Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chemo and Vanity Update

In the interest of full disclosure: I had chemo yesterday and when I got home I thought it would be a great idea to write an update post.  But that post would have been a close cousin to drunk texting so...lucky for you I passed out before that could happen.  You're welcome.  There would be no hope of focusing my thoughts because I was a loopedy fruit loop.  The post would have been something like this (The role of fruit loop Nella will be played by italics, the role of regular Nella will be played by bold.):

 Hey, hey guys!  I keep going like this "PHHPPTTPHHPPHHHTTT (audibly makes raspberry noise instead of typing it)" . You basically get the gist. So once again, you're welcome.  Had I written a post yesterday it would have required the title "Wildly Inadvisable".

Anyhoo, vanity first:

Fun Stuff: Hair Watch 2013
I still have my hair, like, ALL OF IT. Except for the normal shedding that drives Michael up a wall.  It's not just still there, it's hangin' tough.  I yank on it all the time to see what will happen and nothing happens.  The Nurse Practitioner at the Oncologist's office said a few of the pregnant women she's seen over her career kept their hair until delivery and then lost it.  I decided to be done caring.  When it happens it happens.  I know it's nuts, but part of me feels like everything is going so well so far that the least I can do is lose my hair.  And hey, postpartum is not exactly the zenith of a girl's looks so I might as well lose it then.

Skin Update
My skin.  YOU ALL.  My skin is completely healed.  I CAN. NOT. express how life changing this has been.  Severely, bizarrely, horrifically itching skin was my only symptom for 2 YEARS.  Now it's gone.  They were cheering at the Oncologist's office.  We went to a friend's surprise party this past Saturday and the same night we also went to a fancy fundraiser for Michael's work.  I just put on a dress and went.  I didn't have to find a way to hide all my skin in a way that was casual enough that I wouldn't appear to be a fundamentalist of some ilk.  I can get dressed everyday without crying.  I even forget I'm wearing regular clothes instead of counting the minutes until I can change into something that doesn't hurt.  It is amazing.  The other night Julia said, "Mama! You have no more boo boos!".  No I don't little girl.  No I don't.

Health stuff:

So how is chemo going?
5 treatments down, 7 to go!  Technically we don't know if it's doing anything yet because I haven't had any re-staging, but the itching being gone is a great sign.  The palpable nodes in my neck that weren't removed in surgery are definitely smaller.  I'll have a chest X-ray in about 2 weeks to see if there's any progress.  They're not bothering with the MRI because the stuff it showed in the first place was small and I might not fit in the machine in 2 weeks.  YES.  I hate that dumb machine and I can pretty much guarantee I couldn't lay flat on my back in a drinking straw for that long at this point in my pregnancy.  How am I actually handling the chemo?  I'm just so blessed you guys!  So blessed.  No nausea.  At all.  I'm not bouncing back the same way I did in the beginning but DUH NELLA, you've had a bunch of CHEMO and you're getting bigger and more pregnant everyday.  So I'm tired.  Very tired.  I have to lay down a whole lot. But who am I kidding?  Like I told my doctor, I'd be lying if I didn't fess up to the fact that I've spent the last 9 years fantasizing about laying down and resting.  I miss my family and being normal, but for cancer, could it be more easy?  I seriously doubt it.  Plus, you won't believe this:  The timing between my treatments and reaching 36 weeks pregnant is perfect.  Not a single day wasted.  I have a treatment at 34 weeks pregnant and get the 2 full weeks to recover as best I can. Then, as long as baby girl continues to crush it in the growth and development department I can deliver her at exactly 36 weeks and as long as I crush it in the recovery department I can start treatment again 15 days after she's born like nothing ever happened.  Not one day wasted.  It's just perfect timing.  The nurse practitioners and doctor were practically dancing a jig in the office.  Praise God we are so blessed.  I'll be properly staged after baby girl is born and if everything looks good THEN I'll only have 2 more cycles of chemo and I'll BE DONE BEFORE HALLOWEEN!!!!  AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!  There is a lot that could happen between now and then but so far so good!

