosing to raise its head when I’m asleep, that there were individual, non-clustered cancer cells tooling around my body at the time of the “all-clear!” PET scan that have now bonded together to attempt their assault on my body again.
I don’t like putting it into words, because I’m supposed to be stronger than that, putting positivity out there, believing that I beat cancer in its stupid bitch face and am now on my way to “normal.” But I guess since cancer was able to silently breed inside me for god knows how long, I can’t shake the fear that it can happen again. It just takes my sleeping self to admit it.
Somedays, for seemly no reason, it hits me like a wall that I actually had cancer. Sometimes it feels like this weird not-dream.. I know I did 6 months of chemo, lost all my hair, and fought with all the rest of it and whatnot, but sometimes it feels like it didn’t happen to me. Does this happen to anyone else from time to time?
All the time. Also, since it took up most of last year, I have a hard time remembering it’s 2013.
“The Last Time You Were Truly Happy.”
I wrote all day long yesterday. It felt incredible. Most of my entries, like Anne Lamott says, were shitty first drafts. But I’m really pleased with my response to the “Tell Me About the Last Time You Were Truly Happy” writing prompt. So I’m sharing it here:
These first few months of 2013 are the happiest I have ever been. I live in a house with my husband. I know, from three years of observing my incredible Mother in Law, what I want my house to look like. How to keep it uncluttered. Organized. Looking the way I want it to.
I have real, true, unfettered “me time.” I sit around in my pajamas all day on Saturday and Sunday. I read silly, thoughtful, gossipy articles on the Internet. I write for hours on end. I do whatever I please.
I create bouquets and place them in places that will bring me infinite joy each time I walk by. Our hallway is alive with sprays of lilies. The entryway with a stately purple orchid, serenely bowed.
On these days alone, I listen to the music I want to listen to. At the volume with which I want to hear it. Sometimes it’s loud. And it shoots right through to my soul. And I dance around my living room, perfecting my Breakfast-Club-era Molly Ringwald. And I sing along. And I get out of breath. Sometimes I slip on my socked feet, But that’s ok.
When JLP’s at work, I watch dumb movies. With nobody to question why I might be interested in yet another Matthew McConaughey bromance. I eat four pieces of cinnamon toast in a row.
I do not have cancer. I do not work four jobs. When I sit on the couch with my husband, there is not so much information flooding my brain that I can’t enjoy the moment. I no longer make miles-long to-do lists in my head. I give thanks (sometimes silently, sometimes audibly) for this moment. When we can hold hands on the couch and our smelly old cat can sleep, drool pooling at his upturned lip, snuggled in between us.
I have a husband who adores me. Who isn’t afraid of this post-cancer body, that I might be broken, that I may have progressed without him in some sort of cancer-caused journey of introspection. He pleads with me to do less. To heal. To not worry so much about a spotless bathroom. I agree. And I actually stop worrying about it. I let those fucking winds of heaven blow through us like we’re a couple of slices of commodity Swiss cheese. I accept each moment for what it is. I unabashedly ask for more time, for someone to repeat something I might not catch right away.
I’m ok with the distance from my friends, knowing that we can all check in at any time with each other and pick up right where we left off. I have no fear that anyone is angry with me. That there is any misunderstanding between me and another that may be creating conflict in our lives.
I am in love with life. I am in love with every day that starts with a fresh promise and a warm cup of Ethiopian coffee. I can’t remember a time I woke up every morning excited to brew a fresh cup of coffee. But with every single cup, I’m reminded that today is a new day. Anything is possible. I no longer make those big, convoluted plans that I have to carry through at all costs. I might do the laundry today, or I might do it tomorrow.
And who’s going to judge me? The Overachieving Women’s Club? Guess what, they wish they could do the same. They just haven’t had the reason to let those inner judges go yet.
I have, and it’s the most incredible feeling. I am so happy.
The Upside to Pelvic & Abdominal Radiation?
Keeping my girlish figure. Recovery is making my intestines incredibly sensitive, resulting in a little more awareness of what I take in. All those comfort foods that are supposed to be “treats?” Yeah, those happened a little more often than I was realizing (especially the booze). Here’s a fun list of extreme edibles and potent potables that were staples pre-cancer and are now once-in-a-while goodies. Not because I’m actively trying to be healthier, mind you, but because my body can’t handle them:
Burritos. Bourbon. Sausage & Peppers. Nachos. Red Wine. Champagne (MOST SORELY MISSED). Mac N Cheese. Lattes. Milk. Steak. Anything With Red Sauce. Anything With Cream Sauce. Pastries. Diet Coke. Salsa. Raw Fruits. Raw Veggies.
So, you know, thanks A LOT, cancer, for making me eat healthier. I can think of easier ways to go on a diet!
Sometimes (today, for example) I can’t fucking believe I went through chemo and radiation. Not gonna lie, In those instances, I feel like a total badass.
The Upside to Chemo Brain?
I’ve done the same 20-minute yoga DVD at least 10 times now, and I have yet to remember the sun salutations sequence! It’s like taking a new class every time!
Chemo Brain: Ensuring you don’t get bored with workout DVDs.
Anonymous asked: Hi! Love your blog and story. I am a 2x cancer survivor, uterine and a tumor on my kidney. I am compiling an anthology titled "Awakening the Hero Within: Stories from the Cancer Tribe". The cancer tribe is both people like us and our loved ones. I hope to empower people to see that cancer can be a great teacher. It literally woke me up to my being a hero to me, and to my loved ones. Would you consider contributing a story, or blog post to this book?
Hello! I’d be honored! Love the idea and the name. :)
After the nurse asks how the IV-Ativan is working for me:
I was looking through my cancer buddies’ blogs for the Mashable article and stumbled upon THIS oldie but goodie. That Ativan IV, man. Good stuff.