Big Girl Pants

Up to my knees now/ Do I wade, do I dive?

The sea has seen my like before

Though it’s my first and perhaps last time

So I swim, until I can’t see land

Swim, until I can’t see land

Oh swim, until I can’t see land

Are you a man, are you a bag of sand?

Frightened Rabbit, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”

It started with cramps.

Sitting by the pool on a Sunday afternoon at extended family’s house nearby I had hoped to enjoy the weather, and to just sit and watch as my kids played and had fun. I wait for it to pass, but then nausea kicks in and I realize that it is only getting worse.

I turn to my husband to ask if he can just drive me back home, so that the kids and he can still enjoy the rest of the afternoon. As soon as we begin driving, a blanket of heat envelops me from the face down.

Arriving home, I try to lay down, but quickly realize that my body has other plans. I run to the bathroom, throwing up in my mouth and only make it to the sink before expelling everything. Immediate nausea gone, I draw a bath to alleviate the lingering cramping. As I lay in it, my husband comes in and does what no husband should have to think about doing. He cleans my vomit out of the sink for me.

In my head, I am doing calculations. This is the second time in two days something similar has happened (cramping, nausea, heat- knocking me out of commission). It’s Sunday, I disconnected from my chemo pump on Wednesday. Four days ago. I have never felt this sick this far out from chemo. What is going on?

Then it dawns on me. It’s not the chemo causing the pain and sickness. It’s the cancer. To be specific- my largest met, the tumor sitting on my right ovary.

It’s been there all along, hiding out under the label of “cyst” from my scan reports, and therefore not really mentioned or paid attention to by my doctors. First showing up in October and remaining stable through my first 7 chemo, then began growing again while off chemo sometime between the end of January and the time of my first post-surgery scans at the end of May.

In October (around the time it showed up and I started chemo) I had bleeding and cramping for three weeks straight. I was told that it was just chemo throwing me into menopause. In April, after my surgery, I started cramping and bleeding heavily in the hospital, despite having finished my cycle only a week and a half prior. At that time, the surgical resident informed me in front of three eager students on rounds that it was probably just my body’s response to the trauma of the surgery.

I’ve been irregular and spotting ever since, only getting worse since starting back on chemo.

And so of course now here I am. We’re pretty sure that it’s a tumor now, and it’s starting to cause bigger problems because it’s a bigger tumor. I worry whether it will keep growing, and if so how the pain associated with it will get worse. And if it comes out of nowhere, do I now have to worry about it hitting in the middle of the supermarket? Or while driving somewhere?

I guess that I have plenty to worry about these days. But I’m not the only one. My husband confides that he sometimes feels so overwhelmed by this that he just shuts down altogether. Will he be able to take care of both me and the kids? How can he keep going and keep making all of the right parenting decisions when he’s doing this himself? When I am no longer here?

And then there is my son. ADHD, anxiety and giftedness are his baseline. And all of this is throwing him into a tailspin. More troubles at school and summer camp. Issues that we thought that we had gotten him over are coming back.

A snuggle with him attempts to coax out some answers, and ends up being a stream of consciousness of all of the anxieties in this little boy’s head coming out at once:

– “I have random aches and pains all over my body, I am scared that I have cancer too.”

– “I am scared to go to the doctor to get an x-ray, because they might make me have surgery like you.”

– “I feel like I have no friends and that I am just one of those kids that nobody likes except for their own parents.”

– “I’m always messing things up. You should sell me to another family.”

– “All of the joy just got sucked out of me this year, Mom. You got cancer, bullies at school..”

All of this from a 9-year-old boy. More weight than he should ever have to carry.

All that I can think about is that I have to stick around for as long as I can for my son, for my husband, for my girls. All I can do is feel powerless over how little control that I have over any of this. How little control we all have.

In the words of my husband, “All that I do every day is try. But no matter what I do, I can’t fix anything. I can’t actually solve a damn thing. All I can do is be there.”

And he is. As he’s cleaning up my vomit, I think about all of the weight on his shoulders. He worries about carrying my weight. I worry about carrying his. Some say that you can find a bright side and some humor in everything. Please tell me when we get to the punchline in all of this, because I haven’t found mine yet.

If you hadn’t gleaned from my recent blog posts, I have let myself sink a bit beneath my own weight. The weight of my own worries of pain and sickness and bad things to come. The weight of powerlessness. It’s understandably pretty easy to go somewhere dark and feel sorry for myself.

But.. I don’t get to do that. I have to get up, put on my big girl pants, live, be present, and put in my fair share of the labor of what life has been since diagnosis. Because my husband has been doing it, because I can’t let him drown and because my children need me.

But I am missing something. We are missing something. Hope for the future. What it feels like to be care free…

I can’t get those back, I will put on my big girl pants and keep trying. I have to keep swimming with my head above water for as long as possible. Even if I still can’t solve anything. Even if all it achieves is not sinking. Even if it just achieves being here, for as long as I can, while I am here.

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