Friday, February 25, 2011

My 30th Birthday

What a wonderful birthday!

I went on a field trip with Larissa's class. We went to the Children's Theater and saw the play "Babe." I loved the book and the movie and the play was so fun and creative- wow!

When I got home, I noticed "someone" had hung balloons on our door and put yellow "police" tape around it. There was a sign hanging from our deck rail announcing that I am 30 years old today. Inside there were signs and more balloons and flowers.

Later, at my parents house we had our traditional pizza party and Mark brought a cake from Byerly's.

I am glad to be here. I hope the next 30 years are just as fun... minus the cancer ;)

Friday, February 18, 2011


This has been a stressful week.

After my hysterectomy, Dr. Laudi prescribed a drug called Effexor XR (extended release) to help reduce my hot flashes. Effexor is classified as an antidepressant and it helps with hot flashes by somehow interfering, intercepting or rebalancing the chemicals in the brain that cause serotonin and epinephrine to transmit a hot flash.

With any drug, there are always potential side effects. The side effects of Effexor XR vary from headache, anxiety, and (ironically) increased flushing and sweating to bizarre behaviors, impulsiveness, and (ironically) worsening depression. So I scanned the list- whatever, whatever, whatever- and moved on. But, after taking it for awhile, I didn't like how the drug made me feel- I'd rather live with the hot flashes-so I asked Dr. Laudi how to wean off of it. I learned that people weaning off of it can have the worst side effects.

Mark, as usual, studied the side effects list like someone cramming for a final exam. This checklist memorized, Mark follows me from room to room or sits in his desk chair, swiveling round and around to observe and monitor me.

So, what was the biggest contributor to my pissed off, bizarre behavior? Effexor XR? Or getting burned by my husband's magnifying glass? If it was only that easy...

While Mark points his finger at the drug and refers to me as being "Effexored-Out" at times, I desperately need peace and understanding. Typically, Mark reacts to my diagnosis and my treatment in terms of how it affects him. It's like everything I go through is filtered through him first and becomes his in the process. Maybe this is just what happens when you love someone deeply- the lines between you become so blurred you are like one person. My pain IS his pain. My joy IS his joy. A beautiful thing in many ways, but sometimes I just need him to back off- to be accepting and supportive of ME... without first and foremost contemplating how things will affect him.

Mark refers to me in terms of "the old Sarah." The Sarah he fell in love with. The Sarah attached to him at the hip. The Sarah filled with fun, always up for an adventure, his partner in crime. He reminds me of how little I resemble "the old Sarah." The Sarah who didn't have breast cancer.

Cancer has a way of taking a lifetime and condensing it into cliff notes... For example, we live in a 2-bedroom townhouse that we bought when Natalie was a baby and we had only planned on living in for a few years. Then, Mark had an opportunity to start his taxi business, which he runs from our home (phones ringing constantly, people in and out), so moving has been pushed further and further into the future. When we only had 2 children and I had energy to run around and go places all the time- it didn't seem like a big deal. Now, we spend more time at home, our world is smaller and some days I feel like it is closing in around me. Mark is aiming for his "dream" home in 5 years. I feel an urgency to simply move into a bigger house now. (Effexor?) This week, I cried uncontrollably as I explained to my mother that I just want my children to have rooms of their own, rooms that we would decorate together, where they would remember me tucking them in at night, where they would think of cookies we've baked in the kitchen, or snuggling under blankets to watch a movie together in the living room or exploring nature in our own backyard. A place where memories of me will be with them, around every corner... even if I am not there. (Effexor?) This week, I screamed swear words and tried to spray Mark with the kitchen sink sprayer as he critiqued me from across the room. (Effexor?) I am short-tempered and lashing-out or I am empty and hopeless. (Effexor?)

