Falling Sky

When the sky falls

It falls directly above me

Chunks of space left above me

An empty howling nothing that shouldn’t be there

An empty howling nothing

Pulling and waiting

Fissures fracture across the blue like fault lines on the ground

Foreshadowing where the next piece may fall

Sky falls when you hear the words

You have cancer

Lots of sky falls

Scans confirm it’s already metastatic

Another piece plummets

So much information

Type, subtype, hormone receptor, Her2Neu

Each a piece of forever lost sky

Cancer words hurl pieces of sky

To the ground in a show of gravity and force

Grades, mutations, invasive, lobular, ductal

More pieces

Stages

Chemotherapy

Lymph nodes

Trials

Genetics

Genomics

Treatments

Survival benefit

Bigger pieces fall

You barely notice because

Of the doom that distracts while closing in

Like a dark night of your soul

Metastatic

This piece hits like bricks

You’re never the same

Everything changes

Forever scarred

Inside and out

So many deaths

Each their own portion of fallen sky

Grandma, Mom, Pete, Jim, Becky, Susie,

Bobby, Karen, Marge, Kim, Lalay, Lindsay,

Meghan, Melissa, Heather, and so many others

Whose names do you remember?

Speak and give them voice

Irreplaceable sky fallen with each

Loss through death touches our souls forever

Like a shadow that never leaves

Or a coldness in the yellow warmth of sun

So many scans

Tiny tubes of skyless holes

Confining, enclosing, lifeless

Sky falls waiting for results

Slingshots take aim at clouds

We ourselves knock out chunks before we hear

News of regression, stability, or progression

Pieces of blue get patched and repaired with good news

And then fall again in bigger chunks with bad news

until they can’t be put back

Some things can’t be put back

Including the fallen sky

That won’t see sunrise or sunset again

Skies fall in countless ways

Some spoken and some silent

Skies drop cruelly with metastatic cancer

Piece by piece

Chunk by chunk

Section by section

Assaulting, assailing, and attacking

Erasing, eroding, and emptying more and more

Stealing, silencing, and stilling before our eyes

A persisting and prevailing powerlessness causing pain

For more than just the haver

Cancer kills

Murders

Slays

Massacres

Cancer carnage concealed in common language

Of either succumbing or statistics

What’s being done?

Where’s the urgency?

Why can’t it be solved?

When will all be saved?

How will we get there?

What’s being done is our voices

Speaking and shouting

More and more

We will be seen

And not silenced

More research slowly unfolds

More action and faces

More is needed

The urgency is the estimated 43,600 breast cancer deaths

For 2021 in the US

119 a day

Up 3 from last year

The answer is more resources and research

More advocacy, attention, and connections

Better treatments, more trials, more collaboration

Growing bigger one life at a time

I don’t know when all will be saved

I hope, I cry, I push, I pray

I keep going

I still don’t know

No one does

I don’t know how

But believe one day

Cancer will fall and be no more

Just like those pieces of falling sky

The sky has always been one of my favorite things

The endless blues

The different hues

The starry nights

The paint of sunrises and sunsets

The clouds floating freely wherever the wind takes them.

Still moments and morphing shapes change before our eyes

My home is still under its dome

Hope is in the sky

Let’s keep our eyes steady on the hope

Of today and all our tomorrows

And not those pieces of sky that fall

They will sadly keep falling

And I will look up to find

Handfuls of hope

Patches of blue

Where I can

Above

Cancer Perspectives

Years back, I had a student I will call Paul. Paul greeted me cheerfully every morning and most days made me smile easily. He was a chatterbox, an average student, and enjoyed being at school. He was there for the social aspects and needed redirection to work independently, but he’d always tell me learning was very important. He struck me as a happy child because he could find the bright side in just about anything.

At some point during that school year, Paul lost his enthusiasm. School wasn’t where he wanted to be. He was unusually quiet and wouldn’t open up. There had been a few more behavior issues surfacing. It was a puzzle until the morning I logged on to my school email and found an angry email from his mother letting me know Paul had been hit in the face during class. She included the principal in the email as well, citing concerns her son was being bullied at school both in class and on the playground.

