Keeping the Line- 29 Wk Food Journal Check In/ Cancer Scare

In April, I received the news that I had a small patch of basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my face by my right nostril.  A small pustule had been bleeding off and on and my wise husband said “You better go get that looked at.”  Though he had to nudge me several times before I made an appointment.  The dermatologist biopsied it along with doing a full body check for other possible skin cancers.  Considering I’m covered in freckles from my Irish side, everything looks like cancer to me.  I was sitting in my home office working the morning when the doctor called and said the dreaded words “It’s cancer.”

My mother died of metastasized colon cancer after an 8 year battle not only with colon but lung cancer.  To say this traumatized me watching her suffer so much is an understatement.  Aside from something tragic happening to my family, my biggest fear has been to get cancer.  Any kind of cancer.  I have nightmares about it and I’m always getting check or tested as much as I possibly can for different types such as getting a mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.  I do not want to die like my mother did, slowly wasting away, cancer taking over her bones where she was in constant pain.  We wouldn’t let our pets die this way, I’m not sure why we do our humans.  But that’s another blog post altogether.

I remember ending the call with the doctor and just staring out the window as my biggest fear had just come to life.  Logically, I knew it was a minor type of cancer, non life-threatening.  If I was going to have any kind of cancer, this was highly curable.  My unlogical emotional and fearful side just swelled and took over, stealing away my logic for about an hour or two.  I cried, I felt doomed, I was thinking but I used sunscreen at least from my mid-twenties when skin cancer advocates preached prevention.  Would I have a huge scar on my face?  Would that matter if it’s removed.  I just wanted that cancer out of my body and knew I would not hear from the skin cancer surgeon for a few days.

Then my brain kicked in and I calmed myself down.  Stop overreacting, I told myself firmly.  You’ve got this, you know people going through way worse than you, stop being a damned pussy about it.   Grow up, get a grip and get back focused with your life. The surgery was scheduled for the end of May, almost a month away.  I am an emotional eater.  I use food to comfort me and make me feel better.  Now that my mom is gone, I gravitate more toward food.  During this month, I was not as diligent about entering what I ate in the food journal, finally just giving it up until after the surgery.  Then I just let it sit until I weighed myself last weekend and realized I had indeed gained a few pounds back.  Nothing major but obviously left to my own devices, I don’t really pay attention as closely as I believe to what I eat.

I knew the time between the call telling me I had cancer until the surgery, I was eating when I wasn’t hungry.  I’ve read all sorts of books on emotional eating, I’ve tried the listen to what you really want and eat it only those things type of instruction they give you from that book.  I’m sure that works for some people.  But me, I always think I want chocolate or something not good for me or to eat when I am bored, upset but not hungry.  The problem is, I’m so good at lying to myself and excusing what I eat, that I am not a reliable source of recollection and tracking just in my mind alone.  My mind covers up my extra portions and little treats I think, oh those calories won’t count much.  Except they do.  Every single one of those little bastards add up and total much more than the 1800 calorie limit I set for myself daily.

To know your limitations is to know thineself.  My limitation is that I have spent so many years lying to myself about what I eat because I was in this binge/purge/overeating/under eating/dieting cycle that I still carry around my old habits.   Though this May, I quietly acknowledged my emotional overeating without coming down on myself.  I just noted that it was a rough period I was going through, I was eating to comfort myself and it’s not the best for me but I’m okay.  Several years back, I would beat myself up and then eat even more because I felt worse.  It’s an odd cycle, emotional overeating.   I also said things to myself like, well at least it’s a little extra food and not crack or heroin.  You could be self-medicating with way worse substances.  So I have come a long way but I’m still not quite in the zen of ony eating when I’m hungry mindset.

So the solution?  A simple one.  Back at the food journal 24/7, full time, recording every thing I shove into my pie hole.  That’s a lovely mental image isn’t it?  It’s been working and when I go off the journal, I regain a bit because even though I would like to believe that I am acutely aware of what I eat, I still tend to use food for comfort at times or I don’t remember things I’ve eaten.  Having the calories consumed in black and white on my phone is a continual reminder to adjust my eating habits.  I was hoping by the time six months had come and gone into this food journal experiment, that I would have the knowledge and wisdom to eat without the food journal.  While I have improved, I’m not quite there yet.  I have some old, latent issues to resolve.  Which is good news because now I can pinpoint them and work on them more specifically.  It took me years to get to where I am, it won’t be overnight for me to correct them.   It’s a journey like anything else.

Since I have been back on the food journal wagon, keeping the line, I’ve lost a few of the five pounds I gained.  Two steps forward and one step back.  The important thing is to keep going forward and learning along the way.  I could easily get pissed off and discouraged so I quit but that doesn’t do me any good nor does it fix the problem.  If I give up, then I lose.  I fail myself.  I’m not doing that.  I’ve done it enough in the past.  It’s time to keep the line, keep going.  Keep using that annoying app and record every little dang thing I eat.  Mostly it’s annoying because I want to think I eat better than I really do and having that pointed out to me pisses me off.  It really isn’t the app’s fault.

Food journals work, if you use them.  Kindness to yourself works as well.  I could be ranting at myself that I am a failure for my weight gain but I am not.  I’m just getting back on the horse and back into the food journal groove.

With the manta – Keep the line, keep the line.  I’m not even sure what that means but it sure sounds good.  Ciao!

