Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Day 20: Ups & Downs

Good day/ Bad day.

It's clockwork, folks. I can only hope that that doesn't mean tomorrow will be a bad day.

Got a phone call tonight after 9pm from Mom. Hysterical. Hyperventilaing. Her plane missed the connection in Cleveland and she's stuck there for the night.

Immediately my spidey-sense care-for-others thing kicks in, and I cry with her on the phone but I also realize that it's more about her than about me.

Still, that news coupled with the fact that my dryer decided to break down today in the middle of drying the sheets I bought for her bed...

I don't mean to be melodramatic, but still. Two pieces of frustrating and bad news in three hours?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 18: the Perils of too much Alone Time

Overall, today has been a pretty good day. Yesterday was not so good. (I just gave the blog the once-over and realized that I'd added the tag "fears" to an early post. Yeesh, like EVERY post isn't about my fears).

Yesterday was my appointment with Glamour Shots. Probably, in the end, an enormous waste of money (what a racket that is! I had a coupon but still dropped some serious cash to order three 8X10's. Normally each photo you order is $60). The women there were very sympathetic and did seem to "hear" me when I stressed that the photos should "look like me, only better." I did engage in some serious eye-rolling when they whipped out the rose petals and sunglasses. But in the end, the hair and makeup person did a great job, and I found three nice pictures out of the several dozen that they took. The photo service will "glamourize" the photos with some serious airbrushing, but I couldn't get over the fact that even all made-up and gorgeous, I looked tired and old.

And if I hadn't been in a funk up til that point (and I was already calf-deep in the funk), that certainly sent me on a spiral downward.

I didn't really recover until this morning, and even then I don't know what put me back in a saner frame of mind. I guess being productive helps (I tend to make things a zillion times worse when I am blue by becoming a lazy lard-ass and then feeling even worse about myself for being such a slug). I graded around 30 papers this morning, probably more generously than normal. Then I headed out to the Kentucky Flea Market, which was, in the end, a fun goofy time. Swung by Borders and picked up a gift for a departing colleague and Lowes for some paint. Then passed by the house, picked up some cds that I'd loaded onto the iPod and brought them to Half-Priced Books, where I traded them for $20 and five bargain hardcover mysteries.

Then back to Quills. And here I am.

In retrospect, I didn't really get much of substance done today, but at least it kept me out of my own brain for most of the day.

There's a lesson to be learned here. Something about "it doesn't matter how much you think about shit... yadda yadda." Or something about "idle hands... yadda yadda." Mostly, "don't give into the dark side." Or something like that. Because let me tell you, I've been leasing to own in the dark side for the past eighteen days. And that ain't good.

It's also been very not good for me to be alone all this time. I swore up and down to Jason and to Ma that I would be A-OK for six days on my own. Not entirely true. Not entirely untrue either. I just should have been more proactive about finding someone to have fun with this weekend, rather than wallow 24/7 da solo.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Breast Cancer in SATC

I'm not sure I can figure out how to embed a video, but I was reminded today that Samantha from Sex in the City had breast cancer during the last season. There's a very sweet YouTube clip of the episode where she shaves her head. I'm hardly the Samantha type, but it's cute.

Day 16: Have I really been living with this for 16 days??

So, yesterday I went to see the new Indiana Jones picture with around 15 of my students. And how can you not hear that theme music and want to apply it to every aspect of your life? It's just so frigging victorious sounding. I need to download the themesong onto my iPod and have my mom play it over and over when I get out of surgery. Thank goodness that movie has some serious Girl Power in the person of the adorable and sassy Karen Allen. Did my heart good.

Otherwise, it's been a rough few days. It's just not getting any better and it's probably not going to get any better for a while. Ups and downs. Today my biopsy site began to hurt so bad that I called the doctor to make sure it was normal (it is). Way to have a delayed reaction, body! It's more psychologically painful than it is physically painful. It sucks to walk around with your breast hurting. And I swear the lump is getting bigger. I doubt it is, but it sure feels like it. I don't have to grope around anymore to find it; I can just hone in like a missile.

Today was the last day of school and the last day of work for me. Both a blessing and a curse. As much as I don't feel particularly connected to the school in the way that I was to my school in New Orleans, it's hard to be exacting myself from the community at a time like this. Knowing that after tonight (an end of the year party), I'm pretty much alone.

Much has been said about people wanting to visit and bring me food and whatnot. It's so nice that people even think that way, but I'm a terrible cynic. I gave everyone Ma's phone number and let them know that she'd be my PR agent for the first week or so.

I have been in touch via email with two young women who are breast cancer survivors and we're trying to hook up for lunch or coffee on Tuesday. I am totally looking forward to meeting them. It will be so nice to have that perspective.

I've also done something potentially very weird. I've made an appointment tomorrow at Glamour Shots to have a portrait done. Is that morbid and gross? I just haven't had a nice picture of me taken since my wedding, really (that was 9 years ago). I just want to have a record of the "now" me. A good one. Maybe not morbid and gross. Maybe just corny and naive.

One of the "nice" things about all of this is that it has put me back in closer touch with some long lost friends. And speaking of corny, but sometimes old friends really are the best. Got a great response from one of my college roommates saying, "This may be weird to say, but you're going to be GORGEOUS bald with your big Sinead [O'Conner] eyes!" That email may have been the highlight of my day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alone now

So Jas left today. I took the day off and we both overslept til 1230pm. I panicked but more than made my appt at the hospital for pre-op tests and counseling.

Bless his heart, Jason stuck around long enough to help me finish painting the living room. He'd hoped to hit the road around 1 or 2 pm, but he ended up leaving around 7pm.

The parting was painful on my part-- perhaps on both of our parts.

I don't want to go through this without him. But I have to. Again, I don't want to talk about it right now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What constitutes a meltdown, anyway?

When I went to the polls today to cast my vote for Obama, I was surprised to find John Edwards still on the ballot. Gosh, a long time ago-- nearly a year, almost-- I went to see his wife speak in Lexington. She moved me to tears countless times, most of all when she spoke of her breast cancer and of the need for this country to declare "war against cancer." Cancer is curable, she said, as long as we throw enough money into research. If we just saw cancer in the same light that we saw terrorism-- as an enemy, as a threat to the world-- that we would find a way to conquer it.

Today was a grim day in the world of politics and cancer. As a former New Englander from a family that's been New Englanders since they arrived in this country, I am a card-carrying member of the Kennedy Fan Club. And dear old Ted was diagnosed as having a (so says the media) an inoperable malignant brain tumor today. Be well, sir.