Had Paul been hit in the face in class? Sadly, yes. I was there when it happened and already had it processed and worked through with both boys. Enter a boy I’ll call Ali. Ali had poor impulse control, and like Paul, could be easily distracted. Now, it doesn’t take long for mutual distractors to connect with one another in whatever ways they will. What was interesting in this situation was that Paul had positioned himself right behind Ali during a cooperative class activity. He was holding one of Ali’s arms behind his back and wouldn’t let go. Paul also left that part out of his story when he reported the story to his mother.

So, Ali slugged him.

Paul let go.

Every player had a different perspective of these events. Paul’s mom was seeing a pattern that worried her and she was advocating for her son. She knew if she threw the word bullied into the conversation that it would have considerable traction. It always does whether it is an accurate description of events or not. I wonder what she would have thought if I suggested Paul actually had bullied Ali because of repetitive issues between the boys. I didn’t ask. No need to stir that pot.

The principal had more of a three-tiered perspective: support for the child, positive communication with the parent, and supporting how I responded to what happened in the classroom. He knew of the other incidents that involved playground events and some reoccurring students.

Ali’s perspective was reactive. He often didn’t think before he did something. I imagine he was thinking something along the lines of, “Why is Paul grabbing me? It’s my turn in the game. Let go!” Pow. Problem solved.

Paul had a couple points of view. He knew what would get a response from home, and he genuinely was not feeling accepted by peers. He wanted friendships, but ironically had unsuccessful interactions which achieved the exact opposite of what he intended. He felt picked on. I never really learned what happened on the playground, but I’m sure it factored into his feelings. In his mind, all these things together made him feel bullied.

My teacher perspective was one where I was just baffled by Paul’s motivation to grab Ali’s arm like he did in the first place. I was equally baffled with Ali. Who just hauls off and hits someone? I guess someone who feels like they are being restrained for no reason.

Reality is often intangible. Each of us has our own reality as we perceive it, each through our own lens. The same event affects people differently.

The same is true with cancer. Cancer affects people differently. There is no right. Each person perceives cancer from their own viewpoint. Those who are back to whatever normal is after an early stage cancer diagnosis and treatment see cancer very differently from those with metastatic cancer. Some with metastatic cancer call themselves survivors, thrivers, metsers, cancer havers, lifers, or warriors. It comes down to the individual. Caregivers, family, oncologists, and nurses all offer their own unique perspectives. Media in my opinion gets it wrong more than they get it right because their goals for a story don’t often match mine. Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the repetitive emphasis on pink and awareness rather than research and action is a perfect example.

How others with Stage IV cancer view those of us who have survived longer than the 2-3 year median is another area of differing perspectives. I read something recently where someone felt that those who shared longer survival times were being cruel to those who weren’t likely to experience more years. I’ll hit nine years in a few months. I see those who share longer survival as symbols of hope. I look to those who have 11, 15, and over 20 years living with metastatic disease.

It’s all a crapshoot. It all sucks. I recognize it may be difficult to read news when you may not be doing well. Sometimes it’s rough to read news of stable scans or NEAD when mine are not. It can be hard for me to share news when things are going well because I know others don’t have those results. I usually don’t share much news publicly. And yet, I don’t see sharing such news as being cruel. Good news is always good news.

One viewpoint I have a tough time accepting is the natural or alternative approaches to treating cancer. Modern medicine is always going to be my frontline plan. I do believe in complementary therapies to support my health. There was someone early on in my diagnosis who reminded me more than once that I chose the chemo route to treat cancer. Did she think I didn’t know? What exactly was her point? I was well aware that I chose science over crazy. I may eat my kale and turmeric, but I’m of the opinion I need treatments with more medical substance. I’m here because of them.

There are those with cancer who may want to talk about how things are going and medical results in great detail. Some people are an open book. A patient (total stranger) in the treatment waiting area once told me all about his medical treatment plan and then proceeded to stand up and almost take off his t-shirt to show me his burns from radiation. I hadn’t asked, couldn’t stop him, and got myself an eyeful of awful. He was all about sharing. To each their own.

Over the years of living with metastatic breast cancer, it has been especially challenging not to let negative comments from family members and well-meaning friends fester away and gnaw at me. Some people at times are just awkward with me. How could the same person ask repeatedly if I missed teaching? Maybe it was dementia or just awkwardness on their part. My “prognosis” used to be brought up often by another. A friend or two has become distant. Look, I’m living and out in the world accomplishing things I wouldn’t be if I were working full time. It strikes me as really uncaring that others try to stick me in a place they think I am or remind me of what a textbook has to say about me. Occasionally, someone “reminds” me that I have cancer. I’m not going to forget. It’s with me every day.

