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Laurie Markvart's Diary of Nothing Left Unsaid

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cancer

IT’S OKAY NOT TO FEEL OKAY ALL THE TIME

 

Editor note: foul language in used sporadically and necessarily.

IT’S BEEN A YEAR since I blogged, and not because I didn’t have anything to write. Basically, I couldn’t pull the words from my mucky brain and put my fingers to the keyboard.

Like so many people this last year, I lost my ability to do things that used to be pleasurable, like writing. It wasn’t for the pandemic lockdown; it was my mental lockdown. Many of us suffered from the unknown and the loss of normalcy. I, for one, was carrying so much anxiety and stress my brain kept pausing, and it was hard to restart. Like my 2015 MacBook Pro. Anyway, to do daily functions was one thing, but writing and being creative was another. The most significant pressure I felt was to act okay even when things were not okay.

See, I was brought up with token comments in which a lot of us were given by our parents. It was their way to encourage us as well as to remind us not to complain. The latter being the main one, I’m sure. My mom grew up during the depression, and my dad was a two-time war veteran (WWII & Korea), so there was no room for complaining in their eyes. Here are some of their good one-liners in which I’m sure you’ve maybe heard from your parents or society, too. Here we go: Oh, you’ll be just fine. Hey, it isn’t as bad as it seems. You don’t have it so bad. The best one: Other people have it far worse. And you know what? Some people DID and DO have it far worse, but I’m not living in their shoes. I have deep sympathy or empathy for them depending on their situation, but at the expense of acknowledging my pain? Sorry Mom and Dad, but this past year sucked, and I’m tired of acting like it didn’t. Things were as bad as they seem.

I got a trifecta punch last year:

  1. January 2020, a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis.
  2. March 2020, COVID shut down the world.
  3. April 2020, I lost my job due to COVID layoffs. 

I am always one to find silver linings in things. I even blogged about it around this time last year, but what I’ve discovered is, it’s easy to find the silver lining at the beginning of a marathon (2020), not so much by the 24th mile (now). By this point, I’m like, okay, some people have it far worse, but I’m tired of putting on my marathon face that I’m okay. Some days, A LOT OF DAYS, I’m just not. How about you?

So, I’m going to write from a very transparent place. Not that I didn’t before, but I did it under the guise, like most of us do, that we don’t want to complain or be negative. Before today, I always felt like I needed to sound hopeful. Be optimistic. But I have been at this Cancer, COVID, job loss thing for a year now, and it sucks. It has tested and tried me. It has made me question my sanity, body, health, faith, friends, medical professionals, and family. At times, it has broken my heart and killed my finances. Cancer is not cheap. Not in the US anyway.

Before 2020, I was a person with a strong level of anxiety from years of loss, genetics, stress. Name it—General Anxiety Disorder and then some. I’ll admit to it now. For a time, I didn’t admit it because I didn’t want to seem vulnerable or have any discussable mental issues. Or be negative! Well, screw that. I’m human. In the past I managed the anxiety with meditation, medication, Yoga, distractions, working, playing live music, etc., and staying upbeat. I can be very optimistic to a fault. I’m a whistle while I work person until 2020 HIT. I tell you, if you don’t deal/process losses and heartbreaks, truths, they’ll come crashing in when you’re hit with something like a trifecta. Suddenly, you need ALL your emotional and mental resources, and what if they are tapped?

My trifecta last year resurrected a lot of fear, anxiety, and depression in me that I thought I had dealt with. When you’re given a cancer diagnosis, and you realize, “Oh shit, I can die?” it brings a lot to the surface. Things like old fears, regrets. Am I doing what I’m supposed to do with my life? Have I been the best parent? All of it comes crashing in. And then you get stuck at home because of the pandemic and lose your job. Now it’s like, oh shit, I’m stuck at home with myself and I’m not sure I even know who is looking back in my reflection because I’m not familiar with her or anything right now! Yet, she is the woman I need to fight for! I kept thinking, this is fucked up. But I’d forge ahead with gusto ’cause I figured if that’s all I have, this reflection and memories of my parents telling me I don’t have it so bad, I will fight. But gusto does fade.

