Haircuts and Anniversaries

I have a haircut coming up with Bledi-with-Scizzors. Bledi has been my hairstylist for at least fourteen years now, which is ridiculous. By now he owns the salon, and I’ve had three jobs since we met at Starbucks. Also by now we’re comfortable enough with each other that sometimes he will tell me what he thinks I should have done to my hair, and I will tell him I don’t care what he thinks or if it’s stylish, I just want long hair. But sometimes I get bored with the long hair (recently, I just haven’t had the patience to dry it–or the time, because we moved and my commute in the morning is 15 minutes longer). And so, when contemplating my upcoming haircut, I thought, “I think it’s time to get my occasional bob.”

Also because it’s October. If I ever get a bob haircut, it’s in October. There are two reasons for this: 1) By October it’s cold enough here I don’t feel the need to pull my hair off my neck in a ponytail; while I like to braid my hair in the summer. 2) October (appropriately, as it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month) is when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I had my hair cut in a bob to take an incremental psychological step toward readiness for shaving my head for chemo. Then I didn’t end up needing chemo, but sometimes I still get my hair lopped off in October.

2008 cancer haircut

I was thinking about this the other week, which is why I suddenly remembered that today is the tenth–tenth–anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I don’t often talk about my cancer because honestly, most of the time I feel like a “fake” cancer survivor, since, at the end of the day, it wasn’t really that bad for me. I had surgery and radiation, but no chemo. I had to take a hormone suppressant which gave me migraines with which I still struggle. I went back and read the relevant blogposts from my Original Blog and discovered that at the time, I really was pretty freaked out and it was a tough process emotionally–but it also was a pretty quick one, relatively speaking, and I had some amazing support around me.

Meanwhile, I have a friend who’s still trying to recover after a year of harrowing treatment, and another friend who has had cancers of various types at least 11 times. (I’ve probably lost count, I’m ashamed to say. It may have been more, at this point–but I hope not.) Also another friend was diagnosed within the last year; her diagnosis sounded really similar to mine, but she does need chemo, and she has a husband and two little boys and the chemo is doing a number on her. Stories like these brave women’s make me sad, and also make me uncomfortable about publicly celebrating the fact that I have basically been cancer free since they cut it out of me, and officially so for five years now.

On the other hand–I’ve been cancer free since they cut it out of me, and that’s ten years. And while I don’t understand why the above, and other, friends of mine haven’t gotten through their diagnoses as easily as I was able to get through mine, and while it would be ungracious of me (particularly since I had nothing to do with it) to brag about it, it would also be ungrateful of me not to note and celebrate it. I don’t take my cancer-freedom for granted. I know I could get it again. But I haven’t yet, and I’m deeply thankful. And so, in honor of my diagnosis and celebration of my current freedom from it, I’ll be pampering myself next Friday–and getting a haircut.

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Transmitters

When Christians try to encourage other people in the practice of journal keeping (a practice I highly recommend, by the way) they often cite as one of the reasons it’s a good idea the fact that a journal gives you a record of where you’ve been and what God’s done in your life. I can affirm this, but I can also tell you that I haven’t gone back and reread a journal in years, if not decades, because I tend to be verbose (I know–you’re shocked) and it kind of feels like really time-consuming self-absorption to me.

But apparently you can get similar benefits from going to your Facebook wall and clicking on a year in the sidebar that happened more than five years ago, and scrolling through all the posts. They’re shorter, they involve other people, and if you were a regular with the status updates like I used to be, they trigger a whole lot of memories and realisations and hopefully gratitude, in a much shorter period of time.

I say this from the experience of about five minutes ago. Earlier this evening I posted the following:

Someone asked me yesterday about all the hats I've worn at this job, but this one hat seems to me to analogise my roles better: one hat, lots of points.

Someone asked me yesterday about all the hats I’ve worn at this job, but this one hat seems to me to analogise my roles better: one hat, lots of points.

