I used to talk about “Life B.C.” and meant ‘before children’. The time of sleeping in, still perky boobs, and so much less emotional angst. You don’t know guilt and worry until you become a momma bear. Now when I say it, though, I mean ‘before cancer’, and I’m having trouble reconciling in my mind that there was a time before all this. The cubs mark it as a day… Cub 1 calls April 22rd, 2011 his “last normal day ever”. (Yup, you don’t know guilt until you become a momma bear.)
A year ago today, I was married. I didn’t know I was sick, at least not this kind of sick. I was also miserable, in a marriage clearly on the road to nowhere fast. I went to counseling once a week to get help coping with his increasingly erratic behavior, his mood swings, and the ratcheting tension that defined our daily lives. I did love him then, but I lived in a state of anxiety attacks and constant guard to make sure he didn’t get set off. We seemed so nice and “normal” (whatever THAT means) from the outside looking in. I was very invested in keeping that appearance up.
(And to be fair, since I started this not really sure where it would go, and it is clearly going to the disintegration of my union… it takes two to destroy a marriage. I was not the perfect wife by any means, and he, of course, does have a side to this story. Here’s the deal for anyone reading this, though: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NEVER OKAY, NEVER EXCUSABLE AND NEVER YOUR FAULT, NO MATTER WHAT. Yep, that suuuuuure doesn’t seem like rocket science, especially coming from someone with a masters degree in counseling (ooooh the irony) but it took me awhile to get that through my head.)
And that’s what happened. I wrote about it once for my “victim’s impact statement” in Court, but I think I need to leave it behind me right now. In the interest of helping others that may be living in quiet shame, I may tell it at some point. Today, though, I feel “triggered” remembering it all. It was a long night, and a brutal night. I got away to a soul-sister’s house (forever grateful, J.), and thank God for her calm and take-charge ways, especially as I had no choice but to escape and leave the cubs behind – and was absolutely crazy freaking out about it. He went to jail and we’ve not been together since. I ended up with freaky bad bruises, 2 broken ribs, and an incredibly broken psyche that couldn’t be x-rayed. (There’s nothing they can do for broken ribs, either, and let me tell you – they HURT. Living in pain makes it hard to forget. In my worst moments, his voice from that night echoes in my head.)
It was the day before Easter, on the day of one of my soul-sister’s birthdays (I’m forever sorry it played out that way, E.). I went in for a chest x-ray. This, dear reader, is where when they make the Lifetime movie of it all, there will be very dramatic music. (And I’m SERIOUS about the Lifetime movie – pick who plays you now so we will be ready for casting. I so want Sarah Jessica Parker.) I got a call on Easter Sunday that ‘something funny’ showed up on my chest x-ray and that I needed a ct-scan. It was the nurse from Urgent Care, and she was very insistent about all of it. The cubs and I were staying at my mom’s house (he had bailed out of jail and I didn’t have a restraining order yet). I remember exactly where I was, and I was like, “Do you know how much I have going on right now? Can’t this wait?” She was clear and firm. “No, it can’t.” The word ‘cancer’ wasn’t even on my mind. I was still trying to wrap my head around what had happened to my family.
So, here was the week. Somehow we got through Easter, my brother and his family took us to see “Hop” (I’d like to strangle that damn bunny for what he reminds me of, but I took an expensive nap in the theater) and everyone tried to make it okay for the cubs. Cub 1 had been awake and heard the whole thing, and Cub 2 was woken up by police in the house. I don’t know if my body or my heart hurt worse, aching for my sweet baby bears. They will always be the hardest part of all of this.
Monday I had to ditch work and the huge field trip to go get a restraining order. (I LOVE MY JOB AND THE PEOPLE I WORK WITH.) My dad also called a physician friend of his to get the ct-scan ordered, as I didn’t have a primary care doctor. Tuesday, I got the chest ct at the hospital. Really fun having to explain your bruises every time – NOT. This primary care doctor called me before I was even out of the parking lot to tell me I needed a biopsy. I remember so clearly he said, “The concern here is cancer.” That poor man, who it turns out lives with cancer as well. I shrieked into the phone, “Are you FUCKING kidding me???? DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM DEALING WITH RIGHT NOW???” He yelled back at me, “DO YOU THINK I LIKE MAKING THIS PHONE CALL???” I know he didn’t. I’m always reassuring my doctors now that I’m okay and commiserating with them when they have to share bad news. That’s how Jewish momma bears roll.
So, Wednesday (yep, still talking about this same week), I went in for a needle-guided biopsy, where they blissfully had me sleep for awhile. Not really understanding the procedure, my biggest worry that day was that I was wearing bad underwear. Hmmm… there is probably a lesson there. I left the hospital and went and signed divorce papers.