For today, it's easiest to just point at Effexor.
So for today, Effexor gets the finger.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Doctor is In 5 cents

Within the past year and a half of my life:  I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  I have had tests and scans, radiation and chemotherapy,  and various medications for pain, nausea, etc.   I have gone through a pregnancy and given birth.  I had a total hysterectomy and am going through menopause.  I am married, the mother of three daughters, and I have now returned to work to ensure our health insurance coverage. 

I face my fear of pain and death and living day to day with cancer as it comes.  I have been touched by the compassion and love of friends, family and even strangers.  I have laughed and cried and when I felt the darkest clouds surrounding me, swallowing me- I have tried with all my being to hold the golden thread of joy close to my heart.  To choose joy.  To not let anyone or anything keep my joy from manifesting in this world...

The people close to me have their own fears and sadness and anger and sometimes these feelings sneak up on them unexpectedly.  In a flash of cold sweat, they suddenly picture their world without me in it and nothing- absolutely nothing- makes sense anymore.  

I know this is hard for Mark. His attention is pulled in many directions as he focuses on his business and our family and all the things about me that have changed.  He feels a deep sense of loss and an uncertain future.  I love him.  He gets the best of me and the worst of me.  I want to promise him I will be with him forever, but I can't lie and it frustrates us both.  Instead of focusing on cancer, I just want to keep going, keep living.  Cancer does not get all of me- every thought, every feeling, every breath.  I want to move, find a new car, enjoy my family as we had planned.  I want Mark to get on the same page and just live with me.

Mark scans the drug websites, convinced my feelings and thoughts and behaviors are a side effect of some drug or another or a dreaded combination of drugs.  My mom says she would need help to make sense out of all the things we have been through in such a short period of time- Amy agrees, anyone would.  We talk to Dr. Laudi.  We talk to a counselor.  We talk to a psychiatrist...  Mark feels they are distracted by my bald head- that I have tricked them somehow and he feels they have all ganged up on him.

The psychiatrist listened to me complain about our townhouse that doubles as a business site and my car that is falling apart and how Mark is oblivious to this.  He listened to Mark complain about how unreasonable my demands are and Mark's theories about hormones and drugs. 

The psychiatrist said frankly, "If I were in Mark's shoes and my wife were in yours, I would do anything I could to make things happen for her."

He was surprised that in all our complaints- neither Mark nor I mentioned cancer. 

Cancer is not the problem.  Cancer is my reality.  There is no Sarahwithoutcancer.  As hard as it is- Mark needs to accept this.  As Mark spends his time going off on tangents- searching and seeking and pointing at me and drugs, filling the pot to overflowing with possibilities- he fails to consider one obvious thing- himself. 

That's a hard thing to stare down.  Believe me, I know.  I am not led willingly to that mirror myself, but I have learned that most of life's answers are in the reflection- the problem and the solution are within the image before me, the image before each of us.

It says a lot about Mark- his strength, his character-  that he let down his defenses and let the words reach him and sink in.  It takes a brave soul to make the choices he has made- to risk breaking his own heart by loving- not the Sarahwithoutcancer or the Sarahwithcancer- but Sarah.  To choose to be my partner in this life, my partner in joy- to let go, to let it be, to just keep living....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Many mothers

Today, Olivia had her well-baby check up. She is almost 7 months old and weighs a whopping 11 lbs 13 oz. She smiled and laughed at every face she saw. I filled out the development forms, but hesitated when I got to the parts that asked about Olivia's diet. She is technically not breast-fed by me, but being bottle fed donor breastmilk. I discussed this with Olivia's pediatrician, a woman from Korea. She said people in this country are uptight about sharing breastmilk, but it is a common practice in many parts of the world. She told me a story about her husband. When he was a baby his mother could not produce enough breastmilk for him on her own, so another breastfeeding woman she knew would come each day to help feed him. To this day, her husband says he has 'two mothers'.

Three shots, and a heel stick to check Olivia's Hgb, ended our visit. I held her close and wiped our tears.

Later, I rocked Olivia to sleep feeding her a bottle of milk. Milk from one of Olivia's many mothers...