Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review of "You Take It From Here" by Pamela Ribon

There are certain moments you don’t want to relive. They’re filed away in your memory under “DO NOT OPEN” but ofcourse who can resist those letters time and again, needing in fact to go back there once again. You’d think in time the pain would have faded, it hasn’t, it’s just a different type of pain. For me that memory is hearing “we put a frozen section under a microscope and you have cancer.” But the pain was never about me. I had known. I wasn’t under any illusions about what I was sick with; it was having to tell my parents who were staring at my expectedly, as if there was a miracle and everything could be explained away by something other than cancer. It was having to sit there with them each holding my hand as my doctor told me how very sick I was. It was knowing that on my first chemo, my father was in the waiting room collapsing in on himself hearing that his baby girl, his only daughter, his first born, may die before she turns 24.

Why am I telling you this in a book review? Because that’s the part of cancer that Pamela Ribon got so painfully right that I’m sitting here my eyes swimming in tears and remembering. Being sick sucks, I think we can all agree on that. But it’s so much harder for the people around you-because even though you are sick with this disease that seems to come out of nowhere like a ninja, everyone gets to see you sick. It’s hard for them to remember you NOT sick, sort of like how when you’re nauseous you can’t remember what it’s like to NOT be nauseous . Which is why I empathized with Smidge. Forces of nature do not want to be remembered in any other way. They’d rather go out in a blaze of glory on their own terms, than by this disease that was not invited to the party.

Smidge will annoy you. She will frustrate you, make you bang your head against a wall and be like "what in the hell is this woman doing?" Dani will do the same but for different reasons. But eventually you'll get it. You'll get them. You'll get their friendship in its function, dysfunction and how they ultimately are each other's soulmates. You'll understand Smidge's request-not logically ofcourse. But nothing about this type of deep friendship is LOGICAL-if it was it wouldn't be what it is. Beautiful, wrenching and sure co dependent. But sometimes you're lucky enough to find a friend who is really so much a part of you that when they're hurting you're hurting and most of their joys are yours simply because you want nothing but happiness for them. This book was far less about cancer and far less about some odd request to fulfill a best friend's dying wish and more about HOW who we are ia shaped by our choices and the people who we place stock in. That person who you view yourself through and the only person that really matters.

It'll break your heart this book. Don't let anyone tell you it's not going to. Be prepared to find yourself ugly crying. But don't shy away from it because of the pain that it may open in you. Hiding from that pain does no one any good. That pain is how we remember. How we honor. How we find ways to connect back to the world. Hug your best friend if you're close enough to do so. Call her. RIGHT NOW. Plan an unexpected trip to nowhere and watch The Notebook and cry and eat cheese fries.

Here's' a link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/You-Take-It-From-Here/dp/1451646232/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342705604&sr=8-1&keywords=You+take+it+from+here

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Have you read "The Fault in Our Stars" yet? I have. I thought I'd get through it with minimum crying but folks, this was not the case. It was worse than My Sister's Keeper (both the book and movie). I ugly cried on the train home. I mean, cried in public where people were watching me as my tears fell on my kindle fire and they were like, does she need help? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Ugly cried with mascara down my face and I had to stop it several times and switch to Angry Birds so that I could get home in one piece. It was so bad that I actually had to call it a night around 7:30, go to sleep and woke up the next day looking like I got punched in the face. Sigh. Unattractive to say the least.

But it was a good book! It was pretty well written and brought up a lot of stuff that I think I've tried to ignore or not deal with over the years. And clearly my story isn't as tragic or sad as the characters in the book but there was a lot of truth for any survivor/patient in the dialogue. But don't read it unless you're hunkered down at home, with scotch or wine or a pint of ice cream, put a spoon in the freezer to put over your puffy eyes and invest in some tissues.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

I'm creeping really close up on the 8th year out of radiation or my real "remission" date. I'll actually be traveling to see my brother in LA with my mother that day, so I'm sure we'll toast there.

Eight years. Goodness, it seems so long and so not that long ago. I hadn't updated in a while mostly because I had been very focused on other things but I think it might be helpful so here I am! I have not relapsed with NHL and I have a relatively clean bill of health. Life now has its own set of issues, particularly the worry about secondary cancer, but for now it's completely clear.

So I'll be updating on my life now and dedicating some posts to the struggles and triumphs I've had over the past eight years. I promise I will be as funny and honest as I can be.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Edited: There is one more post after this; it got switched with the July 28th post.

The past two years have proven to be quite a battle. On the fronts that I haven’t even really expected. When we all see movies about cancer, it’s the chemo and the radiation that do the character in. Or what they triumph over. I don’t know—to me that was the easy part. There were medications to combat the nausea. Creams to help the dry skin. It was finite—six rounds, here’s what you’re getting and on this day it would be over. Scan shows your clear, we’re done treating you.

It’s the after. It’s the “what now?” part that I struggle with. I bridge two worlds—I feel like I carry the pain and the fear of having gone through the cancer with the reality that I’m not in a chemo chair but a work chair and the only radiation I’m getting is from my cell phone or computer. I don’t have cancer. The only vestiges of it that I have to deal with are the scars on my chest and my neck and the six month CT Scans.

