The Mommy Files

It has taken me far too long to write this post. This is mainly due to the fact that back in November, I had a baby, and apparently newborns take up every minute and every hour of your life. I mean, EVERY. MINUTE. I have sat down to write so many times, and then a poo emergency strikes, or a cry is heard, or I realize I haven’t gone to the bathroom in 12 hours, and I quickly forget about any prior ambitions I had.

Besides the overwhelming, drastic life change that is motherhood, I have also put off writing anything because my will and energy hasn’t been there. Not too long after I gave birth to the most special little guy in the universe, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. Things got bad. Reeeeal bad. My goal every day was to just make it through and get to the next day, and pretty much everything else, including writing, fell to the wayside. But I believe that writing and sharing helped me through another very challenging time in my life (as you may recall), so I’ve been meaning to get to it.

There are so many things I want to say about the last (almost) three months, and so many thoughts I have on parenting/babies/postpartum, that I don’t think I can cover it all in one post. It will probably take much more than one post, so feel free to stick with me if you’re interested in reading about this stuff. One thing I have learned through all this is that there are many new moms who have experienced or are experiencing what I’m going through. Although everyone’s story is unique, many of us share a lot of the same challenges. And yet so few are openly talking about it. I have my theories on why this might be, but I’ll get to that later. It feels similar to my cancer experience, in a weird way, where it felt like I was going through this huge thing that many people just didn’t talk about openly and honestly. And I get it. It’s hard to open up about our personal struggles. It leaves us vulnerable, and exposed.

With cancer, there was so much pressure to be positive and sunshine-y, and with motherhood, there is a lot of pressure to be the very best mom and be happy and perfect and proclaim that every moment is just full of joy and rainbows and wonderful, cute baby things. Welp, I am once again here to burst your bubble and drop some truth bombs all over the internet, if you care to join me. Because, guess what? Motherhood is VERY HARD. And being a new mom while you’re also, unfortunately, dealing with mental health issues is super hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve literally had cancer.

So where to even start, with so much to say? I suppose, as is often the case, the best place to start is at the beginning. My birth story. The day my life, once again, changed forever. But you’ll have to hang tight, because my baby is about to wake from his semi-peaceful slumber and duty calls. Stay tuned…

mommyfiles

 

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The Ring of Fire

I received a really nice email last week, and hopefully this kind stranger doesn’t mind me posting her words here for you to read:

I’m sure you get many of these random stranger emails – oh a blog about BC! I had it too! now that makes us instant friends…LOL.
I just wanted to tell you that your posts are so refreshing to read. In an ocean of stories, yours has been the one that has finally made me think “hey, I’m not a crazy weirdo, this person thinks EXACTLY what I was thinking” – pretty hard to find let me tell you.
so, I just wanted to thank you for bringing a smile to another woman’s day struggling with all the BS around BC.
And great hair. Oh don’t get me started on the hair.
R.

This email reminded me that people still read my blog and that it keeps existing for others, whether I update it or not. Somehow, people still find it and still connect, even as I continue on, living my life. The internet is a pretty groovy thing, n’est-ce pas?

For those who’ve been missing me, don’t forget to check out my monthly column over at ELLE. I’ve been giving all of the thoughts inside my brain to them (and they actually pay me real money to do so!), which is why I haven’t been as active around these parts.

But don’t despair, I’ll never disappear from here completely. This is still my favourite space to be. No deadlines, no edits, no caring about trying to impress anybody. My tiny little corner of the interwebs where I can do as I please. It’s swell.

You know what’s not so swell?

The dramatic return of my hot flashes.

Bleh. I thought I had cured them by switching up my medication brand, but that effect seemed to only last temporarily. I’m back to being a sweaty, burning mess, with the concept of sleeping through the night being nothing more than a fantasy. And if you keep up with your breast cancer news (which I’m sure many of you do not, you lucky ducks), you will know that Tamoxifen is now being recommended for ten years, instead of five. TEN YEARS of sleepless nights and melting madness.

But I am grateful. It could be worse. So much worse. Who needs eyebrows, breasts, sleep, comfort? I’m alive!

