Ready for another chapter? Me too. :)
Chapter 7: The Roller Coaster Ride
While I waited for the gene test results, I found myself stuck on a roller coaster ride of emotions. The fear and anxiety of all the unknowns sent me rushing downhill at an alarming speed. Then out of nowhere I would receive a tender mercy that would thrust me upwards to the crest of the next hill. That would allow me enough time to smile and catch my breath before careening down to the bottom again.
The emotional ride left me with a constant, throbbing ache in my head. I spent half of my time as a sobbing, blubbering mess. When I wasn't crying, I was trying to keep myself busy so that I wouldn't linger too long on all the possible outcomes that were roaming through my mind.
At times, I wondered if I had just been having a bad nightmare. I kept hoping that I would suddenly wake up and resume my normal life. After all, I didn't look sick. People who have cancer look sick, right? I didn't feel sick either. Other than some fatigue, I felt like I could run a marathon, or maybe a 5K. Yes, let's stick with a 5K. (I detest running.)
I did my best to try and NOT think about cancer, but found it impossible when every conversation I had with people started with, "Do you have any news?"
"Nope, no news yet," I would have to report time and time again.
(excerpt from my journal) Day Nine: "I... am... exhausted. Emotionally, physically, spiritually--you name it. I am tapped out. I just keep trying to stay busy and keep a smile on my face, but today was hard. I snapped at my kids a lot...then I got angry with myself. Our lives could turn completely upside down in a few days. I should be making every moment count. But I couldn't today. I just couldn't put on the happy face anymore and unfortunately my family took the brunt of it. I'm sorry, guys. Tomorrow is another day. I will try to do better...I just want to cry all the time--cry because I'm scared, cry because I'm angry, [and] cry because I just want this nightmare to be over."
I became extremely impatient with the whole waiting process. I needed answers! Because I was a planner by nature, this cancer thing was really cramping my style. I couldn't move forward with any plans in my life, particularly the plans for my upcoming preschool year. (I taught preschool in my home.) My life was on hold and I did not like the music that was playing in the background.
As the days crept by and the turmoil in my heart grew, I started down a dangerous path of self-pity and despair. "I don't want to do this!" my mind screamed. "What if I am not strong enough?"
However, it seemed like every time I started down that dark path of self-pity, fear, and doubt, my faith in Jesus Christ steered me back in the right direction. I found myself craving more spirituality. I devoured my scriptures, prayed every single minute of the day, and scoured the Internet for words of comfort.
It was in those times of reflection that I received some of the most tender mercies. I was led to verses of scripture such as "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Other tender mercies came in the form of earthly angels. My family and friends surrounded me in a bubble of love. Everywhere I turned I found someone giving me words of encouragement, sending me flowers, or bringing me food--lots and lots of food. That's one thing that we humans do when someone is suffering. We think of our favorite comfort foods and we share them. It's awesome. Especially when it involves chocolate.
My favorite earthly angel was my husband. When he came home from his business trip I felt like I could breathe again. It was so good to have him by my side. He was (and continues to be) the calm to my crazy and my reminder to take things one day at a time. Chemotherapy? Surgery? Radiation? Don't worry about it. We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
He was right of course. Worrying would not change anything. The only thing that the worry was doing was causing me to lose precious hours of sleep, which, in turn, turned me into "grumpy mom." That was when I decided that I needed to find a place of peace and harmony within myself and ditch the roller coaster ride for good.
Thanks for coming back to check out another chapter! If you want to read what's in between these chapters and the rest of the story, click here or here to purchase your own copy. :)
It feels like it was a lifetime ago when I received the first copy of my book in the mail. After over 2 years of agonizing early mornings and late nights, the story of my journey with breast cancer was out there for all of my family, friends, and the few other people who have stumbled across it, to read.
I'm so grateful for every ounce of love and support that people have given me. I wanted to throw in the towel so many times, but then the Lord would send a tender mercy in the form of the inspiration I needed to overcome writer's block, someone telling me that they couldn't wait to read my story because they needed help with a trial they were facing, or just the knowledge that I knew this was something I needed to do.
In February 2016, I was finally able to share my story in book form and had two amazing book signing events. The memory from those nights I will cherish forever. It was so much fun. (Click here and here to see the pictures from those fun nights.)
Why the walk down memory lane?
Why the walk down memory lane, you may be wondering? Well, I have gone radio silent about my book for a long time now. I just felt like the only people that were seeing any of my obnoxious posts about it already knew about it and were probably like, "Ya. We get it. You wrote a book. Move on with your life."
I was never able to break out of my own little realm in social media to really get my book out there, which is fine. It was disheartening and frustrating for a long time, but life goes on and I am over it. I have said from the start that writing this book was never about making money or becoming well-known or anything like that. My only desire has ever been to get this book into the hands of those who may need a boost of inspiration to help get them through a tough trial. It took me a while to get to the point where I could say, "Maybe everyone who has needed to read it has read it for now."
So life has gone on. I have gone back to school and started a part-time job which leaves me very little time to write blog posts...which I miss terribly. But lately I have been thinking that maybe I should start posting excerpts from my book on my blog. It would be very easy for me to copy and paste, and as long as I keep the rambling before the posts to a minimum (already failed there), it should be a fairly simple thing to do.
