Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The X Files

Early in my first pregnancy, I lay on our couch one night with my hand lying on my still flat stomach, watching TV.  I had just started noticing a slight rounding of my stomach - a hint of the expansion that was to come.  I don't remember what I was watching, but I do remember what I felt.  It felt almost like a gas bubble - a soft, barely perceptible push against my hand.   It was the first time I had felt my baby move, and in that moment he became completely real to me.  Before that soft movement, I knew I was pregnant, knew I was going to have a baby, but it was all kinda abstract.  Once E pressed against my hand, it all changed in a moment. 

That was my moment - not shared really with anyone.  While I told my husband about it later, that moment was all mine.  It wasn't when he felt the baby move for the first time - that happened later.  It was mine.

On my way home today, I felt a gas bubble that almost felt like a baby moving inside me.  Since I lost my omentum during my debulking surgery last October, I can feel gas as it moves through much easier than I could in the before.  If it's moving through my small intestine as it tries to bulge through my incisional hernia, I can really feel it.  Today it struck me how similar it was to that first movement of my son all those years ago.  And how last fall, it all changed in a moment as well.

It's an apt comparison.  After all, my cancer is like an alien I grew in my belly - something foreign and new, cells dividing and multiplying and changing my body.  More like a mutant - those dividing cells abnormal and lethal instead of having a fund super power like laser vision or the ability to control the weather.  Even more like a parasite - living off my body, taking over my abdomen, doing its best to displace what was me with its malignant replacement.  My own version of the X-Files.

There is a tendency to try to personify cancer - to infuse it with personality traits, labeling it evil or wicked.  The truth is - it's just cells gone wild - rapidly multiplying instead of showing its neutrons off to the other cells to see who can collect the most strands of DNA like chicks on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.  My cancer can't even be blamed on my wild impetuous youth - there aren't environmental factors that contribute towards ovarian cancer.  I can't blame spending too much time in the sun, or smoking too many cigarettes, or drinking too much booze.  I just may have ovulated too much.  Not much I could have done about that.  I had my two kids, and I chose an IUD rather than birth control pills because I didn't do well on the pill.  Not that they're sure that ovulating every month for years on end causes ovarian cancer - they just think it might have something to do with it.  But they don't know. 

They just don't know.

I haven't been blogging much lately.  I'm still fighting the blues that seem to have decided to hang out in my head this summer.  Don't worry - I have an appointment with a counselor set up, and it's not ruining my summer.  I spend my weekends working in the garden and spending time with family and friends.  I'm not depressed - just a little unsettled, a little unfocused.  More likely to lose myself in a book or a TV show or a movie.  Then I don't have to think about the friends that have lost parents or husbands in the last few weeks - and how I've been too cowardly to reach out to them during their bereavement. Or think about what comes next - or what might be growing in my belly or around my lungs while I'm taking this chemo break.   I know I can't run from those feelings and thoughts forever.  But right now, that's what I'm doing.  I'm hoping talking to someone will help me deal a little better.

I'd really like to stop comparing my gas bubbles to mutant alien parasites, ya know? I'd like to find a way to stop trying to figure out why me?  Why not me?  I'd like to stop constantly worrying that every ache, or pain, or itch means the cancer is growing again, that I'm platinum resistant, that I won't get my 10 or more years. 

It's one of those things that cancer survivors have to figure out - how to return to their lives After.  How to live every moment, and not worry and obsess.  You would think being in remission (even if it is just "partial") I would be partying it up.  I don't know how to do that.  I'm trying to figure it out.  I'll keep y'all posted.

Until then, I'll just keep taking it day by day as much as I can.  So here are a few things that help me remember how lucky I am:

One of my crepe myrtles, and Grandma's cast iron bench.

My favorite roses.

My other favorite roses.
And my garden doing its thing.

It's not a bad life, eh?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Living the Good Life

We've had rain out here in Hicksville lately.  Wonderful glorious rain.  Our fields are a pretty green color you can only get from weeds.  Ah well - so far, the cow seems happy with them.

Speaking of our cow - we used to call her Steak.  Because we're warped.  But now the hubs sent her off to get knocked up, and we're pretty sure she obliged, so she needs a new name.  I've considered Lactation, but only if you say it with a slow southern drawl.  Go ahead. Try it.  Makes ya feel a little like Scarlett, doesn't it? 

I say pretty sure, because we don't know how to tell if she is really knocked up or not.  I googled how to figure that out a minute ago and I would like to say oh HELL NO.  I'm not stickin' my arm up any cow's booty.  [shudder]  Just the thought wigs me out.  So I guess we'll just wait and see.  She's getting mighty rotund and spends alot of time laying around waiting for someone to feed her fresh green stuff or cow bon bons or something.  Maybe we'll have a cute little calf to get entirely too attached to so it'll never be sent to processor after all.