I’ve been fighting off a nasty sinus infection the past several days, that finally seems on its way out. I don’t know if this is normal for other people who’ve gone through cancer treatment, but I find that now when I’m sick, I have traumatic flashbacks to the chemo glory days. Lying in bed feeling ill brings back terrible memories of lying in bed feeling (more) ill. When my stomach gets sick now (which still happens from time to time, THANKS IBS), it reminds me of when I felt that way for days/weeks on end, so weak I had to cling to the sink to pull myself up from the toilet, and then lean against the wall as I walked back to my bedroom so I wouldn’t fall down on the way. That scenario felt like a never-ending cycle, for months.

I wish I could just get “normal” sick without having such hideous memories and anxiety attached to it. Maybe eventually, but for now, it still feels like a horrible nightmare I can’t forget. That feeling when you see a scary movie that creeps you out, and it pops into your head right before you go to sleep at night, plaguing your thoughts. It’s like that. Times a million. I play the scenes back in my head. My very own horror movie, and I’m the star.

I always did want to be a star.

But the difference between normal sick and cancer sick is it ends pretty quickly and you bounce right back from it and usually forget about it a few days later. You’re not likely to be tortured with thoughts about that time you had the sniffles and took some cold and sinus pills.

So that’s another thing to be grateful for. Being sick and not having it be cancer. That’s kind of cool. Although I’d rather just not be sick with anything, big or small, ever again, but I guess I’ll roll with the punches. I’ll blow my nose, feel aches in my body, cry because it reminds me of when my entire body ached from the inside out, cry that I might one day feel that pain again, wake up the next morning, and notice that I can breathe again; that the pain is gone and I’m standing on my own, with the past still visible in my rearview mirror, but the present staring at me, pressed right up against the windshield.

And I must say, the present is lookin’ pretty good. More joy than pain. More health than misfortune. More beauty than sorrow. More laughter than tears.

In fact, life is swell.

Except for the hot flashes.

Those can go to hell.

Is it cancer?

If you’ve been following my recent blog posts, you may have noticed that I’ve been having some worrisome aches and pains for quite awhile. My oncologist finally ordered me a bone scan last Friday, and if you follow my Twitter or Instagram you will already be aware of the results…

I DON’T GOTS NO CANCER IN MY BONES! Yiiiiiipppeeeeeeeee (sorry, I am not feeling very eloquent today, I’m tired).

My mind once again went to some very dark places while waiting to learn my fate. Unless you’ve ever had cancer, and had to undergo multiple tests to find out if your cancer has become terminal, you will never understand what it feels like to be in that unfathomable situation. And I hope you never have to understand. I’ve had major sob-fests merely over the realization that I will carry that anxiety with me, in some form, for the rest of my life. This cancer crap sure ain’t easy.

So now I breathe a sigh of relief, let the heavy weight release itself from my chest, and get on with life until the next thing crops up and I have to wonder: Is it cancer?

And since I believe all good cancer-related news must be celebrated in some form, I did just that: by ordering sushi with my sister, watching terrible reality TV, and taking a series of ugly photobooth photos that made me laugh so hard my ribs hurt.

But at least I know the rib pain was laughing-related and not cancer-related. I do know that. At least for today.

Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.44 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.29 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.34 PM Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.34 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.38 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.35 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.35 PM Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.42 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.42 PM #3 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.42 PM #4

Life, etc.

Hello loyal readers! (Or, people who Google searched “cupcake recipe” and accidentally ended up here.)

I haven’t been updating the blog too frequently, but this is not because I have nothing going on, but rather the opposite. I often sit down to write and then quickly get side-tracked doing something else and lose my focus. I could blame it on lingering chemo brain, which I do believe I occasionally suffer from, but it mostly comes down to just being busy. Which is a good thing. Here are the things that have been occupying my time and my mindspace (which apparently isn’t a real word, but it should be).

TELEVISION! I realize watching TV might not be seen as the most fruitful of activities, but there is so much good stuff on right now that I am giddy about. I can talk about TV for hours, so if anyone ever wants to do that with me, feel free. My newest obsession is How To Get Away With Murder which is the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on television in awhile. I also recently watched both seasons of Rectify, which is on Netflix, and deserves way more attention than it’s been getting for its unbelievable performances and gorgeous cinematography. And of course there are all my old standbys: Mindy Project, Parenthood, Scandal, etc. And there is still so much I want to check out (The Affair, The Leftovers, Transparent) but haven’t had time to yet. I LOVE TV SO MUCH AND I CAN’T STOP.

