Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The many faces of Cancer Girl

I bought a new phone last week. ... Something about how my old phone was over two years old and literally taped together in multiple places.

When I was going through my old phone, deciding which pictures to carry with me and which were going to get deleted in the switch-over, I found some pretty interesting stuff. (Don't worry, I'm not going to post the pics of the gauze sewn into my bum after the removal of the pilonidal cysts. I mean, I did keep those pics, but they aren't fit for public consumption, so they won't be making appearance on the blog - ever. ... It seems that I do have some boundaries with what I put here. You're welcome.)

Anyway, what I found were a multitude of pictures. Of trees. Of flowers. Of food. Of smart signs and magnets that have made me laugh out loud over the years. ... Of me.

Like I said, I'd had the same phone for over two years. That's a whole lot of life - and a pretty dramatic life, at that - to document.

Some of these pics, people have seen. Several of them are on Facebook, and a few of them are my standard go-to profile pics. Very few people know the dates and background stories of these pictures. I thought it would be fun to share those with you.

This is, probably, the best-known and most familiar picture of me out there. It was used as the head shot for the singles conference publicity, it was posted as the profile picture for the Saving Laurie Facebook group, it has been used by family and multiple friends at fundraisers, it was the subject of the portrait that I was gifted for Christmas in 2012.

I took this picture myself, with my phone, on one of the very few days in September 2010 that I had done my hair. I was more than halfway through radiation treatments. The burns were starting to set in. It hurt to breathe. I was in constant, excruciating pain. I couldn't keep water down without the aid of prescription strength anti-nausea medication. I was incredibly weak and very, very tired. I felt very much like death. But on this day, I had done my hair, so I took my picture.

I find it very interesting - and do not think it's a coincidence - that this picture has very literally become The Face of Cancer Girl. When this picture was snapped, my body was suffering through the side-effects of cancer treatments, but my spirit was the happiest, the most at peace that it had ever been, to that point in time. (Also, that was a ridiculously good hair day. How could I not document one of the very few days that I actually did my hair, amidst a summer/fall of ponies and bunnies?)

Another familiar shot, I am sure, to those of you who also know me on FB. This was taken in the morning on February 11, 2011. That afternoon, I found out that I had cancer - for the second time.

These were both taken in March, 2011 - the weekend before I went in for surgery to have my second tumor removed. My cousin Julie had come to spend a few days with me before I went under the knife. We went wig shopping on Friday morning, and to dinner Saturday evening with my good friends. It was a fantastic weekend, full of Pringles and mint chip ice cream, laughs and tears, and loads of Cousin Bonding.

This was taken on April 7, 2011. I had been told, prior to my second surgery, that I would have to do chemo. (See the platinum wig in the pic above. I was preparing for every possible contingency, and had wanted to wig shop before the surgery, while I still had the strength to pull wigs on and off of my gigantor head.) I had been growing my hair out - because it has always been a dream of mine to have a wig made of my own hair (I am not kidding even one little bit), and I figured that the longer it was, the better the wig would be - but the day that I found out that I didn't have to to chemo, I came home and cut a good six inches off my hair.

I'm going to fast forward through a few months now. As well all know, I had clean scans in June and September 2011, but my January 2012 scan showed a new spot just under my left kidney. I spent much of January and almost all of February last year, being run ragged between Dr. W's office and the imaging center, before I ultimately landed in my beloved Dr. H's office.

This picture was taken the week that I met Dr. H for the first time. The mind reels that he didn't fall down and say yes the very first time I asked him to marry me. (Yes, there have been multiple discussions of the matter. And he continues to just sit on his little stool and laugh at me, every single time I bring it up. Bless him.) All I can say is, that man plays a mean game of hard to get.

And this little beauty was taken the Sunday before I went in for surgery. (I'd put my hair in a side pony, and had to send a pic to a friend to show her I was trying to be cute like her.)

Please note the super-duper bright accessory colors. The dress I was wearing has elastic across the back and was stretched to the max by my ever-expanding midsection. I remember hoping against hope that the lime green and hot pink would distract the public eye from my tumor tummy.

Speaking of which... This was taken the day before I went in for surgery.

How awesome is that? I'd taken this pic right before surgery with the intent of taking a pic in the same outfit, a month out from surgery, so I could do a comparative side-by-side post. ... Too bad I forgot all about that plan until I was cleaning out my old phone and came across this little beauty. I'd take the post-surgery "after" now, but... well... after the high-calorie food festival that is the holiday season, I'm thinking that a close-up and personal side shot of my stomach really isn't in anyone's best interest at the moment.

Now, for the fun part. Would you care to guess what all of these pics have in common? (Except for maybe that lost shot of the Cancersaurus Tumor Tummy.)

Go ahead, scroll back up. Look closely. They all have one thing in common. ... And I'm not just talking about the fact they were all taken when I was actively fighting or living with cancer. (Now that I think about it, the tumor tummy pic falls under that descriptor as well.)

That's right, I'm smiling. In every blessed picture, I am smiling. And I meant it. Every time.

I survived the cancer. I like to think that I survived that quite well, thank you. And I believe - I am quite positive, actually - that one of the major contributors to my having been able to come out of that as well as I did was that I can almost always find something to smile about.

I credit my mother for my ability to find joy in the little things. I can't even tell you how often I heard "You're happier when you're happy" or "You find what you look for" come out of her when I was growing up. It may have taken me a little longer than most to learn those life lessons (I am, after all, closer to 40 than 30), but I do believe that they've finally sunk in.

Thanks, Mom, for giving me my smile.

Both through nature and nurture, it came from you.