Friday, December 28, 2012

In Sickness and In Health

I have a bone to pick with Walt Disney - for a couple of reasons. 

1.  He has something against mommies.

From Bambie to Snow White, Aladdin to The Little Mermaid - Disney mommies are suspiciously absent or offed even before opening credits.  And replacement step-mothers all seem to fall firmly in the "evil" category.  I've been aware of this phenomenon for some time, but it wasn't until I became sick that my children began to hone in on it.  I realize these tales are told because nothing is more terrifying to a child than a mother leaving them forever.  But when the possibility of such a scenario became real for our family, there seemed no relief from threat - even in fairy tales.

There are very few of my children's questions I have ever hesitated answering.  "What did (insert character here)'s mommy die from?" is one of them.  For those conversations alone - I will always hold a grudge.

2.  Thanks to Mr. Disney, generations of "little princesses" grow up with a jaded view of marriage.

In fact, I believe Walt's influence may be a contributing factor to our nation's nearly 50% divorce rate - and here's why:

"Happily Ever After" leaves a lot to the imagination.

No Disney cartoon that I've ever seen (and as a mother of two young children, I've seen just about all of them) tackles the real issues of marriage - dirty socks on the staircase, grocery shopping and bills.  Prince Eric never loses his temper over the incessant talking sea creatures his wife takes up with and Ariel never wonders what her life would have been like if she had married the merman two coral reefs from Triton's castle. 

They certainly don't delve into what happens if Cinderella gets cancer. 

In November, my own Prince Charming and I marked 11 years of marriage.  With each other.  In a row.

We've beat out about half of Hollywood and we're still in our 30's.

This milestone was even more meaningful as we tested the limits of the "In sickness and in health" vow.  Nothing makes or breaks a couple like joking about life insurance policies - or literally pulling hair out over cancer treatments.

In fact, many couples faced with cancer do not make it to the other side (according to some studies, as many as 20% of marriages end after a cancer diagnosis) - and I can certainly see why.  This experience has been stressful.  And I am beyond thankful that we were somehow able to grow together instead of apart through our fears and frustrations.

I'd like to tell you that our time together has always been Disney-esque or that we've somehow stumbled on the secret to making marriage work. There is no secret.  No fairy godmothers. Over the years, there were days when I wasn't sure if we would make it through.  And days when I was certain we wouldn't. 

Thankfully, when it came down to that "till death do you part" bit, there was never any doubt.

I've learned that staying married requires primarily one thing - both partners deciding to continue being married.  Even when the glass slippers are gathering dust and the evil step-sisters invite themselves to Thanksgiving - again.  Or if your princess happens to be holed up in the bathroom for weeks on end. 

Also, a little luck never hurts.

In truth, I think Walt does a disservice by ending his tales with that first step over the castle threshold.  The reality of Happily Ever After - the imperfections, fights and forgiveness, the shared history of moving day memories, dirty diapers and inside jokes - is beautiful.  It is so much more precious than any ball one could attend. 

This year on our anniversary, Chris and I did what we do every year - we signed on for one more.  I'd gladly give him a hundred if I could.  Though I am certain we will face many more trying times in our future -  real life, it turns out, is far better than any Disney fairy tale ever written.  And real romance is less about fancy gowns and more about continuing to say "I do".

Even after the clock strikes midnight. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Not the End of the World, But...

Probably the best part about being done with chemotherapy is to once again be able to choose foods based on anything other than barf-ability. This is exactly what it sounds like - and just as pleasant as you may imagine.

Throughout the course of my treatment, many of my favorite foods were eventually set aside as part of a self-imposed boycott.  These items were carefully selected based on a complex scientific process known as "learn-it-the-hard-way".  Included on my Thou Shall Not Eat list was tortilla soup, salad with blue cheese dressing, anything topped with salsa and what should have been obvious but made the list late due to my absolute love affair with them - Tim's Cascade Jalapeno potato chips.  There was also an unfortunate incident with deep fried pickles but I probably had that one coming. 

It goes without saying that "fish" did not score high in the barf-ability category either.  Thus, it felt as though I reached a milestone recently when I met friends for lunch at a favorite mid-town sushi restaurant. 

As I gleefully devoured a Dragon Roll without fear of potential "return factor" the conversation made the logical jump from Christmas shopping to the impending Mayan doomsday predictions.

"Wouldn't you be ticked if you went through all this and the world ended on Friday?"  Asked my best-ie while carefully balancing her chopsticks in one hand.  

I laughed and told her I wouldn't mind so much - so long as the End occurs quickly and we don't have to endure endless CNN coverage of the event.

But I think the question bears further investigation. 

While I don't believe "End of Civilization" has been neatly penciled in for tomorrow afternoon, I occasionally have been known to indulge in flawed judgement (see fried pickles).  So just in case, let me be perfectly clear:  If the world were to end tomorrow, I would not regret a thing. 

Yes - this year has been a challenge.  The last six months have shaken me to the core.  My experiences with cancer have tested my physical, emotional and psychological limits - and sometimes I've come up lacking.  But it has also given me the opportunity to gain a perspective I never would have otherwise.  I have said the things I need to say, strengthened priorities such as family and friends and let go of others such as vanity and wealth.  I've laughed harder, cried more and just generally experienced life fuller than at any other time.

And though I have what feels like an endless road ahead of me back to true "health" and wellness of both body and mind - I have confidence that the journey will be worthwhile. No matter how many days I am allowed on this planet.

So yes, Mayans - give it your best shot.  My guess is civilization will continue tomorrow - and CNN will supply endless coverage of the world not ending. 

As for me, I plan on ordering up another Dragon Roll  - and enjoying every last bite.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Being Brave...

There is something eerie about the way cancer survivors are portrayed.  It starts with the smiling, hat donning models that look out from rows of informational brochures at the cancer center. Touting headlines such as Lymphoma and You or End of Life Options the brochures make for macabre advertisement.

A bright-eyed woman holding hands with a loved one on the cover of  All you need to know about Colon Cancer seems to say "Look how fascinating this cancer diagnosis can be! I'm looking forward to this process - You should too!"

A stoic grandfatherly looking gentleman leans against a tree from the cover of Understanding your Prostate and retorts "I never wanted this prostate anyway."

After the diagnosis of cancer, the next images that are typically laid out for public consumption are those of  "survivors".  You know the ones - Pink hats, smiling faces, strength, strength, strength.

So here's the deal:  There is a lot that happens in the middle. And it's not all knowing smiles and pretty pink hats. 

I understand why images of smiling, happy people are chosen for "the face of cancer".  No one would pick up a brochure with Grandma breaking down and mouthing "WHY ME?"  But I also believe it is important to be honest - to be able to really prepare those who are on this path.

Cancer - and its treatment - is not pretty.  Surviving means getting down to the core of being human - with all the grit and grace that goes along with it.

This is why, on a cold day in October, my best friend and I ventured out into the woods to document "The Middle" of cancer.  At that point in time I had completed five of six chemo treatments.  I was not at my thinnest - I would lose another six pounds, require saline and blood to get through my final treatment.  And though these photos would never be used on the cover of Breast Cancer and You - they are reality.

Cancer is a brutal adversary.  But there is beauty and strength in standing up to it - and being honest.  I was here.  This is part of my story too.  I am not afraid.

 Photography is by Jennifer Borst - a most amazing and adventurous photographer whom I am lucky enough to call friend.  Thank you, sweet girl - for helping me to be brave and standing beside me through thick and thin.  Everyone should be so lucky.