The Day Before Tomorrow

This is the last day of not knowing. Tomorrow I will hear the results of my pet scan, and receive a diagnosis and a plan of action from my oncologist. It’s been a week since he called me in for my ct scan results – enlarged lymph nodes in my left pelvic area that appear to be cancerous.

The pain was assumed to be from a car accident I was in last April. We couldn’t figure out why the pain hadn’t been resolving and I assumed there was a tear in the joint or something similar. I was scheduled to see a physiatrist to determine a course of action. Before that could happen, I had my 6 month appointment with my oncologist. I went back and forth about mentioning the pain to him. He always says to be aware of new and persistent issues, so I described what was going on to him. He decided a ct scan should be done, even though it sounded like it was from the accident, just to be safe.

I received a call the Monday following the ct scan and was told he wanted to see me that afternoon. It triggered a red flag, but I tried my best to not think the worst. In his office, he told me I have enlarged lymph nodes and that it appears to be cancerous. The enlarged lymph nodes are located by the nerves in that area and are pushing on them, resulting in the pain that has been keeping me from sleeping and doing much physical activity. I also appeared to have some spotting near my lungs and he wanted more testing to determine if it’s scarring or something worse. A pet scan was ordered to see what in my body would “light up”, so he could decide a plan of action. A needle biopsy is possible as well.

I appreciate how thorough he is and I trust him with my life. He hugged us and I know he felt awful. I don’t have blood markers. That means even with stage 3 cancer, my blood never showed it was there. Because of this we were unable to do blood draws to look for abnormal signs. We had to wait until I exhibited symptoms. It also kept us from catching this earlier. He mentioned doing another round of chemo with the same drugs to us. That I know how to do, so I’m hopeful that it’s the worst case scenario. I’ll know soon enough.

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Radioactive sugar injection. It’s in a tungsten tube to keep the exposure to a minimum for the person giving the injection.

I went in for my pet scan in Friday. The pet scan involves an injection of sugar based liquid dye that has radioactive tracers. You sit for 45 minutes while it moves through your body. You then lie down and are moved through a tube, much like an MRI. I experienced a moment of panic in the tube. It felt like a coffin. I closed my eyes and repeated to myself, ‘I’m surrounded by stars”, thinking of the darkness behind my eyelids as the desert night sky that I grew up with. It helped and I made it through. I highly recommend finding a comforting mantra to repeat in times of stress like that

That was Friday. Today is Monday. Tomorrow I find out the results. I’ve distracted myself this weekend with outings with friends, a concert, and a dinner and movie date with my wife. Today I went to the gym. I walked the treadmill for a little while and then ended by doing 5 minutes on the elliptical – a first. It may be nothing to others, but it was a milestone.

My body is weak, from years of recovering from car accidents and cancer treatment. I should have worked out more before now, but like many, I got busy living my post-cancer life. I don’t play the shame game and am doing what I can, where I’m at. Soon enough, I’ll know what new path I’m on and we will make a plan. I will keep doing my best to move my body and stay positive. It’s where I’m at. I will communicate with you soon, from the other side of tomorrow.

 

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This is Why I March

Yesterday I participated in the Women’s March in Portland, Oregon. They estimate 100,000 people attended and it was an amazing sight to behold. There were people of all genders and ages, everywhere you looked, holding signs, playing drums, chanting, and parading around in impressive costumes, pussyhats in many colors, and rain gear.

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I chose to carry a sign I made that addressed the reality of losing my healthcare through the ACA, aka Obamacare. 18 million people, including myself will lose health coverage in the first year if the ACA is repealed. This includes children, elderly people, and some of the most vulnerable among us. The new movement in our government to eliminate rights and protections from those who are not wealthy goes against what our country was founded on. It certainly doesn’t represent the religious values those same politicians keep saying they represent. Jesus did not turn away those in need. He did not call them moochers and tell them to “get over it”. We are at a crossroads ethically and spiritually.

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This country is a place built on welcoming immigrants, lifting up the oppressed, and offering opportunities to those who are seeking a better life. The most well known quote from the Statue of Liberty sums it up:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus

Yesterday, around the world, women and those who support them, gathered, marched, and shared a message of hope and unity. Since November 7th, many have felt lost, alone, frustrated, and angry. The message coming from the GOP and especially from the newly elected President has been one of aggression, division, exclusion, lies, oppression, and all under the threat of violence and repercussions for speaking out against the new rule. The people that gathered were strong, proud, determined, and most of all, supportive of one another. They also were happy. Happy to be out expressing all of the frustration and emotions we had been suffocating under since November.

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There were so many signs, saying so many important things – everything from “women’s rights are human rights” to “viva la vulva” to “black lives matter”. There were men carrying signs that said, “It’s time for white men to listen to women”, “feminist”, and, “I’m with her”, the words surrounded by arrows pointing to others around them. Children carried signs they made themselves, one of which said, “I’d make a better President because I care about ALL people.” The feeling in the air was joyous and emotional, and the crowd seemed to be endless.