And hey, of course, I knew I could die. Overall. Generally. BUT it doesn’t come into complete focus on our mortality until this type of diagnosis. Or COVID taping on all our shoulders. Suddenly, we all became very vulnerable. A caveat…not all cancer is a guarantee of death, nor is COVID. It doesn’t have to be that grim, BUT it sure can feel like it when you’re alone, away from familiar places, people, and family (due to pandemic, of course). And with cancer, the doctors paint it that way. Grim. It’s terrifying. 

I was alone when I received the diagnosis and treatment plans, and it still rocks me to this day. At that time, I realized how much I missed my mom and dad—the ones who used to tell me that things aren’t as bad as they seem. I then needed them to say that exact thing, while sitting there shuttering and crying, in that doctor’s office, even though I knew their comment was bullshit, on some level. But maybe it would’ve made me feel better? Maybe that was my parent’s intention all along?

My parents are gone. My dad passed in 2006, my mom in 2016. They are some of the losses I speak of above. I guess we never stop needing our parents, especially if we were close to them and when something extremely unsettling happens like my trifecta. But during those times of being alone, I also realized how strong my parents made me. I handled the situation. All of it. I’m still handling it. But I’m getting tired. And annoyed, frustrated, angry, beaten. Sound familiar with anything you’re feeling with COVID, etc.? Again…the marathon analogy. We are effective and strong at the beginning of a marathon, but closer to the end, we struggle. Unless we’ve run a ton of marathons. I hadn’t run this specific marathon before.

I wish I would have paced myself in the beginning of 2020, but I didn’t know any better. Did any of us foresee an end to the pandemic? We still don’t! But speaking of the end…is there an end with cancer? The doctors say I’m clear because of recent blood tests and scans but for how long? I’ll need scans again the end of this year. And I’m still in treatments. Oops…stay positive and uplifted, Laurie! 

The cancer doctors toss a lot of statistics at the situation because that’s all they have. From what the doctors say, I need to make it to ten years to not worry about a reoccurrence. Ten years of worrying about this?! And even then, it’s no guarantee. Cancer can still come back. Talk about the importance of living in the NOW! My oncologist told me that I need to go on with life like normal, except with better attention to my health, of course. But, uhm…there is nothing ordinary about a post-cancer, pandemic, jobless world. But my optimism says, “Sure there is Laurie, just find it.” This much I know is true. I always adapt.

Okay, there have been fantastic things that happened in the past year. I can see the beauty too. Still, I would rather have had these things happen WITHOUT cancer, pandemic, and a job loss. I mean, come on! Sure, I’m grateful for what I have, but again I’m tired. Have I said tired enough? So here are my “fantastic” from this past year:

The pandemic time off has given me the chance to incorporate a new healthy anti-cancer lifestyle. That’s a big bonus. HUGE! Can I say a new Vegan diet! LOVE it. Well, not all the time. I am transparent here! I’m craving a giant Wisconsin beer bratwurst right now and cheese sticks. Add in some chocolate cake. But I digress.

I wasn’t looking for it, but I fell in love in May of last year, and I must say for as scared as I was at the start of the cancer journey in January, this man swooped in and had taken care of me like I could not have imagined. He was and still is one of the greatest gifts of 2020. He’s a fighter in the ring and out, and he continues to show me how I can be too. Well, not in the ring. I leave the Muay Thai to him.

I started a new creative writing project that has brought me joy, laughter, and hope that maybe, just maybe, I can still have a future as a writer, creator, and entertainer. If cancer doesn’t get me, that is. See! This is the shit people with cancer, and other life-threatening diseases have running through their heads at first. I want to laugh at my comment ’cause it’s morose but true. I assume this dramatic thinking will too pass as the years go on and I move beyond the marathon.

I adopted two kittens who have rocked my world. A boy and a girl. Siblings. I named them after my favorite singers, Freddie Mercury and Annie Lennox. The cats are sweet, gorgeous, a little wild, and a great distraction to anyone’s woes of life.

I have regained my faith in Jesus, and in these times of despair, I do lean on my faith, but dang under such turmoil, sometimes I lost my focus on showing up. So, I trust God has me.

I’ve become much closer to my 18-year-old son. He is such a strong young man. When I complain, he tells me like it is, and wow, he’s an old soul and smart as a whip, very much like my dad. Sometimes my son says, “You’ll be fine. Don’t worry about cancer so much.” I could take his comment as dismissive or up-lifting. I choose up-lifting but I can’t help hear my dad’s voice when my son speaks.

