Updated: Feb 19, 2018
SHARING my NEWS I have had so many different variations of reactions to my news. My father in law, whom I adoringly call, “Frankie” to the rest of the world, it’s Cy, when I told him via a phone call, “I have breast cancer,” he replied so clearly, “Get the fuck out of here. You’re joking.” I replied, “I wish I was.” Oh how I wish I was. As a cancer survivor himself, he was able to go directly to a place and make me feel like, “I have this.” This is where the introduction of the sports metaphors came into play, “You will be the Tom Brady of your cancer team.” If any of you know me I am a sports fan. Finding a language that my father in law and I can connect with, sports will always be our go to.
WHAT STAGE ARE YOU? Cy and and my sister in law, Kimberly were both diagnosed and survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I also had a dear friend diagnosed and survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One of the first questions people who I have told ask, “What is your stage?” As if the stage will let them know what degree of battle you are in for. At least that’s how I see the question. Now I’m not offended by the question. Sometimes the person asking the “stage” question can’t hide the sad look on their face or stop the inappropriate comments that come next. Both my father in law and friend had to have bone marrow transplants. This happens when the lymphoma moved to their bones. A stage 4 or 5. Which means that is has moved to a separate organ from the original source. In other words, METASTATIC or what people or some doctors believe is INCURABLE. My fathers surgery was 30+ years ago. My friends, 10 year’s ago. They are both still here. They have survived. The MIND and BODY are very POWERFUL. NOTE: Be careful when you ask their stage because unless you have been through cancer, had a loved one go through cancer or have a medical degree and practicing medicine, a lot of the times the one with cancer doesn’t know all the specifics of the cancer and its stage. There are so many tests in those early days and weeks. Until they sit down with their medical oncologist and get the specifics of their cancer and their treatment, they may not even know yet or may no be ready to share or want to share. If you wholeheartedly believe that at any stage cancer they can be beat cancer or believe that a person can live with cancer for many years, please don’t ask. Let them be the one to SHARE. I want to say again, I am not offended by those who have asked me so far. I plan on hearing this question plenty of times through out this journey.
My JOURNEY will be an EXAMPLE for my girls. Just like my mother’s struggles with health was my example. My mother in her early 40’s was diagnosed with kidney disease. She underwent a kidney transplant and was able to live another 18 years. Before her transplant, living with failing kidneys was not an easy life. She would go to dialysis three to four times a week. A life-support treatment that uses a special machine to filter harmful wastes, salt, and excess fluid from your blood. If you knew Gloria, you would know that she was a very faithful catholic. Her faith is what got her through her tough times. It’s what got the whole family through. My oldest sister, Christela was just entering her teenage years, I was seven and Johna was six. What you see during these early years of childhood will burn memories that will help to determine your own feelings about FAITH, STRENGTH and PERSEVERANCE. I think of my mother’s example and how it set the tone of how I have come to accept my own journey.
My GIRLS are EVERYTHING to me. I look at them and they are the very reason I will get through this. Poignant that the one thing that really gave me such joy and euphoria when becoming a new mom was breastfeeding. I would just sit in awe and loving every minute of just holding them in my arms knowing I was able to feed them with my body. We knew that we wanted to tell the girls separately. Ava Simone just turned ten and Gryffin Rose is five years old. We knew that they would each have different questions and would take the news very differently. Much based on what information we would tell them. The day I told Ava will be forever burned in my memory. It was on our way to one of her soccer practices. This is a time when it’s just her and I. Our alone time. Our check in time. She just turned 10. A time when mommy’s attention is still so very important to a young girl. I try to pick her up early, we grab something to eat and I make sure she knows she has all my attention. I had already started to share the news with family and friends. Knowing that she knew nothing was starting to way heavy on my heart. That very first wellness appointment she asked, “WAS EVERYTHING OK?” I knew that something was not right and yet I told her that I was fine and that part of being healthy was doing a check up once a year. Making sure that everything was ok. Fast forward to our drive to soccer. “Remember that day when I had a wellness appointment and you asked if I was ok? Well turns out they found something. I have breast cancer.” Instantly she replied, “CANCER?! WHAT CANCER?!” The tears began to come down her face.
Have you ever been in a situation where you realize that you were not prepared when you are in the moment of something that you weren’t prepared for? This was that moment. I had no clue. I spontaneously felt the need to have the conversation. I thought I was going to do it with Shane. But in this moment it felt right to say something. I didn’t have a REACTION pictured in my mind like I usually do. I had never given her news like this before. But the words just instantly came out of my mouth, “It’s ok. It’s ok to be UPSET. It’s ok to feel SCARED. But I want you to know I am not scared and I am not going anywhere. I will be working with doctors to get better. I have cells in my body that want to do me harm, but there are treatments to get me better, to get rid of the bad cells.” I slowly gave a list of examples of family and friends that had cancer and had survived. The first two I named were Cy and Kimberly. Then my friend Wendy. The one that came to mind that would ease her worry was naming her BFF’s mom. I said her name and with the surprise came instant connection to someone who survived and it automatically eased her mind. You could see the worry on her face start to calm down. I told her that whatever questions she would have to always ask her dad or me. That we would tell her the truth and if we didn’t know the answer we would find out. She held my hand tightly and once we got to the soccer park she grabbed my chair from my hands. She wouldn’t allow me to carry my chair. She just said, “I GOT IT.” I repeated those words to myself, “I got it.” And just like that my Ava Love Bug proved once again how very proud I am to be her Mama.
When we got home that night, Ava went straight at Shane as to let him know that she knew the truth and what was going on. She had her moment with him. And he like he always does calmed any feelings she had. He asked her, “Do you think your Mommy is STRONG? Do you think we as a family are strong?” She replied wholeheartedly, “yes” and that was it. They would come out of the room as if a little secret was shared between just the two of them. Shane looked at me with a look of, “I could have got a warning.” We hugged and the evening would carry on. Gryffin was going to be different. We knew that they would probably be told at separate times and that the story would be a striped down version. The night that I had my chemo port put into my arm I had to place an old school heat pad on my left arm and shoulder to prevent blood clots and help with any soreness. Chemo was going to start the day after next. While she and Ava sat coloring I preceded to tell her that I was going to start getting medicine from doctors to make me feel better. That although I didn’t look sick on the outside and didn’t feel sick, I had something inside of me that was not good for me and that I wasn’t going to get rid of it. While in mid sentence she walked out of the room and a few minutes later comes back with the blue plastic heat bag filled with warm water and places it on my shoulder. “Here you go Mommy.” And placed a kiss on my cheek, sat back down and started to color again. Sometimes less is more. That was enough.