We were towards the front of the march and when we reached the end, we stopped and stood and watched the crowd walk by for over an hour. As I kept holding up my sign, many people’s eyes met mine and I could feel the moment of recognition of me being a cancer survivor. There is something in the faces of those who see me as a cancer survivor, a softness, an empathetic look in their eyes. It’s emotional, seeing those faces looking back at me, acknowledging me and what I’ve been through. There is a strength to being seen and acknowledged.

A woman approached me and told me that she was in the same situation, that she had received healthcare through the ACA just before being diagnosed with breast cancer. If she hadn’t had coverage, she would have ended up homeless. She gestured towards the city behind us, where so many are homeless, as she made that statement. She took my hand and we looked into each others eyes and nodded, “But we are still here and we are okay”, I said and I felt myself getting teary eyed. “May I hug you? I feel like I need to hug you.”, I asked. We hugged one another and then she was off, to chant and join back into the march.

 

A number of people in the crowd stopped and hugged me. Some gave me a hi-five. Others looked directly at me and raised their fist in the air in solidarity as they marched by. Some women stopped long enough to take my hand and tell me they too were cancer survivors. There was such connection there, and I will never be able to describe the magnitude of emotions I felt. Another woman stopped and hugged me tightly, as if she were my mom and she hadn’t seen me in a while. There was such unconditional and genuine caring involved in this gesture that I could feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes. She let go of me and we nodded and smiled at each other. In that moment, a person stopped to ask if they could take a photo of me with my sign. I turned and smiled, with tears in my eyes. Little did they know what they actually captured in that moment.

So, back to the title of this blog, why do I march? I march because girls are learning younger and younger what it is like to be treated as sexual objects by our society, while being told repeatedly that their looks determine their worth and their future. Younger and younger, they are becoming the victims of sexual predators and sex trafficking. Because society tends to blame the victims who report sexual assault of any kind and say they did something to deserve it. Because white males are serving little or no time for heinous crimes against girls and women. Because athletes are seen as more valuable than the girls they take advantage of at parties.  Because even with video evidence and witnesses, judges are giving minimal sentences and saying “boys will be boys”.

I march because I have two high school aged nieces and when I look at Donald Trump, I see a person who was going to court on child rape charges, until his followers used threats of violence to silence the victim. I see a person who has sexually assaulted more women than I can count, and then bad mouthed them all and forced them to back down through intimidation or payoffs. I see a person who has bragged about getting away with these activities and then called the women liars and whores. I see a person who has used fraud as a way of doing business, costing many small businesses to go under. I see a person who has used religion and lies to further a dark agenda against those who are in need and the most vulnerable within our society. I see someone so insecure that he is willing to throw away segments of the population to gain more money and power over his enemies. Someone who uses that power to crush anyone who questions his actions. I cannot stand idly by when this is considered the “new normal”.

 

I march for the oppressed, for those without a voice. I will not watch as a government majority unites against the people, against women, and against minorities. I am speaking up on my own behalf and for those who need and deserve respect. We all deserve to be treated equally. The open racism and bigotry that has come with the election and now the inauguration is frightening. The reemergence of swastikas, the normalization of Nazi worship and the KKK, and the rise of anti-lgtbq and anti-women movements is alarming, to say the least. We need to raise our voices against this new dark direction.

Back to talking about the ACA. We all deserve healthcare. The loss of dignity that comes from not being able to afford healthcare in the wealthiest country in the world is something no one should have to endure. Had I been diagnosed earlier, which I couldn’t be, because I could not afford insurance because of a pre-existing condition, I would not have had to go through chemo. Because getting diagnosed was delayed for years, my cancer spread. Had I gone another year without care, I would have been in “end of life” care with no options. This is the reality of not having access to preventative care.

People seem to think you can just show up at the ER or a clinic somewhere and get the testing and care you need. Nope. You cannot walk into the ER and say, “something is wrong and I think I may have cancer or something else horribly wrong with me.” They will send you home. That is the reality people like me lived with before the ACA and what we are facing once again. There are people who will die without continual treatment for cancer, diabetes, and so on, and this includes children and people of all backgrounds.

I will speak up for them and I will march every chance I get, because it’s what needs to be done. I am still alive and I have a voice. I will stand up for future generations of girls and minorities, who deserve better than what our society offers them today. We need to fight the darkness and stand up for what’s right. I believe in love and I want to make this a better world for future generations. Hope can be restored, if we look for it and work towards it. Yesterday was a good start. Compassion and empathy are the true measure of a person’s character and we are up against it right now. We are being tested. United we can answer the call and change the path we are on. I truly do believe this. Join me?