Shaken, Not Stirred: Bring it On

Female boxer

I have cancer.

Breast cancer.

(Sounds like “Bond. James Bond.” I can live with that.)

The news came yesterday, delivered through the sad and apologetic voice of my doctor, whom I have always adored for his kindness, quiet expertise and sincere concern for his patients. (Thank you Dr. D. I know you’ve got my back!) I learned years ago that feeling competently and kindly cared for by my health practitioners allows me to best rise to the challenges facing my body. And here I am, challenged again.

I’ve been in a few life-threatening health positions before. Four ectopic pregnancies, including one that ruptured; and a badly infected gall bladder all come to mind. But these were all occasions, events really, that required–and received–immediate emergency care to overcome. There wasn’t a lot of time to contemplate living with these conditions, because there would be no long-term attendance required. Check it off my to-do list and move forward. And I did.

This is different. Cancer is different. It’s a disease. It can become chronic, and fatal. It has to be wrestled to the ground, firmly, and then stomped into oblivion. That takes time. And effort. And pain. And intelligence. And no small sacrifice from me and my family–in body parts, financial security, emotional distress and lifestyle. After treatment, I, The Patient, will stand vigilant watch over my body for the remainder of my earthly life to ensure that The Intruder never returns. I’m tired thinking of this and I haven’t even had my first meet and greet with the oncologist.

I am also annoyed. Thoroughly annoyed. Bordering on angry annoyed.

Honestly, I don’t have time for this shit. I happily live a busy (that’s B-U-S-Y) life. I’m wife to a complex, amazing, loving and steadfast man, and mom to an incredibly mature and kind 15-year-old high school cheerleader who possesses high goals and demands constant and delightful management. I work two different but related professions. By day, I’m all about communications and relationships at our school district, I job that I adore. At night and on weekends, I’m all about communications and relationships with quilters and other creative people throughout the world, another job I adore. We have a big, messy, spread-apart family that often relies on me to help with varied issues. And then there are my/our amazing friends, who are my brothers and sisters by choice. I am blessed, and I well know it.

My clan is gathering fiercely right now, surrounding me and mine with their bagpipes, bodhrans and swords (forgive me, but I’m reading the Outlander series, again, and I’ve got more than a few Scots running through my brain of late,) and I know I am loved and as protected as possible.

But….

Yep. Just that.

But….

Years ago, I read something from another gal facing breast cancer. She hated the constant allusions between fighting a war and overcoming her disease. She didn’t get how the battle mentality related to her circumstances. She recoiled when anyone used the terms “fight,” “war,” or “overcome,” thinking them violent and inaccurate. At the time I thought I understood her peaceful eloquence and need for serenity and acceptance.

Not anymore. For me, this is a fight, and I don’t face it alone.

Already there are new people in my life–strangers–who will become incredibly important as we strategize how to approach this cancer. I have new doctors to meet and interview, new nurse navigators who have already provided me with reliable information. (Information is the BEST tool for providing at least the small illusion of control in a circumstance like this.) My life will expand to include acquaintances and those not-yet-met who will become added support and sources of information from the journey we now share. It’s already happening and it hasn’t been 24 hours since I heard the words.

I’m a writer, a photographer and a quilter. I tell stories through words, images and fabric. I was also a longtime infertility patient. It took 13 years to create my kid, whom we lovingly call our “Lab Rat.” It was only in that last year of trying for her that I became open about what we were going through. I worked as a reporter at a regional newspaper, the Ventura County Star, and took the wonderful opportunity given to me to write a weekly column about our road through infertility, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and my subsequent high-risk pregnancy. To be able to put words to our experiences and feelings, and to share them freely, was the most cathartic experience in my life up until that time. What came back was an unmeasurable amount of solidarity and support; the sense that the pain we lived through was lightened by helping others with our information; and the concrete knowledge that when I need help, I need to speak up and ask, and it will come.

It’s only normal for me to do it again, here, with cancer.

So, the early signs are that this is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). Yep. I have another acronym to add to my personal lexicon, and my educator buds are ROTFL because I’m the one who always teases them about living in a pot of alphabet soup, as educators do. It looks like it was caught early. It looks like it is treatable. It looks like I’ll live to tell the tale. These are preliminary, best-guess looks based on preliminary info. I’m not be a cynic; I just know that there are more test results that haven’t been looked at yet. That’s what Tuesday is about.