Two Thousand Eight was a pretty significant year for a number of reasons, but two of the reasons were that it was the year I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer (surgically–other treatment came later) and the year I began working at Now Church–which is about to stop being Now Church and just be Church, I guess. After I posted that picture, I thought, I wonder what else is on Facebook from that year. A lot, it turns out. I have, and have always had, it seems, a very supportive network of friends and family. Life moves people around and you lose touch with some of them. There were people supporting me through my cancer diagnosis whom I rarely if ever see now, but I’m grateful for them to this day, and I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made in the meantime. My overwhelming impression right now is of God’s constant, active, personal presence in life, both in the joyful and the painful times. The other impression, if my Facebook wall from 2008–or any other year, for that matter–is any indication, is that He most frequently makes His presence known through other people.

So thanks, past, present, and future friends, for transmitting God’s presence in my life, whether you know it or not.

Drinking the “Kool-Aid”

Whatever Wednesday: Workouts

Does this look like Kool-Aid to you?

Does this look like Kool-Aid to you?

Coach-Melissa and I met while working at Starbucks, when she wasn’t a Coach and I wasn’t a Director of Faith Formation and Outreach and neither of us were entirely loathe to drink lattes with syrup in them.

I do seem to remember Melissa reacting with horror to the posted calorie count of whatever new food or beverage item Starbucks invented at any given “roll out” period, and my being completely unimpressed because I have never counted calories so I don’t even know what that means, and actually, at the time I was frighteningly underweight and so from that standpoint might have benefitted from a few more syrupy drinks. I also remember that Melissa started getting into running the Boston Marathon and my thinking I never could nor would I be inclined to attempt something so crazy. But I also think she might have liked white mochas or something. I liked specialised con pannas, where I would fill up the little cup with whipped cream and pour three shots of espresso on top of it (instead of the other way round) and then drizzle half a bottle of caramel sauce over that.

Mmmmm . . . healthy.

Well, it is pretty delicious.

But fast forward a few years and I got cancer, and then Melissa was diagnosed with MS. She got married. I got married. Other stuff happened. Then our paths recrossed last year when, fed up with the “marriage 15” I had gained and couldn’t get rid of, and with my newfound back problems, I accepted her invite to join a seven-week fitness group she was running for free. On the first day we did an Insanity workout. It was . . . insane. I couldn’t move for about three days, but I was completely hooked.

Well, almost completely. I wasn’t going to spend any money to buy the workouts for myself, of course, nor was I going to drink any of the associated nutrition drink, Shakeology. Stuff’s expensive. I could go to Melissa’s workouts when I had a chance, and do some Jillian Michaels workouts I had at home in between. We had some protein powder at home if I wanted to make myself breakfast shakes. I didn’t like the idea of some kind of processed product I had to drink every day–and if I was going to do that, I would just drink what we already had in the house, rather than wasting it. I lost a little bit of weight, but the workouts at home were not any more inspiring than they had been before I started going to Melissa’s group. I didn’t do them all the time.

About nine months later, though, I was finally free of my Tamoxifen cancer meds, had used up all the protein powder for better or worse, and in the meantime had learned that Shakeology is naturally sourced, and loaded with 70 superfoods.

That was a good day.

That was a good day.

Also, Melissa’s story was pretty compelling.

Because I had also paid off a loan I had taken out for seminary, I decided to buy a challenge pack–a workout system with a month of Shakeology and see what I thought. I chose P90X3 and Vanilla Shakeology, and after a few false starts (the almost broken arm thing and a crazy stomach bug), I did that workout and drank those shakes every single day and feel better than I ever have in my life. I’ve been to the chiropractor once in about three months, when before I was stopping in at least every two weeks. I no longer have exercise-induced asthma attacks like I used to every time I exercised. Oh, also? I used to get multiple colds every winter, and Paul got a few, but the only one I had was at the beginning of my Shakeology “journey” lasted all of three days. Now I’m excited to try PiYo, the new pilates/yoga hybrid workout that Beachbody just launched last week.