Also today, President Carter's chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, succumbed to a twenty year battle with cancer during which he endured more than three different types of cancer.

My Obama vote didn't do much good. Part of me wishes I'd just voted for Edwards. But I'll keep the faith.

I'm a political junkie, so presidential politics have been on my brain since the candidates first stepped onto the playing field (seemingly years ago). But since my diagnosis, I have to admit that my thoughts have taken a more fatalistic turn. When imagining worst case scenarios for myself, I find myself musing about how willing I would be to fight to live if we ended up facing four more years of a Republican president. Mawkish, perhaps. But I do go there.

It's been a relatively lousy couple of days. I'm not really sure what counts as "meltdowns." Did the fact that yesterday I couldn't get a dentist appointment, got off the phone, and bawled count as a meltdown? It was only tangentally related-- I feel like anything I can do to be "clean" when I have surgery will help me fight against the possibility of infection.

Does the fact that I'm already having (minor right now) insurance woes and cried because I got frustrated with that count as a meltdown?

I guess the biggest news right now is that, unbidden, my uncle/godfather is coming down from Massachussetts for my surgery. I was not consulted. I still haven't been consulted. My aunt called my mother and told her that my uncle had made a reservation.

I am weirded out, and perhaps weirded out most because there's a weird (that word again) little quirk in me that feels somehow like this is an honor. I'm not close to him, although I consider him-- now that I have lost both of my grandfathers-- in a fatherly sort of way. He is my father's eldest surviving brother, and when Dad was alive, they were best friends. Went to college together, played hockey together, pledged the same frat. He has three (gorgeous, perfect) daughters of his own. He's also a very important businessman whose family bemoans the fact that he works too much. It's hard to imagine him asking for time off (does he even have to ask?) to be with his niece during her mastectomy.

My mother thought I would be upset at the news that he was coming because of my neurotic need for privacy. But I never even thought to be upset. I'm happy for her; she shouldn't have to be alone during this. And, I guess I see this as his tremendously generous effort to be my father's surrogate during this difficult time.

These past few days when things have felt very dark, I've become worried about my ability to cope with the aftermath of this. But I don't think I want to talk about it right now.

Today I purchased two post-op mastectomy camisoles meant to comfortably hold my drains (the word makes me want to hurl) and replace, I suppose, my psychological need for a bra. They both also include little breast pillows to tuck into the shelf bra, so I can approximate a figure after my surgery.

Speaking of which, last night, for the first time, I dreamt about it. I dreamed that I had the operation and was leaving the hospital and it didn't hurt and I already had tiny little breasts. Generous A-cups maybe. I put my hands over my breasts, and they were hard, but they were breasts. And I thought, what's the point of doing any more reconstruction? I can live with these. Overall, a good dream.

I'm working on a handbook, mostly for my mother, with the nuts and bolts of directions to local grocery stores and passwords for my home wifi. But I'm also including a list of desires. Things like: "At least for a while following the operation, I hope to approximate a very healthy diet. I expect my sedentary recovery will negatively impact my weight. Without the blessing of my ample bosoms to offset the rest of my voluptuous figure, I expect that I might appear a bit chunky after surgery. I'd like to lose weight if anything."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Day 11: Weekend Musings

So, Ma is coming on May 27. We talked on Friday when I heard about the surgery. I told her that she should plan on staying a week. She said, "No, ten days." I said, "Please make sure you make a reservation on Southwest or something you can change. You have to understand that I will only start feeling good when I can take care of myself." And we, I thought, left it at that.

She emailed me her flight plan this morning and she reserved for 14 days. Again, trying very hard to balance her needs and my needs. I thought 10 days was a fair balance. What do I say now?

The public-ness of my cancer is getting a little exhausting. Colleagues I don't even know ask me about my surgery. I'm getting emails from parents of students I've never taught. I'm grateful. Really. I don't want to sound like a shit who's worn out by all her well-wishers. It's just contrary to my nature. I have a well-earned reputation among my friends and family as being a person who hibernates when things in my life turn ugly.

I have no doubt that I have actually lost friends because of my solitary nature. Certainly during my divorce I turned away nearly every offer of help and solace that I was offered. I was embarrassed. (And believe me, that's a story for a whole 'nother blog) And that kind of pain is pain I would much, much rather sit on and let hatch into whatever ugly thing it was going to turn into.

But I find myself having to re-wire my brain to handle this.

There's a lot of re-wiring going on.

As I worked on "coming down" from my prom meltdown, I realized that I had only just begun to think of the larger, long term consequences of even a best-case scenario. Best case scenario being that I have the mastectomy, they test my lymph nodes and discover that it hasn't spread, and by some good grace they also decide to forgo chemo and radiation. Breasts gone, but otherwise only the reconstruction process to face. (Let's all pause for a moment to give a little cheer for best case scenarios)

Best case scenario, I'll never breastfeed a child. Okay. I can handle that. Truth be told, I've always been weired out by the idea of breastfeeding. Still, though, we all know now that breastfeeding is the way to go. Any future child of mine will not have the many advantages that breastfeeding offers. I wasn't breastfed.

Best case scenario, I'll never have sex with the girls again. In fact, I'll never find sexual pleasure from my breasts again. I'm still processing this. This, to me, seems like the best case scenario's greatest tragedy. And, I have a feeling, that as I lie in my hospital bed waiting for the surgery, I expect that this will be one of the things most on my mind. Truth be told, this thought has all the makings of Meltdown #2. I'm just not there yet. It's still just a ghost in the periphery.

But let's put that thought aside for now.

So, Jason leaves town on Wednesday. That means a whole week almost of me alone with the girls and my thoughts. He pressed me to have my mother come early (and in retrospect, if I'd pushed for that, maybe I wouldn't be looking at 12 days post-surgery with Ma). He said, "You may not realize it, but I've been subtly trying to keep you busy." I had realized it. This is his busiest time of year and yet he's been pushing for outings and projects. Today we repainted the front porch; and while the porch needed repainting, it's way low on the list of things we need to do around the humble abode.

Impending hospitalization and knowledge that it could be a month before I'm able to really "work" again is a good kick in the keister insofar as getting stuff done is concerned. This weekend not only did we repaint the porch floor and the front door, we planted my vegetable garden, weeded extensively; I cleaned out my car and got him a new battery. I've been better about cleaning up after myself and doing laundry and dishes.

