Sunday, March 24, 2013

Flying Under the Vulnerability Radar

Brené Brown speaking at TED

vul·ner·a·ble [vuhl-ner-uh-buhl] 1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon; 2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation

BUT...let me help you right off the bat by scrapping this dictionary reference above and instead, go straight to Brené Brown's meaning as you'll hear in the video.

vul·ner·a·bil·i·ty [vuhl-ner-uh-buhl-i-tee] 1. our most accurate measurement of courage; 
2. the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change (Brené Brown)

Now that we have that out of the way, I must again give an honorable nod to Brené Brown for her brilliant, straightforward and wholehearted work that continues to inspire me. Because let me tell you, if going through cancer, once, twice or three times doesn't make a person vulnerable, then I don't know what does.

There's so much vulnerability that correlates with a cancer diagnosis that I frequently don't know up from down. And I'll even go out on a vulnerability limb and share with you that I continue to feel exposed as I embrace the new changes about myself, my new perspective on life, friendship, my scarred body, my numb chest and my numb fingers and toes from the chemo. I frequently fall over from a standing position as if I were intoxicated and always joke it off with a 'no worries, I'm not drinking.' Walking around bald for months on end while looking like a ghostly, ashen version of my former self left me in one of the most vulnerable states of all as I endured stares, name calling and wide-eyed looks from children. And now my current struggle with vulnerability is focused on the end of the treatment road for me. There, I said it... well some of it. Enough for now.

And as I continue to question myself through this process, my writing and interactions with others about how vulnerable I 'should' be, my head often spins at an accelerated rate.  How much do I tell her? How should I say this? Should I gloss over this news? Can they handle it? And the biggest question of all, can I handle it?

My answer...HELL YES! This whole cancer gig has brought up a bundle of adjectives for me to chew on. And as a language therapist, I then typically start heading down the linguistic road of lexicon: exposed, tender, humbled, delicate. And then fleeting and flitting in and out of a Noun - Shame! (pause for reaction....). Yes, I said SHAME!

Because I felt such significant shame during my first diagnosis that I held 'it' in secrecy, swore people to secrecy and stopped telling people that I had breast cancer. I didn't quite grasp why I felt so shameful, and after watching Ms. Brown today on Super Soul Sunday, I realized how consumed I have been through each diagnosis with vulnerability and shame...until now. 

So, twenty years and a third breast cancer diagnosis later, I will purposefully choose to forge ahead and confront the 'Big C' in spite of feeling blemished, scarred and flawed. No more shame for me. I will go as far as to say that I will 'dare greatly' as Ms. Brown suggests.

I believe, that the path for me will continue to be full of vulnerability as it allows me to embrace my sometimes fragile self. It's the only choice I know.

So who's on board the vulnerability train with me?! 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why I Cry?

Me & Kathy Ireland
Unexpectedly, this fundraising breast cancer event threw me for an emotional loop and I felt as if I needed a life raft the second I met the sponsor's daughter, Kathy Ireland. With my initial intention of simply thanking both she and her mom for such a wonderful event and cause - The Barbara Ireland Walk for Breast Cancer Research, I barely uttered my name to Ms. Ireland when I felt tears starting to roll down my cheeks. "Hello Kathy, my name is Dee Anne and..... (oye, here come the tears!)....thank you so much to you and your mom for this wonderful event....(damn, more tears!)... so sorry....I'm crying... please, if you could just tell your mom thank you....(geeze, more tears?!).... I was diagnosed with my 3rd breast cancer a year and a half ago (Really?! More tears?)..... and....." (thank goodness, she started to speak so I could get it together!) "How are you doing?" she asked with a very present and compassionate look. "I'm OK, thank you. Again, if you could please thank your mom on my behalf....(freakin' tears!)... and thanks to you too." We hugged, stared at each other's faces and eyes for a few extra seconds, hugged again, snapped a quick pic and then parted ways.

Ah! Why did I cry? Not like I was diagnosed yesterday....unexpectedly....for the first time. This was round freakin' 3 of the 'Big C!' What was wrong with me? Get over it, I thought! But my emotions were colliding inside of me like the perfect storm.