You have to know (you might know, if you know me) that I’m not a bandwagon jumper. In fact, as soon as something I like or enjoy becomes a bandwagon, it usually takes all my fortitude to remain loyal to that thing. (I confess a lot of times I don’t even bother, although I suspect that shows a lack of integrity.) So you also have to know what a blow it was to my skeptic’s pride to like the workouts, but especially the Shakeology, as much as I absolutely do. But I really do. So much that now I’m selling it.

Even if I weren’t selling it, I’d probably talk about it here a lot, because I am such a fan, but if you were to send me a comment or email me at jenn@thatsajennstory.com to ask me about it, I wouldn’t say no, either. I’m probably not “rah-rah” enough for this–when I’m looking forward to something I say, in monotone, “I’m really excited.” And I am really excited, but I don’t know how to be genuine and appear excited at the same time. All the same, I can tell you, I genuinely believe both the shake and the workouts are amazing. They’ve helped me too much and I’ve seen enough other positive effects, that I truly believe it can benefit other people, too.

Coach-Melissa made this graphic for me. Emerald only means two customers, though. You could be the third!

Coach-Melissa made this graphic for me. Emerald only means two customers, though. You could be the third!

Not Dead Yet!

Memory Monday

Oh hi . . . pardon me . . . I used to blog here? Thanks for saving my spot!

Now that classes are over, finals are taken, papers submitted, course evaluations returned, the Seminary shut down, my final class enrolled in anyway, and a 2015 graduation applied for, maybe I will be able to return here time and again to keep this little site alive. I seem to remember remembering stuff on Mondays (we’re way ahead of Throwback Thursday here at the Jenn Stories), so here’s a memory–kind of.

Just before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2008, I went to a Garlic and Arts Festival in western Massachusetts, where I bought a head of garlic, the cloves of which to plant in the garden. I think I planted it shortly after my surgery–just long enough after for me to be able to get out and about. You can imagine that by the time I got around to planting it, I was rather preoccupied with other things, so I didn’t really take care to do it properly and was kind of surprised in the spring that anything came up from it at all.

Only . . . it wasn’t much. I never harvested it because it never really seemed to grow past a certain point, and I began to call it Confused Garlic, because over the next few years it would disappear in the spring and sprout again just before the snow came . . . but it never quite died, either. When I got married, I dug it up and transferred it here, just to see what would happen. What happened was, it continued to do its quirky garlicky thing. I replanted it in a different bed once, and it is still refusing to thrive, but also refusing to die. This fact might be made more remarkable by the fact that bulbs do not do well in our soil at the best of times (this fact would make another blogpost in itself).

But last year I took my Paul to the Garlic and Arts Festival and bought some new garlic for planting. I planted it in a nice new bed, and this spring my Paul acquired some composted manure and expanded our own compost bin. He layered this mix on top, and you can imagine how delighted I was to see this:

So green! So tall!

So green! So tall!

. . . instead of this:

Thin little fronds on the countertop

Thin little fronds on the countertop

So we went to visit the BroFam last week and the garlic-seller at the festival had said that garlic should be harvested in June, and hey! We came back and it was June! So yesterday I chose a “tester” plant to harvest. It was actually one of the runtier ones, comparatively, and yet look.

It extends beyond the top of the cabinet!

It extends beyond the top of the cabinet!

So it was a little deflating when the yield of this beauteous plant was discovered to be . . .

Nothing?

Nothing?

Suddenly, even the Confused Garlic looks more like garlic than that.

I mean, you know, relatively speaking.

I mean, you know, relatively speaking.

A Sunday Post

Seeing as I never post on Sundays, there’s not even a category to put this post in, but it seemed appropriate to write it, all the same. You see, I woke up this morning, and all those side effects I told you about yesterday? Were gone. I mean, like, not even here a little bit. G-O-N-E, gone.

I still plan on visiting a few doctors in the near future, and I know, it could have happened like this even if nobody had prayed about it, but . . . personally, I don’t think it would have. So, if you prayed–thank you.