I worry about keeping myself occupied during my recovery. Even when I go to bed at night, I dwell on the fact that I sleep best on my stomach or my side and that will be impossible for a while. Will I be able to hold a book? All I want to do is read. The crazy geek that I am, I thought that this might be a perfect time to learn a new language, and my first thought was that I've always wanted to learn sign language, but will it hurt too much to use my hands and arms in that way? I'm a huge TV fan, but recently our sattelite has decided that it can't "see" over a tree that grew gigantic during the spring. No local networks for us now. So I figure I can rent seasons of TV shows that I've missed, but what's really worth watching? So far all I've decided upon is Battlestar Galactica.

It's nice to dwell on minutia like that every once in a while. Better than thinking about sex without my breasts or whether or not chemo will fuck with my already questionable fertility. Or facing surgery without Jason to hold my hand. Or whether or not the fact that I've had weird cramps in my gut is a sign that the cancer has spread. Or that one in ten women have to have their breast expanders removed and reconstruction postponed because of infection. Or that I will most definitely not be able to use my ticket to Bonnaroo this year. Or that in the heat of June, I'll have to wear clothing that conceals the drain bulbs from my surgery. Or that I will not be able to weed and care for the garden of tomatos and peppers and peas that I just planted. Or that I will not be well enough to be able to use the $2300 grant that I received from my school this year. Or that I may have to have chemo and will lose the hair it took me three years to grow and that I may have a funny-looking head and will not be able to pull of the Sinead O'Connor badass cool look that I like to pretend I'll be able to pull off. I don't want to wear a wig. I want to be bald and beautiful if I have to. That's a big issue for me.

Sigh. Great thought process to have before I go to bed.

Meltdown #1

Meltdown #1: Formalwear Freakout

Severity: Relatively minor (in the grand scheme of things, I imagine they could get much, much worse)

Circumstance: Getting ready to chaperone the school prom

Narrative: Last night was the school prom. One bitch of being scheduled for surgery in a couple of weeks, rather than next week as I had hoped, is that I don't really have any excuse to get out of some of the more tedious end-of-the-year hoopla at school. I could, I'm sure, whip out the Cancer Card, activate my doe eyes, and plead stress and chaos. But that's just not my style. (Tempting, oh yes tempting, though it is).

7:30pm rolled around to find me in my underwear, in my bedroom, surrounded by a pile of dresses like shed snakeskins. Jason passed by the door and peered in. "Whatcha doin', Boog?"

I can't remember what I said. Something snippy. I put on another dress, looked at myself in the mirror and stripped it off again. (Jason is my roommate, my best friend, but he was my boyfriend for many years; modesty is not an issue.)

"You seem upset," he said. I agreed. He asked why, and I asked him if he really wanted to know.

A little side note here: next to my mother, there is no one closer to me than Jason. In some ways, Jason knows me-- the current, 34 year old me-- better than even my mother. Next week, we will have known each other for six years now. Next month, we will have lived together for five years. He's been through my divorce (long-distance), our miscarriage, Katrina, the death of my grandmother, the uprooting from New Orleans... and now this.

But this is different. This is the first crisis we've faced together since we've been decidedly broken up (although, in spirit, we were broken up during Katrina, my grandmother's death, and our move). At my appointment with the surgeon, when the doctor asked us if we were dating, I said "he's my ex, but we're still best friends." Jason ammended it by saing, "But I'm really her Louisville family."

Anyway, I just thought I'd clear that up. I'm sure it only muddies the waters. The point is, I guess, that Jason has the dubious distinction of bearing the brunt of all of this. And sometimes I feel like I should swallow more than I do; I always strive to give him the choice of hearing the raw truth. And almost always, he wants to hear it. He's been the one all along who's been mad at me when I get mad at myself for being sad.

So, I said, "Do you really want to know the truth?" He said, "Of course."

And I started to cry. "I realize now that this will probably be the last time I dress up with my own boobs."

And Jason, bless his heart, stood in the doorway agape as I threw on the most modest dress I owned, and pushed past him toward the bathroom. I dried my wet hair in the bathroom, sobbing.

We never talked about it again. And by the time my hair (my long hair, hair I may sacrifice to chemo, hair that's longer now than it has been since I was a child) was dry, I'd gathered myself enough to put on makeup and finish my pre-prom ablutions. I do know, however, that he didn't leave my room for a good five minutes after I'd brushed by him.

The folks at Gilda's Club operate under the assumption that when someone has cancer, then everyone around them is sick too. Yes, of course.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Myself Together Again

So far, this has been the best resource I have found for understanding what will happen to me. This is, perhaps, a worse case scenario-- this woman had to delay reconstruction and undergo chemo. Right now, it looks like everything will happen for me at the same time. Chemo is still an unknown.

I found out today that my surgery will be on the 29th. 13 days and counting...

Email Update #2

Hi all,

Sorry, I know I told a lot of you that I would get back to you on Wednesday. I thought I'd have concrete info on Wednesday, but it took until today for them to schedule my surgery. Surgery is May 29, and we're looking at a bilateral mastectomy with simultanious reconstruction. I won't know about chemo or radiation or what stage it is or whether it has spread or... any of the really juicy stuff until after the surgery. All I know right now is that the girls have to go.

My plastic surgeon is a total dream; I couldn't have asked for a better match for my personality. Can you imagine how much it would suck to have a plastic surgeon like Dr. Spock or Doc on the Love Boat or Dr. Phil? I was seriously expecting to have to shop around for a surgeon who wasn't creepy or old or leery. Blech. But Dr. Thornton is cute (really cute) and very funny; it's almost easy to forget that he's rich and successful because women (and some men) are insecure about their bodies. (turns out insurance companies pay drs, like, practically nothing to reconstruct breasts, but a cosmetic boob job costs $8K at least... so much injustice!)

But the meeting itself, the idea of the process? Whoa. It's gross and complicated and I won't look like I want to look for more than a year. Probably more like 18 months. Wow. And it's TWO surgeries to rebuild the girls-- one to put in the expanders and one a few months later to put in the actual inplants.

I hate blood. I hate hospitals. I hate knives and needles. I am seriously, seriously squeamish. And the one and only time I've ever been under anethesia, I nearly had a heart attack anticipating it. They had to sedate me before anethestizing me. When the dude told me to "count backwards from ten," I said, "NO!" I know this sounds very weird but the thing I'm scared most of right now-- having to be under anesthesia TWICE!! Weird huh? I'm horrified by the idea.

