Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 358: Normal!!

Normal--that's not a word I hear very often anymore. I can't express my relief upon hearing those words when I got my mammogram results today. "Everything looks normal, except all the changes from surgery and radiation."

OK, so not normal for a normal person, but normal for a person with breast cancer.

You can't imagine how it feels to go through one of these scans after having breast cancer, especially in a situation like mine, where the only mammograms I've ever had in my entire life were the ones that ended up with a diagnosis of breast cancer. I never got to do the routine mammograms for a few years first. The first one I did was just to verify what was obvious to everyone in the room but me, selfishly steeped in denial upon looking at those three round circles on the ultrasound at 2:30, 3 o'clock, etc. The next mammogram was to look for additional cancer on the right, and that was positive, I guess, since nothing was found. Then, I had a mammogram after my first surgery to see if I would need another wire placed for the re-excision. That was when I had to go back four different times until I was bleeding, only to be told something strange showed up on the right, which wasn't true at all, but that didn't mean that hearing it didn't make me almost have a heart attack. I had to get all bad-ass on the radiologist and demand more information. I wonder what she thought on seeing this young woman with wild red hair, blood stains on her hospital gown, screaming and gesturing with her hands in the hair. I suppose it was something like Holy shit, I guess we should answer her questions.

I don't know how to have a mammogram that doesn't confirm cancer. I've never done it before, so I was so nervous the last few days it was almost tangible. Last night I hung out with Augie while Gabe took Lenny to gymnastics. Before that I picked the kids up and fed them an early dinner, but I barely remember doing it. After they went to bed we watched Salt (terrible movie--really terrible) while I surfed around the web trying to find a place to go to lunch near Northwestern with the hope that we would have some reason to celebrate. In reality I just needed several mindless distractions at once.

God was I nervous this morning. Talking nonstop on the entire car ride after we dropped the kids off at daycare (they got there so early they had to eat breakfast there and no other kids had arrived yet). Saying goodbye to Gabe when I was called back, asking him to wish me luck. Reading an old People magazine about Charlie Sheen and the Royal wedding (not together, unfortunately--that would be worth watching). Feeling a little angry that they actually got me back into the mammogram room so quickly. Wincing through the three images taken of my right breast. Almost crying through the eight they took on the left. At one point, the technician called me over to look at one of the images. See all of these metal clips in your breast? Huh, yeah, I see those. I vaguely remember being told they were in there but I didn't realize they were permanent. Yes, these mark your tumors. We watch this area most closely. It is way on the side of your breast, near your chest wall, so that's why I have to really make sure we can get to that difficult spot. I don't mean to hurt you.

Oh, I said, realizing she was actually apologizing to me. I'm not sure that's happened before in this whole ordeal.

Then I went back out to the waiting area until a radiologist's assistant called me back. I have your results, let's go into this room. I was shaking. Oh wait (psych!), this room is taken. Let's go to another one.

We started a long walk down the hallway and I felt like I was walking through quicksand. It was like some kind of Chinese water torture.

We got there and she asked me to sign a piece of paper. "Your mammogram doesn't show anything but the expected changes from surgery and radiation."

Wait, so it's normal? Yes, it's normal. Oh my God, I said, and I actually put my hand on my heart, a melodramatic gesture that I probably have never done before in my life. Yes, she said, you just need to come back in six months to have the left side imaged again. I'm going to take you over to Dr. Hansen now (my surgeon).

But my husband is waiting for me outside. OK, I'll get him. Is he Mr. Jacob? No, Sterritt, I said. Gabe Sterritt. Dave? No, GABE. And when you get him can you tell him it's normal? He's going to want to know. She looked surprised. Sure, if I have your permission. Jesus Christ, I wanted to say, do you think anyone in my situation would keep that news from her own husband?

While I was waiting for the surgeon a knock came on the door. Mrs. Jacob? Your husband is here. Is it ok if he comes in? Um, why the hell do you think he is here with me? I would have liked him to come with me for the mammogram itself, or at least to be able to wait near the imaging area rather than four rooms away. But I didn't say that.

The P.A. and surgeon thought everything looked great, my exam was normal, and they both asked more questions about my mastitis than anything else. Apparently, the surgeon was more concerned than she let on about that. I said that the redness was gone, the rock-like mass that was moving around inside my breast had dissipated. Gabe remarked that we thought it couldn't be cancer if it was that big all of a sudden, and she said, well, usually that's true. But it still concerns us. I'm sure your mind was going there. It happens, but it's not normal. Now your images look great, the breast feels fine.

And that's as normal as normal can be in this situation. Normal enough to warrant a celebration, since I had taken the day off of work to deal with the appointments. Gabe and I went out to brunch. Then I got a too-expensive pedicure and went shopping on the Mag mile. I felt so strange, so invisible, as no one knew I had cancer, and I saw all these hip women with hairstyles like mine, and no one gave me a second look, which was wonderful. The only cancer moment I had was in Victoria's secret when the associate asked me if I wanted a bra fitting. No, I laughed, I'm fine. She was very persistent. I wanted to say, I don't need to ruin your enthusiasm with a glance at my cancer scars and radiation tattoos. Instead I said, I know my size, and I left what used to be one of my favorite stores when I realized I couldn't wear anything in the place, since I can't stand underwire bras anymore due to the pain.

No matter. I felt better at the Gap, where some outrageously inaccurate vanity sizing led me to buy a pair of size 00 shorts. I laughed out loud again as I realized I was that obnoxious girl in the dressing room that makes everyone else roll their eyes: Do you have these in a zero? Tried them on, could take them off without unzipping them. Do you even make double zero? Those fit comfortably. I asked what the truly small women wear, the ones who are shorter than me or don't have hips, the girls who have never had kids. Well, we have kids sizes, she said. Right. I realized that at one point I wouldn't have been laughing in these different situations. I might have been annoyed, or embarrassed. I never did embarrass easily, even as a teenager, but now it's next to impossible to faze me. I mean, at one point I was walking down Michigan avenue completely bald with no eyebrows, window shopping, ignoring all the stares and whispers around me. That wasn't so long ago. Today, I was just another face, another body, another wallet walking down the street. I was normal.

So there it is. I'm almost a year away from diagnosis and I've been given a six month reprieve from hell. I will see my oncologist in three months, and I will still worry about this pain in my back and I will never be able to have normal aches and pains again, or at least not for a few years, and I will get mammograms every six months for years, but for a while I've got this knowledge:

I don't have breast cancer anymore.