I’m so proud that my daughter, Sam, wants to come to the appointment with me and my husband. She has big, solid dreams of becoming a surgeon when she’s done growing up. I don’t mind being her lab rat for a while. And one of my oldest and dearest friends also wants to come. Karen is a social worker who works in a hospital and is one of the most logical, clear-thinking and kind people I’m blessed to have around me. So, yeah, she gets to come, since she asked. I figure if someone loves me enough to want to crawl through some of these foxholes with me, who am I to say no? And Stephen immediately thought it was a good idea. Open book, Folks. It’s the only way for me to go.

In the meantime, know that if you’re one of my many beloved ones who I have not been able to call yet, that it’s not me ignoring you. It’s me trying to wrap B-U-S-Y up for a while. That’s one of the cool parts about being able to write this journey, because I can keep those who care updated even if I can’t get on the phone. For as long as possible, I want to keep daily life normal for my family and me. There’s a lot of prep work I need to do to free up my schedule and my brain for the battles to come. So, please, forgive me for not getting to you yet? And yes, feel free to call, text or email, if you’re so moved. Right now, all needs are met and we’re in a good place for this fight. I am okay.

Prayers are welcome. Hugging your own loved ones on my behalf is encouraged, because life is short. And only happy vibes will be received for the immediate future.

Oh, and yes, I’m making myself a quilt for this time. Because that’s what we quilters do when we’re facing a life moment: We hit the fabric. I’ll be documenting that as well, because those of us who share this obsession with needle, fabric and thread never get tired of watching the birth of another quilt. Just saying.

84 thoughts on “Shaken, Not Stirred: Bring it On

  1. I am so sorry Jake. You have a wonderful team in place, amazing family and friends and the fierce attitude for the fight. We’ll be right there with you cheering and praying along the way.

  2. Wishing you many more quilts, magazines, and tight hugs as well as an unbridled determination to kick this ‘Bond, James Bond’ squarely in the ass.

  3. So sorry to hear this, but, as you say, you’ve overcome other things. Best wishes, and I’ll add you to my prayers. — John Wegle

    • Thank you so much Dear John! You are always a voice of kindness. And I appreciate you sharing the blog post on the Star page. It was nice to hear from some I might not have otherwise heard from.

  4. Hang in there, Jake! I’ve been there, done that, and you will make it through. (On a personal note, you can’t have better companions than Jamie and Claire for all the interminable appointments you have yet to endure – they will get you through the waiting times when friends and family can’t be with you.) Stay busy, keep smiling, and find a very good oncologist who will support you unfailingly through the next few years. A sense of humor is a good thing to have, too – laughing about things can sometimes be the best medicine! I’ll be praying for you!!

    • Thank you Sarah! I’m sorry that you had to go through this too. It sucks! But Jamie and Claire are definitely keeping me company. I’m in Book 8 and I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s done???

  5. I’m crying, laughing, praying and smiling as I read this. I am so inspired that you can use your beautiful words to express your fears, sing your fight song and feel connected to so many that love you. You are in good hands. No, you are in amazing hands. Dr D is the best doc in the world. I love our nurse navigators. And most importantly, you have this incredible community – your family – holding you up. I’m here for you if you need anything at all. Sending warm hugs your way, my friend.

  6. Hello,
    Thank you for your lovely post. May you have a safe and healing journey. It is hard to know what to say. I wish you the best love and comfort during this time.
    My friend forwarded me your blog because I was told on Tuesday, Aug 2 that I have breast cancer too. Still feels surreal. We are to meet with our team of doctors this Tuesday. Can I ask you if that is the main meeting that your daughter is attending? We are going to talk re upcoming surgery and possible followup treatments. My teenage daughter has interest in medicine and wants to become doctor, so Id love to take her. Or is your meeting with nurse coordinator? Would the doctor team mind a teenager present?
    Now I’ve written this all, I think I’ll just check with nurse coordinator –beyond the interest, love the open book philosophy.
    Again, all the best and I’m sure to think of you as we travel our parallel paths.
    Best wishes.

    • Hi Sherry: This is my first appointment with an oncologist and it will tell us what my other test results were. I would have brought my daughter with me to all of the appointments but she was away at camp. I believe that she gets to be as involved as she wants, and that knowledge will help her work through this as well. I also wish you comfort and love and we can support each other, right? Please remember this: This is YOUR condition. Not your doctors or nurses. YOU get to decide who you want with you and how, through EVERY SINGLE STEP OF THE WAY. It’s essential to your healing that you are in charge here. Every good doctor and nurse will be on board with this. They know that the more support and love you have with you will help your healing that much more. You don’t ask them if she can be with you. You tell them. And honestly I have three people coming with me on this first appt. If I wanted to have six, six would be with me. Good luck, God Bless and keep me informed. My email is alljake@hotmail.com.

