Cancer And The Single Gal, Part 1

It’s been a while since my last post. This blog was a bit of a security blanket during the worst of things..somehow recovery and the return to “normal” life made it less of a pressing need. Now that life is not so normal anymore, I’m feeling the old familiar urge to pour out my thoughts and feelings in black and white.

Life has taken quite an unexpected turn over the past year. My health is still good as far as I know. I mean, I get the routine pat down and once over, but my oncologist is of the belief that scans and cancer markers are only to be done if symptoms warrant them. And I’m ok with that philosophy being a firm believer in the power of suggestion to create illness. My body and I have a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement going on. It’s working for us so far.

No, what has floored me is my sudden evolution from a sometime chiropractor/fulltime domestic engineer to a single mom who finds herself navigating uncharted territory and needing to support a family. SINGLE…MOM. Not words I ever expected to actually apply to me, even though Lord knows the marriage was a roller coaster ride of alcoholism (his), codependency, and a failure to communicate. To actually take the leap and start a new life after the million times I fantasized about it…terrifying and exhilarating all at once!

Last summer, after a nasty argument fueled by a weekend binge, my husband decided to accept a transfer to another state while we weren’t speaking. I found out when my suspicions led me to check his e-mail and I saw that he had been looking at apartments in Atlanta. He admitted that he had accepted the job, and it appeared that he was leaving without us to start a new life. Things eventually settled down and we agreed to work things out and make the move as a family, selling our home in North Carolina to relocate to Atlanta. He started the new job in July while I dutifully stayed behind to pack, clean and handle every detail of getting the house ready to market while also setting up our new lives in Atlanta.

The girls and I headed South to Georgia the first week of August. No more beautiful 2 story house overlooking the mountains. We were in a dark, depressing apartment for a month with rented furniture, broken kitchen knobs and huge cockroaches in the corridors…four of us, and a dog and cat. The girls had to start new schools in the space of a week and adjust to brand new friends and a very different curriculum. My high schooler was way behind, which became evident despite doing 4 hours of homework each night. She was miserable. I was miserable. Atlanta was miserable. We would come back to Asheville to “check on things” at the house every 2 weeks or so. We let out a collective sigh of relief each time we unlocked the front door. Home.

In the meantime, our house wasn’t selling despite rosy predictions. With every passing day of anxiety and frustration, something in me snapped. I couldn’t do it anymore, so I made the decision to bring the girls back to Asheville and let them finish the school year in familiar surroundings. My husband and I agreed that we would try again this summer. My daughter would graduate and things would be easier…somehow.

Of course, once we got back, the house sold within a month. We were just about to take it off the market as the holidays approached, but we felt that we couldn’t let a solid offer get away. As Thanksgiving rolled around, we found ourselves scrambling to figure out our next move….

 

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Turning Points

 

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Here I am again, feeling like life has thrown a fork in the road, like someone is trying desperately to send me a sign. This has become a very familiar spot, yet I’ve always been too scared to go down the path less traveled. So I forge ahead with the familiar, a sense of dread engulfing me like a giant wave.

For the past few weeks I’ve been on medical leave from my job as I recover from my tissue expander surgery. I haven’t done anything particularly productive or exciting. Far from it. I’ve enjoyed a kind of peaceful solitude, spending hours in the comfort of my home, no children, no television, no stress. I’ve played in the dirt in my garden and spent long, self-indulgent afternoons having lunch or coffee with friends.

So why the sense of dread? At the end of the month, I return to my job, which I have honestly been trying to find a way out of for the past six years. At times like these, where I’ve gained the clarity only distance can bring, I swear that this is it. I will finally turn in my notice and set myself free. But I always go back and get sucked into the vortex, going through the motions, living for long weekends.

I know why this happens. I remind myself that I’m not independently wealthy…it would be too hard to cut back…I’m afraid we couldn’t make it without my income…and boy do I love those Disney trips! I am a prisoner of the lifestyle we’ve built. And a slave to an employer’s job market.

I wrote a lot early on in my breast cancer adventure about how I believe emotions can make us sick. Especially those of us who tend to bite our lip and suck it up. The anger that gets turned inward, the resentment that builds over years, the longing to find our authentic selves, all of that energy has the power to destroy us if it is never given a voice, if we never have the courage to face our fears.

I know I sound somewhat like a spoiled child complaining about having a well-paying job when so many are struggling, but I feel that a life without meaningful work can never be truly fulfilling. I want to find a calling, a passion, a career that stimulates me and feeds my mind. I just wish I knew what that was. I so envy my blogging friends who talk about their work with glowing enthusiasm.

One day I may find my niche, but for now, I think I just need a break to assimilate all that has happened, to “reboot” my system. I need space to play in the sunshine, to plant roses, to wander with my thoughts and find new adventures. I just need to be alive.

As my son would say, “First-world problems, Mom”.

Full Circle

Lisa's First 5K Feb 2011 002

There I was, February of 2011, having just completed my first 5k, the Frostbite. I was giddy with excitement, like a schoolgirl with a big secret. The secret was that I could really do this. I could really run with the big dogs and, while I certainly didn’t finish first, I didn’t finish in the back either, which had been my biggest fear in competing. Now, with a solid performance under my belt, I was “officially” a runner. I would go on to bigger and better challenges, and also to insidious challenges that would nearly level me.

It was almost exactly 2 years after this happy day that I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I had completely changed my lifestyle. I was eating a healthy diet and probably in the best shape of my life. I almost laughed when they tried to give me the results of the biopsy. I thought they were making it up or perhaps had been looking at the wrong chart. It’s funny how healthy you feel when you’re blissfully unaware of the truth. I was running 15-20 miles per week and had just come from the gym to the mammography clinic. And they were seriously trying to tell me that I was in the clutches of a monster, living on borrowed time?

Well, the news eventually did sink in, and I realized that I hadn’t been feeling quite as well or as robust as in the early days of running. The long Sunday runs were taking it out of me. Sometimes I would have to come home and just collapse on the couch, asking for help with bathing my youngest and getting dinner on the table. I just chalked it up to stress and trying to keep too many balls in the air. But deep inside, I knew. I knew that something was off; I was trying to keep it in my denial box. That box tends to stay pretty full.

And so last year I began an odyssey. Not a journey of my own choosing, but one that I endured kicking and screaming the entire way. I was poked, prodded, poisoned, and irradiated. Every outward sign of my identity as a woman was stolen…my hair, my breasts, my hormonal rhythm. I was, for all intents and purposes, chemically castrated. Cancer is certainly not for the faint of heart.

After all was said and done, I came through the other side alive. Forever changed, perhaps a bit more cynical about the promise of the future, but just as stubborn as ever. Now I’m taking back control of my life, and a big part of that will be my return to racing. Today, I will participate in the Frostbite 5k once again. I’m sick as a dog and feel as if I have an elephant sitting on my chest, but I won’t be denied. This is my year to tell cancer, “Take that, you son of a bitch! You may kill me one day, but you will not own me.” Only, I ‘m going to say it really quiet, in case he’s listening. Cancer is very vindictive.

Tomorrow I’ll let you know how I did and give you the first glimpse of the new me. Stay tuned.