In 2002, I bought a Christmas journal. It’s a simple book with room to record 25 years worth of holiday seasons. I write down the gifts given and received, what cookies I baked, what celebrations we attended and what food was served. I also make note of the weather on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as how much (or how little) we decorated our home. There is a section to record memorable events from the past year. I take my time with this last part, so that I have something representative of our lives from each month.
The other day I took out the book to read last year’s entries and to prepare for what I would record for this year. To my horror, I didn’t record ANYTHING last year. To make matters worse, I couldn’t recall a thing that happened in 2014. About ten minutes passed before I grasped why…I had begun chemo in January of that year, and it wasn’t until this year that life reclaimed some normalcy.
The severity of the realization hit me. From diagnosis in October 2013 to blessed relief from chronic pain in April 2015, most of my days were governed with the stresses of being a breast cancer patient and then a breast cancer survivor. I have been living through it, keeping my eyes focused on whatever comes next, and not realizing the scope or the enormity of the challenge. Even now, in December of 2015, the effects remain. Will things ever go back to normal?
Neuropathy has been particularly difficult to adapt to. While the symptoms have lessened over time, they have not gone away completely. I can feel and hear the difference in the way I play the piano, because the feel of my fingers on the keys is different. Sometimes, while playing the guitar, I can’t feel the frets effectively. I drop things, even more often than I did on a regular basis before breast cancer. This morning, while brushing Baby #2’s hair, my fingers went numb and the brush began to fall out of my hand. When I tried to swiftly grasp it, I ended up hitting him in the forehead with the brush. The loud thunk on his head was unexpected and unintentional. Luckily, he sported a red blotch for a few minutes only. “I want to wear my hair in messy spikes today,” Baby #3 proclaimed as he watched me console his crying brother. “I really don’t want you to touch me with that brush, mom.”
Thanks for the vote of confidence, kid.
Another lingering side effect is chemo brain. This is me not being able to find the word I want to say, forgetting people I’ve met and conversations I’ve had, and being too fatigued mentally to converse in detail about something important. This is my most frustrating annoyance. Sure, this happens to all of us and, as we age, with increasing frequency, but the way it can impact my daily life can be debilitating. I can tell you the name of my 3rd grade teacher, and the names of every student in my class that year, but I can’t find the words to order a pizza over the phone. It feels like a mental stutter, as if my thoughts are tripping over one another. It gets noisy in my head, and I opt to say nothing at all to save myself the irritation of working through it.
Me opting to be silent over speaking is a major change. As a matter of fact, that may be the first sentence written that ever labeled me “silent.”
The kids have created a game for those moments. I will be giving them directions or reprimanding one of them, and as I pause and “ah, ah, ah” to find the right word, they shout out guesses to what I might say next:
“Banana!” (Baby #3 always guesses “banana.”)
I’ve mentioned before about the horrors of clothes shopping. I am continually in search of fabric and styles that give me the comfort and freedom to dress without announcing to the world I’ve survived breast cancer. Recently I ordered some items from a clothing line that touts its cozy feel but fashionable appeal. As I am someone without a sense of style, this caught my interest immediately. You can sell me clothing that matches AND feels good to wear? I’m in! Most of the items were great and delivered comfort and functionality as promised. However, when I tried on the top I had selected, it was, in a word, terrible. The color was beautiful and the fabric was lovely, but the way it showed every bump, divot, depression, not to mention the lopsidedness…oh, boy. I looked like I had stuck two rotting, tiny cantaloupes up my shirt. There is no way I could layer up with that thing enough to survive a mild hot flash either.
I wanted to fill up the Christmas Journal with memories from 2014 that would make my family smile. As I reflected on these and other challenges, I could not see past them. The weight of that realization bore down on me. Where was my trademark sunny optimism? Were things so dismal throughout diagnosis and treatment that I had nothing positive to report?
I decided to look through my Facebook statuses for that year. Here’s is a small sampling what I found:
- I spent hours texting with my friends, checking stats, cussing and cheering while watching collegiate women’s volleyball, only to have the season conclude with my favorite team winning its seventh national championship.
We attended our first Hanukkah party in December. We gathered around to light the Menorah, and sang together by its glowing candles. It was beautiful and touching. As we began to leave the room, Baby #3 bent over and blew out the candles.
- I went from no hair
to new hair
- I benefited from a Unite for HER Wellness Day, and then began volunteering for them to help other breast cancer patients.
- Baby #2 and an ice hockey love affair developed into a regular thing.
- My bouts of insomnia (and an understanding husband) allowed me to tuck the kids into bed on some Saturday nights so I could go out and listen to my friend’s cover band until the wee hours of the morning.
- I was carded buying beer, with a shopping cart full of groceries and four kids in tow. C-A-R-D-E-D!
- Baby #1 renewed her love of beat boxing.
The list could go on and on. What I’ve recorded here doesn’t include the flowers, thoughtful gifts, and generous gestures from family, friends, and acquaintances. It doesn’t convey my gratitude for the countless hours my neighbors spent with me in conversation and to take care of my children. It doesn’t show the photographed smiles, the inescapable laughter, the love-infused gatherings, the sacrifices my husband made to compensate for my illness. The “Notes/Memorable Events of the Past Year” page isn’t nearly large enough to hold all of the wonderful things that happened in 2014.
What a great year it was, and how fortunate I was to experience it, even if sometimes I forget.