And I'll hold onto that feeling for as long as I can, for as long as it's true. Here's to hoping that's a long, long time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 354: Resurrection Day

As I think about how to begin an Easter blog, I can't help but start by saying that those of you who know me well know that I am not a religious person. On holidays such as Christmas, this is not really a problem, as the themes of family and giving to others and generosity and empathy don't have specific religious connotations. While we exchange gifts and have our own host of Christmas traditions, I don't feel that we are particularly commercial about the holiday or that it's hard to explain to our kids what Christmas is about. I have explained to Lenny about Christ's birth, and why that is important in our culture. I'm probably one of the few non-religious folks out there who's read the Bible cover to cover, so I can handle that.

Easter is entirely different. We dye eggs, and do Easter egg hunts, and I buy candy, and we get together with family members whom we don't see very often. But when I told Lenny that Easter is not really about candy or bunnies at all, she asked me what it was really about, and I was at a loss as to how to explain it. In part, I am afraid to bring up death with her at all right now. We are reading Charlotte's Web, and I don't want to get to the end, because she is so sensitive about death due to my cancer (even though we never connected those two things together for her, she's not naive about it). But I also just have no real words to discuss resurrection, to open up concepts that will bring so many other questions about what our familiy believes.

Normally I enjoy these types of challenges, but honestly I'm just tired, tired of the personally morbid thoughts that those types of conversations that we as parents have a responsibility to have with our kids bring into my consciousness right now. So I let it go for this year. I suppose that's forgivable. We had a wonderful holiday. I gained three pounds in one weekend from all of the food--and candy--that I've consumed. Augie did a great job on the egg hunt, considering this is the first Easter when he could walk. Lenny read the note from the Easter bunny, counted the eggs, helped her brother, picked out her own outfit. Cancer seemed so far away, even though it isn't, considering that mammogram I have coming up on Thursday. I honestly don't know how I'm functioning on any sort of level that doesn't involve obsessing about that scan, but somehow I am. I try to act as if cancer's in the background in our lives, as if I've been given some new life, resurrected as some different, healthy, short-haired woman, but as I've said before, there are always reminders.

We were going through the Easter pictures and I remarked that my hair looks so brown in pictures, though in person it looks red. Lenny said, I really hope that I never get cancer. I tried not to wince, Gabe tried not to shed a tear. I said, why, because of your red hair? But mine is the same color, it just looks different since there's not much of it, and mine was always darker than yours. Yeah, she said, I guess. It's not really about the hair, and I know that. She looks at me and thinks that cancer made me different, that I am a different mom, and she doesn't want that to happen to her. I'm glad at least that she isn't yet afraid to voice those concerns.

It can be hard to talk about these things without breaking down, especially when in the back of my mind I wonder if this is all some big cosmic joke, this hair, this weight gain, this health, and if I will find out in just a few days that I am going back to do it all over again. Of course everyone tells me, but you caught it early, you saved your own life, you are stage one, you will be fine. I hope so, but I don't know so, and no one else does either, no matter what we tell ourselves.

I've been thinking about this a lot, this way that we need for cancer to end on a positive note. And I do mean the collective "we." Obviously I need to believe that, or it means the end of my life, and my family and friends need to believe it because I am important to them. But as a society as a whole we seem to require it, to focus so much on the survivors, that others can be pushed aside, willfully forgotten, even resented for not being able to win the fight. It is grossly unfair.

In the last week I have had the unfortunate opportunity to learn what survivor's guilt means. I always thought that it had to do with feeling guilty that you are alive when someone else in the same situation has died. That's not it at all. Survivor's guilt means that you feel guilty that you are glad to be alive, that it isn't you who has died. It makes you feel like a really terrible person. It feels unforgivable.

Last Sunday, a team member from Row passed away. She was 43. I never had a chance to meet her, because she has been very sick since I started rowing. Four years ago, at age 39 she was diagnosed with Stage one breast cancer (meaning no lymph nodes involved) and she did a lumpectomy, chemo, the whole thing. She later found out she was BRCA positive and had a double mastectomy. A year later her cancer returned anyway and metasticized throughout her body. She left behind a husband, a five year old daughter, a lot of friends and family. Her name was Cindy Gerstner and she really seemed like such a wonderful person from everything I heard about her. I felt very sad and angry about this, and guilty that I couldn't attend the funeral.

But I also felt like a completely shitty person for how much it scared me to learn the details of her being stage one and having a tragically severe recurrence so soon after she ended her treatment. I felt terrible thinking "I hope that doesn't happen to me." What right do I have to make this tragedy about me, even during that split second before I stop and remind myself that this is not about me and my shit but the end of the universe for someone else, the end of a childhood with mommy for a child who isn't mine, the end of so much for other people--not for me? How am I any different than all the people who turned my cancer experience into something that had to do with them, who used it as a way to reflect on their own lives, who shunned me or ignored me because just looking at me scared them? God, it made me feel shallow, and hollow, and weak. I feel like a heel for writing about this here at all, because by doing that I am making it worse, and I am using a life that isn't my place to discuss for some purpose of my own. I don't mean to do that. But I get it now, this guilt. And I am truly sorry for the loss of Cindy Gerstner. The Tribune ran a very nice piece about her that I would encourage others to read:
I thought I was somehow above this notion that survival is the only acceptable cancer solution that we can handle. I thought that the way I have contemplated my own death and even planned for it in some weird ways protected me from the steep denial that I still feel about that concept. I wish that I believed in some kind of life after death, some kind of resurrection, that I could honestly tell my daughter that if cancer took me away that I could see her again. But I don't believe that, so every special moment or day still has this kind of painful poignancy. And it brings more guilt. I wanted to read the paper this morning, and Augie started hitting me, something he does when he wants attention. He got in trouble, then apologized (me Augie Sorry mommy) and then I continued to try to read the paper. Gabe told me I should play with him, that sometime soon he won't want to play with us anymore, that he'll be like Lenny and be in his room all the time.

I felt so guilty, even if that wasn't his intention, even though I love the fact that Lenny steals away into her room all the time. I loved doing that as a kid, creating my own little world all by myself. I don't particularly miss her, because I know she's there. I'm not a mom who is in my kids' faces all the time, doing crafts, bonding. I'm there, and I love them and cook for them and read to them and I'm trying to stay alive for them, but sometimes I wonder if the way I do things is the right way or if I'm dooming my kids to remember me standing at the kitchen sink, if they remember me at all, when they'd rather remember me rolling around on the floor with them.