The Blind Men and the Elephant is an Indian fable about six blind men who encountered an elephant but did not know what an elephant was. They saw it by feeling it with their hands. Each felt a different part of it. One thought the elephant was like a pillar by feeling its strong leg. Another disagreed and thought the elephant was like a rope because he had touched its tail. The third, who had touched the elephant’s trunk, insisted an elephant was more like a thick branch of a tree. The man who had felt the elephant’s ear thought an elephant was like a big hand fan. The fifth blind man thought an elephant was like a big wall from touching its belly, and the last, who had touched the elephant’s tusk, said an elephant was like a solid pipe. All of the men insisted he was right and they loudly argued.

Along came the king who didn’t like all the noise. He told the blind men they all had different experiences but were all right. After the men understood the true nature of an elephant, the arguments ended, and the elephant transported the men away.

We are so like the blind men when we let only our experiences form our perspectives. And of course, how could it be any other way? What is important to keep in mind with the parable and with life is that people approach situations from different perspectives based on different versions of reality. Cancer is a pretty big whopping elephant and gets perceived in countless ways.

I may not agree with how everyone chooses to share or specific ideas about cancer. I know not everyone agrees with all of my thoughts. That’s okay. I believe we still can support one another and can learn from each other. There is room for all of us at the table to share our experiences.

And I won’t slug anyone if we disagree.

A Review of 2020

2020 won’t fade soon from our memory and never from history. Too many events were put into motion that will continue to play out for years to come. I suppose that’s always what happens. Some events have already had major impacts on our lives, whereas others may scarcely make a dent in the grand scheme of things. Big and small, this is my look back at 2020.

Nationally and Globally

COVID-19.

All anyone could talk about was COVID, COVID, COVID. Sound familiar? To frame it with numbers, almost 330,000 have died from the virus in the United States as of December 26th according to data provided by the CDC. That number is a staggering reminder of what will be carved forever in the rock that is 2020. I know a handful of people who have had the virus and almost all had mild cases. I am fortunate no one I’ve known has died from it.

Everyone knew who Dr. Fauci was and recognized him as the voice of science and reason throughout the pandemic.

Toilet paper and hand sanitizer became hard to find items. Shelves in stores were bare for months.

Too many people watched and got addicted to Tiger King. I did neither.

John Krasinski gave us hope in his segments of Some Good News.

Many passed the time baking sourdough and banana breads. These and other forms of baking provided comfort in a tangible way to our lives.

Earth had a chance to breathe when the world shut down because of COVID. Fewer cars on the road improved air quality. People used their cars less since many were unable to work or they worked at home. We all win with a cleaner planet.

Zoom. A word that can stand on its own.

People staying home more had some negative outcomes. The unemployment rate reached a record high of 14.7% in April. A rate of 6.7% in November has been the lowest since before the shutdown.  As a comparison, the U.S. ended 2019 with a rate of 3.5%. Many businesses permanently shut their doors during the pandemic.

The Summer Olympics set to take place in Tokyo were canceled and moved to 2021.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations took place across the country to protest police brutality and racially motivated violence towards black Americans. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and Daniel Prude were a few of the deaths that caused unrest nationwide.

A fly landed on Mike Pence’s head during the only vice-presidential debate before the election and stayed there for around 2 minutes. Kamala Harris effectively and firmly told him she was speaking when he repeatedly tried to interrupt. She was speaking.

Mississippi voted to remove the Confederate flag as part of its state flag and replace it with the image of a magnolia blossom.

The U.S. held a presidential election. It affected people nationally and globally just as COVID did. Donald Trump will be leaving office. Joe Biden decisively won the popular vote by over seven million votes (81,283,485 to 74,223,744 votes) and the electoral college (306 to 232) and will be the 46th president. Kamala Harris will be the first woman vice president and the first woman of color to hold that office. The election was held on November 3rd and results were shared on November 7th. It took days to count the massive number of mail-in ballots.

The first healthcare workers in the United States received the COVID vaccine on December 14th.

