What the hell?!?

I used to run before I got sick. I sucked at it, or at least I thought I sucked at it. I was probably actually pretty decent at it, but I felt so wretched doing it that there was no way I could confidently believe that I was good. My best time was 5K in 27 mins. That was “booking it” for me. I think I averaged around 35 mins. That gradually deteriorated before I got pneumonia and totally tanked after my lung collapsed and I didn’t know it had.

Yes. That’s how awesome I am. I lived with a partially collapsed lung for 5 months and had no idea something was wrong other than a dull ache in my upper chest and a series of runs that seemed to suck more than their normal level of suckage.

I used to run later at night. I’ve always found the air changes after the sun sets and I like how the night seems to quiet my senses.

Either way, there was a couple that used to run in the same area as me, and they always seemed to be out at the same time as me regardless of what time I went out. They kind of annoyed me, if I have to be honest. They’d wear matching black jogging suits and run in perfect sync next to each other. No reflectors or lights. Nothing flashy to let you know they were there. I’d see them sometimes and wonder what they were thinking dressing like that on a night run. They should have been a blinking Christmas tree, like me.

There’s a road in my neighbourhood that I always begrudged when I first started running. It’s literally uphill in both directions. I’d always take it on my return and it was a long and gradually climb up that easily stretched 750m before it dropped steeply down. It is one of those climbs that you don’t realize is a climb until you’re half way into it and find yourself wondering why you feel like death.

I used to own that hill.

I remember being on a run one night and the Bobbsey Twins tucked in behind me. They’d scared the crap out of me because I heard them before I saw them. They were right on my heels on the hill. I wanted to turn to see how much space they’d left for me but I didn’t want to break my stride, have them pass me, and be stuck having to pace myself in their shadows. So I’d watch our shadows as the cars passed. Every passing car showed me they were falling further and further behind. I admit to feeling giddy. I admit to even taunting them slightly, in my head. They were pushing me. They were forcing me to better myself. So I booked it up the hill, beat the traffic light at the top of the hill by a few seconds, and carried on down the other side and kept on trucking. Victory was mine.

Tonight, as I was on my walk, a car passed me as I was climbing the hill and I remembered the runners. It’s the first time they’ve entered my thoughts in probably two and a half years. My eyes welled as I realized if they were to show up tonight on that hill, they would have owned me and there would have been nothing I could have done to stop it. It took me almost a year and a half post surgery to accept that running isn’t something I can do anymore. I can weight train, I can throw kettlebells, I can bootcamp and circuit class with the best of them. I cannot run. I bet I cannot Zumba either, but really, should anybody really Zumba?

I walked along the sidewalk for about 500m choking back tears before I stopped to remind myself of how strong I am. Then this voice popped in my head and said, “Seriously? This is how it’s going to be? Don’t make me stuff your nose up on you!!”

I read something once online that said you know you’re fully healed when you can look back on what you’ve been through without crying. As confident as I am that the day will come eventually, I’m not sure I really want it to. It’s moments of weakness that remind us of our strength. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll have a day in my future where I’ll be able to move through the day and not be reminded of the battle I faced… but I think I’ve come to realize that when someone loses a part of themselves, that part is lost… and it only makes sense to keep looking for it.

 

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What they don’t tell you about being a ‘survivor’…

It’s been two years and three days since I received a call from my respirologist to tell me that I had a tumour in the middle lobe of my right lung. In so many ways, it is hard to believe. Some days I feel like it was just a dream and other days I feel like it just happened.

There are a lot of things about being a cancer survivor that nobody will tell you. The biggest thing for me is that it would take me two years to admit to myself, and to say out loud, that I am a survivor. Surprisingly, for me, it has less to do with believing it is gone and more to do with believing it was ever there. Sounds like an odd thing to say given I have a 22 staple scar on my back to prove it.

The other thing I’ve found, being a survivor, is that even when I’m confident that it’s gone, it’s still there. I liken it to being an abused child that jumps every time they hear a loud noise. Every lump, every bump, every itch, every scratch, every ache, every pain… it whispers cancer. I had a friend tell me that I should see a counsellor if that’s how I feel… so I spoke to someone I know that has “beaten” cancer three times. Her response? “Oh hell yeah!! If you can figure out how to stop that demon, let me know!” So I’ll rest with the idea that this is just how things are going to be.

And then there’s guilt… not an overwhelming guilt, but a guilt strong enough to remind me that I’ve won a battle that so many others have lost. I no longer feel like I’m entitled to this life I’ve been given. Every day has become a gift that needs to be earned.

I’m not sure if these thoughts will change the further away I move from this experience. Fingers crossed I’ll be around to find out.

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One year

I had my one year check-up with my surgeon on November 9th. Things went well. She is impressed with how well I’m doing. My x-ray looked great. My lung is expanding to fill my chest cavity (must be why it aches more today than it has in the past). Everything seems to be heading in the right direction. Having said that, I remember my surgeon saying it is very unlikely that any kind of regrowth or metastasis would appear in the first year, especially with the kind of cancer I had.