Baby Girl
No name, don't ask.  She is doing awesome.  I actually had an ultrasound today and was wondering if we would see anything different as far as heart rate or circulation or anything since I just had chemo yesterday and she looked totally normal.  Totally.  Oh how my heart sings!  I could see her eyelashes and I think she looks like Julia.  We are all very anxious to meet her.

So, that's an update.  I've been working on my mourning home birth post and I've had to delete it at least 4 or 5 times because it tends to devolve into all caps diatribes about misogyny and nobody needs that.  It's also a tad counter to the spirit of trying to mourn and release things.  I guess you didn't need to know that. But it's my bloggy and I'll share if I want to.  <------Fruit loop Nella is back.  I'm going to sleep.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mourn and Release (Alternate Title: Get Over Yourself)


Wait, Nella--you just wrote 3 obnoxious posts about your awesome attitude.  How does mourning jive with that?  Yeah.  Well, that's how life is.  Staying as positive as you can, counting your blessings, offering up your sufferings: none of those make the negative or difficult go away.  But it all helps you deal.  Ignoring the challenges of this situation wouldn't be a great idea.  I have to wade right into the pit and wallow there for a bit so I can let those disappointments go and move on.  Part of the reality of my Lymphoma diagnosis are the sacrifices and sufferings.  Ignoring them is not part of a good attitude, particularly because the sacrifices and sufferings are opportunities for me to learn and grow.  In this series I'm going to look some particular disappointments in the eye, be honest about why they upset me, and then let them go.  At least that's the idea.

With my cancer diagnosis and this pregnancy, my life has obviously changed a great deal.  Some of the biggest lifestyle choices I have obsessively researched and implemented in our lives since we became parents over 9 years ago are changing in part or are being entirely abandoned.  It is a tremendous blow to my pride to see that it will be dismantled.  It's so easy when you research things and incorporate them into your life to begin to believe that they are right.  FULL STOP.  You of course say: "It's right for us.".  But when you have accumulated mountains of evidence in support of your choices and read blogs and articles and books that agree with your choices it's only human to begin, even subconsciously (but really pretty consciously) to believe that your choices are right.  FULL STOP.  My very "right" choices that are being modified or eradicated are as follows:



Those are three intimate, profound decisions that we are having to reverse entirely or in part and it is hard.  Each of those things can be good.  Each of those things is very good.  In the right situation.  But when you choose them, it is really easy to get pulled down the "right" rabbit hole.  It's nice to have your decisions validated and to be able to tell yourself: "Well, of course this isn't for everyone, but THANK GOD it's for me."  Each of these decisions, the decision to have a homebirth, to breastfeed, and to homeschool were decisions I had the luxury of making.  I've enjoyed good health and economic privilege.  I took things that are  privileges and I gave them the aura of virtues, but the truth is I was blessed to be able to choose things that aren't available to everyone.   Each of these things are ideal.  But they are not right.  There is so little in the world, especially in the developed world, that is genuinely right or wrong.  But I took these things and elevated them way beyond where they belong.  It shouldn't be so emotional to let these things go in light of my situation.  Cognitively it all makes sense.  It's embarrassingly obvious that the right thing is to abandon homebirth, breastfeeding, and homeschooling(in part). 

From the serious to the mundane, I can make an idol out of anything that I can make mine, which is everything. We all can. ~Calah Alexander

 It's my pride, and only my pride, that is standing in my way and tormenting me at this point.  I want to keep these ideal choices because I believed they were right, but when you decide something is right you are also deciding the opposite of it is wrong.   But in these cases it's not.  It's just less than ideal.  We first world Mama's are really good at elevating all kinds of things to right or wrong.  We want to give our families the best of everything.  But the brutal truth is you can't have the best of everything all the time, and more than that, the fact that it's not the best or the ideal doesn't mean it's not a blessing.  There are mothers all over the world who would give a limb or their lives (and even have), to give their children my consolation prizes.  How dare I continue to spend energy on lamenting giving them up?  I have to make myself get over it.  I have to get over myself.

