Monday, August 25, 2014

How do I make us whole again?

My week was marked by two big occasions. First, the kids started back to school. I now have a Junior and a sixth grader. Honestly, I was not ready for my kids to go back to school because I felt like I missed out on half of the summer while recovering from my final treatments. By the time I felt good and ready to really enjoy time off with the kids, we only had half of the summer left. So I was a little sad that it was time for school to commence. 

The beginning of the school year is often met with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and some anxiety not only for the students but also for the parents. The start to this year was no different in our house. My older daughter is facing the increased demands in homework as she starts her IB Diploma program. My younger daughter was moving to a different middle school than most of her friends from elementary school. My daughters are both bright and highly capable, but there is a part of me that holds my breath a little that first day, until I know everything has gone well. Their first days were fine, of course. This year will be challenging for both of them, but I know that their intelligence and work ethic will serve them well.

The other major event of the week was my return for my first series of post treatment testing. I had CT scans on Wednesday and blood tests on Friday. Leading up to my tests, I told people that I expected them to be fine. In fact, I said I would fall over dead from a heart attack if the tests showed anything was wrong because I just expected all would be well. Still, as I thought back to the various tests I had in September and October prior to my surgery, I remembered feeling very confident then that there was nothing wrong with me. In fact, I almost blew off a recommended MRI because I really was completely unconcerned.

Thinking back to how I felt so sure I was perfectly fine, and how I turned out to be wrong, how could I be so sure everything was fine now? My confidence wavered a bit leading up to the tests. For the three days prior to my testing, I went back and forth thinking, "I am perfectly healthy" to "if they find something else, I am screwed!" As soon as the scans were over on Wednesday, that fear immediately dissipated. I think that the fact that I have been very busy with travel and back to school stuff really helped keep my mind focused elsewhere. For occasions like these, distraction is my coping mechanism and it honestly is very effective.

So the organized chaos associated with the beginning of the school year has been helpful. Also, signing up for a 50 mile race has given me motivation to get out and run a lot. I have just under five weeks left until my race. My husband is now officially signed up for the accompanying 50k. He suffers from stomach issues on long distance races and has gotten sick in three of his last four ultras. He throws up. In fact, he throws up a lot. Since I really love longer races, and I really enjoy running with my husband, I am hoping we can figure out how to prevent him from getting nauseous going forward. My husband is pretty amazing because he quits ultras almost every time he runs them but then keeps coming back for more. 

In order to train for longer distances, it is common to do back to back long runs. On Friday, I set out early while he took the kids to school. Then he joined me for the remainder of my long run. I finished 24 miles and he ran 20. It was a mercifully overcast and cool day for August. With heat not being an issue for either of us, we finished and felt tired but otherwise good.

On Saturday, we met up with Vanessa who is also training for a 50k. Steve ran 12 miles with us, and Vanessa and I finished 15. On Sunday, I met up with Vanessa and Jaclyn at the Garden of the Gods. We ran just under 9 miles. It was my first time running with Jaclyn. The conversation flowed easily and made the time pass quickly. Vanessa took this picture of the three of us, and as I looked at it, I thought about how running has brought me the opportunity to meet so many interesting, intelligent and strong women. Our experiences as women, wives, mothers, daughters and athletes allow us to bridge the differences that results from our varying  ages and stages of our lives. 

I am now ten weeks out from my final chemotherapy treatment. I feel pretty good. I am getting physically stronger and have more endurance each week. I still get tired, but I am able to keep a schedule that I could not keep previously. I feel like the mental fog is lifting. I am wanting to put the cancer experience behind me and move on with life. 

I am reminded often that this experience is not just mine. My whole family has suffered and struggled. Whereas I want to move on, and act like everything is fine, I know my children are still processing things. Over the last year, I have been a witness to depression, panic attacks, fear, isolation and anger. My children have paid a heavy price for my illness. I have done everything in my power to keep their lives as normal as possible through everything, but then something happens and I am reminded that my kids are harboring fear in their hearts or anger at an illness that changed their normal "super mom" temporarily into someone else. I am wracked by guilt over the damage to their psyches and confidence and I wonder how to mitigate it and make our family whole again. One minute, everyone seems fine, and then the next, something happens that reminds me that I am responsible for bringing pain and fear into their lives. It breaks my heart to hear my child saying, "I don't think my friends understand what I am going through." All I can say is, "No, they don't understand because they haven't lived it themselves. It isn't anyone's fault. They just have not shared your experience." That feeling of no one understanding is entirely valid, but not being able to protect my kids from feelings of isolation or alienation makes me feel like someone has ripped my heart out of my chest. 

Part of me harbors guilt over my illness. I have missed some activities over the last ten months. I was constantly exhausted. I tried so hard to not have anyone else's life disrupted logistically. But in all honesty, our lives were tossed into turmoil on an emotional level that I think I am just beginning to understand.

Part of me wants to shout, "I did this for you all, not for me! I put myself through everything so I could be here for you!" But, truthfully I did it for all of us, to maximize my chances of being around to see them grow up and to grow old with my husband. I am sorry that they feel fear, anger, sadness, isolation or loneliness. Even though I want to move on, when I see those emotions coming from my children, I experience them deeply, acutely and painfully, too. I do not yet know how to help them fully heal. I know I am doing my best to help them feel secure and strong and confident. I feel that in many ways, my experience with cancer has made me a better version of who I was before. I hope they can learn and grow from our experiences and become better and stronger versions of themselves, too.


  1. As far as feeling guilty and saying you are responsible for the pain etc. just doesn't sit right with me. I know we don't know each other, but the truth is, you did not choose to get Cancer, therefore, I don't see how you would be at fault at all for the negative effects on your family. I think the line you attributed to explaining how their friends don't understand is "It isn't anyone's fault" should also apply to yourself and your family as far as how they have been impacted by your illness. It's wasn't your fault or anyone else's.

  2. Hi Sharon, I appreciate you comments. I know I did no choose cancer but seeng the impact on my kids has been extremely painful. The truth is that there has been a lot of impact on the whole family and I will take a while before we all go back to feeling secure. I think people think that once treatment is over, everyone is happy. We are but there is unfinished business.

    1. Thanks for your gracious reply, Tonia. That is a really good point that just because you are done with treatment, it does not mean that life has gone back to normal for anyone.