HBD (Humble Birthday)

Well, there’s nothing like a birthday (and some extra time on my hands while recovering from surgery…) to make a person evaluate how much life can change in the span of year.  I spent almost exactly half of the last year rolling along, unaware of the cancer growing inside me, and the other half fighting a physical and emotional battle against an unexpected and unwelcome demon.  On my 40th birthday I was in a pretty decent place, feeling good about most of the things in my life (working on some others…).  In December I tackled the initial news head on and battle-ready, but the full weight of a cancer diagnosis was not easy to bear over time.  Where I once was strong, I began to feel weak.  My independence, which once felt liberating, began to feel like a prison.  My love of solitude turned into feelings of loneliness.  I didn’t even recognize myself.  Where was the woman I was just months before?  How could my very personality change so much so fast?  Who was I?

I was cancer.  I was letting it overtake me.  Especially once the chemo got nasty and I felt like crap much of the time.  I struggled, tried to find ways to stay upbeat and strong.  I kept doing things because I knew I had to in order to keep my head above water, whatever I could to feel normal (working, socializing, yoga-ing, running errands, petting kitties, cooking, walking, cleaning, meditating, hugging Maggie and Kevin whenever I could <3), but still I was scared, and depressed, and anxious.  I fought it.  I FOUGHT, I tell you!  I felt so grateful and appreciative for so many people and things in my life (Kevin, bless his heart, has been a real rock and for that I am ever so thankful…to watch a loved one regularly disintegrate into a blob of tears and snot and not be able to do much about it must be heart-wrenching), and there were many bright and shiny moments mixed in with the darkness.  I knew it could be so much worse and that I was lucky in so many ways.

But, DANG, once that feeling got a hold of me it was hard to escape.  That’s the dirty secret about cancer.  The physical effects of treatment are pretty shitty, but it’s the mental game that gets many of us.  I lost the desire to quilt (gasp!), I was not taking any classes for my graduate program (didn’t need that stress, but at the same time it would have been a time consuming distraction ;p), and watching TV and reading books lost their appeal.  My home was beginning to feel like a box with the four walls closing in (moving in mid February, I had never lived there without being on chemo…it was becoming the ‘cancer apartment’).  I started going to a support group at Gilda’s Club, and unloading the feelings and fears associated with cancer with fellow sufferers helped me realize that I was not alone.  I just kept telling myself I had to get through chemo, see the light at the end of the tunnel, get through chemo, and things would improve.  I did, and they did, and I’m in a much better place at the moment, but it’s still a daily struggle.  I had several good weeks where I felt very positive and optimistic, and then a couple days ago the anxiety and depression hit again out of nowhere.  Dang it!  Still searching for the Jenn I was before all this cancer business began…I know I’ll never be the same, but I’m looking forward to being able to recognize myself in the (physical and metaphorical) mirror again soon.

There are those that have come to view cancer as a gift.  I can tell you, I ain’t there yet.  I don’t think all things happen for a reason.  I’m not religious, so this is not part of God’s master plan for me.  It just is, and it sucks.  I’m not saying there haven’t been some positive outcomes (being reminded again and again about the wonderful people in my life, plus a heightened sense of compassion…for those things I am grateful), but overall this has not been a journey in which to rejoice.  Maybe some day I can look back and decide that the life lessons learned, as well as friends gained (and maintained!), were worth all the costs, but the wound is still too fresh…   The physical and emotional scars will heal in time, I know.  But right now it is all too real.  And it’s not just real for me…there are others out there with similar diagnoses.  Or completely different diagnoses but similar life-altering effects.  Or people mourning the loss of a loved one, or experiencing relationship woes, or financial issues (or all of the above!).  We all have shit hit the fan at some point.  We all know someone who is struggling right now.  Hug them.  Let them know they are not alone.  Tell them that, whether or not you can relate to what they are going through, that you want to understand and help.  Take it from a person who thought that they were tough and could take on anything – I am both strong and weak, independent and dependent, and my body and mind are susceptible to illness just like everyone else.  Turns out I’m human.  Go figure…

In other news: for my birthday, I got some hair (look close…ok, closer!).  You can even see some eyebrow fuzz…

Photo on 7-2-16 at 7.52 PM

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7 Responses to HBD (Humble Birthday)

  1. Eric says:

    You are an inspiration Jenn. I love your honesty. You will triumph over evil

    Like

  2. Chery Brunner Theis says:

    You are NOT alone sweetie! We are all in on this ride with you! Whatever- Whenever- Wherever….we’ve got you!

    Like

  3. rebecca says:

    Hugging you and thank you for writing this.

    Like

  4. Geri says:

    Oh Jen, the fact you are so present with your feelings – the lousy, crappy ones and the joyful ones, in midst of this battle is a the silver lining. I want a break in the clouds for you soon and all the light there is to come pouring into you, buoying you up and to healing. XX

    Like

  5. Joan says:

    I see fabric and an inspirational design on paper behind you, but more than that I see a beautiful YOU! Keep up the fight Jenn. We’re here fighting with you.

    Like

  6. Jane Lambert says:

    Wisdom and kindness, eloquently expressed.
    You’re amazing, Jenn.
    Love,
    Randy, Jane, Cy, and Ruby

    Like

  7. Pat says:

    I’m awed by your insight and willingness to share that with those of us who read your blog, Jenn. I don’t know that I would have your courage or your determination not to give in to the dark side.

    Like

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