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Good Days

On my left sits the eternal optimist. She was smiling when she came in, grateful for the anticipated snowstorm and the chance to bake cookies on her ‘good’ day. 

To my right is the pessimist. She’s here with me every time I come. She groans and complains about the same things each week. ‘Why is this taking so long?  Can’t you make this drip go any faster?  What are these nurses doing?’

Across from me sits my ‘chemo day friend’ whose been missing for the last few weeks. The chemo drugs she was originally taking didn’t cause her hair to fall out, but today she’s wearing a scarf , hiding her bald head. I know that means they’ve changed her course of treatment. I’m not sure why and I won’t ask her this time. I chose to sit out of earshot today because I don’t really want to know. Selfish maybe, but also self-preserving. 

I wonder what they think of me and my coloring book full of curse words and my hot pink bag with the words ‘Kick Butt’ embroidered across the front. I bet they call me a ‘warrior’ or maybe ‘brave.’

God I hate those words. 

Brave warriors willingly go into battle believing they can be someone’s hero. That’s not me. I was taken against my will, kicking, screaming and really fucking angry. I’m not brave. I’m not a warrior. I’m a pissed off cancer patient wasting a beautiful day stuck in this prison. All of us here chained by IV polls. 

Sigh…..

I’m trying my best to steal sunshine from my neighbor to the left. Reminding myself to be grateful for the immunotherapy treatments that keep bringing me here and the promise that this will keep cancer away. She’s right I remind myself – tomorrow will be a ‘good’ day and everyday after will get better. It will. 

Roasting Marshmallows

My oldest daughter wanted to have a bonfire over the summer.  That was all she wanted.  A simple bonfire where she, her sister and perhaps a few of the neighborhood kids could sit around roasting marshmallows.  A summer rite of passage.  It was so simple.  And yet, it wasn’t.

I remember the night my exhausted and impatient husband finally gave in to her pleas.  Both girls squealed with delight and buzzed in and out of the back door with all of the supplies that they would need.  I could hear them from my bedroom.  My youngest daughter, smiling ear to ear, came up to grab a sweatshirt and stopped to ask if I was going to join them.  “Not tonight,” I smiled at her.  “I’m going to rest.”

She gave me a quick peck on the cheek and ran off to the bonfire.  I waited for the sound of the door closing behind her before going to my window.  I pulled the curtains back, looked down at my little family and then I cried.  Really, really cried.

There are so many things that cancer takes from you and so many disturbing thoughts that it leaves behind.  That night, cancer stole my family from me – my ability to sit with them, laugh with them, care for them. 

I hated that I couldn’t care for them.

People started showing up to help when they heard about my diagnosis.  Our family first, with so much trepidatious love that it made my heart hurt.  Then came our friends, unsure of the right words but certain in their determination to help.  Our neighbors were next, curious and confounded…“but I just saw her last week looking so happy.”  

And then came the strangers.

Yes, strangers – complete and total strangers started showing up at my door because they heard I was a mom who had just been diagnosed with cancer. The strangers had a name:  Sparrow’s Nest And they had a purpose: to care for my ‘nest’ while I couldn’t.  I couldn’t. 

I hated that realization; that understanding, even from strangers, that I couldn’t take care of my ‘nest’ the way I always had.  I couldn’t take care of my family, my kids, in the same way I had before that stupid, dreaded diagnosis.  I didn’t want someone else to take care of my family, I didn’t want anyone’s help, I didn’t want cancer!  But, the reality was that I did have cancer and I did need help.  

And so, every Tuesday, Curt -a total stranger – would show up on my doorstep with home cooked meals and plenty of treats for my girls.  I hid myself away in those early weeks, unwilling to accept this new reality that required strangers to care for my family.  That didn’t stop him from coming though.  Every week Curt would appear and, just as quietly, disappear.  His quiet calm was a stark contrast to the whirling chaos happening inside my head.

When school let out and summer vacation began, Sparrow’s Nest was there with several months worth of snacks for my kids.  Fall came, the kids went back to school and Sparrow’s Nest was there with new school supplies.  Thanksgiving came and Sparrow’s Nest was there with a complete feast for my extended family.  Christmas came and Sparrow’s Nest was there with gifts for my girls.

But the greatest gift they gave me was caring for my family when I didn’t want them to but really needed them to.

I’m grateful now that the hardest parts of my treatment are over and I’m looking forward to summer bonfires with my little family.  But I’m also keenly aware of the fact that there’s another mom out there hearing those dreaded words right now.  Another mom mourning the loss of time she’ll never get back with her kids.  Another mom who is so angry right now because she can’t take care of her family in the way that she wants to. I hate that there’s another mom out there feeling that way.

