To be remembered. It feels great. Life has been hard this past year. If I could point to one thing thyroid cancer has done to harm me the most, it’s been to make me believe I’m not me anymore. That the me I have come to expect is gone. The me that most the time could think a clear thought. The me that knew how to eat so that my pants would fit. The me that requires a certain amount of sleep. The me that loves to push my body, and a body that thrives on being pushed. The me that takes good care of my kids. The me that stays in touch with others. What I love enjoying.
It’s been such a confusing year. Who is this person called me, and how do I function? Not a quest to find the me I’ve never known, but rather confusion as to where I might have disappeared to. Months on end trying to find equilibrium. The discouragement has been thick dark. Fog that belongs to a January. Getting out of bed. Moving legs of led. When I try to move, reactive body pushes back, with enough say-so to stop me from functioning altogether. Demanding I slow to avoid left sided jaw pain, jaw numbing, left arm throb, shoulder pain and numbing, arm and hand pain and numbing. Sometimes movements too fast bring stroke symptoms. The whole body goes into left sided weakness, vision foggy, one eye that won’t dilate, slurred speech, and then I’m back in the hospital for more tests.
The throbbing leg – another screen for cancer. The mass on my spine, watching. Good results this time around, until the next time? Then what. Watching the one remaining breast. Blood tests, over and over, till my arm looks like I stick for an addicted high. A look at kidneys, the throbbing leg might signal a broken kidney. Not this time, comes back within normal range. I slump into a relaxed state. Then the OBGYN wants to test. About the time I recover from that test, a call comes in saying another is over-due. Oh, and don’t forget the colon. Labs and tests, blood and MRI’s with contrast and without (Oh dear, no contrast for you. Allergic to gadolinium), EEGS, CAT Scans, Mammograms, I am so lonely for what my life use to look like. Carefree. Strong.
Once again shut inside dark and jarring tube, unable to move for 45 minutes, I start to dream. I dream of a 20 mile ridge run that happens every year in Bozeman where my sister Becky lives. Summer before, she and I spent a bit of time hiking along sides of mountains. Another needle shoved into the vein that lies along my wrist “this is a good one!” they thread the iv in, fighting fog and throbbing pain, I dream. I will find just the right shoes. Re-adjusting needle, nausea rush as purple bubble balloons up onto the surface, the apologies as the white cloth mops up blood red, beads of sweat across brow I can’t wipe off, slip into the dream. I decide through the pulsing jarring of the MRI that my clothes will be bright. Maybe a salmon shirt, black shorts, colorful shoes, running shoes. I will move between two sets of shoes while training. Needle again, only this time for blood draw into vein always used, pain, I’m sick, dreaming how I will train for this run. Big plans I have while strapped to to MRI table, blood pressure cuff right arm only, “no, you can’t use that one. I had a mastectomy” I say. “Oh, that’s right”, she says. Test over, dizzy weak I make way from doctors room to a grey Seattle day, a darkened parking garage, fighting eyes that want to shut, wandering from one floor to the next, foggy minded, I eventually find the car. Making way through traffic, I manage to get home, to lay flat, I’m out, sound asleep.
Alarm jars me, time to get kids from school. Fight to put feet on floor, body in deep sleep trying to wake up, I rouse my brain to images of a ridge run as a way of keeping mind awake long enough to get safely from home to school and back home only to lay down as soon as arriving, sound asleep while kids get themselves a bowl of cereal, make a burrito, in kitchen helping themselves while I sleep slumped onto brown couch cross the room. Bed time is here when I wake up again. Homework, has it been done? I stumble around helping with bedtime ritual, tuck my babies in, head for bed myself, but first I stretch. It’s the workout I can still do. Stretch one leg, then the next, I dream of the stretch before the 20 mile run.
Will I make progress on taking off this 35 lbs. that has piled on with the removal of the thyroid? After months of working toward a ridge run, I fb that I wished to run a 20 mile ridge in Bozeman come summertime. One by one my cheering squad in the form of my cousins, friends and sisters tell me they will come run the ridge with me. From this coping place a family reunion in Bozeman comes together. Months of planning and training, stretching and trying. But one thing missing. The cooperation of my body. It’s not as if I’ve never applied myself. I biked the STP in 2007, and have pushed myself a variety of ways over the years. This year between MRIs, EEGS, heart evals, test after test I tried to incorporate the things I know for finding my body again, to no avail. Miles of walking, swimming, bike riding, stretching, eating mostly salads, nuts and protein. So I’ve managed to lose about 10 lb., still 25 over, way too much extra for my body to tolerate running a ridge at 6 or 8 thousand feet let alone walk it. The worse part, most of my muscle has wasted away, and building seems impossible. The summer arrives. I spend a week packing for the trip, but shove aside the dream completely, ashamed I had wished for it in the first place, disgusted I had failed myself in this way. It did not matter how hard I tried to get my health back, the sneer of thyroid cancer had all the say and I got none.
The day before vacation a dear friend in her early 30s died of thyroid cancer. The “best kind of cancer” swept through her body – including her brain and lungs. Her last fb message was “Pneumonia again and landed myself at Prov hotel.” That was the 14th. By the 22nd she had passed. She didn’t expect it. Her family didn’t expect it. The girl we all knew was gone.
And I’m not gone. OK, I should be thankful. And still I have died to who I’ve always been. So had my friend who just passed. The same in every way, and also nothing of who she had been just years before. I do not need to hear what I should be feeling right now. Grateful. Thankful. This is the “new You”. Underneath physical symptoms, medical tests, projections of what is coming next, am I even still here? Although what i see in the mirror is a stranger to me, I need to know I’m still me.
God noticed this need. Heading up a mountain with a large group of family, we made our way to the top. On top I realized I did not want to return through the woods. Every nauseating needle gouging fantasy, EEG, MRI, CAT Scan, Heart Ultrasound, holter monitor, Mammogram could never came close to providing me a moment as grand as the beauty I found myself surrounded by on top that mountain. My sister Marci said she’d go with me. It was crazy, risky, stupid. We didn’t take water, snacks, brains. Marci did have her phone, although weak and about to die. The bright colored clothes were missing. Wearing all black. I wasn’t the fit body of solid muscle I had hoped for, rather fat and haggard and only able to run a very short distance, but on top that ridge I was reminded, covered in skin splotches, fat and awkward, legs of led, hair all a frizz, that I am still a ridge runner inside. The external has me looking like another girl completely, but I’ll always be me, no matter the limitations. Every hard moment this past year was noticed, and the year long dream to run a flower covered ridge. Some say 7, others say 10. No matter the distance, I won’t soon forget the flowers wild and bold, big sky blue, clouds slung about among the mountain tops, and a sister to experience it with. I might have given up and pushed me aside, but Someone Else would not.