Tuesday, June 7, 2011

OPP....Other People's Problems

It is hard to believe that we are already on our way into summer. I'm excited to share with all of you the news that my summer is shaping up to be my best summer in two years!

Why you may ask?

Well, as you all certainly know by now, my every happiness hinges on....


Last week I received my latest scan results. These particular scan results were crucial as it was my first set of scans since starting the latest Tykerb/Xeloda regimen way back in January. And... 

my cancer has shrunk!

As a refresher, back in January I got the worst Christmas present ever, the cancer equivalent of a bag full of coal. I was told that scans had shown new cancer in the lymph nodes in my abdomen. Well fast forward 6 months and those very same pesky spots in my abdominal lymph nodes were cut in half by my Tykerb/Xeloda!!

 Gratuitous Big Man and Little Daisy Shot
Everyone raise a glass to Daisy's Mommy!

These past six months have been mentally tough because I've been struggling with the new drug side effects while also not even knowing if the drugs were working!  Over the past few months, the blood work I would get regularly was showing conflicting news. One week the tumor markers in my blood work would go down, the next they would go back up, the following week one tumor marker would go down and another go up. Until scan time, I was really driving blind. These were difficult pills to swallow not knowing their efficacy! (pun intended)

Now that I know these drugs will work for me, I can more graciously and confidently endure any and all side effects. Bring it on! I can handle it with a smile!

But more importantly, with this fantastic news, I am set free. I am finally able to focus on what matters most in this world- other people. The Bridget Show has taken a hiatus.There are so many beautiful things happening to my friends and family: marriages, babies, houses, jobs. There are also so many tragedies that I'm hearing about. There is so much cancer in this world. Others need my attention now while I can spare it.

 I am sick and tired of the Bridget Show. For six years now I've been hogging the spotlight. I've been taking away some of the joy from so many joyous occasions. My friends feel sometimes that they can't complain to me about the trials of their own lives since I have "The Big C" on my plate. In reality, I would give any amount of money to NOT be the center of attention and to lose myself in the stories of others.

These past few weeks have been glorious. I feel as though I've come out of hiding. For the first time in ages I am planning ahead. I am planning life. Things many of you might take for granted seem so brave and liberating for me, like the freedom to book a non-refundable flight to visit Mommy four months from now.

I'm calling friends in high and low places and making plans for visits. I am gossiping, offering advice, listening, and truly being able to listen. My mind is not elsewhere. I am not preoccupied with my own fears.

To that end, I have taken the big scary step of beginning that memoir I've always threatened. I have 50 pages now and I love where it's going. Writing this blog is so very different from taking all of you along on a journey through my past, encouraging the reader to feel what I feel, taste what I taste, see what I see. This blog skims the surface. I share news and thoughts with you. In my memoir, I want you to actually sit in the doctor's waiting room with me.  It's different writing and it's difficult emotionally to write, but it is exhiliarating. I realize now I never could have gotten these words on the page, I never could have looked back at the pain of my many diagnoses if all of my energy was focused on the latest set of bad news. This tiny little scan, the words "stable" have set me free. I can't wait to reach my full potential!

To kick off my memoir writing, I enrolled in a memoir writing class at night after work once a week. That class has again opened my eyes to the joys of hearing other people's stories. The woman fighting brain tumors, families with dirty little secrets, thrilling travel-logues, every one of my classmates is more eloquent than the next and every one has a story to tell. Each week we share 10 or 20 pages of our work and we offer critique. We tell our colleagues to "dig deeper here", or "I love this character", "hurry up", "slow down" - it is a beautiful creative experience.

At this class, I have learned yet again the lifelong lesson that every one has a story. Every one of us has a burden that she must carry, and so many of us carry these burdens silently. We put on a wig. We take the cell phone call from our sick mother from a bathroom stall. We tell little white lies to our children. We come to work everyday when life at home is imploding.

 I want to carry that knowledge with me everyday in every interaction, and I hope you will keep that in your minds as well. Give the bagger at the grocery store an extra smile, allow the car at the stop sign to turn in front of you, hold the door open, choose your words carefully in every interaction, don't let your hot head or busy schedule cause you to raise your voice or cut corners, because you never know what sort of news the person next to you received today.

I am so thrilled to finally have the wherewithal to listen. Over the years, cancer has turned my heart to stone. My mind and my heart have been slowly numbed over the years. It happened gradually. As cancer dealt me blow, after blow, after blow, I retreated further and further into my own brain and into my own close circle of family and friends. I had room for their feelings and needs, but couldn't quite open myself up to sharing in strangers' pain and stories. If I felt all of your pain while also dealing with my own tragedy, I wouldn't be able to go on. The cold hard reality of life would be too much to bear. These scans have thawed me out and freed me a bit from that prison of my own mind, my own fears and worries.

At my writing workshop, I've seen firsthand that the whole world has been built on sharing stories. The greatest stories of all time, from Hercules to Robin Hood, even all of Shakespeare's great works, were all passed down orally over generations. A story shared can create an overnight sensation in a community, or it can ruin someone in an instant.

This summer I will, of course, still share my journey when it is appropriate or necessary, but I'm done complaining about my side effects for the rest of this summer. This summer, these next few months in between scans are a gift. I want to take advantage of this time to turn my focus outward. I want to share other stories of survival.

I don't need to celebrate this scan with wine and an expensive dinner, or an extravagent purchase. I can celebrate this win in my own fight by focusing on and shining a light upon the plight of my friends and neighbors. After all:

"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.  ~Albert Pike"