Sunday, October 19, 2014

Missing the Ta-Tas

It's breast cancer awareness month. Everywhere you look you see pink. At the mall. On Facebook. On the news. It's unavoidable. For those of us who are personally acquainted with the disease, it's a harsh reminder of how it's affected us personally.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about promoting awareness. But it's painful on so many levels for those of us who have lost loved ones, been physically deformed by the cancer, and who will always live with the "threat" of recurrence.

It's been over 25 years since my mom died from metastic breast cancer. It's been over 14 years since I found my lump and had a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. It's been over 5 years since I learned I was a carrier of the BRCA gene. It's been over two years since my daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer and made the difficult decision to take preventative measures against recurrence. It's been a year since I lost my ta-tas. All the pink awareness in the world can't take away the pain of how this disease has touched every aspect of my life.

Lately, I've been missing the ta-tas. I never thought I would say that. I never thought I would miss those cumbersome appendages on my chest, that were always "too large' for everything. But I miss them. It's a grief process and since I made the decision (partly because of my heart issues) not to have reconstruction, it's a constant reminder every day when I look in the mirror that this disease has damaged and deformed not only my body, but my life.

I'm not really a "breast cancer survivor". I'm a wounded warrior with the physical and emotional scars of the battle. A fellow breast cancer victim and Facebook friend, Julie Goodale, put it quite simply (read her entire post):

Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon. It’s a disease. It’s a really sucky disease. There is no cure. Let me repeat that: there is no cure. This is not the “good” kind of cancer. Early detection does not mean that it can be cured. We are all forever at risk of recurrence. Over time, the risk does go down, but it never disappears. While there are some cancers that doctors consider “cured” if it hasn’t returned in 5 years, breast cancer is not one of those. Breast cancer can and does return – the original cancer – years later. Twelve years, 15, 27 years later.

Maybe it’s just that after 13 years, I’m tired of losing friends and acquaintances to breast cancer. I’m tired of hearing about how this is the “good” kind of cancer – I mean, if you have to get cancer…. I’m tired of hearing how it’s all behind me. I’m tired of welcoming more friends into this community. And I’m really tired of saying goodbye.

Yes. I miss the ta-tas. But it's so much more than that. I miss what life was like before cancer reared its ugly head in my life. I miss what I used to call "normal" and what my Mom said would never be again. So for those of you fellow wounded warriors out there, don't forget that even though it's "pink" month, the only real awareness is the one that comes from knowing that breast cancer kills, mames, and destroys lives. It's not about wearing a pink ribbon. Have a conversation with someone who has been through it--it's a sucky disease.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Getting old

getting old

Getting old sucks. At least part of the time. I remember listening to my Dad talk about all his ailments and wonder why he couldn't simply enjoy life. But now I know. It's difficult. The problem is my body is getting older but I feel young inside. There's a constant battle because I want to do the things I did at 25 but I'm not able to anymore. It's frustrating and often annoying.

But it's not that way for everyone. I remember my aunt who lived to be 96. She never seemed old or frustrated with her limitations. She embraced every day with a positive outlook. I wish I was more like her.

Don't get me wrong. There are days when I'm thankful for every day I'm still here, especially when I look into my grandkids eyes or I get to spend time with my kids. My Mom died when she was 55. I know she would have given anything to still be here enjoying her kids and grandkids. Thinking about that makes me feel ungrateful.

Aging is the hardest part of life. When you're young you can't wait to get older, graduate from high school, go to college, get married and have kids. Then your kids start having kids and you realize just how quickly the time passes. That means you should be grateful for every day; at least that's the proper response. But it's not always the easy one.

When I think back on my life, I feel like I've only begun to live. There are so many places I want to see--see Francisco, go back to Paris, visit Italy, hike part of the Appalachian Trail, There are so many milestones I want to be here for--E's and W's graduations, weddings and great grandchildren. It's looking forward that makes the here and now more bearable.