The world lost many well-known figures in 2020. I apologize if I’ve left someone out you feel needed to be included. It means I am less informed than I would like to be and their name didn’t provide instant recognition. It doesn’t diminish their life contributions. There are always too many who have moved on. The world said goodbye to these well-known individuals:

Don Larsen 1/1

Jim Lehrer 1/23

Kobe Bryant 1/26

John Andretti 1/30

Kirk Douglas 2/5

Orson Bean 2/7

Ja’Net Dubois 2/18

Katherine Johnson 2/24

Roger Mayweather 3/17

Lyle Waggoner 3/17

Kenny Rogers 3/20

John Prine 4/7

Little Richard 5/9

Jerry Stiller 5/11

Fred Willard 5/15

Carl Reiner 6/30

Hugh Downs 7/2

Nick Cordero 7/5

Charlie Daniels 7/6

Kelly Preston 7/13

John Lewis 7/17

Regis Philbin 7/25

Wilford Brimley 8/2

Chadwick Boseman 8/28

Ruth Badger Ginsburg 9/18

Helen Reddy 9/29

Eddie Van Halen 10/6

Sean Connery 10/31

Alex Trebek 11/8

David Lander 12/4

Natalie Desselle Reid 12/7

Chuck Yeager 12/7

Charley Pride 12/12

If you lost a loved one this year, I am so sorry for your loss.

Effects of 2020 on My Life

I momentarily backtrack my comments to 2019. My 2019 was wonderful. I felt fantastic. I accomplished a lot and brought about many good things in my life. I’m always hesitant to start a new year because there are so many unknowns. It was the same way at the beginning of 2019 but I knew what I had by year’s end. I now know what 2020 has held for me.

My only vacation of 2020 turned out to be a quick trip down to Chicago to visit my friend Emily in early February. It was the calm before the storm. We ate in restaurants. We enjoyed the Shedd and walked around wherever we pleased while the penguins were confined. It turned out those penguins got out more than I did this year. We shopped in stores and touched merchandise we didn’t buy. My glasses didn’t fog up because masks weren’t on anyone’s radar. I could hug her family. It was a magical time.

The entire world was given an extra day of 2020 on February 29th with Leap Day. I don’t think it was needed, but we got it. John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live that night and delivered a monologue that I’ve listened to an absurd number of times because I’ve needed more laughs this year. It holds up and is still funny each time I hear it. Give it a listen.

March 13, 2020 was the last time I was social before the initial lockdown. My friend Holly and I were planning on going to Wicked on the 15th. It deteriorated and I bowed out because I couldn’t justify putting myself in a crowd that size for hours. I insisted she take the tickets. She had changed her mind about going when she came to pick them up for reasons of her own. We went for a short walk. The show wound up being canceled so no one went.

Then came the lockdown. I remember thinking a two-week lockdown was not a lot to ask. I thought it would be a little longer. It became clear pretty quickly that it was going to last much longer. Much longer became a lot longer. It was tough as the season changed from summer to fall that it was going to go into winter and into 2021. Here we are almost ten months later.

A good chunk of 2021 will be spent as a continuation of 2020. But I get ahead of myself. Back to 2020.

The biggest events for me personally were turning 50 years old, running my first 5K, and raising over $60K for metastatic breast cancer research. All three were connected. I am proud that I surpassed my fundraising goal. I’m overjoyed I was able to complete my run. My birthday was happy through and through.

Minor events make our lives. I made a batch or two of banana bread. I saw the Neowise Comet in summer. I set up a card table and draped it with a lace tablecloth to host friends for card making and pancake breakfasts. I began having breakfast each morning on my sun porch where I listened to the birds and let my thoughts wander. Other friends came over and we chatted on the backyard patio once or twice. I kept writing steadily. I spent time outside when it wasn’t too hot. I took neighborhood walks when my feet felt okay. Everyone scooted well out of the path of one another with a smile and a friendly wave. I took a lot of photos over summer. That took me into fall where I planned day trips to see old and new spots in Wisconsin and enjoy fall color. Workouts and book club kept me socially connected through Zoom. Meaning and joy rest just as much in the small things as they do in the big things.

Easter, July 4th, and Thanksgiving were celebrated on my own. Christmas too.

On November 10, 2020 . . .  I did a real push up. This is monumental. I’ll be honest . . . I did three. I did not go down very far, but I could get back up and I’m counting those. I achieved my goal of exercising every day this year. Some days were minimal but required more effort when I wasn’t up to it than days when my workout was more intense. What I considered my best depended on how I felt. I did my best every day.

