Heather & Lily

November brings out the best in many people. The spirit of Thanksgiving is everywhere; on social media, friends are posting 30 days of thankfulness. I love this idea and have participated in it many times since I have much to be thankful for. But to me November is not a month I look forward to; in fact, I pretty much dread it every year since 2005. November means winter is starting, the days are shorter, it’s colder, it’s grey and dreary, and if we don’t have snow, we have rain and fog. My yard is all soggy, brown and depressing-- quite a change from the colorful summer and fall with all my many flowers blooming.

The main reason for disliking November is because in 2005 my world was turned upside down by my mesothelioma diagnosis. I know, I shouldn’t dwell on the past and I should live in the present moment. I know all of this, but it doesn’t take away the feeling that comes back every November. Dread might be too strong of word-- unease may be a better one. The entire first part of November in 2005 was a series of tests and scans to see what was wrong with me. November brings memories of feeling the worst I ever felt in my life with no energy to do anything while trying to work full time and care for my infant daughter. Going to my doctor appointments with a baby in a stroller, getting chest x-rays while a nurse held Lily in another room, and not knowing what the future holds. Going through a CT scan in a cold room, while my husband sat helplessly by and wondering what the hell we were in for. The waiting, the torturous waiting. My parents dropped everything and drove out to be with us during that time and to help me care for Lily. I was so weak and tired that I was not able to do it on my own.

November 21st, 1:30 p.m. my husband and I got our answer. Out of all the doctor appointments, that single one is the one that is the turning point. All cancer patients remember that appointment, the one when you get your diagnosis. The doctor told us I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. Through tears in his eyes he conveyed the message without saying a word, I knew I was up against something much larger than I had imagined. The rest of November was spent getting things in order for the trip to Boston-- all the travel arrangements, care for Lily, and mentally preparing for what was ahead. To me, November is a month of hurry up and wait, a month of hanging on the edge, a month of unease.

Every year since then, I still get anxious when November is coming. It doesn’t help matters that my 6-month appointment always comes around that time as well and this year was no different. My appointment in Boston was in late October and I’m happy to say all is clear! No sign of cancer anywhere, so that alone is reason to celebrate. But this year, November had other plans. My dad had been having some serious back problems and finally went to a specialist to get some surgery scheduled to take care of things. We found out a while ago that he has degenerative disc disease, so he was going to have some vertebrae fused. During an MRI, they found 3 tumors on his spine. I hear the word tumor and automatically think the worst. My dad, however seemed unconcerned, so I relaxed. Upon further tests, he was found to have a mass on his kidney. He had to have the back surgery because the tumors could have paralyzed him, so getting them off his spine was the first order of business. It was determined they were secondary tumors, stemming from the kidney. We got the diagnosis on Tuesday, November 12th-- clear cell renal carcinoma or kidney cancer. Screw you November and your month of cancer diagnosis. Screw you cancer for messing with my family.

My dad is a fighter and he has a great attitude, he won’t let this get him down. My parents have incredible faith and my I got my spirit from them. Once again, our lives have been turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis, but we’ll do what we did before. We’ll move forward and live in the moment. We will deal with what comes our way and know that our faith will get us through no matter what. In a strange way, it has opened up a whole new level of communication between my dad and me. He can discuss the cancer bluntly with me, and it doesn’t make me sad or bother me. I’m under no illusions of what this could mean to our family, and neither is he, but because of what I’ve gone through, we can talk openly about it and not end up in a puddle of tears. We joke that we can compare surgery scars and radiation tattoos. We aren’t going to sit and have a pity party and cry about it. After all, we’ve already been down this road once before. Some people call it brave, I call it living. Only the Big Guy knows when our last day on earth is, and with that knowledge comes the strength to fight. My dad says he has more to accomplish and isn’t ready to go yet.

Even though we have a mostly positive attitude about this next leg of our journey, I still get the November blues. Instead of a month for time to reflect and give thanks, to me it’s a month that cancer invaded my family, not once, but twice. It’s a month that, no matter how many years go between me and my diagnosis, will always have a black mark on it. It’s a month that I just want to get through and move on, I guess you could call it the November blues. I feel melancholy for all that was lost and angry because cancer came into my life. But in spite of all of that, I guess I’m still thankful-- thankful that I’m here to celebrate another year on this earth, thankful my family is strong enough to face this again, thankful for all the support and love from all over, and thankful for our faith to get us through dark and scary times.

November will always feel yucky to me, but slowly I’ve been doing things during the month to replace the bad with something bright. I focus on the positive and the good, and don’t dwell on the bad. I delight in the first frost that covers everything, the first snowfall that makes the grey/brown world pristine and bright, and all of the beautiful holiday lights and the promise of joy for the holiday season. I’ve told myself it’s ok to have the November blues and be sad for a time, let the feelings wash over me and revel in it. Then I get up, dust myself off and look December in the face and say, “Bring on the Holidays!!!” I have an 8-year-old little girl to make the holidays magical for and with the November blues behind me, that is an easy thing to do.