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Operation Shake and Bake

My idea of relaxation is certainly not staring at a crooked poster on the ceiling of a hospital room with heavy radiation equipment around me. I don’t think the hole at the center of the poster through which the red laser is peeking can convince me or another patient that they are  looking at a scenic island with clear water and waterfalls. I ponder, if everyone believed in the same God, it could have been possible to have a heavenly image up there and then when a beam comes out of this hole, it would be more believable as a divine intervention and healing. I have no idea what is coming through here. Chemotherapy is something I saw and felt, had side effects to so felt more real. This, I just need to have faith.

Laying on the radiation machine with both hands up and breast exposed is not the most comforting positions. “Hands up” always evokes feeling of fear and unpredictability, and anxiety of what may happen. Our brain is fascinating at making associations and the association of both hands being up is that of being vulnerable. I am here to get radiation treatment with the desire to get any stubborn cancer cells that may have survived the surgeries and chemotherapies.

The ladies at the reception seem familiar with the crowd in the small tightly packed waiting area. They should be since radiation treatment is given five days a week for several weeks. They know patients by their first name and usually their accompanying friend or relative. When I declare, I am here for my shake and bake, they crack up. (My radiation oncologist is Dr. Sheikh). They are not used to chirpy cancer patients, and I notice that the chairs in the waiting room are occupied by humans with very depressed affect and sickly demeanor.

Radiation Oncology is a topic not much discussed in medical school unless you inherently are interested in finding more about it. It is usually a department tucked away in the basement of a medical center or in an area that many don’t pass through. So despite being a physician, I had no idea what goes on in there until I arrived there as a patient. The presence of equipment seems to have had some robotic effect on the staff too. Or is it that the principles of physics that over-arch the principles of empathy that is so prevalent in my world of psychiatric medicine. The appointment begins with changing into a gown…ah the dreaded hospital gown. This will be the routine for another 32 days. Being a sucker for unique products, I have acquired the “radiant wrap” which is a designer radiation gown for breast cancer patients. However that doesn’t really make the ordeal any better. I am neither more radiant nor more covered.

I walk into the radiation room, and its cold and dark. There is soft music from a radio channel that doesn’t add much to the ambiance. There are women in lab coats, i.e the technicians who quickly line you up in the right position. Of course the black marking on my chest with markers help them align the machine. Reminds me of the old embroidery machines that I used to watch with fascination at the street corner as a child. How the craftsman would line up the needle on the careful drawn on design and give the machine a whirl. Well, now facing me is a round disc attached to a huge machine arm emitting rays that intersect right at the spot where the “x” is on my chest. I can see my image in the glass. I also see, the machinery inside opening tiny metal doors with a disturbing screeching sound. I lay still, with my chin up since I don’t want my chin to get the radiation. Then I breathe. After few seconds the machine moves and now its angled to my side and I can see the darn poster again.

I am quite skilled at imagery and have taught it to my patients many times. But now as the radiation equipment moves around me,  I just can’t summon the power to imagine that I am basking in sun light on this island full of water falls. What I have gotten good at though, is believing that the little energy bundles that come out of the machine are hitting my skin and making sure that all rogue DNA is blasted away one by one. 32 more treatments to go, I softly pray, and hope for the healing rays to make me disease free. Then perhaps soon, I will vacation at a real island and won’t have an “x” mark on my chest.

A Case Of Breast Envy

As a psychiatrist, I have read about penis envy in girls as proposed by Freud. What I had never experienced until recently was  “breast envy.” Yes, envy of other women who have two breasts. My recent trip to a water park uncovered this psychological issue.

I have to say that going to a water park right after chemotherapy ended was a bit of a challenge. From buying a swim prosthesis to finding water proof eye brow pencil, it was a quest but I am happy to report that it ended up being a rather cathartic and relaxing.

The first day arriving at the water park resort, I used my wig as an excuse to not get in the water. Chlorine will ruin it, I claimed. I was unsure of getting in the water and losing my hand drawn eye brows. I had also read that all prostheses absorb and expand in water. I was nervous of this expanding proposition. So I spent most time staring at other women and their breasts curled in the lounge chair. Creepy, may be… but I was more like a kid who is watching others eat ice cream when his fell on the ground – envious and wistful, thinking, “I once had two of those too”.

