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Archive for the ‘life after cancer’ Category

 

It has been a long time since I’ve posted anything in the breast cancer journal. My journaling has taken another path – it is not online, and it is not about being a breast cancer survivor. My mother died in August and a lot of what I have been writing about privately describes my journey through grief.

On August 11, 2010, I went to Denver for my check-up with the doctor at the imaging center and my oncologist. The doctor at the imaging center looks at the mammogram and ultrasound results during my visit, so I knew by the time I was on my way home that I was still NED (no evidence of disease). My oncologist wanted me to have another mammogram and a visit with her in six months; after that, my mammogram schedule would be once a year. She reminded me that it was almost five years since my diagnosis, and at the five-year milestone, my risk of recurrence would go down so significantly that it would be about the same as for all other women in my age category.

On my way home from the hospital, I called my family to let my mother, who was out of town for a medical procedure, know that my check-up was good, and Mom was very happy about that. The following day, unexpectedly, my mother died during the procedure.

Now it’s January, and in one week, it will be five months since my mother died, which seems impossible. And a month after that, it will be time for my six-month checkup, the last one before my anniversary, and a month later, it will be March, five years from my diagnosis, and the milestone that has been my goal: stay cancer free for five years.

In the meantime, I am not feeling well – I am so tired, I am not sleeping well, I have headaches, I was not eating right. For a while, I didn’t have much of an appetite. When I did, rather than going back to my  low-fat diet, I began eating comfort food. This week, I brought home bags of fresh green vegetables and am determined to start eating right again. I fluctuate between feeling relief of getting to that five-year mark and the nagging stress of not feeling well and needing one more round of tests before the anniversary to make sure I am still okay.

Things that go through my head, that I try to dismiss:  Why am I so tired – as tired as I was when I had cancer? Because my cancer is back, or because I am grieving and not sleeping well?  What about my headaches? When reading, why do I see “red bed and butter” instead of “rye bread and butter”? Why am I having trouble with my speech? Because I’m getting aphasia, or because I didn’t rest well? Why am I so forgetful? Are these real and lasting memory problems, or is it just stress?

Those are things I wouldn’t admit to my friends, but somehow am okay with posting on the internet where other survivors can read them, because I know you understand what I’m talking about.

Underneath all of this, I somehow feel settled about things. Although I hate it when people say my mother “is in a better place,” I believe that my mother is okay and that she will always be present to me in ways that are more palpable than memory, because she is my mother, and she will not abandon me (a wonderful thing a friend said to me). I believe that I am probably still cancer free and will get through my checkup okay and that the lumps under my arm are from something else and will go away. And if they aren’t gone in two weeks, I will make an appointment to have them checked, as I do with other things that don’t go away. I believe that grief is a non-linear, inescapable process, part of being a human being, and I vow to try to learn from my children, who have lost their fathers, how to live with it with dignity.

And I believe that even if I don’t remain cancer-free, we are all playing our part in the unrelenting and majestic evolution of the cosmos, and I believe in what some people call the communion of saints or souls, and some people call the cosmic consciousness, and, as my sister says, “I believe in the seen and the unseen.” And I hope to learn courage from others who have gone before me.

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The last days of October. The sky in the north looks wintery today but the sun is out and suddenly I realize the meadowlark is back from springtime, sitting in a tree instead of the top of a pole, singing gloriously for a few more temperate days.

My book describes the western meadowlark’s song as a “rich, flutelike jumble of gurgling notes” and says this bird wasn’t recognized as different from the eastern meadowlark until 1844 when Audubon named them neglecta because they’d been overlooked so long.  They are so welcome at my house, never neglecta. My heart is full when I hear them sing.

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Arizona

This month I am in Arizona where it is warm while it is cold and snowy at home.

My ultrasound, mammogram, and checkup with the oncologist in January were good.

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer posted on Facebook a link to Laura Tasheiko’s breast cancer journal. I love the paintings and the way she processed her journey with them. I plan to spend more time there.

I also loved this post, “The tyranny of positive thinking.”

