Almost 3 years

I think about writing something every day. There is still so much to navigate through: sadness, grief, physical discomfort, confusion, frustration. All of these things lead me down a very dark path towards my life long backseat driver, depression.

Frustration is not my friend. I give it way too much attention and it can paralyze me, but it also gives me an opportunity to innovate if I don’t self-implode first. I can fix or make just about anything, but I can’t fix me. Maybe there is nothing to fix?

I haven’t really stopped working since my diagnosis. There’s something inside me that won’t let me stop now. I used to be able to walk away from my long To Do List and focus on whatever, whenever. It was freeing. Not anymore. I am now a full-tilt working beast.

At first I thought this was a good thing – I was actually crossing things off my To Do List! Inconceivable! But, the To Do List never ends, especially when you own a business. Build a walk in cooler, design a bar, repair tables, fix the ice machine, brew the beer, prep and cook the food, fix a leaky sink, deal with people on every level. I have a need to finish everything on the list now. Now I cannot leave something undone, because how do I know the cancer isn’t already back?

So many questions because of cancer – Is this what I want to be doing? Do I want to live here? How long can I work like this? What is the end game? Will I ever be content?


Sharing camp asparagus with Henny


Make no mistake

If I could choose to do one thing and actually make a living at it, it would be woodworking. I love wood. I love creating, making mistakes, fixing my mistakes. The whole process is something that I am in love with. It’s like a meditation. Just me and tools and wood for hours.

It took a long time to love making mistakes. When I first started woodworking 15 years ago, I would get upset and beat myself up for days when I made a mistake. I would abandon projects that I screwed up. Scattered around the house and in my shop were my wood orphans: table tops with no legs, table bases with no tops, cutting boards that needed planing, cabinets with no doors, warped cabinet doors. It was like the Isle of Misfit Furniture. But slowly I started figuring out that nothing is a mistake with woodworking. Wood is easily repaired and my mistakes are opportunities to learn how to build better. I actually look forward to screwing something up now; it means that I am still learning.

I always seem to be in the right place at the right time for free lumber. Several times I have been offered to rummage the contents of old barns containing treasures of dusty planks, splintery huge beams, and sections of trees. It’s like opening presents when I get home with a load of wood. I never know what I have until I cut or plane a board and find something amazing like tiger maple, red cedar, crazy grain patterns (which I love). Or four-inch thick boards I thought were pine turn out to be walnut. Score!

This week was the first time in 12 months that I stepped foot in my shop to work on furniture. I’m building a six-foot mahogany bar top and a large hutch from pre-used wood and local fallen trees that I milled. Time stops when I’m creating. I immerse fully and there are no thoughts of anything other than what it is that I am working on. Being 100% in the moment sounds so simple, but in the whirlwind of life I don’t find myself there near enough.

I forgot how good this feels.




A little depressing post

I am in a crosshair. It’s the place where everything is different, yet everything is exactly the same. I’m just beyond looking like I have cancer, but right under the surface is a ten-inch scar. My very short hair could be seen as a choice at this point.

People see what they want to see. They see that I am working, and that my hair is growing, so therefore I am fine. Nothing is usually what it seems, no matter what the surface looks like.

But I’m working too much, too hard. It is a constant work that is unfortunately unavoidable right now. I don’t mind working hard. It’s usually very good for me to stay busy physically, but it is wearing me down now.

I am not the same person I was nine months ago physically. Cancer has kicked my ass over and over and over. My body doesn’t recover the way it used to from a strenuous day. It feels like it doesn’t recover at all. I am tired, very tired.

Waiting to Exhale

by Amelia

“It  must feel great to get your last bad chemo! Congratulations!”

Three weeks ago, this was the message that kept flashing on our cell phones and repeating in our emails. Leah read them as she laid on the couch with achy muscles, bowel pain, and  a mug of ginger tea. She did not feel great.

I keep waiting for the moment when everything feels better. We’ve been holding our breath since September 3, waiting for the moment that it’s “over.” I’m starting to feel just how much it’s a process, not a moment.

