All The Terrible Things

My diagnosis, as far as breast cancer goes, isn’t all that serious.  Stage 0.  Seriously, zero.  That’s about as early as it gets.  According to the doctors, I am “lucky”.  Unless, I imagine, they find something worse in the tissue biopsy after the mastectomy.  Then perhaps they’ll stop using that stupid word.  Lucky.  “It could be worse!!!” they say.

Which…OK.  It really could be worse.  I don’t know why I’m doctor-bashing.  Actually, I do:  they’re an easy target.  And frankly, I’m just pissed.  I’m pissed that I’m facing a life-changing surgery in a week, followed by months of reconstruction, and surgeries every 10 years or so FOR LIFE.  And hopefully no chemo, but we’ll see.  Bastards.

Yesterday I read that doctors are now prescribing tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer from starting.  I felt like punching someone.

In truth, none of this matters.  My cancer was found so quickly after I stopped nursing that there was no time for prevention.  And I was still thinking about maybe another baby, so I probably would’ve refused medication anyway.  I mean…37.  Thirty-freaking seven!  I simply had no idea.  I had been nursing – almost without a break – for the last five years.

Breast Cancer.  Still so weird.

I was hoping, though, that if I ever faced cancer, I would do it with more grace.  I find myself surprised by my totally misplaced anger.  In the first few weeks after the diagnosis, a friend called to say she was “so sorry” about my cancer.  I almost told her to SHUT UP.  Instead I took a few deep cleansing breaths – the issue, obviously, was me, not my amazing and loving friend.

This anger pisses me off.  It’s terrible, really.  I find myself snapping at my boys, being unreasonable.  Such a terrible way to deal with life.  Which, at the end of the day, is really what this is:  life.

It’s just life.

Part of the issue, I think, is the waiting.  We’re waiting for surgery,  then waiting to hear if I need chemo.  At some point, the reconstruction process will start, and another (smaller) surgery for the implants.   If I’m lucky, I’ll be done in 3-4 months.  If not, this shit could stretch out into next year.  The waiting is the worst.    The unknown feels terrible.

Perhaps I would feel differently if my diagnosis was truly terrible.  Perhaps then the unknown would be more comforting than reality.  I don’t know.  But I do know this:  even a “lucky” diagnosis is making me crazy.

The biggest challenge has been controlling my own thoughts.  It’s hard not to see everything as a sign.  (And I don’t believe in signs.)  I see a bird flying and think that must be what death is like.  Pax blows kisses and shrieks ‘BYE MOMMY’ and my stomach drops.  I read to Raines and think, “will I ever see him read?”

My doctors say YES, ABSOLUTELY.  And I know they are right.  But still…if I’m not careful, I end up living in a world of my own making.  But it’s a terrible world where the breast cancer kills me.  A terrible world where I can’t stop thinking Terrible Things.

Mike wants no part of this discussion, and I don’t blame him. He is not nearly as crazy as I am, and is much better at living in the, uh, actual world.  Not the terrible one of my own making.  These things in my head, all these terrible things are crazy, they are self-defeating…yet they feel, at times, so very real.  So real sometimes I can’t take a proper breath.

So I call my Mom.  My crazy comes from somewhere, right?  And besides…Mom gets it.  She gets it.  In fact, she’s lived through All The Terrible Things.  She’s lived through a diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer, and a prognosis of only 5 years to live.  She’s lived through a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and an ovarian cancer scare a few years later….she didn’t need me to say what All Terrible Things were, she already knew.

“Mom?”  I whispered when I got her on the phone.  “It feels like….it feels like…..I’m having a premonition.”  I told her about the birds.  About reading to the boys.  She interrupted me:  “Have you calculated how old the boys will be when you die?  Still in elementary school, right?”

I was quiet.  But in truth, I had.

“At some point” she continued, “you came to a moment of acceptance, right?  A moment where you go ‘I’ve had a good life.  It’ll be OK.’  Right?”  she asks.

And there it is.  The most terrible thing of all.  The one where you are sure, so sure that you are about to die that you start to try and accept it.  Accept that your children will be OK.  That your husband will go on.  And they will, but this is truly a Terrible Thing.  It’s a terrible, shameful thing and how did she know?  How did she know the most Terrible Thing of All?

“I remember, honey” she says.  “It means nothing.”

And then I sob in relief.

At some point I ask incredulously, “you calculated how old we’d be when you died???”  “Yup” says Mom.  “You’d be out of college, and Scotti would be out of high school so I thought, OK.  That’s pretty good.”

And then we both crack up.  It’s not funny, not really, but so crazy that it is.

My sense of humor is becoming a Terrible Thing as well.