  7. Let us start with HUGS Jake! I remember when my BIL talked to me about his cancer battles. He used a lot of visualizations, especially that his system was filled with soldiers that were beating the cancer. And they did beat it.
    Remember also, that LAUGHTER is one of the very best medicines! Watch funny movies, read funny stuff, talk in funny voices and LAUGH as much as you can. I think that endorphins are awesome body guards.
    We’ve got you back girlie!
    ((((((((((Jake))))))))))

  8. I didn’t have breast cancer, but I’ll never forget when the nurse called me and said the doctor wanted to see me as soon as possible to get another kind of breast scan done. I was testing students all over the district and had to have them all done by the end of the week. I also was the “glue” that held my family together.

    It was Wednesday afternoon when she called. I argued with her and asked why. And, then I told her I didn’t have time for it. Exasperated, she sighed. After I got off the phone, it hit me. OH! I assured myself that it would be fine, because I have itty bitty titties – they don’t get cancer. lol

    Anyhow, I had another scan done and then a needle biopsy and everything was okay. I didn’t have a support system and nobody to go with me when I had the biopsy done. I remember being scared and wishing someone was there, anyone.

    So, my heart goes out to you. Lean on your support system. They will keep you fighting and they will fight for you. Also, take some of the load off of yourself. Maybe this is the time to realize that life is short and It doesn’t all need to get done, especially by one person. Hugs to you!

  9. Fight on! Glad to hear you have great people around you through all the ups and downs that are bound to come along. I will keep you in my prayers as well. ((((bighugs))))

  10. Hey Jake! I’m so sorry to hear this and want you to know I’ll be thinking and praying for you. You are not alone, and I know you can do this! Please feel free to call me or text or whatever, if I can be of help to you!
    Jill Finley

  11. Only best thoughts coming your way from me. Let the quilting world envelope you with love, just as they did for me when I battled (and beat) lymphoma eleven years ago. You can do this!

  12. You have a tribe supporting you every step of the way through this journey…we’re holding on for dear life like you would if your granny was driving on a winding country road.

  13. My dear long time friend…..I am here for you anytime of the day, as you have been there for me too. You have an army waiting to battle with you. Love you dearly!

  14. Are you going to have people give you blocks for the quilt? If so please let me know. We will be praying for you and your family😘

    • Thank you Dear Mary! I certainly wouldn’t reject a block, but I was not thinking in that direction. Everyone is so busy already and I don’t want to add to anyone’s to-do list. Really. But I miss you and would love to see you next time you’re up this way. I play with Chas Wilson every Thursday at Rotary and have met Phyllis.

  15. Pingback: Shaken, Not Stirred « Generation Q Magazine

  16. So sorry to hear about your cancer, but I have no doubt that you will deal with it well. My thoughts and prayers are with you in the journey ahead. I’m sure that the support of your family and friends will see you thru!!

  17. Take journal to every appointment. Have someone write down what you are told. You will never remember it all. This will take the pressure off as you listen. You will be able to think about stuff later.

  18. I fought this battle almost five years ago and have no problem with the metaphor. I am a warrior, not a statistic. Blessings on you, and prayers for victory.

  19. Oh Jake! Hate to hear this news. Cancer sucks! But I know you can tackle it. I appreciate your candor and ability to share through your amazing writing. Prayers and hugs and all the good vibey thoughts to you.

  20. Hey Jake!
    Thanks for sharing ask this! What terrible news within such a delightful read. No doubt in my mind you’re going to pulverize this and be the better for it.
    You’re in my thoughts and prayers! Can hardly wait to see the quilt!
    Leah – In The Beginning Fabrics

  21. Hey, Jake. I’ve been through this, too. I don’t know the future so I can’t tell you everything will be okay, but I will say that thanks to modern medicine I made it out the other side. All my hopes and thoughts are with you.

  22. Crap. I hate hearing about another person with Breast Cancer. Good luck through the ‘journey’ – I hated that word too, but it does seem like it goes on for a long time. Lean on your friends, and let them do stuff for you. We always want to be independent and do it ourselves, but Let.People.Help. They want to. Also – have someone take notes at your doctor appointments. There is so much information, it’s helpful to look back on the notes after the appointment and be able to remember and rehash what was said. You won’t remember it all. For me, laughter was the best medicine. Remaining positive and laughing at the crap that is happening was the only way I got through it. Otherwise the tears will take you down. Remember, we are all here for you – quilty friends are the best!! Hugs to you and your family.

