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.


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.


bone loss: a public service announcement

September 18, 2009

I have been reading Cancer Fitness by Anna L. Scharwtz. I’m only a few chapters in, but the book has already taught me some important things.

I don’t tend to devote a lot of thought to preventing bone loss but I did know that regular weight-bearing exercise helps prevent bone loss and to build strong bones. And while I walk and run (just finished the Running Room‘s beginner program again), I really don’t do any strength training (or core work, for that matter, despite repeated promises to myself).

Cross-posted from Not Just About Cancer.

The women in my family tend to have strong bones (and good bone density) but what I didn’t realize was how many factors put me at risk:

  • early menopause, as a result of chemotherapy.
  • doxorubicin (Adriamycin, the infamous “red devil). I had 6 rounds (this is also the drug that temporarily damaged my heart).
  • decadron and other steroids (I had higher doses with the first 6 rounds of chemo but I still get decadron through IV with every chemo treatment, to help mitigate side effects).
  • lorazepam (Ativan, which I use only occasionally for insomnia. I had absolutely no idea that it caused bone loss)
  • regular consumption of caffeine.


And I don’t drink very much milk, either.

Remember, that promise to myself I made in January? Well, I have not made as much progress as I would like. So, I signed up for a fitness class at my local community centre that incorporates core work and strength training (since the free weights, stability ball and exercise bands don’t seem to be doing much more than collecting dust) to get myself started. Now, I have another reason to get to it.

I also took a calcium supplement today for the first time in months. Those suckers are horse pills but I think I need to get back into the habit of choking them down.

What are you doing to prevent bone loss?

Cross-posted from Not Just About Cancer.


New and Improved! Now even better than before!

October 28, 2008

That’s me.  New and Improved.

The obvious, of course, is that experts have worked hard to remove all cancer from my body.  As a result, I am now Cancer Free.  And we all know that the less ingredients something contains the more it is worth. Today, however, I received an unexpected upgrade.

This afternoon I had my optometrist appointment.  The first one in a little over two years.  I hadn’t really remembered much from my last appointment.  My main goal is always to get my contact prescription refilled and get on with my life.  But that particular year, 2006, I was in the midst of breast cancer treatment.  I had just finished 8 rounds of dose dense chemotherapy, had just had my first single mastectomy and was regaining my strength in anticipation of 6 months of oral chemo in concert with 6 weeks of radiation therapy.  In short, I had other things on my mind than my eyes.  So I was a bit nonplussed when Dr. E asked if my cataract had been bothering me.

I didn’t even remember I had a cataract.  Once he said it, though, it all did sound vaguely familiar.  Something about a very small developing cataract that we were going to keep an eye on…

At any rate, Dr. E settled in to begin my exam.  “Let’s get a look at that fading near vision.” He says as he hands me a card with impossibly small letters on it.  As he logged my results in my chart it was his turn to look a bit confused.  It seems my near vision is better now than it was two years ago.  I reminded him that I had been in the midst of chemo last time and under a significant amount of stress to boot.  Perhaps that had effected my eyesight.  He was skeptical.  “Maybe… but that has never been my experience.”

Whatever, I know what stress can do.  A bit of blurred vision is the least of the possibilities.

Then he moved on to “get a look at that cataract”.  Only he couldn’t find it.  You read it correctly.  He looked and he looked.  He used about three different lights and all but crawled inside my eyeball his own self.  Seems I no longer have a small developing cataract.

Dr. E is such a jovial man.  It was wonderful to see him all but scratch his head and smile while he said that it just must have been the chemotherapy because there certainly wasn’t any cataract now.  He declared me “Too perfect.  More perfect than last time.”  and sent me on my way.

A little over two years ago I had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a small cataract, fading near vision, and cough-variant asthma.  Today I am cancer free, cataract free, have perfect near vision and no asthma issues to speak of.  I’m a advertiser’s dream!

