How my life changed after cancer

via BC/AC – Before Cancer/After Cancer


Reflection, Acceptance and …

Isn’t this stage of life really about acceptance and reflection? If it’s also about something else you can fill in the blanks. I find that as I approach my 60th birthday my energy is dropping and my physical abilities are much less than they were 40 years ago. Not everyone experiences this. Many say they are feeling as good or better than they did in their 20s. That isn’t the case for me. I was an extremely active child and adult. I never thought of myself or my life that way but now that I’ve lived a little and met people who live more simple lives, I realize that I packed a lot in to each day for the majority of my life. Maybe now I’m paying the price for that or maybe this is a temporary lull in my energy because of the move. I’m not sure.

There is so much to reflect on! I guess that’s a blessing. I realize that I’ve been in relationship with each place that I lived in. Now I’m in a new relationship and it’s with Tucson. I had a 3 year relationship with Tokyo. I had an on and off again relationship with NYC from 1978 until 2010 until I finally had had enough and left. I had a 5 year relationship with Boston that changed the trajectory of my life, and 7 years in CT.  Now I’m in this new relationship with Tucson. I’m in that fetal stage where you ask, “will I stay here?”, “is this going to be long term and permanent?” “what is my level of commitment to making this work?”. I’ve never been one to stay in a bad situation. I admire people who do though, because leaving isn’t always the answer either. Connecticut was always a transitional place for me. I thought I might make a life there but deep in my heart I knew that was impossible. Now I wonder if Tucson is “the one”.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new friend, Tucson. I’ve explored the most attractive parts of it, I’ve experienced the very frustrating aspects of living here (but no place is perfect). The good has to outweigh the bad for something to work. So far it does. I am on a “sabbatical” of sorts. This is my “Eat, Pray, Love”. Others can do it so why can’t I?

If I compare my life with others in my age group I will be miserable all the time. I don’t have those good family memories that I imagine they do. I had struggles as a working, single mom and 2 sons with special needs. I never had the family support that many others seem to have or the coparenting that some are lucky to create after divorce, but I’ve learned to be self sufficient as a result. I appreciate how far I have come in my life when I look at where I started. I would have to say I’ve accomplished a lot. There is this question of my health and not knowing what the universe has in store for me in the future.  Therefore, I make the most of now and I am grateful that I can still do what I’m able to do. It’s very hard to accept that I can’t do more than that, especially since I was such a physically active and fit person for so many years. When I attempted to become that again I had one injury after another until I got the message, “you can’t do those things anymore, your body just won’t allow it”. Some can, but I can’t, it’s very hard for me to accept.  Accepting our own limitations is important to succeed at aging (if there is such a thing).

I am fortunate to be able to have some time right now to reflect. I hope that my energy returns soon but I don’t know if it will. It might be a sign that something’s wrong with me or it might just be exhaustion from doing so much to put this move together for 2 years. If you’re contemplating such a move, beware, it isn’t easy! For me it’s been complex and much more expensive than I anticipated. There were probably easier and cheaper ways to do it, but I did it the way I did it, and I am still in the thick of it. I still have half of my things stored back in CT. I am only half way moved in. I own a condo that I’m renting out back “home”. I realize from all the past experiences that I had with moving, that this is just the earliest stage of starting a new life in a new place. I’ve acquired more patience over the years and I’ve learned to be realistic about what it takes to build a relationship even if it’s with a place instead of with a person. I choose solitude and that is what I treasure the most right now. That could change. Each of us is different, what’s important to you isn’t necessarily what I’m seeking and visa versa. It’s important to know what makes you tick and what kind of environment you can thrive in, I’m still searching for that, but I may have gotten it right this time, we’ll see, I’ll keep you posted.


Mini Post- dreams lead to more dreams

When we venture out to follow a dream there might be unexpected twists and turns. In the end when we arrive at the goal there is a sense of satisfaction because we tried. The journey is most definitely the most exciting part for me toward any goal. Once there I have new dreams as a result. There are always new lands to conquer, new dreams to manifest. We cannot get to the new ideas without first arriving at the first one.

Mini Post-When Did White Refrigerators Stop Being Enough?

I’ve been looking at photos of houses on Trulia and Zillow in Arizona while also prepping my townhouse just in case I sell it. I notice that the houses with white appliances just aren’t making the grade in my brainwashed mind and that I “thankfully” have already replaced all of my kitchen appliances with stainless steel and upgraded my kitchen and master bath. These are the must haves on my list probably because we have been told so many times on HGTV that it has to be done if you ever hope to sell your house in the future. 

