Monday, November 24, 2008

11/24/2008: Lymphedema

When Laurie and I drove up to the store we joked that the name sounded similar to "rectal." That should have been our first clue. Nothing good can come from a store that sounds similar to anything having to do with your butt.

I was referred to Vienna Rexall Drug to be fitted for a sleeve that I have to wear when I fly. There was some urgency to get it soon because my trip to Los Angeles was quickly approaching. The sleeve comes in different compressions in order to keep your arm from swelling due to lymphedema. My compression is 20 percent and it is TIGHT! Sleeves are cotton, but are made with a thick microfiber. I don't have lymphedema, but as a preventative measure I will have to wear one on my left arm any time I fly on an airplane for the rest of my life.

After checking in, Laurie and I waited for the woman who would be fitting me for my sleeve. This means that we proceeded to find the most ridiculous and inappropriate items and make fun of them while giggling like ten-year-olds. What else can you do when you are dealing with cancer? … Hold up a hernia belt and make gestures that our mothers would frown upon. A woman approached us wearing jeans and a denim button-front shirt. Holy double denim! This was clue number two.

She ushered me back into a small area that looked like their storage room. Laurie stood outside the curtain with her eyebrows raised waiting for me to give her the okay to join me. I ushered her in referring to her as "my lady." The woman reviewed my prescription and looked at me in confusion. She said, "What are you, like 12?" "Um, no. I'm 26," I responded annoyed. Just like everyone else, she was shocked at the severity of my cancer at such a young age. With that came a series of questions, such as "Did you find it yourself?" "How big was the tumor?" "How were the lymph nodes involved?" Then out of nowhere she asked, "Do you have any children?" "No," I replied. "Well, I hope you have a good support system then," she said next. I looked over at Laurie and her expression encompassed my frustration and annoyance.

After a call to my plastic surgeon to verify the necessary compression, the denim clad lady returned to take my measurements. I slipped my arm out of my sweater and with a small measuring tape; the woman carefully measured my wrist, forearm, bicep (which I flexed for her amusement) and the length of my arm. I fell into the tiny end of the small sleeve bracket on the back of the package. Surprise! Surprise! I was given two sleeve options: one with a silicon grip at the top and one without. I tried on both with the denim clad lady's assistance. The sleeve is extremely difficult to get on without help. Once I made my decision (which was the sleeve with the silicone grip at the top) I was then instructed to try to put the sleeve on myself. She explained how you can use a trash bag to help roll the sleeve on. It was ridiculous. I just looked at Laurie and tried not to giggle as this woman demonstrated putting a bag on her arm. This should have been clue number three.

You have to put sleeves on a certain way because all of the compression can't be in one place at once because it can cause trauma to the arm. Of course putting on the sleeve for the first time was a challenge, but I managed to do it without the silly trash bag. The visit to the butt store was successful, but let's just say Laurie and I were happy to finally leave and return to normalcy.

Monday, November 3, 2008

11/3/2008: Fellow Survivor

When I was a freshman in college and a new member of Alpha Omicron Pi I was learning about some of my older sisters. In doing so, one of them shared with me her favorite quote.

"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." -- Albert Camus

I loved it so much that I used it as MY favorite quote from that moment forward. And as new AOIIs came through the chapter I shared with them this quote. I believe that it is only in our darkest hours that we truly see ourselves for who we are at the core and embrace the beauty that lies within each of us.

As we dined over fajitas and enchiladas, Jennifer and I spoke of our survival with cancer. Jennifer is still undergoing chemotherapy and has an indescribable passion about life and helping other women facing breast cancer. I listened as she recounted her story and the traumatic experiences, like losing her hair. She and I both agreed that losing our long, beautiful hair was one of the most difficult parts of the journey. We were planning our hairstyles while we grow our locks back out and discussing how many years we think it will take to get it back to the length it was pre-cancer. We thought three to four years seemed about right.

Jennifer and I had only spoken over e-mail and this was the first time we had met face-to-face. After a lunch that lasted over four hours, we were old friends. We talked about the most personal of topics, including intimacy after a mastectomy, weight gain from steroids (holy bloating!) and even our inner most fears about the cancer returning. (I even give myself daily breast exams even though I know I don't have breasts anymore.) However, our conversation wasn't all consumed with the horrible aspects of our cancer. Instead we continued to say, "Cancer is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

I know, it seems like such a strange sentiment, but with all my heart, it's true. Jennifer spoke about how she would drive in the car with her children while on the phone with her friends. She realized that no one was getting 100% of Jennifer's time. This disease has afforded her the opportunity to re-evaluate her life and put her priorities back into place. She is more present in the moment. She believes that cancer has made her a better daughter, mother, wife and friend.

I shared with Jennifer that I have taken a step back and really looked at my life. What do I want? I feel as though I have been given another opportunity at living my life and I am so excited about what's to come. I still have so much growth work, but who doesn't? Instead of following a timeline set by society, I am taking the yellow brick road less traveled (thanks Jana) and enjoying my journey … wherever it may lead. I have never felt more centered in who I am and what I deserve. I am genuinely happy.

My journey is far from over and just because my reconstruction ends in February/March it doesn't mean that cancer is no longer a part of my story. The depths of winter have unveiled an invincible summer that will guide me in helping other women who face this same journey. Because like Jennifer, I can show them that cancer can be the best thing to happen to them, too.