Divorce vs. Cancer, by Mary Beth

January 20, 2012

I have not blogged on this site in quite some time. I just had my 5 year and 6 month check-up and I am good, a few minor problems but let me emphasize minor. The past year has been a very difficult and trying one. After 28 years of marriage I found the courage to ask for a divorce.

I have always been afraid of divorce. I am not sure if it was because I was so young when we met. If I was afraid of being alone… which is a funny concept because I have felt alone for much of my marriage. I was afraid of what others would think. I was afraid of the kid sharing. I was afraid that once I asked for a divorce he would not support us. I was worried about money, which is also a funny concept because I was worried about money with him too….probably more so. I was afraid because he was my first love. I was afraid to have to try to meet someone else to spend my life with and now even more so as a cancer survivor, with a double mastectomy. I was afraid because I love the idea of marriage and family and I desperately wanted to have a long-term marriage and a good family life for my kids.

We had talked about divorce many times and in fact were very close in 2006 and then the cancer diagnosis. We stayed together, but in hindsight I think that was the final nail in the marriage coffin… thank goodness in was not the final nail in my coffin. I learned so many lessons from my cancer, mostly what is truly important. It changed me in so many ways. I guess I thought it would change the others close to me too. I have learned that just because we learn lessons, it does not mean everyone else does. So many times after the cancer I felt like the glorified nanny and housekeeper. There were many issues that I could not talk about then, that I hope someday I can share in case other women experience the same with their marriages.

Over the past 5 years since my diagnosis, those that knew of my marital problems would say “you survived cancer, you can survive divorce”. I heard what they were saying, but I just could not find that courage. I felt cancer was different. I had a team of doctors that I trusted. They said “do this” and I knew I would do it and follow their directions to the letter. There is no trust in divorce… another funny thought because there was no trust in my marriage either. I was not blessed with being able to trust those who are supposed to love and protect you.

I was so afraid of asking for a divorce and then having my cancer come back, what would I do? I don’t know if my cancer will come back, but I know if I stayed it definitely would. I found the courage. Divorce is hard, but cancer is harder.

On the tough divorce issue days I think of the other Mothers on this site who are fighting their cancer daily, hourly and by the minute. I think of the women that we have lost and their valiant fight, they remind me everyday what is truly important and then I remind myself… “if I survived cancer… then I can survive divorce.”

Please say a prayer or lots of prayers and healing thoughts for one of our fearless and amazing leaders, Susan, she has been having some breathing and pain issues and was admitted to the ER on Tuesday.

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From my daughters perspective

August 27, 2011

Written by  Jenny jaydub26 and crossposted to Get Out Gertrude

I’m not the only creative writer in the family both OD and MD have talents in that direction too.

MD is finishing her degree in primary (elementary) school teaching and as part of that she has to take a general education paper, that is one not related to the other course papers.  She decided to do an English paper and one of her assignments was to write a short narrative essay on an important experience.  This is what she wrote – she got a great mark for it and I think it captures some of our family dynamics perfectly.  

Standing in the gardens surrounded by flowers, trees and shrubs, I thought of the photo on the wall at my parent’s house. It was old, the frame was starting to fade and the gold detail flake away. The photo itself was still filled of colour and I could still remember that day. Eighteen years had passed since that photo was taken, my mother’s hair once long and curly is now replaced with a short wispy cut and there are scars on her chest and neck from her endless battle, my dad has aged with time, and the three girls are all grown up. In the photo I was six and wearing my favourite blue dress with little black bows printed all over, my older sister was wearing a colourful jumper and her long dark hair tied up in a bun. My little sister YD standing in the middle of us two, a big smile on her face as we held her hands tight to make sure she stayed in place. Mum and Dad were standing behind us, you can’t see it but they were holding YD in place as well. It takes quite an effort to get a good photo of YD.