I’m not going to worry about it. If there’s anything I’ve learned it is that worrying doesn’t change anything.

I asked my surgeon if I could have a PFT done again. She wasn’t in the best of spirits when I was there, and I honestly hold nothing against her if she was having a bad day. She deals with significant, life altering issues every day. If there’s a god in the heavens, she’s his right hand. Either way, she kind of huffed at me when I asked. She knows I’m just as stubborn and determined as she is. I think it’s why we get along as well as we have. She spat out “You realize, your breathing isn’t going to be the same as before. If that’s what the issue is then a PFT isn’t going to show anything or help with anything.”

She kind of caught me off guard because she’d never been flippant bordering on rude with me before. I told her that’s not it at all, I recognize my breathing won’t be the same. I just believe my breathing has deteriorated from June until November and I want to understand why.

It wasn’t until I left the appointment that I started to wonder if maybe some of what she’d said was right. Maybe I’m still trying to reach for the normal that I was used to. It kind of struck me when I was leaving that maybe this is the best it will get to be for me. Maybe my body is set now and this is my new future. It’s left me feeling like I’m mourning. I’ve grown up knowing when you fall down you stand up and step forward. I don’t know that I like the idea of having to live the rest of my life feeling like I’m walking on my knees.

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Missing you…

I’ve never been someone that let’s people inside very easily. I always keep my doors half closed. If you want in, you need to figure out how to squeeze through the space that I left open for you. If you can’t figure out how to do that then you don’t deserve to see what’s inside of me. It’s that simple.

That’s been the sad truth for pretty much everyone that has entered my life. People only know pieces of me. Pieces I’ve chosen to show them. Pieces I thought they were worthy and capable of handling it without making a mess or screwing things up.

Except for one.

In my 42 years of living I’ve met one person I thought I could trust with every inch of my being. One person I wanted to show all my scars to. One person that I believed was worthy of an easy passage because I thought he was beautiful.

I was wrong.

I still miss him. Every day I miss a part of him. Every day I wonder how he’s doing. Every day I wonder how much longer I will have to search until I find him again.

I used to think Adele’s song “Someone Like You” was stupid. Why would you want to date someone like someone you’ve already dated when that person didn’t work out? It’s like she was blaming herself for the relationship failing. But she wasn’t.

I want to find someone like him again. Only a more honest version. A more truthworthy version. I miss feeling like I found home. I miss seeing someone looking at me and realizing just from a glance that they think I’m beautiful. I want to find that again… so I can stop missing him.

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Van… van… vanity…

I had a weird day today.

I had tried phoning a friend of mine last night and he didn’t answer and his voice mail didn’t pick up. I went to bed feeling kind of frustrated because he’d known I was planning on calling. I’m important. He should have been waiting for me. ha ha… (yeah right…)

Anyhow, I had today off work because I had an appointment at a dermatologist’s office in Toronto. I wasn’t sure how efficient the office was or how long it would take to get there, so I booked the entire day off. I thought it would be easier than telling my manager I need two hours off and then finding out I needed more.

So, I wake this morning to my phone ringing at 5:45am. It seems my friend thought returning my call at this time was OK because he knows I wake up at 5:30am every morning. I don’t remember much about the call. I remember hearing him slurp coffee. I remember hearing him say something about his dad is coming to visit and he’s not sure when he’s leaving. Then I remember him asking me why I’m up so early if I don’t have to work. Seriously?!?!

Hang up the phone from him, fall back asleep, wake up at 8am, check traffic and realize I’ll probably need more than an hour to get where I’m going. Hustle hustle.

Get to appointment a half hour early. That happens never. So I take a seat in this super bright white waiting room with probably 30 other patients. I scan the room face to face wondering what each of their stories are. Take my phone out of my purse thinking I could catch up on some Bonza and then tuck it back in my purse deciding I don’t want to be one of those people that sits there socially disengaged. So I scan the room again. Something about being in that space was making my head spin. It was so bright I felt like I was sitting at heaven’s gate. I contemplated going to look at some of the products they had on the display shelves, but I decided vanity is too addictive. I mean, let’s face it. I’m in my 40s now. I’m at an age where things are going to start to sag and bag and wrinkle. I’m at an age where society tries to convince us we’re not as beautiful as we could be.

Screw that shit. I’m awesome.

I don’t want appliques to tag under my eyes to stop my skin from sagging, or laser treatments to even it’s tone or a treatment here or a treatment there to fix what society thinks is broken. I’ve moved into a place in my life where I’m happy just being alive. There’s a peace that comes with that.

So, I go in to see the doctor. The office was running very efficiently. I was just there to have a mole on my back removed. It’s something I’ve hated my entire life and as part of my “you could have died but didn’t” recovery plan, I’d made a decision to get rid of it because I don’t want it in my life. He looks at my back and I’m waiting for him to ask about my scar, but he doesn’t. In my head I’m thinking “How can you not say something about a scar that large?!? You’re a doctor!!”

