Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dedicated to the One I Love -

10 years! 10 freakin' amazing tough beautiful years of marriage to Scott. I never . . . Well, honestly here, I never wanted to remarry. I wrote our love story last year, so no need to be redundant, except to say we are happy.

Not gonna lie, being married, staying married, takes a lot of hard work, a ton of compromises, and hours of looking at the 3 fingers pointing back at myself when wanting to blame "him" for "my" mistakes. Being married is more than saying, "I love you," and "I'm sorry." Staying married takes more than flowers, back rubs, good-bye kisses, toilet lids closed, glass in the dishwasher, and a hot roll in bed with honey. It's not about "never going to bed angry," rather, as I've learned so well these past few years, "facing issues in the now, because there may never be a tomorrow." Dealing with life in real-time is who/what we are.

Staying married, being married, being happy together, rather than just co-existing, is about negotiating every moment of every day. Learning to put his needs ahead of mine is too simplistic of an explanation. For me - honoring him is honoring me and honoring our marriage. For him it's this - she is the love of my life, and I will do anything, while maintaining my integrity, to keep it that way. 

We waste time fussing and fighting over odd things - FoxNews vs. NPR, partnership vs. marriage, TV vs. computer, Republican vs. Democrat, medicinal marijuana vs. chemical marijuana. We've learned to nip these disagreements in the bud (or butt), usually with a smile, then a laugh, then a hug, and an "I'm sorry, this is ridiculous. We cannot let our precious time together be spent on such nonsense."

Yet for each difference there are 8 similarities that are really quite enchanting - Pepsi over Coke, history over fantasy, poultry over beef, change over stagnation, discovery over redundancy, dark chocolate rather than milk, together rather than separate.

As for me - Scott makes me laugh out loud (I've spit toothpaste over the bathroom mirror more than once), this man keeps me physically warm, his energy soothes my soul (imagine that, my ADHD husband calms me), this man is my strength - my pillar, my rock, my northstar (and I need that constant).

This man is so dedicated to me that some days I wonder if I'm "worthy" of his love. And then I realize my task is to return that dedication, that conviction to us. A wise friend shared this with me, when Scott and I were going through a time of disruption: "You have a male and female side to you. Find the male in you and name him 'Prince.' Find the female side in you and name her 'Princess.' When Scott is hard on you, ask yourself, 'How would the Princess in me handle this situation?' When you are hard on Scott, or when you want to be harsh to him, ask yourself, "Am I honoring the Prince in me by behaving this way?" I try, earnestly, to honor that Princess and Prince, and it has certainly opened my eyes to true love.

So - here we are, married 10 years, and better than ever - we've both lost our cancer weight (35 pounds each), we're heading on a lovely celebratory vacation, and we're making plans for tomorrow - together.

My New Year's Word is "Stronger." This isn't just about me, stronger is for my marriage as well. I'm in. 

Happy Anniversary Honey, XO~ R

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sex in the City -

Sex - the sometimes scary and painful 3 letter word for many of us cancer survivors. I went through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and all of the horrible side-effects associated with these procedures. Nine months of struggling to stay alive, and now a year post chemo, I am just beginning to recognize myself. Sadly, hormones that may benefit our sex drive certainly affect our cancers (love those aromatase inhibitors), in turn, affecting our bodies and affecting our libido. The research I've read says that about 70% of women who have had breast cancer treatments have some sort of sexual dysfunction as opposed to 40% of women without breast cancer. Is there sex after cancer? Once intercourse was exciting, exhilarating, yet now I have a "sexual disorder/problem." And I didn't bring this upon myself - ahhh cancer, the gift that keeps on giving!  

I have an incredibly loving patient husband who has been an amazing caregiver. And he's waiting for me to give him the "come-here" eye. Most of the time he's patient, sometimes he's frustrated. I try to explain to him that my lack of sex drive is complicated. It's not about him - really, it's about me - emotionally and physically. But I'm tired of this entire process being about me!

I'm just beginning to be able to look at my body in the mirror and be OK with my reflection. Lopsided breasts, incisions, discolored skin, weight gain, hair loss, gray circles under my eyes - I'm alive, but there certainly have been sacrifices. Sexuality and femininity are both terms I'm having to redefine - and this has had an impact on our intimacy.