“Smile”, eighteen years later and I was standing there, holding YD’s hand so she stayed in place once more.  We moved around the Botanical gardens, having photos taken in various different areas. We stood by an old wooden gate with rusted bolts and nails, moss was starting to grow over the wood in patches and it sagged close to the soft dark soil on the ground. My black heels sunk slowly into the ground like an anchor lowering into place. Photo after photo was taken, and my smile started to fade and feel fake as we moved again to a new part of the gardens for a change in back drop. Then I heard it, the start of one of YD’s meltdowns. She grizzled and groaned, mumbling about how she doesn’t want any more photos, then it developed into a cry and scream.  I could understand her frustration; we had been taking photos for over an hour. People started to stop and look; this is nothing new to my family. I walked up to my little sister as she was hunched over sitting on a seat by a big native tree, and gave her a long and tight hug.
She cried and told me how she had been trying hard but it was boring, she does not like waiting, its part of having autistic tendencies. I asked her why today was important. Why were we getting photos taken? She replied “because the other photo is old”. If only life was so simple, we were getting a family portrait taken as we do not know how much longer we have together, because my mum is sick. YD knows mum is sick but she doesn’t need to know the severity until she has too.

As we walk towards the cafe to have afternoon tea, I put my arm around YD’s shoulders and tell her she did well today. I feel an arm around my waist, its warm and pulling me tight. The hand is pale and thin. I feel an immense amount of happiness in that moment, its YD’s hand. She doesn’t physically show emotions like that very often. We share a special bond my little sister and I, it’s not a normal relationship but its only one that we understand and I am her best friend.

Our first family portrait on the wall at my parent’s house shows a young family with an unknown future ahead of them. Life has changed in many ways, we have all grown up and moved out of home, my big sister is getting married, YD has lived longer and overcome obstacles we didn’t know she would.
There have definitely been some hard times. But the new portrait, it shows a family of adults that can overcome anything, that are still standing all together and holding YD’s hands so she stays in place. Family portraits show more then who is in your family, they show who your family, as a whole, are together.


When your children are far away

October 2, 2010

I actually planned this to be my first post on ‘Mothers with Cancer’ but ended up writing about ‘Pink October’.

On the 4th of September 2010 a 7.1 earthquake shook things up in the South Island of New Zealand. 

What does this have to do with ‘Mothers with Cancer’?  I am a IBC survivor and I live in Auckland, towards the top of  the North Island of New Zealand.  MD (my middle daughter) ,22 years old, lives at the army camp just outside Christchurch with her fiance who’s in the army (she is training to be a teacher) She lives near the epicentre (these pictures from my personal blog are of the aftershocks surrounding her on the 4th and the 5th of September).  We got woken by a phone call just after it happened.  They were fine but a little ‘shaken’ emotionally.  But this event really hit home for both of us how far away she lives from us about 1600kms (1000 miles) and seperate islands.  My first instinct was to jump on  a plane to go down there or get them on a plane up here.   Both she and SB had commitments down there so them leaving wasn’t an option.  MD and I kept in touch talking several times a day but it did effect me emotionally not being able to physically give her a hug.  

We ended up having quite an interesting discussion towards the end of the first week of aftershocks (they are still happening 4 weeks after the event)  about the fact that as much as both of our first reactions had been to want to be together, I had brought her up well enough to be able to stand on her own two feet emotionally without me physically holding her hand.  these events have made it  even more evident that mothering doesn’t stop when you have no children living at home.  No matter how old they are, I am still a mother to my girls.

She shared that when she tells new friends she has made down there about my cancer and the fact that I have had a recurrence since she moved down in July 2009 when  I was in remission from the initial diagnosis – and that when the earthquake happened we were awaiting results from an echocardiogram, CT of chest, abdomen and pelvis, and MRI of my brain to investigate ‘niggles’  – all clear thank goodness! – their reaction has been one of ” Why on earth did you move down here when your mum is going through all that?” 

When I first got diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer and found out how aggressive and potentially life- threatening it is I very quickly came to the decision that I didnt want my older girls to put their lives on hold for me.  At that stage they were both in University study and I told them I didn’t want them taking time off their studies, but even more than that I didnt want them to change there dreams and plans for their lives.  As much as I hope to be alive to see them get married and have children I dont want them to fast track anything just because of me.  Them living their lives and dreams just the way they want to will ultimately make me the happiest.  Its hard sometimes but we all agree with it. 