Yesterday was the first day I relaxed a little. These past three weeks I’ve been waiting for the bad chemo to work its way through Leah’s system – especially her immune system – so I can stop worrying that she is going to die from a stupid little germ that hitched a ride on her off a clumsy orange cart at Home Depot. I have never known what it’s like to worry like this, and to have the worry actually be based in reality. Leah’s blood work came back good yesterday, so woo hoo! She’s not going to die for hopefully another 40 years or so.

But Leah’s treatment is still so far from being over. Until November, we will drive the hour and a half to Rochester once every three weeks for her targeted chemo, Herceptin. Starting March 14 she’ll get daily radiation for six weeks at the nearby Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca. In addition, in the next six months Leah will need at the minimum two echocardiograms, two appointments with the hair growth researcher, an annual mammogram and ultrasound at the breast clinic, a follow up with the breast surgeon, a new patient appointment with a local Ob Gyn, and a consult with a Rochester Ob Gyn surgeon named, of all things, Doctor Toy.

So yeah, we don’t feel like celebrating. With Leah feeling a bit better, the chaos and stress of life is already knocking impatiently on the door. When she was diagnosed, we had closed the lounge for good only five days earlier. The goal was to finish the renovations on the new restaurant and bakery and open in November. And March is here and we’re not there yet. Talk about stress. I can’t even begin to describe it, but good grief I am sure not exhaling anytime soon.


Just say yes to research studies

I will participate in any research study thrown at me. I feel like it’s my duty to give back in any way I can. I think about all the people who’ve participated before me in these studies and in doing so have made my navigation through cancer easier. I will pay it forward.

The first research study I was involved with was about using visualization to help control nausea in people receiving chemo. It was very much like meditation. I was given an mp3 player with a recorded visualization excercise that I would listen to once a day for three weeks – if I wanted to. I also filled out a few forms describing the daily level of nausea I had and what I did to counter it or prevent it.

The visualization study was very loose. It was based on suggestibility. They suggested I listen to the recording at least once and that was it, but it was made abundantly clear that it was just that – a suggestion. I could listen to the recording one time or every day, or do my own version of meditation, I could try ginger tea, or take the prescribed meds. I like that this study was about the power of suggestion: it planted a seed in your mind and they monitored what happened even when the subjects forget about it.

I’m involved with another study now. This one is inspired by the effects of led lights on improved hair growth in male pattern baldness. The researchers are now studying women with breast cancer who’ve lost their hair to chemo to see if it will have the same results.

This time I get a helmet with hundreds of tiny red led lights that I wear on my head every other day for 25 minutes. It’s really quite a sight, Amelia is calling me Elroy Jetson.


Living with cancer

The trauma of cancer does not go away.

I’ve talked about it before and time hasn’t change the deep feelings of grief that I have. Most of us have directly experienced a significant trauma or loss and most of us do the same thing: repeat the traumatic event over and over in our heads trying to make some sense out of it, trying to process it. I am still doing that. I am on repeat in my head, and out loud at times.

I’ve slowed down on writing because lately the same feelings keep bubbling up that I’ve already written about: loss, grief and sadness. I’ve had a body part amputated, lymph nodes removed, my insides fried, endured terrible side effects, and lost my hair. I am a different person physically and emotioanlly than I was three months ago. I have to figure out how to live with this for the rest of my life.

I don’t really want to dwell on my dark thoughts, but I don’t want to hold on to them either. Letting go of them is extremely hard. There are too many “what ifs” to wrap my mind around.

Lately I keep thinking of the future, and what I need to get done to ensure Amelia’s future if I’m not here, if I die from cancer. HER2+ breast cancer is notorious for recurring years down the road in places like your brain, bones, and liver. My dark thoughts tell me it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, so I need to finish this building, open the business, build another teardrop trailer, re-do the bathroom. The fact is, I could be with Amelia for another 100 years and it still wouldn’t be enough time. She is what grounds me to this world.

I have paranoid moments when a flash of light catches my eye or my vision gets foggy and I think, It’s in my brain. An ache in my right side, It’s in my liver. A creak in my bonesIt’s in my spine. 

There are no reassurances about anyone’s future, but even more so with cancer. When people say, “You’ll beat this,” they are reassuring themselves, not me. Though nothing is written in stone, I got a glimpse at what my death could look like. I could be going through all of this just to die. And I need to figure out how to live with that.


