I’ve been thinking about a few funny stories I could tell you about going through cancer treatment; it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month after all and I am qualified. Now I’m thinking they may have to wait for another time.
Remind me sometime to tell you the one about fainting in my client’s closet and waking up to all these gorgeous EMT guys, shooing them away and demanding Russ. “I just need Russ. Call Russ.”
Or the one where Russ and I were going to a birthday party where all his old work buddies were going to be, and I forgot to wear my prostheses. I only noticed it when I got home and was changing my clothes. I marched into the living room. “Russ!” I said. “Do you notice anything different about me? How could you let me leave the house without my other boob?”
Secretly waiting for the awareness month to be over
As I look at the calendar and see October slipping away, I’m somewhat relieved. Mostly, I try not to think about cancer. It makes it hard when an entire month is devoted to it, and everyone participates. There are newspaper articles, magazine features, TV segments, televised sports games with all those pink tennis shoes. I appreciate the fight for the cure, but personally, all that focus is rattling.
Cancer rattles the whole family
There’s no one more aware of breast cancer than someone who’s gone through it. Or the loved ones who stand close by the whole time. Whether you’re currently engaged with treatment or you’re surviving it, it’s never far away.
Anything that seems a little “off” could be a sign that something’s wrong and cancer is back or bigger or somewhere new. Meditation, prayer, being in nature–all of those things help, but anxiety can flare up so quickly.
Treatments are cropping up all the time
Yes, there are new treatments all the time. That’s something to look forward to. I sure have. First diagnosed in 2004, I went eight years before I had a recurrence.
About three years ago, my doctor switched my treatment to the newest, latest wonder drug. It was specific to my type of breast cancer. Yay! All her colleagues in the cancer center were seeing remarkable results.
Sign me up.
You know all those side effects that appear on drug labels? Most likely, you won’t experience them, but they have to tell you. I’m pretty much a champ when it comes to dealing with side effects. I’m tough.
When treatment has its own risks
Five days after my exposure to that fabulous new drug Caitlin was in my office doing bookkeeping and admin for my business. I wasn’t feeling so good. A couple of hours went by when she said, “Get your coat. I’m taking you to the doctor.”
We got there and they drew some blood to test. The doctor came into the room with the results. “You have every side effect but death,” she said. The numbers relating to liver function were astronomically high. Where one reading should have been around 36, mine was 636. There were two more liver readings in the same ratio. She sent me home to ride it out.
I canceled every client’s appointment for the week and stayed home. I could barely move. Days went by, and I hadn’t thought of fashion even once. Apparently, that’s my quality of life meter. I remember thinking that if fashion wasn’t in my life, I didn’t want to be in it either. It’s my love, my livelihood, my creative outlet. I’ve written five books about it. It’s my joie de vivre.
Fashion came back
That North Dakota resilience kicked in, and in a few days, I wanted to get dressed. I opened my closet and felt uplifted. My clothing friends were making suggestions: Want to wear me? Want to wear me today?
I don’t take months or years for granted. My current situation is that I have an excellent quality of life. In every decision my doctor and I make together, it’s that quality of life that we’re protecting. I do undergo totally manageable treatments–no side effects! In my last doctor’s visit, I asked her if one time I’ll have a CT scan result and it will show a decrease in disease. “Not likely,” she said. We’re happy with the status quo, and if things change dramatically, well, we’ll assess.
The fires are top of mind
Right now, in Sonoma County, the Kincade Fire is swallowing up more acres each day. Russ and I have prepared for outages and evacuations. We went through both of those in the fires of 2017.
We have electrical power, and on Sunday, I was puttering around the house with an ear to the high winds blowing outside. I met Russ in the hallway and said, “One thing I’m really grateful for is …” but before I finished my sentence, he interrupted and said, “That we’re together.” I don’t remember what I was going to say. Together, we said it all.
Finding a photo from back then
I used the afternoon to do some home decorating for fall. There was an empty spot that could use some family photos. I went to a woven basket where I keep framed photos that I’m not currently using.
I pulled out this one and held it in my hands. All I saw was Russ and me, playfulness and love. We were at the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor in Richmond. We were attending the celebration service for Mikey, a close family friend who died from stomach cancer at the age of 24.
Even though Mikey was sick at the time, when he heard I’d been diagnosed, he was the first to call me. He offered encouragement and resources. “Brenda, you’re so lucky. They know so much more about breast cancer than they do about stomach cancer. You’re in good hands.”
What I wore that day
I love what I was wearing that day: a polka dot flowy skirt that graced my ankles, a tank top with a shelf bra so I could slide in my prosthesis on the left side. My skin was too sensitive to wear a conventional bra because of the radiation burns. Over the camisole was my sheer Eileen Fisher black short jacket that I buttoned up. I wore a belt (that I can’t wear now), suede heeled sandals, and a hat. (I wore that same Eileen Fisher sheer jacket a couple of weeks ago!)
I love how Russ took that moment to take my hat off and rub my fuzzy head.
Togetherness 15 years later
Russ was watching the news when I showed him this framed photo. He said, “Ohh, how sweet! I like this.” He wanted to keep it out.
That was 15 years ago. What’s remarkable is that I look at this photo now, and I don’t see cancer. I see togetherness.
I don’t know if it brought back memories for him, but I remembered what came before that picture was taken. We’d been dating for a year and what a year that was! Fun, sexy, lovely, amazing, no defined plans for the future. We were enjoying our good fortune at finding each other. I was 50, and I’d been given another chance at love.
It was January 29th, my father’s birthday in 2004 when I got the news. I was meeting Russ at his house, my heart breaking over what I was about to report.
I gave him the facts as I knew them and then said, “If you want to leave, I totally honor that. This is asking a lot of you. We’ve had a year of fun and we could end it here. I’m not sure if the roles were reversed if I could handle what’s ahead.” I loved him, and I wanted to spare him.
I’m tough and independent. I’d get through this somehow.
He said, “Brenda, don’t ever say that again. We’ll get through this together.”
So here we are this week in our Sonoma home, making our getaway plans if we need to leave in haste. We’re hugging and kissing a bit more than usual, as we face the unknown together.
What gets you through the fires in your life?