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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Your Check Engine Light is On

Remember that time you knew a girl who was 28 and diagnosed with cancer?

Remember how she found a lump and realized something was off and then went to the Doctor, who confirmed her worst fears?

It may not have been a fun day, week, month or year but it was a necessary situation; you are responsible for your health.  You are your number one advocate.  As much as we would like all Doctors to be omnipotent, they honestly can’t know it all about every little symptom and ailment and weird rash.  And they don’t check on you 24/7; but you do.

This is your reminder, folks, to all of you who made a new years resolution to take better care of yourself: I’m checking in to make sure you’re following through.  Did you sign up for that gym membership?  Did you get that constant headache checked out?  I know in my house there are a few people (hm, Sean?) who have avoided the constant maintenance of being a human.

It would be so much easier if, like our cars, humans came with a check engine light to let us know when maintenance is needed.

But we don’t.

To avoid it all, we have to do the things that are not our favorites: eating veggies over fast food, going to the gym or getting some kind of exercise; making time for sleep; getting the weird aches and pains checked out even when our lives are constantly “too busy.”

I once prioritized my life by family, friends, job, vacations, etc.  Do you see that no where in there was “HEALTH”?

And then one day health became my only concern.  Because if it didn’t become number one on the list, none of that other stuff would be available.  Health or death.  Hmmm, decisions that make themselves.

There are some of you out there who have this nagging health concern that either you are too embarrassed about, too busy for or you think it’s “not really that bad, yet” but it’s been going on for months.  Chances are if you tell your Doctor, there’s an easy fix.  Or maybe it’s not so easy but it could make your life easier or better.  Or, I’ll see you one more, it could just save your life.

Cause, yeah, no one likes going to the Doctor.  I mean, unless you plan to be a med student and you like to geek out with the doc or you’re a hypochondriac and you need constant reassurance and someone to talk shop with you might like it.  All the rest of us hate being poked and prodded, being stuck with needles, being asked to lift an arm or cough.  When the eye doctor says “this or this” and “one or two” and he goes really fast, I feel like I am doomed to fail an unfair test; I get stressed out on trying to ace my eye test.  Or try having freckles and going to the dermitologist: I always get in trouble there!  Do they think I had any hand in the formation of my freckles, should I have stayed inside and fully covered at all times for my whole life?!

Since Sean is now my fiance, he has basically signed his life over into my hands for use in creative writing; in this case, he will be the example of what not to do.  He hasn’t been to the dentist in years nor the skin doctor.  And with his fair, red irish skin and history of skin cancer, he needs to go regularly.  But no one wants to go to a place that is going to have a strong likelihood of giving bad news and/or costing a lot of money for that bad news.

“Ignorance is bliss” is not just a clever saying, it’s true.  But it doesn’t buy you years of life.  Doing the things we hate buys us the years.  When you die, you can’t take all that money you saved by not going to the Doctor with you!

So call the Doctor and make that appointment, no dillydallying.  Even if you put it on the calendar for a month from now, and you have to ask for favors at work to get the day off, at least you’re taking what little control of your life each person can have.

As for me, things are…

Well, things are up and down still.  I have chemo every three weeks until the end of July and I hope to get my port out by September because Sean and I are getting married in late October.  I still struggle with Tamoxifen, a drug I take daily that causes unrelenting hot flashes and night sweats and insomnia.  To counteract it, I still take a light sleep aid but am advised to get off it sooner rather than later.  It’s a catch-22: every night that I skip taking it, I have a restless night of sleep with whacky dreams and constant waking up (and then I’m exhausted at work); the next day I must choose between sticking to it and another restless night or breaking down and taking a pill to ensure I can sleep. This past week I made it three awful nights without taking anything and was exhausted by the end of it; my day off was wasted sleeping and resting all day since I was too tired and crabby to do anything useful or fun.  It makes work and wedding planning that much more stressful; life is challenging without adding lack of sleep to the mix.

I want so much to stop taking this pill and reclaim my sleep but there’s always that nagging thought that my chances of long term survival depend on me taking that drug for five years.  Not one, not two: five.  I’ve heard from women who have been on Tamoxifen and have still had cancer come back.  So how do I determine if it’s really worth it for me?  If I don’t take it, I’m a quitter and I could die; if I do take it, I wont be getting a normal nights sleep for five years.  It’s a big gamble with both choices not so great.

Friends and family (especially mom and Sean), if I’m crabby to you on the phone or in person just remember that I don’t sleep like the average human and chances are I’m exhausted.  Just cut me some slack on a few things.

On a side note, Sean and I (ok, mostly I) are planning our wedding for October 27, 2013 in Maui!  Something to look forward to 🙂

Now, call your Doctor and choose water over that soda.

(P.S. Sean did make one wonderful health choice: he gave up soda!)

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