Fear of Flying

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I hate flying.

This is a rather unfortunate affliction,  as I’m required to fly at least half a dozen times a year for work. And even though one would think becoming a fairly frequent flyer would make me more comfortable, it really doesn’t. I loathe the rigmarole of the airport–the buggy machines at the check-in kiosks, the shoeless chaos of the TSA lines, the rush to make it to the gate on a layover. And the flight itself invokes all sorts of anxiety–I’m that freak on the plane with the white-knuckled death grip on her seat arms during any little bump of turbulence–all linked to the fact that my life is in someone else’s hands, at 30,000 feet above the ground.

But last week, a funny thing happened.

I flew to Las Vegas for work. This was my first trip since the one I made last summer to Chicago–the trip I received my cancer diagnosis during.

After six months off the road for treatment, it actually felt good to travel again. I’m not a huge Vegas fan, but my boss and coworkers decided to make this work trip fun, booking tickets to shows and making sure we had a good time after our long days at the furniture market. It has been a long time since I’ve gone out for fun in Vegas, and while I felt much older and dorkier than I did the last time (a good 10 years ago), it was still a good time.

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I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show–Zumanity. So fun!

But what was truly remarkable for me during the trip was the flight. Nothing special happened airline-wise, but rather, a change came within me. I still felt the same rush of adrenaline trying to get through the airport, but once I was on the plane, an odd sense of calm settled over me. I fastened my seat belt and rested my head against the window’s edge, taking in the scene of workers scrambling on the tarmac to load luggage and prepare the plane for takeoff. And as we taxied down the runway, instead of sweaty-palmed panic, I felt serene, watching the plane tilt skyward as we descended from the ground. The world below got smaller and smaller, and I was totally fine.

I couldn’t help thinking back to the last time I was on a plane, staring out the window with tears flooding from my eyes. I’d just received that awful news, and my mind was full of the dark fears the word “cancer”conjures. I’ve come a long way since then, and I have changed more in the last six months–both physically and emotionally–than I probably have in the last 20 years. I can unquestionably say that I am probably a thousand percent stronger than I was that day.

A colleague of mine who battled breast cancer more than a decade ago told me something very wise not long after my diagnosis–“You gain perspective.” And she couldn’t have been more right. Not only did I gain perspective as far as life goes–sweating the small stuff is not something I do anymore–I also gained a new sense of courage. I have faced one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person. I have literally battled with something that could kill me. And I lived. I survived. If I can handle that, a little turbulence isn’t going to rattle me anymore.

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Have a Heart

 

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It’s that time again. Well-meaning people are sending messages on Facebook urging their friends to post hearts or their bra color or whatever else in honor of “breast cancer awareness.”

Here’s one I’ve already had sent to me twice this week:

Hello, can you put a on your wall, without comment, only a heart, then send this message to your female contacts. After putting one on the wall of the person who sent you this message. If anyone asks why you have so many hearts on your wall do not answer. It is for women only to remember its the week of breast cancer prevention! Check your boobies!! Hold your finger down on the message and hit forward.

Oh, there is so much wrong here. For starters, there is no such thing as “the week of breast cancer prevention.” If there was a such week, trust, my ass would’ve been doing whatever possible to “prevent” the hell I’ve been through these past six months.

Second, how on earth is posting a heart on my wall doing anything productive? It even says you’re not supposed to explain it when people ask, so you’re not raising awareness. You’re basically vaguebooking for no good reason.

Third, men get breast cancer, too. Like metastatic breast cancer, male breast cancer is pretty much ignored. And it happens to many men and deserves just as much attention and support as occurrences in women. So, yeah, until this cancer is “for women only,” awareness shouldn’t be.

Fourth–and this is just a personal one for me–reminding me to “check your boobies” really isn’t necessary at this point, considering I’m a month-and-a-half out from a bilateral mastectomy.

If you really want to help raise awareness and/or support those fighting/survivors of breast cancer, there are far more productive things you can do on social media:

  • Remind your friends to do monthly self-exams, perhaps posting a link to a how-to, such as this one from Breastcancer.org.
  • Share information about metastatic (or Stage IV) breast cancer, which is widely ignored by the media and public at large because, frankly, it’s really sad and scary and usually doesn’t end with a rah-rah survivor story. It’s also one of the least-researched forms of cancer. But the fact is, this is the reality of many women, and even those of us with lesser diagnoses will always face the specter of this beast. Here’s a site with some general info.
  • If you can, give. But when you do, be careful about where you give. Some of the most popular breast cancer charities–*cough*Komen*cough*–have issues with where funds go, and how they pretty much ignore the Stage IV community (who need the support and funds the most). Some solid groups doing real good for women fighting this awful disease include METAvivor (which supports Stage IV research and patients), the American Cancer Society (which supports research for all cancers) and the Young Survival Coalition. Also, look into giving to your local cancer center to help women in your own community.

