Tick-tocks and time warps (And, how I almost kissed a stranger)

How can it possibly be September 19th? And also, how can it possibly be only 7pm? The days fly by; the nights tick…tock like, well, I suppose like some days did while I was still off work. Lots of hours to sit and hold my breath on the couch. These days, I am trying to establish a more dynamic rhythm. Incorporate movement into my hours in the house. Back to cleaning routines. Back to attacking the ever-growing laundry mountain. Back to homework routines, bedtime routines, morning madness, lunch-making. Back to Friday night movie night and Saturday sleep-ins. There is huge comfort in familiar routine, and in the ability to manage these routines with energy that was significantly absent a year ago. Now if I can just get myself out walking again. All of these things take time. There are days when I push myself a little too hard, and I feel it. One day during week two, the full week back at work, I had an appointment at 9:30 in the morning, and so I figured I’d just go to work early once it was done. This meant I arrived a good hour and a half early. I followed that up with coaching soccer until 4pm, in a t-shirt in 11 degree weather. Normally I would have laughed it off and said man that was cold and gotten on with my evening. That night, my boys went off to their dad’s for dinner, I had a hot bath and thought I’d close my eyes for a few minutes. Two hours later I woke up, startled, out of such a deep sleep that I actually thought it was almost 7 in the morning and I had missed my alarm. After jumping out of bed and frantically trying to figure out where I was, what day it was and whether or not I needed to wake the kids (who weren’t there) up, the self-talk that followed went something like this: Self, you are working half-time for a reason. Stop going to work early. You don’t even know what planet you’re on you’re so tired.

This past week I have been very obedient, and have substituted early morning meetings and early-to-work with mid-morning naps and an extra cup of coffee. And I’m bringing a jacket to soccer practise, because it would appear that we may be skipping fall entirely and just heading straight into winter this year. And, at times like these, when I think about the changing of the seasons, I realize I’ve gotten to see them one more time. Last year, I didn’t know if I’d be here to see the fall. This year, I don’t know if I’ll be here to see next fall. But I do know that I made it through this year, and now the possibility of making it through the next one seems like more of a possibility. And every year when that happens, the next will seem more likely. But enough about that.

On a very much lighter note, about how I almost kissed a stranger last week.

I was standing in line at the grocery store and a woman tapped me on the arm and uttered the most beautiful words I have heard in a very long time.

I’m sorry to bother you. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but… (and here I poise myself, ready for the cancer questions. Could she give my name to her friend, sister, mother, someone else who has cancer? Was I the one who wrote the cancer articles in the paper? It had to be something like that coming.)

Nope. This lovely creature said nothing about cancer. She had no idea I had had chemotherapy, or that I was wearing prosthetics. Or that for over a year and a half I have hated mirrors. Or that I haven’t felt that bald feeling lift, even though I’m no longer bald.

Can I ask you who cuts your hair? It makes me want to cut mine off it’s so cute!

These were the words she so innocently said to me. Of course out of my mouth came all sorts of oh-my-god-you-have-no-idea-what-that-means-to-me, and explanations for the excess curliness, and blatherings-on about how much I have hated my hair since chemo. The poor woman probably wanted to turn and run away. But she actually wanted to know who cut my hair. And she didn’t know by looking at me that I am recovering from cancer treatment, and recent surgeries, or that I don’t sleep at night. She didn’t think it looked okay all things considered. She had no back story. And I almost embraced this woman in the line at the grocery store, because she made me feel transformed.

She just thought I had great hair.

The good hair day deserved a selfie.

The good hair day deserved a selfie.

If I really believed I’d turned that corner into looking like a normal person, I probably would have just said thank you, that’s so nice, and told her who  my hairdresser was. I wouldn’t have felt compelled to vomit my entire story out on her. But it is awfully nice to know that I have reached a point where someone thinks I have chosen to look like this. Perhaps next time some stranger says something, I will leave it at thank you, tell them who my hairdresser is, and walk away, leaving behind me the illusion that I’m just some normal, non-cancery girl with great hair. How wonderful would that be?