Wound healing with neutropenia and lymphedema

I don’t sit much. I am standing right now as I type at our counter-height kitchen table. I’m at my best and most comfortable when I’m in motion, but usually I need some caution signs around me because I’m wielding some sharp, high-powered tool.

I am not a typical woman. I build things. I operate power tools every day. I use hand tools every day. I handle very, very sharp objects every day. I move rough cut wooden boards every day. I lift heavy objects more than I should every day. There are plenty of opportunities for bumps, scrapes, cuts, splinters, bruises, punctures, and pinches.

A while back I wrote about the warning sign that now comes with my left arm. With ten lymph nodes removed there are less pathways for fluid to drain which means when I injure myself there’s a greater risk of swelling (lymphedema). I’m not ever supposed to injure my left arm. Not ever. Not good for someone like me.

Last week I scraped my left index finger with a blunt star-shaped screw bit while I was driving a screw into drywall. It was a very minor injury, but  I was alarmed to see that for the next four days my finger was extremely red and unusually swollen. Amelia fretted about the threat of infection. I soaked it in salt water every day and used a prescription anti-bacterial cream. A week later the swelling was down, but it was still bright red and wasn’t even close to healed. That’s because I am still neutropenic from the toxic effects of the chemotherapy. Right now I have zero neutrophils, which are a type of blood cell you need to heal wounds and fight off infection.

I knew lymphedema and poor healing were possibilities, but this was a double whammy and another step into the new normal. Every time some new bad thing happens, I’m surprised. I have to somehow not get even a small scrape right now, not just on my left arm, but my whole body. Neutropenia might be temporary, but lymphedema is a life-long risk.

Not working is not an option for me right now – for so many reasons. But I have to figure out how to reduce my risk of injury.  My first step will be trying to find a pair of women’s tight-fitting gloves that allow for dexterity and range of motion while protecting my hands. Then maybe some lightweight, high tech body armor. I wonder if they come with packs….



Please don’t kiss the cancer patient

please do not kiss the cancer patient

by Amelia

Leah drove herself to chemo – alone – this week. I had to wait for the furnace repair man to come. First let me say that while physically it was an acceptable choice, emotionally it did not feel okay. It should have been an easy, drama-free quickie treatment since it was just Herceptin (the targeted chemo that has no immediate side effects). And it was, except Leah’s blood work showed that she has neutropenia.

What is neutropenia? The short answer is that Leah’s immune system has crashed. The long answer is that chemo kills fast-growing cells like cancer, hair, and bone marrow where the components of blood and the lymphatic system are made. Leah’s white blood cells are currently 1.7 (normal range is 4-11) and her neutrophil number is .6 (normal range is 1.8-8). What this all means is that Leah’s ability to fight infection is seriously compromised. A cold, the flu, a skin infection: even the simplest germ could be life-threatening.

The good news is that these numbers can come back up again, and hopefully will in the next week or two. The bad news is that they can go back down again since she gets the Taxotere and Carboplatin every three weeks until mid-February. This could be a long road. The doctor told Leah to avoid people, especially groups, and to definitely stay away from sick people.

What you need to know is this: Please don’t kiss the cancer patient. Don’t kiss, don’t hug, don’t get close. Even if you think you aren’t sick. Because how do you know you didn’t catch something that’s brewing in you right this second? You will get an annoying cold, but Leah could end up in the ICU.

Here’s what else you need to know if your friend has neutropenia:

  1. Wash your hands. A lot. With soap. It doesn’t need to be antibacterial soap, but make sure you scrub them good.
  2. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. And then wash your hands. If your 3-year-old doesn’t think to cover his/her mouth and tends to spray mucus everywhere, then please leave your 3-year-old at home if you can so all of Wegmans isn’t infected.
  3. Don’t go to work – especially in a restaurant – if you have cold or flu symptoms. If you are the restaurant boss, maybe you ought to think about offering sick time. A novel idea in the service industry. If you do have to go to work, cover your mouth and wash your hands. A lot. If you handle food, wear your damn gloves. They are required for a reason.
  4. Don’t be a close talker. You know who you are. (You’re probably also a mouth kisser. Ew.)
  5. Wear a mask at the doctor’s office if you think you might be contagious.
  6. Oh, and your unvaccinated babies? Please keep them far from Leah. When you make a choice not to vaccinate, you may be taking away someone else’s choice to live. You might think I’m being a germaphobe or judging you, but this is a matter of life or death. Think about it.