Women walking around in swimsuits, women with two breasts, women without “ports” in the chest, women with hair, women with pony tails, women with eye brows, women with eye lashes, women with toned abs. One woman in her cheetah print swim suit was mammarily gifted, I thought, “how would she react if I walked up to her and complemented her?” Cancer gives you courage, but also the wisdom to not use said courage on all occasions. I kept the complement to myself. Then, I suddenly realized… I was checking out other women’s boobs. What is wrong with me? Perhaps this phenomenon is breast envy. Nothing unconscious about it though!

The toughest thing about the grief of the loss of a breast is that one never gets a chance to mourn it fully before the whirlwind of treatment starts to blow you away. When someone dies, there is a proper service, then the family gets a chance to gather and regroup , comforted by loved ones. When your breast dies, the postmortem report, i.e the pathology report is handed to you, usually with more disturbing information than the demise itself. Then instead of a quiet period of mourning, you are sent off to deal with the harsh reality of chemotherapy drugs. No break, no memorial, no time to grieve. So as you recover from chemo, you get moments here and there to work through the grief and therefore, it isn’t unusual that for some, this grief ends up lasting a life time.Complicated grief usually does linger for long.

Having had a few patchy moments of working through my grief, I felt ill equipped to handle the boob fest around me. I envied the women in their two piece bikinis. Being a modest woman, I would never be caught dead in one, but just knowing that I couldn’t rock one like some of them bothered me. I could never buy a regular swim suit anymore and will always have to get a “mastectomy” suit with high neck. Again,not big on exposing but just saying! I had to keep reminding myself to take the prosthesis out of the suit before throwing it in the water extractor.I couldn’t get myself to use the shower in the women’s locker room. I imagined being talked about in hushed tones by the teenagers with body piercing and dark hair.

The next day, I decided I wanted to have fun, so I put my cap on (instead of the wig) and got in the water. It felt nice. The statistic of one in eight women in US having breast cancer was weirdly reassuring that I perhaps, wasn’t the only one here in this huge water park and that there must be others here struggling, just like me. I took the ride on the lazy river, the only thing that I usually do at the water park. I am not the one to do the slides, for one I don’t know how to swim and secondly I was always too scared. My kids on the other hand are little dare devils. So my husband asked the kids if they wanted to go down the big slide in the family raft and they happily started following him, then he said to me, “You can stand over there and you can see us come out.” He knows very well, I don’t do rides.

I looked at him and asked, “Can I come too?”

He looked at me puzzled, “You mean on the ride?”

“Yes,” I said, explaining, “I thought to myself, for the last few months, I have endured a lot of pain and suffering, how bad can this ride really be? No more than a long day in the ICU getting chemotherapy? Am I really afraid of coming down a slide in a water raft that lasts barely a minute?”

I joined them in the line.

Three times over, I came down the slide in the raft screaming at the top of my lungs, completely ignoring the sinking feeling I got as the raft plunged from the height, twisting and turning. Completely ignoring the fact that I can’t swim, I embraced that moment of thrill, the here and now.

I am no longer afraid! Cancer does that to you. And during the ride it didn’t really matter if I had one breast or two.

Reconnecting

Yes, the chemotherapy has ended and what a relief it is. I feel free and liberated. Free to breathe without the runs of tachycardia that were a reminder of the drugs hanging out in my body and my body reacting to them. Free to have a life, a schedule , a plan. It almost feels like my lungs are expanding more, my mind is sharper and my heart is lighter. Sometimes I feel like screaming , “I am done with chemotherapy!” The sun feels warmer, the music louder and food definitely tastier!

It is hard to believe that months of misery have finally come to an end.the first time I was told I needed 16 cycles of chemotherapy, it sounded like an insurmountable task and now it is finally over. I can return to my life again.