Anyway, I'll send a better update later. It's Friday. Time to play.

Okay, Mastectomy Fun Poll of the Day: If YOU had only two weeks left with your boobs, what would you do with them? :)

(Uh, Bernard... you can improvise!)

Thanks again for all your love and support!!


In the News

OMG, seriously? Another story? Story #5 of the week, #3 of the day:

More Cancer Patients Choosing Mastectomies: "In the Mayo Clinic study, about 45 percent of breast cancer patients chose mastectomies in 1997. That declined to only 30 percent in 2003, then started to rise. By 2006, 43 percent were opting for the more radical treatment. The rise coincided with wider use in the clinic of MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. Studies show it can detect far more breast abnormalities than ordinary mammograms but it also gives a lot of false alarms."

I was advised not to bother with the MRI-- it would just turn up more "clutter."

Enough already, MSNBC! Give me more stories about Ellen DeGeneres & Portia de Rossi's upcoming nuptuals or the split between Kate and Owen and/or Tony and Jessica!

Kidding. But still...

In the News

Obviously, when you're keyed into something, you suddenly "see" it everywhere. I'm not looking for breast cancer news; I'm not Googling it. I'm just reading as usual, and here's the fourth article this week and second one today:

Drug Combo May Help Breast Cancer Patients: "A combination of two new-generation cancer drugs modestly delayed the time it took for cancer to worsen in a study of 300 women with very advanced disease who had stopped responding to other treatments. It was the first test of these two highly targeted drugs, Herceptin and Tykerb. Both aim at a protein called HER-2/neu that is made in abnormally large quantities in about one-fourth of all breast cancers. Herceptin blocks the protein on the cell's surface; Tykerb does it inside the cell."

It's enough to make you wonder whether or not someone at MSNBC is living with breast cancer or with living around breast cancer.

In The News

Vitamin D may benefit Breast Cancer Patients: "Only 24 percent of women in the study had sufficient blood levels of D at the time they were first diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who were deficient were nearly twice as likely to have their cancer recur or spread over the next 10 years, and 73 percent more likely to die of the disease.... But people shouldn't start downing supplements... Experts don't agree on how much vitamin D people need or the best way to get it, and too much can be harmful. They also don't know whether getting more vitamin D can help when someone already has cancer.... We have no idea whether correcting a vitamin D deficiency will in any way alter these outcomes,'' said Dr. Julie Gralow, a cancer specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle."


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Booby Prize Thought of the Day

You shouldn't have to weep and beg and walk around with your cell phone surgically attached to your hand just to get someone to call you so you can make a plan to get your BOOBS CHOPPED OFF!!

The doctors have been awesome. The nurses have been wonderful. But the scheduling people? Holy crap!

A woman actually said to me, "You're anxious? Really? All women with breast cancer are anxious."

Thanks lady. Seriously. I would have appreciated it more if you'd just been honest and said, "BFD. Like I give a shit."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In the News

Two news stories from the past two days:

Excercising as teen may stave off breast cancer: "Women who were physically active as teens and young adults were 23 percent less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women who grew up sedentary, researchers report Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The biggest impact was regular exercise from ages 12 to 22"

I definitely had that covered at least until 18 or so.

Breast fed women have lower risk of breast cancer. : "New research has found that women who were breast-fed as infants may be at lower risk of breast cancer than those who were not breast fed. However, there appears to be no difference in breast cancer risk in first-born children, regardless of whether or not they were breast-fed. "

Well, I am a first, and only, child, but I was not breast fed. So...

Day 6: One week since the biopsy

Yesterday, I told my kids. (I'm a high school English teacher, not a mother.)

Let me tell you this, if you have to face a crisis while being a teacher, you can't go wrong facing it with the class of 2009. These kids have been so good, better even then some of the faculty. Pictures of grace and support. It was so tough to tell them, but it's really nice to be able to stand in front of them knowing that there aren't any secrets and that they have my back in some way. I've gotten some wonderful emails from kids. Two girls are trying to get together a "bring Ms. C something every week this summer" chain. They've promised to email. Some have promised to pray for me. There's this weird unmeasurable level of nobility in a seventeen year old boy (for example) who comes to you after class to say, "You're a very strong woman. I'll be thinking of you and I know you'll be okay."

Just this week, the LEO published an article about these kids and their trip to New Orleans to help out with Habitat. And I was quoted, talking about my former New Orleans students, as saying that teenagers are much more brave and resilient than adults. And I mean it.

People have been crawling out of the woodwork with messages of support and promises of help. I've often felt very alone, especially after I moved here away from a tremendous support system in New Orleans. Middle school teachers I've barely ever talked to have made the trip to my classroom just to make sure that I "have a plan." A fellow teacher asked her church of 350 people to pray for me daily. A writer I've only met once or twice emailed me with a detailed account of her bilateral mastectomy and what I can expect from various treatments.

It's weird to be given so much attention.

To some extent, I've invited it without really meaning to. It was me who decided that I needed to be 100% honest with the kids. I was told that I could just say that I am "having surgery." But I opted for honesty for a number of reasons, not the least of which because I will return (God willing) in the fall altered in a fairly significant way. And the potential for chemo is there, so I may be losing my hair. It seemed a disservice to the kids to keep this to myself; I didn't want them to feel like I couldn't trust them with something this big. One of my kids emailed me and said that my honesty made them feel very "special." And that's a nice by-product.

I wanted too to avoid speculation. If I come back boob-less and bald, people will know and wonder why I didn't say anything. Even if I get to keep my locks, boob-less would be pretty obvious in my case. Kids can be weird about stuff like that.

Tonight Jas and I are going to a Louisville Bats game. We'd already planned to go today before we found out that May 13 is Livestrong Day at the park. You gotta love that. After we found out, Jas asked if I'd rather go on Thursday, but seriously if you're going to have cancer, you might as well join the club right away. And it's not like it's going to be a "reminder"-- I'm in this all the way every moment of every day.

Speaking of which, last night I was able to get some Xanax from my doctor and enjoyed the first good sleep in a long time. Yesterday I was wiped out both from lack of sleep and the emotional drain of telling the kids, and I don't know what I would have done if I had had to suffer another sleepless night.

That's the worst-- the sleeplessness. Lying awake, listening to your body. Every bit of indigestion and every weird twinge is suddenly a sign that the cancer has spread, that you're dying and there's nothing anyone will be able to do for you.