The thing is this. When did white refrigerators become unfashionable? I remember longing for a double door, white refrigerator in 2000 and I got it when I did the kitchen in my NYC Coop. I missed it when I moved to a CT condo and had the ugliest kitchen, the original from 1978. Finally I had enough money to “do my kitchen” and I’m very proud of the outcome. I just “had to have” the stainless appliances. It was a given. The problem is that with every upgrade comes loss. For instance, no more magnets. Stainless Steele won’t hold those adorable magnets that I collected from trips for the last 20 years and the ones with the kids’ faces. Also, my electric bill went way up in spite of the energy star logo and promise. It was explained to me by the electric company that the newer energy efficient appliances use more energy but use it more efficiently or something like that. 

I’m in an airb&b at this very moment (that is also the latest trend over hotels). This one is gorgeous and fabulous and full of personal touches and that old fashioned homey feeling that has been lost over the years. I feel so comfortable here I think I will move in. I’m staring at the white refrigerator and that thought came over me. “When did white refrigerators stop being relevant? Why do I just “have to have”stainless appliances? The ones I bought, that were pricey LGs, are inferior products. They were extremely disappointing. 

#aging #retirement #sellingyourhome #buyingaretirementhome #travel #babyboomers 

Thoughts about Advice Giving

This was my email horoscope today:

You may find yourself facing numerous situations that require you to think quickly and make spur of the moment decisions today. Thus, you will likely have many opportunities to make the most of your decisive mood. Whether your choices are concerned with your personal well-being, finances, or relationships, know that you can rely on the competent guidance of your intuitive mind for direction.”

It could not have been more perfect. I had already been writing my blog post in my head before I saw the email and it goes perfectly with what I want to write about here. You might disagree with what I’m about to say and you might even get a little bit angry but I have learned that in life it is best not to give advice or “helpful suggestions” unless you are directly asked for your opinion. Even then you have to choose your response carefully, and yet, here I am giving you this advice!

When someone tells you that you “should do this” or you “must do that”, they are just repeating what they were always taught or what they have found to be true for them. Maybe you need to learn something by making the “wrong” decision. On the other hand, you really might know exactly what you need to do.  Sometimes, explaining why you are doing things a certain way is hard to do, too personal or too complicated. There are details they might not know and you might not want to go into with them.

I find that as I’m making decisions about moving, friends and family are full of emotions, opinions and advice about every aspect of my decisions. They are speaking to me as if I know nothing and have not experienced anything in life. Their feedback is often negative and cautionary. They make me second guess my intuition. It’s dangerous for me to doubt myself because I have excellent intuition.

I was thinking about how we do this with our children even when they are adults. We do it with all of those close to us. We want them to be spared the pain we endured in a similar situation or we are terrified of even trying to do what they are attempting. We don’t want them to hurt or make wrong turns and yet we have made so many in order to become the wise beings we are today.

Perhaps a supportive comment is all that’s needed like “I have faith in your ability to figure this out”, or “you always seem to know what you need to do next”. The comments need to be sincere. Think about what that person’s strengths are or times in which they have gotten through something difficult and really impressed you with their strength and wisdom. Then tell them that you admire them because of how they have handled the big decisions in their life. That might actually cause them to hug you instead of avoiding you.

BC/AC – Before Cancer/After Cancer

My life after breast cancer and how it made me wake up to the realities of my future

In 2013 I had stage 1 breast cancer. It changed the way I see life and it changed all of my decisions thereafter. I hope you have never said what a friend said to me. She said, “Stage 1? That is not even cancer, you had pre cancer, why do you tell people you had cancer”?. I told her to get her facts straight and that DCIS is pre cancer, this was in fact real, malignant, Stage 1 cancer.

An elderly, burnt out sounding, uncaring, cold, male radiologist gave me the results on the phone 3 days after my biopsy. I was stunned by the call. He was a stranger, who had not done the biopsy and he didn’t tell me why the lovely radiologist from 3 days prior, who had promised that she would be the one to give me the results on Thursday, wasn’t calling me instead.  He said, “your biopsy was malignant….let me be clear this is cancer. You do have breast cancer”. Then he wanted me to repeat it back to him so that he was sure I was not in denial about it. There was no concern, no empathy in his voice, no tenderness at all. This was just another annoying phone call he needed to make and cross off of his to do list. I immediately called my PCP hoping for some warmth. When he called back I said, “my biopsy was positive I have breast cancer”.  With a “so what” attitude he said,  “did you want something from me”?  He sounded like he was saying, “so why are you calling me about this?”. “Well…uh…” I thought to myself,  “I guess I don’t want a damn thing from you“.

