Monday, October 8, 2012

Transitions II, with the wind at my back...

It has been over seven months since I wrote my first blog post, Transitions, about bladder cancer. At the time, other than aggressive treatment, I didn't know what the future held. I also didn't know what it would be like to write about cancer, to share my experience with others. As you'll recall, I wrote that I was much more comfortable writing about the excitement and joy that I get from something like the Israel Ride. Cancer  is scary. 

Still, I wanted to try to share the journey. I did that for myself.  I thought keeping a chronicle might help and that it could be a useful way to keep my friends and extended family informed, without phones and sometimes difficult conversations for me or my immediate family. I'm tremendously glad that I made that decision. It lead to an outpouring of support, prayer, love, and good wishes from generations of friends, and some strangers too. Each of you has been with me these past months, helping me through each stage of the process, giving me strength. You've truly been the 'wind at my back'. I've been very fortunate. 

I've written that I thought of this time as having three phases -- chemotherapy, surgery, and, hopefully, recovery. I was excited to get to the third phase, recovery - that put 'things' back in my hands, the work of the doctors was largely done! I was blessed that the chemo and surgery were so successful that I could approach recovery "cancer free". At the beginning, that was not a foregone conclusion. All we really knew then was that the cancer was very advanced, 'pervasive' throughout my bladder, but, hopefully, still contained within my bladder. We also knew that I would probably be bladder free after the surgery, not necessarily cancer free. It is still difficult to write or believe that I am cancer free. I suspect that comfort only comes with the passage of time, lots of time. Cancer casts a long shadow. 

I have not written a lot on this blog about "recovery". Not that there wasn't a lot to write about, but it was something that lent itself better to short posts and updates on Facebook. That is good -- it is because the recovery went well, I made consistent progress, and had no major setbacks. There have been challenges, but not the meta-challenges that I struggled with after the initial diagnosis, chemo, and surgery. By comparison, the challenges were mundane. I stabilized and, with the help of others, began the work of getting my strength and energy back. I had a long way to go. I was in a wheelchair just weeks before surgery, and my first post-op accomplishments were measured in feet walked (or body functions regained, but we won't go there!). For weeks, things as basic as taking a shower were exhausting. I had twice weekly visits from home health. While helpful, they were so tiring that I did not even try to get any other exercise on those days. But, progress was steady. With the help of friends and family, I was regularly walking our block, about a mile, within a few weeks. By seven weeks, I was walking 6 - 10 miles/day. At eight weeks, July 17, I finally was able to get back on my bike for a short, chaperoned, ride. And, the first Sunday in August, I was able to ride 50 miles on the "family" route of the 2012 Pan Mass Challenge. I made good progress! Throughout, the prayers, love, encouragement, and support of family and friends has been a constant source of strength. You've truly been the wind at my back! 

The past month or two has been part of a new phase, one that I originally thought of as part of "recovery", but it is very different. I'll call it reentry. It is not about getting my strength and energy back, but of getting comfortable and finding my place back in the community and at work. It is about returning to "normalcy", or new-normalcy. It started slowly, as groups or crowds were overwhelming. Among friends, large groups were too emotional for me to deal with, not among friends, large groups were just scary.  Fortunately for me, some friends just knew this, and they invited me to small gatherings, easier to participate in. Others shared conversations, then walks, and then bike rides (yea!) with me, helping me not just recover my strength but also start to get more comfortable with myself again. 

I'm not sure that things will ever be back to "normal" -- at best cancer leaves a long shadow, and life without a bladder has it's moments as well, but we've made good progress on reentry. In the community, it was a long way from only being able to deal with people one or two at a time, to being able to again be more active at our Temple and with JNF, and to helping lead our Temple's Israel Appeal this year. Finding and keeping my voice in front of about a thousand people was a major milestone for me. It was only possible for the steps that came before it. Similarly, I've taken on a new position of responsibility for the Israel Ride, as vice chair of the ride, and I've resumed my full time responsibilities at work. This isn't recovery, it is reentry -- reentering the community, re-'claiming' some of my former responsibilities and joys. 

In a few short weeks, I'll return to the original reason that I started this blog, almost four years ago -- the Israel Ride! After learning my cancer diagnosis, and what the treatment would entail, I didn't expect to do the 2012 Israel Ride. In fact, at points during chemo, it hurt to even think about it. My first kernel of light came when a friend from prior Israel rides said that she would be riding in my honor. That got me focused, as much as her ride would mean to me, finding the strength to do the ride myself would mean even more. A few weeks ago, my doctor said "yes, absolutely" when I asked if I was healthy enough to do the ride. I was in! On November 5th, I will pedal into Eilat on the last day of the Israel Ride.  It will have been five months and two weeks since my surgery, and almost six months since the chemo left me in a wheelchair. I've never been alone. Each of you as been with me, the wind at my back. Thank you!  We will pedal into Eilat together.

I am thankful to have these past months behind me.  I pray for my friends and relatives who are currently struggling with cancer.  I've been truly fortunate, I hope and pray that they are as well.

My next post will be from the 2012 Israel Ride!