The next 3 posts will be me mourning that these choices have been taken from me, but also a challenge to my pride, an acknowledgement of the idols I've constructed in my life.  What a hoot, eh?

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Brief Note On This Blog And Its Author

First, thank you to all of you who read my rambling spoutings and who have expressed your support through the comments section and on Facebook.  I appreciate it so much and I'm grateful for your warm reception.  Feel free to let others know I'm out here playing writer.  I made the decision to actually let it be known this blog is in existence because first and foremost, I want other pregnant women facing difficult diagnoses, particularly cancer, to know that so much can be done for you.  You have so many more options than "You die or your son/daughter dies".  As a practical matter, I also want this to be a centralized place to tell our story and keep others updated about my treatment and progress.

As I moved past the posts that describe the time of my diagnosis, it has become very much about working through my thoughts and feelings.  I'm afraid that a lot of it reads like I've got it together.  At least that's what people tell me, and it makes me feel a bit like a fraud.  I'm afraid you're getting the wrong impression about me--like I float through each day full of certainty and a firm resolve and dispensing inspirational Pinterest-esque one liners and I just don't.  Life is just not like that.  It's just not.  At least mine isn't.  If anyone got that impression from reading this blog it would make me sad.  I mean and believe everything I've shared here, but the individual posts are just snapshots of me.

Most of us, at some time or other, have read something or seen something that made us feel like we didn't measure up, or that someone else was just "more" than us in some way.  For Moms, most of us have read blog posts by other Moms full of gorgeous photos of crafts and snacks and their kids writing essays "just because" or their kid's totally handmade custom themed birthday party.  Some of us have looked at those pictures and read the captions while dumping some cheerios directly onto the coffee table for our toddler and thought: "Why didn't you include the 800 number for the suicide prevention hotline at the end of this post for the rest of us?".  Oh, you haven't?  Well I have.  I don't think those blogs or those women are bad.  I don't think they're dishonest.  I also don't think everyday of their lives looks like that, and they don't mean for me to.  It's the nature of the written word and visual mediums that whatever you record is a snapshot of a moment.  That's what this blog is.  A snapshot.  Snapshots are not lies, but they're not the whole story either.

The things I write about my attitude or anything else I may spout about in the future...they're just pep talks I give myself.  They're just me trying to work this out.  When I say that we're all weak and that's ok, I'm not so much trying to teach you anything, I'm trying to beat some sense into myself.  It's not an indication of the day to day or minute to minute of my life.  Each post is something I work on over a few days or even a few weeks.  I don't just sit down and vomit that into the keyboard because I'm brimming with wisdom and serenity.  I vomit them into the keyboard and then rework them because it's swirling around in my coo coo head and I need to get it out.  I need to get it out and figure it out.  I realized publishing the vomit would be a way of holding myself accountable.  I'm more likely in dark moments to remember not to ask "Why me?", to count my blessings, or to lay my sufferings at God's feet because I said I would and I don't want to be a liar.  I also really believe the things I write but they are so hard to implement consistently. So, using my vanity against me, I tell you this stuff so I'm compelled to believe it when I don't feel like it.  Because sometimes I don't feel like it.  It's easier in the moment to take the easy way out and feel sorry for myself.  So I told you what I should do so that I'm more likely to do it.

I also have a lot of time to think right now.  I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms and laying in bed.  It makes it much easier to produce coherent long-form thoughts.  Please don't think I can just spew this stuff and then have the self awareness and grit it takes to apply it to myself in a meaningful way all the time.  Please.

So, if I say something you like, I'm so honored.  But don't for one second think I have it together.  Sometimes I lose my temper and sometimes I feel sorry for myself, just like you.  I'm trying to figure this out as I go.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day To Our Quiet Hero

We love heroes.  We love people who get shot at, and run into burning buildings, and shield children from mad men with guns, and jump into raging waters to pull someone to safety.  As we should.  Most young men harbor fantasies of someday participating in this sort of adrenaline fueled pursuit with all of the fanfare and news articles and awards that will follow.