My hair is longer and grayer than it has been in years. Thinner. I’m thankful to have any of it thanks to cold capping. Since these things all go together, I hope the lengthy and gray locks continue to grow.

I still have metastatic cancer to no one’s surprise. My health fluctuates between fair and fantastic depending on my mood, how much I worry, treatments, and time. I’m still here.

I remember people couldn’t wait for 2019 to end and be rid of it fast enough. My 2019 was a rather glowing shade of wonderful. I hoped 2020 would be the same. I understand the desire to move on from 2020 to 2021. Time marches on and we always hope what’s ahead of us is better than what we have at the moment. But each year, even if it has events that bring us to our knees, hopefully also has had a moment here or there where we’ve risen up and basked in the sun. May 2021 have more moments in the sun for everyone. I end my 2020 review with a prayer I found that encompasses every good thing my heart wants for all of us.

New Year’s Prayer

As the dawn breaks on a new year, let us give thanks for all we hold dear: our health, our family and our friends.

Let us release our grudges, our anger and our pains, for these are nothing but binding chains. Let us live each day in the most loving ways, the God-conscious way. Let us serve all who are in need, regardless of race, color or creed.

Let us keep God of our own understanding in our hearts and to chant God’s name each day. Let us lead the world from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth and from wrong to right.

Let us remember that we are all one, embracing all, discriminating against none.

May your year be filled with peace, prosperity and love. May God’s blessings shower upon you and bestow upon each of you a bright, healthy and peaceful new year.

Rev. Marcy Sheremetta

May 2021 be kind to you and yours.

Always.

What I Did Last Summer

Spring was lost.

Summer was lost.

Uneventful days passed.

Life inched by like a snail going nowhere.

COVID has consumed six months now.

Six months gone.

Mostly alone.

Gone forever.

And yet I look at the good.

I can’t help it.

Good is always around.

Also forever.

One place I found it was in flowers.

Repetitive days of solitude

And safeness

Drew me to nature.

My camera my paintbrush.

Flowers my canvas.

So many patterns and colors

From 6 inches away.

Wonder

Beauty

Life

Joy

Summer was not lost after all.

A world covered in flowers is not only beautiful but a reassuring constant.

These thoughts formed as I thought about what I did over summer. There were a couple momentous events that I celebrated because birthdays and related plans still happen in pandemics. Most days were quiet. There was a lot of sameness and not much to shout about. I viewed medical appointments as chances to socialize a bit. My trips to the grocery store twice a month held high excitement.

My photos visually reflect what I did last summer whether I puttered about my back yard, paused to take a photo while walking in the neighborhood, or found myself in a favorite nature setting.

Patterns and colors in flowers captivated me this summer.
Everything about this makes me feel happy. The bright vibrant color. The layered petals. The petals slowly unfurling and still emerging from the center. It is a world in itself.
Floating flower art feels very zen.
Blues and purples are a soothing combination.
These colors remind me of a sunset. I marveled at several of these and found all were slightly different, just like every sunset.
This succulent reminded me of glazed pottery. I’m pretty sure it follows a Fibonacci sequence.
Bee balm attracts so much life. Watching its visitors has brought many happy moments to my summer.
Every flower has a story. I am one flower sharing mine.

Ice Cream Memories

Good memories are sweet like ice cream.

My ice cream specific memories from past vacations are vivid enough to eat.

Dippy’s is a small ice cream shop in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, offering about 20 flavors daily. It’s a simple whitewashed building for to go service. There is a small porch outside with patio seating for relaxing and looking at the flowers and passersby. An old-fashioned red popcorn machine is positioned just outside the door for those preferring kettle corn reminiscent of movie theater popcorn drenched in butter flavoring with lots of yellow food coloring.

Dippy’s was a place to take a break from all the other relaxing being done on vacation. It was a good mid-afternoon or early evening treat. The fact that it was a few mere steps from the corner hotel where I stayed didn’t hurt.

There is something about an ice cream store that makes me feel like a kid again. I thought this was as true for my mom as it was for me. She would sit in front of the store in one of the wrought iron chairs wearing her shorts that came to her knees with a smile from ear to ear. She possessed something childlike even though she was into her seventies.

