Monday, January 26, 2015

On the outside my cancer-tankerous self is like most other 55 year old women, but on the inside, I just turned 21.  Or at least my cancer diagnosis did.  

Even after all these years feeling nauseated still feels normal. Anytime I am not, I find myself waiting for another pair of cowboy boots to knock me backwards!

Twenty-one years ago, I was sitting on a sofa, inside the first house my husband, and I built together. It was on top of a mountain overlooking the TN River. I was 34 years old, and living a life, that had not been my own; I would have been green with envy.  At 34, my life appeared to loom ahead of me; it was easy to feel invincible, and smug. Happy and content were easier to take for granted.

I was watching my children as they raced to see who could get to me first.  My daughter, Tabitha,  won by pushing her brother out of the way, and jumping cowboy boots first onto my lap.

I put a hand up to protect my breast, and felt a lump the size of an acorn. That lump was breast cancer.

Cancer changes how people perceive things, and my life did not appear so envious after that. I was not so smug after that.  In 1994 most of us knew more people who died of cancer than survived it.

Cancer is not the worst thing that could happen to you. The worst thing is anything, and everything that adversely affects your children. I was terrified I would not live to see my children grow up.

My oncologist joked, my odds were good, but he would not go to Las Vegas with them, if he were me. 

A middle-aged, breast cancer survivor was more optimistic. She told me that I could get through it, and one day cancer would not be the first thing I thought about when I woke in the morning.

I shook my head in agreement, gave her what my kids call my fake smile, and thought to myself, “Lady, I ain’t ever getting over this!

In retrospect we were both right.

It took less than two years for my cancer not to be in the forefront of my thoughts. It was when my oldest brother’s, infant daughter, who was born with severe complications, died.

Life is filled with mountainous highs and hellacious lows.  

By 2001, when Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy was published, the nausea, and uncertainty my own cancer diagnosis had provided me, upon waking, had been replaced with marketing a book about it. Just as the book was about to hit the shelves, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Despite what is depicted in my children’s book about cancer, I never lost my hair due to chemo, but a decade later at a Texas book release event, I was hiding a big bald spot on the back of my head.  

I was thrilled to be able to celebrate the release of my book about nuclear power, with family members, in the Texas town where I had worked in the nuclear industry, but in my life, sometimes the highs and lows collide.  The year prior to my books release there had been one personal crisis after another, and I was recovering from stress alopecia.  

Although some anti-nuclear advocates would be happy to think otherwise, my alopecia had nothing to do with my proximity to any nuclear power plant.

Last year, I traded in the anxiety of public speaking events, and nuclear power hecklers, that accompanied my career as a children’s book author,

I joined my husband, Randy, in Alabama.  Where I turned his (corporate provided) apartment into a storage facility for everything from light fixtures to toilets. The two of us spent 2014, haggling over every detail of new home construction. My husband likes to say, people who agree on everything lead uninteresting lives.

I write this from our interesting new empty nest house. We moved in during the holidays. Like that first house we built, 21 years ago, it is located on a mountain in East Tennessee, overlooking the Tennessee River.  It is for most people, including me, a dream home.

I have lived to see my children grow up, and I sit alone on the sofa, listening to our dog snore, remembering January 1994.

My cancer diagnosis obliged me to exchange invincibility for hope, and smugness for gratitude.

I sit here waiting for the cowboy boots.  This time, the hand I put up is to protect my heart.