On New Years Day, 2014, I rubbed all the hair off my head while I sat in the bathtub of my Vancouver apartment, right after I got home from yoga where I had just made a new friend who would become a very close friend, because cancer. On New Years Day, 2015, I dyed my blondish hair growth that I’d already gotten dyed strawberry blonde with slightly oranger tones. On New Years Day, 2016, I held a baby in my lap and dyed my hair orange and red and purple and pink streaky stripes, and then I accidentally asked Sam to do the back with red instead of orange, so then I had to re-streak the sides with red too, and then I decided it was too much purple so I bleached and added more orange and pink, and I love the result even though the last bottle of bleach exploded and someone got on the kitchen ceiling. So how did you commemorate YOUR New Year? Because my hair- and my fingers and some splotches of the bathroom sink- are orange and red and pink and purple and it’s awesome.
New Years is awesome, but let’s be real: this one was also exhausting, and forced me to think about how tentative I (still) feel about future thinking, even as we sipped pear cider mixed with champagne and ate curried butternut squash soup and sang Raffi songs I apparently retained from my own childhood because I know all the words (what the hell? I don’t even know these songs, except I do). I was so tired I could only kick Sam in the shins when he wouldn’t wake up to feed the babies because he was so tired too, but dude, they were about to break into full-force screams if they had to wait more than four more seconds for the requisite cuddle and two ounces of milk.
Another thing about this New Years is that I’ve started it without any pain. A few days into our Mexico vacation, I just couldn’t take the joint pain anymore. My fingers could barely unscrew baby bottles at two am, and my elbows had that painful ringing in them that tells your brain you just hit your funny bone, except I hadn’t just hit my funny bone, and it didn’t go away, and it was because of this hormone blocker I’m taking that will, with any luck, destroy any cells that feel like morphing into cancer. So I emailed my oncologist. Hesitantly, because a few months ago I begged her to let me switch to the new drug, because it meant a couple more percents added to my survival odds. She was the hesitant one then, worrying about side effects and quality of life while I assured her I would be fine. And I have continued to report triumphantly “I’m fine! No pain!” over email since moving to California. When I saw her in December, she asked again about the pain. Again, I told her I was fine… and I chalked up my aching wrists to the babies, just like the mamas in my mama-baby yoga class do. We all have aching wrists. I’m one of them. We. It has nothing to do with cancer. She raised her eyebrows. I insisted the aches were new mom aches. She made me another appointment, and reminded me to email if anything changed.
All the new moms have aching wrists. I wore wrist braces to a dinner and another mama nodded to them and said, “carpal tunnel? I had it too.” The yoga teacher provides a stack of wrist support blocks, and hands them out regularly to mamas complaining of aching wrists. I was just another one of these women, and what a relief that was! A pain we all shared, something we could talk about, each one of us like the other, rolling our wrists and wondering if our babies would ever stop growing. I was just another mama with the same wrist pain, another mama complaining of lower back pain from carrying these infants that are SO HEAVY.
Cancer wasn’t even on the radar.
But then I googled. Always a bad idea. New mom wrist was related to hormonal shifts linked to breast feeding. But I have twins, I rationalized, so I’m holding them more, so even though I’m not breast feeding, I still have it. The niggling voice in the back echoed Dr. G.’s concerns about my hormone therapy, but it wasn’t until the pain spread to my fingers and elbows and knees and hips and ankles that I broke down and realized I wasn’t just like all the other moms. I could pretend, but my pain wouldn’t dissipate as the girls learned to hold their heads. I could pretend, but my hormonal shifts weren’t from breast feeding. I could pretend, but when opening bottles brought tears to my eyes and my favourite yoga poses became impossible, I had to tell her. I didn’t want to- I wanted to do whatever I could to stay alive for my babies. I wanted to stay on the drug, I wanted to not be afraid, I wanted to be alive without cancer, I wanted to do everything I could.
And guess what Dr. G. said?
Let’s take a drug holiday. We saved your life- let’s not ruin it with pain. It’s not dangerous to take a drug holiday for a couple weeks. How you feel, and how much you can do the things you love impact recurrence rates, too.
And just like that, opening bottles doesn’t make me cry, my knees don’t creak like they’re ninety years old, my elbows aren’t screaming, and I can type without pain. It’s not dangerous, she said. It’s not dangerous. How you feel matters, she said. How I feel matters.
I can’t decide what to do about this blog. Shut it down, and leave cancer land? It seems like that will jinx me, and that only moments later, my cells will laugh and run amok and become deadly. Keep writing? But I don’t feel like I’m in cancer land most of the time. Sometimes it slams into me again, like it did with #newmomwrist. Err, #fuckyoucancerhormonetherapyjointpain. That’s how cancer is, I suppose. I’ll just dye my hair instead, and write randomly.
Happy New Year, people. Happy New Year.