PS – The surgery went well, it was a tiny spot and I only ended up with minor scarring.  I was being a big weenie about it all because of my fear of getting cancer.

 

The Best Birthday Ever… 

The other day I was going through some of my saved emails and I found a Lowe’s e-gift card that had been sent to me on my 44th birthday in 2014 by my mother.  I opened up the email and it displays the “gift card” with her message.  The message said:

“wISHING YOU THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  LOVE YOU.  MOM”

Yes she had written it in all caps on her iPad while sitting in her hospital bed with just one month and five days of her life left.  She was on heavy pain killers, couldn’t walk by herself any longer and needed 24/7 care but she still insisted on doing everything she possibly could by herself until the end.   That was just my mom, independent and head strong and a hella stubborn woman.  

 I can’t tell you what I used the gift card for anymore but I remembered I printed out two copies of it.  One to use at the store and one to save in my keepsake box.  Because it was the last birthday I would celebrate with my mother.  I remember feeling incredibly sad when I presented the cashier the card because it felt as if I was losing another little peice of my relationship with my mother.  As if I could hold onto that gift card, that it was keeping her a little bit alive.  Keeping her love for me alive but it really doesn’t work that way.  

Now it’s two and a half years later, my life has adjusted to not having my mom around.  Not that you really ever want to adjust to the loss of someone you love but it happens over time.  You still feel their absence every day but it is not as acute. There are times you want to hug them, sit and talk to them and instead you end up talking out loud to yourself hoping that they will hear you, that they know.  Sometimes I wrap the yellow, ivory and brown crocheted afghan she made me around my shoulders and look at all the stitches to remind myself that she made each one of them out of love for me.  Or put on her worn red Ohio State pullover that I now wash with the care of my most delicate clothing item so it lasts for years and years.  

I sometimes look at pictures, or put on a peice of her jewelry I gave her to feel closer.  I don’t care what anyone says, she may still be with me in spirit, but it sure does suck not having her here in person.  Especially last week when I finally got a promotion she thought I deserved years ago but didn’t live long enough to see it.  No it wasn’t any big new title or a bunch of new responsibilities and money.  Simply it was just the next level in my current job position which I have been doing since 2006.  She retired from where I work in 2010.  Moments like that are stark reminders that she is absent from my day to day life making that accomplishment just a little bittersweet.  

My sister, Dad, Mom and me


Back to the gift card and my 44th birthday.  I reread her words several times.  And I realized that it had indeed been a difficult birthday.  My daughters, my husband and I all have birthdays in the same month so after my birthday, I bought a lemon cream cake from Olive Garden because this is what she wanted and we had a little joint birthday party with her in her hospital room.  We shared the leftover cake with the nurses who were giving her really great care.  And I don’t think one of us has eaten that cake since.  

On my actual birthday, she had employed my middle daughter who had quit working and school to take care of her, to be her legs and get me a card, a potted mini rose and my other gift.  As she laid heavily medicated in her bed, I opened the gift which was my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Of course I started crying and hugged her frail frame tightly.  Simply this was my hardest birthday ever.  My last one.  There was no doubt that she would not be alive for my 45th birthday.  But looking back it was also my best birthday just like she had wished me in the E-gift card.  I can’t look back on any of my birthdays and pick out a more memorable one.  

Birthdays in my family have always been fairly quiet occasions.  Sometimes family would come for dinner and cake when I was kid depending on where we lived.  There were no big parties like I did for my daughters though in today’s standards, their parties would be quite simple.  A few friends over for games, cake and balloons.  Later they would have sleepovers and in their teen years even bigger sleepovers.  Usually I didn’t have the space or the money to give them a big party.  Their birthdays being in the winter, it was hard to have a lot of kids at our house, cooped up in its cramped spaces.  We never do surprise parties either.  I don’t like surprises so that has never been an option.  

Keeping to tradition, my 44th birthday was a quiet affair celebrated with family.  Except it was celebrated with two of my daughters absent for school or work and at my mom’s hospital bedside.  It sounds bleak but really it will be the one birthday I always remember.  I will remember the presents because they are etched into my memory.   I will remember my mom’s smile as I opened my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Simply there was nothing more meaningful she could have given me and she knew it.  I am sure she knew just as I did, this was our last birthday together.  


Dying of cancer sucks.  Knowing you are going to die has to suck even more.   A close friend of mine and I have both lost parents to long battles with cancer and we have decided that our preferred way of dying is to dimply drop dead of old age.  No warning, nothing.  Though it is a shock to your family, you don’t go through those agonizing days of wondering how long you have together.  Or wondering how much time you have.  Or the pain, the helplessness.  It is agonizing for everyone, especially the person dying of cancer.

Out of the suffering, the nightmare of pain and sadness, there are some of the most beuatiful moments borne of reality of the fact that we are indeed mortal.  None of us lives forever and death is a slap in the face reminder that you need to cherish every moment of every day no matter how mundane that moment feels.  That you need to put your head up and look beyond the routine for ways to show love and e kind to others, to enjoy another precious moment with someone you love even if it is as simple as sending a text message to them reminding them you love them.  We only have so many moments.  The only guarantee in life is death.  

No my best birthday ever wasn’t spent on a Carribean Cruise or in a five-star hotel.  It was spent with my mother in a dull hospital room.  What I wouldn’t give for 44 more birthdays together but that is not how life works so I cherish the memories of the ones I did have knowing I was fortunate to have all those years with her.  

Mom circa 2002 four years before cancer disgnosis