More importantly, I am blessed beyond measure.

Cross posted at I Can’t Complain Any More Than Usual


2 years and counting

October 21, 2008

Yesterday was my 2nd anniversary of the end of chemotherapy. I’ve had 668 days on this Earth since my cancer diagnosis. Each and every one of those days has been a gift and a blessing. Even the ones when Danny made ungodly messes on the floor. And the ones that required extra parental patience. And especially the ones where God’s presence was paraded in front of me like a slide show of perfection.

I can’t imagine not having spent these last 668 days with my kids and Daddy-O. And I am blessed to be spending the last few months with you. That being said, I’m finally beginning to lose that waiting for the other shoe to drop feeling. I’m starting to feel like I just might stick around for a while.

My mom and I were talking about just that topic this morning on my way to work. About how neither of us ever really worried about ourselves while undergoing treatment. All our resources were utilized worrying about our children – me with Ben and Danny; she with me.

Isn’t it odd that neither of us worried about our own mortality? Today is the first we’ve spoke on this particular topic, yet we have matching views. I know from my dad’s death when I was 14 that dying is the easy part. Being left behind is where all the hard work is. I guess we both figured we’d be pretty good at dying so there was nothing to worry about there. Ha! Who ever thought “dying well” would be a necessary skill set?

However, my new goal is “living well”. It looks much better on a resume, anyway.


“I Feel Good” (cue James Brown)

September 29, 2008

I wasn’t a blogger when I had cancer. Mostly I think that’s a bad thing. It would have been interesting to read back over my posts from those first days after diagnosis – to hear the shell-shock in my words. Or those days of chemo and radiation and pure exhaustion. But other days, I feel that it’s all for the best to have those memories locked up inside me in a place that only I will ever see. Overall I am an extremely positive person, but there were some fairly desolate hours during treatment.

All of that only makes me more aware of how far I’ve come. How good things are these days.

I have always had a strong constitution yet the year or so before my cancer diagnosis (when I was pregnant with Danny) I was plagued by irritating physical issues. I wasn’t sick, per se. I was, however, very “run down”. I developed a cough that wouldn’t go away and eventually made it so difficult to catch my breath that I found myself spending New Years Day 2005 in the Emergency Room. This was not my first trip there either. I’d been twice before for the same thing. I would just cough to the point of (wetting myself) and not being able to get any oxygen. The very act of talking was almost more than I could handle at times. Those of you who know me understand how torturous that was. The long and short of it was Cough Variant (Bronchial) Asthma irritated by my pregnancy. Those were bleak days. Hey… maybe that’s why chemo wasn’t so difficult for me. At least I could breath.

So… the point I’m trying to make is this…

Here it is, our End of Fiscal Year at work, and I’ve been working my tail off. I worked 58 hours last week and 56 the week before (including weekends). I go home and have visitation with my boys (that’s what it feels like these days), order in some dinner and collapse on the couch until everyone under 4′ tall is asleep and I can finally go to bed myself. Then it all starts over again the next day. And yet, I feel wonderful. Exhilarated. Tired, to be sure, but good.

I can breathe. That’s always a great thing. I’m not so short tempered as to be a shrieking harridan with my husband and kids. Shamefully, this has not always been the case in the past. And I have enough energy to go to and enjoy Ben’s soccer games, surf the internet and manage my fantasy football team.

It’s funny how we tend to lose sight of our blessings – like good health and abundant energy – in the midst of our work-a-day world. Those all important things that we take for granted until they are pulled from us. Today I am counting my blessings.

Side note: I just got a sad call from Daddy-O. All male members of my household are home sick today. Laid low by head colds.

Cross posted to I Can’t Complain Any More Than Usual


How to be happy in spite of it all, part I

September 2, 2008
Just after I returned to work after breast cancer treatment, a co-worker paid me an incredible compliment. She told me that I had handled my diagnosis and treatment with (I am paraphrasing here with all the accuracy Chemo-Brain permits) incredible grace and, well, I can’t remember what else, but it was good. The general idea was that I had a wonderfully positive attitude that continued to astound those around me.