From other breast cancer survivors I've been told, "One day, it will just all come back, you'll be surprised, but it will." And I think - "Time frame, please." From medical professionals I'm told, "Use it or lose it, you don't want your vagina to atrophy, thin out, muscles to weaken." So do I pretend? Do I proceed as if all is normal, hoping that in doing so, my body and mind will respond? Viagra for women?

Now, we do have intercourse, but most of the time my fatigue is so great that I'd rather just go to sleep. And intercourse is occasionally painful, although there are vaginal moisturizers as well as lubricants available (I'm a fan of coconut oil or something without a petroleum or silicone base), vaginal exercises we can all do (remember Kegals?), and there are various dilators, stimulators, vibrators that can help (but even these take energy).

I've asked my husband to hang-in-there while I'm healing, and yet I want him to be passionate as well, not treating me as if I'm a porcelain doll that may break. Yet he worries - he doesn't want to hurt me!  And so he hesitantly asks, "Do you think we can make love tonight?" And my response is usually, "Maybe," or, "I'd like to, but I don't know if I can commit." "Let's see how much energy I have." "How about in the morning (when I seem to have more energy)?" And he waits, and I control our sexual relationship - and although it takes two, I would like to be more willing, more available.

Lately we've begun talking about this more openly. It appears to me that we must redefine intercourse - what we had is not what we have, and what we have may be what we get as we move forward. So we have to adapt, rather than wait for that "old-time feeling" to come back. We're learning how to have passionate moments outside of our bedroom. We're learning how to cuddle when reading, watching a movie. We're holding hands more, kissing more, finding moments to say, "I love you" with a clear intention of delivering the message rather than hoping for a romp in bed. I'm learning to tell my husband what touches work, what touches don't (my erogenous zones and arousal abilities have changed).

So here's what I am working on:
1. Communicate my fears, desires, to my partner.
2. Work on what I can fix.
3. Exercise, at least 30 minutes a day.
4. Eat foods that help me heal.
5. Be as positive as possible - seeing this as a hurdle rather than a roadblock.
6. Read up on this topic, so I don't feel so alone, as well as to gain information on how other women are dealing with this. (
7. Make US a priority.

What works for you? Where are you on this road to sexual strength? 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cancer Kills -

I lost another friend this week to cancer. Damn, I hate this stuff. There's more to curing cancer, eradicating cancer than wearing pink, running in a 5k, and buying pink-covered cupcakes, sending up a pink helium balloon. Please, please, my prayer to the gods and goddesses who surround us all - take this shit away rather than take away the lives of those who are burdened with it.

From the community - 
Sherri West passed away on Wednesday of Stage 4 Metastatic Cancer. Sherri was trained on the Helpline in July 2013. She participated in one of the first in person trainings of national volunteers.

Sherri’s husband shared “that she was pleased to be part of the organization in her own small way”. I shared with her husband that Sherri had a great impact on the Helpline in her short time of serving as a volunteer. As well, serving on the Helpline is by no means small. All of you know this first hand. She helped and supported so many who called the Helpline. Sherri was also excited to be one of our pilot group volunteers for the community outreach program.

My words to the LBBC community - 

Very sad to hear this news. Sherri was my roommate while in Philadelphia. We had a wonderful time together, including exploring the mosaic house in downtown Philadelphia, riding the bus, on top, in the heavy rainstorm, and hunting out a sushi house late one evening in the rain. She talked with me about practicing mindfulness, living in the moment, and seizing the goodness that comes my way. She encouraged me to continue with my teaching and chaplaining. We corresponded once we both got back home; she gave me perfect places to visit while my husband and I visited the northern CA and southern OR coasts in August. She was so sad when her cancer took a turn for the worst. She knew her days were numbered, and she was determined to live those days to the fullest, which included spending time with her husband and family (she's been on medical leave from her job since about August) and serving the LBBC community.

I am saddened; Sherri was a beautiful woman. It will be awhile before I can remove her name from my phone.

I can't add, "may you find peace," because I believe that Sherri had found peace, and was practicing that peace right here, right where she was. I will miss our conversations.