He moves through the motions. Tells me to lay down face down on the bed. Pops out a needle and tells me I’ll feel a slight pinch. I chime in with “I actually have nerve damage back there still, so I either won’t feel it at all or it’s going to hurt like a son of a bitch.” Finally, he asks what it’s from and I tell him point blank… “Lung cancer… life time non-smoker… life has a way of kicking us sometimes.”

He’s the first person in a professional position to actually question how something like that changes your perspective on life. I realized with that one question that he was, what I call, “good people”. Someone that realizes something like that changes your life but doesn’t cripple you.

After leaving there I went home and decided on a short 30 min nap. My head was still wonky from the waiting room. I woke up 4.5 hours later. Every joint in my body ached. I must have slept heavy.

I had the weirdest dream. I was in a parking lot heading to my car and noticed two guys stealing a bright blue pick-up truck. I made a point of letting them know that I saw them and knew what they were doing. They made a point of letting me know that they saw that I saw them. They continued to steal the truck anyway. The owner came out of the building after they left and said “Don’t worry, I had a feeling someone was going to steal my truck today so I’m OK with it.” WHAT?!?!

So I get in my car to leave and this yellow Lamborghini that I saw at the LCBO earlier today was following me. Wait? I went to the LCBO?

I circle back and park my car and it turns out it’s Jason Alexander and a buzzed-cut Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The guys that stole the truck. WHAT?!?

Needless to say, they were trying to kill me because I knew what they’d done and it was the only way they could think to stop me. So I went ninja on their ass and then eventually said “Wait a minute? I went to the LCBO?!?”

That’s when I woke up feeling like I’d been beaten. I trudged down to my car, opened the trunk and sure enough… two bottles of wine and some Alexander Keith’s Cider. It took me a good half hour to re-count the day and actually figure out what parts were real and what parts were imagined. I feel like I’ve been floating in a bubble outside of myself. Tell tale sign… I’m getting a cold. 😦

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Ramblings of a stranger…

I haven’t written in a while. It’s not that I haven’t had things to write about, I have. I just didn’t want to put the thoughts in my head into words on a page. I’ve been busy living, and learning, and making mistakes. I wonder if we ever reach an age where we don’t do things that leave us thinking “my god, what were you thinking?!?”

I joined a dragon boat team this past May. I know. Lose half my lung in November so the logical step 6 mos later is to sign up for an intense cardio activity that leaves no room for slagging or stopping. I’ve never been one to do things that make sense. I have this cursed habit of following my heart. Starting to think my heart doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

The summer went well. I paddled with a team of cancer survivors, and being in their presence healed me in ways I didn’t realize I need to be healed. There’s a strength that comes from surrounding yourself with people that understand the things that are left unspoken. There’s a comfort that comes with knowing that even on your weakest days, the people around you know how strong you are.

I miss it. Correction, I miss them.

I don’t so much miss the paddling as I do the people. As the summer progressed my breathing became more challenging. I blamed it on the heat, but now that the cooler weather is here I realize it’s not the heat. Something inside me has changed. I’m too scared to let myself think on it for too long.

I have my one year follow up in 5 weeks. If something has happened, she’ll see it. My guess is scar tissue. Please, just let it be scar tissue.

It’s hard to believe it has been a year since all of this happened. At least the serious parts of it. It’s still such a large part of my life. It’s still something that defines me. It’s still a subject I’m wary of talking about with people. Mostly concerned people will treat me differently. It’s one thing to feel different. It’s another thing to be treated that way.

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Things you realize when you’re told you have cancer…

A local radio hosts daughter died suddenly in her sleep, the morning after her first mother’s day, at the age of 24. Heart failure. At 24. There’s a whole list of reasons society has for that not being acceptable.

1) She’s 24. She’s too young.
2) A mother shouldn’t have to bury a child.
3) She’s a new mother and her son is now going to grow up never really knowing her.
4) She was healthy (although maybe not so).
5) She was a good person.
6) She was too young. Way too fekin’ young.

When I was told the tumour in my lung was cancer, I think a part of me went into denial and stayed there. There are 5 stages of grief and to get past denial you’re supposed to get angry, and there was no way I was going to waste my time being angry when there’s a clock ticking in my ear. Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock.

My reality is, if my cancer comes back, and I pray to God (that I may or may not believe in) that it doesn’t, it’s going to be in my brain, and it’s going to kill me. There’s nothing I can do to change that. I just have to sit, and wait, and wish, and pray.

It took a local radio hosts daughter dying suddenly in her sleep for me to get angry. I remember waking up and hearing them talking about her death on the radio and thinking, “Oh my God, she must be so sad. I didn’t know she was sick.” That’s when it hit me. She hadn’t been sick. She’d just had a baby. She was happy. Their family was happy. How is this fair?!?!?

Life isn’t fair.

It took the death of a stranger, a death that had no logic behind it, for me to acknowledge that life sometimes doesn’t make sense. Correction. Life, most of the time, doesn’t make sense. Like an obedient puppy, we are tossed a cookie now and then to keep us moving forward, but for the most part, do any of us really know what the hell we’re supposed to be doing?

What have I realized since being told I had cancer?

1) Life isn’t fair. Nobody said it was supposed to be.
2) I’m going to die.
3) I don’t want to die.

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