Where are you now?

Wow, it has been a long time.  You have probably noticed by now that I have a tendency to disappear from the blogosphere for long stretches.  And part of that is that, yes, I am “cancer-free” and haven’t felt the urgent need to write as often as I did when I was going through chemo.  During that time I felt like I would burst with all of the emotions I was going through.

I have since realized that even though the bulk of that journey is over–all the diagnosis and treatment and wrapping of the brain around the impossible–it will never be totally over.  I hope it never comes back but I have to remember that it’s always a possibility and never let my guard down.  I’m just now finally in the process of moving on to bigger and better things, things that don’t involve the day-to-day all-consuming health concerns of my life.

Just things that involve the major life changes of marriage, moving and searching for a new career.

Cause, you know, once you beat cancer down there’s no excuses left to not be living the life you want.  Even now as you read this, please consider one thing: would you want to wait for cancer to come into your life as the mechanism that made you chase your dreams?  Because if the answer is yes, don’t forget there’s that whole you could die thing attached to that choice.  I suggest the other option 🙂

So yeah… in the last year or so Sean and I made it through some major milestones and we’re still working on some right now.

We planned a wedding and were married in October surrounded by close family and friends.  We had a small ceremony in Maui (we technically got Maui’d).  I was never the big crazy wedding kind of girl.  Don’t get me wrong: I always wanted to get married; I just didn’t want the big to-do.  I don’t like trying on white dresses I will only where once, or picking the exact right placement of people at a table, or simply planning events.  I admire people who do love all of that and I understand why wedding planners were put on this earth.  I mostly just wanted to take every person who touched our lives in a positive way and drop them onto an island and stay together forever with great food, drink, dancing, etc; but we had to be realistic.  We had been stuck on Maui (please do not be offended or miffed when I say “stuck,” just hang through it and you may understand what I mean) through cancer treatment and so we decided, Ok, the wedding will be our last Hawaiian Hurrah (for the time being… maybe we’ll retire there one day).  We knew it would soon be time to move off the island if we wanted to pursue other life goals (that list will be available shortly in this reading).

Post treatment and with a return to work, I quickly realized that I could not physically do the job I was doing for much longer (cleaning up after tourists on a boat while trying to teach them about whales and encourage them not to injure themselves because they had never been on a boat before).  I was exhausted every day, I was too hot every day, the pay compared to cost of living meant we would never get ahead.  It was frustrating to work hard and feel like it wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to be.  We committed to putting our wedding together in the place where we had fallen in love so that we could leave Maui on a positive note with the last thing we remembered as something amazing and happy; only a wedding could trump cancer memories.

With lots of help, the wedding went wonderfully.  It just went by too fast!  We spent the week with family and friends and had a quick honeymoon to the Big Island (we had taken a pre-wedding vacation to Chicago and Boston).  Then we buckled down at work as whale season arrived, assuming in the back of out heads that this was going to be our last winter season on Maui and enjoying it for what it was.

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I’m not sure many people believed we could leave such a beautiful place.  But we were steadfast in it.  We had lived in Friday Harbor, WA a few summers ago and we were ready for a big change, a big CITY change, one with sports and music and stores and family and cheaper plane tickets.  Sean began looking at houses on Zillow; we were so excited that the what we paid in Lahaina for a tiny one-bedroom could actually stretch a lot farther in Seattle, Washington!  Ah, the American Dream.  The potential of the future kept us focused on the short-term goals.

Finally, we sat down and made a plan, a plan that involved plane tickets.  We had selected our dates.  We got boxes and started packing; we made plans to ship one car; we started selling surf boards and bikes and all the extras we had accumulated over 14 years (Sean) and 4 years (me).  We told friends and family and work.  We checked in with the brother and fiance in Seattle and found with them a temporary landing pad as we navigated the area.

We even made a conscious decision to do something completely unheard of and out of character at least for me: we were going to move without jobs.  Scary.  Never before had I moved without job security.  This is when I had to really embrace that whole fuck you cancer (and you thought I could make it a while post without a curse word, ha!) and decided that we had earned some solid time off.  We earned the right to chuck the calendar in the ocean for a little travel and adventure during our move.  We have been through a lot over these last few years; it was time to reach for the tree, jump off the bridge and hope that bungee cord stretched (we’re still stretching the bungee cord).

Whale season came to an early end on the whale side of things which made it a little easier to leave work; saying good-bye to friends was hard of course though.  At the end of April, movers came for our stuff and we sold almost everything else.  We flew to LAX where the car had been shipped and prepared to road trip up the west coast to our final destination of Seattle.  Consider it honeymoon part II!

We coordinated with many family and friends so that we could see lots of familiar faces that we had missed over the years.  We emptied out my storage unit in San Clemente.  We ate so much good food and saw beautiful sites.  We acclimated to new weather patterns along the way.  We considered ourselves “temporarily retired,” and spent time making memories that will last a lifetime.  Major stops included Orange County, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sonoma, Fort Bragg, Oregon Coast, Portland, Kalama and lastly, Seattle: our new home!