Duerer-Prayer

Something

Saturday Snippets

I haven’t written a “snippet” in so long you probably forgot about them, but I’ve been planning this one all week. It was going to be about make-up. Today I changed my mind. It’s going to be about cancer. ‘Cause . . . you know. Make-up. Cancer. Interchangeable.

Okay, maybe not.

My What’s a Jenn Story? page frankly tells you that once I had breast cancer. In 2008, to be exact. What it doesn’t tell you is that, while I was able to avoid (refuse) chemo, I agreed to take a hormone suppressant called Tamoxifen for five years. If you do the math (but don’t worry–you don’t have to–I don’t like math, either) you can guess that I’m almost done. During my five years, however, studies have shown that women taking Tamoxifen have even more benefits if they take it for 10 years! Woohoo!

Here it comes, to save the day?

Here it comes, to save the day?

What previous studies (and people’s lives, doubtless) have also shown, though, is that sometimes? Tamoxifen causes other kinds of cancer. Uterine, specifically.

No. I don’t have uterine cancer. At least, I am choosing to believe that at this moment, I don’t have uterine cancer. Or any other kind of cancer. But I am having side effects. I’ve had them before. The most debilitating ones were migraines, which we talked about last year, and which went away for a while, though they’ve come back. But they’re still not as bad as they were, and therefore, they are not what’s concerning me right now. What’s concerning me right now is “Aunt Flo”–also known here as “the monthly visitor”–who arrived two weeks early, has been visiting for two weeks now and doesn’t look anything like she usually does. (Please don’t make me spell out what I’m actually saying here. This is bad enough.) She’s freaking me out.

A while back I observed that “everybody’s going through something,” and offered to pray for you if you are. Now I’m asking you, if you’re a praying kind of person, to please pray for me. I’m not sure for what, exactly. Maybe that I just not be worried. I’m not really afraid of cancer–or of dying–but I still don’t want to have it, and I love my life and my husband and guess I just want to stick around a while.

My Hair Is Falling, My Hair Is Falling (Out)!

Saturday Snippets

In contrast to the smiley man in the previous Snippet, I think I might be losing my hair. I’m so certain of it that I’m not even going to post a photo of the back of my head to prove it to you, because it’s too embarrassing.

Back when I got diagnosed with cancer and it was assumed I would be having chemo, I actually went wig shopping with a friend of mine, and then went to Bledi-with-Scizzors (I didn’t spell that wrong) and had him cut me a bob just so I could start getting used to something different. But then I didn’t end up needing chemo, so I simply kept the bob for a while and then grew it out.

4thofJuly2009

Although I’ve never had an easy time with my hair, I wouldn’t want to be without it, and it’s always been nice and thick. Every so often I’ll go through a phase where I seem to be shedding more than usual, but it’s never constant and I’ve never noticed much of a decrease in mass or volume . . . until recently. Recently, I’ve been pulling out handfuls of hair in the shower, in the way that women who have lost theirs to chemo describe it. I’ve also not been blow-drying it, but simply braiding it wet, because it’s been so hot here this summer. A couple of times, when I used a handheld mirror to see how the braid had come out in the back, I noticed a little queasily that the crown of my head seemed to be showing through my hair. I was hoping that it was just how I had pulled the braid strands, but yesterday I took a better look and have pretty much decided that that is not what is happening. It’s starting to make the passage where Jesus says not to worry because “even the hairs of your head are numbered” sound more ominous than I’ve ever thought it sounded before. And hey–I wasn’t worried. Until I started realising the hairs of my head are numbered.

“I’m going bald!” I cried out.

“Let me see,” said my Paul from his recliner in the living room. I went over and knelt down so he could look at the back of my head. “Oh,” he said soothingly. “It’s just your part. You just happen to have . . . an inch-wide one.”

I wailed again.

“Don’t comb over it,” he said. “Shave your head. You’ll look cute.”

He seems charitably unaware that if I did that I would look like Dopey of the Seven Dwarves, because my ears stick out and my head is the wrong shape to pull of a successful Sinead O’Connor look.