We have a hero in our house.  He has never been called to do some big splashy dangerous act that would be obviously heroic.  He doesn't get attention for the things he does.  But he is a hero to us, everyday, whether anyone sees or not.

Michael is our hero because he puts us first.  Always.  He has accomplished so much in his professional life, but you would never know just how much he's accomplished by talking to him or looking at our life.  He worked for 6 long years to earn his Ph.D. in a demanding field--10 if you count the undergrad he had to finish first.  Do you know he never makes anyone call him Doctor?  He never introduces himself that way.  He's just Mike.  Holy moley, if I worked all that time to earn that title I don't think I could be so quiet and humble about it.  Not only that, but he is so good at what he does.  He is so successful and earns a lot for it.  You wouldn't really know by looking at our lifestyle because security is more important to him than having toys or appearing successful.  He drives a rusty 11 year old Chevy Malibu even though he doesn't have to.  He doesn't have a boat, or an RV, or go on golf outings, or fancy vacations, even though even with six kids he could.  In his position most people would.  He does it because he cares more about knowing we would be ok even if he lost his job.  He does it because he cares more about being prepared for things like cancer or an accident or whatever.  He lives a life that looks far less successful than what he has earned because it's more important to him to know we are cared for no matter what.  He's willing to look like he has less just so that we can ultimately have more.  

He is a hero because he sets an example of what it means to be an honorable man.  He shows our son everyday what it means to be an honorable man, a good husband, and a good father.  He shows our son that the strong protect the weak in ways big and small.  He shows our son that success is not about what people see on the outside, but the choices you make that nobody sees.  Our girls will know what to expect from the men in their lives, because he sets the bar so high for himself.  Our kids will know that the measure of a man is humility, patience, hard work, and faithfulness.  They will know that a good man is not embarrassed to  show he loves his wife and kids.  They will know that a good man doesn't sacrifice for his family and then lord it over them.  They will know that a good man gives everything he has to his family out of love and gives it freely.  They will know that a good man accepts that a truly loving father will sometimes have to accept their rejection because his duty is teaching them right from wrong.  

Michael has heard that he was becoming a father more times than most men ever do.  As the sole breadwinner, that can be scary news.  When you're already exhausted and knee deep in chaos it can seem like you'll never sleep or pee by yourself again.  But from the moment he hears that they are coming, even if in that moment he's less than rainbows and unicorns thrilled, he chooses to love that child.  He loves them and would do anything for them.  Rather than measure the sacrifice that they mean, he loves them and is devoted to them immediately and without reservation.  

He is our Daddy.  He is our Hero.  We will never be able to repay him for all he does, and he doesn't care.  

Happy Father's Day Michael!  We love you!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Illness and Shame And Dropping the C-Bomb

First, if you're here from Mary's or Jaimie's, thank you and welcome!  Second, if you're here from Facebook, well, you're probably like "What the heck?!?!?".  I know, this whole pregnant with lymphoma situation is all kinds of weird.  All. kinds. of. WEIRD.  Sorry I dropped the C-bomb on you.

That's what it's like to tell people you have cancer.  It's like dropping a bomb on them in slow motion face to face (or keyboard to keyboard-- 'cause those is just the times we livin' in).  As the person with the cancer, by the time you're ready to tell someone, you've had some time to let things marinate.  Even if it's just been a short time, you're ahead of the poor sucker you're about to blind side.  To say that it is a painful, uncomfortable, and awkward news item to share is a huge understatement.  That's what makes avoiding the sharing so enticing.  It's not fun to tell someone bad news.