She always apologized that she couldn’t share her butter pecan or turtle ice cream because of my tree nut allergy. It didn’t bother me for the same reason I never offered to share my ice cream with her. All free sampling was done inside at the counter.

Rules are rules.

My grandma enjoyed ice cream into her nineties. Grandma would have a bowl of ice cream often during the evening on the farm. One thing I’m completely convinced about is the existence of an ice cream gene and that I got it.

Both my maternal grandmother and mother died from metastatic cancer. My grandma was diagnosed with liver cancer. She didn’t go through gads of scans to see if it spread and chose not to do treatment. She was 96 years old and only lasted a few months after the news, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe she had metastatic disease. Anyway, genetic testing has revealed zilch in terms of the metastatic breast cancer in my body being inherited. I wonder if research hasn’t yet discovered the link.

Back to happy memories of ice cream because those memories make me feel happy. They take me back to a simpler time that was relaxed and unrushed. A bit of that feeling is captured whenever I enjoy a scoop or two. Sometimes those memories take me back to as recent as last week and other times much further.

Some memories take me back to summer nights in early childhood. People sat outside after supper just to relax. My sister and I would sit on the front step of the house in the humidity enjoying a bowl of ice cream before our bedtime stories.

In my childhood, I was a chocolate or vanilla person. Discovering mint chocolate chip made me feel pretty sophisticated. I still love mint chocolate chip, but favorite flavors also include cookie dough, coffee, and chocolate peanut butter.

Chocolate peanut butter was recently enjoyed on a lovely summer day.

I love moments of simplicity. I’ll take every single one I can get living with metastatic breast cancer. Memories that make me smile are delicious. That’s true whether I’m sitting on the front stoop as a child, outside at Dippy’s, or sitting along the waterfront outside Wilson’s Restaurant  in Door County slowly working on a double scoop while watching the sun dip below the water. It holds true if I’m home enjoying a dish.

Even Snoop Dogg knows ice cream is a good thing. Only Snoop knows his plans for the future, but maybe he was serious when he said, “When I’m no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.”

He would get no complaints from me.

Is all this just about ice cream? Yes and no. Sometimes ice cream is just ice cream. Ice cream is surely one of the better things in this world. You’re never too young or too old for it. There is a flavor for everyone. It’s a simple pleasure.

It also can be a metaphor for life.

Ice cream melts quickly.

Enjoy it before it’s gone.

During, Now, and Next

I often read about someone’s cancer experience in terms of before and after cancer. I also often read that there is no after for those living with metastatic breast cancer because we will always be in treatment. Extreme outliers push what is possible. They keep living with cancer year after year. People living with metastatic disease need words that aren’t in terms of before or after.

I prefer during, now, and next.

A Brief Look at Before Cancer

Before cancer was a golden time of no worries. People lived with no physical limitations. They had job security and careers stretching out ahead of them. Dreams were plentiful and ranged from travel, starting families, professional accomplishments, and personal goals. Normal life expectancies were part of the plan. Life was busy with many friends. Five-year plans were achievable and plans were made for the future without doubting the future.

I felt as others did.

Life was good then. I knew it, but I didn’t realize how good I had it.

I didn’t know the meaning of a bad hair day.

I liked October.

Thoughts About After Cancer

For many, after cancer means getting back to normal, returning to work, growing hair, and putting cancer forever in the past. Survivors post side-by-side photos of their cancer days when they were bald next to photos of a year post treatment when they feel they are once and for all done with cancer where it no longer looks like they ever had cancer.

Life after cancer may mean changes in diet and exercise. Maybe there are new considerations for returning to work or career changes. Life may bring changes in income, changes in health insurance, and changes with how bodies look. There are some who reclaim their past and work to make their life after cancer as much like their before cancer life as possible. For some it means continued support groups, giving back to cancer organizations, and participating in other ways to make a difference in the cancer community.

October becomes a month to celebrate the wonderful and misleading world of awareness. A few reminisce about their cancer days almost as if they were remembering summer camp or a crazy story from high school. I figure it’s easy to reminisce when you are on the other side and treatment is done. There are plenty who see cancer far in their past and it doesn’t affect day-to-day life one bit.

Before cancer is only a memory. After cancer is in the present. After cancer is the future.