ELLE! If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve started writing my monthly column for Elle Canada magazine called #LIFEREBOOT about discovering life after cancer. So I’ve been busy exploring and writing and doing many fun things, like going on mindfulness retreats and leaning off very tall towers. Every month that I see the new issue in my mailbox, I still get giddy when I turn to my page and see my name and photos and words. It’s been a fun challenge, and I am learning a lot. For February’s issue, I’ll be writing about something that’s been keeping me busy for the past couple months and that I’ve enjoyed immensely but I don’t want to spoil it, so you’ll have to wait and buy the magazine.

ANXIETY! This is nothing new but is simply now a common theme in my life that likely will never completely go away, and that I must learn to live with. I don’t mention this stuff for pity, or for advice, but merely to help non-cancer people understand that us cancer-people live a very complicated existence, often filled with various bouts of fear and anxiety. Sometimes I think I’m in the clear and over “that phase” and then all of a sudden, something new pops up — a new pain, a new ache, a new symptom — and I question my health and my future. I worry about not being alive in 5 years, I worry about my body betraying me in an awful and grotesque way, I think about what my funeral might be like, and who might show up. Again, this is NOT a cry for help. For 90% of my days, I’m living and loving my life and having a ball. But the other 10% is still kind of crappy and that’s just the hand I’ve been dealt, as have many others. And we’ll get through it, because that’s all we can do.

MEXICO! A perfect cure for all life’s problems… vacation! We just got back from celebrating our third wedding anniversary in Mexico on the most beautiful beach, where we ate fabulous food, swam in the ocean and read books by the pool. It was divine. I’ve said this before, but since having cancer I am incredibly grateful for any chance I get to just relax and be spoiled. Life is short, and I want to spend as much of it as I can sitting by the ocean and feeling the sun on my face. There is nothing better, in my opinion. Here are some photos if you like that kind of thing.

NEW JOB! Some of you may have heard of an awesome charity called Rethink Breast Cancer and if you haven’t, well now you’re gonna. They support a cause very near and dear to my heart: helping young women with breast cancer and those affected by breast cancer. They provide cutting edge resources, such as their new digital content, including a video by yours truly.


For this video, I came up with my own idea/script/tips. Nothing was spoon-fed to me. This is because the people at Rethink are cool and smart and believe in allowing young women with breast cancer to share their unique voices. My involvement with Rethink will now be turning into my day job, as I begin a new contract position with them entailing the coordination of various online initiatives. My advocacy and concern for issues affecting young adults with cancer has become a huge part of my life, and I’m excited to work somewhere that will foster that passion.

So, there you have it. Lots going on. Lots of changes. Lots of new beginnings. Lots of good stuff. Lots of hoping and crossing fingers for more good stuff. Let the good times roll.

My First Cancerversary

September 11th. A crummy date, for many reasons. One of them being that this is the date, one year ago, I was told:

You have breast cancer.

I remember my doctor telling me it would be a rough year, and I thought, A YEAR?! That is way too long! And yet now, here I am. One year, exactly. A year of hospitals, surgeries, poison, burning, anxiety, sickness, and survival.

I remember walking out into the street in a daze. I have cancer, I have cancer. I remember emailing my girlfriends: Ok, this is going to be a pretty intense email, but I have cancer. Fuckkkkk. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. I remember stumbling over to the pharmacy to fill the prescription for anti-anxiety meds that my doctor said I would likely require to get to sleep for the next few nights. I thought, no way, I’ll be fine.

I popped my first pill that night.

I remember coming home and Googling my cancer (of course). I remember reading some really scary things about it and seeing the words AGGRESSIVE and POORER PROGNOSIS over and over. I emailed my doctor with the subject: First Freakout Email.

I remember my little sister coming over and how we sat on the couch and cried without talking. Then we, along with my husband, realized we still needed to eat, so we went grocery shopping. My first realization that life does not suddenly stop when you are in a crisis. It goes on, whether you like it or not.

We walked to the grocery store and I felt extreme rage at everyone I saw. I hated the young mom with her baby in a stroller. I hated the happy couples. I hated them all. Why were people going on, as if nothing had happened? Why were they allowed to be happy? My life had been destroyed. Why hadn’t theirs?

