Are there moments when the pain of your loss feels different, when you are more centered or aligned and have moments of peace?
I carry an extra burden in addition to grief. The obvious one is that I am now a single parent. Without their father on this earth, my kids rely solely on me to be there for them as they grow up. My kids are my joy, my husband’s blood runs in their veins, the resemblance to him is undeniable. This is the upside in all of this mess. After I tell you the true weight which I carry in addition to my grief, I know you will think of me in a different light. Maybe you will think I’ve been lying to you for not telling, maybe you will feel sorry for me, or maybe you just won’t really care because your own shit is actually worse than mine. I won’t judge you, if you don’t judge me.
Over the course of Jon’s having cancer, my health became acutely affected. Up until his cancer was diagnosed, Jon was always the healthy one in our relationship, and he would always support me as I dealt with my annual case of some illness, knee surgery, hysterectomy, and the list goes on! One of the reasons we did not take as many vacations as we wanted to, was because of my recovery from whatever was going on with me at the time. The stress of our last move in 2011 to Michigan masked many underlying issues. For both of us: our upset stomachs, weight gain, mood swings — yeah, a good dose of job changing and moving will do that, right? We missed the bigger picture entirely as we plowed forward with getting our family under one roof, finding good schools for our kids, and Jon’s start at a new company.
By early 2015, I was struggling with pain in my side and a bad case of reflux, it was two years in to Jon’s cancer battle. I finally got to the doctor and had some tests, and was diagnosed with a nonfunctioning gallbladder — just get this out! My body continued to have other odd things happening, and at the pre-op visit a week before my gallbladder surgery, I mentioned to the doctor that I felt a lump in my left breast. The referral to have a mammogram to check this out was immediate that same day. It was a relief to have this grape-sized cyst drained (sorry, gross, I know), but the breast doctor saw something else on the scans in that same breast. A needle-core biopsy was taken, then I went home feeling like I had just been shot, a packed white gauze pad taped essentially over my heart. The lab would now review my sample, and I would hear about results in a few days, onward with my gallbladder removal surgery scheduled at hand.
I was resting at home after my cholecystectomy, and the phone rang. In a half-daze, I answered. It was the breast doctor. I needed to get my pen and write this all down. I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) stage 0, a form of breast cancer. Great, I know a thing or two about cancer, what do I do about mine? — just get this out! Finding out you have cancer in any form really messes with your mind. Besides having my life flash before my eyes, I reviewed all the talks that were going to be immediately necessary with my husband and kids. Then, it would be attack time, getting to the business of survival, which meant a lumpectomy and 20 days of radiation, followed by five years of drugs, and mammograms every 6 months. The goal is to zero-out the percentage possibility of reoccurrence in an exponential quantity.
(There is a middle part to this story that needs to be included here, but I will save it for another time. The middle part needs to stand on its own. This is enough for now, to answer the above question.)
In August 2016, I was one year out from radiation, and to date my scans are clear. But, my life is still heavily clouded by fucking cancer. (Hall-pass for appropriate use please.) My pain of losing Jon to cancer and the utter unexpected turn of facing a form of it myself at the same time, the gravity of that, has given birth to an inability to rationally deal with it all. So I’m constantly sourcing in my designer-trained brain for ways to process, diagram, compartmentalize, and quite frankly remember who I am. And for my kids, I am thankful for their teenage brains that help them forget details now and then, they need time to just be kids if only for a little bit longer.
It’s 11:11 a.m. June 8, 2017 right now. Today is Jon’s birthday, he would be 55 years old if alive. This morning I drove from Michigan to Chicago, his hometown, for a genetic testing appointment to learn if I have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes in my DNA. It is ironic to me as this appointment date was originally scheduled for August, but I was called just last month because they had a cancellation for today — today! My course of action on this whole breast cancer drama is to stay ahead of it. Since I am healthy now, I’m feverishly exercising, training, and strengthening my mind and body. I am creating space between me and fucking cancer because I am the only one who can do it. My time is truly limited for peace, mortality makes a terrible house guest, and it refuses to leave. Call it my justification for my modes of escape. If my results received in a few weeks are positive for any of the breast cancer genes, I will be having surgery for breast reconstruction. My children will have the gift of genetic testing, for better or worse, from both of their parents as knowledge of their future risks. This is a view of my past, present, and future; known and unknown, this is my extended burden.~Paula