Why post excerpts from my book?
Chapter One: 8-19-11
August 19, 2011, started out beautifully. I watched with excitement, nervousness, and a little bit of sadness as my oldest child, Josh, got ready for his first day of junior high school. How did he get so big? I could remember him toddling around on chubby little legs learning how to walk. Now I had to drop him off at the junior high so he could learn to walk through the seemingly endless supply of hallways and staircases there.
We pulled up to the school and after kissing his mother on the cheek, he jumped out of the car. With confidence and excitement oozing from every ounce of his 7th grade body, he strode off without even so much as a glance back in my direction. I suppose I had no need to be nervous. He was ready for the challenge.
My girls still had a few days before their school would begin. We had plans that day to enjoy the last of our summer freedom. Those plans included a figure skating lesson for Emma, and after looking at our bare cupboards, a trip to Costco as well.
After Emma's lesson, we were piling into the van when my phone started to ring. I was expecting a phone call from the Women's Center at St. Mark's Hospital because I had gone in for a biopsy the day before. I knew that this would be the call to tell me that the tissue from the lump in my right breast had been tested and the results were exactly what we thought they would be; it was just a fibrous mass and nothing else.
"Hello?" I said as I was juggling my phone, my purse, and attempting to buckle Ellie into her car seat.
"Hello?" Is this Desirae?" asked a kind, yet businesslike voice.
"Yes, this is she."
"Hi, Desirae. This is Dr. O'Neill. We got the results back from your biopsy and I am very sorry to say that things do not look good. I hate to
tell you this over the phone, but there were some cancer cells that showed up. I'm very sorry." (There was silence on my end for what felt like an eternity as my brain tried to process this information.) "Really. Wow," is what I finally choked out.
Have you ever wondered what you might do or say if you are told you have cancer? I have thought about it on occasion, but it was nothing that I pondered too deeply about. Cancer was something that happened to other people, not to me. I didn't have time for cancer in my busy life. I had groceries to buy, kids to cart around, and a life to live. I simply could not add cancer to my plate, so I got in my car and started driving. Maybe I was hoping that I could drive away from this stunning turn of events.
While I was driving, Dr. O'Neill was still talking away in my ear. I was hearing words like "MRI", "Grade 2 Cancer", "Surgeon", and a million other things. Why didn't I pull over and start writing these things down? Because I was in shock and avoidance mode, that's why.
With Dr. O'Neill still talking in one ear and my girls asking me, "Mom, what's wrong?" in the other, I knew that I needed only one thing- my husband. I needed him to wrap his arms around me and hug me tight. I also needed to hear him say that everything was going to be all right. Suddenly my driving had a purpose and that was to get to his office as quickly as I could.
Now that I was headed in the right direction, I could concentrate a bit more on the conversation with Dr. O'Neill.
"I will call Dr. Mainwaring to discuss some things with her. I will also arrange for you to come in for an MRI tonight. I will get back to you soon," she said.
I tossed my phone on the passenger seat and tried to keep my wits about me. I did not want to start crying while I was driving. The tears stayed in check until I pulled up to Mark's work. That was when the dam broke and I couldn't hold them in any longer. I could sense my girls'
nervousness increase when they saw the tears rolling down my cheeks. I told them, "It's okay. Everything is okay. I just need to talk to Daddy for a minute."
I called Mark and told him that I was sitting in the parking lot and that I needed to see him right away. When I saw him through the glass doors of his office building, I flung my car door open and ran to meet him. I tried to form the right words to say while the tears rolled down my cheeks. "They found cancer. They found cancer," I kept saying over and over again. I was trying to remember everything that Dr. O'Neill had told me, but it was all a jumbled mess in my brain. I know that Mark must have felt overwhelmed with the scene before him. He had his sobbing wife clinging to him and shouting the word "cancer" over and over again. The faces of his three bewildered girls were pressed against the van windows; the looks of fear and confusion clearly present. They were trying to make sense of what was happening to their crazy mother.
I am sure that he was also trying to find the right words to say. With this scene laid out before him, he did exactly what I needed him to do. He hugged me and told me not to worry. He said that we would just take things one at a time and figure it all out. We hugged for a long time. His embrace was rejuvenating. I did not want to let him go because I felt safe in his hug and I knew that as soon as I let him go, I would have to face this new horror head on.
Eventually, we stopped hugging and I was able to gain some composure. I wiped the tears away and told him that I would let him know when I heard back from the doctor. Then I sent him back to work, holding this new information like one would hold a porcupine- not quite sure of how to handle it. Finally, I got back into the van and the girls and I were off to Costco because I didn't have time to deal with cancer and we needed groceries.
And just like that, Chapter One is over. Stay tuned for more excerpts soon!
Do you know the saying, "banging your head against a brick wall?"
I feel like I have been doing that for a very long time now. In fact, I have been doing it for so long that it doesn't even hurt or phase me anymore. It's become more of a comfort than anything and I have grown to love my brick wall.