I don’t remember what I ate that night. Probably not very much, which was my trend for the month after my diagnosis.

I remember going to sleep, wondering how I would ever face the next day, and the days after that. Wondering how I’d ever get a grip on these foreign concepts – cancer, chemo, antibodies, hormones, fertility.

And here I am, one year later, with a far greater knowledge of these things and many more than I ever imagined I might possess.

I remember thinking, I am going to dieI might not make it through the year. I might never see the next season of Homeland.

As it turns out, I am very much alive. I made it through year one post-cancer. The first several years are the most critical. Every year is a milestone. Every year, I get closer to the possibility of more years.

This date will always be significant in my life. It is the day my life changed. The day I lost a large chunk of what innocence I still had. The day I became Steph AC (after-cancer) and said goodbye to Steph BC (before-cancer). The day I became a “cancer survivor” whether I wanted that title or not.

I will never forget that day.

I somehow made it through Year One. There were times I wasn’t sure I would. But I did. And I’m hopeful that Year Two will be a lot better, and involve a lot more fun, and a lot more hair.

Happy Cancerversary to me.

Life after cancer

First, a big shout-out to everyone who has donated to me for the Weekend walk. I was again blown away by how much support I have, especially from people who have never met me who somehow found this blog and felt compelled to reach into their pockets. There have been so many nice messages sent to me via the donation page, and so many “likes” on my Facebook updates/photos from the past couple days, and so many texts and emails and cards and gifts. When I think about all of it, I get a little misty eyed and feel like I am wrapped up in a warm, fuzzy blanket of kindness and empathy. I am so touched by the generosity others have shown me. I hope I can pay it forward somehow, someday.

Yesterday marked another significant milestone of my adventures with cancer: I finished my 25 rounds of radiation. It was a great day. I got to piggyback on my radiation therapist’s birthday party and steal some treats from her to celebrate my last treatment. I said goodbye to my favourite receptionists who greet me with smiles every day and whose faces I will actually miss seeing. I had lunch with a new friend who gave me a very thoughtful and sentimental gift and tears and hugs were shared. I saw a movie with my mom and sister, and went out for a nice dinner with my family, where I received some beautiful flowers. It felt like my birthday, except about a million times better.

And now I am exhausted. And feel as though I could sleep for about a week. Turns out, radiation is pretty tiring, just like the warnings said. It took awhile to catch up with me, but it happened. As did the burn. And the itching. But all of that should go away with some time. So now I sit. And I wait. And I watch a lot of TV. Not such a bad deal, honestly.

I am getting many questions from many people, which leads me to believe most of you are once again confused as to what happens now. And I don’t blame you, because it is confusing. For me, this is my every day existence – managing my cancer schedule/life. But for others, I know it is a lot to wrap your head around, since there are many things in your life that have nothing to do with cancer. Oh how I envy you.

I am still in active cancer treatment. Still fighting this evil thing that is trying to ruin all my fun. I will still be receiving my IV cancer drugs every three weeks, until January, which means I am not yet saying bye-bye to the chemo ward and nurses. And I also am taking my hormone therapy drugs in the form of a pill, each and every night, which cause me to wake up throughout the night drenched in sweat. But compared to everything else, it’s all doable. Not ideal. Not a party. But bearable. And that’s okay with me.

In some ways, I am glad to still have these things going on. Like I am being slowly weaned off of cancer and the constant attacking of cancer cells. It helps me, in a way, to feel like I am doing something, like I am actively attempting to keep this cancer bullshit far, far away from me.

It is well documented that for many cancer patients, the most psychologically trying aspect of treatment is actually after it has ended. You are suddenly thrust back into the world, away from the constant monitoring and care of your healthcare team.

Hey, you have cancer. Now we’re going to make you crazy sick and unhealthy for awhile. Now you’re done, and it might come back, but it might not. Ok, so long, see ya!

It’s a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. And it’s something, I have come to realize, that most people who haven’t had cancer are completely unaware of. The post-traumatic stress that can be triggered after battling a life threatening disease. The anxiety that comes with not knowing if you killed it, if it’s still there, or if it will be come back. The uncertainty of it all, and the feeling that no one has been through what you have, and no one could understand. People just expect that since you’re healthy again and look fairly decent, you’re back to normal. You’re fine. You can move on. But it isn’t that simple. In fact, it’s extremely complicated.

