Me & Dad at my 2005 wedding :)
So you would think that going on vacation after breast cancer dx and treatment would pale compared to vacations of yesteryear -- but you would be wrong!
Why is this and what is wrong with your writer? Simple - the word for it, I guess, would be “anxiety” - or just “fear” or just “stupidity”. When I think back about all of the things that I worried about when in reality, I had nothing to worry about I really do want to have a flux capacitor to go back in time to kick my own ass.
So summers past getting ready for vacation would boggle my mind - I would pack everyone and panic the whole time, thinking about the ride to wherever we were going and whether or not there would be traffic. Yes, this girl, who lives in the most densely populated area around had an anxiety disorder around being stuck in traffic.
It was something that creeped up on me little by little over the years - my world got smaller and smaller but not overnight - over years. I went from traveling the world, living in other countries and states and even doing the 27 hour flight to Singapore without a thought. It was just “living” and I did a lot of it - I mean, I used to fly to Rome for the WEEKEND. For the weekend! Crazy.
Then, little by little, I got less and less adventurous. I started to really think in terms of “No, I cannot do that!” Before my “real” wedding (after we eloped alone) was my first inkling that I was developing an issue.
All of a sudden, I could not take the subway anymore. I had taken the subway ALL OF THE TIME but now, I got the intense feeling that I would need a bathroom during the times when the train stops and waits - at times this could be 4 minutes or 4 hours (ain’t nothing like the good ole’ MTA). What a weird, random thing to worry about but it consumed me for many years - this fear of needing a bathroom when there was none…
Looking back at when it all began was around the time of my church wedding. I was really worried about my wedding - we had eloped, yes, but had planned an semi old fashioned church wedding with party for a few months after our elopement.
All of a sudden, I was convinced that something bad would happen at my traditional wedding. My dad, who had raised me as a single dad, and my mom were basically still at war even then almost 15 years after divorce and my mom would be at the wedding with her new-ish husband.
My dad had hated the fact that I lived in “sin” with my husband before marriage and I just did not know what would happen at the wedding - would he not be willing to walk me down the aisle? Would he be angry at me? Would my mom do something crazy?
It was all a “loose cannon” opportunity to someone who had been raised hearing ALL OF THE TIME about how my mom’s dad refused to walk her down the aisle and how this meant she had no family and that the marriage was cursed, etc etc. Now, here, was the perfect opportunity (down to the same CHURCH) for history to repeat itself.
My mom was to be my maid of honor - I had been hers more times than I could count (ok, twice, two times, two different marriages) so I figured it was her turn to do the same for me. I had no real “fears” about her doing her job - she had been in enough weddings as a bride to know what to do (lol).
Leading up to the wedding, I knew something was “off” so I went to a therapist (not a new thing for me, I began therapy in high school just through my school and college, too) and walked out when she blamed my fears and anxieties on my childhood and my parents. I do not abide by that - not just because I am a parent myself staring at the precipice of childhood trauma with my cancer diagnosis - but I just feel that anything going on with me in my late 20’s though maybe jiggled into place by a fear around history repeating itself at my wedding is not anyone's FAULT but mine for how I see the world.
(Also, at the time, I struggled with even pinpointing what my issue was - it is only now with present’s 20/20 hindsight that I can figure out what it was…)
Oh and see that picture above of the 5 of us, my "core" family - it was taken in 2005; the last such picture I have of that group is from my college graduation in 1998... so was stress really that much of a surprise?
The wedding went well, my dad walked me down the aisle, crying audibly the whole way - weird as he is not really someone who has even been “emotional” - and the party was awesome but the fear and the nerves did not go away.
Shortly after my wedding, I turned down a travel requirement for my job and told my boss I did not feel comfortable flying for the short term. He looked at me like I was nuts - me, the girl who hopped on the plane to Singapore without saying “boo” who flew to Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Italy etc was asking to sit out the next flight. And the next. And the next.
This did not go away even when I changed jobs to my big step to being a VP and a big salary. I still had this “issue” - some days, I could not even make myself commute to work and instead worked from home.
It was debilitating and yet, I did not realize it or would not realize it. So vacations past were a hotbed of anxiety, fearing the road trip - me who used to live in Boston and drive to NY on weekends just for fun - could not fathom a trip to Pennsylvania without worrying and fears and being a nut.
So, facing cancer, if it does nothing else for me, made me realize I cannot live in FEAR. Commuting to NYC for my initial appointments, stuck in traffic on the FDR, I looked at my reflection in the cab’s window and said, “You have cancer - you cannot be afraid of anything anymore. Your worst case scenario came true - this is what fear breeds, disease, illness, death. It is OVER.”
And, for some reason, after years of journaling (is that a word?) and worrying and thinking, I felt it let go. When it tries to come back, I remind myself, “I faced cancer, I can face ANYTHING.”
