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what it means to me

Lately I’ve felt as if I want to punch my surgeon. No, not Dr. McHottie, but my regular surgeon. I have all sorts of issues right now because of lymphedema in my left arm since my surgeon removed all of the lymph nodes in my arm pit. One of the nodes had cancer. When you first get a diagnosis and they tell you, “this needs to be removed” you just think, “yeah, do it.” You don’t think much about the potential side-effects down the road because you just want there to be a down the road. Of course, I don’t blame my surgeon for any of this – I’m quite grateful to him for my life, really. And he’s a good guy. It’s just that I have a desire to punch something that I can’t strike out at.

My past year has really brought home to me the relativity of our experiences. When Mom complained about having a head cold to me over the phone in the midst of my chemo treatment, I just pursed my lips and kept my mouth shut. I got a ton of emails from “friends” who didn’t really keep in touch with me asking, “So are you all better now?” It doesn’t quite work that way. I have scars and burns and tattoos on my body. The smell of certain liquid soaps brings me back to the sick feeling of my treatments. When I began to correspond with dear Barbara about her cancer, she mentioned a numbness in her feet that she still has three years after her chemo. I have that same problem with my feet, and it has only been 5 months.

I never sought out cancer support groups locally because I didn’t need that. I didn’t feel that I wanted to be a part of it, and I still don’t. Oddly, I have my own group that I discovered through blogging. People who had or have cancer whose blogs have intersected mine somehow and I felt comfortable enough to reach out to them – because it wasn’t a cancer patient I was looking for, but the friend in that person who happens to have been touched (nay, punched in the gut) by cancer. I hold my breath and continue to hope that folks like Cindy and Amy remain cancer-free. When one friend told me that she is terminal, I read that email and somehow the word drew a blank in my mind. It wasn’t chemo brain, but the jarring shock of a reality that could just as easily be mine. I can’t separate the reactions of sadness and fear – sadness for my friend, fear for my own self. These diseases are only a tiny thread of what we have in common and yet it is the thing that sends shivers reverberating down our collective spines.

Bee recently posted about Bri’s condition and my eyes scanned the words “hospice care” over again while I silently choked down the wave of tears that rose from my chest. [I just typed and deleted long tirade about people who think cancer happens for a “reason” other than the biological one. That is an utterly fucked up sentiment.] I have never met Bri, but we’ve corresponded – she is a fellow food blogger and breast cancer patient (I hate the word victim and I think the word survivor also sucks shit). I’ve written about Bri before. Even after she learned of the return of her stage IV cancer, she wrote upbeat and hilarious encouragement to me as I finished my own treatments. My issues pale in comparison to Bri’s. I carried Bri and others in my mind, in my heart whenever I met with my oncologist, with my surgeon. We are anecdotal and yet the collective WE becomes data. But we are so much more than just a statistic. I wanted to believe that Bri would overcome this hurdle because I want to believe that any of us could overcome it if that time comes.

Bee had asked what do you tell a friend in the darkest moment of their life?

We always hope deep in our hearts that things will turn around, but you would be a fool to ignore the reality. I have written a good-bye letter to a dying friend before. I have also whispered good-byes over my sister’s coffin because I never had the chance to do so in person. What I would have given to have a few last minutes with her. What do you say to someone who is dying? I know what I will write to Bri, although I will not stop hoping. I also know what I would want to hear if I were the one dying – and it is different now than what I would have wanted to hear before I had cancer. I suppose the most important thing for me would be to know that my friends and family are there. No drama, no histrionics, no religion… as I’ve learned, good intentions are no excuse for rude behavior. What I desire for myself and for others is to find peace in whatever way works for that individual.

Peace, dearest Bri.

26 nibbles at “what it means to me”

  1. Mrs Ergül says:

    I’m sorry I don’t know what to say. It’s so awful things like this happen.

  2. Rosa says:

    Cancer is a terrible illness which leaves me wordless and sad…



  3. Melissa says:

    I went and read Bee’s post. There are no words for the distress and panic that threaten to barrel through when thinking about facing something like that. I’m sorry for you Jen for the pain you feel for your friend, and I am sorry for Bri to be heading down a road to goodbye. I can only offer my sincerest loving thoughts from far away. Much love.

  4. Lisa says:

    It’s hard to choose words, yet feel like I want to leave some anyway.

    Reading your entry tonight, while reminding me of how shitty and unfair life can be, also reminded me to treasure my day-to-day just a little bit more than I do.

    Thanks Jen.

  5. claudia says:

    dear Jen, i have been reading you in the last year but this is my first comment. just to tell you that my mom had a breast cancer, she has only one of the two right now and no lymph nodes in the sick part pf the body. as you know she has to face daily with the side effects of this. 12 years have passed from that moment and i am grateful she is here with me. i thank you for sharing your experience with the community and your readers. this helps healthy people to remind what struggle for life means and above all what the gift to be sane really represents.
    it’s a real pleasure for me to be one of those who follow you everyday.
    thank you even for your great recipes and photos. a huge thought from Padua.

  6. Margie says:

    You, are, and will always be a gift. A note or letter from you is a blanket of comfort. You don’t mince your words, nor do you expect someone to have to decifer them. You simply are. And, what greater gift is there for anyone than truth? I have no doubt that when you write to Bri, comfort and sharing and giving and all things of peace will fill your pen. I can say alot about you by what little I know. I can do it because you don’t bullshit, you’re a straight shooter. Someone that gives enough to give a damn. It shows. And it will be conveyed in whatever you say to this fighting spirit. In your anger and frustration you have found the positive. Use your pen as you would a hammer. Build as you do daily.
    Thanks for sharing this story. I discovered the news about Bri just recently and when I went to read an update I discovered that she is now under hospice care.