We still don't have any baby chicks.  A few hatched, but none of them lived very long because apparently Java's are crappy mama hens.  Now I have four more hens setting, but they haven't had a rooster on that half of the coop for weeks, so they're pretty much wasting their time.  I'm going to have to get some eggs that might actually produce chicks and move them over there.  Otherwise those poor hens are going to start doubting their ability to hatch chicks, and the last thing I need are neurotic hens.

My garden has been loving the rain we've had lately.  The green beans have tiny little beans growing, and I actually found potatoes under some of the volunteer potato plants.  I've found some green tomatoes.  My onions seemed to have all died out.  I'm not sure why - they were getting watered, and we had mulched them in, but I can't find any of them now.  So they either died, or the evil bunnies that inhabit our land snuck in and ate them all.  Bastards.  Unfortunately, the weeds and native grasses have enjoyed the rain as well.  I've spent the last couple of weekends pulling weeds and grass and mulching. 

We don't have but a few weeks left of summer - and it makes me sad.  Just when I start feeling like myself again - waking up to have my breakfast on the back porch, then spending a few hours in the garden.  Sometimes I almost forget what I had been doing over the last nine months.  Sometimes I fool myself into thinking it was a bad dream - or that it happened to someone else.

Then I bend over to pull a stray weed out of the lawn, and the fluid around my left lung follows gravity and ow.  Or my incisional hernia feels like my intestines are about to pop out.  Then I remember that I'm not the same person I was a year ago.  Now I'm a cancer survivor.  Now I have limits to what I can do.

It's better than the alternative.  I'm alive.  And I'm living my life.  Spending time with my husband, and my kids when they have nothing better to do.  Someday I hope it won't hurt when I bend over to pull those weeds.  I won't have to have a cart to sit on as I roll around the garden and pull grass.  I won't have to hold my hand over my hernia when I sneeze because I have a fear that my intestines are going to shoot out across the living room.  (No - I have no idea what hyperbole means.  Why do you ask?)

Another friend of mine will be laying her mother to rest tomorrow.  I never met her mom, but she sounded like a wonderful lady.  Skin cancer took her.  I don't know why I went into remission and she didn't.  I hate that my friend lost her mama.  Yet I'm glad my boys didn't lose theirs.  I'm glad I can call myself a survivor.   I wish her mama could have too.

Things are good right now out in Hicksville.  We're going to try to enjoy the last few weeks of summer.  I hope you do the same.  Live deliberately.  Embrace each moment.  I'm determined to do that myself, and to not let myself get caught up in the daily grind again.  Now I know all too well - you just never know how much longer you have.  And like they say - no one says "I wish I had worked more."

I'm pretty sure no one says "I wish I had stuck my arm up a cow's booty when I had the chance" either.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

This morning I had my breakfast on the back porch, as I did so many mornings last summer.  I listened to the birds chatter to each other and to our roosters greeting the day.  It was a still, perfect beautiful morning.

I needed that today.  Lately it seems as if I'm surrounded by sadness. Three funerals today that I should have gone to.  The mother of a friend is now on hospice.  Another friend just lost a dear friend of hers to MS.  A former classmate's wife just diagnosed with late stage ALS.  And last night a two year old little boy drowned in our community.  It's just too much.

I'm not sure why all of this seems to happen at once.  Why bad news seems to come in clusters.  I just know that I don't handle it as well as I used to.  Last year I would have tried to go to at least one of those three funerals.  This year - well, I haven't been able to attend a funeral since my diagnosis.  I feel cowardly for not going.  But it's just too close to home for me right now.  I don't want to go and imagine my own funeral - and I know that's what I would do.     

I try to remember to pray for all of these people every night.  I try to focus on just how blessed I am right now - it could be so much worse.  But the sadness comes at me from every direction.  I know that it just might be time.

Time for what?  Time to talk to someone professional.  I've been struggling a bit with feeling a bit blue lately.  It's probably pretty normal - after all, I just spent months fighting off a wicked disease that was aiming to kill me.  I was so focused on that, and now it's like I'm just trying to figure out what's next.   The blog has been a huge help - I've been able to write through so many of the things I've been going through.  But I'm feeling a little overwhelmed these days.  At my monthly oncologist visit last week, I asked for a referral, and I will be getting something set up in the next few weeks. 

So many of us feel like we can't go to counseling - that it makes us look weak.  I'm trying to not think of it that way.  One thing I learned throughout this journey is that I can't do it all myself, and it's ok to ask for help.  It doesn't make me weak to do that.  It makes me smart to not try to do it all on my own - and to know when to ask for help.

And in the meantime, I'm going to try to enjoy the peaceful still mornings.  Right now we have a hen setting on eggs again, we're pretty sure our cow is going to have a calf of her own in a few months, the garden is growing well, and a big rain is predicted for next week.  Life goes on.  That's what I need to focus on. What we all need to focus on.

Life goes on.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby....