But really, what is there to get over? Will I ever be over this crazy disease? I feel forever changed and like a fish out of water. I don't know up from down sometimes. What's normal? How am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to act? What do I say for the 1000th time when someone asks how I'm doing but I can tell doesn't really want to hear about it because it's too painful for them. Oh, I'm so tired of saying how tired I am. Should I minimize my feelings to spare others instead? Or, do I just say that I'm feeling great and beyond excited that I'm finishing my treatment next month as everyone expects me to say, even though I'm not? But I kind of am. But not really. I'm just not so sure how I feel.

All I know is that there are some damn good people in this world like Kathy Ireland, her mom Barbara, our friends Sydney and Susan who we went out to cheer for this morning and all of the other walkers with their pink shirts on, bald heads and 'Team Jani' on the back of a group of black shirts.

I cry for me. I cry for them. I cry for the ladies (and men) who will be diagnosed on Monday. I cry for the 39,000 plus woman (and men) who will die from breast cancer this year alone. I cry for Lisa Lynch,  a woman whom I've never met but one who took her angel wings on Monday in her 30's after being diagnosed at age 28. I cry for my Aunt Charlotte and my Aunt Henrietta. I cry for Gammy, my partner's sweet grandmother. I cry for Kelly and all of the 'Angel Girls' that all passed away in their 30's when I was first diagnosed at 31 myself.

But as I shed my tears, I also salute the many warriors and organizations determined to find a cure like the Barbara Ireland Walk for Breast Cancer Research. I celebrate Ann Marie of Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer who refuses to stay silent and hide her pictures of her scars on her Facebook page. I honor the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and all of my 'Purple Angels,' staff, nurses and Dr. G. I applaud the Busted Foundation for their fundraising efforts to support breast cancer patients. I bow to TalkAboutHealth for their online support to help people like me.   I praise too many people to list here but whom I will try to mention and honor as time passes.

So that's why I cry! So what. Let's just find a cure!

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Herceptin #17: Gasp!

Me, Patrick and Cancer Warrior - Marion

Well, this treatment left the entire chemo room startled as I gasped so loudly in the middle of my infusion that it sent the whole chemo nursing staff starting to run my way. But, as I put both of my hands up in the air quickly saying "I'm OK! I'm OK!" - it made me realize just how attentive my purple angels are to me and to all of the other patients they so selflessly serve.

Now here's the funny part (ya gotta know with me, there's always a funny part). What the nurses weren't privy to before I let out my apparently loud gasp, was the 10-minute conversation we had prior to my breathy outburst of expression.  A fellow breast cancer warrior (Marion), her husband Patrick, Hil  and I, were swapping stories about all of the stupid things people have said to us when Marion divulged one of the most shocking statements I've heard to date. And not to get anyone in trouble or anything (her mom!), but man, people can really utter and hypothesize some inappropriate conjecture (AKA, say some stupid sh*t!) in the face of a health crisis.

With that being said, may I just say, WHO IN THE HELL, tells you that "maybe those chemo medicines will finally help you lose that extra weight!" Seriously?! I am not blowing smoke up your I.V. infusion pole here, this sorry statement is sadly true. But, PS mommy dearest, your daughter happens to be one of the most beautiful, tall, slender, fashionable women I have ever met in the face of cancer. And one that is truly rocking her beautiful bald look. And clearly, she doesn't have a single 'lb' to lose! Oh, and one more thing, her name is the name of one of my favorite cousins that I grew up with, so back off Barbie!

But after the chemo room staff stopped in their tracks, they looked at me with such curiosity and bewilderment until the head purple angel (Martha) said, "We take gasps very seriously around here!" Pause..... and then we all started laughing before I quickly explained the tale behind my sudden outburst.

Head Purple Angel - Martha

And lastly, I know you've heard this before, but I find this time a worthy moment to remind you to follow one of the golden rules in life: If you have nothing nice to say, THEN DON'T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL! Period. Done. End of story.

On a final note, may I say we all ended laughing so hard at all of the quips we have heard, that we finally just all sat in silence for a few seconds before looking at each other again and bursting into laughter in unison once more. And there you have it, laughter, one of the many silver linings of cancer.

So, with that, I'll just leave you with a link to my do's and dont's about what to say to a cancer patient along with a quote that you might find helpful next time you're feeling the need to speak your mind:

"Diplomacy is more than saying or doing the right things at the right time, it is avoiding saying or doing the wrong things at any time"