Sunday, December 31, 2006

The bonfire of my vanity.


I've been sick.

From something other than cancer that is... to be honest, it felt good being feverish and blowing my nose and coughing and knowing that I didn't have to worry about any of it being melanoma related.

Of course, being a mommy, I found myself out at WalMart the other day anyway with my daughter Isobel, who needed winter boots, she'd seen some she liked there and they had her size and I know enough to get them when I see them, because her size seems to just go very quickly and then you can't find anything.

I was feeling crappy and got ready real quick. It wasn't until we were in the store and I was looking at fat sweaters (nothing fits anymore because of the steroid weight gain) that I caught sight of myself in a mirror and realised what I looked like. I looked like I got dressed in the dark. I was wearing black slip on sneaker/mules (feet have been swollen), navy blue socks poking out from under faded black yoga pants, a red sweater that was too big while I was pregnant and is now tight-ish and an olive green ballcap.

I'm sorry, but when you're the worst looking person in Walmart, you know you're in trouble.



I was a bit mortified to be honest. Especially given my hair loss and the fact that I used to be very pretty and am just this swollen, fat moon-faced freak right now.

I decided then and there that I was NOT going to buy any fat sweaters, I was going to hold out for the time when I get off of these damn drugs and lose this weight and start feeling like me again and wear my own clothes. Buying those sweaters felt like giving in.

So Izzy and I went to Tim Hortons after for a drink and a muffin. I guess I keep forgetting what I look like because inside I'm still the same no bullshit person I always was. They were pretty busy and I had two clerks waiting on me, trying to rush me, so I told them "I know you're in a hurry, but I won't be rushed", in my usual nice but don't mess with me tone. They sort of looked at me and I could tell they were thinking you frigging freak, look at you.

Whatever. I'm tired now and you are becoming tiresome, I thought, shut up and give me my freaking coffee and donuts, I smiled as I walked away.

We sat down to eat and it was one of those Chinese take out experiences all over again. I handled it better this time though, my vanity has truly been burned to the ground and good thing too. It was slowing me down, worrying about what people think was pointless.

And most people seem to get it, most people are nice. As I struggled through the Christmas shopping, I met so many kind people. People who stopped me in stores to talk to Jamie (because he's too cute!) and wish me a merry Christmas and didn't look at me like I was a freak. I think that day was just one of those 'everyone's totally miserable after Christmas and determined to behave like ignorant asses' days.



My hard thing has been losing my hair. Out of everything (and I know this sounds soooo stupid and vain) it's been the most difficult thing personally for me to deal with. I always thought I'd be able to just handle it, I'd just buzz cut it if I ever faced losing it. I was wrong. I got the clippers out one day and just couldn't do it. You know what it feels like? (not to sound dramatic) It feels like victimisation.

Getting cancer can happen to anyone, I don't feel victimised by that and I really do want to fight back hard no matter about how I look, or my hair, or how tired I get, or how crappy I feel, or anything.

But losing my hair made me feel like a victim. Try as I might and no matter how strong I've been or will have to be, I just can't shake that feeling. I guess it's better than being depressed because I have cancer and being unable to handle that part though, because I can at least look myself in the eye and say "it's only hair idiot, get over it", I'm not sure you can say that about stage IV cancer.

Freud would probably have something to say about that! Heh!

So that night I was feeling pretty bad about myself and everything. I really let myself get down - almost to feeling sorry for myself, which is unacceptable and weak and I won't have any part of it. Yes, you can feel bad about things, it's allowed, but self pity is just too... negative. I have this feeling that going there, it would be extremely difficult to come back from in one piece, you know?

I spoke to Jim about how I was feeling, which of course, broke his heart, which is hard for me because sometimes I need to say the dark stuff out loud, but can't abide hurting anyone by saying it. So I hugged him and just got over it. His and the children's happiness is so much more important than my pissy rant-y had a bad day because of how I look crap.

God, I sound pathetic!


But you know me... I'm putting it all out there dark stuff and all. No pretending, just the reality, which sometimes sucks because that's what reality does and it doesn't just do it for me because I'm not special. We all have our crap to deal with and it's all relative to our lives at that point, there is no "my crap is worse than yours so shut up" issue here...

A positive note from that evening though... I was rubbing my head, massaging the scalp in between the ten hairs per square inch I now have on my head and I felt STUBBLE!! I called Jim in and he felt it too and saw it! Little blonde hairs sticking up like when you haven't shaved your legs for a couple of weeks or something.

I was elated and I guess I'm pretty lucky when you think about women who have chemo for months and months and their hair won't come back until it's over. As soon as rads were finished mine obviously started growing in. As soon as it's long enough and not so thin looking I'm going to bite the bullet and cut it real short.

