CarisaShanBald
Breast Cancer, New Beginnings

The Difference in a Year

I opened Facebook today and was greeted by “Your Memories On Facebook – your post from one year ago.” If I’m being totally honest, sometimes those “memories” are really hard. When you’ve had a great year, with no traumas, no illness, no cancer, no death – then Facebook memories can be quite lovely. But for those of us who have been through a lot, it can strike a mild panic attack in not wanting to see some of those memories. As much as I actually loved my bald head, sometimes I just don’t want the memory of all that we went through shoved in my face.

CarisaShanBaldThere is another side to it, I do have to admit. It helps me with perspective. Tremendous perspective. Like today, I was greeted with this photo of Carisa and myself hanging out after the end of chemo and after my surgery last year. My glowing orb of a head, soaking up the sun with one of my besties and drinking a Fanta (because well, it’s Fanta).

Seems like we’ve had a lot of “one year since cancer” for the past year. Some of days those have been good, and others have been unbelievably heavy and hard and full of tears. But man, what a difference a year makes right now. One year ago, last week, I had a bilateral mastectomy. Both breasts completely gone. And any remnant of cancer gone with it.

I had barely finished chemo, when hurried on to surgery within a couple of weeks. My body was a wreck from chemo. Fatigue like I have never experienced in my life. Chemo brain that was so severe that Jason and several other close friends, had grown concerned. (Should note that I’m still dealing with short term memory loss and mental fatigue). I couldn’t believe they thought I was healthy enough to undergo surgery. But my white cell counts were good, and, quite obviously, my doctors knew they needed to remove that cancer as soon as possible. And I was ready for it, mostly.

The day of surgery, I had requested a certain anesthesiologist, because she had been with me during my biopsy and completely put me at ease. And no sooner than she came in the room on the day of surgery, she immediately put me at ease again. As we chatted, before going back into surgery, she kindly held my hand and asked me in such a sweet way, “How’s your soul?” It was the perfect question, it warmed my heart, and I smiled and told her, “It’s good.” And we were ready for surgery.

After surgery, putting it mildly, it was tough. Some women have a difficult time actually losing their breasts. I had mostly wrapped my head around that, it was all the other stuff that freaked me out. Like, you know, surgical drains (yuck, a thousand times, yuck). When woke from surgery, I had a tremendous amount of pain where my right breast use to be. Lots of pain meds, plus an allergic reaction to one, until we finally figured out what would work. And the intense pain eased and settled into a less intense pain.

Padded with a pillow, Jason carefully drove us home. I got settled in my bed, with no less than six+ pillows propping me up. The next day or so were kind of a blur as we got through it. And I was beginning to absolutely despise sitting in my bed again. I just had a taste of freedom, and here I was, back in the damn bed again. Which was a particularly tough pill for me to swallow.

But two days later Lauren flew back in to town from Costa Rica to help us out. And she was an absolute godsend. She helped me shower for the first time after surgery. I couldn’t lift my arms and I was in pain and so sore that I couldn’t bathe myself. Not to mention those drains. Her patience with me was on an epic level. I was completely freaked out about the drains and bandages, etc… She kept calm and let me take all the time I needed to with all of it. I learned how to be a better nurse (and mom) that day watching her help me. I still tear up when I think of how grateful I am to have friends that would do all of this (because only a true friend would wash your hindquarters). And though he would have done it, I think Jason was a little relieved that Lauren and her outstanding level of patience, took on this task.

We laid in bed a lot. Mostly because that’s all I felt like doing. And chased a bear. Well kind of… (Don’t tell the kids). I only made it to the end of our backyard watching him, but Lauren went on a full on adventure. But decided to turn around when she found bear droppings the size of her shoe.

And then Carisa arrived. Oh my gosh, if Lindsi could have been here, it would have been perfect. A few nights later, we played Cards Against Humanity for the first time (thank you Sarah!). And we laughed. Like belly laughed. Tears ran down our cheeks from laughing so hard. I don’t know if I have honestly ever seen Jason laugh that hard.

And it hit me, that this was the beginning of us healing. Because we hadn’t really laughed in six months. Life had been way too damn heavy for belly laughs. But that was our beginning. Right there, sitting on my bed. My husband, two close friends and my dog in the middle being happily used as a card table while she slept, while mom tucked our kids in the bed upstairs. This was the beginning of us starting to regain some sense of ourselves again.

It was the beginning of putting our lives back together after cancer. Beginning of healing physically and mentally. For all of us. This year has been far more difficult than I could have ever of imagined. The women on this journey before me told me as much; but you don’t truly understand until you are living it.

But there has also been so much growth and learning and love, that it blows my mind sometimes. We aren’t who we were, and that’s okay. It’s okay for any of us to change at any time. We don’t have to be who we were yesterday or the year before or in high school or college. I’m not the person I was, and I never will be. Who I am now is more vulnerable yet more strong than I ever was. We have a perspective that I still can’t quite find words for. And we know, know to our cores, the value of being who you are, standing up for ourselves, advocating, loving, understanding, accepting each other’s faults and moving on.

I’m not the mom that I was. If I’m being totally honest, this year has been a struggle for me as a mom. My patience runs thin more quickly in the evenings than I would like for it to because of mental fatigue and the fact that I still tire more easily. But I’m working on my patience, as I’m sure many of us are. I’m not entirely sure that’s a cancer lesson as much as a parenting lesson.

We are doing what we set out to do though. Homeschooling, working, living, traveling – and quite honestly, it wears me out sometimes. But we are doing it. We are living. We made it through this year and I wouldn’t trade those life lessons for anything.

Know this… Life is hard sometimes. Facebook memories are sometimes difficult to see. Processing after trauma is crazy difficult and can hit at the most inopportune times – like birthdays and holidays or at 2am when you would much rather be sleeping. But we are all in this crazy life together. And with a lot of love and support and honesty we can get through it. Nothing is perfect, and it may not ever be. But let’s make the most of it all. Let’s be mindful and thoughtful and honest. Let’s love each other a whole, whole, whole bunch more. Let’s help each other out. And please, let’s keep on laughing as much as we possibly can.

IMG_4665Much love y’all,
Shannon with Hair

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