And may I add, if you do have the flu, please do not listen to Gwyneth Paltrow. 



When the shit hits the fan in life – and I’m not talking about losing a job or a wrecking your car. I’m talking about serious, permanent life-changing shit – we have to prepare for the many expectations that come with our new lives and the huge disappointments that will get in our way. There are people that you assumed would be there who just disappear. And there are the people who you would have never thought would be right there in the trenches beside you.

At first I was judgmental and irritated about the bubble that most of us live in. What, you don’t know anything about cancer?! What’s wrong with you people? But, now I think, Why the hell would you want to get to know cancer unless you really had to? 

Expectations can’t exist in cancer time. I am at the mercy of my surroundings, my doctors, my infusions, my meds, my side effects, my tidal wave of emotions. I can’t assume anything now. With cancer, there is discomfort in not knowing what the future holds, even though before cancer I was okay with not knowing. I even thrived on it.

Leah before cancer was very unpredictable. I am difficult to keep up with. I don’t do schedules, I don’t do lists. I kind of fly by the seat of my pants and somehow get a lot of things done. You cannot slow me down and you cannot pin me down. Well, goddamn if cancer hasn’t stopped me and pinned me down.

Giving in to the unpredictable nature of cancer is going to be the hardest thing I ever do. It’s like getting into a car and letting a stranger drive me around at 100 mph – with no seat belts. We have to trust strangers with our lives when we have cancer. Trust is something that is usually built, but right now I have to blindly trust the people driving my car.

The Lesbian in the Room

by Amelia

You’d think cancer would be the Elephant in the Room. It’s not. The people who don’t want to talk about it simply never enter the room. The ones who are brave enough to join us there tend to have an intense curiosity about Leah’s experience. They ask a lot of questions about the details. They know they could be in her shoes (bra) someday and they want to understand.

So what’s the Elephant in the Room then? Well, it’s me. The wife. Without me in the room, Leah is a patient. With me, she is a lesbian patient. And I’m the other lesbian. And it is easier to ignore me than it is to acknowledge the elephant.

We’ve met with two doctors so far who walked in the room, said, “Which one of you is Leah?” and then didn’t greet me, introduce themselves to me, or even make eye contact with me during the appointment. I was invisible. I was Leah’s sister. Or Leah’s friend. Or the person who gave Leah a ride and didn’t want to hang out alone in the waiting room so here I was tagging along in the exam room for, oh, I don’t know, how about one of the most intimate and distressing conversations of Leah’s life?

This might not bother me if we were at the doctor’s office for a flu shot or a strep test. But the words out of these doctors’ mouths include things like, “You have to have chemotherapy for 18 weeks,” and “You’re going to lose all of your hair,” and “The side effects include DEATH. Now sign the consent form at the bottom.” The doctors know that most people don’t make decisions about cancer treatment alone. I am 100% certain that if I were a man sitting next to Leah, they would have assumed I was her husband, and I would have been included in the conversation from the start.

Whether or not I will be acknowledged as Leah’s wife should be the last thing on my mind during a time of crisis. But doctors like this remind me – and Leah – that we still need push for some people to respect our relationship. I speak up, I jump in, I contribute. The doctors look surprised, then start to talk to me, too. This elephant has a big mouth and asks intelligent questions.

Are you sisters? Leah chooses to introduce me from the start now. “This is Amelia. She is my wife.” Nice to meet you, most of them say. The ones who pause to freak out about our sexuality need to suck it up, because cancer doesn’t discriminate. This is a life or death situation, and we haven’t got the time or energy to battle homophobia.

The side effects

I was really hoping for minimal side effects to chemo, but hope is like playing Russian roulette when you have cancer, and the odds have been stacked high against me these past few weeks.