I get it.  So I need to do something about it.  I need to wrap her family up like Sparrow’s Nest did mine.  I need to help care for her family so that she can take care of kicking cancer’s ass!

Next Fall, I’ll run with Team Sparrow in an effort to raise money to help another family.  Simply leaving my bedroom was a challenge this past fall, so it’s as much a personal challenge as it is a meaningful quest, and I hope that you will help.  Help with a donation of as much or as little as you can give because I can personally assure you that every single dollar makes a world of difference to a mom who’s wishing for roasted marshmallows with her little family. ❤

To make a donation, visit the Team Sparrow donation page and enter my name, Jean Marie Trick, or my friend, fellow cancer ass-kicker and fellow Team Sparrow runner, Marci Cox, in the Team Sparrow Runner line.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you and thank you Sparrow’s Nest. 

 

My Inheritance

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I became slightly obsessed with my dead grandmother.  Or, more accurately, I became obsessed with all of the things that I – the youngest of four siblings – inherited from my dead grandmother who I had never met.

Why did I inherit the fine china set that I’m certain she never ate a meal on?  The fine china that has stayed neatly packed in my attic since the day we moved in.  How on earth, with two older sisters, did I inherit her diamond engagement ring and her gold wedding band?  And the biggest question of all:  why did I inherit the breast cancer that killed her?

I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d been cursed or somehow ominously marked when I brought her things into my home.  I wondered if I should throw them out, let each beautiful dish shatter into tiny pieces or ceremoniously burn every serving tray, platter, tea cup, gold band and diamond ring that she ever touched.  I wondered if all of these things had somehow gotten lost or misplaced when she died or when my grandfather moved;  if they had mysteriously disappeared 50 years ago, never to be touched by me or my siblings, would I still be feeling this hideous lump?

I wondered.  A lot.

Before my own treatment started, I dug out my grandmother’s wedding band.  I needed to touch it and imagine how it must have looked on her hand.  I wondered if, like me, she tugged on it or spun it when she was nervous or when they told her she had breast cancer.  I wondered if she wore it during the treatments that failed her so miserably.  I wondered if she had it on when she died.

I put it on my own finger to see how it felt.

That very same day, a dear friend sent me a necklace – the angel of strength.  I put my new necklace on and began spinning that old ring and I cried.  I cried because I suddenly realized how miserable it must have been to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 1960.  I suddenly understood that the heart attack that killed her was a direct result of the treatment that she was hoping would save her.  I suddenly recognized why my own diagnosis of breast cancer came with regular visits to the cardiologist.  I suddenly realized that my dead grandmother was a part of my own, personal clinical trial.

And I suddenly realized that all of those things she left behind, all of those things that found their way to me, were with me for a reason:  a reminder that I had my very own angel of strength always hovering nearby.

Pink Shmink

breast cancer ribbonIt was April 7th.  I spent the night in a hospital conference room – an event for work – smiling and making conversation with my families; laughing with the kids and helping them artfully express their hopes and dreams for their future while trying desperately to temper fears for my own future.  Nobody knew that I had spent the last few days in the medical offices adjacent to this building.

Breathe.  Just keep breathing.

It was April 8th.  The call would come today, but when?  The waiting was excruciating.  I had to keep moving.  I had to keep breathing.  I had to work – work would keep me focused.  And so I walked into an elementary school where I was expected to teach students about Type 1 Diabetes and how they could help research change lives.  This I could focus on.  This would keep me breathing.

And then it all began to happen.

I looked up from my laptop to see teachers and staff filing in one by one, every one of them wearing a ‘Sparrows Nest‘ t-shirt.  My palms suddenly sweaty and my head dizzy, I fought the urge to run.  I was outraged and terrified and sick to my stomach.  Was it the shirts?  Was it the support these teachers were showing for this local charity?  How could I be angry about a nonprofit that helps feed the families of cancer patients?  Why was that suddenly a vile thought, a nauseating concept?  Why did I suddenly feel like I was surrounded by hoards of people who already knew the outcome of the phone call that was about to come?

And then it came.

I muddled through my presentation, left the school building, sat down in my car to catch my breath….and my phone rang.  It’s going to be fine.  It’s not what you think.  This was all just a coincidence.

“Unfortunately, the biopsy showed invasive ductal carcinoma…blah, blah….breast cancer.”