I talked to my grandmother last night. She was brief and measured and it was by far the hardest conversation I've had even though it lasted just 10 minutes or so. "You'll be fine," she kept saying, "because you HAVE to be fine, right?" Right, I said. Yes, of course. I have to be fine.

Today, I got a phone message from one of my uncles, one of my dad's four brothers. That message seriously f-ed me up. I think he may have called me once before, maybe twice, in my lifetime. I seem to remember a message left during either my divorce or my miscarriage. But this one was shattering-- the choke in his voice, the repetition of how much he's thinking of me. Out of all of my family, he's the one who has most overtly carried my dad's death with him; he's always been someone I thought might have been a totally different person had my dad not died. (Although we all would have been totally different people had my dad not died-- most decidedly me.) Something else to carry with me. The knowledge that this is an echo of my dad that reverberates for a lot of people.

I told my boss today that it's almost easier that this is hard on the people around me. Being strong for them gives me something to do.

Tomorrow is the big day with the plastic surgeon and the day I schedule my surgery. Even though my appointment is in the morning, I'm taking the day off.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Deeper History

These thoughts have been swimming in my mind since I started having problems with the Girls. Since my diagnosis, they've been circling like sharks in the periphery of my mind. And only a few minutes ago did they finally come into focus, not to strike-- not yet, at least-- but to coalesce into something that I am able to articulate.

On October 1, 1976, my father died of cancer. I was three.

He was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease when he was a senior in high school, 17 years old. He fought it, skipped the first year of college, and went into remission. He met my mom in college and married her in 1972. I was born on his 25th birthday. By that time, he was out of remission. There had been talk that he might not live to see me born. He did, of course. Ma or my grandmother-- someone-- always tells me that my mom went into labor on August 30 and he begged her to hold on until the 31st so I would be the best birthday present ever.

Ma hung on. And he hung on for three years. We celebrated our last shared birthday together in his hospital room. Our shared birthday cake had hockey and golf figures on his side and a dollhouse desk and chair on my side-- I was to enter day care soon, and I was smart.

I'm sure I'll be thinking a lot about him as I go through this, but the thoughts that finally came into focus a few minutes ago are these:

1) He was 17 when he was first diagnosed. When he came out of remission, he was married and his wife was pregnant. I've always admired his bravery. I owe it to him to be as brave.

2) My mother lost her husband to cancer. She never remarried. And now her only child has cancer. I can't imagine how that must feel. From this point forth, I need to carry that with me and understand what a horror this must be.

3) As of this morning, my mother had not yet told my grandmother-- my father's mother and my only living grandparent. When I asked her about it today, it didn't strike me how hard this would be for my grandmother to hear. I need to carry that with me too.

Day Four: And on the fourth day she rests

Mostly, at least.

Last night, in an attempt to finally get a good night's sleep, I took an OTC sleeping pill and crashed until after noon. We had "stuff" to do today, but it didn't get done. Before we knew it, it was pushing five, and we were supposed to be in Indiana for "our" niece's 2nd birthday. She's Jason's niece, really. I first met the family six years ago at her brother's first birthday. And although Jas and I haven't been a couple for a very long time, I'm still sort of family. The kids call me Aunt MeMe.

Anyway, I guess it's just as hard NOT to talk about what's going on with me as it is to talk about what's going on with me. No one mentioned anything about my situation while I was there. I don't blame them. I probably would have done the same thing. But it still felt weird. Jas's brother in law asked me when my school year was ending, if I was happy to have it over, if I was looking forward to the summer?... and I just didn't know what to say. I just shrugged, said, "Sort of," and left the kitchen.

Talked to Ma for a little while this afternoon. This morning she spent about an hour on the phone talking to a co-worker who'd also had a double mastectomy around 4 years ago. Turns out she tested positive for the genetic predisposition. This woman also opted for simultanious reconstruction, but her plastic surgeon took fat from her stomach to rebuild the Girls.

I wonder why I was not offered this possibility. I do know that her friend was and is overweight. Perhaps I don't have enough extra fat? It's definitely something I'll ask the plastic surgeon. I read up on it a bit, and it makes for a longer surgery, a longer recovery, but also offers fewer future risks associated with inplants. Perhaps my surgeon assumed I would want to go back to having E-cups. That's not my plan, and I'm pretty sure I don't have enough fat on my body to rebuild E-cups. But A's or B's? Maybe.

Otherwise, it was pretty much your run of the mill day here. Sent a few email thank yous to people who have offered support. Had a fantastic time playing with the kids (mostly my niece, as my nephew was rapt by a NASCAR race).

I guess the only other big thing is that my mom is now totally on board with the bilateral mastectomy. I thought if anyone would talk me out of it, it would be her. And yes, I suppose I have been hoping someone WOULD talk me out of it. I told her about my thoughts about the nipple tattoo, told her that I was thinking that the best tattoo would be those silhouettes of naked chicks you see on truck mudflaps. She said, "It's nice you have a sense of humor about it." But her tone said, "don't you dare!"

Crying jag? Check. On the way home from Indiana. And I racked up another last night before I went to bed. So, we're averaging one a day. Maybe tomorrow's goal should be to skip the crying jag entirely.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Email Update #1

As part of my goal for this blog is to create a sort of "scrapbook" for my experience, I think I will occasionally include big broadcast emails that I send to my friends and family. There will probably be repeat info in these emails and the blog. C'est la vie.

Thanks to all of you for your support and concern. Sorry for the broadcast, but I'll try to get back to get back to each of you individually this weekend. And sorry for those of you who were just checking in and really don't need this much info. This is cheaper than therapy.

I met with my surgeon today and then with an oncology counselor and a genetic counselor. I basically spent four hours at the hospital today getting advice. Good advice. I feel like I'm in excellent hands.

Speaking of which, before I forget, I should say that Jason deserves a huge gold star. I initally told him that I wanted to do this alone-- in my typical, stubborn, "I am a rock; I am an island" way. But the surgeon called him in without even asking me and then Jason travelled around to every meeting with me, asking questions and being his pragmatic, thoughtful self. I hope all of you have such a best friend in your lives. That being said, it looks like whatever surgery I have to have will be during Jason's big yearly workshop, so I'm probably going to have to take the Big Step without him. Ma will come, of course. But still...

