Friday, August 2, 2013

I Have Cancer; and Cancer Is Not All I Have (by Jeanie Allen)

July 30th, 2013

I have cancer.

B.F.F. Cheri Ardoin (L) with Jeanie Allen
I also have three freckles on my right wrist in a perfect triangle, and if they were on the inside of my wrist I could press one dot with my index finger and pretend I was Spider-Man shooting his web. 

I have recurrent, extremely rare form of soft tissue sarcoma called Clear Cell Sarcoma. In the other 98% of the dozen or so cases diagnosed around the World every year, the tumors present in a limb. Limbs with tumors can be cut off. My cancer is in my abdomen. I can't cut off my trunk. I've had chunks and parts cut out, but that's the most they can do. There is no known treatment. I have been fighting this disease for over 4 years now. It has reoccurred and metastasized for the second time. It persists despite a slew of traditional and non-traditional attempts for treatment. The medical doctor's best hope is palliative, just seeking to extend my time on this beautiful planet with the best quality of life possible.
I haven't given up on beating this dragon though. Not by a long shot. 

I now also have straight, white and grey 'old lady hair', where a year ago I had long, curly, soft brown hair atop my head; courtesy of six months of a new chemo treatment.
I have three tiny scars on my belly that were accessed twice to remove a baseball sized tumor once, and 15 tumors the second time.

Clarence Parks and Jeanie in Lake Charles
I also have a lean, athletic frame that I love because it lets me move through life with agility and strength. I have startling blue eyes thanks to my Swiss Grandma and parents that people tell me 'pop' in contrast to my old lady hair. 

I have a medical 'Port' implanted in my chest that sticks out like a third tit, but allows easy streaming of drugs, blood and fluids. The tubing is visible through my thin chest wall and I pretend it makes me bionic. 

I have a great job, with co-workers who reach out to me in countless, unexpected, compassionate ways. Sometimes it's a gifted bag of perfumed body lotion and bath oil. Sometimes it's a generous donation of highly valuable vacation time, which allows me to take a paid sick day when I travel out of State for treatment, or am recovering from chemo. It helps keep me current on my health insurance premiums and is a Godsend. Many times it's a hug, or a card, or just checking in and listening to what I have going on. Sometimes it's a meal, when I'm too exhausted from chemo to fix something to feed my zapped body. We've had parties to celebrate, just 'cause, and to let me know, they've got my back. 

I have compromised lung function, damage from past chemo treatment and current tumor growth. It makes it harder to keep up, catch up, and it makes cardio activity a challenge.
It sucks. Literally. Breathing IS one of those mandatory functions. 

I have the best dog partner in the world. She is a 22lb dark fur ball of unbridled love. She is receptive and so darn smart -- playful or cuddly at any time. A fantastic traveling partner, though she'll also jump into any stranger's vehicle just for a ride. She is my constant trusty, protective companion, always by my side. I love every drop of her sneezing, heavy breathing dog breath, every scratch from her paw as she tries to get my attention to wake me up in the morning and wriggle her way on top of me like a lap dog. I love that I get to roll the silken softness of her ear in my fingers and kiss the top of her nose. I love how she presses her cheek into the palm of my hand just for contact and comfort.

I have cancerous cells within my body, spreading throughout my belly, compromising the function of my digestive system; another mandatory, can't-do-without body function. This means chronic pressure and discomfort that never leaves me. The new norm. 

I have two beautiful, courageous, funny, smart, loving children who make my life worth living every single day. They make me laugh, worry, roll my eyes, and feel more pride in who they are and joy in who they are becoming then anything I could've ever imagined. 

I still have my intelligence and creativity that allows me to keep writing -- a hobby that brings me clarity and a way to express my thoughts, for myself, and to share with others.
I am a 46-year-old woman: I have truly incredible amazing parent's, a sister, brother's and close relatives who hurt for me, laugh with me, and seize all life has to offer WITH me.
They are a family that can handle my wildly independent and adventurous ways, somehow knowing how and when I need to be coddled even when I don't understand it myself.
I Crossfit and swim and practice for firefighting competitions. I garden and practice yoga. I eat as healthfully as I can, and try to be conservative with my vices of coffee creamer, wine and chocolate. I love trying new restaurants and taking in new adventures. I love good books and stimulating conversation. I like to sit on the front porch couch in the evenings when it's cooled off, and read and journal or visit with friends. I love to camp and be in nature, the mountains and the trees.
Congratulatory Hug at the Finish Line

I like to clammer out on my rooftop with my kids and watch the sun set with its brilliant summer colors, and chat about our day. 

I have been living with cancer since age 42-- living with the disease, the huge financial costs, the side effects, the treatments, the anguish, the questioning, the unknowns, the adaptations, and the hopes and fears. 

And, I have friends -- great friends. Each offers such special qualities that mold me and make me who I am. They bring such unexpected joy in our connections and appreciation of each other, big and small. They all meld harmoniously into one big lovefest that I can tap into at any time. I have perfect strangers that send me love and light and hope and big pushes every day.

I have no known viable treatment options. Anything tried is at best an experiment. My life depends on the speed of cancer research or a miracle of another kind.

I have faith in a loving God. A God so big and all encompassing I have yet to have a true understanding of all his Power and Grace, so in my humble humanness I do my best to just believe, and to surrender to him. 

This God regularly presents himself in my church family; always uplifting, supportive, compassionate, and IN relationship. 

I have cancer, and I'm eating a peach on the front porch in the cooling evening breeze. 

I have toxic chemotherapy currently working to kill every rapidly dividing cell in my body; but the sound of my kiddo's starting to wind down, the sight of Piper Dawn Doggie chasing her tail trying to get someone to pay attention and play with her, and the everyday normalcy of car doors shutting and neighbors out walking and talking in companionship makes it somehow okay.

I have a good, no a great, no an utterly balls-out fabulous life and more importantly, the capacity to understand its impermanence. Sure, I have some things that I don't need, ahem, cancer, but I have everything I do need. Right here. Right now. I revel in that comfort and wonder how I got it so good.

Sure, I lose perspective. Sometimes I want to scream and bawl and beat my fists into an unknown foe, unsure of how to handle the weight of my fate staring me in the face. But then good days come, and I forget about the cancer, the chemo, the unknown future, for a while, so blinded by the gratitude that I get to be here, to do this, to enjoy this world and the people in it. 

I will soon pick up my Mom at the airport, after traveling 1800 miles to be here. I can't wait to grab her up in my arms and never let her go. And then she will be here to hold my hand during my 8 hr chemo infusion tomorrow. 

I have cancer and I'm eating a peach.

2 comments:

Donny Leonard said...

I was given the honor of meeting this wonderful lady at the 2013 Lake Charles FFCC. She is truly an inspiration. Everything that you went through and are going through and to see you complete that individual run in Lake Charles was awesome. Jeanne, you are a true hero. God bless.

Donny Leonard Sr.
Team On Fire For God

Jimmy Rogers said...

Competing in the challenge, for me, has always been about the souls you meet. Not the burning legs and lungs to finish in 37th place. It's the brothers and sisters you meet from all over the globe who share a passion for life, and always give more than they take. Jeanie is an inspiration to all of us who make excuses and complain about aches or pains. Jeanie, I pray for a miracle for you, but regardless of the outcome, I appreciate the passion you show for life. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives! You're an inspiration to all of us! I'm sure I'll see you on the course again! Jimmy Rogers Team DP