I just wish I had been able to learn this lesson without the potential life threatening illness BUT I non friga nienta because at least I learned it. So if you ever see someone peeing on the side of the road, it’s me and I do not care :). This is what I do in the time between.
A few minutes before walking down the aisle, this is the face of "oh shit, please don't let this be a disaster!"
No matter how much I am happy and smiling and so damn happy to be alive, I do still get down and feel "off". Today is one of those days. I am proud to say these days are few and far between but that is not by "nature" - that is because I actively work hard on it every damn day.
Most days, when I get caught up in all of the things going wrong (and trust, there are a LOT), I hit myself mentally with the memory of how I felt when I was first diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment and how much I wished and prayed for my "old problems" back and force myself to recognize how damn lucky I am that treatment is over and pray that it stays that way...
I try to imagine how it would feel God forbid to be told the worst news - if God forbid the cancer came back or spread - both things I try NOT to remember and worry about but when I get all caught up in petty b.s. I find it helps me to remind myself of what really is a "worst case scenario" and what is just that petty b.s.
That being said, I am only human and I do get upset at times or worried or dare I say it "down". I can not really ever even claim to be "depressed" because I am naturally buoyant by nature and really have never in my life felt something that could clinically be called depression because I am fucking perky and trust me, most people can only handle me after a few cups of coffee.
Today, I am feeling upset about stuff. There is a family issue with one of my siblings, my dad's heart health, my upcoming clinical trial visit at Sloan ... and ding, ding, ding - I know that all of a sudden feeling so upset about everything does have a lot to do with a weird kind of "scanziety".
You see, with my clinical trial, I go every 3 months to get blood work, physical exam (as in my remaining boob and my chest get manhandled big time by the doctor or nurse) and to collect my next 3 months of pills and drug diaries. For some reason, because I have plans for the week (a surprise vacation for me and the fam), I am hard core dreading this follow up despite never even acknowledging them emotionally before. For example, I have been through these clinical trial appointments already 5 times - this is my 6th go round and I never before batted an eye about them. But this one, this one is freaking me out.
As far as I know, there have been no changes - no lumps or bumps aside from what has always been on my scar. I have not had any issues (thank God) with the trial pills - I am done with cycle 8 and aside from my blood showing low WBC, I have been "ok" - I mean I walk 6+ miles per day, I run around after and with my kids and just balance a lot of stuff oh and I survived Spring Break with the kids home and with no hard plans because of, you know, budget issues.
So why am I dreading Monday's appointment? Because in this reptilian piece of my brain is the fear, that little voice that says, "Sure all of your other appointments have been great and you never worried but now this one might NOT be and then you have plans to go away..."
I hate that stupid voice. I know that stupid voice - it is mine. I am telling me to shut up now immediately. That does not mean I will not indulge in a little crying - which is strange that I even feel the "interest" to cry as I do not cry - I cried once after diagnosis and once during chemo. I am just not a crier - there is nothing wrong with crying but I do not often feel the need to do it.
I mean put Beaches on and I will weep hysterically like a baby child. Or, you know, put on Coco and I will be a puddle on the floor. I mean, I have a heart. I just am not the type of person who feels they need to cry unless something is shamelessly playing with my emotions like killing Barbara Hershey or showing a young child how his family dies and needs to be remembered and shit.
So this is what I do in the time between - work out my feelings on this blog and try to force myself to not panic. Should be fun! I will update of course after Monday but not too much as I plan to still be on vacation NO MATTER WHAT!
There are so many things I have had to let go - past hurts, past grudges - things I would normally be able to hold onto for decades are now, all gone. I am transparent or as transparent as I can be by sharing my story and being as authentic as I can in life, love and all matters in between.
Sometimes, though, I have a flashback to when I was going through chemotherapy and it hits me hard in the gut how people can be so cruel, so small minded and so dumb regarding the body's potential to turn on you and how it can happen to anyone, at any time.
I hate to hold stock in karma and the truth is that I wish bad on no one - I do not have time for that. I have made choices and conscious decisions around letting go and probably not pursuing things that if I did pursue might make my finances less grim.
So turn the other cheek is what I did and continue to do but sometimes, I have a flashback or a nightmare and it hits me that there is evil in everyone - that some people exist to be the villain in their own mind and you know what, I pity them. More importantly, I hope that karma skips them - let them continue to live in ignorance and enjoy their healthy bodies, their two boobs or two balls or whatever and let them know that I pray for them - I pray for them to never experience what I did and that though I am broken and battled, I will always be kind, which is more than I can say for them.
As you guys know, I am unemployed and trying to figure out what to do next - which is ironic as I used to run a small business about careers and finding work - I still cannot get over the irony. Check out my blog at thenextstep1234.com/blog as I am offering FREE resume reviews and edits to anyone who also had the cancer plot twist adventure.