Anyway, no decision has been made yet. But I've narrowed it down to two, very drastically different, options.Pardon the frankness of this-- but it turns out I have very complicated breasts. (In any other circumstances, I might have taken that as a compliment.) They are (ahem) large. They are dense. And they are incredibly fibrous. That makes detection of abnormalities very challenging. This tumor did not show up in ultrasounds and mammograms as late as January. But that doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't there.

I am a good candidate for a lumpectomy. This tumor is presenting as, as my doctor said, very "run of the mill." But. That doesn't mean that it is. And that doesn't mean that there aren't more. It just means that this one tumor that they can see (it's pretty close to the surface-- I can feel it) is your standard issue breast cancer.

But. The doctor said that doing even an MRI on both breasts was a waste of time. It would just turn up a whole bunch of clutter, none of which they could be certain about without doing more biopsies. Basically the girls are full of "stuff." In most people's breasts, that stuff can be ruled out as being dangerous through mammograms and ultrasounds and MRIs... but not mine.

Everyone I talked to said that they would support me choosing to do the lumpectomy as long as I understood that it meant constant vigilance for the rest of my life and periodic biopsies when things looked iffy. And honestly, the biopsy, which sounded horrid, turned out to be a piece of cake, really. And believe me... I'd be vigilant.

That being said, everyone I spoke to suggested that I seriously consider a bilateral mastectomy. I do not have a strong history of breast cancer in my family, although my grandmother had it just before she died. But in 75% of people my age who get breast cancer, the cause is genetic. If you are genetically predisposed to breast cancer, then you have as much as a 90% chance of getting breast cancer in your lifetime and have a 65% chance of recurrance if you've had a lumpectomy. I agreed to have the genetic test, but the results won't be back for as much as three weeks.

I have an appointment with a plastic surgeon on Wednesday. My oncologist wants me to understand the ins and outs of cosmetic reconstruction should I opt for the double mastectomy. And my plan is to make a decision between the lumpectomy and the double mastectomy then. But, truth be told, I feel fairly resigned to the fact that the right option is the more drastic option. Even without the genetic testing (which would all but demand the whole shebang... or shebangs), I don't feel very good about my chances for living a breast cancer free life after a mastectomy. There's just too much static in the picture.

I almost just said "F it," and scheduled the surgery today.

Anyway, the more maudlin side of all of this is that I won't know if the cancer has spread until I am under the knife. During whichever surgery I choose, they harvest a lymph node and biopsy it while I am still under. If it's clean-- awesome. If it's not, they take all of the lymph nodes on that (the left) side and harvest them to test later. If they're cancerous, then the journey has just begun and the hunt begins to find out where the buggers have migrated to. Regardless, chemo may follow.

But we will cross that very ugly and rickety bridge if we come to it.

So that's the scoop, my friends. It all sounds very drastic and weird, but if you know anyone who has had breast cancer then they've probably gone through the exact same thing. There's nothing really special or interesting about my case except my age and my dense and lumpy breasts. :)

Mastectomy Fun Fact: Did you know that when a woman has a mastectomy, they are unable to preserve the woman's nipples? Many women who choose to have their breasts reconstructed opt to have their nipples TATTOOED back on!! My thought is, I wouldn't be ME if I chose to have just your run of the mill nipples tattooed back on the girls. So, should I opt for the whole big kit-n-kaboodle procedure, what do YOU think I should have tattooed where nipples should be? Fleurs de lis? Smiley faces? Peace signs?

Anyway... thank you again for your kind words, your support, and your offers of everything including the kitchen sink. I promise I will do my damnedest to NOT be my usual "suck it up and suffer in silence" self. Lots of love to you all. I'm ok. I will be ok. And believe me, if I have one thing going for me in this situation it is that I'm a frigging terrier when I'm angry. And of course this makes me angry. I'm prepared for a fight.

Day Three: The Girls gotta Go?

Well, the big meeting with my surgeon came and went, but I haven't yet made a final decision.

My surgical oncologist gave me two important pieces of information for me to consider while I am making my decision:

(1) I have very dense and fibrous breasts. This makes it exceedingly difficult to read mammograms and ultrasounds. The fact that this tumor was not picked up in any of my previous films gives him pause and makes him worry about every other lump and bump in my lumpy and bumpy breasts. Should I opt for a lumpectomy, I will have to be exceptionally diligent for the rest of my life. I will also probably have to have any irregularity biopsied henceforth. He worries too that subsequent malignancies could go unnoticed in the chaos of my breasts until they become a very big deal.

(2) The fact that I am "so young" for breast cancer is an indication that this very well may be genetic and not sporadic. That means that I may have an irregularity in either my BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, the two tumor suppressing genes that are supposed to help protect the average person from breast cancer. The lifetime risk of breast cancer/recurrence of breast cancer for people with an irregularity in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene skyrockets to 80%.

In theory, my cancer is a prime candidate for a lumpectomy. But even without considering Thing 2, Thing 1 caused my surgical oncologist to spend a lot of time talking with me about the possibility of a bilateral mastectomy. In other words, letting go of the Girls.

The surgeon asked me to see a plastic surgeon to go over the possibility of a simultaneous bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction to see if I could be comfortable with the idea. I have an appointment on Wednesday.

Next, I went to the Norton Cancer Center to have a sit down with the-- I don't actually know what she's called-- a Cancer Consultant? She hauled out five pounds worth of workbooks and reading material and once again went over my options.

I was then passed off to a Genetic Counselor. She spent 40+ minutes going over my family history of cancer and explaining how the whole BRCA1 & 2 things worked. Honestly, it was fascinating, like the very best of biology class in high school (and she was good at it; she missed her calling as a bio teacher). By the end of our discussion, she recommended that I have the test. My grandmother had breast cancer, and just about everyone else in my family is either too young or too male to be a good predictor of this genetic problem.

If I didn't already know I was at least going to have to have a lumpectomy (which will exceed my $2500 insurance deductible), I would never have been able to afford this test. It costs $3175 and is performed by only one lab out in Salt Lake City who has the patent on the test (damn Mormons!). The test could take up to three weeks.

If this test comes back positive then there is no choice, really; the bilateral mastectomy reduces my chances of recurrence to 2% rather than the 80+% of a lumpectomy. It also means that we have some detective work to do. First, Ma will have to be tested. If she comes back negative, it goes to my father's side of the family.

If Ma comes back positive, then her sister will be next. If her sister comes back positive, then her daughter, my cousin, will have to be tested. If her sister comes back negative, then my cousin is in the clear. That's the way this works.