Then I tell myself that my kids would rather not have to remember me, because either way, they would rather get to be normal kids with a normal mom who lives to be old. They'd rather think that I'm better.

That's what we all seem to need from this thing, to get better. I was really struck by this the other night when we watched Love and Other Drugs on netflix. When Anne Hathaway's character says, you need me to be better so that you can let yourself love me, I actually said out loud, huh, every person with cancer feels that way. Then I said, oh, I know that wasn't true for you, babe, but I know that a lot of people couldn't deal with me when I was in the middle of treatment. A lot of people were waiting for me to get better so they could talk to me again, just like they did when I was nine and I was in a wheelchair. What happens when you never get better, when your cancer treatment lasts for the rest of your life, you never get out of the wheelchair, your epliepsy is uncontrolled and devastating?

I'll tell you what happens. You lose a lot of people, even if you shouldn't. But you still deserve to be loved and you still feel the same. You are still yourself, but many people will treat you otherwise. Even a movie that was trying to make this point couldn't move past it. This young woman with Parkinson's was only symptomatic during the few minutes of the movie when the romantic relationship was in question. For the rest of the time, her lover can say he accepts her condition without suffering the consequences of what that means, since it doesn't seem to mean anything for her except that she has some artsy sense of ennui that leads her to sleep with all her doctors (wow, is that a completely repuslive thought to me. how would that come up in any kind of conversation?). There was one post-modern scene in the film when people who must have really had Parkinson's were talking and joking about it at a convention. I thought, here we go, that's how folks with Parkinson's really talk, really stand, gesture, etc., and they're going to go there in the film.

Nope. She had a mild case, she got the guy, they had great sex (I'm sorry but I felt they had zero chemistry which was a shame, given the great amount of eye candy involved. Gabe even said wow, Anne Hathaway is such a beautiful woman, why isn't she sexy? So maybe we were missing something in the film?), they lived happily ever after.

As I thought about this I felt guilty again. So far, that's been me. I'm the one with the relatively mild epilepsy, who was still able to do what she wanted with her life in spite of it. I never had brain damage, I am able to drive, I can take care of myself and my children. I'm the one who learned to walk again, who talked to the guy holding a gun at my head so I could get my keys out of my bag (so he wouldn't have my keys and my driver's license, thus gaining access to my house) and came away unscathed. I have this desire to say, and I'm the one who had cancer and lived a long time. How is that fair?

Then I need to pinch myself. I'm not that person, not yet. I'm not out of the woods, and yet I so desperately want to believe that it is all behind me. Is it true that I was just in menopause a few months ago, I thought as I bought maxipads at the store today because I don't keep extras anymore, as I'm half convinced each period is a sham. Is it really true that I coudln't have had that iced mocha a few months ago without spinning into a horrible series of hot flashes? Was I really bald? Did I really have three cancerous tumors? Did I really wean my son almsot a year ago in just a week, not because I was tired but because I had some damn breast cancer? What the hell is that?

There's guilt again, and I feel it as I write that about weaning Augie. For the last few days we've been trying to wean him off the bottle. Yes, my son is almost two and he drinks a bottle of warmed milk before his naps and at bedtime. Not at daycare, just here. I don't mind it an nap, but he needs to brush his teeth and not have milk on them all night, so we've been giving him a bottle of water instead. Last night he fought it like mad, but today he was ok. He will not drink milk out of a sippy cup--only a bottle or a normal cup, no top. So either it's the bottle or a total mess. Soon I'm sure he'll give up the bottle of water, and it makes me so ridiculously sad, and angry too. Why did we have that taken from us? I actually really liked nursing him, unlike the struggle I had with Lenny. He just looked at me tonight like he was saying, well, so that's over, huh? For a split second it reminded me of those hurt looks he gave me last year in the mornings when his dad fed him the bottle and I didn't even go in his room because I couldn't bear it. But then he smiled at me and offered me his pacifier (he had two of those in his hands, and I don't give a shit if he has them until he's four). He must have known I could use some comfort, even if I did my best to hide it.

So that's how it is over here. It's normal and it's fun, then it's sad and sentimental. It's scary, it's mundane. There's guilt and there's walking to the park. There's thinking about explaining the concept of death and resurrection to your child and there's me turning to Gabe in the middle of a movie and saying, do you think people with Parkinson's can take the pill? Because she must be on it, the way they just start going at it all the time and never use a condom.

Suspension of disbelief, he said.

And therein lies my problem. I've always had trouble with that. I want things to be like they are, to be real, to be true. For the last few months, I have had a new life, a resurrection of sorts. But that has only been possible because death is lurking around the corner, and it isn't particularly positive. It's somewhat daunting actually, and there's a lot of pressure, wondering what I'm supposed to do with this new life that's just like the old one, albeit more "felt." I feel my life more, but sometimes all that means is that I feel more shocked and terrified at the thought of it ending soon, later, at all. And I think that's ok. Cancer doesn't turn you into Sartre. Life still matters, the small things are still important.

I feel guilty about my relationship with my son and then I feel this weird pride when he points to the El tracks several blocks away and says "choo choo." We live near the metra, not the el, and the metra runs along the ground on the south side. He has seen the el when we drive on the highway, but there was no train on the track. He saw the rusty track in the distance, among a million other things that there are to look at in the middle of downtown Chicago. He knew there should be a train there, and I wondered how he could know that.

Gabe said, you know how he knows that, you've said it yourself on multiple occasions. Oh I know he's no dummy, I said. No Kate, that's not it. He's been here before, he knows what's going on.

I don't believe that, not really. But I have no other way to explain the things that he does, so I think, nah, but what if...what if?...

Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 348: Katy Pimps Breast Cancer

Again with the misleading blog title! No, I am not really pimping breast cancer, but I am also way too busy with a crazy life right now to write a substantive blog, so instead I want to plug the one and only breast cancer fundraising event that I am committed to join. Last year for the first time I walked in the local breast cancer walk in Beverly on the south side of Chicago. The walk is always on Mother's Day. I signed up well before I knew I had cancer, and the walk took place just five days after I was diagnosed. I barely remember it. I think the next day was the last time I nursed my son. That whole week was a nightmare.