Later Mom shared a quote from one of her best friends.  To date, it’s the most helpful thing I’ve heard:

Teene” said Mary.  “Please tell Shana that she can’t believe everything she thinks.”

And just like that, the weight lifts.

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12 Responses to All The Terrible Things

  1. Amy Haglund Bell says:

    Shana..I love your honesty. You say what many are thinking. I’m happy that they found the cancer early..and despite how much this may annoy you…I’m sorry that you are having to go through this. The old saying…”What doesn’t kill you….will make you stronger”… Right??

  2. stclementmom says:

    “Please tell Shana that she can’t believe everything she thinks.” I needed this. Thank you.

  3. Erica says:

    I have these terrible premonitions lately and I don’t even have cancer. Freezing a batch of cinnamon rolls the other day, I was labelling them with the date and got a flash of “once I’m dead, I wonder if they’ll preserve this tape so the kids could see what their mom’s handwriting looked like.” WTF??? So, you? I think you’re totally normal and handling a shitty, shitty situation with as much grace as can be expected. Also, I can assure you after going through this several times recently with sisters and best friends – the waiting is the WORST.

  4. Yehudit says:

    Dear Shana,
    I never read blogs. But I stumbled across your “how to fly with children” blog one day on Pinterest and instantly became a fan. Your humor and honesty is truly refreshing. I cant tell you how great it is to read something that i can relate to without all the, what i call, sap and cheese! That you put into words, what we all truly think and feel. I have a little boy of my own (not quite a year old) and I absolutely love reading about you, Raines, and Pax’s everyday adventures. Its fun having something to look forward to.
    After reading about your misfortune, the natural inclination is to say I’m sorry. But I won’t. Only that this totally sucks and I truly hope your boys (all 3!) give you all the strength you need to withstand this completely lousy hand of cards you were dealt. I hope and pray for you, that this hand is fleeting, and you will be on to a better one sooner than later. I look forward to reading your next blog in which you detail precisely how you beat this with your mighty wit and charm.
    Good luck and Godspeed.

  5. Dear Shana, thank you for sharing it all with us, including the brutal honesty. It’s life, and in the end, it will serve you to be stronger and better than you have ever been before- granted you are completely so super awesome already. One step at a time, one day at a time, and hold those kiddies close. We will miss you in the meanwhile – wind at your back, young lady.

  6. jen says:

    I agree with Erica when she said, “I think you’re totally normal and handling a shitty, shitty situation with as much grace as can be expected.” Besides, Grace is overrated, then you just look like a martyr! Be pissed! God knows I would be. Be however you want to be, it’s your cancer. There’s no right or wrong way to handle the grief that you’re experiencing. We are all pulling for you.

  7. penny says:

    Hey there pretty girl, awesome baby mamma, incredibly talented chick and real human. been a while since we talked- seems like you were contemplating the Pax man! too cute! yes, it is the old lady from boulder…came across your blog looking for your address. love love love what you and mike have created. life delivers the unexpected, and it can suck. life’s unexpected has also delivered great joy. live it all, feel it all, the anger, the disappointment – just get pissed off. and, stay open to the unexpected – it will continue to deliver you the smile of a child, the purple and orange of a sunset, the blue of a twinkling eye, the warmth of a tender touch, and the wet of a sloppy kiss. feel it all. ill keep you in my daily prayers as you move through surgery and healing. and now that i have your address, ill send some old fashioned mail your way. Penny

  8. Mom says:

    Oh, Shana. How did I miss this? When you call, we talk and we laugh. But when I read what you write, I want to sob. Love you, honey.

  9. ajdillinger says:

    I can’t imagine what you are going through, but a recent near-accident had me thinking all sorts of similar thoughts about my kids. For what it’s worth, from all appearances, you already seem to be handling it with grace. Thinking of you often and praying for you.

  10. Megan says:

    So, if after reading this you think, Shut the F up, I get it. But for what it’s worth, may I suggest that finding a therapist, when you have time and if you are so inclined, could be a wonderful release for you. This is a major, huge, not so happy thing in your life, and while family is GREAT for love and support, no doubt, in my own experience I have found that during times of crisis, an objective outsider has helped me marshal my own resources and given me insight into my feelings in a way that no one else can. It’s not like you walk out on cloud nine but it does release the pressure valve, so to speak, and can really make you feel better. Anywho, thinking of you this week for sure.

  11. chez says:

    “Teene” said Mary. “Please tell Shana that she can’t believe everything she thinks.” I just copied and pasted this for myself to read… and reread… and read again. I needed this too. Thank you. xo

  12. I can’t believe i just found this. Have been following your other blog… and this link was posted there. Man this was how I felt when I found out. Thank you, thank you.

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