When one is part of an overwhelming experience, it is hard to know or where to start or to sum it up in a few words or stories. I now understand a bit how my son Owen must have felt when he returned from a semester studying abroad in Patagonia. As I hugged him at the O’Hare baggage claim, I wanted him to start sharing everything about his adventures, but instead, there was initially not much spoken. It was enough just to ‘be’ for him. We eagerly awaited stories that unfolded the following days and weeks as the hundreds of photos helped him share his journey and its’ impact on his life.
So, when I crossed the finish line at last weekend’s Avon 2-Day Breast Cancer walk, the completion was bitter sweet. My mind raced…the exhilaration of completing a lofty goal, the physical fatigue of finishing 39.3 miles of walking in two days, the emotional exhaustion of the experience with 3,000 other walkers and the joy of seeing my family there to support me as I walked the last steps through the pink arch.
The finish line was a bit backed up, so people had to wait their turn. The group that finished the walk just before me must have pre-planned an arm-locking routine to cross the finish line together. I took the photo because it captured how I felt. Their image is emblazoned in my memory. The fact that this group is nameless and we can’t see their faces is particularly moving for me. It illustrates our society’s ongoing fight with breast cancer. We need to work together to find better prevention strategies, drugs, radiation techniques, therapies and support systems. Nobody should be left to navigate or endure cancer alone.
At the final rest stop, I did a superman ‘costume change’ in the cramped and well-used port-o-let. I purposefully pulled on my cotton Avon walk T-shirt that had been signed by my sponsors. I had started the walk with the shirt on so wanted to finish full circle. The signatures were my ‘team’ that walked with me spiritually. Their support (or the buzz of their texts of encouragement) fueled me in a way that rest stops could not. When I thought about quitting at mile 12 the first day after a slight calf pull (or riding in a sweep vehicle), the ‘team’ cheered me on. When I felt pain, I imagined what cancer patients go through every day and my temporary plight seemed to lessen. Yes, my body was only a team of one, but every signature on the shirt walked alongside me and crossed the finish line with me.
So, as I am still decompressing from the event and what it meant to me, I’ll mull over what to write about it for future blogs. There are enough ideas and content to keep me busy for quite some time. The journey continues and there are new goals to be set. But for now, I’ll enjoy some time on the front porch catching up with all the loose ends in my life and basking in the glow of being part of a movement profoundly bigger than I.
It’s time to start thinking about my last breast reconstruction surgery. My pre-op appointment with Dr. James Ferlmann is on Monday and I also meet with Dr. Rodney Nelson, my physician and “medical quarterback.” As I have a few ‘extra’ things to worry about, I have to get my blood regulated prior to surgery and that starts soon. I’ll go off my blood thinner medication and give myself a shot of Lovenox twice daily to bridge me through surgery. The shot thing is never my favorite part of prepping. (Although I did visit a GI doctor this week to schedule my first colonoscopy and the prep for that looks simply horrid.) Life is full of necessary evils and this is one of those things I have to check off the list to get my reconstruction completed.
So now it is REALLY time to decide whether to go with saline or silicone implants. Dr. Ferlmann will ask me in T-minus two days and I need to have an answer. My current saline expander will be removed and replaced (left side) and my right side will undergo an augmentation to match my left side. I’m not going for the Dolly Parton look, but rather something practical and “B” like. Heaven knows I want to be ‘in balance’ in the future. One of my earlier blogs listed the pros and cons of saline and silicone. After talking with a nurse friend this week, I’m thinking saline is going to be my choice. Unless my PS gives me an unfavorable statistic about saline at my pre-op appointment, I’m going with what I consider to be the ‘safer’ route for the long term. If I ‘pop,’ there will be no worries – deflation, yes, but my body will absorb the fluid and I’ll just run around with a flat tire of sorts until I can get it changed out. So, I guess I’ve made my decision, saline. One less thing to worry about.
Another thing that passes through my mind before each surgery is my mortality. The ‘what if I don’t wake up?’ thoughts creep into my conscious thoughts. Not that life won’t go on without me, because it would, but rather the idea of being separated from my family and friends and leaving the known to go to the unknown is unsettling. As a positive-minded person, I’ll try and replace these thoughts with some PMA.
Today has been a mortality reminder. A friend and parishioner from Holy Cross, Kathy Kelly Rosales, was buried. Kathy lived the past eleven years with a rare cancer that claimed her life last week. She was fondly remembered today and even though our paths have not crossed for many years, the bond of having our children grow up together endures. Steve and I saw many familiar faces from our children’s grade school years and had a chance to catch up with some friends we hadn’t seen in too long. I even made a new young friend, Mary, a 9-year-old, who is a delight and gives me hope for the future. Today also brought back a flood of memories of Steve’s sister, Nancy’s cancer ordeal and funeral and the sadness of those left behind after a loved one dies. I also had a flashback to my youth as I was in college when my mom died unexpectedly. A connection to Kathy’s daughter, Lauren was felt during mass as the finality of losing a mother was so raw on her face.
Each day is a reminder that life is a gift (why do you think sunrises and sunsets are so beautiful?) And gifts are meant to be shared. I share my blog with you in the hope that it will help those with DCIS as well as those that love and care for them. Make your day count!