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This week, I’m going to see a local doctor about the pain, numbness and tingling in my shoulder, arm, and hand on the side where I had surgery and radiation.  On the 28th, I have my three-month visit to the imaging center in Denver for my mammogram and ultrasound. Later that day, I will have blood work and see my oncologist. The first week in February, I see a dermatologist. I scheduled that visit during one of my “Everything New or Different Must Be Cancer” stages, and, even though I’m over that for the time being, I decided to keep the appointment. I never expect to have any anxiety around these appointments, but sometimes it creeps up on me.

In the meantime, I’m doing some stretching, using ibuprofen occasionally, and applying heat once in a while when my arm becomes too painful and that seems to help for a while. I intend to ask for more help with lymphedema prevention, including instructions on stretching, exercise, and massage.

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More about Carolyn Scott Kortge, author of  The Spirited Walker: Fitness Walking for Clarity, Balance, and Spiritual Connection

Recent post – Spirited Walking and Pheasants

 

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The Spirited Walker: Fitness Walking for Clarity, Balance, and Spiritual Connection, by Carolyn Scott Kortge, gives me guidance about walking and breathing. Kortge was a presenter and a workshop leader at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat at Miraval when I attended two years ago. I’m not a fitness walker, but I turn to Kortge’s book for help and inspiration. Walking might be the one best thing that I can do to improve my health, reduce my risk of recurrence, and increase my sense of well-being.

This morning, I re-read the chapter, Breathwork for Walkers, which explains how controlling the pace and depth of breathing can increase our stamina and help us relax by tapping into “a channel of energy that reaches deep into the body instead of ending in gasps at the neck.”  When we breathe right, “fears disappear. Breath spreads through the body like a soothing breeze.” 

When I returned from six weeks of radiation treatment and felt fear and panic intrude into my day, I grabbed a jacket and headed out the back door to walk it off. Sometimes I drove into town and walked the sidewalks around the lake or the fishing pond. Or I drove up to the farm, left my car, and headed down the gravel county road, sometimes veering off on a pivot road into the middle of a field, then back to the car.  Once I didn’t want to worry about calculating how far I could go before needing to turn back so I called a relative and said I was walking as far as I could, then I would call them to pick me up. 

Sometimes I walked and counted my breath. Sometimes I counted my steps or followed other of Kortge’s directions. Sometimes I walked counterclockwise around the walking path and prayed, then realized I was meeting serious fitness walkers going the other directions, knees and elbows pumping high.

I went through a time this year when I didn’t feel well and I was depressed and I didn’t walk.  I believe if I had walked during that time, I would have been better much sooner, both physically and emotionally.  Walking and breathing fills us with a life force. Kortge discusses that connection between between breath and spirit or life.

 The Latin word spiritus means both breath and spirit. The Sanskrit language speaks of prana, the life force carried in the breath. English places spirit at the essential core of life in the words inspire and expire. . . . The power of deep rhythmic breathing to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being forms the foundation of many ancient spiritual and healing practices. . . Breath links the inner and outer worlds, unifying action and intention. It guides us across the communication gaps that develop when mind and body are separate. . . .By developing awareness of the breath, we become better listeners for the physical information we receive from our own bodies.”

 

As a cancer survivor who is constantly learning how to be vigilant for signs of a recurrence without being anxious over every physical change, I can use all the help I can get to become a better listener for the information I receive from my body. Walking and breathing are not just good for me, but may help me learn a new way of being a survivor.  I’m going to re-read Kortge’s book.

And I am going to walk somewhere, somehow, each day, whether it is on a treadmill when the weather is bad, through the fields in the sunshine, down a gravel road, up the sidewalks in town, down a fence row, or up and down the stairs in my house.

This morning when I went outdoors,  there was a dusting of snow on the ground. The pheasants came out of the newly harvested cornfield and flew up into the tops of the trees.  I took a photo of them against the pale morning light.

Later, I saw them hurrying past my house, headed for a wheatfield.

On The Walking Path to Survival – more on Carolyn Scott Kortge

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