Things that are hard

While I am generally able to be surprisingly positive about most things, I don’t want to give you the impression that I shit rainbows and that everything is puppies and love around here.  Today is a good day to talk about bad stuff. I really struggled with this post because I couldn’t decide if writing about these things would make them more real somehow. Ultimately, I decided that sharing them might make my burden a little lighter and help me come to terms with some of these things as my new reality. So here are my “top” nine things that have been hard.

  1. The first time I told a stranger I had breast cancer. He was the lovely young man who did my bone scan after my diagnosis. I left Ryan in the waiting room, and the man started my IV and asked what brought me in. It seemed like I was talking about someone else when I told him.
  2. When I was told to immediately wean Kieran. This was also on diagnosis day. Having breast cancer means you can’t breast feed. I did not cry when I was told I had cancer. But I did cry when I realized that Kieran’s last feed had happened earlier that day and that things would never be the same.
  3. I was Kieran’s primary caregiver. 6 days after diagnosis, I couldn’t pick him up. My surgery made it impossible for me to pick up my son and cuddle him. Ryan has done an amazing job of taking care of Kieran, but there were days I was too sad to get out of bed.
  4. Pumping and dumping after surgery. After my partial mastectomy, I still had milk and was in danger of developing mastitis. I had to pump daily to wean my very confused breasts. I hated pumping on a good day. This just made me angry and sad.
  5. The long nights between my diagnosis and the scan results that would tell me if my cancer had spread. Those five nights were exhausting. Sleep was non-existent, pacing was mandatory. I would sneak into Maddie’s room and just lay beside her until the sun rose.
  6. Ryan’s explanation of how we had been together longer than we had been apart. That our lives and selves had become so intertwined that he didn’t know how to be himself without me.
  7. Wondering how Ryan will cope without his Rhea and how Maddie and Kieran will cope without their mama.
  8. The fear that my children will know me through pictures. That I may never see Maddie graduate from grade school or walk Kieran to his first day of school or know what they look like as adults.
  9. The crushing guilt that because of me, my family has to endure this. And that my children now are genetically predisposed to cancer.

Things I am thankful for

You know what has been amazing through this whole garbage situation? All of you. Before this happened, I likely felt a lot like you. I felt like I had lost touch with the friends that I loved, that I spent too much time on the things I didn’t enjoy, too little time on the things that should matter most, too much time being angry at the people I cared about and maybe even felt that I had lost touch with who I was. This post is to tell you that you are loved. That those friends are just a text away, that your loved ones love you right back (even when you’re acting like an ass) and that people think about you and wish all the best for you far more than you can imagine. Today I say thanks to as many people as I can for all their small and large acts of kindness towards me, because I am so very grateful to all of you.

To the Pascuals, the Hodgins, Ryan’s co-workers, the Silvesters and my parents: Thank you for all the flowers. They brightened my day and finally prompted my otherwise silent Kieran to point and say his first sentence: “What’s that?” I had been so worried that he would never talk (shocking that anyone would be rendered silent in this house!) that finally hearing his little voice made me straight up ugly cry.  To all those who have nourished us with delicious treats (the Silvesters, the Wus, the Hermans, Ryan’s staff again!) thank you for keeping us all fed while we struggled to even think about the idea of eating. To Madi, a Cornell mom who answered my message in a bottle. To Sarah at Turning Hedz who opened up her salon on her day off to give me an amazing haircut and help me donate my hair to someone else who might need it more than me. To Jenn who has hooked me up with amazing clean beauty products to keep looking fab throughout this decidedly un-fab time. To my Milliken Family who knows me well enough to get me a night out and sparkling wine to celebrate when all this is over. To my Milliken Ladies, Michelle, Rosie and Saulyn, for inspiring me to continue to stay positive and grounded and most of all, grateful for what I have. To Lori and Che Wei, survivors who have walked this road and are a testament to the power of positive thinking. To friends and family far from home (Miami, Montreal, Dryden, Thunder Bay, Doha! India! Other Places!) thank you for the international love. To ever person who has reached out to Ryan, listened to him, laughed with him, magic noodled with him. To Ryan’s principal Michelle who found a way for him to be with me and the kids the entire rest of the year. To Lady Kathleen for all of her sage advice and wise words. To my Treen who has already picked out a theme song for me (“Survivor” of course!). To Stephanie who makes every appointment feel like a chat with an old friend. To all the amazing people who take care of my children at daycare and at school and ensure that they are happy and well-loved. And to every person who took the time to reconnect with me with for dinner, drinks, texts, Facebook messages, hot pot, ramen, whatever! I cannot thank you enough. Some of you I have not heard from in 20 years, but your messages made me feel like we never lost touch.

To my family (Senguptas, Berrys, Gooderhams, Williamsons, Beriaults, Tullochs, Wests, Tosky-Hoards, all y’all!). You have been there through it all. The tears, the small victories, the challenges and everything in between. I am so fortunate to have each and every one of you.

Finally, to Ryan. There aren’t enough words. I could not do this without you.

Changes

All stories have a beginning.  This is mine.

Around August 2016, I noticed a small lump in my right breast.  At the time, I was 4 months pregnant with Kieran.  Breasts change, especially during pregnancy, so I thought nothing of it.  Plus…busy mom! No time! By October, however, I could not ignore that lump.  An ultrasound revealed a cyst and my doctor told me not to give it a second thought. She said it would be gone by the time I gave birth and was likely a milk cyst brought on by hormonal changes.  Three months after Kieran was born, rather than disappearing, my cyst was larger. Again, I went to the doctor and another ultrasound reinforced that it was a cyst. November 2017 rolls around.  Kieran was 10 months old and my cyst had grown; the doctor explained that it had doubled in size and had a thickened wall.  I was sent to the Breast Health Centre at my local hospital where my surgeon, with 35 years experience, reassured me that I had a common milk cyst and offered to drain it on the spot.  I hate needles so I left without getting it drained. But something made me go back (perhaps it was Ryan’s incessant nagging, but one can never be sure).  My cyst was drained on December 20, nearly a year and half after I first went to the doctor. It was not milk.  Then began the tests. First, a mammogram and a triple biopsy revealed that I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Following that my doctor ordered a bone scan, CT scan and blood work to find out if my cancer had spread to my brain, liver, bones and lungs. The days spent waiting for these results were perhaps the longest of my life. Thankfully, all were negative. I had a partial mastectomy on January 18, only six days after my diagnosis.  It has been about five weeks since surgery and I’ve completed one chemo session out of eight.  I wanted to write this post because I think my story is essential; it is a reminder that you can eat organic, not use plastic, exercise daily, get your greens and get checked again and again and still….and still. This is by no means meant to scare you, even though I could see how it might! It is merely a gentle reminder to be kind to your body. It may not be perfect but it is perfectly yours. Listen to your body and always make the time to get something that doesn’t feel right checked out. It may just save your life.