And I gotta say… I love it here.  The number one thing people said to me when I started telling them I was moving (and people still say it when I tell them where I moved from) is “don’t you know it’s cold there?”  Um, yes, we know that it does get cold and dark and rainy.  Got it.  But can you maybe consider that there might be a greater reason(s) that lead to our decision to move?  Perhaps these folks could look at the positive side, especially since we had already bought the tickets (or are already here!).

So in case you were wondering why we chose to leave Maui for Seattle, let me outline it for you in the top ten reasons why we moved:

10) More for your money in housing.

9) Groceries are cheaper aka affordable; no more $5 milk!

8) Weather: I’d like to feel a little chilled/cold on Christmas, it’s OK!

7) Stores.

6) Sports, music events, festivals, shows, ballet, the symphony…

5) Flights to friends and family are affordable and shorter.

4) Greater job opportunities and better pay.

3) Hiking and green spaces for Scupper… snow for him to make yellow.

2) Qualified, capable, smart, modern MEDICAL CARE and doctors… even some that specialize in breast cancer and family planning.

1) Family and friends are way closer!

And as I learn more about the city, there’s even more great reasons that Seattle is a perfect place for us at this point in our lives.  Maui is just a plane ride away too.

As I wrap this up, let me just admit that the number one challenge I face right now is: what do I want to be when I grow up?  I am currently job searching but I have not idea what I want to do!  That’s the hard part.  I am applying for jobs that sound like they would be fun and provide room for growth.  I’m looking for anything from conservation, science, biology, lab work, and education to medical, office and editing work.  But I am going to be a little bit picky… I did interview with a boat company and received a job offer but I turned it down.  Yes, it’s a job but I don’t want it.  I did it once before and I need a change now.  I’d like a big girl job, maybe even one where I get to dress up…

We also have to find a more long-term place to live.

We shall see what the future holds for Sean, Scupper and I.  For now, we are enjoying our new city and welcoming new adventures!

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”


― Maya Angelou

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My Secret

I feel this unintentional pressure from everyone that my cancer is over, that it’s forever gone.  It is the collective hope of so much love from friends and family, to wish a disease gone by positive thinking.  I want so much to be on board with you.

But the truth is…

I never stop thinking about it.  I cannot escape it.  Always, at the back of my mind, every day is the idea that my cancer is going to come back.  There is no “normal” in my life.  I am haunted by the words of my doctors… “your cancer is aggressive,” “we’re surprised that you have cancer because you have no warning signs, no history.”  Oh, it goes on and on.  The lucky ones are the predictable ones (and how f*ed up is it for me to say that?).

I am fearful of the foods I eat, too much sun, too much stress, missing my medicine, wondering if there was some treatment I missed out on, wondering if the treatments I did will end up being a waste of time.  Wondering if I will wait four years to have kids, be just about done with “treatment,” just about ready to start planning a family and find out WHAM it’s back.  How am I supposed to live my life?  Do I live it like every day could be my last or with the hope that I will have a future?

I work hard to plan for a future but should I chuck it all to the wind and go out there and see the world?  Am I wasting my time planning for a future that I may never see?  The tiny silver lining is that some people die so unexpectedly that they never have the jolt of life grabbing them by the lapels and screaming “NOW OR NEVER,” but my problem is recognizing that… is THIS my now or never?  Is this my now?  Will it suddenly be my never?

How do I take the ideals I was raised on–hard work, commitment, adaptability, patience–and apply it to the life I lead now, a life that odds are will be limited on time?  The recurrence rate of cancer for me is high.  The numbers suck.  The odds are NOT in my favor.  Even if they were, they’re just numbers and when it’s odds and numbers, if there’s ANY chance of recurrence it’s scary shit.  I’m 30 years old and I’m facing life decisions that my parent’s generation is just beginning to face.  I’m sorry, people, but what the fuck?  Should I be considering a Will at 30?

Then there’s the attempt at living a normal life.  Yes, I would like to be 30 years old and really enjoy it.  I want to drink a few beers and not think at the back of my mind that 1) what will the alcohol do to and remaining cancer cells, feed it? 2) will a run down immune system help remnant cancer recuperate? 3) lack of sleep, cancer; 4) dehydration, cancer; 5) life, cancer…  At what point can I stop worrying and go back to a carefree existence?

And there’s always the one thing that is so hard to explain… my body is 30 but has been through so much in the last two years that it behaves as if it is much older.  I cannot recover quickly.  One day on the boats–actually, four hours–and my back is so sore.  I get out of breath easily, talking too much or too fast, tying lines, walking up a hill with a lot of gear… why am I out of breath?  It’s embarrassing and it’s sad and it’s frustrating.  I cannot do the job I have for much longer; it’s too physically demanding.  So there goes my spirit, my passion; crushed into a pile with my strength.  It’s demoralizing.

It does make me get creative on figuring out what I can do and what I should do; how do I find a job that keeps my mind occupied but is somewhat less physical?  Maybe something that allows me to balance what’s important in life.