However, I’m really writing this to say that life has gotten so much better for me since that diagnosis as many people with cancer will tell you. It is the beginning of a new and better life for many, if found early. Of course it depends on the severity of the cancer, the location and the stage. Of course. That almost goes without saying. I felt so blessed to have caught it immediately. In fact, they had been watching that exact spot for 3 years. “What”!? I look back at earlier mammograms, 2010, 2011, 2012, “3:00 L Breast, blah, blah, blah, we are concerned, have her come back in 6 months”. I suppose they cannot remove every lesion when it’s still benign and I did move a few times during that time, so did not have consistency in my medical care, but I did have consistent mammograms. It was after an extremely stressful time that it became malignant. My father had just died and there had been turmoil in my life at work and other areas.

PLEASE don’t misunderstand. I know that I am fortunate compared to many. As a social worker I have heard countless stories of stage 2, 3 and 4 cancers of all kinds with mets, chemo treatments and I never had any of that. I had a lumpectomy and 7 weeks of radiation, 5x/ week. On the other hand, I cannot tell you how much it hurt when that person said “you didn’t even have cancer, your cancer was a pre cancer” and if that were true it would be one thing, but it wasn’t. People often do say all the wrong things but that is not what I intended to write about here.

Breast cancer, as you have heard from others or experienced yourself, was a tremendous blessing in my life. Cancer woke me up to many realities. Anyone who has gone through this will tell you that there are either constant thoughts afterward like, “it happened once, it can happen again” or “my body mutated into a cancerous mass so why wouldn’t it happen again?” Or “if the radiation zapped this part won’t the cancer grow outside of those boundaries since it’s unlikely to come back within that square that they radiated?” (so very close to the heart on the left side). The wake up call is about pending, looming death.

After all the treatments were over I was euphoric for months. The reason I went for that overdue mammogram was because a close friend had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and I remembered that I was behind schedule and needed to get it done. He is gone now. He died at 48 in 2014 and it was heartbreaking to all of us who knew him.  After my diagnosis, we talked on the phone weekly and we called it our “cancer chat”. I knew I was very lucky that I caught it early. I felt ridiculous talking about my little stage one when he had mets and suffered so much with chemo, chest tubes and multiple admissions to the hospital. Mine was nothing compared to his. But he said it made him feel better to check on me to see how I was and we helped each other. He had felt ill for years and chose to take a non traditional route rather than get a medical diagnosis for several years. I am not sure that it made much difference, I think the end would have been the same either way. He walked around probably for years without knowing that he had lung cancer but he had symptoms.

I took that trip to France I always dreamed of after radiation was over and counted my blessings. I went with a choir to Rouen and Paris. It was my first trip to Europe. I sang my heart out in magnificent Cathedrals in France that summer. I enjoyed seeing my eldest son get married to my beautiful daughter-in-law and was thankful, thankful, thankful all the time. I contacted old, lost friends. I had visitors after the surgery, in my home. People were good, they were kind, they helped. I did the renovations in the house that I had wanted to do. I lost a job at that time but I gained a life. I went into private practice and became my own boss. I built my practice during radiation and it grew! The things we do, that we can’t believe we did, when we look back.

I came to terms with the most difficult issue in my life. My autistic son’s need for a future plan. What will he do when I’m gone? Where will he live? How will he function in the world? He was so dependent at 23 at the time. Now he is 26. He was terrified as I went through all of this because he knew that his future was so vague. Who would take care of him?

Fast forward 3 years and we are in a better place with this issue of planning for his future. It’s a complicated and convoluted road. Finding housing and services for an autistic adult who cannot manage independently is costly and there are few good options. We have a plan now. Since I wanted to move west I looked for programs in the state where I wanted to live because after cancer I decided that my needs mattered too. After 26 years of being a caretaker I have decided that my needs matter very much because if I put myself first I will be alive longer and both of my sons need me to be. There are people that hope that I will be around for awhile and so do I. I want my life to feel good and to be my own creation. So I’m making that happen and I’m making sure that my younger son has all the possible opportunities to become as independent as is possible in his case. He’ll attend a 2 year program that will help with that in the state that I want to move to. So we are moving int he right direction and deep down I know, it’s all because of cancer.