The problem with not telling people you have cancer and are going through chemo while you are pregnant is that you run the risk of bumping into some unsuspecting person you haven't seen in like 5 years and there you are--9 months pregnant with a bald head--talk about blindsiding!  My hair didn't fall out yet (YAY!), but I'm a ticking hair ball.  I'll have a wig, but I'm pretty lazy and I could see myself at some point deciding a scarf is just going to have to do, and even if I do wear my wig, what if I'm terrible at drawing my eyebrows back on?  What if I'm doomed to spend my treatment having to choose between having no eyebrows or looking like Uncle Leo?  Anyhoo, point is, sometime soon, my treatment will force the issue of telling people, because my bald head and/or lack of eyebrows will do the talking.  Plus, really, what is the big deal with telling people?  There's no shame in being sick.  Except that there is.

I remember as a little girl hearing Bible stories featuring people who were sick.  The priest explained during the homily that back in Biblical times people were ashamed of family members who fell ill.  It was considered an indication of some sin or curse on the part of the sick person or their family.  In cultures around the world, across time, we have been ashamed of illness.  I remember thinking: "Thank goodness we've come so far and that now we have science to tell us that illness is caused by germs, undernourishment, chemical imbalances, etc.".  Now that I'm faced with an illness, I realize we haven't really come that far at all.  Now that I'm sick and I have to tell people, I realize that even though we know it's not a curse or a moral sin that caused our illness, we still recoil from admitting it.  We are ashamed of admitting we are guilty of some of the greatest sins of modern times: weakness and imperfection.  Well, here I am.  I am weak.  I am imperfect.  We all are.

We humans, we like to think we are so smart that we can control our way to perfection.  That we can choose a diet and an exercise plan and a career and a family size and balance for our bank account that will trump our inherent weakness and imperfection.  That if we just make all the right choices we will never suffer.  The problem with this idea is that there will always be some "more perfect" choice for us to chase.  Something we try to tell ourselves will protect us from our humanity:  "You eat white bread?  You should really eat whole grain.  You eat store bought whole grain?  You should really eat homemade whole grain.  You eat homemade whole grain?  It should really be soaked. You eat soaked whole grain?  It should really be sprouted.  You eat sprouted whole grain?  Grain can kill you, have fun suffering through your short pitiful life.".  We can continue that for every choice that presents itself throughout our lives, and when we or a family member end up sick, we can beat ourselves up that we didn't make a perfect choice, or we can admit that we are weak and imperfect.  We all have to strive to make the best choices we can to be good stewards of what we've been given, but we must also face that we are and will always be inherently weak and imperfect.

You know who else is weak?  My daughter.  The one who is growing inside me right now, oblivious to the toxic onslaught she endures every 2 weeks.  The one who continues to thrive despite it.  The one who many believe is not possible, but who is so very possible.  She is more than possible.  She is.  In the end, I cannot hide the fact that I have cancer because I'm ashamed to admit that I am weak and imperfect.  I have a responsibility to my human family to say I am weak and imperfect and so are you and that's ok.  I have a responsibility to other Mothers and other babies to let them know that you can have cancer and be pregnant and be ok.  You can both survive and thrive.  It's important to me that people understand this.  So I will expose my weakness, my imperfection, the consequences of my mistakes.  I will tell you I have cancer.  I have cancer and I am pregnant and we will both be just fine.  We will be weak and imperfect and just fine.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Friday, June 7, 2013

It Would Be Dumb To Have A Bad Attitude, Part 3: My Faith

*Holy friends: I'm not a theologian, I'm just a simple sinner.  This is not meant to be an academic treatment of suffering, sacrifice, and Christian life.  I'm no expert on any of those.  Regular Friends:  It's about to get all full of the Lord up in here.  I know what you're thinking: "Have you met you?".  I have and so has He, and he loves me anyway.  This is just a bunch of disjointed thoughts on the comfort my faith gives me and how it helps me to remain positive in the face of challenges.  This is short because I feel called to share it, but vulnerable and inadequate in sharing it.  Besides, like I said, there are much smarter and holier people who have written on this big topic.