Reconnections, celebrations, and very well-timed invitations

September 3rd, 2014. A big day on several fronts. Exactly one year ago today, I completed the second and longest portion of my treatment for cancer. I had my 8th chemo treatment 365 days ago. The PICC line came out that day, granting me the freedom to swim, shower, paddle, do more of the things that I loved. We celebrated afterwards at my house, a gathering which is hazy in my memory due to the number of drugs I had in my system. Benadryl, Taxol, three different kinds of steroids, Ativan, the list was long. I was very relieved to be done with it, and my family and friends carried me through that last day, wearing wigs and boas to my treatment and celebrating with me afterwards. There was a crowd with me all day, applauding when I rang the bell signifying the end of chemo. The support of my friends and family was overwhelming, and for that I found myself very, very lucky.


This was one year ago today. The funny thing is that my hair actually looks a lot like Tiffany's if I let it do what it wants to do.

This was one year ago today. The funny thing is that my hair actually looks a lot like Tiffany’s if I let it do what it wants to do.

Different people have stepped up at different points over the past year and a half, supporting me in whatever ways I have needed. Yesterday, when I sat down at my first staff meeting in a year and a half, I was very anxious, to say the least. Worried that I would break into a full body sweat if I had to speak, and that would set off a chain reaction.

Anxious – full-body sweat – hair starts to curl – really anxious – more sweating – tighter curls – metamorphosis into a very red chia pet with clenched hands and sweat running down its back- desperate need to flee – yoga breathing, etc.

So when I sat down in my usual seat in the back row, next to my usual seat mate (and yes, I asked him in advance), and then arranged ‘my people’ around me as they walked in, I knew I was going to be okay.  They don’t know what that did for me or how much I needed that something familiar. They will never know how much I appreciated the fact that even though they were freezing cold and eventually had to add layers of clothing, the fan was placed right behind me so that I could stay cool as a cucumber and avoid the chia pet look. It probably wouldn’t occur to them that the reason I was able to contribute to discussions and not completely launch myself into the above cycle when I was called on to introduce myself was that they were surrounding me. Later, when I had questions about new buzzwords, or lost login passwords, or forgotten photocopier codes, they were all met with smiles, generosity and patience. I am truly getting a soft landing in my return to work. They’re even granting me a week’s grace before they start making me blush at the staffroom lunch table. (Really, it’s sport to them.)

This morning, before I went into my classroom to start my portion of the day, a student launched herself at me with a hug on her way to the washroom, and squeezed me and told me she missed me SO much. So that was a nice way to take that walk to my room. When I peeked my head in to sneak some papers into my cubby, a few of the students caught me and whispers turned into exclamations, and they all sounded like happy ones. A lovely sneak peek.  Later, in class, when my former students chimed in as I was explaining to some newer students how, in Madame Gouthro’s class, if you speak English you do 20 push-ups (I changed it to 10 this year, because I do them with them, and my arms are not exactly in push-up shape right now), I realized that, no matter how much I’ve gone through and how much I know I am changed, I’m familiar to them, and that – well, that reminds me of me. And that’s kind of a nice feeling.

What better way to celebrate the chemoversary than to feel familiar to myself, and to reconnect with someone who’s been estranged for so long?

We reunited today, Madame Gouthro and I. She's a little weaker than I remember. But she'll toughen up.

We reunited today, Madame Gouthro and I. She’s a little weaker than I remember. But she’ll toughen up.

It gets better. After work, which really is wiping me out this week, I wanted to do something special for me and the boys to celebrate the chemoversary. Checking my balance, I decided I should watch my money until I figure out how this new pay schedule is going to work. I sent the boys for a walk with the dog, and dug around in the freezer, finding lovely vacuum-packed burger patties a friend made for me last fall. And here I thought they were all gone. As I was getting excited about that, another friend who lives close-by texted to say my boys were visiting, that they had dropped by and were entertaining her boys, and would we like to join them for dinner? Burgers, I will savour you tomorrow. Tonight, it’s dinner out! We had found ourselves a place to celebrate.

I brought the centrepiece.

Happy to be walking to dinner so that I could celebrate with friends.

Happy to be walking to dinner so that I could celebrate with friends.

Tanya, looking forward to celebrating two years post-chemo.

Madame Gouthro, welcome back.