Dear cancer, please leave us alone.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. - Woody alan

I remember the day as if it was yesterday. I was sitting in my dorm room a few weeks into my freshman year at Washington State University when my phone rang. Well before I had my first cell phone, I picked up the landline, bringing it to my ear.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi, Mandy.” My mom’s voice echoed in the background.

“Hi, Mom, what’s up?” I asked.

“Mandy, I need to tell you something.” Her voice cracked. And then the three words nobody wants to ever hear, “I have cancer.”

The rest is somewhat blurry as she filled me in on the details. As we hung up the phone I sat, staring at the wall behind my desk and all I could think was; my mom is going to die from cancer.

This was nineteen years ago and a time when all I knew was cancer was a death sentence. And although my mom is still with us, the way I felt when I heard she had cancer for the first time has never left my heart.

And each time one of us is diagnosed, the same feelings resurface. And as much as my family has dealt with cancer, it’s never easy to hear the words.

It was only a few short years after my mom’s cancer that my older brother, then twenty-six, called to share his results too.

“Well Manda, it’s colon cancer.” He said into the phone from Texas where he was stationed as a Captain in the Army.

Colon cancer? Isn’t that…for old people I thought?

Little did we know how untrue this would be.

Less than a year and a half later, on the heels of desperate pleas from my mom, I went in for a colonoscopy because her oncologist was suspicious that this could be genetic. In my foggy haze, I woke to hear my doctor say, “Go get her mom and bring them back in my office.”

I didn’t know what it meant but I knew it wasn’t good.

Although it wasn’t full-blown cancer, the large polyp in my colon was in the last stages of turning into cancer and thus, was treated as if it was cancer. Four surgeries, one deadly infection, an ileostomy bag (which I no longer have), shunts and tubes and drains throughout my body, and almost 30 days total over the course of the year in the hospital and only a few short months later I got another call from my mom…

“Honey…I have colon cancer.”

Hands down the toughest year, chemotherapy riddled my mom with pain so severe, she almost quit. But she made it.

And we thought the “cancer years” were behind us after that. We really did. Only a year later we received a phone call from my grandpa, my mom’s dad, and learn that he now had colon cancer.

And then my grandpa, again…bladder cancer.

And then my cousin, Becca, who’s passing on December 8th, 2013, ten short months after being diagnosed with cancer left so many hearts broken.

And then our dear friend Greg. My stepdad’s best friend, who was more like a brother, was diagnosed shortly after that and after three years of fighting, passed away last October 2017.

And then me. Metastatic Cancer of an Unknown Primary source. What does that even mean?

I lay this all out for you to see clearly not for you to feel sorry for us but so you can see why my family is exhausted... It’s been almost two decades of nothing but cancer.

So cancer, please, leave us alone.

But I know better. I know better to cry out such demands.

Because on Tuesday, September 25th I got a call…

“Mandy,” my mom’s voice, hard and stoic, “Honey, I have cancer again…”

So here we go, once again...

And we will keep you posted as she wins this battle too.

Because she's a warrior now.

She has no other choice.

Prayers and positive thoughts welcomed always.

On Waiting For What Is Next

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“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next."

- Gilda Radner

Today, September 25th marks one month post treatment. One month of slowly healing the physical, mental and emotional wounds of the past six months. 

Both my radiation burns, the one in my groin and the one on my left butt cheek (I didn't know I was going to get that one) are almost nothing more then a faint outline and a patch of dry skin. I remember starring at my naked body in the mirror wondering if those burns would leave scars. It's nice to know they probably won't. Physical ones that is. 

I've started moving my body, slowly finding my way back into my physical sense of self. However, even that looks different. My body looks different. It feels different and I'm trying to work with those changes the best I know how.

Limited range of motion on my left side, random nerve surges down my leg, a strange tingling sensation in my groin, a slight limp, extra weight, scramble egg brains, lethargy, massively swollen boobs 24/7, which I imagine are hormonal changes triggered from frying my reproductive organs. All new enough to make me feel as if I'm living in a different body. 

I laugh now at the memory of talking with my mom three weeks into treatment. "Mom!" I say in my most dramatic voice. " I swear, I can literally feel my left ovary dying." It's funny now though, because I really do feel them dying. I feel them taking their last long, slow, deliberate breathe  and I feel this longing for just six months ago when my periods were like clock work and the womanly feeling I had each month at the sight of Aunt Flow. 

Now what? What do I do now? 

When most women spend so much of their time desperate to rid their lives of her, I'm desperate for just a few more months or years with her.  

I can't help but picture my left ovary as a puffed up burnt marshmallow dripping off a stick over the hot flames of a backyard fire pit. All from five weeks of a few minutes each day on a cold, sterile table in the basement of a hospital. 

How is it that I have to lose so much from something I never asked for? For something I had absolutely no control over? And then I hate that I just said that because I still have so much to be thankful for. 

All in all, changes are happening and it's safe to say I am not the same person I was only a few short months ago. I do believe, it's even safe to say, I am not even the same person as I was yesterday. 

And now I find myself in waiting. Waiting to see what happens next. How do you anticipate the future when there is so much riding on past events? I guess that is why you live in the moment.

I worry though. 

I worry with each passing day that there is a monster still lurking inside me, breeding, hunting, stealing from me, desperate to latch on and feed off every part until I no longer can breathe, suffocated by it's mere existence, and then, just like that, I'm gone. 

That is what keeps me up at night. That and the night sweats and vivid dreams and thoughts of how God chooses. You live, you die, you get to have children and you don't.

Then there is the sheer panic of not knowing how to exist in a world that doesn't really want to know how you are truly doing. A world that wants your diluted pleasantries instead of your God honest truth. 

"How are you doing?" They ask. 

"I'm great! I'm feeling more and more like my old self every day." I say with a fake smile. When what I really want to say is that I'm okay. I'm taking it day by day, moment by moment and coping the best as I know how. But sometimes I spin out of control and wonder where the last six months went. I wonder how I move forward relating to a world that has no fucking idea what I just stepped in. How do I smile and cheer on one more women who tells me they are pregnant and suck back the sobs when I see the reminder of what I will never have as they rest their hands on their swollen belly.

It's funny how bad you want something when you are no longer able to have it.  

So now I find myself in this place of ambiguity, both longing to close off from the world and needing to be seen. To hide away for just a short while longer as I sift through the dust and debris of this messy matter and tend to my heart. Yet, I long to be given new opportunities and people and to spread my wings and grow so wide that the world can't stuff me away into a little box labeled cancer or survivor or menopause or woman. 

I balance my worry and anxiety with meditation and writing, yoga and New Moon Circles and it helps. 

I've asked the world to bring me new people and situations aligned with where I want to go, with my goals and dreams, and it has. It's funny what happens when you set out with a fierce determination and deep clarity. I will not let this experience ruin me. I will do something great for the world with it. 

And then I spend my time with those in my life that I already value so much. I'm slowing down, just a tad, to give myself more to others. To be their shoulder to cry on, their comfort and support in their own turbulent times because one thing I've learned is that life isn't easy for anyone and everyone is doing the best they can. 

So now I wait. I do all this and I wait for what is next and I do my best to live my life and to figure out who I am after all of this. 

Then the call comes from my oncologist who was revisiting the tissue from the slides they created from the tumor they removed and he tells me I have to go in for another procedure to rule out bladder cancer and I laugh and say, "that sounds like fun."  And he nudges again about a hysterectomy and more searching for this monster. 

So I'm really not done yet. It's as if life is laughing at me and says, "buckle up Amanda...it's about to get bumpier."  

And I just sit here waiting telling everyone that I feel more and more like my old self and I feel like a big lier.