"Each time I am tempted to scream, Where is our God when we suffer?!, the crucifix provides its own, wordless response: He is right here, suffering with us." ~Jennifer Fulwiler

The last reason I wanted to share that helps me have a positive attitude and the most important, is my Catholic faith.  The stuff I already discussed as contributing to my positive attitude are only possible because of the foundation my faith provides.  Suffering and sacrifice are awful.  They are sticking points in the belief of many.  But they are realities of human life that cannot be avoided.  My faith acknowledges the existence of suffering and embraces it.  My faith tells me that God Himself took on human form to suffer for us.  Like seriously suffer.  Not even He was exempted from this human reality.  As a Catholic I believe I am never alone in my suffering.  I'm also truly grateful that Jesus suffered and died for me.  For me.  Even though He knew that I would continue to sin and screw up, he suffered for me.  I'm deeply grateful.  Gratitude has to move me to action.  If He chose to suffer for me, I must embrace the suffering I encounter in my life.  If it's good enough for the Savior of the World, it's good enough for me.

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.  Luke 9:23

Jesus said: "...he must deny himself and take up his cross daily...".  He didn't say: "design your cross daily" or "take up your cross when you feel up to it and understand it perfectly".  He said take it up.  As in, whatever your are given get to haulin' it.  So I try.  I try with a lot of whining and denying and analyzing.  When a cross is placed in my path, I can deny it all I want, but when I finally pick it up and carry it God can start His work in my life.  But, BUT!  Even more than that, the crosses He puts in my path aren't just tests or punishments meant for me to endure until I'm holy enough.  They're opportunities to join Jesus in His work.  If I choose to try to consciously offer it up I'm joining Him in my minuscule way in His act of love. I can offer my sufferings for the benefit of others.  My suffering is never in vain.

Jesus doesn't need my help.  LOL!  But He'll take it.  He'll take my whiny, feeble, flawed efforts and use them to help another of His children.  He also doesn't care what my efforts look like if I'm really and truly trying my best.  I am humbled by that.  I am lifted up by that.  I am strengthened to know my suffering is useful, even if I will never know how it was used.  

I discussed in Part 2 of this series all of the amazing ways my life has been blessed.  Each of those blessings ultimately came from God.  In comparison he asks so little of me.  All he asks is that I take up my cross and in His abundant wisdom and love He gives me crosses that improve me along the way.  
I've talked in other posts about my pride--I could stand to be taken down MANY pegs.  Picking up my crosses instead of designing them is a major challenge to the pride.

Now if only I could do better in picking up EVERY cross he puts in my path--not just the big obvious pregnant with cancer ones, but the little kids who don't go to bed ones, the people who make me mad ones, all the tiny ones that I don't always offer up with grace.  Those I want to offer up and have Him pick them up and take them away, like some kind of supernatural relay.  It just doesn't work that way.  He will help me carry them, but they are there for me to pick up for a reason.  It took a big cross to help me see the little ones more clearly.  

Finally, this is all the supernatural part of "Why NOT me?".  I talked about the biological reality of why not me in Part 1 of this series, but there is this spiritual part too.  You've all heard that whole "Why do bad things happen to good people?" thing.  Well, that's a dangerous trap for a Christian to fall into.  Bad things happen to all people.  There are no perfect people who are beyond reproach this side of heaven.  We are all subject to the consequences of the fall.  God loves every single human being the same so I'm pretty sure He wouldn't appreciate me assuming that other of His children would deserve suffering more than me.  And then, AND THEN--while we are all subject to the consequences of the fall, we are also all redeemed by Jesus's death and Resurrection.  ALL of us.  That's a sweet deal.  We can choose to take it or leave it.  I'll take it.  I'm not deserving of cancer, but I'm not deserving of God's love either.  

So, after all that, it would be dumb for me to have a bad attitude because this suffering is mine to pick up, carry, and offer up for the benefit of others.  It will make me better in the end and I have the honor of joining Jesus in his work in my tiny way.  This is my opportunity to love until it hurts.  I would though, dear readers, appreciate your prayers in this regard.  Carrying crosses is heavy work, but I am privileged to do it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It Would Be Dumb To Have A Bad Attitude, Part 2: Look At My Life!