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

It’s been six months, 16 rounds of chemotherapy (the first 4 treatments fondly nicknamed ‘the red devil’ by patients before me), multiple scans, biopsies, infusions and tests since then – all leaving my mind and body spent.  I’ve slowly come to recognize that there is no ‘end’ to any kind of cancer diagnosis and now, while I prepare for surgery, I am surrounded by the ‘pink’ of Breast Cancer Awareness month – Pink-tober. 

Sigh.

This month – my birthday month, my favorite holiday month, my favorite of all the months – I find myself angry and annoyed by the constant reminders.  The pink t-shirts, the pink ribbons, the pink scarves, the pink football players and the pink cheerleaders – they are all annoying!  Irrational?  Perhaps.  But on a good day, when I’m surrounded by good people and enjoying good thoughts and forgetting, for just a moment, that I have cancer (fucking cancer!), I don’t want to be made ‘aware.’  Because, you see, my bald head and my ugly infusion port and my neuropathic fingers and my bruised fingernails and my altered tastebuds and my crazy thoughts – all of those things make me ‘aware’ of this God-awful disease every single second of every single day.

Heavier sigh.

But today is Miles of Hope day at school and my daughters were eager to don their pink attire – even their pink hair – in support of breast cancer awareness and in support of me.  I didn’t tell them that I found their pink-ness annoying and I didn’t forbid them from participating.  Instead, I made sure that their pink shirts were washed and ready and I helped them put pink highlights in their hair.  And then I sent them off to school with a donation that I hope will further research and stack the odds in their favor as they get older.  That thought alone can occasionally bring me to my knees.  And then I decided that – maybe just for today – I’m going to change my outlook.  Today I’m going to give up on being annoyed.  Today I am going to focus, instead, on the amazing support that has enveloped me since that breathless April day.

It’s Pink-tober and I’m still breathing.

Research Is Going to Save My Life

“Fifteen years ago – even ten years ago – this diagnosis was very different.”

Those were the first words my nurse practitioner said to me after diagnosing me with breast cancer three weeks ago.  I wasn’t really listening.  I had already retreated to my own head, immediately believing that she was talking to the wrong patient; this was most certainly not my diagnosis.  This wasn’t happening to me.

But it was happening to me.

I’ve spent most of my adult life working in non-profit.  For the past 9 years, with JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and before that, with two different cancer research organizations.  My work has always involved convincing individuals and corporations to give generously toward our mission – research.

It’s hard work sometimes. 

I can’t show off a fancy brick and mortar building, bought and paid for by generous donors.  I don’t have fancy products or invaluable services that are made possible by community philanthropists.  I only have this abstract notion of research that I promise will change lives and save lives. 

So many people don’t believe in my promise.  But I do.

I believe that the work I’ve done over the last 9 years has made a difference to ‘my families.’  I hear the updates on research and I know that ‘my kids’ who are being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes today have better ways to manage their disease than those who were diagnosed 10 years ago.  I know that the research that was bought and paid for 10 years ago is producing amazing scientific breakthroughs today with so many more on the immediate horizon.

I know that research is making a difference.

And now that I’ve processed what my nurse practitioner said to me in those first moments of my own diagnosis, and now that I’ve heard the same words repeated twice more from the oncologists treating me, I know that research is going to save my life.  I know that my prognosis and my eventual outcome is the direct result of the research that was bought and paid for 10 years ago.

I know that – eventually – I will be ok.

So with these thoughts, my family and I will start this unnerving journey this week.  We will dodge the negative thoughts that threaten our sanity and ignore the well-meaning but unhelpful comments (because really, what is the right thing to say?) from friends and family and even strangers.

We will stay focused on the research that is about to save my life.

The Ripple Effect

It’s been awhile.  I’d like to offer some substantial excuse for my time away from blogging – traveling the world, eliminating world hunger, creating world peace – but I’d be lying.  The only excuse I have to offer is getting caught up in the daily routine of life.  More specifically, the daily routine of life with a (nearly) teenage girl.

*Heavy sigh*

It was an unexpected Facebook post that made my heart happy today and spurred my writing.  A post that reminded me of the ripple effect we create – the way we touch others lives, sometimes, without ever even knowing it.

I’m fairly certain it happens more than we think.

A dear, old friend of my husband’s died last year.  I can’t compare the effect of his death on those around him to soft ripples;  it was more along the lines of an earthquake followed by frequent aftershocks.  You see, he took his own life.

I got the phone call while standing in my kitchen with my daughters.  They sensed the tragedy immediately and stood quietly behind me while I tried to absorb the news.  After hanging up the phone, I stared out the window in stunned silence until my oldest daughter prompted me for the news.  “Gino died.”  I said it out loud, trying to convince myself of the reality and finality of what I was saying.  It was my youngest daughter who asked “How?”

