Heartfelt Wishes

Happy Valentine’s Day…

to my husband, who has risen above and beyond again and again;

to my parents, who’ve made multiple visits from Georgia to offer their love and encouragement;

to my sister-in-law and fellow survivor Lisa, who came from Nevada to support me before and after surgery;

to my brother Todd, who shaved his head and told me about Essiac tea, and offered to visit;

to my nephew Ethan, who shaved his head and donated his hair to Locks of Love;

to my stepsons Dusty, who had special pillows made for post-surgery comfort, and Tucker, who has made me laugh (and groan) with many puns;

to all the doctors, surgeons, nurses, and technicians who’ve been tasked with my care and cared for me so well (and answered, answered, answered my endless questions);

to Shannon and everyone who fed us though the Meal Train during chemo;

to Brandy, for the pixie cut to soften the blow of losing my hair;

to my Girls, for shaving my head, for taking me wig-shopping, for taking me to the movies–for always being there, in so many ways;

to my dear ones near and far who sent cards and chocolates and flowers and books and bath salts and bears and so many generous gifts I can’t begin to name them all;

to the friends who “Sandee-sat” when I felt too icky to move, and to those who got me out of the house when I really needed to;

to Sarah, for gentle, restorative yoga and poetry that saw me through some tough days;

to Rita, Mindy, and Pat, whose healing touch has healed me at various points along this path;

to fellow survivor M., whose kind messages and advice have been a bedrock of hope;

to all my many cheerleaders who sent encouraging words via text and Facebook and Messenger;

to all the readers of my blog, who liked and commented and cheered me on;

to the folks who ordered “Be The Tea” shirts for a good cause;

to the Writing Center tutors, for their kind and caring notes (and Jenny, for making it all happen while I’m away);

to my colleagues at RC, for helping me take the time to heal;

to the good people at First Presbyterian, the church of my childhood, who have offered up many prayers;

to all the ladies in my support group, especially our Fearless Leader Catherine;

to Sandra, Mike, and Jolina, for making my pre-surgery photo-shoot beautiful;

to the gentlemen valets who’ve always parked my car with a smile at Blue Ridge Cancer Care;

to the TSA agent at the Atlanta airport who said, “This will not be the end of you, you know that, right?”

and to all those courageous souls who advocate for human and civil rights for all people, including the right to decent health care, because without it, I might not be writing this note–

You are all my Valentines.

With thanks and love, wishing you a beautiful day.

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Here’s to the Husbands and Partners

caregiverOn October 31st, 2016, then-President Barack Obama made a Presidential Proclamation declaring November “National Family Caregivers Month,” honoring “those who give of themselves to be there for their family, friends, and neighbors in challenging times.” At the time, I missed the announcement, still in a pretty pronounced post-chemo fog of pain and fatigue. And I was especially distracted that week: on November 1st, I was scheduled for a post-chemo mammogram and ultrasound, followed by an appointment with my oncologic surgeon to review the results of the scans, which would tell us whether or not chemo had been effective. November 1st was also hubby Steve’s birthday. When we’d met with the oncologic surgeon pre-chemo to talk scans, the news had been tough, so we’d held off scheduling any birthday festivities for the evening, just in case.

Though anxious, we were hopeful, and thankfully, the news was good. Still, I felt guilty, filling Steve’s birthday with yet another set of medical appointments. He’d been right by my side for most every single doctor’s visit or test since June, whether surgical consultation or CT scan or hours-long chemotherapy treatment. Going to the doctor isn’t much fun even when it’s your own body you’re trying to heal, and a sterile medical office with outdated magazines definitely does not scream “birthday party.”

My Sweetie Pi
My Sweetie Pi

In his proclamation, the former President lauded the “incredible generosity” of family caregivers, a description that itself seems almost not generous enough for the reality of spouses and partners of women with breast cancer. Along with accompanying me to appointments, Steve has driven me to offices and errands near and far, waited patiently, lent a second ear, helped me manage the information overload. He’s taken on the bulk of the household chores. He’s held me when I needed to cry; he makes jokes so I don’t forget to laugh. He’s encouraged me to take naps and go on walks, and he’s fetched my prescriptions and the occasional Coca-Cola Icee whenever I craved one. After surgery, when I was especially unsteady, I took over his bathroom because the shower there was easier to get in and out of. Meanwhile, he slept on a mattress on the bedroom floor for a month because I needed to keep the head of the bed elevated to prevent tangling my drains.

And speaking of drains, he gently, and diligently, stripped my JP drain tubes each morning and evening, without batting an eye, kneeling by the bedside, eye level with my bruised, scarred, and misshapen chest. Seeing my altered landscape must have been weird for him; I mean, it was, and is, weird for me. Yet Steve has never let on that he’s bothered by the changes in my body. (Okay, he admitted he was a little grossed out by the stringy chicken-fat-like gunk that occasionally showed up in my drains, but—so was I. Major yuck.)

I think it’s safe to say Steve has gone above and beyond. Seriously: this is a man who let me demonstrate the discomfort of my tissue expanders by allowing me to reach around his chest from behind, grab his pecs, and squeeze as hard as I could.

Maybe once you’ve made your vows and declared “for better or worse, in sickness and in health,” it’s just expected that you’ll be fully present for your partner in a medical crisis. But I don’t think a spouse’s ability to be a good caregiver is a given, and I don’t take my husband’s compassion or support for granted.

Obama opened his proclamation honoring family caregivers with the observation that “[o]ur nation was founded on the fundamental idea that we all do better when we look out for one another.” And so we do. So here’s to all the husbands and partners, who drive us to appointments and do all the dishes; who listen and lift up; who help us grow comfortable—physically and emotionally—with our changing bodies; who stand beside us through the tough times.

Artist & Scientist
Artist & Scientist

Steve recently marched by my side in our local Women’s March. He identifies as a socially liberal, fiscal conservative, while I am (I took a test) left of the Dalai Lama. He does support a majority of the March’s official platform, but we hold different enough views that when we discuss politics, we often find ourselves baffled and frustrated by the other’s perspective. Still, we listen, and we learn. We don’t expect we’ll come to consensus about every issue, and we don’t make consensus a precondition for civility or respect, and certainly not love. I knew, when we found each other, that what we’d found was rare. After traveling through cancerland together, I understand that truth even more deeply. And after watching the world in the past week, I understand, and value it, more deeply still.

Radiation begins on Monday. Steve still helps me into my coat every day. And until my range of motion improves enough for me to put it on by myself, I know he’ll be there, holding it open and sliding it over my shoulders, ensuring I stay warm and protected through the long winter’s chill.