Wednesday, October 10, 2012

the journey continues...

It's October, and the pink breast cancer awareness ribbons are everywhere. I know they mean something very personal to everyone who puts one up. Mine is in my Facebook profile picture, and as most of you who read this know, it's in honor of my younger sister, who is a survivor.

It was just about a year ago that a huge group of us got together, formed a team, walked in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and and celebrated being one of the top fundraising teams. The race came at the perfect time - M had just finished her chemo and radiation, and I believe we knew, or were close to knowing, that she was indeed cancer-free. It was the end of the first leg of her lifelong cancer journey, and it was a time to celebrate.
The Pink Sox about to rock the Race for the Cure in Phoenix in 2011.

While I cannot by any account take credit for that magical day last year, I can take credit for kind of getting the whole thing rolling, starting up the website, and initially rallying the troops. But it took on a life of its own. M has such an amazing - and by amazing, I mean, beyond phenomenal - group of friends, and it grew into this wonderful and meaningful gesture of love and support and happiness. And in the end, it was kind of like your wedding; one of those days that you think you should probably never try to duplicate.

However I've been struggling this month to figure out how I should be honoring my sister. How I should be honoring all the others out there for whom this disease has forever become a part of life. But really, my sister. And why does it take a breast cancer awareness month for it to get back to the front of my radar? Shame on me.

I know that there are teams out there doing the Race for the Cure who have been doing it for years. They come out in their pink tutus and crazy socks and pom poms on their boobies and they are totally awesome. They raise money for cancer research, honor loved ones and friends, and have a great time.

But this year I will be at home. I told my mom early on that I didn't think I had it in me to rally again this year; for the reason stated above, and for other reasons that now seem completely pointless and inadequate.

Bear with me here; this will all come together.

I was talking to my husband today, about something entirely different, when I said to him, I think I may need therapy because I get so completely paralyzed by process sometimes that I can't move forward. Or even begin. Sometimes it overwhelms me to the point where I just shut down or walk away. Some might think I just procrastinate, or that I'm unfriendly or unapproachable, or lazy.

(And, true story, shortly after I told L that I thought I needed therapy and why, his response was yeah, I think maybe that would be good for you. What do I say? "WHAT? You think I need therapy? Seriously?" God bless that man.)

But I know myself well enough to know otherwise. Sure, I can procrastinate with the best of them, and have my lazy days. But it's more than that.

I have a vivid memory of being a little girl in my yellow room, my mom putting on my white bobbie socks and black mary janes. If there was the slightest wrinkle in my socks, mom would have to take them off and start all over. I also think about how I genuinely struggle to choose an item off of a menu at a restaurant. If you all knew the process that I go through in my mind...cuckoo, people. And when it comes to a project at home? I want to do X, but I can't get started on X unless I take care of Y, and Y is out of the question unless I do something about Z...each little wrinkle has to be flattened out before I can move forward. Either I'm motivated and blow through every last detail, driving my poor family insane; or else I get overwhelmed and shut down completely, and watch Rehab with Dr. Drew all afternoon.

So you see why the thought of trying to pull that Susan G. Komen team together, fundraise, talk to a bunch of people I don't know well, and make this thing happen is enough to make me pull up the full John Hughes collection on Netflix and shut myself in my room for a month.

And how terribly, horribly selfish is that? Why can't I pull my shit together for my sister??? I didn't even sign up to walk. All I've done is put that pink ribbon on my profile - really, Robyn, seriously?

When someone you love is going through treatment for cancer, it's front and center. I watched an episode of Parenthood tonight (funny that I've never watched it before, but I did tonight of all nights), and in it one of the main characters announced to her family that she had breast cancer. The flood of emotion that followed - the memory of the phone call from M (I was out of town) with the news that I never fathomed I might hear from my young, healthy sister - I felt it, right there, again.

The whole time she was in treatment I never felt like there was enough that I could do, or did do. Luckily M is very strong and fiercely independent; she didn't need us all to fawn over her. So we didn't. But we needed something; to help us show our love, to support both her and the cause, to cope with and understand the purpose of her journey.

Because what you really want to do is go get a super laser and blast that tumor and all those cancer cells yourself. But you can't.

