July 09, 2017

Shifting Perspectives

I took half of these pictures exactly two weeks ago on the Sunday before my surgery. I admit that I have spent a good portion of my life the last few months living in fear. That is never my choice but sometimes it seems almost unavoidable. For a period of time. I think that's key. If you spend all of your time living in fear, well, you aren't really living. You are missing out on the beautiful every day moments that are happening in your life right now, while you are alive.

 The very oddest thing happened to make me wake up to this realization...my mallow plants. I planted these at least three seasons ago and every year, the enchanting, plump Village bunny that loves to visit my garden, would mow them down to the ground before they had ever really gotten their heads more than a few inches high.

Soon after we lost our sweet Millie, the bunny stopped visiting. I had always thought the bunny was afraid of her but it now appears to me that the bunny came to play with her and now sees no point in visiting and eating my flowers if there is no golden retriever to frolic with. The point of this story though is that I was so deeply wrapped up in my fear and grief, that I almost completely missed the fact that I had mallow growing in my garden for the first time in my entire life. I couldn't stop thinking what a shame that would have been and I began to feel my perspective shifting.

Ten days ago I had my surgery and while there was an incredible amount of fear leading up to it and still some residual fear, mostly due to my history with blood clots, I am healing, slow and steady, body, heart and soul.

This past week, I very suddenly lost one of my best friends, Renee. Maybe you know her from her blog or Instagram account. We were very close and such a lifeline for each other, especially the last few months as we both found ourselves facing some of the biggest challenges of our lives. I loved her dearly and am so sad that my doctor doesn't want me to risk making the trip to say goodbye at her funeral. I miss our daily talks about life, challenges, joys and yarn. I believe I was put in her life to help comfort her when she needed it and while now I could use her comfort more than anything, I have to believe she was put in my life to reinforce to me that we don't know what tomorrow will bring, so make the most of today. She was also a shining example of what deep faith looked like.

If I'm being honest, even as I'm learning all the lessons that life is throwing at me this year, even as I feel myself growing and changing, I'm tired from it all. I don't want to learn anymore for awhile. I want to sit quietly and knit and watch BBC, and make lists and dream and pretend the world is always a beautiful place where people are lovely to each other and treat one another with kindness, respect and grace.

You learn a lot about yourself and the people around you during times like this. Some of it positive. Some of it not. I am trying to focus on the positive and working towards a zen like acceptance of the rest. That does require a little practice.

I have learned though, that changing your perspective can be such a beautiful thing. Looking at something in a completely new way, sharing a new experience with people you love, trying something you've always wanted to do. Being brave, even when you're scared, trying new things even if you might feel stupid or God forbid...even if you might fail.

This is what we are here for. To love, to live, to go out into the world and explore, see and learn. New experiences and dreams are what keep us interested and interesting.

I've realized there are so many places I still want to go and  things I still want to do: write a book, play the cello, learn to tap dance, take a cooking class in Italy, knit a sweater, travel the English countryside, go to Maine, make croissants from scratch, learn to paint, visit the PNW, take a pottery class, sew a quilt, become a better photographer, sew a skirt and the list goes on and on. And obviously I'll never get to everything on the list...or maybe I will. I plan to give myself at least another 46 years to try.

I have a new watch that reminds me to breathe, it reminds me to get up and move but as far as I know there is not an app that reminds you to live, really live, your life every day. That is something we have to learn on our own.

I have to say the most important thing I learned through this process, although I was not oblivious to this fact, is that I am married to an amazing man who is here for me no matter what. Usually unconditional love is reserved for parents and their children and dogs and their humans, but my Sweet Man has always loved me unconditionally. He has been my tower of strength even through his own fear. He has held me and comforted me for the past several months and for the last 10 days he has taken charge of my medical care doing things too unsavory to mention here and doing them without hesitation. He has cared for all of my needs, journaled my medical stats, set alarms every 3 hours through the night and fed me pain pills, water and crackers. He has cared for me medically, physically and emotionally with the gentlest of care and the deepest of love. As I stood in the shower one night while he gently bathed me and washed my hair, hurting and feeling exposed and mangled and vulnerable and sobbing, that man looked me in the eyes and told me that I had never been more beautiful. I wish that is what love would always look like for every person. No matter what life brings me, I will forever be grateful that it gave me that.

