Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blanket Tour stop - "Healing With Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey"

I wrote today's post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing Blanket Tour for Healing with Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey by Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN (  The book includes Diana's experiences, reflections, poetry and journal entries, in addition to writing prompts for readers to express their own personal stories. A survivor of both breast cancer and multiple myeloma, Raab views journaling to be like a daily vitamin--in that it heals, detoxifies and is essential for optimal health. Diana, the author of eight books, spent 25 years as a medical and self-help writer before turning to poetry and memoir. She teaches creative journaling and memoir in UCLA Extension Writers' Program. If you comment on today's post you'll be entered to win a copy of Healing with Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey. To read Diana's post about breast cancer and a list of other blogs participating in Diana's Blanket Tour visit The Muffin.

A few MissFit Dragons (2009)
on a Willamette Valley wine tour
L-R: Nikki, me, Karen, Debbie, Gayle
When I selected as one of the writers for the Blanket Tour I was thrilled - and I had the perfect story. My friend, Debbie, had just undergone a double mastectomy, following a hysterectomy two months earlier.  Her test results were positive for BRCA2, those at highest risk for certain cancers - including breast and ovarian. Several years ago she did have breast cancer, went through treatment, and was considered cancer-free. But breast cancer is prevalent in her family history and she decided to take the test.

Debbie wasn't shocked by the results - and, from what I saw, her decision was made quickly to go ahead with the surgeries. I do not mean that her decision was rushed or made without thought. No; Debbie had already thought about it and researched the options and when she got her results she had a pretty good idea what she wanted to do. She talked with her doctor and with surgeons. What I mean is that she was sure of her decision and sure of her research. She didn't need to waiver long because she already knew the statistics, knew her family history, had already gone through a bout of cancer and recovery.

I asked Debbie if she was willing to share her story - whatever part of it she wanted to share. She said "sure" with a smile and the bubbling energy she spreads wherever she goes. We set a date for dinner and an interview.

Life went on. Debbie's drainage tubes were removed little by little, as the sites healed. She recovered from the surgery. The weeks of dinners brought by friends daily stopped. The daughter who'd come home to help care for her returned to college. Debbie returned to work. Then the two of us met to talk about her decision process and feelings.

Debbie arrived about five minutes after me.

Hi, Debbie. Hey, thanks for agreeing to do this. I really appreciate it.

Sure; no problem.

Do you want a drink? I just ordered a Bloody Mary. I was thinking about the Cajun one - but thought the jalapeno vodka might be a bit too spicy.

Yeah. (The waitress approached.) I'd like a Pale Ale. What do you have on tap?

The drinks came. We talked about Debbie's return to work and the co-worker that was being a bit of a pain. Debbie's phone buzzed and she checked the screen. With an apology.

My dog went in for joint surgery today and the vet is supposed to be calling me about now. Sorry.

No problem; of course.

She took her phone and the conversation to the front of the restaurant. When she returned we talked about her dog's surgery. The expense of it, but how she couldn't say no; Chelsea had been with her for 14 years. We talked about how her ex- probably caused the problem which led to the joint pain which led to the surgery. About how she doubted he would help pay for the $3,500 surgery.

Next we talked about the dragon boat team where we met and of which we are both still members. I asked if she'll be back as a paddler or as the coach's assistant (she seems to get sick or need surgery near the big race every year; the coach has joked that, to keep Debbie healthy, maybe she should just be the assistant to the coach and avoid the illnesses).

I asked her if she was considering joining next year's Cascade Lakes Relay walking team; she was one of our inaugural members in 2009. She didn't really answer and I let it go. I'd love to have her back; she was a lot of fun to be stuck with in a van for 33 hours. And I'm sincere in that comment.

We talked about the quickly approaching DVD release and reunion party of the group of 19 of us who rafted down the Grand Canyon for 8 days this last July. Debbie and I shared tents a couple of times - me, as a place to change since I slept on the beach every night; Debbie, as a place to sleep, with the flaps open to the river.

We talked about her ex. Money. Theories for caring for elderly or aging pets.

The mistakes of the night nurse when Debbie was recovering in the hospital. The kindness of the day nurse. The hurried assessment by one doctor, which led to the failure/death of one of her reconstructed breasts. About her biggest complaint: that her breasts are too large - the doctor was supposed to make them smaller than her originals.

We ate dinner.

Nikki joined us, thinking we'd be done with the interview by that time, and we moved up the street to Journeys, a comfortable community bar. Where we talked about how to get Debbie's ex to help pay for the dog's surgery. About how Debbie should get not just reimbursed from the first botched hysterectomy by an incompetent doctor, but also for some pain and suffering because she did.

Then it was time for me to leave to go to work.

But we didn't talk about my decision. Why or how.

I'll call you or send you an email. It's okay.

But you bought my dinner.

I bought your dinner because you're my friend. It's okay. I enjoyed our talk.

And it's true.

I realized that I don't need to just write about Debbie's breasts, her cancer journey. Though I could - and I might later. Debbie was inspired by another woman's story and Debbie might want to share her own - I'd be happy to help her in that process. Debbie is a brave woman - thorough, a positive outlook on life, a good friend.

Debbie sets a good example by living her life to the best of her ability. Meeting each moment straight on. By being a friend. By being, well, Debbie.

Yes, she had cancer. Yes, she has the BCRA2 DNA. Yes, she had a hysterectomy, a double mastectomy, breast reconstructive surgery and will have to have another surgery later because one of them failed, because her chance of getting cancer again was nearly a fore drawn conclusion.

But Debbie is not the cancer she had nor the genes that showed up on the test.

Debbie is a well-rounded person with a full life - who also happens to be a survivor.

*Remember: you can win a free copy of Diana Raab's book by leaving a comment. Winner will be randomly chosen on October 25th*