*Major sappy sap alert.  I don't care.

Seriously guys, look at my life.  I was born in the 20th century to two loving, educated, middle class parents. I've had every advantage necessary.  My parents always put us first, even if it meant we acted like we hated them for it.  I benefited everyday, and continue to benefit from the stable loving home they provided based on a strong marriage that was rooted in their love of God.  I've had good food, good medical care, a good education, you name it, from day one.  I have 4 siblings who bless and enrich my life.  My parents, brothers, and sisters love and support me constantly.  My parents come over after work so that I can rest.  My baby brother who is 20 now and not a baby anymore is over here all the time helping out.  My sister Jill will be moving near us soon and will be here all the time to help out.  Where in there is anything that gives me the right to have a bad attitude?

My husband.  Oh dear, my precious, precious husband.  My very best friend.  Our rock.  Our hero.  He provides a life for us that is downright luxurious.  We have a beautiful home, food, clothes, transportation, great medical insurance, the ability to choose any education setting or resource we feel is best for our kids, etc.  He provides for us so well that I can stay home with our kids and he does not begrudge us that for one second.  Not only does he provide this life for us while using his intellect to help others, he is a wonderful husband and father.  He is our everything and he gives everything he has to us so generously everyday.  He puts up with my craziness, he tolerates my weaknesses with patience and compassion, he laughs with me, he holds my hand and listens to me cry.This was true before cancer and it is true now.  Now that his wife is exhausted a lot he comes home from work and does the Daddy things and the Mommy things and actually does it better than I do.   Seriously, does that sound like a person who should have a wife with a bad attitude?

My babies.  We are blessed to be entrusted with 5, soon to be 6 precious people.  They peel the layers of our selfishness back day after day.  They make us laugh.  They love us and each other.  They're adorable.  Watching them grow is the toughest job I'll ever love.  I'm so grateful it's me that's sick and not them.  They need to see Mommy and Daddy being positive.  They will learn from this situation many important lessons about how to face adversity.  It is my job as their mother to set a good example for them.  A bad attitude is not a good example.  It will not make them feel safe.  It will not show them how to face the challenges that will inevitably come as they grow.  

I have a beautiful, diverse, generous group of friends who have been covering me in prayer, bringing us meals, watching kids, and being great listeners.  My freezer is overloaded and every time the slightest daylight is visible it is instantly blocked out by more delicious meals to feed my family and to take the load off of Michael and myself.  They have sent notes, food, flowers, edible arrangements, money, and so many other gifts and kindnesses that it is impossible to enumerate or to ever repay.  We have received meals even from people who I've barely spoken to since college.  I was a despicable human being in college.  I was a narcissistic mean girl who was just a disaster.    If I could go back in a time machine I would punch her in the face.  That time, when I was so yucky, was the only time in our lives we even crossed paths and still the blessings flow from all over, from friends and those who are not so close.  

And then, AND THEN:   How can I have a bad attitude when things like this arrive in the mail the day before a chemo treatment:

Yes, that is a Wonder Woman backpack.  You can't tell from this photo but it has a CAPE.  It was full of chemo comforts like a super soft cute blanket with a RUFFLE EDGE, books, games, candy, and cute socks.  Bad attitude?  With a back pack like this and friends like this?  How dare I.  I could not, I will not.

People I don't even know are praying for me and thinking of me all because of the beautiful people who surround me and reach out on my behalf.  My mother came over today after work and told me about a beautiful gesture her coworkers extended today.  My mother goes to 6:45am Mass most days before work.  One of her friends, another teacher at her school, knows this.  She spread word around the school and when my Mom arrived at Mass this morning she was surrounded by coworkers who stayed with her, prayed with her, and offered her their support.  With people like this in the world praying for me and supporting the people around me, how can I have a bad attitude? 