So, as I reflect on this past year and my see-saw of emotions, I’m going to be simply honest: it’s exhausting always to be grateful and positive. To act like everything is okay, to stuff real, raw feelings down. Especially at the 20th mile. Or 24? I don’t even know what mile I’m on. My doctor says its an eternal marathon. He’s probably correct.

I didn’t want to jump on the fuckcancer hashtag bandwagon because I thought I would become a victim of the saying. Well, shoot, some of this cancer stuff IS out of my control. But I also realized my diagnosis and treatment was a walk in the park compared to others, so I didn’t want to take on their more deserved banner. Some others DO have it worse. But as time has gone on, I’m on their team, and they are on mine. We didn’t ask for this. And it sucks for all of us. And it all has worn me down, so yea, #fuckcancer. And #FUCKCOVID too. Too many people have been affected by it. It’s messed up. And that job loss of mine, well, if losing that job brings me closer to my true calling of writing, creating, and performing…that I’ll take. 

Is there a silver lining for me a year later? I don’t know. Is there for you and your journey? I know my mental health has taken a beating, BUT I AM better for all this, and I would not want to be the woman I was a year ago or even three years ago. I’m starting to like my reflection again. I don’t know her fully yet, but I am falling in love with her all over again. And she’s got marathoner written all over her face.

P.S. My reflection photo used here was taken at beginning of the marathon. February 2020, after my first surgery. Yes, I had a clueless grin. I was trying to be okay. 😉

© Laurie Markvart 2021

The Missing COVID Deadline

It’s August 2020. We’re still very much in the throes of COVID. By now, we all know someone who experienced it or is actively in the illness’s retches. Or dealing with job loss or financial woes or we’re pulling together personal fragments of our current life with past life familiarities. Or we’re embracing a whole new way of life in which we don’t know if or when it will continue. There is no COVID deadline. And we are a society of deadlines. And we usually like to wrap shit up when it gets uncomfortable.

Most everything has a deadline or an ending—TV shows, movies, cooking, sporting events, roller coasters, tides, taxes, pregnancy. Many moons ago, when I was pregnant, around that eighth month when my belly was huge, I knew I had one more month to go. I could put my mind at ease, knowing the deadline was approaching. And with that deadline was a return to a somewhat familiar body and the gift of a beautiful baby boy. With COVID, we have no idea how we’re all going to end up. This is tricky.

During COVID, our stress has been out the window, down the street, and causing chaos on the neighbors. You get my drift. It’s not easy for anyone, and we’re all experiencing it and, unfortunately, sometimes sharing it on strangers.

Long-term stress is hard on the body. Our fight-or-flight response is supposed to engage when needed and then return to normal. If it remains “on,” it can cause health problems. It’s like a car motor idling too high for too long. It weakens the engine. We’re not meant to be in fight-or-flight all the time. And without a COVID deadline, we are. We don’t know when we’ll have resolve, predictability, relaxation, and time to say…” Ah, THAT is now over. Body, you are no longer threatened. Whew!”

COVID has messed up our deadlines. So has that breast cancer thing I’ve been dealing with since January. Yup, I’ve been in a COVID/cancer sandwich since the beginning of the year. But look, there is no pity party here. This is unique timing and a brilliant learning experience. See, with cancer, there is no deadline either. It can return. My scans and tests have recently come back negative, which is FANTASTIC, but I have to work hard to make sure my body stays cancer-free. Especially during a pandemic. My learning? Between COVID and cancer, I’ve given up on deadlines. And here is why and I hope this helps you as well. Instead of worrying when COVID will end or cancer return, I’m living in the now. The right here and now. The now is pleasurable and relaxing if we make it that way! I needed to accept being in the now or unsure how I’d deal with this chaotic situation. I can no longer let my motor idle hard and long. Neither can you.

We all need to fall in love with the now. Live NOW. Don’t worry or stress about when COVID will go away. Be safe and smart, and embrace your now. There will never be another day like today or another moment like this one. COVID, cancer, or not.

COVID, Cancer, Flat Tires, and a Silver Lining

COVID and cancer. They go together like whip cream and jerky. Or like the jagged nail in my car’s flat tire. A vehicle I drove once over the past three weeks. What’re the chances? Then again, what are the chances I’d be diagnosed with breast cancer right before a pandemic? Apparently, quite good. Too bad this wasn’t my odds in Vegas the last time I went. But see, if we look for the silver lining, we’ll appreciate the odds even if they don’t first appear in our favor. Well, except for that nail. That just sucks. But it did get me walking to the local Trader Joe’s, half a mile away and carrying two bags of groceries back home, which doubled as my day’s work out.