We did the Dove Pink Star Walk last night and I know MD was disappointed not to be part of the ‘Get Out Gertrude’ team.  She is flying up next weekend to spend sometime with us to celebrate her 23rd birthday and has volunteered to help me out on the Friday at the Pink Ribbon Day street appeal so she feels like she is involved somehow, that she has done something to support me.


my husband’s chest

November 11, 2009

You don’t need to tell me how lucky I am.

I have a roof over my head, great medical care and I’m surrounded by people who love me.

And don’t think I forget how very lucky I am to be alive at all. Why did I get to go into remission? Why me? I am indeed very fortunate.

But there are times when I do feel sad that I will never put this cancer behind me. I feel the toll ongoing treatment takes on my body and my emotional well being.

So last night I stood in my kitchen, with my head on my husband’s chest (we say we were built for each other. My head lands flat on his chest and tucks under his chin). He put his arms around me and we just stood there, breathing together.

He didn’t need to say anything. He understood my frustration. Only a few hours before I was finallly feeling sharp and healthy and energized. And then, after chemo, I stood in his arms, feeling sick and more than a little shaky.

He didn’t remind me how lucky I am.

But I know it.


aware of the irony

November 9, 2009

Life is funny.

This morning was perfect weather for a bike ride. The sun was out and the temperature climbed to 17C (that’s 62.6 in American). It was my first time on the bike in more than a week – since before the plague toppled my family, like a series of dominoes.

It was a fun ride, and I didn’t even mind the big hill I have to climb on my way to the hospital. I arrived twenty minutes after I set out, a little sweaty and with my heart pumping. As I locked up and headed into the cancer centre, I noted with pleasure that I hadn’t been coughing.

“It feels good to be healthy.”

I very nearly said it out loud.

I was suddenly struck by the absurdity of my situation. Here I was, going to get my bloodwork done the day before chemo and thinking about how healthy I am.

Three years ago, at almost exactly this time of year, I learned that my cancer had become metastatic. I don’t think I could have imagined this day, when I’d be riding my bike up Smythe Rd. and thinking about how healthy I am.

So, as I was saying at the beginning of this post – life really is pretty funny.

Cross-posted to Not Just About Cancer.


July 14, 2009

(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo)

This is what I felt two weeks ago, when I first learned about my brain mets.
—————————————————————————–

I was devastated.

My first thought, beyond my own anguish, was how to tell my mom.
(fast forward: My parents were really terrific when I told them. Though they were clearly distraught by the news, they did not freak out. They asked intelligent questions, understood that I did not have all the answers, and just continued to shower me with love and encouragement.)

It was not until one of the nurses asked me about it, that I realized I would have to tell my kids.

In those first few moments, I did not know whether to tell them right away or not. We did not have much information and we honestly would not be able to answer many questions. Yet I did not now how I could not tell my kids right away. I could not stop crying; I would have to explain why. Even if I could stop crying, my kids are smart and sensitive, they would figure out that something is wrong.

I also realized that I could not talk, or write, about any of this until they knew. It would be unfair to tell other people before them. Not only do they have the right to know what is going on, but I do not want them to have to deal with other people’s reactions from a position where the other person knows what is going on and they don’t.

I would basically have little or no support until the kids knew. That seemed unfair as well. My decision about when to tell the kids should be about them, not about me. On the other hand, this news was so big, how could I just pretend everything was “normal.”

I consulted with the social worker. As she spoke with us, I realized that I felt quite strongly about telling the kids before they suspected anything was wrong.

Maybe if I found out during the week, life would be so busy that I could put it off telling them for a few days, until we had more information and more answers. But the next day was Shabbat, when we spend so much intense time together. The kids would pick up on the non-verbal stuff, even if Moshe and I were careful not to discuss anything around them.

Unacceptable. I never want my kids to feel like we are hiding things from them. Knowing that we are completely open and upfront with them gives them the confidence to take what we tell them at face value and not be troubled by infinite doubts and fears.

On the way home, Moshe and I discussed this further. Moshe suggested playing things by ear. We did not have to decide right now. We could wait a bit and see how things go.

That took a lot of pressure off. We had time. Time to absorb the news ourselves and time to figure out how to frame the news to our kids. No one would be home for several hours.

