Follow the Butterflies

Nancy’s Point today is remembering her bilateral mastectomy.  She’s also wondering if a day can go by without thoughts of cancer.  I’ve been pondering that myself lately, as the three year anniversary of my diagnosis on May 1, has come and gone.

My head is still very much in the cancer world.  The anniversary of my own bilateral mastectomy is June 22nd.  I can’t imagine now, how I was a functioning human being in the days between those two events.  I just don’t know where I found the ability to get out of bed each day, but I know I did it.

In those days my oldest son was playing in the local T-ball league and I took him to games.  I remember standing on the sideline in the early evening light with my secret while he played.  He was also finishing up preschool then and I sat among parents watching their little ones dressed in cap and gown claim their diplomas, dreaming of a future, while I held my secret close wondering what was still to come.  What was yet to be.

Somehow, it’s three years later and the other day I was driving to my breast surgeon for a routine visit.  My son’s spring concert was later that evening and I had a concern to discuss. Things seemed eerily familiar.  What turned out to be a scar from one of the mastectomy drains, had me in a near panic.  Until I knew for sure what that ridge in the skin that I somehow never noticed before, turned out to be, I imagined the worst.

I saw no possible way this visit would turn out well.  I thought for sure I’d be scheduling an MRI or worse, a biopsy, as soon as possible.  And I wondered, as I drove in the rain, as I did the day I got my diagnosis, how would I handle it?

How could I sit there and hear those words, “scans,” “biopsy,” “cancer,” all over again?  I didn’t believe I could.  There in the car, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it.  The last three years were such a struggle to climb out of the hole cancer dropped me in, there was no strength left to do it again.

In the midst of planning a good summer with my boys, my mind no longer envisions warm, sunny days, road trips, movies.  I no longer go there.  How could I make plans…what if its come again?  Everything goes out the window, life comes to a screeching halt…again.

I was driving alone.  Who would pick my crumbled heap off the floor when he said the word?

Where was the bravery so many talk about?

Certainly not riding along with me on this day.  I felt like a sissy.  Thinking I couldn’t handle what might come my way.  How could I not?  What choice would I have?

My surgeon knew immediately what it was.  Drain scars?  As soon as he said it I knew in my bones, he was right.  The one scenario I never imagined, of course, the innocuous one.  He spent the next five minutes reassuring me, reiterating how positive he was, without a shadow of a doubt… But I still didn’t breathe until he left the room.

I knew then, I could never truly live my life without thoughts of cancer.  It’s stronger than my will.  Its very nature sucking me in like a black hole time and time again, with every symptom, every run of my imagination.  It’s exhausting.  And sad.

Even when the news is good, when it’s the best possible news, as on this day.  The emotional roller coaster is draining.  It’s just not that easy to go from panic with entire visions of cancer playing out in my head to… All’s fine.  Go home.  Live your life.

I’m grateful for the good news that day.  I know some people never get such a reprieve.

I wish I knew how to put cancer in a place where it couldn’t haunt me.  Maybe the answer is more time.  Three years is not long enough to get a day free of cancer thoughts.

Maybe I just need to try harder to let it go.  Let the good win out.  
Follow the butterflies, not the spiders.

The Greatest Gift

This past Saturday, my boy turned eight.  Eight!

Where has my little one gone?  I looked away for just a moment and years slipped away.

I’m melancholy for days of a tiny boy dressed in onesies and blue jeans, small white sneakers on feet not yet walking.  A bald head, so smooth to touch, bright eyes and a smile.

My pal, my little man, who went everywhere with me.  Graciously listening to my ramble from his car seat, greeting me every morning with a smile and at night, a snuggle, while reading Good Night, Moon and Big Red Barn.  Those books, now tossed by the wayside, making room for Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

What a beautiful baby you were.  Happy, curious, never once bothered by two strangers whisking you away from all that was familiar in a northern Russian baby house to a new home far across the sea.

I think you knew we belonged to you, as much as we believed, you belonged to us.