Many of the side effects that were happening are now more evident to me because I realize that it wasn’t OK for the joints to hurt all the time. It wasn’t OK to feel like my calf muscles were sore and distended. I walked like someone with arthritis. I had many nights where I needed a pill to sleep and tylenol or motrin to just get through the day .When you feel sick for so long, it hard to remember what is and isn’t right.

And it is great to not feel tired, so tired that it felt like my muscles were made of iron, stiff and heavy. Its great not have nose bleeds, something that could happen any time and sometimes freak the children out.Its wonderful not to have bouts of itchy hands with incessant itching that would last for hours so much so that I wasn’t able to do anything except rub a wet towel on my hands. Now I look forward to the nose hair growing back so I am not sniffling like I have chronic cold. The hair is coming back , but its fine and chick like fuzzy. Sometimes, I do feel like I just hatched out of an egg ready to start a new life.

Every things seems new and exciting,  a reincarnation of sorts. In this new life, relationships are even more important. These are the connections that sustained me , provided me the energy that I didn’t have. Friendships have been filling my heart with love and hope. Through chemotherapy, I would feel like the spinning circle when the internet signal is low and a device is trying to connect to it  but all you see is that it keeps spinning ……but then something someone did or said would help me realize that I am connected, connected to others and my life has connections and that I continue to have a purpose, if no other reason to stay alive is for me to pay it forward. I like this connection.The flowers, the gifts, the chocolates, the food all represents a link, a link to someone’s heart. How can one not feel hopeful in the midst of it?

What I Have Learned

I read a Buddhist saying last night “The teacher appears when the student is ready.” In the learning of life, I believe I was ready when the cancer arrived.

I am sure you have heard  cancer survivors say that they have learned a lot through this journey. Some even go to the extent that they would do it all over again and not change a thing. I wouldn’t say that – I would jump at first opportunity for medical science to say “You are cured.” Or even, “We are sorry, it was all a big mistake.” But if it has chosen me, I accept and embrace it.

I was reflecting on if and what I have learned. First and foremost, having cancer is like having knowing how to ride a bicycle, its something you never forget….perhaps have a few moments where it escapes consciousness but it always there. Being diagnosed with a potential life threatening illness carries many lessons. Certain lessons are deep and meaningful, certain shallow and practical like – how to take off the winter hat without dislodging your wig. How to adjust your prosthesis in Target without anyone noticing. Or, how to quickly glance in the mirror for disappearing eye brows and fill them in without other gals noticing. How to look good to feel good. How to style and wash wigs. How to apply fake eyelashes. I have learned that fuzzy socks are very comforting and that spray on lotion is a useful product. I have learned that life is as wonderful with one breast as with two. And that mastectomy swim suits are not all matronly. And that a newly shaved head itches a lot.

I have learned that kind words, spoken or written have magical healing powers. That when some people speak, they are merely exercising their glossal muscles and what comes out of larynx should be ignored as sound of working machinery. That gifts do convey a lot of love and thoughtfulness and that flowers are an awesome way to brighten someone’s day. I have learned that a sugar buzz can fix melancholia on certain days (donuts for breakfast are a new discovery for me), that beautiful fragrances can be uplifting even when food doesn’t taste good. I do carry in my chemo bag, two bottles of essential oils, lemon and peppermint. Smell of fresh citrus is life reaffirming and anti nausea. Every chemo morning I wear a sweet, floral fragrance to perk me up. But because smells also evoke memory, I know that I will no longer use that perfume after tomorrow.

I have also learned that wearing a thick eyeliner hides missing eyelashes well and two strokes of blush makes a world of difference in whether you look dead or alive and that without eye brows and lashes, my eyes look pretty reptilian. I have learned that a good nurse can make a world of difference and that people generally are inclined to help if they are able to.