If Ma is negative, then we open a bigger can of worms. Dad had four brothers. Three of his brothers have daughters. I have a total of six female cousins on that side who could potentially be at risk.

The BRCA genes also put women at far greater risk for ovarian cancer, and if my test is positive I will have to be tested regularly for ovarian cancer for the rest of my life. In my 40's or whenever I'm done with (or have given up on) having children, it's recommended that I have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. Any female family members with the BRCA gene issue will likewise have to do the same. This also puts the men in the family at a slightly higher risk for male breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostrate cancer, and they too will have to be regularly tested.

The chances that my BRCA genes are f-ed up are about 75%. Three-quarters of the women my age who are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30's have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. 25% are just flukes.

I've always been an oddball, so I'm rooting for the oddball case now, if only to spare my family... THIS.

So, anyway, no big tears yet today. A lot of information. A wealth of information, actually. Just about all the information that I need to go forth and decide.

The decision is this: I am young. I really, really like the Girls. I am single and divorced and had always kind of imagined that Roommate wouldn't be the last man to enjoy the Girls in their natural state. If I come back genetically hunky dory, I could have a whole rest of my life of good times with the Girls. And if I had a recurrence, I could always take the more drastic step then.

That being said, even if I am genetically hunky dory, I could have a recurrence five years down the line that goes unnoticed until it's too late or super terrible. And would those five years with the Girls really be a good trade off for the worst case scenario later?

And do I want to wait three weeks to find out if I'm genetically clean or dirty?

All of this sort of masks the darker side of the decision. We won't know until I have whichever surgery I choose whether or not the cancer has spread. When they do the surgery, the harvest the nearest lymph node and they biopsy it while I am still under. If it comes out clean, it's all good (pretty much, more on that in a minute).

If it comes out not clean, then they go ahead and remove all of the lymph nodes on that side (which can leave permanent damage to, in this case, my left arm). If the cancer has spread to those nodes, we're looking at cancer that has found its way who knows where. The hunt is on. Chemo is required. And life gets very, very ugly.

All that being said, (back to the "if the lymph is clean" discussion) the surgical oncologist has suggested that he may possibly prescribe chemo or hormone treatment regardless because I am, again, "so young." If even one cancer cell has broken away from the flock and headed into the blood stream it could hang around for decades just waiting to strike who knows where. Better to pounce on the possibility now.

I had kind of thought that somehow they would be able to know if the cancer had spread before the surgery. That I would emerge from surgery facing perhaps radiation or chemo, but also with the knowledge that the bulk of the fight was over. And that may be the case. But it may also be the case that I will emerge from surgery to find out that the fight has just begun.

And that, my friends, has me pretty damned messed up right now.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Day 2: History

Way back when, I used to be a compulsive journal-keeper. In my late teens and early twenties, I carried notebooks wherever I went and wrote whenever I had nothing better to do. I filled lunch breaks with journaling. I wrote on the subway. I wrote daily, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes a dozen pages in a day.

So I'm no stranger to navel-gazing.

I stopped after I got married. This is just speculation, but I think I stopped because my marriage was so unhappy that I couldn't bear to write down the truth of my life on a day to day basis. Writing it made it real. That was what had made journaling such a pleasure in the first place; now it was a threat to my sanity.

I still wrote occasionally, but usually only when I was "in my cups." I turned my writing energy to fiction. Creating false realities when my real reality was unbearable. I once wrote the first draft of a novel in less than two months.

In the days after Katrina, I returned to writing about personal stuff. It was three years after my divorce, and honestly, writing in a blog was easier than keeping my family and friends in the loop on an individual basis. They wanted to know what was going on with me in the wake of the flood, and I wanted to vent. Win-win.

And when I left New Orleans and moved to Louisville, the crisis of living in a Post-Katrina world was over for me, so I turned to writing about my new town. I changed blogs and began a recreational hobby of writing features and editorials about the Ville.

Just this past weekend at a Derby party, a bunch of us were talking about the "lack of a need for privacy" exhibited by the younger Facebook/MySpace/blogging generation. And of course the conversation turned toward a discussion of narcissim. My friend, who knew I blogged, gave me a knowing look and I said, "I know, and that's why I don't blog the personal stuff any more."

Well, folks, welcome to me blogging the personal stuff again. A public journal. I know I could keep it private if I want, but why?

I developed early. By the time I was in jr. high, I was a C-cup. I remember distinctly being made vicious fun of when I was in 5th grade because I was the only girl who wore a bra. It was the favorite passtime of prepubescent boys to snap the straps on girls' bras in 6th and 7th grade.

I'm five feet tall and up until I turned 30 or so, I weighed less than 100 lbs. In fact, I weighed just a smidge over 90 when I met my best friend/ex-boyfriend/Roommate. I remember this because when I started to gain weight, he used to tell me how glad he was because I was "too skinny" when I met him. In 2003, I got pregnant and my doctor warned me that I was too thin to support a pregnancy, and I started stuffing myself full of food. I lost the baby, but the weight gain never stopped. I'm still a size 4 (I was a size 0 or less for most of my life).

I mention this because I have spent my entire life as the girl/woman with the "Gigunda Gazoombas" (as Ma used to call them). Top heavy. Scrawny, short little girl (for most of my life) with the huge rack. While I'm a bit more stout now, my breasts still stand out as my most dominant feature in all their 34DD/34E glory.

I inherited these puppies from my paternal grandmother who has to be a F cup plus. When I was a little girl and started to develop, she apologized for this inheritance. Told me that her breasts had always caused her problems: grooves in her shoulders from her bra straps (check!), poor posture (super check!), and back problems (not yet).

When I was in high school I had my heart broken when my male classmates did a "poll" (this was long before the internet came along and facilitated anonymous teenaged meanness). They had categories like "Ugliest girl in the class" and "Easiest girl in the class." The "ideal girl in the class" turned out to be ANOTHER girl's face on MY body. My best friend was furious at me for being so sad. She hadn't even made the poll (and tragically, and perhaps ironically she lost her life to complications of breast cancer when she was 27). But it stayed with me, the idea that my body was great as long as my face (and perhaps my mouth and my brain) were omitted from consideration.

There are so many "body issues" that surround this cancer for me. My boobs have (I feel so un-feminist admitting this) been part of what has defined me. And, to be frank, my breasts have been very active and enthusiastic participants in my sexual life as well. They have been sources of pleasure for both me and the men I've been involved with. My most recent ex, Roommate, is decidedly a "butt guy." And I've been lucky in that department as well. But the bulk of my lovers (and most men, I think) have been "boob guys."