When I started writing my book several years ago, this brick wall appeared. At first, I just sort of stared at it, wondering where on earth it came from and why it was there. As I became more engrossed in the writing process, I began tapping on the wall with my fingertips; ever so gently, but firmly. Then all of the sudden, WHAM! I made the first contact with my head, and it hurt. It hurt a lot.
Eventually the pain faded and so did the bruise, but the wall stayed intact and I kept working. Writing, and rewriting. With nothing more than a faded memory of high school English, faith, and a desire to help others, I kept writing.
WHAM! Another hit. Another bump. Another faded bruise.
Tears. Frustration. Hopelessness. "I don't know what I'm doing!!"
Why do I keep doing this?
Wait, this time it didn't hurt as much. Interesting. Either the wall is getting softer or my head is getting tougher. Probably the latter.
Fast forward a few years...
The wall is still there. There is a groove where my head has connected thousands of times. It doesn't hurt when I make contact anymore. It's just become part of my life.
I heard back from another publishing company today. Same story. Different company.
"We love what you have written. We think that it can be an inspiration for a lot of people. We can't publish it because memoir sales are in the toilet." (Okay, those aren't the actual words, but you get the picture.)
Yes. I know very well that selling a memoir is tough. (There are at least 467 hits on my brick wall because of that.)
Yes. I know that what I have written can be inspirational for people. I am grateful for that. So very grateful for that.
Yes. I know that my social media following is minimal and that these days, you cannot sell books if you don't have a following on social media. I have heard it a bazillion different times. (There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1254 + hits on my brick wall because of social media.)
Now, I keep cleaning up by book so that I can get more paperbacks printed and up on Amazon. I buy a few copies here and a few copies there to have on hand and in my car so that when someone says, "Hey! I need to buy a copy of your book!", I will be prepared.
Now, I keep sharing positivity and encouragement to the few social media followers I do have who care to read what I have to say.
Now, I grab my trusty pillow, strap it to the old noggin and keep hitting against the brick wall. For the rest of my life if I have to because I was supposed to write this book. If not for anyone else but myself.
But most of all, I just need to keep hitting the brick wall. Eventually, it will crack. Maybe it already has. Who knows what will be on the other side? Knowing me, it will probably just be another brick wall, but that's okay. If all else fails and I decide that I don't want to hit my head on a brick wall anymore, then I can always take a selfie in front of it, right?
On second though, probably not. I'm not very good at selfies. #selfiechallenged.
Strapping on the Pillow
I love my brick wall.
It's taken me a long time to get to this place of professing my love for the brick wall. And although I do love it, sometimes I don't like it. But the brick wall keeps me strong. It keeps me from giving up because I want to see what's on the other side! Even if it's just another brick wall.
Everyone has a brick wall or two or three. What is (are) the brick wall (or walls) in your life?
It's time to strap on your pillow, and get to work, don't you think?
There were two words that sent shivers down my spine when I realized that a lumpectomy was just not going to cut cancer out of my life...
Chemotherapy and Mastectomy
It was surreal to use those words when talking about something that I had to do. In the beginning I was still in the mindset that cancer happened to other people. But as I faced each challenge head on, I began to realize that this was really my life and I began to search for tricks that would lessen the discomfort or at least made it somewhat bearable. The plain fact of the matter is...breast cancer treatments (any cancer treatments actually) just suck, for lack of a better word. However, I was very grateful for advice from other survivors when they shared things that helped them. I thought, "Even if their tricks don't help me, what have I got to lose?"
So that is what I would like to do for today's post...share some tricks and tips that helped me before, during, and after my bi-lateral mastectomy (in layman's terms, I said goodbye to both of the ladies who had tried to kill me.)
Before Surgery Day
It's all butterflies and anxiety in the days and weeks leading up to your surgery. So many unknowns about the process and the pain that will follow. It's tough to keep your mind out of "worst case scenario land." But the thing that helped me the most was to just keep busy. Which is also easier said than done considering that you have probably just spent the last 4-6 months being hammered by chemotherapy.
The day has finally arrived. It's time to say goodbye to "the girls." Everyone experiences their own emotions when thinking about this separation. I went through all the emotions...the relief that I would no longer have breast tissue in which to grow cancer, the anger that the cancer had descended upon me in the first place, and the sadness of losing an important part of me.
Obviously the time immediately following your surgery will be a big blur. I remember people coming in and out of my room and talking to my kids via Skype, but that's about it.
I hope that this post was helpful. Obviously it has been a few years since my actual surgery and if I had written this post right after surgery, maybe it would have included a few more things. But, since I was inspired to keep a daily journal and have since compiled my journal and blog together into a book, I feel like I can remember the things that are most helpful.
If you know of anyone who is facing a mastectomy, please share this post with them. Give them my email address (which is firstname.lastname@example.org) It breaks my heart when I hear of people who are alone in this process and I will do anything within my power to help them or find someone to help them with their needs.
In any hard time, it is extremely important to celebrate the victories. Celebrations can lift spirits, bring light to darkness, and empower your soul with joy which can give you the strength to go on.
I like to call these moments S.M.I.L.E.S.-
I am loving my second chance at life.
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Copyright Desirae Ogden, www.desiraeogden.com, 2015.
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