The “Life After Breast Cancer” book I received at the hospital yesterday. If only it were as simple as reading a book.

Oddly enough, there was an article published today in the NY Times about the anxiety that creeps in post-cancer.

Dr. Laura B. Dunn, a professor of psychiatry and director of psycho-oncology at the University of California, San Francisco, said that although cancer is increasingly labeled a chronic illness, “it’s different from arthritis in that it’s more of a chronic threat. Some of us are wired to be attuned to threat.” The anxiety is understandable, she said, because “no one can guarantee you a cancer-free survival.”

Although I would love to shout from the rooftops “I’m cancer freeeee!”, no doctor or test can really tell me that, because that’s just not how it works, as much as everyone really wants me to say that. I can believe it, and I can hope for it, and I can keep doing things to try to ensure it. But I can’t know. I have to just have faith. Which is a bit tricky. But I am trying, to the best of my ability.

So that is where we are right now. Surgeries done. Chemo done. Radiation done. Fighting cancer incomplete. Moving on from cancer incomplete. I am still very much a work in progress. As we all are, really.

But with all the question marks and uncertainties, one thing I do know for sure: It has been a very long year. And I deserve a nap.

The other side of the rope

Here’s the deal:

A few months back, I found a lump in my breast. Where the hell did it come from? How did I not feel it before? I showed my husband. I showed my sister. I googled “what does a tumour feel like”. Despite all I read that told me lumps are common and are most often nothing to worry about, I was worried.  I started to panic, naturally, as I always do because that is just the way I am. I’m Jewish. I’m neurotic. Being anxious is in my DNA.

The next morning I called my doctor’s office and was able to see her right away. She felt it. She was certain it was nothing. It had the feel of something that was nothing. But best to be safe and get an ultrasound. So I had an ultrasound. The radiologist thought it was a bit suspicious. So I got a mammogram. And a biopsy. I started to panic, again. Why were they taking a biopsy of my perfectly normal lump? What did they see on their screen? The technician told me it would take about a week to get the results. “Try to enjoy your weekend,” she said, “It could be nothing.” It could be nothing? I wanted to smack that woman. But I refrained, found my husband in the waiting room, and burst into tears.

Anyone who has had a biopsy can tell you that waiting for the results is the most awful part. I slowly started to lose my mind. All I could think about was that lump. That stupid lump. I called my doctor’s office and tried to track down my results. The more days that went by, the more anxiety I felt. Finally I heard from my doctor, who said she would be getting the results in a few days and that I should come in to go over them. Why did she want to see me if she didn’t have the results yet? Was this normal protocol? Did she know something already? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!?!

That weekend, I participated in a walk for breast cancer that my family does together each year. Yes, that’s right. I surrounded myself with breast cancer while waiting to find out if I had breast cancer. At the closing ceremonies, when all the cancer survivors walked in (including my dad!), I high-fived all the women who walked by. There was a rope between us, and as I reached over to touch their hands and saw their tears of courage, I began to cry too. No one would have noticed, because it is a highly emotional event, and there were tears in many eyes. But I cried because I suddenly was struck with this overwhelming realization – I would likely be joining them on the other side of that rope.

On September 11, 2012 (and yes, I was not thrilled about the negative connotations associated with that date) my husband and I made our way to my doctor’s office. She chit-chatted a bit, and then got down to business.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have good news today. The biopsy showed that you have cancer.”

What.
The.
Hell.

My lifelong fear was actually happening. I was being diagnosed with cancer. Many, many years before I ever expected to hear those words.

My doctor, who is wonderful and patient, sat with us for 2 hours. I have no idea what we talked about. Every once in awhile I heard a word. Oncologist… chemo… children… aggressive… cancer… cancer… cancer. I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I floated out of my body. I floated back in. I called my dad and cried and told him to tell my mom, because I couldn’t handle it. We left the office, stunned and exhausted. I messaged a couple close friends: I have cancer. Fuck. I emailed my boss: Unfortunately I just found out I have cancer. I don’t think I can come into the office today.

And that was the beginning.