I ponder your birthday…the day you were born and how I wasn’t there to greet you as you emerged into the world.

Who welcomed you?  Who was first to hold you?

Those thoughts used to break my heart, distraught I’d let you down by not being there in your first moments, your first weeks, as I’ve been everyday since you were six months old.

I’m better about it now.  I understand you were in good hands until you were in mine.

This year, your birthday and Mother’s Day collided on the same weekend.  I wasn’t a mother until you.  Motherhood was out of my hands until a woman I never met made it possible.  I owe so much to a stranger somewhere on this planet, maybe still Russia, maybe not, for giving me the greatest gift of my life.


And I wonder, does she think of you?  Of where you might be, if you’re safe?  If you’re happy?

I hope somehow, she knows…You are.  For that is the only gift I can give her.

I see you now, my eight year old.  So grown up, in such a hurry to rush headfirst into being a teenager.  Before your time.

Before I’m ready to let go of my little one.

Slow down, please.

Happy birthday to my beautiful boy.

A Mother’s Day Wish

For all the mothers and their daughters.

For all the mothers loved by sons.
Please take a moment and read about Nancy Wyatt and her Mother’s Day wish for a future without breast cancer and then like Nancy and myself, consider joining up with the Love/Avon Army of Women.

Together we can help researchers discover the causes of breast cancer and just maybe, learn to prevent it so our future generations of daughters can live a life without fear of breast cancer.

Thank you to Nancy Wyatt for sharing her story.


This Mother’s Day, I Want to End Breast Cancer

To Every Mother, Daughter, and Sister:

    As a mother of two beautiful daughters and now grandmother to a pack of joyful and spirited grandchildren, I have made a simple wish for this Mother’s Day. I’m not looking for bouquets of flowers and bountiful gifts. This Mother’s Day, I want to end breast cancer and my wish is that we join together to be the generation that puts an end to this disease. Together, we can create a world for future mothers, daughters, and sisters without breast cancer.
When the “oldest” of my twin daughters found a lump in her breast at 32 years of age, we were all devastated. I was so scared for my daughter. This dreaded disease was an unwelcomed visitor in our family history, as my paternal grandmother had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sure enough, after a mammogram, ultrasound, needle aspiration, and finally a lumpectomy her lumps were found to be malignant. Her surgery was followed by a long year of chemotherapy and 8 weeks of radiation treatments.
Things seemed to be going well and we all thought she was doing just fine, when she discovered another lump in her scar tissue. She underwent a second lumpectomy and four days later, what the surgeon originally proposed as additional scar tissue, came back as cancerous. They recommended chemo again but my very tough, “I can handle anything” daughter broke down in tears, as she just couldn’t go through it again. After much thought and lots of prayer, she decided to forego chemotherapy a second time. She ended treatment in 1995 and today I’m happy to say that she’s healthy and still enjoying life to the fullest.
Unfortunately, this was just the beginning for me and my girls. Eleven years after my daughter’s initial diagnosis, her twin sister, who was 40 years old, had just delivered her 5th baby. While nursing the baby she felt a pain in her breast. Much to her chagrin, she discovered a lump in her breast. Sure enough, this lump turned out to be malignant, too. She, too, went through a year of chemotherapy. Again, I feel so fortunate to report that all is well and this busy mom of five is running around like crazy with all her kids and loving every minute of it.
We are thankful for every new day and try to put the ugly days behind us. But three years ago, we learned that breast cancer was not done with us just yet–when I myself was diagnosed. I, like my twin daughters, underwent a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Although science has made much progress with treatment options, we still don’t know how to PREVENT breast cancer.
I, too am now doing fine, but as the days go by and I see my granddaughters grow up I worry about what lies in their future. Successes and triumphs, relationships and heartbreaks are sure to come, but if I could be a part of eliminating one thing from their future…it would be breast cancer.