I have learned the friends can fill your heart with joy and sometimes strangers can convey surprising warmth. I have learned that you don’t need much in life, the key is to appreciate what you have. However, on certain days a little shopping spree doesn’t hurt. I have learned that having a positive self esteem in the best asset to have and that believing in yourself is the best belief. However, on days that you are unsure, faith can fill in blanks very effectively. I have learned that love attracts love, compassion attracts compassion, and that life has to be dealt with on a daily basis. If each day, I can say honestly to myself , I did something useful, the count of months or years doesn’t matter. Making others happy is sometimes the only way to have a good day. I have learned that one can live with fear. That it is possible to not give fear power over your life, to not give disappointment value over hope and to look at the rainbow and ignore the clouds. It is possible to ignore pain in pretty much any body part given the right state of mind. That taking medication for sleep isn’t failure of my being. I understand the phrase “Time and tide waits for none.” I have seen hope, in its most advanced and rudimentary forms.  And that if there isn’t a tomorrow, there is a later.

I have wondered what “kicking cancer’s butt ” really means, and I have learned that it means holding your head high and not being afraid of death. Living every day with grace, dignity and hope. That is what makes someone kick cancer’s butt; otherwise everyone is getting mostly the same treatment and care.

I do think however that it would be quite therapeutic if the cancer center had a bean bag labeled “cancer” that patients could kick with all their might at the end of treatment. Wouldn’t that be cool?

My Mommy Has Cancer

I am six years old and my mommy has cancer. One day she started to go to many doctor appointments. Then she cut her hair short. I think she is sick but getting better now. She goes to chemotherapy. May be it hurts, she says it doesn’t. She shared her numbing lotion with me and it helps her not feel the pain. She looks like a man now, she has no hair. Sometimes she wears a wig, she then looks pretty. When I was going to Montessori she used to drive me there. She doesn’t drive me places now, mostly daddy does. She sometimes doesn’t let me have a play date because she says the house is messy, I don’t know why the house is messy. I wake up around 7, before when I woke up she used to be in the kitchen but now she wakes up later than all of us. She goes to hospital every week now. She has only one breast, before she had two. She has told me that the other one will grow back in summer like her hair. I see some hair on her head. May be she is right. Sometimes she cries, then daddy hugs her. Sometimes she yells at me when I wake her up from her nap but then gives me a hug and tells me its OK. She lets me play on the iPad more than before. I get to watch more movies than before. I read in a book that Steve Jobs died of cancer but mommy says he didn’t go for treatment. Mommy goes for treatment. I don’t think she is dying, she doesn’t look like she is dying. She and I will run a race this summer, she likes to run but doesn’t run now, it is really cold outside. Daddy and I and my sister went to see “Frozen”, she didn’t go. She has marks on her and a round thing in her chest.

Sometimes I feel sad, I want my old mommy back, the one that has hair just like my friend’s mom. But they will grow back. I can see it. She sometimes comes to the school bus stop and when she does , we talk about a lot of stuff. But then the crossing guard starts to talk to her, I don’t like that. I like when I come back from school and she is waiting for me. She doesn’t come there all the time. It is cold outside. We don’t go to really busy places these days because daddy says she can get infection. I had an infection last year, it didn’t feel good.

I love my mommy.She always knows when I am tired and when she says that, I end up yawning. Then I get angry and say,”I am not tired”. I like when she gives me “tubbies”. I like it when she helps me with my homework and I love the chicken she makes. Daddy cooks but mostly vegetables, I like chicken better. I like sleeping next to her when she will let me but sometimes when she is really tired , she doesn’t let me.She came to my Halloween party at school, I told my friend she was wearing a wig. She was mad at me for doing that. But friends share secrets.

I love my mommy…a lot.

The hardest thing about being a parent with cancer is not knowing what your kids are thinking. Every thing you do, everything that you go through affects them now and later. How can I not appreciate this as a mother and as a psychiatrist. I try to imagine what he thinks, I try to imagine what he might feel. I don’t know, so I just have to keep trying, to get better and better and keeping loving him, in his reality as he is imagining it.

Survival

As the end of chemotherapy is drawing near, I am thinking more about the next phase of my life, the post treatment phase. I ask myself what kind of survivor will I be? They say you are never the same after cancer… Will I be? Will I be wrapped in Kale and soaked in Almond Milk? Will I be neurotic about every ache and pain that emerges and worry about “it” being back? Will I be able to resume life where I left off?