While I still have another surgery ahead of me in the next month or so, I'm ready to get through it and move on to the next chapter. And I just want to say this- I am not cancer. Cancer is something that happened to me, a life experience that is now a part of my story for better or worse. I am not a victim.  I do not want people to think of me and for their first thought to be that I had cancer. I am not interested in dwelling on this sad chapter, just as I am not interested in dwelling on any of the sad chapters that came before it. This, like everything that came before, alters my path a bit and makes me more fully the person I am meant to be, which is just a person living my life the best way I know how.

Having said that, I want to thank each and every one of you for your positive thoughts, prayers, emails, texts, notes, gifts, flowers, meals, errands and the pure and beautiful outpouring of love that was sent my way. It made such a difference for me and I felt stronger for it. I am full of gratitude for it. There were days when I was sustained by it and I could never find enough ways to thank you for your generosity and kindness. People are so incredibly lovely. I leave you now with this picture of the daybed swing my guy built, where I soon hope to be doing a lot of recovering.

With my sincerest gratitude and love,

May 29, 2017

Sacred Summer

Dear beautiful friends. Hello. I'm so sorry to have been gone so long and to return with this news. I have breast cancer. I hope you cannot imagine having to utter those words or anything similar. I wonder if in time it will become easier. I have moments where I forget, where I'm just Jen, loving my life and finding the little joys and then in a moment of surreal clarity, I recall...I have cancer. But how can this be? Haven't I struggled enough in my life? Haven't I faced and overcome more than my share of adversity in the last 46 years? How can this be true? There is some self pity, of course. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by my own life story. Often as people get to know me and hear about my life, I see the horror reflected in their eyes. But it's all I know and this too is just part of my story. I have no choice but to accept it and move through this time with as much strength as I can muster. I've had lots of practice.

I have what is called DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. It's the earliest form and I'm so thankful it was caught early, Stage 0 early, through my routine mammogram. It should have been a straight forward treatment of a lumpectomy followed by radiation. However, I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene which means I have a genetic predisposition especially for breast and ovarian cancer. This means my cancer very likely would come back so at the end of this month, I am scheduled for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The full scope of my treatment won't be clear until after the surgery. They don't expect me to require chemo. I've learned through this process to expect the unexpected. This information means that the ovaries also have to be addressed and sooner rather than later. We are still gathering information on that piece of the puzzle. This might be a good time to tell you that I am very comfortable with the plan we have in place. I have done my due diligence on the subject. I don't buy a new microwave without doing a ton of research, so please assume I know what is best for my body. Also, please do not feel the need to share with me anything other than positive stories or encouragement. When I was recovering from the blood clot in my lung in 2015, I was constantly shocked by the number of people who felt the need to share stories of people they knew who died from a back ache that was actually a blood clot, etc. or who would say things to me like "I'm surprised you're alive". Really, truly if you don't know what to say, it's okay to say nothing.

Honestly when this first happened, I was looking ahead as the summer that cancer stole. I have since shifted my thinking and this summer I am looking forward to healing, to focusing on the quiet to come and the strength to be gained from winning a battle I never wanted to fight. I'm still here trying to find the positives, I just have to dig a little deeper for them.

I have had some very dark moments over the last month and a half, through multiple mammograms, biopsies, ultrasounds, imaging scans and so very much waiting. The waiting is the most stressful part of all of this so far. We have been hit by wave after wave of bad news and I have no idea what is still ahead but I do know this, I have the most supportive husband you can imagine, holding my hand every step of the way and so many lovely people lifting my spirits and offering help and kindness. And strength, I have that, although there are days when I feel like it has abandoned me, it always seems to come back.

I want to leave you with a little encouragement my friends, please, please be proactive about your health. Keep on top of your routine screenings. Do your breast exams, don't skip going to the doctor because you don't want to get on the scale or because you are embarrassed to talk about what's bothering you. Make your health your priority and never take it for granted.