And it didn't occur to me then that I would be a direct recipient of the funds raised for that walk. The event benefits a local hospital, Little Company of Mary. They have built a very respectable cancer center there, especially for such a small hospital. In recent years this walk has enabled the hospital to buy a new mammography machine as well as new radiation equipment. I did radiation at this hospital, and I used all of their radiation machines, including the CT machine, at some point. The people were very nice and professional, and apparently the radiation was done very well, because I developed no long-term skin or muscle issues from it. The doctor answered the phone himself when I had a question and I never had to wait for an appointment. It was that doctor who helped me through mastitis when I couldn't get to Northwestern. I really believe it saved my sanity (and being able to go local for radiation saves a lot of people their jobs) to not have to travel for hours a day, every day for seven weeks, in order to get to a quality cancer treatment downtown or on the north side of Chicago.

We need more institutions with good services in traditionally under-served areas of metropolitan communities, so I encourage you to support this event, either by walking with or donating to my small team if you feel so inclined. To do this, when you go to the following link, you can either go to register now and click "join a team" and look for the team KatyDid Cancer, or you can choose "sponsor walker" and search for Katy Jacob. You could obviously just donate to the walk, join another team, or walk by yourself without tying it to me or my team at all.

To me, this is very different than the walks or events that somehow "benefit breast cancer research" or that benefit large organizations that need to put fundraising dollars back into marketing or overhead buckets of their budgets. This one is very specific, and in my case, it is very close to home--literally and figuratively.

Last year I remember thinking that in May 2011, I would be bald, or that I might not be around at all. Neither or those things are true, and now I will be one of those women who is honored at the walk, for better or worse. So I will feel honored, though not happy, and I will be walking with some very cute little redheads. Maybe we will see you there!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 340: Katy Goes Granola

OK, I will never really be granola, but today I am suddenly inspired to write about the mind body connection. This connection is one of those concepts that they throw at you with a cancer diagnosis as a way to tell you that you can somehow use Jedi mind tricks on your tumors to save yourself. I think that aspect of focusing on the body is actually a mistake, because it masks what we should really focus on when it comes to our bodies. I am going to try to articulate what I mean in this meandering blog of mine.

I had an epiphany today. I decided that my body is amazing.

Don't get me wrong, I have many of the same hangups that all women have about their bodies. I ask Gabe if I look fat before we go out, and especially when he takes pictures for this blog, though I don't obsess about it very much. I wish some things looked different and I would love to be more flexible, have better balance, be stronger. Since basketball was my favorite sport as a kid, I wish I were taller.

But overall, my God, look at what this body has gone through and what it has done and is able to do. I don't just mean cancer, not by a long shot. I mean everything--the allergies, epilepsy, car accident, organ removal, cancer, menopause, chemo side effects. At some point in my life I have lost the ability to do all of the normal things that people take for granted: walk, talk, breathe, eat, have sex, sleep, see, sweat, cry. I have been close to death at least three times: once as a baby when I had a severe reaction to penicilin, once when I was hit by a car, once when cancer was ravaging my body. I've had a gun pointed at my head (I'm not being figuative--a real gun). I've escaped other assaults on my person, most notably when I was a teenager and I learned how to fight with my hands and stay alert to keep myself safe from boys much bigger than me on several occasions.

My body has come through these things. Until now, I have been very focused on what has been taken away, and what could be taken away in the future. I think it is absolutely valid to do that. Now, I know I might be tempting fate by writing about this new way of seeing things just a few weeks before my first follow-up mammogram. I might find out that my body never came back at all, and that cancer has grown and spread inside me. But even that knowledge is not at the top of my mind right now. I am thinking about the weeks I've had, the days, the minutes, when my body worked, when it overcame the things that were put before it. I realize that so many people never know what that feels like. So many people have severe brain damage from epilepsy, die from allergic reactions to medications, never walk again, never recover from chemo or cancer. So many people get shot, beaten, raped. It's unfair on both sides: terribly unfair when those things happen, almost as unfair when others walk away because it makes no sense. It's not something to take credit for, but something to appreciate all the same.

And even beyond those things it has overcome in whatever way, my body has always been marked, and now that is even more true. It is perhaps strange, though it doesn't seem that way to me, that I am not ashamed of that. I have scars, some in very conspicuous places. I have tattoos, and not the kind that you get on purpose. My hips give way sometimes when it's raining. My hair is uncooperative (it's decided to be wavy/curly again all of a sudden. This pixie cut might be hard for me to pull off, but I will try). While I have quick moments where I wonder if I should hide these things, those moments are obviously brief.

I have always figured, correctly I'm sure, that people aren't paying enough attention to me for it to matter if I'm in a wheelchair, if I'm bald, if I look lopsided. Recently I've been realizing that I must have put a lot of people in uncomfortable situations by being bald in public. It honestly didn't occur to me most of the time, however. I just figured no one cared, because there are too many people, too many imperfections, for mine to be that serious. Also, people don't usually notice things in other people that they would obsess over in themselves.

In the past, I don't think any man ever asked me why I have three scars on my belly (gallbladder surgery) or a big scar on the inside of my inner thigh (a wire sticking up in a friend's car when I was a kid) or what the triangle-shaped scar was on the inside of my forearm (a bad burn from an iron when I was 19). Women should really believe what they read in women's magazines. If a man is seeing you naked, that's enough, and he doesn't care about the imperfections, so you shouldn't either. Now the only people who see my cancer scars are readers of this blog, Gabe, other cancer survivors who ask about it, or the other women in the gym, who always look away. I don't feel that I have any explaining to do, but I also don't feel that it's something to flaunt. That's why when people told me I should turn my tattoos into body art, that I should henna my head, I knew I would never do that. I wasn't proud of those things, and I didn't feel the need to draw attention to them. I accepted them, however. The scars, tattoos, baldness, just became a part of my body, a sign of how things weren't working correctly for a while.

It's hard for me to articulate what I am trying to say. Perhaps I should give an example. I have continued to row on the erg once a week, and it is still fairly frustrating and counter-intuitive to me. It is also hard for me to get to practice and to make the time for it. I will stick with it until we go on the water, and then we'll see how long I can keep it up. Today I needed to come home after work so I missed rowing. After dinner I went to a spin class instead. I have been spinning a total of four times in my life now, all in the last few weeks. Those of you who know me know that I don't even know how to ride a bike (don't ask why, but that's on my list of things to do this summer to make up for the lost summer we had last year). After the first spin class, I was so bruised and my crotch and butt hurt like hell from the ridiculously uncomfotable seat. I told myself I would only go back because I've learned that you need to work through those initial pains a few times even if you are going to quit a new workout routine, or you would regret it. And then I learned something.