“He killed himself.”

The words were out of my mouth before I had time to consider them; before I had time to think about how I might explain the why, how or what of suicide to an 8 and 11 year old.  I wasn’t thinking.  I was simply trying to persuade my heart to believe what my brain already knew.

My daughter abandoned the subject and her questions for several days.  I knew the questions were brewing.  I knew she was taking her time, attempting to figure it out in her own head, but the big question was inevitable: she needed to know why.  When she finally asked, I offered her the only explanation I could….

“Well,” I started slowly, composing myself and hoping that I could make my thoughts turn into words that she would understand.  “He did a lot of soul searching over this past year and that led him to God.”  I wasn’t sure if she understood what I meant by ‘soul searching,’ but she let me continue.  “After finding God, he couldn’t believe that anyone here in our world could ever love him the way that he believed God did.  So, he decided that he needed to be there….with God….instead of here with us.”

I wonder sometimes how this moment and this explanation will manifest itself in my youngest daughter’s life.  I know it’s a moment she will always keep – a tragic ripple effect that found its way to her and one that I know Gino would have never imagined.

These jumbled thoughts somehow came together after reading the Facebook post shared by a friend from a lifetime ago.  He made me smile at the thought of one simple moment 20 years ago that, unknowingly, resulted in kindness being multiplied exponentially in the years since.

This is the kind of ripple effect I imagine Gino wishing to leave behind.

And then, while battling the strong will of my oldest daughter and finding myself on the brink of madness, I realized something.  I realized that there was a ripple that needed to find its way to my (nearly) teenage daughter – the incredible message that Gino unknowingly left behind….

Through your perfect days and imperfect days, through your good decisions and your really bad decisions, I will love you the way I believe my God loves you….unconditionally, unequivocally and always.  Don’t ever forget this.

Thanks Gino.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Guess This Is Goodbye

I was late to my college graduation.  No joke.  I was so late that my classmates grabbed me by my graduation robe, squished me into the procession line between them and collectively crossed their fingers, hoping this wouldn’t lead to an unfortunate reading of mismatched student names and diplomas.  The dean peered at me through glasses perched on the tip of his nose, shook his head in frustration and reluctantly handed me my diploma before sending me along to shake the hands of my professors.  The whole thing happened so fast that I never had time to really appreciate the moment.

Of course, I suppose I should have simply appreciated the fact that the dean didn’t toss me out on my late butt, but I really wanted the moment.

I haven’t thought about my college graduation in years, quite possibly since the day after my college graduation.  But as my 365 day writing experiment began winding down to this – the final day – I started thinking about that missed moment.  I started thinking about how I should have given myself time to savor that walk across the stage.  I should have appreciated all of the hard work that I did to get to that moment.  I should have bowed slightly at each handshake, graciously accepted the congratulatory remarks of each professor and I should have turned to the audience with a satisfied grin and a princess wave.  And then I should have thrown my graduation cap in the air and stood basking in the glory of the I did it moment.  Yep, I should have done that.

Unlike my college graduation day, I’ve had some time to absorb this I did it moment.  There were no final exams to cram for this time around, no papers to write, no projects to complete, no commencement ceremonies to show up late for.  There was simply the anticipation of achieving a goal that I thought about and dreamed about for years before finally committing to it.  This time around I am truly appreciating my moment.

Today is my blogging graduation day.  Today I have officially achieved my goal – a full year of blogging about the happier things in life.  Today I am taking in this moment, bowing slightly and graciously accepting all of the congratulatory – and completely unexpected – remarks from so many friends and family, acquaintances and co-workers and even complete strangers.  If you could all see me now, you’d see that I am facing you with a satisfied grin and a princess wave and I am holding my laptop up in the air, basking in this moment. 

I don’t know where I go from here.  I don’t know what will become of my blog or what form my writing will take in the months ahead.  I only know that today I happily crossed the finish line on this personal journey, and I just want to revel in that for awhile.  I just want to take some time to look back before looking forward again.  And so, I guess this is goodbye…..for now.  Thanks for joining me on this quest for daily happiness.

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Thank you to everyone who has cheered me along on this year long journey.  Every note, every email, every comment, every text helped push me along and was appreciated beyond words.  What started as a very personal endeavor transformed into a very public adventure.  I’m thankful that you welcomed me and my crazy thoughts into your world.  A special thank you to my husband and my two lovely little ladies for their eternal patience while I indulged myself in this project – you guys always make me happy. ❤