My doctor told me that getting through cancer is like experiencing a loss, as real as losing a sibling. And I thought of the way that we often handle the death of a loved one. We hold on to them and bring them to the forefront as much as possible because we simply can’t, or won’t, forget. You know that life has to go on, but how can you honor and remember while still moving forward? How do you get to the next step when you’re still stuck in some of the pain?

I don’t know if there are any answers. I think we first have to acknowledge that any grieving process takes months, years, to heal through. There are some things we get good at, some things we find ourselves always working on, and some stuff we’ve decided we simply can’t change. I have spent the past year thinking I’m somehow damaged in ways that can’t be repaired. I’ve been so critical on myself—I should look like this, I should feel like this, I should be doing this—because of this unrealistic notion that there is no room for imperfection. That in order to erase the cancer, I have to prove that I’m more than what I was. But I’m not. I’m no more damaged than anyone else. I’ve been playing into the very things that I’ve asked people not to do.

So, I think that it’s time that I stop this phase of my life. The past few weeks have been so much upheaval for me and in a lot of good ways. I’ve been forced to look at the person I’ve become and why do I keep trying to get back to something that probably wasn’t even there in the first place. And stop focusing on all that I’ve lost and look at what I’ve been able to gain. I’m not going to be making any more entries for now. I’m not cured. I’m not 100% fixed. I’m not anywhere near where I hope that someday I will be. But I think in dwelling so much on what is wrong with me, I’m damaging a relationship that I really treasure. And if anything, I need to mend my heart and move on, before I lose something else. And the only way to do that is focus on the now and who I am today, and be positive about all that I’ve gotten through and all that there is out there. The possibility of more.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you find something useful in the other entries, for other young cancer survivors or someone experiencing the illness, or friends, or just life in general.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

This is a post that I want to dedicate to my friends and family who have seen me through the ups and downs of the past year. Who have shown me that there is so much more out there and whose love for me has really made me who I am today.

Love is a funny thing. We hear the word and depending on who we are, we associate a million different things with it. My doctor was talking about it with me. She was discussing how crucial it was for cancer patients and their families. How sometimes just walking around the ward can make people feel better. Why sites like ChemoAngels are so successful; it makes people feel connected and ultimately cared about. I mean, love is so many things. And everyone has a different definition for it—some liken it to a flutter in the chest, a flip-flop in the stomach, romance, friendship, family, trust, loyalty, caring, the list can go on and on.

Our life experiences color the word too. Some of us take love in the form of money; others will have the life beaten out of them because that’s what they were taught love is. Some of us hide from it; some of us embrace it. Some of us run from it, while others of us constantly find ourselves chasing after it. It’s elusive, it’s intangible and can be as healing as it is destructive.

But for me, and I believe like so many of us, love is friendship. It’s comfort. It’s caring. Love isn’t some mystical and magical movement in your heart. It’s the feeling that you get when you know that someone means a lot to you. When I was sick, I remember feeling the need to constantly tell everyone around me how I felt about them. And I was lucky that I was surrounded by people who would love me back; I can't imagine how lonely someone would feel if all they had was themselves to rely on. And I've met people through my work with the Lymphoma society that did feel all alone and unloved and confused and unlucky. And I kept thinking, "how unfair is that?"

Because this whole experience taught me a lot about life and love and friendship. It changes how you look at the people in your life that you care about. Who you let in. It changes how much of yourself you’re willing to give to any one person; I've been accused of giving too much to friends who don't seem to give much back. But it also gives you a certain freedom in not keeping around people you only have lukewarm feelings for. And you just want to constantly surround yourself with love. Because it’s what gives you the reason to fight the disease that has infected your body and to make sure that it doesn’t come back. When it seems like your world is just going to be surrounded by so much darkness, when your body fails you, and all your left with is hope, you truly believe in the fact that love—the way your mom holds your hand, the way your brother sits at the end of your bed, how your friend brings you over a ton of movies, and your dad just sits in a chair and looks at you—will make it all better.

I could’ve been very bitter after I got better. The person I had once been in love with had skipped out. Best friends since college, whose wedding I had read in just months earlier, had bailed out. I had no hair, scars on my chest, pounds added on from steroids and a complete lack of direction. On one hand, I might only have a few years left. On the other, I may have had just as long a lifetime as anyone else.

They say that having cancer is a grieving process. Most of us suffer something akin to a broken heart or losing a sibling. Imagine, at 23, you feel that you have your entire life ahead of you. Then at 25, feeling that you’re not sure how much life you have left in you.

So, first you shut yourself off. You look through old pictures, crying about the past, the memories, thinking, “If I could just recapture that feeling, I’ll be okay.” But then you realize that isn’t why you were given a second chance. So, you start to go out again. Remember what it’s like to smile, to laugh, to dance, to have a good time. All that stuff you were in that hospital bed fighting for comes rushing back. You start to remember how good it feels to be open to possibilities.
But see, your heart can still be broken from being sick. You feel betrayed by your body, by God, by things that are out of your control. You cry for no reason. You don’t trust anyone, including yourself.

