Saturday, May 14, 2016

May the 14th be with you

Were it not for the Google Calendar app, there's a fair chance I'd forget to do something important, like pick up my kids from daycare or give my dog her heart worm preventative (hardy, har, har). That, or I'd have to write stuff down on an actual paper calendar (who does that?!). I know that works for some of you, but paper calendars don't fit in your pocket or sync with your husband's Google Calendar. 

I've had plans for today for months. What plans, you ask? Plans with my BFF to see the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Driehaus Museum in Chicago, of course. Duh. Once tickets were purchased, on the calendar it went so I wouldn't forget and so my husband knew he had to keep track of our kids that day (today).

A few weeks later, I realized that May 14th was also the fundraising walk for Living Well Cancer Resource Center, but no big deal, as it was a morning activity and our tickets were for mid-afternoon. I had made up my mind ages (months, I'm being overly hyperbolic) ago to participate in the walk so not walking wasn't an option. 

Then, after that, we received a birthday party invite to celebrate the first birthday of our dear friends' son. I couldn't swing that, too, but on the calendar it went and Chris took the boys.

So, here's a recap. Today was busy, and I need an electronic calendar. From here, I will tell the story of my day through phone pics.

Picture #1: 

Me and my mother-in-law Mary at the Living Well Bridge Walk
My day started bright and early at the forest preserve (pictured above). My kind mother-in-law picked up my ORANGE t-shirt (it means "Cancer Survivor," in contrast to the blue-shirted people (walkers). We walked with the first round of participants, the honored survivors. I can't say I've experienced anything like that. People cheered as we walked under the balloon entryway with Rachel Platten's "Stand By You" loudly playing to open the 5K. Well, I've never had an opinion about that song, but weren't it for the distraction of talking to Mary and sheer determination, I probably would have burst into tears. Choice lyrics: "Even if we're breaking down, we can find a way to break through. Even if we can't find heaven, I'll walk through Hell with you. Love, you're not alone, 'cause I'm gonna stand by you." Yep, I'll never hear that song again and not feel something. Anyway, we walked the 5K, returned to more loud music and cheers, and I was presented a purple annual to add to my garden, to which I quietly said to Mary, "It's purple! How did they know!" (Purple is the color of the pancreatic cancer awareness initiative, like pink is for breast cancer.) She laughed her wonderful, genuine laugh, and we left the event. I will definitely do that again, though it was weird to be a "guest of honor" of sorts. 

Picture #2:

Me and my BFF Sandi in front of a bunch of cheese at Eataly
The Downton Abbey Exhibit was great fun. The Driehaus Museum is located in a gorgeous turn-of-the-century house (19th to 20th). The exhibit focused on the costumes of Downton, but because of the style of the house/museum, it was difficult to distinguish what was part of the exhibit and what was "just" part of the house. Because of that lack of distinction, I think Driehaus was the perfect Chicago location for the Downton exhibit. We followed up the museum visit with gelato and coffee at Eataly, an overwhelming Italian market of sorts. I left full of caffeine and sugar with a bottle of Limoncello in hand (unopened, of course). Sometimes I need time with my BFF, and what a fantastic backdrop we had today. 

Picture #3: 
Chicken Shawarma from Naf Naf Grill
I've noticed a big part of what I'll call the survivorship culture is returning to normal, or a "new normal" for some. This is absolutely the case for me, but I had a Deep Thought on this the other day (Saturday Night Live reference intended). Some people fight with all they have to make a full physical comeback from the devastation of an accident or illness. I definitely had to fight that fight, but it wasn't a drastic or dramatic fight for me. I had regain stamina and strength over time, and I did, just by living life. More specifically, my then-two-year-olds required it of me. What was harder was eating "real" food in normally-sized portions, something I took for granted prior to my surgery. About one-third of my stomach was removed during the surgery; it's just part of the traditional Whipple procedure. Eating was a source of pain and stress for me for months (I'll spare you the details). There were times I wondered if I'd ever feel good again, if I'd ever be able to eat something other than the BRAT diet and protein shakes again. I now have my answer. YES. I fought that fight hard, and stretched my stomach back out to its normal size (hardy, har, har). So I stopped at Naf Naf Grill on my way home from my afternoon excursion (pictured above). And I ate every last bite. It was amazing, and proof that I'm living my life, in many ways better than before. I appreciate each day, corny as it sounds, but it's true.

Picture #4:
Limoncello. Need I say more?
Here's more proof that I'm back to living my life. Cheers. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Am I a cancer survivor?

This coming weekend I will be participating in the Bridge Walk for the Living Well Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, IL. I have been intending to walk in this fundraiser since I learned about it last summer, but I have been dragging my heels on actually registering. I have visited the registration page numerous times. It asks for relevant information such as name, e-mail address, etc. It also asks what type of participant you are: adult, child, student, or cancer survivor. Clearly, I am not a child (or a student), but the question I have grappled with for the past year and a half (give or take) stalls my progress to the next page of registration. 

The type of tumor I had is considered a malignancy (cancer), but in the absence of metastases (spread), it behaved in quite the benign (not cancerous) fashion. Surgically curable, or so they say. So far, so good. Does this give me the right to consider myself a cancer survivor? I doubt anyone would call me out on it if I checked this box. "No, Cori, you only had a neoplasm, not a carcinoma." According to the title of this article about my experience, I am a pancreatic cancer survivor: "Attentiveness saved mom's life from pancreatic cancer." Wow. That's still hard to read. 

The aforementioned evidence suggests I should check the "cancer survivor" box. But still I hesitate. Sure, I had an 11 hour surgery and a 2 week hospital stay. Sure, I had a giant tumor. Sure, I see an oncologist. But I don't feel like a cancer survivor. I didn't undergo chemotherapy. The surgery produced "clear margins" and revealed no lymph node involvement. I did not have adenocarcinoma (the Patrick Swayze pancreatic cancer). I did not have a neuroendocrine cancer (the Steve Jobs pancreatic cancer). I had an especially rare tumor with an "excellent prognosis." I got super unlucky (when I say especially rare, I mean super especially rare). But at the same time, I got super lucky. I got the "good" pancreatic tumor. The one that rarely returns, the one that very rarely causes death. My surgery was awful, there is no way to sugarcoat that, but the bulk of my medical journey began and ended during my hospital stay. The lingering effects of my illness seem to have more to do with the surgery itself and very little to do with having had a large pancreatic tumor. I'll own up to being a survivor, but aren't we all? Add "cancer" to the description of survivor, and suddenly I'm not sure I agree. 

I am sure I will be participating in the walk this Saturday. If you're local, I'd love it if you'd join me: Register here. If you don't want to walk but you'd like to donate: Donate here. If you'd like to buy some fabulous Origami Owl jewelry and have 10% of your purchase price donated to Living Well: Shop here. Your well wishes and happy thoughts are also appreciated. Thank you for reading!