Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Your Dreams Miss You

‘All the lanterns are lighted, the kids are invited, all chorus united, PINATA!’
My class was chosen to represent ‘Mexico’ in our ‘Around the World Christmas Concert’ in grade six. The lyrics above are just a few of the gems from the tasty lick that we were given. It was an awful song and at the peak of our social suicidal fears, we had to get up in front of all the cool grade sevens and eights and sing our hearts out to a song that quite honestly, we all mocked.
Every year, at Christmas time, I think about this song. It makes me smile. It makes me think of one of my best friends, Heather, who detested the song more than any of us and made her thoughts and opinions quite well known (as we all snickered about what she was saying). This song makes me think about my childhood, my naivety, and the time I showed up in a long floral print dress for my debut in the Christmas choir although it was painfully obvious when I walked in that the uniform was simply black pants and a white shirt.
Christmas is my favourite time of year. I love being with family, celebrating life, laughter and childhood and having an excuse to give presents. I still believe in the magic of Santa and the thought of being in bed early to ensure that he stops at my house encourages me to call it an early night every December 24th.
It wasn’t until last year that I experienced the most magical Christmas of all. You often hear people say that their lives flash before them when they are faced with  a traumatic experience. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, it was my future that flashed before me; everything that I hadn’t accomplished or experienced rushed through my mind and this included the next sixty Christmases. Last Christmas was filled with a few tears because back in March, I wasn’t sure if I was going to see Christmas and here I was loving it just as much as I had loved every other Christmas. December 25th is my survival marker – when it’s Christmas, it means that I’ve made it through another year.
As I have learned at an early age; you only get one crack at life, money is just an object, and there are no guarantees so don’t wait your whole life to start living. Based on these life lessons, this year Keith and I decided to head down to New York City to experience Christmas in The Big Apple. I thought I knew about the magic of Christmas, well my friends, I knew nothing until I crossed the George Washington Bridge and entered the land of Manhattan.
Keith and I were there for four days and explored the hell out of the city. We did all the touristy stuff during the weekdays and left the walk up 5th Avenue and the tree at Rockefeller Centre for Saturday. Oh, and on Friday night, we went to see A Christmas Story on Broadway (that’s the movie with the little boy named Ralphie who wants the Red Rider BB Gun). Ugh! It was flippin’ amazing.
On Thursday, as we walked through the streets of Greenwich Village, I spotted a little girl singing Frosty The Snowman while she was holding her mom’s hand. It made me think about that time in my life, when I was little, when the thought of cancer never crossed my mind – mostly because I didn’t know what it was, but partially because I was too busy thinking about the amazing life that I was going to live. When I was this little girl's age, I thought about my future husband, my future kids and my future career. I dreamt about my dream home and all the toys that I would fill it with. I never wondered what the inside of a chemo centre looked like, I never pictured myself without a breast, and I knew nothing of this fear of recurrence.
The innocence of this little girl, the fact that she was singing like no one was listening, taught me a few lessons. In May, I did a bit of a 'project' where I cut out different words, sayings, pictures, and symbols from magazines and put them into a collage. One of the phrases read 'Your dreams miss you'. I didn't realize how much I had stopped dreaming and how much I had started planning. This little girl reminded me to keep dreaming because if anything, it's a great foundation for what the future will bring.
I'm slowly learning that whether I think about a future with cancer or one without, I am not going to be any more prepared to hear the words 'Your cancer is back' - worry and fear do not somehow better prepare us for disaster. In saying that, I feel as though it's this time of year where cancer doesn't get to stand front and centre in my life, it takes a back seat to magic, laughter, lights, family, and warmth.
This Christmas will be just as magical as all the Christmas' before and as I lay my head on my pillow on Monday night envisioning sugar plums dancing through my head, I will also be dreaming of my dream career with my dream kids, in my dream home and luckily I already have my dream man.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Naturally Normal

On a daily basis, I think different cancer thoughts. I sometimes flip flop between wanting my breast back to the generic 'I'm so lucky to be alive.' What I have started realizing is that although many of my thoughts aren't normal, based on the hand I have been dealt, many of these thoughts are natural. In order to distinguish between the two, I interpret 'normal' as being: average, common, and thought by others whereas 'natural' is more: expected, probable and thought by others in your situation.

I've been thinking about natural vs normal a lot lately and as thoughts drift into my mind, I often wonder if other cancer survivors and/or if people who have never had cancer think these same thoughts. Are these cancer thoughts? Katie thoughts? People thoughts? Or a mixture of all three? (Sometimes I picture some of you reading an entry and thinking 'What the hell is she talking about?'. I hope I haven't lost you this early).

Here's a good one - at least once a week, I think about how long Keith would wait to start dating after I died. I'm not saying someone who has never had cancer has not thought about this, but I highly doubt it's a weekly event. I don't think that's a normal thought however, I feel like it's natural considering I've had cancer. I wonder what his new girlfriend will look like and if he'll talk about me. I wonder if they'll do stuff that we do and if he'll enjoy them as much with her. The weirdest part is that I'm getting used to thinking about this kind of thing. I don't have that same rush of emotion come over me the way I did when I thought about this for the first time - instead, I am genuinely curious about the answer to these questions (here's hoping they stay unanswered forever).

I think about my funeral a lot. Who would come? What songs would they play (this is a really important one for me because I've already picked some out)? How would people remember me? Would I die as Cancer-Katie or as who I was without cancer? I know these aren't normal thoughts (although I will admit that I did think about the VIP list at my funeral before I had cancer because let's be honest, whether I die tomorrow or when I'm 97, my funeral is going to be the event of the year), but they are natural considering that I had cancer.

I know I have written about guilt before, but I still carry a lot of guilt around with me. I feel guilty that my niece has to check 'cancer' on any medical family history forms for the rest of her life. I feel guilty that my mom feels guilty for the cancer 'skipping' her and finding me. I feel guilty for the fear that others have for me, for the future, and for recurrence. I'm Catholic, so I feel guilty for just about everything that I do, but cancer guilt is a new level of guilt. It may not be normal to feel this way, but I've learned, by connecting with other women, that it is indeed natural.

I think about the next time I have cancer. I know that's not good to put that out there, but if I'm going to be honest, I think about getting cancer again. Sometimes, I get a pain in my left arm where my PICC line was by just thinking about going through the procedure again. I envision what my friends will say and I think about how I will respond to people saying 'Well, at least you know you can get through it.' (because I know people are going to say that). I think about chemo and more scars and how I'm going to deal with the needles. I think about growing my hair out just to have to shave it again. No part of these thoughts are normal.

The same way most of us think about our day; plan when Ashley needs to be driven to soccer practice and when Jason needs to be picked up from piano lessons, on top of work, grocery shopping, this weekend's wedding and next week's yard sale, I think about cancer. I plan many futures with many outcomes and depending on what cancer has in store for me, my future will be very different. Now, some of you may be thinking that this is a very sad entry, or that I am 'down in the dumps' but to be quite honest, I am writing this with a smile on my face. Seriously, I can see the reflection of my teeth on the screen as I type... No, I can't... but all joking aside, what I'm trying to say is that my natural thoughts have become my normal thoughts anymore. Thinking these things doesn't make me sad or think negatively, instead they are just my new reality and they are what I think about when I think about the future. These thoughts make me feel naturally normal.