At this point ,I am  still figuring out the semantics of having cancer. I have cancer, I have had cancer, or I had cancer. At what point do you become a survivor? See I have bought a charm and some other inscribed items that say “survivor” but I am not sure when I am allowed to wear them. I know I am a fighter – have always been. I am empowered, will always be. But when do I have the privilege to say, I have survived? I have survived being told “You have cancer.” I have survived a mastectomy. And chemotherapy. I have endured.

Are you a survivor when you are done with treatments? Are you a survivor when the first post treatment scan is clean? My personal conclusion, surviving the news “You have cancer” earns you the status. Scary three words these are. Even scarier than ” You are dead!”  That phone call, the tone of the “Hello” in the doctor’s voice, the pause, the anxiety, the nervousness and the hesitation in the conversation, and the sadness,”You have Cancer”……the disbelief, the shock, the flashback of your entire life in a moment….”But I have a life to live, I have kids, I have a home, I have a career!”Those are the things I have, not Cancer. Who wants to “have” cancer! Well like it or not, I have it and I guess get to keep it until I am told I don’t have it anymore, or its in “remission”. The three words that are now scarier than “you have cancer” to me are recurrence, metastasis and palliation.

Perhaps being a survivor means being able to live past those scary thoughts. Past the fear of being told that you may get the signal to pack up and go any time. Past the thoughts that you may or may not live to be old. I have to admit, I now fantasize about getting demented, for that would mean I would have lived a long life. Just to clarify, the psychiatrist in me wants you to know, there are dementias that happen in early years but I ain’t rooting for those. Turning fully grey used to be a fantasy. Now thanks to chemo, the regrowth is all grey. How much life is enough anyways? Long enough for you children to grow old, get settled, have kids? At what point, does one say, I have lived long enough? Survived long enough?

Perhaps being a survivor means having had a chance to think about those questions and have your answer ready, being aware of the value of life , perhaps being a survivor means living life mindfully, having survived the ignorance of spending days without thought, having survived the lack of appreciation of being healthy everyday, having survived not knowing what fighting for your life means.

It’s a journey of discovery. I hope I am a mindful survivor. Ready to resume life. Ready to survive the next curve-ball life throws at me while holding on to that other ball called  “I had cancer.”

Once Chemo is done……

The phrase “Once chemo is done” is being used a lot in my home these days. For the last five months of my life, and hence the life of my family has been revolving around the chemotherapy. All plans, invitations, outings, birthdays, celebrations took the back seat and the chemo schedule dominated the calendar. It was the only point of reference in our lives. We have existed as a “cancer family” – y way of describing a family when one family member has the disease but all members suffer equally). I couldn’t commit to anything knowing very well that a significant unpredictability ruled my schedule. (I have continued to work one day a week on Thursday, my best day of the week , the only day I predictably feel well). Even those who wanted to come and visit have been subject to “I don’t know how well I will feel that day, why don’t you check the day of and we can decide.” As if they are also living day to day.

Halloween came two days after chemo, thanksgiving a day before, Christmas a day before, some other holidays the day of…….chemo has been the ultimate truth of our lives and household. The much anticipated end of chemotherapy comes in about 4 weeks.

One of my friends had said to me in a text “There is nothing routine about the chemo routine.” But somehow my entire family has settled in the chemo routine to the point that my son thought (until last week) that we (my husband and I) went on a date every Friday morning. Of course he doesn’t need to know that we do end up having a lunch date every Friday after chemo. Friday evenings are quiet and Disney movies baby sit kids and bedtime is early. Weekends revolve mostly around keeping up with the household so it continues to look like its inhabited by humans. My husband running around like a chicken with his head cut off. By Sunday evening though, the house does look like a bomb has exploded here which is filled with toys, paper, sofa cushions and stuff. I would still be in the same spot on the couch as I was when I came home from chemo – except for sleeping in the bed at night.

Children have gotten used to the idea of mommy taking naps. Our 3 yr old saw her dad nap once in the last few weeks and said, “Daddy is sick, he needs medicine”. Medicine and treatment is something she seems quite  familiar with now. I caught our 7 yr old humming “Tis the season to end chemo la la la la la la…”

It has been the ultimate reference in our lives. Now, we are moving close to the end. The routine will be new, the definition of time will be new as well. The value of time would be new too.