Okay, a silver lining. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, I was shocked. It wasn’t in my immediate family, and I didn’t have the typical cancer markers. It wasn’t in my awareness or on my tongue. But it was in me. It was growing like the garden weed I mentioned in my previous post. It starts underground, setting roots and warding off the immune system (weed killer) and settling in like it owns the joint.

How did I let cancer take over? For the past couple of years before the diagnosis, I disregarded my body, my “garden.” I was mourning the death of my mom and the demise of a long-term romantic relationship. I was adjusting to other personal and family stressors, a couple of job changes, putting the finishing touches on writing a book. I stopped meditating, exercising, and eating correctly. I stopped going to church. I was drinking more to dull the ache in my heart and mind. I put myself in unhealthy situations, ignored my intuition and God. Basically, I gave the weed full permission to grow.

So, to the silver lining, right? Well, wait a bit.

When the weed (cancer) busted above ground to where I could feel it, I was like…oh, shit, time to wake up. But, I didn’t just wake up to cancer and to be a victim of it in a woe is me way, I was like …how’d it get here? I’m not one to just accept anything. I question everything. So, why did I abandon me? I looked more in-depth as to why it happened and I created a plan that went back into the dirt, back to the source, and back to the reason. That’s where I started, and that was the journey I was on. Along with two surgeries to get it out. And then COVID came.

COVID and cancer. When conventional cancer treatments (chemo, radiation) temporarily annihilate the immune system, and there’s a hardcore virus lurking around, they don’t go together. So what do I do? Well, I considered the pros and cons. And I had time to do so because of COVID.

Like everyone else, I was forced or I say “gifted” into isolation. I was laid off, the world stopped, and I could face myself head-on. Because of COVID, I took the time to pull back, put the doctors on hold, and listen to my intuition. And to God. And most of all to my body. And to decide what was best for me. I was able to take a deeper dive on a spiritual, emotional, and physical level into “why” I have cancer. Why did I let my body and spirit get so broken that I caused my immune system to stop working and not fight cancer off? And what can I now do to heal my body and make sure this doesn’t happen again? It’s kind of like that nail in my car’s tire. Sure, I ran over it. It didn’t just appear there! But how? Well, maybe I should stay in my damn lane and not veer off into freeway debris? Perhaps I should slow down? Maybe I should have bought a more durable tire? This is my third flat tire, so I should probably make a change in my habits! And the same with my body. And due to COVID and quarantine, I can. And that is my silver lining.

During these times, I send peace, love, and healing to all those deeply affected by COVID 19 and to those who feel they’re losing their minds during quarantine…you’re not. You are not alone! We will all be okay. And its a great time to look for your silver lining.

When a Rogue Weed Invades a Garden: Cancer, Humor and Garden Tools

Editorial note: There is rightful cussing in this piece. Enjoy at your own risk.

I didn’t want to write about this. Writing about it makes it real. Until now, I’ve been in a dream state. One of denial, curiosity, fear, anxiety, perplexity, anger, doubt, joy, euphoria. Yes, joy and euphoria. It’s something else the brain does when it’s trying to reason with bad shit.

So, back to writing about it. My close friends and family told me to document this journey. Every detail, if possible. I was like, “Why? I’m fucking living it, why would I want to document it, too?” Besides half the time, I have no idea what is going on! But, even the doctors told me to write about it. “You’re a musician, a writer, that’s how you can deal with this. Plus, your submission for treatment was humorous,” one said. Humorous? Well, when I wrote it, I was laughing out of astonishment more than anything. Lastly, one doctor said, “Writing will make you feel better.” I replied, “Will writing make it go away? Will it return me to the person I was before you told me this shit?”

Yes, I have many doctors, and I know how many kids they have, the last time they had a vacation and what they had for lunch. I find getting to know the people who touch my body is essential. I’ve had four doctors touch me in one afternoon in what felt like doctor speed dating. I didn’t find it invasive but exploratory. I knew they needed information. No pride or prude here. And yes, I joked through most of it.