I pshawed her, of course. Because, there was nothing graceful about my actions nor reactions. Nothing heroic. Nothing brave. At least I didn’t think so. I was just doing what I had always done during trying times. What I had watched my mother do before me. And my grandmother before her. I put on a happy face.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Or maybe you’re thinking simplistic is more like it. Well, you’re probably right. When others began asking me exactly how I stayed so positive in the face of a daunting cancer diagnosis and 90% recurrence risk, right on the heals of my finding out my infant was born blind, well, I couldn’t explain it. At least not in terms of usable information. It’s just something I’d been raised doing. I didn’t know quite how to explain the process.

Then I found The Bounce Back Book, by Karen Salmansohn a few weeks ago. It’s a short little self-help book, more along the lines of a pocket manual than a book, but it certainly clarified things for me. Salmansohn has a knack for doing exactly what I could not; break down the process of having and maintaining a positive attitude.

In her book, Salmansohn offers 75 tips for “thriving in the face of adversity, setbacks, and losses.” Many of these tips are a bit redundant, merely rewording the same advice to fit a slightly different situation. Sometimes that’s what it takes, however, for understanding to register. Hearing something many, many different ways. I don’t mean for this to be a book review, yet if I had a friend going through a rough patch and looking for a way to fight negativity, I’d consider sending The Bounce Back Book. We could all learn a bit from it’s pages.

For my purposes here, I will tell you what I took away from this book. That is, I will share with you those behaviors (as identified by Salmansohn) that I have practiced over the years and feel contributed to my success in overcoming the more negative crap life has thrown my way.

The Formula
Each of us has a genetic tendency toward optimism or pessimism, according to The Happiness Project in the U.K. This, however, only accounts for about 50% of our personal happiness equation. The rest is all about what you do and the choices you make. Dr. Jonathan Haidt even came up with a fancy, schmancy formula to become happier. And he’s a Positive Psychologist, or a positive psychologist (I’m not sure which-but I think it might make a difference) so he ought to know.

H = S + C + V 

H = happiness level C = current conditions
S = set point for happiness V = voluntary activities

I happen to think Dr. Haidt is on to something.

Family
About that genetic predisposition towards happiness, or not. I guess I must have it. We’re real Nietzsche people in my family, “What does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And boy, oh, boy, have we been getting stronger in my lifetime. I’ve always remembered my Mom laughing off the bad times. She always found the humor in life when I was growing up and still does to this day.

Humor saved the day when I was fourteen years old, sitting in the front row in front of my Father’s casket with the rest of my family at his funeral. As you can imagine, it had been a stressful few days after he’d died, no matter how expected his death was. We, as a family, have always turned to humor in times of stress. True to form, when we noticed that the florist’s shop had placed an arrangement directly in front of my Mom’s chair that was completely bug-eaten, we just couldn’t stop the giggles. I’m sure the entire congregation behind us thought we were sobbing uncontrollably, in reality, we were shaking from trying not to laugh out loud.

We’re sort of wacked, I know. But that outlook has served us well, over the years. In general, we try to always see the humor in a situation. One of my very first comments after my cancer diagnosis, which came close to Christmas 2005, was that I wouldn’t have to worry about what I ate over the holidays because I was starting the Chemo Diet come January!! Woohoo! Holidays, here I come!

My family could have focused on the loss of my dad, instead we chose to break an overwhelming situation down into more manageable pieces. We focused on the insect-riddled flowers to get through the funeral.

Similarly, I chose to see the diet-free holiday season as a silver lining instead of the dark cloud that was a cancer diagnosis. The cloud hadn’t blown away and my dad was still gone but my outlook on the world was much more positive for my efforts.
Cross posted at I Can’t Complain Any More Than Usual