I will be person and a half after chemo, having grown horizontally and emotionally. I was pretty trim at the time of the diagnosis to the point that I let myself be weighed in doctor’s offices with shoes on. Then came the surgery and I got skinnier.That was about 22 pounds ago! Chemotherapy started and so did the steroids. Every time I checked in, the weight was a pound and pound and half up. 12 treatments and voila! My oncologist insists that it’s water retention. I am willing to buy her story, except these cheeks aren’t filled with water! I am so glad I have held on to some of my maternity clothes. I had heard that chemotherapy isn’t easy, but I still didn’t know how hard it truly is. The persistent unwell feeling crushes the spirit to the point of loosing hope. But some how I managed, we managed.

So, It is truly hard to imagine what it would be like….The only thing I know for sure is that I am going to cry. When ever I think of the last time that they will stick the needle in the port, the last time I would have to smell that particular note of rubbing alcohol at the cancer center, last time the fake smile I put on as the needle enters my chest with bothersome pressure, last time I would have to get in the chemo bed/chair, last time I would be attached to an infusion pump for a few hours, last time I would be aroused from the Ativan and Benadryl stupor to confirm my name and DOB, last time I will come home not feeling well…….my chest and my eyes fill up. It will soon be over!

Ending chemotherapy will be an intense emotional experience that perhaps only another chemo recipient can relate to. The “personal hell” that it puts you through is an experience that only you truly understand, the aching in the middle of the night that is only yours. What it feels like to be woken up with retching, proceeding to vomit and then go back to sleep only to be woken up again to repeat the same isn’t something that can be explained to another. What it means to have leg cramps even though you are lying in a bed under warm blankets is hard to articulate. How the lack of energy impacts you when your toddler wants you to go from one room to another but you cant…only your heart can feel. What it means to be still while your life is passing by for 5 long months….

Time has come to be defined in my life as before cancer, after cancer, after surgery, before chemo, after chemo, before radiation, after radiation. It is hard to relate to concept of “some day” any more or ” in the future “or “one day”. It has become more about here and now. Its about making plans that are solid and near. There isn’t room for vague anymore. I have been handed the warning, a check engine light…….its no more driving mindlessly thinking may be I will take the next exit or stop at the nearest rest spot. This road requires clarity and faith. Clarity of where this is going and faith that I will get there. It really doesn’t matter who is driving in the next lane or what car they are driving. Its about being aware of the moment and value it and not loosing its sight for some other moment that may never really happen. Cheers to the here and now!!

Mommy and Me

My daughter watching Diego,”Baby chinchilla needs her mommy!”

My daughter looking at baby carrots. ” Baby carrots need their mommy!”

My daughter looking at me, “Are you OK mommy? does the aoo-wa hurt?”

Me looking at my daughter, “You are going to be OK, you have your mommy”

She turns 3 in a few days. I have to keep fighting.

Open Letter to The Rogue Cancer Cells

Dear Cancer,

Believe me, you aren’t dear to me but I am just sticking to literary convention. You have enjoyed the stay in my body, my temple for much too long and have overstayed your welcome. I would like you to pack your stuff (wanted to say another word that also starts with “s”) and leave. My body has better things to do than to fight with your megalomania. There is an exit sign that you are ignoring.

There is a lot that this body needs to accomplish to ever turn itself over to you.You have lodged yourself in a place where I need room to accommodate the love and caring that life has to offer. I need the room vacated so it can be filled with joy and peace and contentment.

I need my energy to so that I can live to see my children grow. My son needs you to leave so he can grow up to be a man but still have a place where his tears are not seen as weakness and his laughter infuses life. My daughter needs you to leave so she is assured that she can be taught all the “girly” things that she needs to learn in life and be all that she needs to be.

I need you to leave so I can grow old with my loving husband. He needs you to leave so he can have his life back. He needs you to go so he doesn’t have to be the mother and father. He needs you to leave so he can lose the anxiety of losing the love of his life.