It’s a strong possibility I would feel the same if I were in their shoes, but I’m not. I don’t know what it’s like to be “cancer free” as they say. I think it’s the same as how someone without cancer doesn’t know what it’s like for someone with cancer. Those of us with cancer don’t even completely understand what it’s like for another person with cancer. We come close. We can identify and empathize with emotional and physical pain. I have been fortunate to connect with many who write exactly what I feel. I think of these people as my friends even though I haven’t met them.

After cancer means returning to normal or the so called new normal.  In my opinion there is no normal or new normal. I describe my life as a new abnormal and wrote about it in an earlier post you can read here.

Long Ago

It’s hard for me to remember my before cancer days. It feels like another lifetime. I have grieved those days as I would a person. Grief resurfaces with some memories of the past. My eyes water lately when looking at old photos. Who was that person that used to be me? It was someone with dreams that have been shattered.

Even photos from childhood cause some sadness.

Teaching was a huge part of my adult life. I am so far away from those days now that it’s hard to remember elements that were driving forces. So many faces have changed where I taught.

Even some memories of my mom, dad, and grandma have drifted almost too far away. I hate that and I miss them.

What was it like to have boundless energy? What was it like to see my future?

I can’t remember.

The world of before is out of reach.

During, Now, and Next

Good words I use to mark time are during, now, and next.

During is like an umbrella held over now and next. It’s all the time from diagnosis onward. It includes a lot of enduring cancer related life like scans, labs, other tests, office visits, treatments, and waiting. Too much time is filled with enduring cancer when treatment days, side effects, and large chunks of time filled with anxieties or sadness take hold. Instead of after cancer I have an undefined during.

During cancer isn’t all bad. I still taught for four years during cancer. Many are able to keep working. I still live independently. I am still active. I still take vacations (just not presently). Many do all these things, too. Many retire and tell others they finally get to do whatever they want because there is no schedule to keep or boss in charge. I don’t do whatever I want because my health can get in the way, but I try. Living well while living with cancer is possible.

During cancer is a time where nothing ever lasts. I’ve lived in this time labeled during so long that I feel like my life before cancer was lived by an entirely different person.

At my core I still have the same values and main personality traits. Cancer has exaggerated some of them. I have more anxieties and more sensitivities. I am quick to cry. Heck, I’ve cried writing this post. I am more intense and more driven which I possibly could attribute to aging and becoming more confident. I put more emphasis on hope and kindness. I can still crack a joke in the midst of personal misery.

Now is an excellent word. Living in the now enables me to focus on the present moment. I appreciate my wildflowers. I listen to the rumble of thunder. I walk barefoot in the grass. I drink refreshing pink lemonade. Now is where I find joy, hope, and positivity. I work hard not to let anything crush my sense of now. I try to enjoy each day. There is always something. Waking up to greet a new day and gratefully closing my eyes to dream at night are bookends for every day.

Now is the present. Savoring the moment when moments are good stretch out my enjoyment. I savor my breakfast. I savor walks in nature when I’m surrounded by trees and see the sun shining though the leaves. I savor gentle breezes on my skin. I savor laughing and feeling loved. None of these moments can be bottled. They can be replicated as often as possible. Many moments living in the now make up a day. It’s where I live when days are good. Those days add up. I am very lucky for the now I have carved out and the now where I live. Now is all I really have. It’s all any of us truly have.

Living my life involves multiple treatment plans. The word next comes into play when I switch to the next treatment. It also applies to my next cycle of whatever current drug I’m receiving. My treatment visits number into the hundreds. Life is filled with more worries and anxieties. I worry I’ll never again have hair when I’m without it. I worry I’ll soon lose it when I have it. It’s one of my big current worries.

Next is my future. I think about next week or next month. I think about my next piece of writing. I think about what I want to work on next with my trainer and my next physical goal. I have goals for next year. I cautiously make plans knowing they may change. I make them with the intention they will happen. I even think long term because that is energy I want the universe to have. I envision a positive and healthy future because I’m not willing to give up dreaming of my future. It may not be the future I planned before cancer, but it is mine now.

I apologize if this all sounds a bit disjointed. These markers in time are fluid and won’t hold still. Referring to words as nouns that usually function as other parts of speech may not come across in the way I hope they do. Living during metastatic breast cancer means living in an ongoing state of flux. I need sets of words to help mark different spots in the spaces where I live. During, now, and next are working well for me.