Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scanxiety - Living Large Beyond Stage 4

Yesterday I got the happy results of my third set of scans. Almost two years post-surgery and closing in on 18 months after chemo and radiation, the results are negative—meaning no evidence of cancer—so positive for me.
My entire body heaved a gigantic sigh of relief.
Living beyond cancer requires never-ending attitude adjustments for me. Days go by now that I feel “normal” and hardly think about cancer. As if, having had cancer didn’t really happen to me.
And then there are the days between scheduling a scan and getting the results, what another cancer thriver aptly labeled Scanxiety. It’s as if having the scan sets off a little time bomb in my head, tick, tick, ticking with fears of the worst threatening to go off.
When scanxiety sets in, the first thing I try to do is follow a social worker’s suggestion to look at FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real. Because I’m a writer and can’t help myself, I edit the F to Fiction. When morbid thoughts take over my brain I remind myself it is Fiction, like a chilling novel, pretending to be real.
On my worst days, I need more. Thankfully, one constant during this experience is, on any given day, if I stop to pay attention, I get exactly what I need.
I had my scans last Thursday. By Friday I was in cancer freakin’ meltdown mode when I came upon a feather on the beach. In case you don’t know, my friend, Sister Nancy taught me that feathers are blessings. The one I found on Friday was long and silky, the biggest feather I have ever found. That sudden supersized blessing coaxed me back to solid ground.
Last night, for the first time I saw a six month old message from a woman who worked where I did almost twenty years ago. She wrote because last October, she read my article about moving beyond cancer in the Philadelphia Inquirer. She shared that seven years ago, she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes, lungs, bone, and brain. Seven Years Ago. And she is still thriving and loving her family and friends—living proof there is life well beyond stage 4.
If your knowledge of Stage 4 cancer comes mostly from TV dramas and novels—like mine did before my own Stage 4 diagnosis—you may think of Stage 4 as gaunt and gray and bedridden, hovering at death’s door. That’s the way I thought of it “before” and some days that old myth is still really hard to shake.
It’s those hard days when I most need to be open to the lessons around me. If you ask me why I just saw a six month old message, my only answer is this. Some power out there greater than me rigged it so I saw it when I most needed the reminder that life goes on after Stage 4 and I am living large.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Living on Vacation

A few days before Jim and I left for Florida, my brother called to wish us a happy vacation. After a slight pause he added, “Wait, you’re retired and live in Cape May. You LIVE on vacation.”
Hum, is retirement in Cape May the same as living on vacation?
Two years into retirement, I still feel like I’m learning the ropes. When I first retired, I worried there wouldn’t be enough to keep me busy—that I’d be bored. Early on, my biggest challenge was learning to stop multi-tasking and over-extending myself and to get better at saying no.
Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m amazed at how much I savor the gift of time.
This memory about my mom helps to explain my point. My mom lived two hours away in Philadelphia, and visiting her took planning. One day I called to arrange a visit and told her I thought I could take a vacation day from work the following Tuesday or Thursday.
She said, “That won’t work, I have senior citizens on Wednesday.” When I repeated that it wasn’t Wednesday but Tuesday or Thursday that I wanted to visit, she said something like, “No, can’t do it. Two days in a row is too much.”
Back when I was working 10-12 hour weekdays and earning an MFA and writing novels on the weekend the resistance to doing something two days in a row struck me as absurd.

Now, two years into retirement I get it. The days with nothing on my calendar give me a perverse guilty pleasure. What a sweet surprise to find how much I relish slowing down and doing one thing at a time.
There’s still real life responsibility in retirement so it’s not exactly living on vacation, more real life without the  grind of a day job.
There’s an indescribable wonderfulness about real life without work. Add to that, getting to live in magical Cape May. It may not be vacation, but it's priceless.