Then he started fantasising about the kind of wigs I could get. I guess it’s comforting to know my husband will still love me if I go bald, but still. I’d rather not.

Prehumous

This post is brought to you by Memory Mondays.

You know those adults who make up your life’s scenery when you’re a kid? Most kids have some sort of parental figures (good or bad, they directly affect our lives by their presence or absence), and if we’re lucky we have a few other adults who take a positive interest in our lives and sort of help bring us up, and then there are other adults that are just sort of around, but you get used to having them there?

When I was eight, my family moved from Honduras to New England so my dad could plant a church. Everybody we knew when we first got here seemed to have something to do with churches, and I kind of lost track of where we knew everybody from, but one couple around my parents’ ages that were “around” from the very beginning of that time were Wally and Linda. Wally and Linda had, ultimately, eight kids, though I don’t think they had that many yet when we met them. Some of their girls were around my age. Sometimes we would play together. I didn’t really know Wally and Linda, but they were always really nice, they always talked to me, and they were kind of comforting people to have in the background. You know. You’re a kid. You kind of take adults for granted, but sometimes it’s nice to know they’re there. I wish, though, that I when I moved back to Massachusetts in my 30’s, I would have grown up enough to take them out of that category. They reached out to me a few times, but they were always my parents’ friends, and for some reason it never occurred to me they could be my friends, or mentors, or something, too.

Wally has cancer.

It’s not like my cancer was. Apart from a legit miracle, this cancer isn’t going anywhere, and he isn’t going to survive it. He just found out his chemo isn’t improving anything, so he opted to quit. Today, the church he is currently serving had a tribute service. They must have invited all of New England. The place was packed, and for over an hour, people shared their memories of this remarkable man. I thought, I could have learned so much from this couple. I also thought, People should do this for every good minister. I know, clergy don’t have a very good reputation anymore, but I come from a family of good ones, and grown up in circles of other good ones. And let me just say that church work? Can be a pretty thankless job.

Wally and Linda had some tough times, even before the cancer. I never knew specifics, but these “tough times” lasted for ages or kept coming back or something. Maybe both. They hung in there, though, and hung in there, and hung in there some more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them not smiling. Still, as someone who has worked for churches on a lesser scale, I can’t imagine they didn’t have times where they wondered why on earth they were in this profession, and if it was doing any good and if anyone cared. I don’t really know how Wally felt, but as I walked into the church, from a parking lot away because the church parking lot was full, I myself got teary and wondered if he ever had any idea that he was important to this many people. And I thought how lovely it was that, this side of Heaven, he could find out.

Can I Take It Back?

It took me about two weeks to decide in the first place to post “Twisted Nostalgia.” Intellectually, I’m not superstitious; I know the cause-and-effect of magical thinking is a fallacy . . . but I still think magically. On a more gut-than-head level, I think about jinxing myself all the time. For those two weeks I thought, “If I post this, my cancer’s going to come back and I’m going to have to eat my words.”

Well, so far I don’t know that that has happened–I don’t believe that that has happened–but The Oncologist finally got back to me about my migraines yesterday, and this is what she said:

Why don’t you stop taking your meds for a week. If the migraines get better, we’ll know it’s related to the Tamoxifen, and we’ll work out another course of action. [Let me say, for the record, I’m not looking forward to learning what that might be. I’m pretty sure it’s not roots and berries.] If they don’t, I’d say we owe it to you to do a brain scan.

Owe it to me? Did you say brain scan?

Neither of those options sound good. Nor did becoming inextricably addicted to ibuprofen (which only sometimes works on my migraines, but the fact that it ever does is kind of helpful–and surprising), but from this side of the conversation, that’s almost sounding better. Don’t let that Twisted Nostalgia yadda fool you. I’m kind of a wimp. I don’t actually want to do any of this again. I just wanted to want to do it again. Without that particular fulfillment. Can I take it all back?