My daughters and I support the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s Love/Avon Army of Women Program because its working to eradicate breast cancer and improve the quality of women’s health through innovative research, education, and advocacy. What sets the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation apart from all other breast cancer organizations is its mission to move breast cancer beyond a cure by understanding the causes and ways to prevent it. They are conducting research that is focused on getting to the root of the disease and ending it once and for all. It is their firm belief that at the core of effective research is a need for scientists, women and funders to work together.
Talk to your friends and spread the word. Get everyone you know to sign up for the Army of Women, be a volunteer and help eradicate breast cancer! This Mother’s Day, give a gift to your daughters, their daughters, and their daughters to follow. To support our work, donate today.

Help build a world without breast cancer!

Nancy Wyatt
Army of Women member, Los Angeles, California

Just Another Day

I’m supposed to write today.  I was supposed to write yesterday and the day before, but I’m not finding the words and my mind keeps drifting off to other things.  Like the bread I have rising in the kitchen.  Another 30 minutes and I can stick it in the oven.

But, how can I write about that on this day in May?

The beautiful month of May, normally treasured for my birthday, my oldest son’s birthday and my little guy’s adoption day anniversary, now marred by the memory of a phone call on a rainy May 1st, three years ago.

The phone call that lead me down a path I never wanted to wander, taking me right up to this very moment, to this very page on a blog I never could have imagined.

What am I supposed to say about that day?  I’ve written about it before, wrote about getting that call.  Where I was, what I did then, but now…I’ve got nothing.  The passage of time hasn’t unveiled any clever insight. There isn’t any great reflection spilling forth making sense of the whole mess.  Making it acceptable or okay, because it’s not and never will be, not for me or anyone whose life is invaded by cancer.

If I could choose, I’d push it behind me and never look back, but the memories come.

I don’t know what kind of person I’d have to be to escape thoughts of a very typical day, overflowing with plans of raising children, ideas of growing old with my husband or simply savoring a cup of coffee and seeing it all shattered by a moment on the wrong end of a telephone call.  All that..good stuff… scattering away to the fringe of normal life, leaving only room for the everyday, all consuming one cancer has just dumped on me.

How does one not think about that?

If it’s possible to forget, I wish someone would tell me how.

Still, three years later, May 1st is just another day and my little guy had to go the dentist.  He had a cavity and though he’s only five, this is not his first.

My little boy, it’s always something.  His early days were constant sinus and ear infections requiring surgery at three to remove his tonsils and adenoids.  At one, he nearly broke his nose falling, carrying a small scar across the bridge of his nose to this day.  Two weeks ago, he had his front tooth knocked out in an unfortunate school incident and over the years he’s had four cavities, despite having the same dental hygiene habits as his brother, but that boy, my older son shines on…skipping through life with a smile and a wave, unfazed, untouched by the troubles heaped on his brother, never slowing for anyone or anything.

It’s my young one that falters and pushes on and this day, amidst my memories, I watch him soldier through another filling while clutching his stuffed polar bear.  Halfway through, when finally overwhelmed by the noise and the voices and the trappings of dentistry in his mouth, his eyes filled and his little hand raised as if to say, enough, and my heart broke.  I would have given anything to take his place, sit in that chair for him, have the dentist drill my tooth instead.  I could handle it.  I know how it feels to sit and endure until someone says I’m done.

If only I could do that for him.  Take away the dentist, wipe out the years of painful ear infections, wish away his continuing struggles to matter in the eyes of his big brother.  Take away the pain of disappointments yet to come on the playground, in his backyard, in his life, but I can’t, just as I couldn’t do it for myself that day three years ago.

My little one needs to find something within himself.  I could only sit near touching his leg, letting him know he wasn’t alone and when I thought he couldn’t take another minute in that chair, he amazed me with his perseverence.

He did it.  All done.  Off he went to claim his prize from the dentist’s reward bucket.

Maybe, that’s how I should see May 1st from now on, not for what it took from me, or dumped on me.  Maybe there is no lesson here.  It was just a day I got crappy news and like my little guy, I needed to stick in the chair until the hard part was over.

There might be prizes to be had.