A small, petty thing, but it made such a difference. We went out for breakfast and a drive yesterday for our 'anniversary' and somehow people's looks just didn't matter. Although there was one woman parked in a gas station who STARED at me for about five minutes with her mouth open because I was sitting in the truck without my hat. I just sat and looked at her until she realised, then smiled at her. She didn't smile back, just pulled away looking embarrassed. I felt a bit sorry for her.

Anyway, my waist length red hair was my vanity, it's not coming back, let's face it. It took years to grow that long and was a bit of a pain in the arse the take care of to be honest. Maybe I'll come back as a blonde if these little stubbly hairs are any indication... a redhead in a blonde body... sounds interesting!

One thing I wish I'd done before while I was still pretty was when Jim told me I was beautiful, instead of saying "no I'm not", I wish I'd have just said "thank you sweetie". He still tells me the same thing all the time and he means it, he sees beauty in my strength, in ME (and thinking on it, he always has, I was just dumb). I guess - no, I'm POSITIVE - that's even better than having a pretty face.



I'd like you all at this point to join me by the bonfire and dance around it as my vanity burns away to ashes. Then we can grill hot dogs on the cinders and celebrate the fact that, even though this totally sucks, I'm still standing and standing beside me are people who are true Angels!

I think I just let go of a lot more than my hair in writing this.



So, how was everyone's Christmas?

We had a great time. Made lots of memories, took lots of video and pictures, it was pretty special and the kids got everything they wanted and more, which we haven't been able to do for a couple of years recently. They never complain, they're so great, but last Christmas was very much bare bones and this past year has just been crap for them. It was nice to just spoil them this year and watch them smile and be happy and forget about me being sick and everything.

What I wanted to do this year was give everyone something I thought they would be able to treasure forever, even when I'm gone. It was a difficult thing to do, very emotional, but I wanted something special, wrapped in boxes that they could keep the item in forever, accompanied by cards saying how much I love them. More than once I stood in the middle of a store and cried my heart out trying to choose cards for them.

Jim's was the hardest. I kept having to leave where I was at because I couldn't stop crying. It took days and finally I just bit that bullet and went for it. I stood in Hallmark sobbing like a baby reading the cards. Goodness knows what people thought. Probably that my marriage was in trouble or something...

This is what it said, I don't think he'll mind me sharing.

My Love,

There are times when I wish that we could lengthen the days and shut out all the busy, hurried moments of our lives so we could have more time together.

But you know, maybe counting the minutes we spend together is not the most important thing.

What is more important is that we have a love that's strong... A love that goes beyond the limits of time.

And I just want to tell you, especially at Christmas, how much I Love You and how much I love the way you share your time and your life with me.


See, for us, it really is all about time...

I gave my daughters gold heart shaped lockets with the words 'I Love You' engraved on the front and I gave David a silver ring. Little Jamie I chose books for; Guess How Much I Love You and I Love You Little One. I wrote notes inside them both for him to read when he's older. I hope they help him realise just how much I really DO love him. I intend to read them to him every day too, so they are completely familiar to him.

I gave those gifts out before we opened any other presents, the moment was pretty emotional for everyone, but then as I'd planned, it was soon lost in the pleasure of giving and recieving their own gifts.

All in all we had an amazing day. If that's it for me, if I never see another Christmas, this one was perfect!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wishing us all, Health, Happiness and Hope!

14 Comments:

Blogger Carver said...

Dear Heather,

You are one of the most giving people I have ever met. I know that we haven't met in person but I do feel like we have met at a level that matters. I am often at a loss for words after reading your blog but that's never stopped me before. I do want you to know that your honesty, love and courage exploded out of this post. I think your special forever presents for your children and what you wrote for your husband are amongst the most courageous things that I've read about. Also your sensitivity in timing the special gifts so that they would be followed by the flurry of presents and fun was so smart and loving. The way you can be honest about how your physical changes make you feel is both brave and helpful. I know that I can relate. I also know what you mean about wishing you could have accepted compliments in the past. What I'm trying to tell you is that all of these experiences that you so freely share will resonate with people who you'll probably never meet and who may not tell you about it. I guess that's why I feel like I want to try to let you know what your generosity of spirit means to me. I don't know how to express it so I'll leave it there.

Love, Carver

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a cold.....means your human! yeah! who cares what you look like in Walmart, many people go out looking pretty bad, or smell bad!
I wouldn't worry about it.
You're great person however you feel about yourself. We are all here for you, you can tell us all the deep dark crap you feel. We will never turn our backs on you.
Here's to the new year!

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Shelley said...

Oh thank goodness! I've been checking every day for an update! When I said there was no pressure I was lying *LOL*!

But this is such a long, beautiful update that I'm sitting here with a big smile on my face wanting to give you a hug. How do you do it? Where does your honest expression come from? Once again you have me leaping from emotion to emotion and you have to know that I cried while reading about your gifts to your family.