  23. So sorry to hear this, but will be sending a constant stream of positive thoughts and energy your way. I, too, am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed on New Year’s Eve 2014, and went through 6 months of treatment (2 surgeries, chemo and radiation). Although bald as a billiard ball and weak as a new kitten, I made my annual trek to Sisters in July 2015. During the week I was there, 5-6 women a day would walk up to me and share that they, too, were cancer survivors. We shared stories, hugs and tears, and I learned that cancer is an epidemic, but medical science has come far and there are far more survivors today than there were 5-10 years ago. The road is not easy, but I’d recommend (1) maintaining your positive fighting spirit, (2) taking full advantage of all the help and support that others offer, and (3) reading THE BREAST BOOK by Dr. Susan Love. (It’s full of facts and information that will help you make informed decisions and ask the right questions.) Keep journaling and work on that quilt. I’m headed to Tahoe in September for a week-long retreat and will be working on a ‘self portrait’ quilt that I’ve already named “In the Pink.” I’m a survivor, and so are you! You’ve got this, Jake!

  24. Hi Jake:
    I’m so sorry to hear this news but I am heartened by your attitude. As someone who has not had cancer (yet), I know that I don’t know what you are going through, but I am sending healing thoughts and prayers your way.

    I look forward to reading your posts because you are so very good at sharing what is on your mind. I always learn something from your writings and I suspect that what you write about your experience with cancer will be no different. Again, know that I and so many others are wishing you all the best.

    • Thank you Dear Becky! And I just sent you your wonderful pillow back. Clearing the decks for treatment. And I think any of scan empathize with the fear of going through this, though I am feeling particularly blessed today.

  25. Hugs! Hugs, hugs hugs! Big, tight never ending hugs to you along with the might of prayer being sent your way. Your positive fighting attitude is so important to carry you through the ups and downs and when you’re down others will lift you.

  26. So many of us have benefited from your great insights into the quilting world. We will be here to support YOU! Having a daughter who went through lymphoma treatment and is doing fine now, my perspective is that this time has to be about you and what works for you. Share, receive, speak up about what you need and want. Keep your life as normal as you can. Curl up in a ball when you need to. Take care of yourself and let others care for you too. Sending much positive energy to you….

  27. I’m sorry to hear about the cancer. But, you are a fighter and will defeat this foe. Hugs and constant prayers to you and for you.

  28. Sending you love and prayers! I’m so sorry this is happening to you, and your loved ones. Keep that armor on, and annihilate that cancer. ❤️😽🙏💐

  29. I’m 10 days late on the news. I remember how you were taken by my 9/11 story about our volunteer at the Breast Center who’s life was saved that day because of her breast cancer. She could no longer fly and had to retire. Her usual route was the morning Boston to LA flight.
    Having spent more than half my nursing career in oncology, I know a kick ass attitude is one of the biggest weapons you can have. Your photo on this post says it all. Love and prayers my friend. If you ever need to have a vent session or a question, message me.

  30. You have got this. I’m a survivor, too – you get to start calling yourself the moment you are diagnosed! – and I am five years out next month. The treatment options just keep growing and getting better, so find out all you can from your oncologist and read as much as you can about what’s available. I read a book called the Reconstruction Guidebook, and yes, it’s about reconstruction, but it’s about much more. It’s a little out of date (2007 I think), but there isn’t another book that fills this space for breast cancer patients. I’m BRCA2 positive, did a DIEP flap reconstruction, did chemo first, and had a bilateral mastectomy and oopherectomy to be safe. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. The thing that helped me the most was information … But omg, there is so much info out there! Now, go kick that cancer’s ass. We are all here to support you!

  31. Had I read this when you had written it, I would have thought, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and then gone on with my life as usual. However, I am reading this now, a month after my own lumpectomy. I have had my first chemo, and am waiting for the hair to fall–hopefully not in the front of my classroom as I am teaching a math lesson! So, like it or not, it would seem we are on this journey together.

    I never thought I had such strong feelings about my hair as I discovered I have now that I face losing it. The other thing that has made me cry is realizing that I will now be a “pink shirt lady” in the Race for the Cure. Like you, I am lucky–they say mine is treatable, and I am a fighter, as well. We will get through this! I look forward to keeping up with your blog.

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