I absolutely love spinning.

My body has just adapted to it, worked well with it, and it feels intuitive to me. I feel successful with it, rather than frustrated or inadequate. My quads are buff after just these few classes. I sweat buckets in the class, so I just wear bike shorts and a tank top, and when I see myself in the mirror, I see this strangely strong looking person. The instructor today was a woman I have never met. She was ridiculously in-shape, with a six pack, buff arms, a perfectly toned butt. I thought, oh please, this is going to be one of those uber-competitive classes with her yelling at us like a drill sargeant about how pathetic we all are. Instead, she kept telling us to focus on how amazing our bodies are, on all the things our legs and arms can do for us, on how strong and powerful we are. Look in the mirror and believe it, you are doing great, you can go faster, push yourself more, your body can carry you.

I normally hate that kind of shit. But all of a sudden there I was, welling up in the damn spin class, almost shedding a tear of happiness. I thought to myself, it's true. My body has carried me, at least this far, and it's possible that it will carry me even farther. Besides the basics, like walking and talking, I have been able to deliver two babies and sustain them on milk from my breasts for months. Once in high school, when I weighed about 95 pounds, a few of my girlfriends and I lifed a car with our hands, because there was a flat and we didn't have a jack, and it didn't occur to us that we couldn't do it. That story is true. My body has done things that it might not have had any right to be able to do.

And why am I focusing on this now? Lately I've been thinking a lot about my career, about what I do every day. It might be ironic for someone whose brain misfired a hundred times a day to make a career doing research and intense thinking work, but that is the work I have always done. Sometimes I think that when I am deciding what to do--which job to take, what project to focus on, that I have missed the mark entirely. I am a relatively smart person, sure. But the defining thing about me in my life has been this body, this physical self, from the long red hair to everything else that has happened to my body to make me who I am today. Sometimes I think I should just spend my days doing something meaningful with my body, testing out things I might have missed, rather than sit at a desk, but it is hard to retrain yourself in a fundamental way like that.

I say that while I write this blog on a computer on the breakfast bar in my kitchen.

No matter, it's just something that has been building in me so I needed to say it. When I was visiting the oncologist's office last week, everyone was so pleased that I recovered so quickly from chemo. The oncologist himself actually smiled--amazingly--and said, I hear you are doing well. I told him my cycles were back, my menopause was gone, my mastitis had subsided. He felt my breast and said, that's scar tissue. Everything is behind you now. You can enjoy the spring and summer. I said, well, I have that mammogram coming up in a few weeks and that is very nerve-wracking. It's all behind you now, he repeated.

He might be full of it, he could be completely wrong. The P.A. said similar things, and was very happy for me when I told her my libido was back, my insomnia had disappeared. I paid a visit to my chemo nurse, who barely recognized me with hair. When I told her I couldn't believe how fast my body came back, she said, you just didn't have the confidence to believe it.

Now, that has nothing to do with anything. Many confident women who are assured of their own ability to fight cancer and fend off chemo's ravages die, or have debilitating and permanent side effects. The point is, I haven't, and I didn't. My body did come back to me. I wanted to tell all the women in the waiting room, all of them with scarves on their heads, the woman my age with her head on her husband's shoulder while she waited for the surgeon to call her name, the women in wheelchairs, the women who looked sick and exhausted and those who just looked bored or resigned to fate, that you don't know what will happen, don't let anyone tell you what to expect. But if something miraculous does occur and when all of this is over you get a little bit of time to feel your body working, forget all that other stuff and be proud. Some people have health and fitness and attractiveness bequeathed to them at birth. Other people get put through the ringer, disfigured, atrophied, and come out on the other side, at least for a while. Other people don't make it. You can't control which group you're in, but if you're like me and you're in the second category, you get a pass on the sudden sentimentality at the gym, and you get to pass off those tears as sweat.

And I can't imagine that anyone else cares, but I wanted to say this on the record. For thirty five years it's been tested and brought to the precipice, but this body has carried me. It has, I can see that now. All the focus on how you look in your shorts, what hair products to use, how you compare to other people, what a waste of time and energy. I just keep thinking, I do look great don't I? Not for any other reason than this--I'm still here. I'm still here!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 337: Cancer Party

Yesterday marked an interesting milestone in my cancer trip (I will never talk about this as a "journey"--too granola for me). Last night, Gabe and I attended our first cancer party. Northwestern sponsored an event at the Museum of Science and Industry for young adult cancer survivors. I contemplated going by myself, but that seemed strange, so we asked my mom to babysit and we made a date of it.

The day got off to a strange start, as I was hosting a semi-annual meeting at work for a group of people I only see at these events. Last time, in November, I wore a wig, since I was completely bald and had no eyebrows, I was on disability and I just went in to work for the meeting. I didn't feel like explaining myself or scaring people. No one seemed to notice that my hair was shorter or straighter. The time before that was a year ago, and I had lost all my baby weight and was a few weeks away from finding out I had breast cancer, and my hair was long and curly and beautiful. The time before that, I had a small infant, before that I was enormously pregnant and weighed sixty pounds more than I do today, significantly altering the overall look of my face and body. All of those meetings went smoothly, with people saying hi Katy, how are you, how are your kids, when are you due, how is the conference planning going, etc.

Yesterday no one recognized me. I am the same size as I was a year ago, and my face looks exactly the same. I was wearing a nametag, for God's sake. And yet people who have known me through all of these different changes for years and years introduced themselves to me as if for the first time. "Hello, it's nice to meet you." Um, it's Katy, here at the Fed, remember? One guy who didn't attend the last meeting had seen me a year ago; that was the first time he had seen me in a year, since I was pregnant. The last time I saw him he said he hoped I wouldn't take this as something inappropriate, but I looked great. This time he did a double take and looked absolutely shocked when he saw me. You have a new haircut! Yes, I said, I'm trying it short. He said it looked good, but his shock was palpable. At least he recognized me, I guess.

A Fed employee who works in another location asked me if I had always had my hair that short. Well, I said, for a little while. What could I say? I know he saw me in the cafeteria when I was bald, so that confused me. Then I realized that he didn't put it together that the bald woman and I were indeed the same person. If there are those who thought I was overstating how much my long red hair was a part of my identity, how much people associated that with me and didn't notice anything else about me, now you see what I mean. It's as if the rest of me was completely invisible when I had that hair.

