Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Burping the Chillow by Diane LeBleu

It’s an afternoon in early October and I find myself at the kitchen sink burping the Chillow ®. Last year at this time, I was consumed with the usual ‘What will the kids be for Halloween?’ dilemma but now that I see the world through pink tinted glasses, I celebrate this month like many others around the nation in commemoration for all those who have had and will have breast cancer at some point in their lives. In my life.

I’ve lived several lifetimes since my diagnosis last December. Surgery, chemotherapy, lost my hair, gave up my ovaries but gained some fantastic new boobs. I managed to do the chemo without a portacath, making good use of my man-size veins for the first time so unless you take a good look at the delicate scar under my right armpit, there’s not much to tell the casual observer that I had breast cancer this past year. Indeed, strangers are now complimenting me on my new, chic hair style. I had been hearing this from close friends since the time I mustered enough courage to de-wig and de-hat but figured it was just those sweet white-lies of well-meaning encouragers. So with the exception of a much shorter, darker, and wavier hair-do, I look and feel pretty much like I did ten short months ago. Unless you count the hot flashes.

Years ago, my mother-in-law complained endlessly, in colorful detail about the cursed hot flashes and night sweats that ruined her sleep and wrecked her sunny outlook on life. I recall discreetly rolling my eyes and silently dismissing her rants with ‘Oh come on. How bad can they be?’ Even my twin sister didn’t get much empathy from me, as she fanned herself and bowed down to the woes of early onset menopause as a result of cancer treatment. Now it is my turn to flash and burn, suffering in silence, trying to get on with my new post-cancer life as best as I can.

I feel a freedom in my new identity because I can blend into the crowd once again. I am no longer the subject of curious children wondering what happened to my hair or concerned friends and neighbors wondering how I am feeling today. I can choose to talk about my experience or not. It’s up to me. Life has gone on.

I recently attended a meeting of my MOPS group (aka Mothers on Prozac but more correctly named Mothers of Preschoolers). I confessed to my new friends my recent history of breast cancer and upcoming oophoroectomy (that’s ovary removal to the layman) and our group’s ‘Mentor Mom’ advised me about the Chillow ® . ‘My sister swears by it!’ she wisely declared. Never heard of it. Hmmm.

Thank God for the internet and search engines because I found the Chillow ® (a chilled pillow) as a practical solution to my evenings of hot again/off again spells. I ordered one up and it was delivered to my doorstep within 3 days. It’s a foam-filled pillow-like device that you fill with water then massage the air out, like the back of a gassy baby, and sleep on, covered with a pillowcase, for a night of cool, peaceful slumber. I’m hooked. I count the hours until I can cocoon myself within it’s chilling calm.

I’ve found that some people don’t like to share their experience with cancer. They just want to do their time and get on with their life. Last month, I attended an event in Austin, TX titled ‘The Many Faces of Breast Cancer’, a national program educating and celebrating breast cancer survivors sponsored by AstraZeneca and local cancer service providers. A woman asked the speaker’s panel , composed of a renowned breast surgeon and oncologist, what she could do to serve her sister who was ‘in denial’ about her breast cancer. This woman tearfully confessed her desire to serve her sister but that she had not been afforded any opportunity. Her sister had shut her down, shut her out, and didn’t want to talk about or deal with her disease other than the doing her treatment regimen proscribed by her doctors. And that’s her prerogative.

But for the rest of the evening, a number of breast cancer survivors addressed this woman and provided a multitude of ideas about how she could listen to, respond to, and be available to the needs of the sister she loved as she battled this horrendous disease. Sometimes it is a matter of taking a deep breath and letting it all out. To suffer in silence may seem brave and selfless, but one might be denying oneself some great wisdom and useful advice. If I hadn’t been willing to share my story with my parenting support group, I would have missed out on the timely advice that has allowed me to sleep a little easier.

By the way, I love my new hot-flash remedy, as do all four of my children. Check out my next post, titled ‘Defending the Chillow ® ’.

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