I feel like I know you, Heather, even though we've never met. So generous in giving of yourself as you are in this blog. I don't think you truly realize just how much you touch people. Once again your spirit shines through your words and it feels like someone turned on the sun, you know? Suddenly we just *get it*.

Wishing you a happy, healthy new year, wanting so much for it to be full of wonder and hope for you.

Love and cyber(((hugs)))!

Shelley

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Heather,

(***deep breath here*****) You've done it again. Shaking me to the core, shaking my sensibilities to realize what matters, and leaving me speechless and wanting to shout to the world at the same time!

I wept, a lot. That's okay, let us cry with you, for you, because then you take us out of that place. We learn so much from you, Heather. You have so much to give and DO give, to your family and, then, to share it with us. My God, how much do you have in you? I don't mean for that to sound hard or wrong. I just have never met anyone who has met adversity with such determination and success. Yes, you are succeeding, one day at a time, one hair stubble feeling at a time, one trip to Walmart or Tim's or a Chinese place, at a time!!! You are winning!

Your love for your family, fighting your illness to be there for them, to do right for them, doing such a great job in all those aspects..... sorry, speechless here....wordless but filled with emotion and admiration.

It is such an honor to know you. Thank you again for sharing your world and thoughts with us.

Love,

CarolA

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Jamie said...

I can't say anything that everyone else hasn't already said. That was humbling but at the same time uplifting.

I can't speak enough of my respect for you. And Jim is right. You ARE beautiful. Nobody could write like you do, time after time from your heart, with such realism and honesty and love and grace and NOT be truly beautiful. It's not something that can be forced, it's something that shines through a person's words and actions, as it does yours.

You have all of that and a REAL talent for writing. Simply put, you blow me away.

Happy New Year, Heather.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's only hair. It grows back. I don't see how that could feel like victimization...... Not criticizing, I just don't get it. Not when you think about what some people are going through dealing with cancer, like breast cancer victims who go through horrible chemotherapy and radiation...... worrying about losing your hair does seem a bit vain imo. I don't have cancer, but if I ever did get it and faced losing my hair, I'd take control and shave it off.

Good luck in your fight.

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope I'm not being out of line in saying this on here........if so I apologise.

To the poster of the comment above, you DO realise that what Heather is going through has absolutely no correlation whatsoever with what a stage I or II breast cancer patient goes through, right?
Their treatments might seem brutal and I'm sure they're not easy to deal with, but at least there are treatments.
Do your research, stage IV melanoma is a far different and much scarier prospect.
This woman has already been through chemotherapy and radiation to her [severe] liver metastasis and has recently finished a brutal treatment of chemotherapy, whole brain radiation and SRS to her brain metastasis.
She has done so with nothing but strength and honesty and courage beyond anything I can imagine posessing.
Tell me, did you even bother to read anything beyond the first couple of paragraphs of this posting?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, I hope you never get cancer, because nobody deserves that, but if you ever do have to deal with it, please come back and let us all know just how brave you were.
Better still come back and learn something from this courageous, inspirational woman who shares of herself so freely.

Heather, you are my HERO. It's hard to put a label on things with how you write because everything is so great, but as far as I'm concerned that was one of your best posts ever. Keep them coming because most of us really do 'get it'! And yes, YES! You ARE beautiful, it's obvious in your written word alone. I'd love to meet you.

I'm glad your Christmas was wonderful I can't even tell you how I felt reading about your gifts to your family. I hope that 2007 will be the best year of your life yet.

Happy New Year!

A

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Heather!
I'm happy to read that Christmas was so very special for you and your family. I too am Stage IV and have had more than one mini-melt down in the local Hallmark store while trying to pick the right card for my loved ones over the past few holidays! I can totally relate. Your blog entries always hit the mark in terms of squarely facing feelings and writing about them. I admire that so.

9:44 AM  
Blogger King (Kathie) said...

Heather,

Happy 2007 to you and your family!!! The loss of my hair was the hardest thing for me when I was on Interferon. I didn't share that with too many people because the response would usually be "it's just hair - it will grow back". I knew that but it didn't help me at the moment. Plus knowing that I and others were fighting for our lives, the loss of hair seemed so trivial. But believe me, it was so hard. I wore a hat/cap occasionally (never looked good in them) and I remember dragging myself to a baseball game and having to take my hat off going through security (make sure I wasn't sneaking anything in). I didn't go to anymore ball games until my hair came back. I know it sounds so crazy but it was easier for me to be a patient in the ICU after my liver resection than it was to lose my hair.
After having said all that, I want you to know that you are beautiful to me Heather - I've learned so much from you.

Stay Strong
Kathie

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather,

I found a link to your blog on another site this morning, actually I'd seen it in your sigline and wondered what it was about, but the penny fnally dropped this morning as I was reading a post of yours over there and I decided to check it out.