When I graduated college, I gave the commencement address and I spoke about how life is like a "choose your own adventure" book and the only real "choice" we had made for ourselves at that point was our college choice (maybe) and major (usually). I spoke about how we had a whole adventure ahead of us almost 20 years ago and never did I ever think my adventure would take me through breast cancer. NEVER.
During my college time, I also got the chance to move to Italy and build amazing friendships that have lasted these 20 years. I had plans after getting my MBA to be the CEO of a large company. I wound up working really hard and moving up many corporate ladders, gaining tons of skills and talents along the way. I honed and used my communication skills to be the only person who would be asked to travel around the world to give presentations and training on all things professional. I became a college adjunct professor on the side to really feel fulfilled as helping those students reminded me of where I was and how far I had gotten.
I never thought I would get married or have kids and bam, one day in December of 2001, I was out with friends, met my soon to be husband and within 11 months we were living together (trust, my father LOVED that -- NOT!) and a few years later, we were married. I kept climbing that ladder but my husband had some health issues and then all of a sudden, we thought we would try to have a kid and 9 months later, my daughter was born. It was like she was there and ready to be born.
I balanced work and motherhood terribly. It was so hard with my husband dealing with issues and not a lot of help at all. At times, I cobbled together help but at the time, my father in law was suffering from pancreatic cancer, my mom worked full time and my dad was busy with his stuff, too. I forced myself to still try to be "Lisa, corporate extraordinaire" when in reality I was scared, postpartum and just a mess.
I also found that although I had met my goals and was making 6+ figures and had the title of Vice President that I did not think it was what I wanted at all. I guess that happens sometimes but for me, it was a big time shock to the system that what I always thought I wanted was not what it was cracked up to be. That big time job that fought to hire me by offering my tons of money was actually not as hands on or meaty as I thought it would be. My waist line was bigger, my heart was at home and I struggled big time.
I thought being a mom was all or nothing. I think about my childhood and how I felt when my mom left the house and it was all too much for me to process how to be a mom and still be me. I did not have the toolset to do that. I had been raised watching my grandma give up her life to care for us, knowing my mom could not handle being a full time mom and living with my dad and I punished myself daily to keep my life out of the equation. I did not care about ME anymore.
Then add in a few miscarriages -one which started when I was at work and my mom constantly trying to help me by telling me to stop working so I could focus on my daughter and boom, I went out on FMLA and never went back.
All of a sudden, I was home and no longer an income generating person - could no longer say I was vice president or get dressed or get out of the house, it seemed. I was depressed and anxious thanks to the huge influx in hormones and my own unhappiness. When I conceived my son, I spent the 9 months with bated breath expecting another loss. He made it here and I calmed down but still never ever thought about what I wanted to do. I did not think I had a choice.
I worked odd jobs, teaching college course, tried to be an entrepreneur and took a disaster job full time right before my diagnosis that I am assuming was part of my path but left me shattered and feeling like less than a human when I tried to do it during chemotherapy and was let go the day after my last chemo.
Now, I sit here and this is all pouring out of me because I am at a crossroads again, my friend. A chance to pick my own adventure, to figure out what that means, what this new future is for me. So long as I am here and healthy, that is awesome but it is just not enough, I think to keep me that way. You see, if I am not "busy" enough, I worry, I think, I consider each pain and figure it is cancer coming to kill me.
I have an enemy in my sites and it is one I must defeat to be here for my kids, my family, my husband and for the good things I want to accomplish still in my life. I know at any time, this enemy can raise up and take a hold on my organs and lead to my death. I DO NOT WANT THAT (who would?).
I am up for a couple of great opportunities but the old insecurities come back - the ones I never had until I tried to be the uber mom the one who did not miss anything, who put my kids first above everything and did not care for myself. I know I cannot be that person anymore as it could very well kill me. But my problem is that I do not know what person I AM. Am I a hard worker still, could I go to work every day (even summers) for full time and maybe miss out on things with my kids?
Will it make them stronger people to see me rocking my career with my new one boobed, pixie haircut and new mentality of how much I matter? I know no one on their death bed have said they wished they worked more but I look back at all of the things I once accomplished and could do and think about and wonder how much I gave up to live up to an expectation that does not really exist.
I think about the bills piling up and the sense of self worth that comes from paying one's own way in this world and how much we have been unable to do that once I stepped out of the workforce. I think about how my kids are growing up and that maybe, just maybe, having a working mom will help them know that life is a precarious balance.
Most of all, I think about how cancer is not welcome here anymore and how I can still be in charge of my life and what I need to do so people can learn from me, with me and through me that life isn't over til it's over.
What do you think?
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