My life is so incredibly blessed.  Those blessings did not stop because I was diagnosed with cancer.  Those blessings are no less real nor are they diminished because I was diagnosed with cancer. They have become even more magnified in my consciousness.  So I have cancer.  So what.  Look at everything else I have!  Look at the love and beauty in the world.  It is there even though I have cancer.  Because I have cancer, I can see it even more clearly.  Bad attitude?  That would be dumb.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It Would Be Dumb To Have A Bad Attitude, Part 1: The Facts

*I'm not a scientist, I'm just married to one.  Actually, a lot of this post was cut out because we had many conversations like this:  Me: Honey, would it be accurate, albeit very simplified to say X,Y, Z?  Him:  Well, I guess, but when you simplify it like that then it's only sort of accurate because Q, R, S and T, U, V and we just don't know X the way you're stating it.  Me:  But I just mean for regular people, would it be close enough?  Him:  I guess, but really blah blah blah.  And such and such just isn't reproducible at this time and... Me (talking over him now):  This is why people hate you sciencey people and hippies think you're liars.  Him: ...

As people hear about my diagnosis and I encounter them for the first time face to face, they often say: "You have such a great attitude!".   It is, of course, a compliment and an encouragement but it flummoxes me.  I mean, we're just out in public somewhere.  I'm not going to moan and weep and gnash my teeth from now until I'm cancer free.  Second, being positive has very little to do with any virtue on my part and more to do with how I was raised, the reality that I have a beautiful life, and the reality of what cancer actually is.  Do I tear up, do I have dark moments?  Oh yeah.  But honestly, living with cancer and not knowing it was much more difficult.  Now I know I don't suck at life. 

First and foremost though, seriously--what is the alternative?  Moping?  Complaining?  Wondering why me?  Waste.  Waste.  Waste.  Moping is useless and unfair to the people around me.  Complaining makes you more likely to mope.  And frankly, asking why me is the most destructive of all.  Why NOT me?  I've heard people say that before in response to their own challenges and it is the only proper response to this situation.  I am no more or less deserving of a pass from cancer than anyone else.  Really, deserving has nothing to do with anything.  

We like to find the "reasons" someone is sick.  We want to know what someone did, what they chose, what they eat, what they've been exposed to: so that we can convince ourselves that it won't happen to us.  It's a natural human impulse, but it is an impulse that shields us from the truth.  There are better and worse choices to make for your health, but in the end, anyone can develop cancer at any time.  No matter what anyone tells you.  The idea that you can follow a simple checklist and avoid it is inaccurate and I think, at least, emotionally dangerous.   

In The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of CancerSiddhartha Mukherjee writes: "Cancer genes came from within the human genome...Cancer was intrinsically “loaded” in our genome, awaiting activation. We were destined to carry this fatal burden in our genes...”.  Well then, what a waste to say why me when the answer is simply because I'm a human being.  Why should I be exempt from the realities of my own biology?  It is easy to forget that we are all programmed with the potential for cancer.  There is so much focus on what is and is not a carcinogen and on whether or not we carry specific genes for specific cancers, that we often forget that we all carry the code for cancer in our bodies all the time.  Many people don't even realize this very important and inescapable fact.  Carcinogens play a role, sure, but it is nowhere near as linear and causal a relationship as most believe.  

I will never know why I have cancer at age 33 in a way that would be specific enough to be comforting to most people.  But really, I know all I need to know.  I have cancer because it is part of the human reality.  It's almost like a built in self destruct feature, mine just activated before it should.  Oh come on Nella, that's not even really true.  Biology is biology and just because things happen at a less than ideal time doesn't mean they shouldn't.  I just don't have to like it.  Evolution took a look around myself and decided, we don't need anymore of your kind around here.  Nothing personal.  Thankfully modern medicine has managed for a way that I can tell evolution to take a hike.  At least for now.  I got an easy cancer and my chances of survival are about 80%, so I can't help but think evolution isn't totally sure it wants to get rid of me anyway.  Hehe, stuff it evolution!

Anyhoo, what a waste to get mad that I am subject to the same biological realities as every other human.  Having a positive attitude can only help me be one of the 80% who survive.