Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Repost

In 2013, during the month of October, I asked people to write for me about breast cancer and how it has touched their lives.

One of the people who wrote that month, was my friend Ginnie. I met her on a First Descents trip and learned that we didn't actually live that far apart. We were able to get together a few more times before she moved from this area. But even still we kept in contact through the internet.

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you I learned yesterday Ginnie passed away. While I know that she is no longer in pain, and am grateful for that, I'm very sad and angry that she has passed.

It is in moments such as these that I think how incredibly unfair life can be sometimes. And even though I know the phrase memento mori (remember you must die), death still sucks, and losing friends is still hard.

Anyway, with this in mind, I'm going to reprint the words Ginnie shared on this blog a year and a half ago.

Random Sputterings by Ginnie

Ginnie and I bonding over our compression sleeves!
It’s October again and we all know what that means, it’s all about me!  And by me of course I mean all of us that have been affected by this super awesome and popular disease called breast cancer.  Aren’t I lucky? I have a whole month of people telling me all about how “aware” they are of breast cancer and giving me statistics about it.  Well I have to say I really don’t care about any of those statistics.  I am one of the “lucky” few that is metastatic, meaning that the breast cancer has already spread into another area of my body.  For me it is my liver and abdominal lymph nodes, for others it could be somewhere else like bones or brain.  So the only statistic I care about was back in January when my oncologist said I could die in two months or maybe make it to two years.

So before I ramble on let me give you a little background on me.  I was 29 when I went to my doctor about this weird lump in my armpit that I had noticed off and on for at least a year.  I was in nursing school and we were learning how to do breast exams and what lumps felt like.  I guess I got more experience than anyone else that day because I got to feel a real lump.  I saw my GP’s resident who told me not to worry about it because it was probably nothing but let’s just schedule an ultrasound to be sure.  Well the ultrasound wasn’t too bad and the doctor then said let’s schedule a mammogram and biopsy to look at my breast to check again.  Later that evening the breast surgeon called me at home and told me that I did in fact have breast cancer and I needed to do an MRI that night to check if it had spread at all.  It had, but only into the lymph nodes in my armpit. So I immediately started the most intense chemo that they had because I was young and “healthy”. Within a week of my first dose of chemo I went to the ER with the most awful pain I have ever felt to this day.  I was admitted to the hospital and then promptly coded and almost died.   

Luckily that staff was all over me and I woke up to a lot of strange people all around me and my mom crying in the corner of my room.  After that it just got more interesting but I’ll skip all the details and tell you that I did chemo, a bilateral mastectomy with lymph node dissection, more chemo, radiation and more surgeries.  Throughout all of this I was totally fine with having cancer.  It never bothered me and people always told me how positive I was or what a great attitude I had.  I have to say though it just never occurred to me to be upset about it.  Except once, the day it sank in that I was never going to have biological children.  I remember talking with my mom about it and sobbing hysterically.  We even talked about going to a fertility doctor and getting inseminated so I could have a baby before I started all my treatment.  I visited a fertility expert to find out what my options were, but I was not comfortable with the risks associated with those options so I decided to do nothing.  My doctor was insistent that I have my ovaries removed to lower my risk of recurrence but I refused in the hope that maybe, just maybe I could get pregnant when this was all over. 
So fast forward two years later and I discovered that there is never going to be an “all over”, I am going to die.  I am never going to have a child.  I am never going to get married and have a normal life.  I find that I can’t even really think of dating now, because how to you tell someone that you want to get to know them but oh wait I might die this year or next if I’m lucky.  That’s just not a conversation I want to have.  So I know that most women and men that have terminal cancer are older than I am.  Sure there are people like me that are younger, but for the most part people have already lived a long life and made a family and have people who love them more than anything.  I can’t help but be bitter over the fact that I waited to start my life and now I don’t get to have one.  I struggle with this pretty much every day in some way.  I am lucky in that I have a father who tries to help me when he can and two older brothers and sisters-in-law that have tried to be supportive.  My main support was always my mom, she was my best friend and rock until she died from Stage IV pancreatic cancer.  I am still dealing with issues that have resulted from that.

The only thing keeping me sane at this point is my bucket list.  There have been things I have always planned on doing but never did because life got in the way and now that I have lost my job thanks to cancer, I have plenty of time to do things.  I would tell any terminal patient or even anyone in general to do the things that will make you happy.  If there is a trip you always wanted to take but couldn’t, take it now.  Don’t wait.  I realize that I have been lucky because the chemo I was on all year didn’t make me very sick and that that isn’t the case with everyone.  I really believe that the reason I still feel great is that I have taken the time away to do these things.  I went skydiving in Ottawa and it was fantastic!  I left Chicago in June to drive old Route 66 to Los Angeles and had a great time discovering things along the way.  I spent time with cousins I hadn’t seen in years.  I drove up the California coast.  I visited wine county and went to a wine tasting.  I hiked Yosemite and ran into a bear that thankfully didn’t think I looked like dinner.  I drove through the desert of Nevada all by myself in my little car with more than a hundred miles of not seeing another person.  I visited the most beautiful National Parks and saw the most amazing scenery God ever created.  I met up with an aunt I hadn’t seen in years. I got to drive through the midwest and feel the breeze on my face and just enjoy my time without any thought for my disease.  I made it back to Chicago at the end of July.  After that I flew to Austin to visit my cousin and cross off some more things off of my list.  Then in August I drove out to Washington, D.C. to participate in a kayaking retreat for young adult cancer survivors.  It was awesome being able to meet more people that have gone through the same things I have and that I could relate to.  The next place I went was South Carolina to see the Atlantic ocean.  I figured since I drove all the way to the Pacific I had to finish my journey by crossing the entire continent.  I am looking forward to my next adventure even though I have no idea what I want to do next.  Hopefully I will figure out something soon. 

So what, you ask was the point of this blog? I have no idea.  I have chemo-brain.

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about MBC, here is what I shared about it 2 years ago.

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