    I understand a bit of your fear, but I can’t appreciate it’s full extent. We do not share the same pair of traveling shoes. I hope to travel in my pair, though, thru many of your steps. I am forever indepted to your sincerity, the brilliance of your vision (in more ways than one), and your hope.

    XO, Jenzie. Fret not over words, yours always pierce the soul and enlighten. It’s your greatest gift.

  7. Tartelette says:

    I think we never stop writing goodbyes, long after they are gone. I still write goodbyes to my brother, I still sign “F-U cancer” at the end, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Our friend Myrna is barely holding on to a thread and we spend as much time as possible with her. The other evening I sat there with her, we did not pretend there was no cancer, we did not pretend to have false hopes but I just listened. Sometimes there is nothing to say, sometimes it’s just about listening and not saying “I understand” but “I heard you”.
    Thank you for you and all the things you give us through your words and your photos.

  8. Debbie Green says:

    I only “know” you through your blog, but thank you for being you. So honest and right to the point. Wish there were more people like you in this world….your writing is a gift.

  9. Manggy says:

    I don’t want to stop hoping, either.
    I keep typing something, then deleting, then restarting, over and over. I don’t think I have the right to even attempt to try to add anything. But my heart is always there, for you, for Bri. There if ever you need it. Ears/ eyes to take in whatever you want to share. I’ll reserve the brain for any time at all that you want to know something.

  10. Fiona says:

    I don’t really have anything to say – and certainly no insight to offer – but this post really moved me. We’ll be thinking of you and Bri.

  11. Cynthia says:

    Thank you for posting about Bri. I could find no updates, and I have been worried. Good post Jen.

  12. cookiecrumb says:

    Oh, jeezgod. I have met Bri. She’s a brave, brave lady who proudly walked around without a fake breast.
    I hadn’t heard of her dire condition recently. I am so sad.
    But. Life is what it is. I’ve had my two cancers (still dealing with the second; it’s pretty harmless).
    I think I know how you deal with it: You just do.
    Best wishes to you.
    To you all.

  13. Amy says:

    Jen, thank you for your honest and thoughtful words: I want you to know that there’s mutual breath-holding going on here, by me for you, too. :) I was also not one that had an interest in cancer support groups, but I am so thankful that I connected with you. Wish it hadn’t been through stupid cancer, but whatever.

    It may not always be easy to know the right thing to say, but sometimes just saying that — “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I still am here” — is all that is needed. I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. No drama, just loving presence and peace.

    Peace and a hug to you, Jen. :)

  14. barbara says:

    I popped over to Bri’s blog last week to see if there was any news. Thank you Jen for posting.

    Tartelette’s words are very wise. I got so sick of people saying when they heard about my cancer – “of course I could be knocked over by a bus tomorrow.” I’m sorry people, that doesn’t help. My other favourite hate is “oh you must be a Type C personality”. Yes, I have issues with my mother but it didn’t give me cancer.

    My best friend spent her last months in a hospice where I visited daily. Some evenings we had parties with pizza and wine, somedays I cooked a special meal and served it on a table set with white linen and silver and we drank champagne. Somedays I just sat and held her hand and listened. Just being there is all that is needed. Her hospice days are some of my happiest memories.


  15. Whitney says:

    Thank you for your post. I have nothing beautiful or insightful to say but I wanted to let you know that I really loved what you wrote.

  16. Maja says:

    I have no words, i just wanted to let you know that if you ever need a listener from another end of the world, i’m there. Big hug.

  17. Patricia Scarpin says:

    I had to look “hospice care” up, because it’s a term I had never seen nor heard before. I’m in shock, Jen. I still have faith, though.

    My mom asked my dad to remove us from the house on the weekend she died – she knew she was going to go that weekend. I went to my godmother’s house, and my brother went to a dear friend’s. I’m sorry for that – I wish she hadn’t done that. I wish I could have spent a few more minutes with her.

    I don’t know what to say in times like these, honestly. I suck at that. But I feel a turmoil of things deep inside my heart. I wish I could let it all out.

  18. peabody says:

    Ah yes the side effects. My mother has what she calles her hunch back where she randomly swells back there. And of course shirts never fit right anymore.
    This was a great post Jen.

  19. jennywenny says:

    Sorry you’re suffering still.

    Thanks for the continued insights into the way to behave around people with ilness and for asking and discussing these difficult questions. I think its really good to think about this, and to remember to support people when things get scary.

  20. Anita says:

    I’m always in awe of how honest and inspiring you are, Jen. You never ask for sympathy or false platitudes, you just lay it all out and in doing so make us do the same. I can’t pretend to understand all the pain you’re going through, but I appreciate that you don’t need or want empty reassurance. Life does suck sometimes, and can be scary and unfair, and I hope you know there’s a whole lot of us out there who hear you and care about you and will be there – just be there – for you. Hugs and Kisses

  21. Lori says:

    I admire you. All of you that I see on this blog, your strength, perseverance and passion. That is why I keep coming back. Yeah, and your food of course.

    Being a psychotherapist, you learn to shut up and not offer these these words just to make your own self feel better. Being there as many have said is the best we can offer. Giving the person what they need. Similar experiences; diverse reactions and needs.

  22. Mollie says:

    This is beautiful.

  23. mochachocolata-rita says:

    my sous chef has just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, the papillary one.

    there is no word good or bad enough to describe the feeling as we heard the word “cancer” or even “possibly cancer” from the doctor.

  24. jenyu says:

    Thanks all for your comments and sentiments. I continue to hope for Bri and feel for her and her loved ones. She is one remarkable young woman.

  25. White On Rice Couple says:

    hugs….great big one…not want to let go…..

  26. jenyu says:

    WoRC – xxoo

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