Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I have a Dream: A Cancer Cure

What does January 15th mean to you? 
Today is my dad's birthday. For a couple of more minutes. 
Today is also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s actual date of birth. 

January Fifteenth. 
My dad and Martin. Quite a day in the history of me. And of America. 
I shared my thoughts on their joint day here last year. I even made the article a "Linky" so that other bloggers could add their ideas on ways to honor the day. By all means check it out for inspiration. {Here ends the excellence-in-education portion of this article. If you came searching for bulletin board inspiration ~~ you may feel free to return to Pinterest. I won't be offended. Come back tomorrow, cuz I've got a great set of 'winter' ideas to share.}

January 15th, 2013. Start thinking pink. 
I've just had a chance to call my dad and I've serenaded him and so now I find my mind turns to the 'other' more recent, meaning of January 15th in my life. Today is also the third anniversary of the surgery of my bilateral mastectomy. 
A milestone, to be certain. Life altering. Life affirming. 

Let's go back to January 15th, 2010. Start thinking pink. 
I purposefully considered and then chose my father's birthday for this milestone in my life, because I thought just sharing this date for my body-altering event would loan me strength. As I awaited surgery with my heart pounding and head racing, I felt that the good-luck charm of my daddy's birthday cake hovering there on the calendar, would calmly and confidently move me forward into the unknown. I knew me well. 

So what thoughts do I have that are even quasi- appropriate here today, 
Jan. 15th, 2013? What can I articulate worth sharing? What has three years of reflection and healing brought me? What do I think you might benefit from reading? Let me mush on and then edit liberally. 

First thing. Keep in mind that we are just now back from a cruise to sand-swept islands, where everyone was clad in bathing suits for large slices of the day, so my immediate thoughts are probably skewed in the direction of body image. Mid January in the midwest is considerably different than on the islands. Months on end, wearing turtle necks and heavy wool sweaters is considerably different than time-on-end in extreme sunshine round swimming pools. 'Nuff said. Turns out displaying cleavage is an international obsession  attraction goal  reality.

Yes. There are still times I 'catch' myself gawking at that dramatic cleavage, obviously-on-display, apparently seeking answers to unknown questions on behalf of my own sunken, puckered, no-longer-bruised chest. {Have I mentioned previously that I chose NOT to have plastic surgery? That's a subject worthy of next year's rant.} There's a place in my grown-up mature brain that says, "Debbie this was your decision." Then the antagonist on my other shoulder says, something purely Reptilian and antagonistic that starts off with, "Yeah, but... and ends with: look at that!" 

The next series of interactions between these two cartoon characters on my shoulders usually includes reminders of the facts of history and the truth that Victoria had always kept her Secrets from me, this cantilevering of body parts had always exceeded my capability. That truth is followed by a wistful walk down memory lane that includes bittersweet stops to a dank gym-class locker room as I first notice that Prszby is bursting out of her training bra while I stand there is an undershirt with a ribbon. That memory is followed in quick succession by a summer camp comment that I thought was directed at my favorite appliqued butterfly t-shirt having bodacious curves. Then eventually, me finally catching onto that pimple laden 'compliment' not referencing the applique at all, but my own emergence from chrysalis. Finally my spin-the-bottle memory nonsense concludes the parade of time. Puberty. Gotta LUV it. 

My breasts served me well. They nursed my babies till they took their first steps. They did what they were designed to do. They performed with incredible capability and efficiency when called upon to provide life. A wonder of the world, my breasts. Small by Hollywood standards, but mighty in the greater scheme of things. Brilliant. Bravo. Breasts!

Fast forward a few decades. Relax. I'll keep this all PG-13, but let me raise an eyebrow just far enough to tell you that I continued to appreciate every aspect of having  my breasts available on a daily basis. True. My breasts were never part of my 'professional' package, I never counted on the cantilevering for my career, but they continued to serve me well in private. Nuff said. Wink-wink. Insert steamie-face emoticon here. Turns out to be a good thing that I never counted on cleavage for my career advancement. 

The truth is that three years is plenty of time NOT to mentally gasp when I step out of the shower in front of all of those mirrors. Yet 3 years is still apparently before I quit attempting to imagine all the pleasure sensations that are long since gone. Breast Cancer. Gotta HATE it. 

Having a husband demonstrate his support on a daily basis, through the 'in-sickness' part of the vows is a blessing beyond measure. I am richly blessed. I know that from the tips of my toes to the tops of my torso. He wins. My gift from heaven this man. Thank you, honey. From the bottom of my tear-stained heart. [I know of many other women not so blessed. I know first hand the stories of marriages ended with the intrusion of the beast. I know of families torn apart. I know of professions ended. There are anals of conversations filled with sadness and suffering unforeseen prior to diagnosis. Thank goodness in this day and age, there is a support system for survivors, just a click away.]