It's a new Katy these days, and I'm not tempted to go back. I was that redheaded lady for many, many years. I guess I can be someone else now. Maybe I'll be the person with the big brown eyes, or maybe people could get it together and not associate everyone with a physical characteristic. That was lesson number one from yesterday.

Anyway, after work, we attended this party at the museum. They had cocktails--only one was free- and appetizers, including some that were completely confounding for an event catering to people who have cancer, since ostensibly some of those people might have been in active treatment. I mean, you're going through chemo and you want to eat chorizo-stuffed jalapenos or mini corn dogs? What a recipe for disaster. I was just thankful I could drink red wine, now that my hot flashes are gone.

I was glad Gabe was with me, since I didn't feel like mingling too much. I spoke to one woman who approached me and asked if we worked for Northwestern or what our connection was. I'm a cancer survivor, I said. I just finished treatment in December. Congratulations! (Everyone congratulated me when they learned this--it seemed odd until I realized they were really saying, thank God that's over, for now, huh?). It turned out she had leukemia and was three years out. It was nice to be able to tell someone about my cancer without the normal reaction of shock, discomfort, disbelief, fear.

There were a few bald women in the group, but otherwise it was impossible to tell who was a cancer survivor, who was a spouse or sibling or friend, who was a volunteer. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to put a bunch of healthy people with no connection to cancer in a room like that and make them understand that 90% of the people around them assumed they had cancer, even if they didn't. How would that make people feel? Would they be tempted to explain, saying, I'm not really one of you? People like Gabe and the other family members wouldn't have that reaction, because they've lived with cancer and are probably too tired to imagine being ashamed of it. That's how my mind works though. There's always a sociological experiment hiding in plain view.

After gorging on unhealthy food and a few veggies we sat down to hear a panel of experts talk about us. I thought it started off strangely, with a woman explaining that we are the lost tribe of cancer survivors. Everyone knows about the little bald children, she said. Everyone knows that old people get cancer. No one realizes that people in your age group (15-39) are 2.7 times more likely to get cancer than children. Also we have made great strides for survival for pediatric cancer and for older people, but have plateaued for this age group.

Great, I thought. We're all doomed.

I don't think that was her point, but that's what it sounded like from where I was sitting. Anyway, the folks on the panel talked about the special issues that are raised when you have cancer as a young adult: fertility issues, raising families, being in the middle of your prime working/earning years, sex, relating to your peers whose lives keep on going while yours grinds to a halt. There was talk of hope and resilience, and the speeches were very short. The one that was quite touching was from a woman younger than me who had hodgkins disease at age 14, and was diagnosed 17years later with breast cancer, most likely caused by the radiation used to cure her pediatric cancer. She just got married, she's trying to preserve her fertility, and while she was very positive I thought wow, talk about a lot of bullshit. Anyway, after the panel, they opened it up for questions.

I thought people asked great questions. One woman who had breast cancer twice, once in her twenties and once in her thirties, asked why there's not more discussion around preventitive mastectomy for BRCA positive women. Another woman asked what you are supposed to do when you find out your young husband has colon cancer and there are no risk factors, no genetics, nothing to explain it. Then a woman commented that one thing our age group is bad at doing is discussing death and dying. Everyone wants to talk about living with cancer, survival and all of that, but the truth is there are people are age who are dying of cancer and they feel completely isolated even from those of us who get to be in the dubious "survivors" club. (And that's the truth. God help you if you make the mistake of not "beating" this thing. That's the least you could do, right? Smile or die!)

Then I decided it was my turn. Gabe seemed surprised that I went up to the mic in the front of the room to say something. Perhaps he was afraid I would have some sort of wardrobe malfunction, since I was wearing this J-Lo low cut blouse. It does seem ironic that the first time I ever donned double sided tape to stop my braless breasts from being exposed from my outfit was during a cancer convention. At one point when I was getting dressed I looked down and thought, huh, I guess you can see my radiation tattoo. Maybe I should cover that up? Nah, no one's going to give a shit where I'm going. But I digress. Gabe must have forgotten that while I don't like to do personal things in front of strangers, public speaking doesn't bother me for two seconds.

I said my name and stats, which is very much like being in AA. Hi my name is Katy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer almost a year ago at age 34, when my daughter was 4 and I was still breastfeeding my son. I think one of the toughest things about having cancer at this age is how impossible it is to find other people with kids, especially kids as young as mine, who have had the same experience. It's very tough to figure out how to talk to young children about cancer, and I'd like to know if you have any advice for people in that situation.

I got one answer, a short one basically acknowledging the problem and suggesting I contact Imerman's Angels. It seemed that a lot of the suggestions focused on going to support groups, contacting people, etc. Well I did get in touch with Imerman, and I found someone who lives far away but was triple negative with kids the same age as mine were, also breastfeeding when she was diagnosed, and that was a big help. But my criticism, to put here on the blog, is that the other thing that makes our age group unique when it comes to cancer is how damn busy we are. We have kids, work full time, take care of parents or grandparents, go to school, we're married.

Cancer and its treatment could be a full-time job for someone who has none of those things going on. For someone in my position, it was all I had time to do. If I was feeling well enough to stand during chemo, I went to work or hung out with my kids. I didn't drive all over creation to a support group. I had a hundred books and pamphlets to go through, a lot of phone numbers to call, a million decisions to make, especially at the beginning. Then I was essentially physically incapacitated, except my life didn't allow for that, so I continued to do everything anyway.

The most useful thing for me, or someone in my situation, was when they brought the services to me. I laugh now when I think about the one time during chemo when I had acupuncture during the infusion and I was visited by both the social worker and the dietician. But that was perfect! I had to be there anyway, and acupuncture cost money and time when I did it on my own. Moreover, I really needed a social worker not so much for me but to find out what to do about Lenny, and even though I felt a lot of parental guilt about it, I knew I didn't have time to go to Northwestern or Gilda's club (why is everything on the north side? actually there are services in the south suburbs, but that's still far) to get some advice. And I sure as hell wouldn't have gone to a dietician on my own time. Yeah, I know I only weigh 110 pounds. I'm not going to starve to death. Once this chemo shit is over, I will gain weight again. I've been hanging out here at 115 pounds give or take a few for months now, so I'm glad I didn't take time out to do that.