We forget that we tell our parents, our siblings and even our friends we love them all the time--because we do. They’ve become such a fabric of our being that we just simply love them. They’re a part of us.

But being able to be to love, means being able to be vulnerable. If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, to be open, you’ll always be scared. You’ll always be looking for something that isn’t there. If you’re going to embrace the good in life, the good in the people that care for you, you must first let go of all your anger, all your hurt, all your confusion and all your pain. Let go of your expectations, your comparisons, and your conviction that you know how it should be. I know that life will work itself out and show you that there are things that will be surprising. No one person can fix someone else’s broken heart—but they can make you see the possibility of more. And if you’re willing to take the time, to let yourself heal from this sickness, to accept that right now there are no real answers, then you have a shot. Because there are some things in life that are very rare—and a friend, a good friend, a great friend, a friend who loves you for all that you are and all that you can be—is one of those things.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I think that experience is our greatest teacher--and our worst enemy. It gives us the tools survive but at the same time can make us jaded and wary; cynical and distrustful. It shapes who we are in ways we're sometimes not even aware of.

Because of my experience, I know that I have trouble with trust and having faith. Fear--of what I can't control, of being vulnerable, of opening my heart--rules who I am these days. I find myself constantly uneasy with just BEING. Everything has to have a plan, a purpose. I need to know EVERYTHING & ask a million questions instead of just letting the answers make themselves known. I subconciously test people--pushing them to the point where they are looking at me and saying, "Is this really even worth it?" Once something takes on meaning to me--I feel the need to question it. Confidence becomes uncertaintly because now it has weight and value and the potential of loss is really...well, there you go.

But I know that these thinsg aren't who I am. They're simply my experiences getting in the way. Shielding me from getting hurt but at the same time blocking me from being 100% happy. We guard our hearts for lots of reasons--but ultimately we are all terrified of getting hurt. Because when we didn't know any better we handed all that innocence and trust over and said, "this is important, don't break it." But we're all only human and for one reaon or another we find our hearts, our innocence, and our trust shattered into a million pieces. And whoever wants to go through that again? If you're me--you shut yourself down, away, find something wrong with every guy you meet, swear to your friends that love is a myth, a joke. And then three years later, you realize how much has gone by. How by not taking the chance on being disappointed, you've accepted just being empty. Using a broken heart as an excuse. And it never heals because you've forgotten what it means to connect. Experience has kept you from experiencing anything--pain, misery and ultimately happiness too.

I may have a ton of hang-ups. A relationship with me is uncovering all those land mines, those things that I've been very good at forgetting about and running away from. Opening up old wounds and healing them--but ofcourse first it's got to sting a little bit. And not hiding behind my illness anymore. I believe that I have the capacity somewhere to let it all go and start over. To not bring all my disappointments with me. To allow myself to be vulnerable without being insecure. To trust the good stuff. To stop questioning everything because I'm so scared that if I've not thought of every scenario, every angle, then I won't be prepared. I need to appreciate the unexpected and be open to all the possibilities. Because if experience has taught me anything--I deserve to be happy.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Trust has to be the most loaded word in the English dictionary. Way so more than love. Probably because love is sometimes contingent on trust and if you love someone and they break your trust then that is probably the most devastating thing.

Anyway, the thing about having cancer, going through cancer, surviving cancer is that you have to have so much trust: in your doctor, in the research, in the medicines, in yourself and ultimately in some unknown force that you are hoping is watching out for you. The lack of control that cancer bestows on us leaves us vulnerable to so many outside forces—chemo makes it so that even the tiniest cold germ can have us taking up space in the ICU, sucking on oxygen. You have to believe that the doctors know what they’re talking about, that the researchers have stumbled upon the right combination of drugs, and that the medicines won’t kill you when they’re trying to make you better. That was the hardest part for me. I couldn’t look at the statistics, I couldn’t listen to the success stories—stats can be altered and truthfully for every success story is a sadder story of loss. So, I’d have to go on blind faith and the notion that whatever will be will be.

So one would think after becoming completely dependent on forces outside my control, that I would have far less trust issues. After all, it worked! But I don’t. I constantly question the good news, wondering why I should make it through and be okay; the unfairness of it all is something that I dwell on. I was never like, “Why me?” when I got sick, but I’m completely like, “Why me?” now that I’m okay. I can’t trust the present. I’m petrified to let my guard down and be that vulnerable again. When your whole world has been shattered and rebuilt, you tend to put up better fences this time around. But it makes you a hard person to have a relationship with. The constant doubt, the constant questions, the insecurity, the fear, the tears, the confusion—I can only imagine that it would become too much. Or maybe that’s one of the walls. Make it hard enough and then there’s your excuse and you get to say, “see I knew you couldn’t handle it.” I don’t know. Some of it is probably real and some of it is probably a defense mechanism.