I've spent about three hours reading {backwards! LOL} and am pretty overwhelmed by your words, your honesty and your sheer guts.

I've always liked your posts at the site I mentioned, even though I don't really post there too much myself, I read a lot-I think you know where I mean- but had no idea quite how inspirational you are until reading *you* through your blog.

You talk a few times here about living with your cancer with dignity, grace and strength, and I see this in the way you post on the board, the only thing I'd add to that is your humor, which shines through the things you say. You've put a smile on my face many times in the past without even realizing it!

I'm glad I 'discovered' your blog, I just wish I'd looked at it sooner. I feel like there's a lot I can learn from you and want to thank you for sharing your experiences.

Happy New Year, Heather, to you and yours!

A Fellow Lady Shooter :)

8:39 AM  
Anonymous BonnieLea said...

Dear Heather, every so often I find this blog of yours and each and every time I imagine you in my minds eye. I still do see you as who you were who you ARE and who you will become.

Take care my friend keep on writing it helps with our grey matter, not to mention that you do a terrific job.

I pray that you keep safe, and soon get over this yucky feeling cold flu?

BonnieLea

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather,

I am not an emotional person. I do not wear my heart on my sleeve, or weep at sad movies. But this blog entry really touched me. I admit it, I got a little misty-eyed.

This was your best entry yet. And that's saying a lot, because they have all been terrific. You've really got a gift for the written word, girl.

The gifts you chose, sound perfect, and I'm sure they will always be treasured by your children. You are thoughtful, insightful, and inspirational.

I do not feel you are at all vain about your hair. It may 'seem' like vanity, but it's not. During this battle of yours, (up until this 'hairpisode'), no matter how crappy you felt, how scared you were, how abnormal everything seemed -- by all appearances, you 'looked' fine/normal/well. You could go out for an afternoon of 'whatever', and pretend, at least for a moment, that everything was fine. You could put your cancer 'down' for a little while and no one would be the wiser. But now, it's in your face. There is no denying it. And worse, the whole world knows that there is something going on. There is no getting away from it; how incredibly stressful that must be for you. 'Geez! Can't a girl keep something to herself!'

So go ahead and take as many well-deserved emotional releases as you need. (Bawl baby, bawl.) You've certainly earned them.

This blog entry made me remember reading something about the cold virus fighting melanoma. I found it very interesting at the time. I did a search and will attempt to post a link to the first thing I pulled up.

Cold virus fights skin cancer cells

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18124302.700-cold-virus-fights-skin-cancer-cells.html

I also remember seeing a photo of you on your blog, taken at Niagra Falls, I think. Your hair was a lot shorter. And for what it's worth, I thought it looked cute and sassy. I hope your 'new hair' grows in quickly!

May this new year year bring you peace, joy, and hope.

melissa
(mlittle - mpip)

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Darlene said...

Dear Heather,

Our very best friend in the world was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma last June. His lymph nodes were removed and a Pet/Cat scan at the end of August gave him the all-clear. Then in November another scan showed the melanoma has progressed to his lungs and liver. This terrible disease is so agressive, we all know that he has the fight of his life ahead of him. We are trying to stay positive. I have sent him the link to your blog and hope that he finds it as inspirational as I have.

Take care, and thank you for sharing,

Darlene

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather,

First of all, I want to say a big thank you to you for this blog. After reading it, I can say that it's changed the way I look at a lot of things in my life.

I found your account of how you feel about the change in your looks so very true and incredibly emotional (although the Wal Mart comment made me laugh, which was absolute genius writing on your part). It's like you no longer have somewhere to hide, can no longer look in the mirror and pretend you're all right. I understand.

I never thought about what that must feel like and am probably someone who 'looks' at people. I've never done it in any sort of mailicious way, but I do look at people and wonder sometimes... I can tell you that will change from now on and I'll make a point of trying to offer something supportive, even if it's just a smile and a hello when I see someone and wonder, rather than just looking away, embarrassed that they caught me staring.

I learned something important from you today; offer a smile and a word of kindness to a stranger because it might just make their day. That was kind of humbling. I think-know- I needed it.

I don't know you, but wanted to tell you too that your account of your giving the presents to your husband and children made me cry. I don't know how someone can cry for a person they don't even know, but your telling was so honest and sad, yet so brave, loving and thoughtful.....see, I'm tearing up again just thinking of it.

:)

All I can really say is thank you.

What a gift your writing is, what a talent you have for getting across the nitty gritty with humor and compassion and courage, all without a shred of self-pity, which I find amazing because I'd be a self-absorbed wreck in your situation, I'm sure.

How much courage and inspiration must people take from reading your entries here? You DO make it all seem so absolutely "doable".

I'll be checking in to see how you're getting along. I pray for all good things for you in your battle.

You are a warrior in every sense of the word.

Sincerely,

Ms.D

PS......Happy New Year!

8:24 AM  

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