So here we find ourselves in the middle of December during my all-time favorite season: the holidays.  And I don’t want you to walk away from this read frustrated and exasperated.  I want you to take a page from my book: here’s what pisses me off that you can fix… if there’s something in your life that you can change for the better, do it.  Don’t wait for some big life event to come along and totally fuck it up for you and force you to change.  Change it on your own time.  Because if a big life event is forcing you to change, then it may be too late.  It usually is.  Let me be your life event…

And get your shit together for god’s sake!

I don’t care if it’s committing to eating healthy, having a baby, quitting smoking, quitting drinking (or just drinking five beers instead of six each night), just fucking do it.  Don’t act like no one is watching and try to get away with that extra beer.  Really, you’re letting yourself down.  And me.  And really, I’m almost always on my death bed (when I feel extra dramatic) so if you let me down, I will kick your ass.

Truthfully, my sense of family has always been strong but since I’ve been sick it has gotten stronger and deeper.  Basically, anyone in my life is my family.  So that means anyone of Facebook is mi familia.  And I’m watching you.

In review: make your new year’s resolution and make it good.  Make it to your benefit.  Make yourself happy.  Whether it’s emotional, physical, spiritual, health, job, family, relationship… whatever, just fucking do it already.  Put yourself out there.  Try it.  Because one day you could find a lump, and it could be cancer, and it could just change your whole life perspective…

The First “Next”

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I have this new pink ribbon on my back pack.

The reason I just added it is for all the obvious reasons.  Plus one more.

After everything I’ve been through, I guess I thought–subconsciously, deep in my cute little ego–that since I had already gone through cancer and treatment and come out a survivor, that it was over and that was the last I would ever hear about cancer again for me or for anyone else.  I took one for the team after all.

But that’s not reality.

I have to worry about it almost every day (sometimes I give myself a break from worry, like a mini-vacay) and what’s more is that other people can get cancer.  WHAT?

Chris C’s mom is the first person I heard about getting breast cancer after finishing my battle.  She’s the first “next” in my life.  And truth be told I haven’t ever met her (but she did a great job with her son, my coworker,  and we have this boob thing in common so we’re practically family now).

This news comes, ironically, right after getting a skipping stone from Lauryl.  It’s a rock from Relay for Life that I am to give to the next person I meet/know/hear about having cancer to help give that person hope.  I’m talking two days ago I received this rock.  In person.  And then I hear about my first “next.”  If you don’t believe in the power of the universe and/or God/Jesus/Allah/the Higher Power/Fate/Karma then here is some proof that there is some other magic going on out there (or just stop reading, or keep reading and I will not talk too much about those aforementioned specifics except for maybe the power of the universe, which, if you have read the Alchemist, my favorite book, then you know how it works… or do you?  Or do I even know?  What just happened?)  Accept the mystery, I suppose, revel in it.

As much as I would like to wish this whole cancer thing away, we are so obviously not there yet.  It’s getting better–the research, the treatment, the options, the conversations–but we have a long way to go.  Right now is the critical time for advocacy, to help those going through it and those who are the close support group of those going through it.

What spoke volumes to me was getting texts from coworkers ready to cover shifts before I had even gotten a chance to read my email from Chris about why he had to dash off island (unfortunately, he had another more tragic reason to depart and so I am doubly sad for him).  The people I work with–and this goes for every job I’ve had–are amazing.  I love them.  Yup, it’s true.  They are my family.  I love to see them happy and successful.  Sure, I love when they have name tags on and close-toed shoes (oh, you knew that would be in here!) but more than anything I love to see them shining.  I love to see them helping each other out and not because they were told to but because they are such good, cool, awesome, smart, funny, caring, kind, considerate people.

I like to see them furthering their careers and reaching their potential.  I like to see them aiming for distant goals.  I like to sit in my kayak at work and come up with career options for them (for Chris, I determined he needs to host his own show in Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, we are currently seeking people that can make this happen!).  Oh, don’t worry, work, I’m still monitoring the snorkel skills of passengers while I’m in the kayak.  I can multi-task.

Sometimes I consider a career in HR or career advocacy because I like this so much but then how would I get to surround myself with these cool oceany sciencey piratey people?  (According to spell check, I just made up three words!  Amazing).

Adding “word inventor” to resume.

Oh, I’m back now.

Anyway, those people are rocks.  They–we–will support Chris as he supports his mum.

Now is the time where I have to admit to you that I got out of bed at 11:30 pm (way past my 9:00 pm bed time) to write this because I couldn’t sleep and it’s now 12:15 am and I have to be up in five hours to work with all of the above-mentioned people.  I could not sleep until I got this out of my brain.  And also note I’ve been in wedding planning mode slash the-final-twenty-eight-days-count-down-to-Mrs.-Sultan-hood-aka-marriage-aka-nuptials.  Let’s just say don’t ask me too many complicated questions over the next few weeks!

Thank you, I love you, and good night!

Oh, and Mrs. C, you now have 150 more people thinking about you, praying for you and wishing you a quick and clean fight, go get ’em!