I remember when I had my miscarriage, the tremendous feeling that my body had betrayed me. I'm not going to say that that was the worst feeling associated with that tragedy, but it was up there in the top five. My body (please pardon the maudlinness of this statement) killed my child. Thirteen weeks into my pregnancy, my body revolted against this little thing with arms and legs and a heartbeat, and it caused it to die. I've never been the same.

And now, part of that which makes me a women, that which makes me me, has decided to revolt and go bad too. These beacons of pleasure and beauty and identity have been causing me stress and worry and pain since November, and now have finally decided to go over to the Dark Side entirely.

I'm sure every woman with breast cancer feels the same way.

And on the flip side of all of this, I've always been jealous of my mother's barely-A cups. The woman opts to wear bras, but it's truly an act of habit and not necessity. Her mosquito-bite tits used to make me nuts in the summer when she could slip on a tank top and go to the grocery store but I had to strap on my bullet-vest bra just to look okay in a t-shirt. There are so many clothes I can't wear because I look totally trashy in them. Going bra-less is never an option (although I did, gloriously, during last year's Bonnaroo). I've never found a strapless bra that truly reins in the Girls. I've deleted more pictures than I can count because my cleavage so thoroughly outshines my smile.

Side note for history: Last year, I took a knitting class with a colleague during the winter. I slaved away on a cardigan sweater for months. When I finally had the pieces all knitted, I took them to the teacher to have her help me put it together and the two sides refused to meet by more than six inches. "Aw, honey," she said, tugging and pulling. "I'm so sorry, but you're never going to be able to wear this. How is it that we never took the Girls into consideration?"

That's where "the Girls" came from.

May 7: Day One

Today I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The possibility has been looming since November when I went to my doctor because I was having breast pain. I underwent a series of no fewer than five ultrasounds and as many or more mammograms. I developed mastitis. The folks at the Women’s Diagnostic Clinic knew me by name. And in January, because my OBGYN LPN wasn’t happy with just leaving my negative mammograms and ultrasounds alone, I went to see a breast surgeon. He looked at my films and pronounced me “probably just fine” and scheduled a three-month check up. It was on the three-month check up, that I scheduled a month or so overdue, that the cancer was detected. Ironically, I had been concerned over the left breast, but everyone else seemed hung up on a golf-ball sized lump in my right. She’s still there, the Titelist lump, but it’s the irregular mass in my left breast that when biopsied turned out to have ductal carcinoma.

This journey that is only just beginning has been peopled with the very best folk that the medical profession have to offer. Even my LPN at Total Woman clearly cared about my health in a way that you don’t see all that often. I say “even her” because every time I went to Total Woman, I swore I’d never go back. I never waited less than an hour to see a doctor. The general staff there never offered so much as an apology for all the time wasted. And frankly, my OBGYN herself wasn’t exactly the picture of bedside manners; in fact a year ago, I asked if I should start having mammograms and she told me to wait until I was 35. But the LPN knew what she was talking about.

I can’t imagine how many techs at Women’s Diagnostic I’ve interacted with. And even though this may be a misconception, I feel like I have one tech in particular to be grateful for. Julie, who ran my follow-up ultrasound, the ultrasound that I believed would release me from concern for at least another year, was the one who saw the lump and who disappeared for a half hour (I admit I was annoyed, not knowing why she was gone) to corral a doctor and confirm her suspicions. It was Dr. Stevens who was impossibly sweet—it’s hard to imagine a doctor with a kinder, more soothing tone—and urged me to immediate action. And today, when Dr. Stevens went home sick, it was Dr. McLaughlin, the first doctor I dealt with there, who called me, unbidden, to express his sadness at my news and answer any questions that I have.

Today was a tough day at school. I was waiting for the biopsy results and found out that my job next year was changing and that I would have to share my teaching of American Lit with Marti, an iconic, brilliant teacher who intimidates me to no end—part my insecurities, part her personality. She is not a woman with whom I share a good relationship, although I’ve been making a concerted effort all year long. All day we went back and forth together about next year; honestly, I was trying to please her, but I was also on the defensive. And when the news came, she had just left me, and I knew she was just next door, and without thinking I went straight to her. With the most intimate, personal news possible. I find it hard to believe. But I went in her room and I just said, “I just found out I have breast cancer.” And she hugged me and she said, “But you won’t soon. It will all be okay.”

I had to then enter my classroom half full of next period’s student. I wasn’t crying. I didn’t really cry until around a half an hour ago. But I was struck. “Are you ok?” asked Katie Beth.

“I just got some really sad news.”

It was hard not to tell her. Honestly, if I had to choose a single kid to confide in, it might be Katie Beth. She asked me what I was wrong and I said that I couldn’t talk about it now. And not wanting her to think that I didn’t trust her or care about her, I touched her arm and whispered, “We’ll talk about it later, I promise.” Because we will. At some point, I’ll have to tell them all. I don’t want to just disappear. Lord knows, should anything terrible come of this, I don’t want to be the teacher who just disappeared.

Before I got the news, between the troubling ultrasound and the biopsy, I’ve thought a lot about that—what do I tell my kids? How do I deal with these last few weeks of school before summer? If I had my druthers, I’d just pronounce class over. They’ve been a great class. We learned a lot. They’ve jumped through all the hoops I’ve set before them. Let’s just call it a day. But that’s not my decision to make.

I came straight home and told Jason and the day has unfolded quietly since then. My mother was stronger than I had given her credit for being. Beth called. Pat and Ralph just emailed. I puttered in the garden for a while. And I cried after watching the season finale of Eli Stone.

Probably not a wise viewing choice, but how was I to know that he would nearly die and only be brought back by his will to live and the strength of love of his friends and by his faith in God and his knowledge that he had done good and still had more good to do??

Because those are the kinds of questions that I’m stuffing down right now. Should this turn out badly, how strong is my will to live? I don’t have many friends and my family is so far away. I don’t have a family of my own to live for. My faith in God is weak and utilitarian. How much good have I done? The answer is not much. And while I have always believed in my potential to good or even great things, I’ve not done much to live up to even a meager shred of that potential.

So I’m frightened. Not about what it is but what it may be. If it is just this, I can be strong, I can power through this. If it is something worse, I worry about my own determination and faith. Not just in something greater than myself, but in myself.