If you concentrate on the past, the ailments, and the struggles, you miss out on the joys of the here and now. That's the key to growing old--embrace the joy, look toward the future, and cherish the memories. There is no pain great enough to overcome those blessings in life.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, May 16, 2014

Having a Mother's Heart

It's 11:14PM on a Friday night and I'm watching a live feed from a graduation in Hawaii. No, it's not one of my children. At least it's not one of my "blood" children. She's one of my adopted daughters. And yes, I have many.

During high school, my daughter's friends used to call me Mommy Shaffer. When she went to college they did the same. I have watched all these girls grow into women, some of them are mothers themselves. I've been to their weddings, sat by them in the hospital, and helped them welcome their own children into the world. Some have graduated from college, graduate school, and gotten a Ph.D. I couldn't be prouder of them.

You see, my heart is big enough to love all of them. I've watched them struggle. I've watched them go through horrible pain. I held them when they cried. And I've been able to share in some of their proudest moments--graduating from college.

Even though they might say that I've been a blessing in their lives, I am the one who has been blessed. It's like I had 20 more children and I've gotten to be a part of their lives, just as they have mine.

So tonight, while they are on the M's I'll finish this up by saying: Congratulations Cassie. Of all my adopted daughters you have grown the most. You have become a loving, kind, compassionate young woman, wife and mother. You've pushed yourself to overcome much adversity and accomplished more than I bet you even thought was possible.

And to all those other "daughters" of mine: Cara, Rose, Renee, Tamara, Candice, Rosa, Jen, and so many others that have come in and out of my life, I'm proud of all of you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

After losing a loved one. . . What's next?

He was . . . a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
Isaiah 53: 3-4

In one of my favorite shows, "The West Wing", the President always said, "What's next?" Anytime he was finished with a discussion, he would spout that off and everyone knew it was time to move on. I hadn't heard anyone use those words in that context before I attended a funeral this week. It certainly made me think.

The young man's father was trying to make sense of the fact that he lost his son. I can't even begin to comprehend what that feels like. Although I know when I lost my mother I experienced some of the same emotions he talked about and some of the same questions. Over and over again, as he did, I asked God why. Why did she have to die? Why did my young kids have to lose a grandmother that they loved?

But, as he pointed out, we will never be able to understand why. And, unfortunately it's not for us to do so. All we can do, with conviction, is say, "What's next?" The conversation is over, there's nothing more to be said or interjected, so it's time to move on. It's hard to accept, but it's the only way to make sense of it all.

What's next? What does God want us to do with the life we are left with?

One thing is for sure, God knows how we feel. He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He knows. He understands. As much as we think the "why" would help, it's not going to bring our loved one back. All we can do is trust that God has a plan and he's with us through it all--a constant companion through the grief.

If you've recently lost someone and are struggling to understand why, take this father's advice and ask, "What's next?" Moving on may be the hardest and the best thing you ever do to work through the grief.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bentley Tyler-Our Handsome Boy

Ten years ago Bentley came into our lives. He was playful and full of life. He loved burrowing under the covers and we fell head over heels in love with this handsome boy. Even though he was a dog, he acted like a small child, as most dachshunds take on human qualities.

Bentley was human in every respect. He pouted, got his feelings hurt, acted out and showed more love than many humans are capable of giving. He was my grandpuppy and I loved him. When I went to visit he was so excited because I always brought him a present. He would start sniffing my suitcases, looking for the surprise and would jump up and down when he found it. His favorite treat was scrambled eggs and when I came to visit, I made a point to fix them for him while I was there.

At Christmas I would give the grandpuppies 24 days of presents. They were just as excited as toddlers to get their daily gift. He loved his Christmas stocking as much as a child and Christmas morning was such fun as he always tried to help unwrap the presents and was always in the middle of the morning excitement.

We bring pets into our lives knowing that they won't be with us long. But when the day comes that they leave us, we feel the loss more deeply than we could have ever imagined. Bentley filled our hearts and lives with memories during the ten years he was with us. He bought joy into our lives and there will be a void in our hearts now that he is gone.

He was a gift from God and we were all blessed to have him with us, but it will take time to heal and replace the hurt with the memories. But for now, here's a tribute in pictures. 

Bentley Tyler Shaffer Spengler