I know people mean well and come from a good place, but rather than being so quick to click and share, stop to think about what you’re sharing, and whether or not it’s actually accomplishing anything. Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness about issues, and if we all used it thoughtfully, there’s no telling the good we could do.

 

Feelin’ Myself

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I don’t know what it is–maybe it’s the new year–but I’ve been in a mood this week.

And that mood has been decidedly good.

I’ve really been “feelin’ myself,” as the young folks might say. What exactly does that mean, you might ask? Well, according to the Urban Dictionary:

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Yep, that really does sum it up. I went back to work in the office yesterday, and it felt SO good to be back. I love my job, and I love my coworkers, so I really missed being in the office every day with them. And they all welcomed me back so warmly–the day was like one big warm fuzzy.

And on top of that, I missed having that nice, normal routine of getting up and leaving the house to do something every day. It just felt so nice to get back to something that feels so familiar.

I’m also starting to embrace my growing-in hair. I’m honestly just grateful to have enough to cover my scalp, but beyond that, I’m actually starting to get into the look. And it helps that I’ve gotten lots of compliments on my hair from my very kind coworkers. While the wig I wore before more closely resembled my old hair, it never looked or felt right to me–something about it was just off. What I’m rocking now is MINE, and while it doesn’t look like what I had before, it looks right because it’s me.

Physically, I’m still recovering from surgery, but I feel so much better and have my next surgery planned, so I have a timeline for when I’m going to look more “normal.” My body is still pretty rough, but I’m coming to terms with it and looking for fabulous new clothes to cover it (any excuse to shop!).

So, if you see me walking around these days, you might notice I have a little more pep in my step. It’s because it’s 2017, and I’m feelin’ myself in the new year. I hope you are, too!

 

Moving On

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The year that launched a thousand memes, 2016, was pretty shitty for a lot of people. And thankfully, that sumbitch is over.

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This year was a time of sorrow and loss for so many people. All the celebrity deaths aside (and holy hell, were there a LOT of them!), I know so many people who lost loved ones this year. My husband’s uncle passed in February, I have two friends who lost parents, another who lost her sister, some who lost unborn children to miscarriage, one who lost her cousin/best friend (who also happened to be my high school classmate)…the list goes on and on. And those aren’t the only losses–I have friends who lost jobs, promotions, etc.

On top of all that, there’s been plenty of chaos and strife, from terror attacks, to the instability of Brexit, to the Syrian crisis, to the utter shit show that was the 2016 U.S. election.

Obviously, this was a tough year for me personally, as well. Being diagnosed with cancer, learning I have a genetic mutation that makes me predisposed to cancer, going through chemotherapy and then a bilateral mastectomy was one of the hardest things I’ve dealt with in my life. I have never felt such physical and emotional pain. I have faced the terror and sadness of my own mortality.

My family has suffered, too. My poor husband has stood by me through this whole ordeal, a steadfast rock who held my hand as I cried during my first doctor’s appointment, shaved my head when clumps of hair fell out during chemo and changed my disgusting drains after surgery. And he has done all of this without complaint. I know it’s been hard on him, and I am thankful every single day that I married such an incredible person.

And with him, I’m thankful I married into such an incredible family. His family has been there for us in so many ways, from taking care of my son when I was recovering from chemo or surgery to filling my mailbox/inbox with cards and messages of love and encouragement to just being there to provide a hug or smile when I needed it.

My own family has been amazing, too. My sisters have been a constant source of support, and my dad has been so sweet and concerned–seeing his child face this has been hard for him. And my vast extended family has wrapped me in love and support, too.

My amazing family hasn’t been the only group cheering me on through this crapfest of a year. My friends–best friends I’ve known since childhood, newer friends who’ve become an important part of my life, a group of fellow moms who’ve become a huge part of my support system, former coworkers and even folks I haven’t seen or talked to in years–have shown me so much concern and love.

And my current coworkers–two of whom were literally by my side the day I got the bad news about my diagnosis–have been so wonderful. My absences due to chemo and surgery have been hard on them, but they’ve handled it like champs and never made me feel like I was letting them down. And the company I work for has blown me away over and over again with their capacity for kindness and generosity. I thank my lucky stars every day to be part of such a fantastic organization.

This year has been SO incredibly hard. It has tested and challenged me in ways I’ve never experienced. It has broken my heart on so many occasions. But it also has taught me how much love, kindness and good there is in the world. I am so grateful for every single gesture I’ve received this year, from loved ones and strangers alike. They have made this journey a little more tolerable and they have taught me that even when things are dark, there is still light in the world.

It’s that spirit that I’m taking with me into 2017. I still have some challenges ahead of me and a couple surgeries yet to complete, but I know that this year is going to be better. I can just feel it. I’ve always seen the new year as a chance to refresh and start over, but never before has that feeling been as strong as it is this year. I am ready for 2017, and I’m going to do my best to make it a great year.

I wish you all joy and good health in 2017. It won’t be a perfect year, but I am hopeful it will be much better than what we’ve just finished.