Quick aside. I have met some of the most amazing doctors and PEOPLE through all of this. The woman who did the biopsy will be forever in my heart, and I’m determined that she will have wine with me someday. I’m not naming my care providers because, frankly, I’m not sure that they would appreciate being recognized in a blog that has so much swearing. If they ever read this and want to be, I will surely shout their names from this blog’s rooftop.
IN HINDSIGHT. When I woke up, the doctor prepped me and my mom and some girlfriends for cancer. She gave us lots of information, and told us she thought it was “50-50” that it was. I think she knew and was just giving me room to get used to the idea. I’m going to ask her next time I see her. And I’m going to make a wine date.
This was my first experience with scanxiety, (more dramatic music here), a feeling that anyone waiting for cancer tests knows all too well (scan+anxiety). Tom Petty sure has it right… waiting IS the hardest part. (And last time I was dealing with scanxiety, I heard that song on the radio a whole bunch. Weird.) I never WANT bad news, but there have been moments it has been almost a relief to end the crazy anxious waiting. As nuts as that sounds, that’s what scanxiety is all about.
So, by Friday afternoon, at a birthday party for one of Cub 1’s friends, I still hadn’t heard. I did NOT want to wait the weekend, and that evening the cubs had a piano recital. We were due to stop by the piano teacher’s house for them to practice one last time. (‘Cuz, yeeeeah, they hadn’t done a whole lot of it that week). Remember the super nice woman doctor that did the biopsy? Well, it wasn’t her job to have to give me results, but I didn’t want to get them from someone I didn’t know… so I tracked her down from the birthday party. ‘Cuz THAT is the way to party, right? Man, is she a nice and compassionate soul. She said she would go look and call me back, but “JUST IN CASE”, how about if she got me an oncology appointment for Monday? (Foreshadowing music here.) She called me back when I was driving to the piano teacher’s house. “Hey, watcha doing?”, she asked. When I told her I was driving the kids, she told me to call her back when I wasn’t driving and I was alone. If THAT wasn’t a clue… The kids went into the piano teacher’s house for 10 minutes, I called her, and she told me. Just like that. My head was spinning after the initial confirmation of cancer, but I remember she said, “You know how I explained to you the difference in the kind of cancers?” Then she said something about me having the bad kind. At that time, the thought was that the cancer was a localized tumor, she assured me it would be okay, and we hung up. I called my mom, my step-mom who called my dad, and sent a text to my girlfriends and other family. Then the cubs came out and we went to a piano recital. Holy surreal, Batman
So, Friday to Friday, life forever changed for the cubs and me. It’s a whole other story what happened next with surgery and discovering the cancer was more extensive than first thought. I’ll write about that some other time. This is getting really long. I’m impressed if you’re actually still with me.
I had mixed feelings putting this out there. One, like I said before, I know people sharing my married name will read this at some point. Also like I said before, I am past the point of being hurtful. He’s done a lot of treatment and is in a better space. We are divorced and for the sake of the cubs, I am determined to get along with him. It’s also a shameful thing – I never thought of myself as someone this could happen to. There’s a lesson there too. But, here it is… a year later, I have let go of it all and it is so liberating. I love my new house and my new life (obviously except for the cancer part). And as my girlfriends pointed out to me, he made me a warrior. So, this is NOT to call him out or make his life miserable, but it is MY story to tell.
Just a few nights ago, the cubs were upstairs getting ready for bed when all of sudden they started screaming and came flying down the stairs, both hysterically crying. Cub 2 had to translate what Cub 1 was trying to say because he was almost hyperventilating. They heard a noise upstairs and were convinced someone was in the house. They were shaking and sobbing and really inconsolable. (No, Mom, calm down… there was nobody there.) The night ended with the three of us hugging on my bed, and I was repeating over and over, “It’s okay. Nobody will get hurt in this house.” It felt SO good to say that and have it be true. I reminded them that I am their momma bear and what does a momma bear do? Cub 2 said, “She protects her cubs no matter what. She always keeps them safe.” Then Cub 1 said, “But she can’t stand up to lung cancer.” I think that is when we all cried.
So, that’s it. Cancer is our new predator, but it has NO idea the force it is up against. Cub 1’s words will be in my heart and I will do everything and anything to protect my babies. I am so grateful that I can say (and BELIEVE) that this is a safe home. THIS IS A SAFE HOME. As for the rest? I am tough and I will fight like hell.
So, hey Cancer??? FUCK YOU!