Okay, so I’ve mentioned doctors. I’m talking about the MD ones. And this MD group came into my life like a bunch of line dancers, yanking me into their frenzied world. It was January 2, 2020, when one of those doctors called and said, “Laurie, they found cancer cells in your breast biopsy. I’m sorry.” Now you know where they were touching me during doctor speed dating!

The funny thing is before the doctor delivered the news, she didn’t ask me if it was a good time to talk or if I was sitting down. Do doctors do that anymore? Ask if you’re sitting down? Well, shit, when you do hear that, you can pretty much determine the outcome of that conversation. So maybe they’ve ditched it with 1990s flannel. Actually, I was sitting down. I was in my car about to hop onto the 210 Fwy on my way to get my son.

I was expecting the call, just not the news. I already had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. All at my own doing because even though I have no family history of this and do not meet breast cancer criteria, I felt something alien in my breast, a small irregular mass. Enough to make me think well, that’s not right. But, I thought the doctor would tell me the mass was just hormone-related and benign. (DM me to ask me what I felt in my breast. I think it’s vital to give insight into this because most women or their partners DON’T know how it feels! Early detection is KEY!) So, when I got the call, on instinct, I pulled over to a street parking spot with a view of the gorgeous Pasadena City Hall. I was amazed to find an open spot! Near city hall!

Once the doctor delivered the news, and she told me potential next steps, I hung up. My view of city hall became blurred as I sobbed and shook like having a mild seizure. It was one of the loneliest out of body experiences in my life. Then all I could think of was my son and how I’d tell my teenager about something I knew nothing about.

I was also crying not because of the word cancer, but I was merely stunned. And frankly, cancer is just a word. Instead, let’s say…some of my cells started a different party in my body that isn’t cool. It’s like the loud party people living next door, and they don’t know when to chill. Dang…even for me THAT is not pressing. I love music and parties, and I’d want an invite. How about this: I plant a beautiful garden, and a strange weed grows. Yea, that’s more like it. And that weed grows out of control. So, let’s not get hung up on the word cancer. Instead, I got a rogue weed in my garden.

Okay, back to writing about this. Yes, I have stage two breast cancer. Or stage two garden invasion? I do know the specifics, as in the type, expectations, possible treatments, outcomes, and all that jazz. But I won’t write about those right now because I’m still in the trenches. And, it’s all-new words, terminology, and practices of an alien world in which I’m still a foreigner. But as for those doctors of mine. Damn, they’re excellent tour guides. And yes, maybe writing about it is a good thing.

Also, I was sobbing cause I was like shit…this is a joy kill to my “it’s gonna be a great 2020” mantra! Plus, it was January 2. I was still recovering from New Year’s Eve! I was like, give me a couple of days to recoup before you bomb me with this news! Then I heard a horn from an anxious driver behind me wanting my parking spot. Really?! Oh, that’s right parking is a premium whether you have cancer or not. Obviously, he assumed I was leaving. No, my fellow motorist, I’m not leaving. I just arrived somewhere; I didn’t know I was going.

I’ll share more when it’s right for me, and when I feel it will benefit others also dealing with a garden invasion. Also, when I don’t have the pain. I’ve already had two surgeries (the first step in this madness), and while my garden is intact (they’ve come a long way in how they eradicate garden weeds! Okay, I’ll stop with the analogy! For now.), but I am exhausted. Lastly, I’ll write more when I not only know what my doctors had for lunch but also dinner. And when I can fathom how to pay my medical and personal bills while being a freelancer and having the most basic of insurance. Yes, this is all part of the cancer scene. Top healthcare should be available to ALL! That is for another blog.

I can say this unequivocally…the woman I was before January 2, does not exist anymore. The musician, writer, mother, and friend is still there, but she’s even more passionate about who and what she loves. The woman who was worried about aging and body image has taken a back seat. Actually, she’s in the trunk. This isn’t the time to worry about that bullshit. So ladies of all ages and sizes…let that shit go. Just be healthy and embrace your beautiful garden.

Best yet, some other woman has joined my excursion. She has far more stamina, humor, brute strength and simultaneous fragility, humility, clarity, peace, self-love, and undeniable trust in God, her family, and friends. If that phone call on January 2 had been benign, I’d be that prior woman, and I wouldn’t be falling so madly in love with this new one and writing about her and her garden tools. Mantra stands: It’s a great 2020! ~ Laurie Markvart

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