First, I have to take steroids the day before and the day after chemo. The day of chemo I get them through my port. They made me feel hellish, like I drank a pot of espresso with some speed mixed in. My thoughts raced and I flew off the handle at the littlest thing. Amelia says she hopes I get used to them before she kills me.

Mild nausea set in next. It was tolerable and manageable for two days. But four days out, my stomach felt like it was on fire every time I drank or ate. Then pulsating pains started throughout my body. Then feeling unstable and shaky. Then diarrhea. Then heartburn. Then my eyes start to burn. To top it off I have a serious outcrop of pimples on my face and neck.

Cancer kind of forces you to be hyper aware of your body, and that’s really bad at a time like this because now I get to feel my body being destroyed on a cellular level. The thought that keeps popping in my head is Poison the body to save the body. This is the first course of six; I have five more to go. Chemo has a cumulative effect. Things are going to get much, much worse before they get better, not that I’m exactly sure what worse and better look like. Cancer is beginning to splinter and scatter me. Maybe that means I get to choose what parts of me I pick back up when it’s over.

Genetic testing

Getting tested for the 26 cancer genes was extremely nerve-racking for many reasons, but mostly because the woman who talked to us did so with unreserved glee. There was a twinkle in her eyes when she asked, “Do you know why you’re here?” Genetic Jessica didn’t give me a chance to answer. Instead she leaned in across the table and announced dramatically, “Because you are WAY too young to have cancer. WAY too young. And I’m going to tell you all about the genes you don’t want to find out that you have.” She leaned back into her chair, tilted her head to the side and gave me the oh-you-poor-thing-you-have-cancer face. Cancer face, that’s what Amelia and I call it. We all know what that face looks like. If you think you’ve never seen it, try replacing the word ‘cancer’ with other words, like divorce, miscarriage, losing a job, break up, or addiction, to name a few.

When I gave the geneticist my history (mother just diagnosed with breast cancer, brother with an unidentified melanoma-type skin cancer a decade ago), she gave my a very grave look and pointed at one of the cancer genes on her chart of horrors. “This gene right here links breast cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer.” She raised an eyebrow and gave us a knowing look followed by a dramatic pause. Who the hell is this woman? I wondered. And why is she pelting us with massive amounts of negative information without taking a breath, almost proud of herself for the speed of her delivery of morbid news. I felt like she wanted to reach across the desk and shake me by my shoulders and then squeeze me into her bosom. Back off, lady.

A month later I found out that I don’t have any of these genes, but Genetissica wanted me to come back to meet with her anyway. Why? Well, Leah, there’s this other gene, that could be meaningless, and we don’t really know what it does, if anything, and it won’t affect your treatment choices, but I can tell you all about it in person. Um, hell no, Genetissica! I’m not spending another hour in your office of doom and drama.

Genetic testing is pretty amazing though and will continue to be a great tool for all sorts of illnesses. This ‘other gene’ I have is RAD51C, and there’s not enough data out there to even be talking about it yet. Ask me again in ten years.


First chemo treatment

One of the pre-meds I received in IV form was a hefty dose of Benadryl. Saying it made me tired is an understatement. That stuff knocks me out. If it wasn’t for the other nasty chemical cocktails* I was getting afterward, I might enjoy the trip to Lala Land. But Greedy Little Cancer loves to takes up every possible space in life. What an attention seeker. Yup, we see you there, Cancer. No one invited you. You can get out, and take all your nasty offspring with you.

Sitting in a sterilized cubicle for five hours made me feel pretty restless and bored. I brought things to read but the Benadryl made me so loopy it was hard to retain anything. I just read the same sentence over and over. Lucky for me that I love driving games, so out came my iPad and my inner 13-year old. Drugs be dammed, I was going to blast down a digital highway at 150 miles an hour. Hell, yeah. Everything in moderation, though. I will never ever own a Wii or anything like it. Ever. Harmless fun can easily morph into an addictive, mindless obsession that gobbles up hours and hours. I’d always prefer to be physically doing something. But during this time of cancer, I will drive as fast as I can as often as I can within the safety of my iPad. No seatbelt required.

The first treatment takes the longest. Each drug is set up to go in at a slower rate in case of any adverse reaction. I had no reactions at all. The only side effect I’ve had so far is a metallic taste in my mouth. I’m pretty sure this will not go away for the next four months and ginger candies will become my one of my new best friends. I haven’t had any nausea so far, knock on wood.

