I have led a life full of plentiful EMWA. From growing up in the suburbs of Detroit and spending my summers on Michigan’s Lake Charlevoix to attending Northern Michigan University (in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Antigua, recruiting for Peace Corps out of offices in Detroit and Chicago, living in LA and NOLA, and spending nearly 15 years as an inner city high school teacher, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve met so many interesting people and experienced so many cool adventures, that I feel truly blessed. However, there is one drawback to this life I’ve led: transition. The actual moving on from one experience or set of experiences isn’t always easy for me. Sometimes, I feel lost while in transition and it’s not the fun, ‘let’s see what we find down this path and have a cool adventure’ kind of lost. Instead, it’s the overwhelming, ‘are you flippin’ serious?!?’ kind.
Initially, I was thinking in terms of my current state of feeling a bit lost in relation to the majority of this year, with all of the changes that have happened after my grandmother passed. My August post about feeling that all I wanted was to apply the brakes to certain parts of my life was very much about my struggles with some very hardcore transitions. Death of a loved one, unstable/conflicted employment, spouse’s unemployment, the Move and selling the Cottage all bunched into 5 months was gruelingly over the top and hard to absorb. How do you deal with it all? I felt like I had lost my bearings, the things that keep my world functioning and on track. Then I was thinking that the period of transition was the nearly 2 and a half years since Terry and I moved back to Chicago. Two grueling moves, my sister being diagnosed with breast cancer, my unemployment, sharing a car, our beloved Zoey dying, my sister’s unemployment, Terry’s unemployment, Grams passing away, a new work gig for me, lots of challenges in my husband’s family, and the heartbreak of selling the Cottage were plenty to process during that time and often extremely difficult to navigate.
But then I realized that this whole idea of being lost in transition actually applies to a certain 5 year anniversary that is quickly approaching–the one where I was diagnosed with breast cancer –and the 5 years of transitioning since that diagnosis. While I have gained much in these 5 years since I heard the words “you have cancer,” I have also lost a lot and, more often than at any other point in my life, felt overwhelming feelings of actually being lost.
When I sailed, there were rules to be followed and plenty of navigation tools to keep boats safe and out of danger of collision. ‘Red, Right, Returning’ reminds boaters to keep the red buoy on the right side of the boat (starboard) when returning from sea or heading upstream. ‘Windward gives way to leeward’ directs sailboats approaching each other to have the vessel which is to windward keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward. Chicago’s 4 water intake cribs are lighthouse size buildings 2 and a half miles off of Chicago’s shoreline and are used by sailors as navigation points–and race markers. All of these rules and tools give plenty of direction and ‘rights of way’. A breast cancer diagnosis meant that the usual rules and guideposts that I had used to navigate my life previously didn’t work in the same way–or at all. I have often felt that I have lost my understanding of who or what had ‘right of way’.
One day I knew what I needed to navigate my life and within a month, that reality had been yanked away. This is what I wrote in November 2012 about A year ago. Before BC:
A year ago this week, Terry and I headed north for Thanksgiving.
We stopped in Memphis to celebrate our 7th anniversary, eating yummy food and listening to great music.
We spent a few days in Chicago checking on our condo, visiting family and playing tourists…
And we wrapped up the week in Detroit for the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.
On the Thursday before we left NOLA, I had my first ever mammogram. While riding the ‘L’ in Chicago, heading to get some yummy soup at the Soup Box, I got a call from my doctor’s office. The doctor’s assistant told me that my mammogram showed irregularities and that I needed to have another done as soon as I returned to New Orleans. I was freaked.
I had that mammogram when I got back to NOLA at a digital imaging center across Prytania Street from my doctor’s office on a very sunny, beautiful day. December 1, 2011. The technician was nice, but left me to get the radiologist’s input and the green light to lead me to have a breast ultra sound. The ultra sound tech wasn’t so nice and was quite cold–as was the dark room where the ultra sound was done. However, when she came back into the exam room after leaving to confer with the radiologist, she was all “bless your heart” and suddenly friendly to me as she told me that I needed to go across the street to see my doctor for the results. I went across the street to my doctor’s office and was immediately ushered into a room. I remember my doctor telling me that I needed a biopsy to confirm, but that the mammogram and ultra sound indicated breast cancer. I didn’t break down or cause a fuss, because frankly, as long as I needed a biopsy to confirm, I did not consider myself as having BC. To cope, I spent the next 15 days–the next 2 and a half weeks of school–doing everything I was supposed to do to determine whether or not I really did have BC, while also preparing for the most negative option.
But how do you really prepare for a life without one of your breasts–or doctors repeatedly reminding you that you can have reconstruction without inquiring as to why you might not want to go under the knife again for reconstruction…or why you would prefer a good chin tuck/neck lift? How do you prepare for the funk that might set in after everything settles down? Or your new perspectives on life? Or how others treat you? Or which resources available would be a good fit for you? How do you prepare for suspicious cysts and tests being given priority and ‘right of way’? How do you navigate work/life balance? How do you keep balance when you have to adjust to the impact of BC treatment on your sex life and sleep patterns or all of the doctors appointments that become the norm? How do you find people at the right time to be there for you when you need them–when you aren’t always able to reciprocate? How do you make sure people feel appreciated when they do things for you–when you are in a communication blackout mode? ***KT, I know you are reading this and know that I do appreciate your personal morning texts!!!***
Of course, the reality is that there is not one set way out of the bouts of being Lost in Transition after being diagnosed with BC. There is no one size fits all approach or toolbox full of the ideal instruments to deal with this reality. But I am here today and today is a good day. Yesterday was a good day, too! The sun has been shining abundantly this weekend. Rowing this morning was a blast at our last Sunday morning outdoor row practice of the season. The Cubs are going to the playoffs. I finally got a much needed ‘me’ weekend this weekend with Terry out of town. The Chicago Teachers Union did not strike and I’ve now been in my position as IB Coordinator at a neighborhood school for a year–which is longer than 4 of my 5 predecessors held the position. I was finally able to write this weekend!!!! That is huge because it is a sign that I could make the time AND that I am not overwhelmed with life to the point I can’t write. I raced in my second Milwaukee River Classic last month with 7 other amazing women, had a blast and my parents were able to see us race!
And that’s the thing. In the five years since I got the prescription from Dr. G to go in for my first mammogram, which led to my BC diagnosis, there has been a lot of transition and loss in my world. However, by plugging away and looking for ways to make my life work, I’m still here. Seeking help and support, being willing to try new things and being stubborn as hell has kept me in the mix–often with a feeling that I’m thriving. A fairy godmother of a therapist. Creating Searching for EMWA--and keeping it going. Cool trips home from New Orleans, including riding the train The City of New Orleans. Skiing again. Awesome kayaking trip to Isle Royale last summer with Terry. Joining ROW. Moving back to Chicago. Being able to care for Zoey. Treasured time with Grams and spent at the Cottage. Voodoo Fest 2013 with Pearl Jam and The Cure. Going to see Mumford and Sons at Montrose Park with Barb last summer.
How can you not feel hopeful when you see full rainbows out your backdoor?