I think you have been trying to suck the energy out of my existence for far to too long – bit by bit, and piece by piece. You don’t scare me and I can look at your sick crazily mitotic nuclei in the eye and say, “I am not afraid’. I just need to you to leave.

I want you to leave so my friends can rejoice, and my family can breathe freely. I need you to leave so that my patients can rest assured that the one person they feel that truly understands them is still there and they won’t have to start over. They need to heal. I need to heal.

I want you to leave so I can look at those who abandoned me during cancer and say, “Thank you for helping me realize that you never mattered. I won this battle without you!”

I need you to leave, for I have learned all the lessons that I needed to learn after looking at death in the eye. I have learned not to take anything, or anyone for granted. I have learned to take each moment as it comes. To find meaning and hope in every day life. To make things happen and not wait. To be myself and trust myself. To be honest and forthright. To endure.

I have learned the meaning of pain and suffering, that a peaceful night’s sleep is a blessing, being able to digest food is a treat, to be pain-free is a miracle, to feel energetic is a gift, to feel beautiful is an internal feeling and to appreciate life is hard work.

I am ready to move on from the lessons I have learned so I would like you to move on. Leave me alone. And the next chemo, when the Taxol infusion is flowing through my blood, I would like it to find you and tell you so.

It’s time to move on. It’s time to heal. It’s time to recover. It’s time to start over.

Yours(not really!!),

A cancer survivor

Just Brows-ing

I used to consider my self a bit of an artist till I had to face the dilemma of drawing eyebrows on my face. Its a cliche but cancer does make you appreciate a lot that you take for granted. Eyebrows are a good example. I have always appreciated nice eyebrows on others but never paid a lot of attention to my own. Fortunately, I didn’t have the bushy ones that require grooming or the uni-brow or any other variant that require regular upkeep. They were light, nicely shaped and just right.

Cut to chemotherapy, and a faint line of abandoned stubborn hair hangs out on the supra-orbital ridge. Never realized until lately, the contrast the brows brought to the picture. Being a regular to TV shopping channels, I thought when the make artists said, brows frame the face, I doubted their intentions. But I think they are right. So after much research online, I went and bought an eyebrow pencil. How hard could it be to draw two eyebrows? Obviously, I had no idea.

The key challenge of course is – they have to match! It’s easy to fill gaps but creating brows out of nothing at all is tough. Can you imagine seeing a psychiatrist who has an eyebrow perpetually raised. Hmm, yes, I realize now, ill-positioned eye brows can cost me my practice. “Doc, I was so hurt by my mom’s comment.” Then imagine the poor patient staring at raised brow, creating all sorts of self esteem issues from the empathic failure of the therapist. Brows too high, I seem amused by every story, a little too low and I appear more depressed than the patient. Press the pencil too hard, and I look ready for my juggling act.

Most folks with cancer rant about their scalp hair and I have too but I am learning that the little insignificant nose hair are a blessing too. Yes, you lose those too with chemotherapy and that leads to an ongoing love affair with the nasal saline. Sniffling and cleaning the congested nose and a not so occasional nose bleed. Never did I appreciate the functional aspect of the lashes, yes they are there for a purpose too not just to fund the cosmetic industry. But you got to adapt, every step of the way. Allow nature to take its course of redesigning your face all over again.

Accept it and keep moving. These are minor inconveniences for the promise of a cancer free life is the prize. Worth it? Totally! Additional bonus – finding yourself and your strength along the way. Sometimes just hiding the weakness is strength. It’s hard to stay focused on the goal when your body is protesting with fatigue and the end still seems far away. There are still days of exhaustion, itchy palms, episodes of diarrhea, pain all over the body, aching bones and joints between you and the end of chemo. You weave in and out of life, 3 days to rest and recover, 3 days to live and then back to chemotherapy. Trying to keep the fabric of your life intact. Being hands-on with kids on good days and then letting it go for the days you can’t. Sometimes browsing, sometimes more invested. Zooming in and out of the window of your life, hoping to stay there.

It’s a bumpy ride. All other goals are secondary. The first one is really the one that matters…to stay alive and fight. For in a fight, the strength isn’t measured by anything but the belief that you will. I will.