Port incision and bruise

Port incision and bruise

My port is a triangular ‘power port.’ It is larger than a regular port, and can receive fluid at a higher rate. The heart-shaped bruise in the picture is where the port sits (and bulges) under my skin. Not everyone bruises, but it’s like a blood draw where sometimes you can get a temporary discoloration. The surgeon had me initial the area pre-surgery.

I was quite disturbed to see how large the port incision was. It’s around 20 stitches. Update: I originally thought my mastectomy scar was 30 stitches. We asked the surgeon last week and he said it was more than he could count, and that he lost count after 50. Holy Franken-chest Stitchville.

*The day’s nasty chemicals include: Benadryl, Decadron, Zofran, Pepcid, Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, Cyanocobalamin, and Heparin.

Depression vs. Cancer

As I sit in my chemo cubicle and seven different chemicals are dripped into my vein, I can’t help but think that depression has got nothing on cancer; at least for me it doesn’t.

Honestly, I don’t have the time or energy to give in to depression right now. For quite a long time I’ve thought that depression is very selfish on my part. Now I clearly see my depression as a choice: I can choose to be depressed or I can choose to not be depressed. Depression is a very grey area. Cancer is not grey; there is no choice involved in getting cancer. The past six weeks have made me stop and ask myself, How could I possibly give in to depression, something that is so vague? Cancer is incredibly real and concrete. I have to give in to the fact that cancer is here, it is real, and it needs to be stopped by any means necessary.

I was defined by trauma and depression, but now cancer is reshaping me inside and out. So, Depression, you can take a hike. You’ve been replaced.

Mind, Matter, Modern Medicine

Chemotherapy starts Wednesday; the port is implanted today.  My body is essentially going to be poisoned with the bark of a yew tree, a heavy metal, and an antibody. The bark of the yew tree, of course, is the one that fascinates me. Someone figured out that a tree’s bark could aid in the cure of cancer. Science is amazing.

Now is the time I really need to get myself low. Deep breaths. I tend to be a shallow breather if I’m not paying attention. My breath is up high in my chest unless I focus on it and push it down into my belly. That is a practice, learning how to breathe correctly. Sounds easy enough: in through your nose, out through your mouth. But there’s a lot that needs to happen in between and during.

I will be getting into my meditation zone for chemo. I feel myself settling in and preparing for it. I find meditation a very personal thing, one I don’t talk about a lot because it’s so individual, and honestly, it feels a little weird to share. I think a lot of people get stuck on the word “meditation,” on what it means. People have visions of a monk sitting uncomfortably cross-legged for hours, but I see meditation as anything that helps us get out of our heads, a moment when we aren’t thinking and we aren’t reacting, and we’re just observing for two or twenty minutes. For me, meditation is primarily about being still, but I can also get to a pretty low and still place by being outdoors or playing music. It’s possible that virtually everyone does some form of meditation; they just don’t know they’re doing it.

No limits for Leah, please

Before cancer I never really thought about my body’s physical limits because there weren’t any, or I just ignored them if there were. When I was in my late twenties, I got a pretty serious neck injury from playing rugby. (If you know rugby: I was the hooker. During a scrum the other team came in extraordinarily low. My props were too high and I was flipped over by neck, twice.) I should have gone to the hospital. I look back at this and think what was wrong with me and every other person who saw this? Oh, yeah, we were in our twenties.

For days afterward I could hardly hold my head up and I couldn’t move my neck at all. Whether I was standing or sitting, the pressure of my head on top of my neck was excruciating. I played rugby a few more months. Not too bright. I finally went to a neurologist who found two precariously bulged discs in my neck, C4 and C5. He told me that I couldn’t lift more than one grocery bag in each arm, forever. He had a list of things that I could never do again: rugby (duh), running, mountain biking, rock climbing, anything where I’d be looking upward or jarring my spine.

It was a pretty grim prognosis, and one I couldn’t accept. So I started icing my neck regularly, stretching, weight lifting, and strengthening other parts of my body. I had to re-learn how to lift without agitating my neck; that was my goal. It took five to ten years, but today my neck has no physical limits and I am pain-free.