I wanted to tell these folks that the reason they got such a great turnout for this event was that it was NOT a support group. It was a $15 per ticket special event at a really cool museum, with a lot of food and alcohol as well. People my age like to do stuff like that, it makes it worth getting a sitter. You think I could say, hey babe, let's spend the night with a bunch of people in a room talking about cancer, and either of us wouldn't have found five other better things to do?

However, I was so glad we went. After my innocuous question, we got our free tour of this new mind body exhibit at the museum. It took us a while to get started, because so many women came up to me to thank me for asking the question and to say they had been in the same situation and they never had anyone to talk to about it. Three women had 4 year olds at the time of diagnosis. One had a friend who might want to talk to me. Another had a four year old and was lactating at the time, though her baby had just weaned.

It was especially interesting to talk to her, because I think what you go through when you have a baby and cancer is a situation that is almost impossible to convey to anyone who hasn't done it. She found out she was BRCA positive, and though her cancer was DCIS so she didn't have to do chemo or radiation, she had a double mastectomy and might need her ovaries removed, leading to permanent surgical menopause. She got a little choked up saying she didn't know at first if she should approach me, because she could tell by my hair that I went through things she didn't have to go through, and maybe she had no right to compare herself to me. I said well, I didn't have to have a double mastectomy, and I have my period again. So I think it all just sucks. We don't need to worry about comparing.

I understood what she meant though. She said it's hard to figure out where you fit. When she approached me, Gabe and I were talking to the woman who was brave enough to bring up death in the discussion. As I started talking to the new woman, the other woman left, saying she had a hysterectomy at age 30 due to ovarian cancer and therefore couldn't have kids, and it was hard to hear us talk about our families. I think my new acquaintance felt terrible, but I just felt glad she said that out loud and left. I think we all need to do what we need to do. People wanted to talk to me because I had mentioned little kids, so that was the context of the conversation. There's no reason for us to feel bad about needing to do that, but there's no reason for her to listen if it's painful either.

And this is why I often feel caught in the middle. Most women with breast cancer are older, and their kids are grown. In general these women feel sorry for "girls" like me. We can relate to each other in a way, but it's also entirely different. And yet there's a level of discomfort with young breast cancer survivors when I manage to meet them as well, because the majority of them were diagnosed young enough that their fertility was taken away from them, for at least five years if not forever. Those few of us "lucky" enough to have kids before diagnosis (though in cases like mine, not before cancer, which I had probably during both pregnancies) and "unlucky" enough to discover our cancer in our prime reproductive years are a strange breed indeed.

I left with some phone numbers and a different sense of perspective about what a support network is. I still don't think of myself as a support group person, and I don't think I need therapy, as I am not unduly depressed or agitated about cancer--outside of the general fear that only people without cancer think is alarming. It was just so relieving to talk to people about things like going through menopause when you have little kids, needing to write your will, explaining chemo to a preschooler. I said something I have only said out loud to a very few people, lest I come off as ungrateful. You all know how much we appreciated everything that was done for us when I was in treatment--the meals, the babysitting, everything. I always had this nagging thought though, that if the tables were turned and Gabe had cancer, much less help would have come our way, and not because people would have been any less concerned. But if he had testicular cancer, say, and I was a healthy 34year old working mom, the notion would be that I would have cooked, I would have taken care of everything. It was the thought that Gabe would have to work, be in charge of the kids, cook, etc., that made some people shudder. All the women I spoke to--and their husbands! agreed. One husband said, we have our strong points, but we don't keep it together as well, and everyone knows it.

Thank you for getting that out of my head and into the world. It was a relief to say, all working moms worry about balance. I just take it a step further, and think, jesus, if this is the last year or so of my life, do I want to drive myself crazy figuring out how to cram dinner and baths and cleaning and quality time into the two hours between when I get home from work and the kids go to bed? I know I need to work, so I can bitch with other moms with the same concerns, but they're not thinking about dying. Yes, I know anyone could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Shit, so could I. I just also have this cancer thing that is real, not hypothetical, and it changes everything.

But everything changes everything. I liked this one part of the exhibit that talked about stress. Apparently, human beings have an amazing capacity to absorb major stresses. We let it affect us severely for a few months on average, and then we fold it into the fabric of our lives into the new normal (this was not a cancer exhibit, so it was strange to see that language). That seems very true, from my experience. I learned how to have epilepsy, and fold that into my life, pretty fast. I learned what it meant to be unable to walk. I had night terrors for a year, but then I faced my fear and lived a normal life, outside of the arthritis and the notion that driving a car will never be a recreational activity for me, not a right but a privilege and a necessity. I learned how to be bald, how to feel old, I used my decades of experience in ignoring people's comments about my looks, no matter how complimentary they were intended to be. I learned these things and I came out on the other side, still myself. As I've said before though, when you're looking for yourself who else do you expect to find? There's no one else there. This is not resilience or inspiration, this is the way human beings and all animals are wired. We survive because the alternative is not much of an alternative, and we know it.

One point in the evening stood out as the comic relief we all needed. There was a raffle to win this bag of gifts. The MC kept calling numbers, and no one stood up. This went on for almost five minutes until someone finally got the prize, and everyone laughed and clapped. But while we were waiting to see if this was all just a big joke, I turned to Gabe and said, "hey, this is the cancer raffle! There are no winners!"

And that's the truth, but we laughed about it anyway.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 330: First Post-Chemo Haircut

There are some things in life that only a fellow cancer patient/survivor can understand. For example, only someone who has stood in my shoes can understand the simultaneous thrill and terror associated with that first post-chemo haircut. I've been talking about this for a few weeks, because while I like my hair in general right now, it is too short to do anything with, and yet long enough to be unruly and stick up in strange ways. I don't like having to try to tame it with gel, since that makes my hair look brown. If the sun ever comes out here in Chicago, I think my hair will look just as red as it ever did. I want to be able to style it without killing it with hair products. So I took the plunge and called my old hairstylist yesterday. I was thinking about going to a woman I know through pilates who is also a breast cancer survivor, but she couldn't do it today, and once I made up my mind I had to go through with it.

Because I was really close to chickening out. It took so long to get just this much hair, I was terrified that someone would ruin it and make me look ridiculous right at the point when I actually could pretend that I chose this hairstyle on purpose. Ladies with breast cancer, you know what I'm talking about. Another friend who went through this at the same time as me saw me today, asked about my hair, said she wanted to tame hers too, and then said "but I'm kind of paranoid about letting anyone touch it, you know?"