So for me it was the race. It kept us all busy and gave us a goal, that by the grace of god came to an end just as her treatment did. It was perfect.

And when the race was finished, we all went home feeling great about what just transpired. And she was cancer-free - what a blessing.

And then we all went back to our daily lives. All of us, that is, except M, who now goes for scans and tests every three months to make sure her cancer has not returned. Who lives, every day, with the knowledge that she fought and won; but that one day, she might have to gear up for that fight again. Who looks at her babies every morning in a way that none of us will ever fully understand. Who probably lives each one of her days with an new appreciation that, again, we cannot, and probably will not, ever fully understand.

And now a full year has passed, and I feel like I have let the memories and the knowledge of her new existence gather a few too many cobwebs. I'm not entirely sure what I should be doing; but I know it should be more than I'm doing right now, which basically feels like nothing.

I allow my idiosyncrasies to rule my world; and as a result, I live in the universe that's made up of the four planets that revolve closest to me in my little galaxy; my husband and my three kids. Because reaching beyond that little galaxy is often more than I can bear, I rarely do; and as a result, in this case, I've let something very important fall too far down the list.

If I know her like I think I do, M doesn't expect anything. She has plenty of other things to worry about; and they certainly don't include whether or not I have a pink ribbon on my profile or gave an extra dollar at the grocery store. From the outside, it's too easy to see her clean bill of health and then slip back into the lure of the daily routine. It's not like I'm going to call her up and say "hey, how's that cancer thing going?" Some people probably do, and that's fine; but I can't. Maybe I should. But I can't. And I'm not sure I can explain why.

M, I'll never fully understand what your life is now, and I'd never pretend to know what it's like to be in your shoes. But I do know that you are the bravest person I know. I admired you as a mother before cancer became part of your story; I admire you even more now. And I think about you more often than you probably realize; I think about your new reality, and how you might feel as you roll out of bed each morning, more thankful than any of us that the morning has come and you have a beautiful life and family to wake up to. And even though we aren't the sisters who talk every day, or even every week, you are always, always in my heart.

Because I'm not sure what else to give, I am re-sharing a post that I wrote during M's cancer journey that stays with me, and that I go back to read regularly.

I love you, Marci.

March 11, 2011

Drove home from work with tear-stained cheeks today. As I got in the car to go home, I noticed a text from my sister, nothing but a photo.

I was kind of surprised that it made me burst into tears the way it did. It wasn't all sadness. Not really sure what it was. I called Larry, because, well...that's what I do. And he said, oh honey, you knew it was going to happen. And I said, of course I knew it was going to happen. But it actually happened. That's different.

It's just a moment. I was so full of something I can't entirely put my finger on, something that came back to me when I called M later to see how she was doing.

She sounded, well - really, really good. Free. Relieved. The image she gave me - relaxing on her back porch, in her jammies, brand new wrap on her newly-shorn head, sipping vodka and cranberry - told me that, by all accounts, she was really doing okay.

I asked about the kiddos, and she said her son (8, brilliant, and adorable) did a pretend faint when he saw her. Then it was back to their normal routine. They were ready, and maybe a little relieved, too, that finally Mom was bald just like she'd said she was going to be.

Sounds like her hair started falling out early this week. And once it started - it came out in droves. She said it was everywhere; even in JY's coffee this morning. She said that the hair that had detached from her scalp, but was still on her head, made it itchy and uncomfortable. She was thinking about it constantly and by today, it nearly sent her over the edge.

So instead of letting her slowly dying hair make a long, dramatic, and agonizing exit, she decided to take control. I can't tell you the relief I heard in her voice. And I couldn't help but think about JY, cutting her hair for her, how much he loves her, how he's taking such exquisite care of her, and how strong he is for her. I cried for that, too.

So you see why I don't think these were tears of sadness.

You see, M has always seen her hair as perhaps her best asset. And gorgeous hair it was. We Pinkston girls were blessed with thick manes of hair; and hers was meticulously cared for, perfectly colored and cut, lovingly maintained. But now, M, you have no choice but to learn that it never was your hair that made you beautiful. Silver lining.

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