Since my breast surgery, I’ve been counting down the days until I can resume normal activity; the doctor told me four to six weeks. So last week I announced to Amelia, “Twenty-one days!” Meaning I’d be able to dive back into work then. She gave me the oh-boy-you-really-have-NO-idea look and said, “You know you won’t immediately be 100%, right? That’s just how long before you can start working again, and building up your strength and flexibility is going to take time. You’re not going to be at 100% for while.” This is how naïve I am about my own recovery from major surgery. I seriously had no clue. I really did think at six weeks I’d be back to my normal crazy level of working and ready to pick up a 160 pound keg.

When I was at the surgeon’s office the other day, he said around 70% of the healing from surgery takes place in the first eight weeks, and the other 30% takes place over the next year. What. The. Hell. A year? 365 days? This type of news spins me into quite a tizzy, and claustrophobia sets in like the walls are closing in on me. I need to get back to 100% as soon as I can. Sooner than a year.

Now I start counting down again: 338 days.

Bound by trauma

I think we are all more attached to pain and trauma than we should be. We have to actively seek out the good news in the world because so much trauma is thrown at us every day. This is the scenario: one day I push you out of the road and save you from getting hit by a car; the next day I drop something on your foot and break it. The broken foot is what stays with you, the imprint of pain. Years later you will still vividly remember me breaking your foot. We hold onto trauma like it’s our favorite stuffed animal. Trauma is our security blanket, our little Binky.

Last week after I had my drain removed, Amelia and I had lunch with her parents. We were sitting outside at a sidewalk cafe and ten feet away from us, a pickup truck hit a bicyclist. A terrible noise, a body thrown up onto a hood and tossed to the ground, a bicycle run over. It was traumatizing, for me, for the cyclist, for the driver, for everyone else witnessing it. Remember when I said I am the person who runs towards the fire? Yeah, I ran towards the moving truck. The woman with 30+ stitches in her chest is running out into the street. Amazing what adrenaline can do. The stitches, pain, and cancer trauma were all left in my chair; and the rest of me was out in the street with the cyclist. He miraculously was fine but very, very shaken up as was the driver of the truck. The cyclist was wearing a helmet, thank Dog. Amelia and I went into “take charge mode” like we often do, she with the cyclist, me with the driver. When it was over the police officer who came to the scene told us his aunt had breast cancer, then our server, who had also witnessed the accident, told us her Dad had just been diagnosed with brain cancer. The cafe was her Dad’s place. Here we all were, bound by trauma.

We have cancer

September 22, 2015

By Amelia Sauter

We have cancer. That’s what it feels like when someone you are that close to gets a diagnosis. WE have cancer. At least that’s what it felt like three weeks ago at the Wende Breast Clinic. The sad clown face on the nurse that day as she walked Leah out from the biopsy shouted a diagnosis that they couldn’t say out loud before the pathology report came back. I called my parents that night and said Leah is going to be told tomorrow that she has cancer and I don’t know what we are going to do. The shock, the grief, the WTFs. Leah and I are going through all of it together.

Everything in your head comes to a crashing halt when the cancer diagnosis comes. And the ripple effects of the crash shake up every corner of your life. For us, that ripple has an aftershock that most people don’t have to deal with: We were planning to open a new restaurant this fall. So now we are both indefinitely unemployed. Until we get pathology reports back after surgery and meet with an oncologist, we are both in limbo. No plans can be made. Talk about bad timing. For now, I paint and I cry. I paint every fucking wall in that building, every ceiling, every piece of trim. I paint and I cry and I hope. It’s all I can do.

We have cancer is changing to Leah has cancer now that the surgery is approaching. Our paths are separating. I can’t do that part with her. I can’t lay on the operating room table with her and join her in in the LaLa land of anesthesia and in the exhaustion of pain and painkillers. I am not losing a breast and I will not know the same grief as her.

My path is a river of utter helplessness. I have never before had the feeling of wanting so badly to protect the person I love most and been able to do nothing. Every second, I fight the urge to grab her and run from the hospital and take her away from all this. But I can’t save her. It is the worst feeling I have ever had in my life.