You wanna know what really prompted my going public with a few thoughts late in the day? I  just received the news that yet another brilliant woman I admired immensely, perished this weekend from the beast. Yes. That means that she died from Breast Cancer. Dead. Died. Forever. Dead. 

She was brilliant in so many ways. She was a professional musician as evidenced here, but to those of us in the BC community she was equal parts storyteller, poet, comedian, master-gardener, cheerleader, humorist and general all round Renaissance persona. Over this past year I have traded my daily screen-hours at BCO for hours amid bloggers, so I wasn't aware of our favorite fruit's final descent. My last Apple-interactions were indeed about faith and poems, during our mutual friend Saint's own last days. Apple offered us immense doses of each: poetry and faith, and we were profoundly grateful. I found the announcement of her death on FB. So I was caught completely off-guard.  I'm still rocked. Indeed. Knocked completely over.  A world without our-Apple? Who would want to imagine? What a loss. Words are inadequate. Pointless at a moment like this. Words. Words. Words. Sorrow. Sorrow. Sorrow. 

So on the third anniversary of my being cancer free (for my second diagnosis of early stage BC, hence the bilaterial. Yes. My first diagnosis was just months after I turned 50. Two plus years prior to this anniversary. I told you I have a LOT of cancerversaries.) I find myself absolutely aghast. Angry. It has nothing to do with my body image, but with this constant and never ending loss of brilliance. Loss of gifts in their prime. Loss of creativity. Loss of such magnitude. Where is the outcry? Where are the screaming masses? Where is the outpouring of emotion that turns the tide? What is it going to take? Who will we have to lose, that will galvanize the powers-in-charge to make monumental progress -- dare I say it? 

"I have a dream." 

My dream has just four letters. 


Yes. Three years is long enough to heal scars. With the ever present reality of shallow-end-of-the-pool early Lymphedema also in my system (the seldom discussed ramification in all of those pink BC pamphlets,) I continue to survive. Surviving is such a mixed bag on cancerversaries. There are so many components jumbled together in my ever-shifting stew: survivors guilt, triumph, memories of specific procedures both archaic and cutting edge, aftermath of complications, followed by more unforeseen complications, firing my surgeon-seeking a whole new team to undo complications, moving forward, clothes that never fit, that continual heaviness across my back and through my arm that never relents, pain always there, months and months and months and months and months of physical therapy required to enable me to lift my right/dominant hand above my head, pure delight at the dawn of this new day..... its all there for examination on January 15th. Stew indeed. 

In the end, I am ever so grateful to have my father at the helm still guiding and offering example by his firm foundation -- having his daily prayers on my behalf shore up the loose edges when I feel frayed. Sharing the day with Dr. Martin, I dream of lives that are whole from birth to natural death. I dream of lives of contribution that rattle on and on. 

Having January 15, 2013 and a screen in front of me, I pay tribute to those whom present day science has failed. I honor those we've lost. Imagining Apple and Saint together with AlaskaDeb, Bethie, HeidiHo, Connie1, CTG and Watson is a table of raucous giggles most glorious indeed. That their table must continue to add more chairs surely means that their Heavenly committee can move this research forward. These are women I met. Women I knew. Women science failed. Women my age and YOUNGER gone. Dead. Children without mothers. Tables set without mom. Holidays celebrated with no wife at the helm. 

I honor those still taking one step at a time on this Planet Earth. Surviving is the greatest honor available. I have the sash to prove it! I am deeply humbled to have that honor and responsibility. I will do everything in my power to 'survive' and THRIVE. Mary and Pat would accept nothing less. I am the poster-child for 'early detection saves lives.' We are each the best advocate for our own health. I am the cautionary tale. Listen. Listen I say! Do everything in your power to safeguard it. Get some exercise. Eat some veggies. Have your mammograms on a timely basis. Breath deeply. Relax. Seek balance. Join me in the prayer for a cure.  

-- Debbie -- 

Resilience is a gift. Mine seems to be continually tested. After my first set of surgeries in 2007 and the 36 trips to the hospital for radiation therapy and the prescription of Tamoxifan, I was supposedly to have less than a 1% chance of recurrence. Yup. less than 1% is what science predicted. You know that means one in a hundred ends up starting over with a second diagnosis. Yup. I'm the one in a hundred that statistic describes. Had to be somebody. I appreciate your continued support. I count on it. I count on your prayers. I count on your gentle hugs when we're together. We have daughters, a daughter-in-law and 2 grand-girls..... a total of 7 grandchildren. 

I dream of a day when this scourge is gone. Gone forever. I dream of a C-U-R-E. 

can I have an amen? 

Thanks for your support! I am so appreciative of your pins!

Thanks for your support! I am so appreciative of your pins!
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