(Today's post is a frank discussion about sex.  If you are related to me, especially if you are a male related to me, or a friend of my sons, for the love of God - click away now.  NOW!!!!  These are not things you want to have in  your head when I see you on holidays.  Or any other time.  This especially includes my Daddy.  Daddy PLEASE - don't read.  And if you do - please don't ever tell me you did.  EVER. Love you.)

Despite having grown up smack dab in the middle of The Bible Belt, USA, I've always had a pretty good outlook about sex.  Most of that is because of the women who raised me - my mom, who is awesome and didn't blink when she discovered I had been reading her bodice-rippers in junior high (she just said "if you have any questions, let me know.  And keep in mind, it's just a story.  Real life is different"), my grandmother on my mom's side (she and my grandpa shared a bed until the day she died, no twin beds or separate rooms for those two), and my beloved Aunt Linda, who was like a second mom to me.  Both my mother and aunt talked frankly with me as I was growing up, and neither of them hesitated on confirming that yeah - sex is fun, even after marriage.  Especially after marriage.  It's what God intended (if you believe in Him), and it should be a big part of any healthy marriage.

Because of those two awesome ladies, I've always been pretty comfortable with my sexuality, and with my body and everything that goes with that. When some of my girlfriends would sit around and bitch and moan about how they were too tired or just not in the mood and oh my lord their husbands were always wanting to do the deed and why can't he just let me sleep....I would sit quietly thinking "um - somebody ain't doing it right, because if they were, these chicks wouldn't be bitching so much."  That probably sounds pretentious, but it's the truth.  I just didn't get why so many women weren't interested in hitting the sheets with their man - wasn't that part of the deal?  Most of them hadn't waited until they were married, so it's not like they didn't know what their husband's skills were in bed, or that he liked sex.  Um - hello - man.  They all like sex.

One of the side effects of most cancer treatment is a loss of fertility.  For many women,  the chemo and/or radiation cooks their ovaries so they don't work so well anymore.   With ovarian cancer specifically, you lose half of the parts that make you a woman.  It can be devastating to a younger woman - one that hasn't had all the children she had planned on, or one that hasn't decided if she wants children or not.  The surgical menopause - as I've mentioned before - is horrendous.  And all that is talked about pretty openly.

But what about sex?  Yeah - no one talks about that. 

It should be talked about - no one should have to wonder if their sex life will ever be normal again.  For ovarian cancer patients like myself, there is the worry that we might not feel desire ever again, or even worse - what if we do regain our desire, but lose our ability to orgasm?  Just how big a part does the uterus play in achieving orgasm?  Will sex be painful now?  Is that a given?  Will those personal moisturizers [wink wink] really help so that it won't be painful?  Will my husband/partner even want to have sex with me again?  I literally have a question mark on my belly - as if the surgeon knew that my whole sexuality would be in question.

The hubs and I had to discuss these things beforehand.  We talked about it as I recovered from surgery, we talked about it as I went through chemo.   We have talked about whether he would still find me sexy after my surgery, and after all the things I went through recovering from that.  How could any man be attracted to a woman that he had to watch hurl for hours?  Who spent three days with a tube down her throat that made her sound like Slingblade when she talked?  Not to mention other intimacies that you go through recovering from major abdominal surgery that were beyond embarrassing.  Let's not forget I have these freaking tubes on my sides, and my hair is currently shorter than his.

Let me tell ya - I am one sexy beast.  Not.

So you take all of that and you get one insecure wife.  Add in the hot flashes from hell that flare up whenever he touches me, and a considerate husband that is afraid of pushing too soon, or that I'll hurt, or break or whatever - it was a mess.  As a couple, we were lost.  Since I see a regular oncologist, not a gynecologic oncologist for my treatment, I don't think he was comfortable talking about when it was ok to resume marital relations.  It's not something that's addressed in the cancer binder you get.  There's talk about eating, how to manage nausea, regaining your strength, dealing with hair loss, but nothing on dealing with intimacy loss.  Or how to re-start your sex life after recovery.

So we muddle through.  I'm not going to discuss where we're at in that process.  I still have a son in high school, and the last thing he needs to hear is punky school mates giving him a hard time about his parent's sex life.  As it is, I have to get the hubs to read through this to make sure he's ok with me putting this all out there.  I'm hoping he will be.  I hope he realizes how important it is that there be some type of discussion of how sex changes after treatment, especially for those of us whose cancer affects our sexual organs (including breast cancer patients - talk about a whole slew of body image issues and feelings!).  It needs to be talked about.  There needs to be better resources.  Women should not feel that their sexual life is over just because they had cancer.  The idea that I might never enjoy sex again was a scary one for me.  I know I can't be the only one out there that's worried about it.

So let's talk about sex, baby. 

(For the record - I had my husband read this before I posted it. While he admits it made him a bit uncomfortable because he's a very private person, he agreed that it's important to talk about this stuff, so here it is. )