Versions of myself

I normally thrive when I’m in a perpetual state of movement. But cancer forced me to stop moving, and change still happened. That is something I need to remember: change doesn’t require movement; some of the most important growth comes from stillness. I’ve blasted through so many different versions of myself these past eight months it’s hard to keep track of. Life has whirled by with such intensity that I haven’t had a chance to get to know each of these separate incarnations of myself.

Pre-cancer Leah is just a speck in the rearview mirror at this point, and I’m not sure how much I relate to her anymore. Who was I?

Diagnosis Leah wanted to run and never come back. I was full of anxiety and fear of the words ‘invasive cancer.’ Those feelings were foreign and confusing to me at the time. I am beginning to understand and accept them more now.

Mastectomy Leah was overflowing with an intensity of pain and grief that I have never experienced before. There will be a lifetime of feelings and learning in the aftermath for me and I will embrace every second of it.

Chemo Leah got the shit kicked out of her every three weeks for 18 weeks. Just when I started to feel better, chemo climbed back into the ring to knock me out again. I can fight a lot of things off, but I am no match for chemo. It’s something I hope I never have to go through again. There really are no words to describe how bad chemo is.

Radiation Leah thought all the hard stuff was over. Wrong! So many feelings popped up while lying on that table ten minutes a day for six weeks. Cancer was here, in the room with me day in, day out. And questions kept popping up. Will I ever feel normal again? What is normal? Is the cancer gone?  Will I lose my right breast? How much radiation is really hitting my heart?

Now here I am: Recovery Leah. I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime the past eight months, someone else’s life. But it’s mine. Who is Recovery Leah? I’m still figuring that one out and I will be for the rest of my life.



Letting go


Tomorrow Amelia and I have to let go of our dog of 15 years. It’s time. I’ve been avoiding and dodging this moment for a while. I hate that we have to arrange his death, that tomorrow someone is coming to our house to euthanize him. To kill him.

I’ve not dealt well with his aging, with his mortality. It’s a mirror: he’s going down a road we all will go down someday.

When he blew out his rear knee, I couldn’t let him go.

When he blew out his other rear knee, I couldn’t let him go.

When he started shaking in fear while riding in the car (once a favorite pastime),  I couldn’t let him go.

When he started losing his memory, I couldn’t let him go.

When he started isolating, I couldn’t let him go.

When he started compulsively pacing in the house, I couldn’t let him go.

When he started to get confused which door he went in and out of, I couldn’t let him go.

When he started to get so weak that sometimes I had to help him up, I couldn’t let him go.

When he started pooping on his bed and sleeping on the poop, I couldn’t let him go.

When it became clear he had dementia, I couldn’t let him go.

When I started getting mad at him for being confused and scared, I couldn’t let him go.

When I started resenting him for getting old and frail, I couldn’t let him go.

When I stopped paying much attention to him because he was vacant, I couldn’t let him go.

Last week we gave him a bath together, something Amelia usually does alone, but because he is so weak I had to hold his rear legs up so he didn’t fall over. Seeing him wet was heart breaking and disturbing. There’s nothing left of him. He is bones dipped in fur, his hips and rib cage protruding like a starving animal, all muscle tone gone. There he was wet and confused, literally looking like a shell of what he once was. I had to let him go.

He was the best dog we could ever have. He travelled thousands of miles, hiked hundreds of trails, camped dozens of times, kayaked with us in many lakes in the Adirondacks, slept under trees in the pouring rain, slept on a king size bed at hotels. He didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body.

Death has always been a big question mark for me, and cancer has made that question mark bigger. So tomorrow his life will end. And what is the end of a life? A sunset? A transition? Darkness? Lightness? Re-birth? Nothing?

I don’t know, but I know that I will miss my dog. I will miss what he was, not what he is leaving as.