Moshe wondered if he should stay home with me. He had a major deadline at work, so I insisted that he go in to work. I would be fine.

I called a close friend, who I knew would be a good listener. She was not home.

I called another close friend. It was good to talk with her.

Then, I was alone. Alone with this aweful news.

Later, the first friend called back. When she heard the news, she offered to come right over. She has five small kids and it is often challenging for her to get out but, at that moment, she could come. I decided to stop stuggling to keep it all together — “Yes,” I accepted her offer, “please come.”

My friend was still over when my youngest daughter came home. My daughter had some things to do for school (remember, this was two weeks ago), so she went into the computer room to work. I told her that I would be in my room, with my friend. We spoke for an hour or so. Though I still felt overwhelmed and extremely frightened, I also felt calmer and ready to face the world. More importantly, I felt ready to face my kids.

That evening, our home was filled with more than the usual chaos. I had spent the day in turmoil. Moshe spent the day dealing with all the beaurocracy of my new diagnosis. My eldest spent the day at the beach with friends of hers from school and came home exhausted and full of energy at the same time, as only teenagers can be! My son spent the afternoon at school, preparing for their end-of-the-year play (more on that another time). And my youngest finally finished the project that she had to turn in to her teacher. Everyone wanted my attention!

Did I mention I had tickets to a play that night?

OK, there was no way I could listen to all my kids, share what I had to share, help them absorb it and leave to see a play. Something had to go. I decided I could wait to share my news.

So, I listened as everyone clamored for attention, loving the healthy chaos of it all.

Then I pulled myself together, put a smile on my face, and went out to have a good time.


The 20-Year-Plan

February 5, 2009
(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo)
———————————————————-
Something has been bothering me for a while now.
 
A few weeks ago (or maybe it was a few months ago), during one of my meetings with my oncologist to discuss switching to Taxol, I casually asked if this change is going to “interfere with my 20-year-plan.”
 
My doctor immediately became serious.  “Who gave you that number?” he queried, adding “I did not give you that number.”
 
“I know,” I responded, reassuringly.
 
I completely made up that number.  It is a random number, representing my intention to live with this cancer-thing for a long time. 
 
But then, I got worried.
 
“Why,” I challenged, joking, “is it too short?”  Then, I added, verbalized my fear, “Or is it too long?” 

But my oncologist would not play that game.

“I do not do numbers,” he declared, quite seriously, “You know that.”

I do.  But the Pandora’s Box was open.  Perhaps I was just living in my own little fantasy world.

So, today, I got up my courage and asked, “Am I deluding myself?”

Now, though this conversation has been plaguing me for months, it was not immediately obvious to my oncologist that I was referring to his comment about my 20-year-plan.  So, I reminded him of our conversation and, a little bolder now, repeated my question.  “Am I deluding myself?”

“It’s a bit of a long shot,” began my oncologist. (ouch)  I imagine my face fell a bit. “I am not telling you something you do not know;” he continued, leaning forward in his chair, eyes locked on mine, “you are familiar with the statistics.  But you also know that I do not make predictions.” (yeah, I know)

He cited a patient of his who has been living with metastatic breast cancer for 23 years. (He did not give me any details, of course)

“It is reasonable,” he continued, a bit softer, “to plan for the future.”

And, though it is unusual for him to give his opinion about what I should do, he added, “I think it is right to live your life that way.”

I wish I could remember exactly what else he said, because he gave me a rare compliment about how I am handling living with cancer exceptionally well.  It was really nice.

Then he asked me if I knew I had 18 months left to live, would I do anything different?

I said I would get things in order.  To which he responded, quite sternly, “you should do that anyway, and it has nothing to do with cancer.” 

Then he continued, “my guess is that if you knew that you had only a year and a half left to live, you would accelerate your lifestyle, not slow it down.”

I conceded that his assessment was accurate.  But still, I persisted. “I talk with my children about the future, even about the long-term future.”

I wanted him to understand that it was important to me not to be deluding myself, and also not to be deluding my family.

He got it. 

“Planning for the future is the best thing you can do for both you and your children.” 

He wanted to make sure that I got it too.

I got it.