Boy, do I. When I called the salon yesterday, they only had a noon appointment for me today, and I needed to get out by 1. The owner asked if I was just getting a trim like usual (usual being the three times a year I used to get my long, curly red hair cut, when everyone in the salon would gather around me and gush about how beautiful it was). I said well, here's the thing. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. I was bald for a long time, and this is my first haircut. I have no idea what to do with it. There was a pause, but she played it off well. She asked me how I was doing, said I'd be in and out in no time, hung up the phone.

I took a walk today and on the way back headed into the salon. I walked in and the two ladies there, the owner and my stylist, just looked at me. Hi, it's Katy, I said. Oh my God, my stylist gasped, eyes all big, I didn't even recognize you. Yes, well, it's been quite a year. Oh you look so great! Your hair is cute! And all of that. The surprise was just so palpable. After she finished cutting my hair the stylist said that she was told the whole story yesterday, and she said, oh ok, but then when she saw me, it dawned on her that the owner was telling her the truth, and it registered.

The haircut itself took about seven minutes, I swear. I showed her a picture of Emma Watson and said, I know mine is shorter than this, but this is the general idea. She said yes, your hair is too short to do that, but we can add some texture to it and clean it up a little. She washed and conditioned it (60 seconds tops) and did some demure little snips, put some pomade in her fingers, scrunched my hair around, and we were done.

I decided I really liked it, regardless of how similar it looked to whatever the hell I was doing to my hair myself. She actually comped me the haircut and half a jar of pomade. I was about to argue, but then I thought, nah. She wants to give me this free haircut because the whole thing is freaking her out, she's only about 25 years old (though she has two kids) and all she could do was say, wow, wow, as I was telling her the story (she asked me lots of questions). There are times to get your pride up, and there are times to just let it go.

The owner wanted to hear all the details. She has a friend who has had breast cancer twice--once at 18 and once at 28. She is now 35 and just had twins through IVF. What a terrible story, and yet what a great one, since that is 17 years later and she's still around. I absolutely can't imagine having breast cancer as a teenager. What a fricking nightmare. It's also hard for me to relate to these positive stories of long-term survival though, since she wasn't triple negative. I just tell myself that I was stage one, so I have that going for me. At least I got to go to college, date, get married, have kids, and do all kinds of things without knowing about my breast cancer. Eighteen. Jesus!

Ever since I got home (I had to walk home in the rain, which kind of ruined my hair since I had no umbrella, but I took these longarm shots with my iphone anyway. I look kind of like an alien with those big eyes and that weird lighting and iphone "mistiness," don't I?) I've been thinking about how it's been a while since I've experienced that shock and awe about my appearance. I was so used to it when I was bald, that it reminds me how quickly we forget how difference feels when we are given a little bit of normal. No one stares unduly long lengths of time at my head anymore. In the same vein, I can sleep now. I used to feel that I would give my left arm for 3 hours of sleep. Now my chemo insomnia has passed, my hot flashes are gone. If I have trouble sleeping, it's because I'm worried about normal life-type of things, or about cancer things, or because I ate a brownie for dessert or had coffee after noon. I can hardly remember what it was like to be so desperate in my insomnia. My sex life is normal, and hinges more on things like whether people are exhausted from the kids or sick with the flu than anything else. I don't wear camisoles anymore to absorb the goop I had on my chest during radiation, or to use as a final layer when I tore off all my other clothes in a fit of hot flash rage. My nose is running all the time with this spring cold, and when I get frustrated or scared I tear up a bit. How is it possible that six months ago my body was just a bone, dried to the core, unable to produce a single tear?

I want so badly to hold onto this, for this part of my life to be real. I would love to not show up at my three month checkup with the oncologist Tuesday. I would love to ignore my mammogram at the end of the month. I am so afraid they will tell me, psst, hey Katy, April Fools! You thought you were going back to normal but really you have CANCER! It's BAACK! I have nightmares about this. I almost put off the haircut, thinking, what's the point if I just lose all my hair again? I almost put off other big decisions too, realizing that we are changing so many major things in our lives right now and you aren't supposed to do that when you go through something like cancer. It is too much for the system, too traumatic, we've been told. I mentioned this to Gabe and he laughed, "that's not really the way you work, is it? Feast or famine!"

It's true I suppose. That's how we started our lives together. We got married almost exactly a year and a half after we met, and in that time, I had switched jobs and we had bought a house together and gone through the nightmare of selling my condo. Gabe stood up as a pallbearer in my grandfather's funeral 7 months after we met. I graduated from grad school a month or so after our first date, and I was of course working full time while I was in school (I worked two jobs when I started grad school). Life just kept happening, wham, there it was. Within three and a half years of knowing each other, we had both switched jobs (Gabe once, me twice), bought a house in a neighborhood neither of us had ever even visited, gotten married, had a kid. The funny thing is, Gabe wanted to wait to do many of these things, and I didn't.

I guess it's a good thing I usually win the arguments in this house.

If I hadn't been all feast or famine about our lives, we never would have lived here, never would have had kids. My cancer was growing right along with my belly after Lenny was conceived, as far as we know. I wish I could say that cancer taught me not to put things off, not to be afraid. But I am not living my life any differently now that I ever did. I am a person who is afraid of things, afraid of change. I'm just not a person who doesn't do the things I'm afraid of anyway. Some people say that's courage, but I think it could also be lunacy, or at least extreme stubbornness. So when Gabe said let's wait until we're 35 to have kids, I said ok, you go ahead, but I'm not doing that. His response? OK, fine then. And there I was at 29, pregnant, feeling like that was old to be pregnant the first time. Well, I guess, winning that one was easy!

Deciding to do it was easy, doing it was another matter, of course. Having kids is so much like everything else, because it is like nothing else. You are never prepared for it, no matter your age. You are scared, and excited, you have no idea what you're doing or what it will be like. It's acceptable to mention these things about parenthood. How normal is it to say it feels the same way when you take a deep breath and open the door to a salon to have a woman ten years younger than you cut your crazy baby-hair so you can feel like a normal participant in society? How normal is it to take that deep breath all the time, several times an hour, to make yourself forget that mammogram that's lurking in the middle distance?

It's as normal for me to do that as it is to sleep, to be seen in public as a woman who doesn't look like she had cancer, it's as normal as fear and excitement and dread and happiness. On the one hand, it's just a haircut. On the other, isn't everything?