Taking it back with a smile

Oh My Head

Was that an 80’s thing, that expression, “Oh my head”? Or was it just a TheBro thing in the 80’s? I don’t remember hearing anyone else say it, but I feel like he must have picked it up somewhere. It was an alternative to taking the Lord’s name in vain. I always said, “Oh my word.” Which is probably appropriate, given my proclivities.

Right now I’m saying “oh my head” in a completely different context, and pretty much every day. I’m also not unaware of the irony of my “wishing to be ill” nostalgia of some days/weeks ago, given current circumstances.

So, back when I had cancer, after some considerable deliberation, it was agreed that I could opt out of chemotherapy. Which is good, and probably why I still sometimes feel nostalgic about those days. The opting out was conditional, however, on my submitting to a course of radiation therapy, and five years of a little drug I like to call Tamoxifen. (That’s because that’s what it’s called.) I heard all kinds of stories about Tamoxifen, too, but it still sounded better than chemo, and also, what’s not to like about not having your “monthly visitor” anymore? Tamoxifen messes around with a woman’s hormones, in hopes that cancer won’t continue to do so. At least, that’s how I understand it.

As predicted, I did initially experience certain menopause-like symptoms–primarily hot-flashes, which, as I was still working at Starbucks at the time, were about as un-fun as any slightly-older-than-I-am woman will tell you. (Working at Starbucks can be a surprisingly perspiration-making endeavour in any event, so adding hormonal shenanigans to the experience is not optimal.) The aforementioned “monthly visitor” became a little erratic. Other than that, nothing much happened. I mean, except for the “possible uterine cancer” scare last summer, which fortunately turned out to be nothing. And the migraines.

But even the migraines were more or less containable. My “visitor” never did stop visiting periodically, but now I always knew when she was on her way, because I would get a migraine first. Never more than once a month. However, let’s be honest. I wasn’t exactly being particularly diligent about taking the Tamoxifen every day. I wasn’t intentionally shirking my medicine-ly duties. But probably something about the uterine cancer scare (bad) combined with how marrying my Paul (good) totally upended my carefree-single schedule (that “carefree-single” part is a huge joke–I was probably the least carefree single you could ever hope to avoid), made it a little harder to “remember” to take the Tamoxifen every day.

Then my friend currently battling cancer started battling cancer, and when I told her I wasn’t the most disciplined Tamoxifen-taker, she sat me down to a big lecture and suddenly I have an alarm that goes off every morning to remind me to take it. I’ve been taking it every day for over a month. Which should be great–yay me and all that–except that within the last eight to ten days, I’ve had five migraines. Count them. Five. This morning’s had me rolling on the bed in pain, and then holding perfectly still on the bed in pain, and then running to the bathroom in nausea and . . . did someone just say TMI? Sorry guys.

So I’m thinking . . . all this goes to show it’s probably actually a good thing I’m taking Tamoxifen, right? I mean, if it’s kicking me in the head with migraines every day, maybe I can hope that it’s actually doing something beneficial in there, too? Maybe? And so maybe if I didn’t take it, the cancer would come back and I would be in worse shape than I am now, and I would get to relive my cancer nostalgia but realise it wasn’t as great a time as I remember it to be. Heck, if I can’t take a couple of headaches, let’s not even try to imagine what I’d be like with chemotherapy doses of poison running through my entire system.

It’s just that . . . the part of me that’s a hippie thinks I should just be able to take some herbs (no, not that herb–well, not necessarily) and drink lots of raw juice and not have to take any of these physically-crazy-making chemicals, and actually have it be more effective. I have a somehow-cousin who tried alternative treatments for a brain tumour, and they were completely unsuccessful, so I know, I’m probably pipe-dreaming. But it still seems like there should be something. Kind of like putting tea-tree oil on my toenail fungus. Wiped it right out. GONE. No more fungus. (Still TMI? I’m blaming the migraine.) Isn’t there something like that I could take to fight cancer instead of this stuff that’s making me feel like someone’s got their thumbs in my eyes and is squeezing upwards?