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The Christmas Doll

It was a rare occasion to find myself at home on a Friday evening. Usually I was either already on the road to Western North Carolina or gearing up to get on my way for an adventure-filled weekend. However, work schedule changes for my significant other created a shift in my normal plans, so here I was, sitting at home in a quiet house with time on my hands. I decided I would take advantage of my time and tackle some cleaning and household projects that had been on the back burner. I moved furniture, swept down dust bunnies, moved some pictures around on my wall and cleaned out a cabinet. Next thing I knew, I found myself up in my attic going through boxes and totes, not really looking for anything in particular, just sorting, organizing and purging items that no longer added any rhyme to my reason. I opened one tote that had several Boyd’s Bears in it I was saving for my grand-daughter, and there in the bottom of the tote, I found her – my Christmas doll. I picked her up, looked into her dreamy eyes, and for just a few moments, as a rush of emotions consumed me, I traveled back in time almost 40 years.

Growing up in our house was not always the most pleasant of occasions. My father was a troubled man who had come from a very poor and violent upbringing. In appearance, he was strong in stature, handsome, and if you met him on a normal day, you would say he was quite likable and funny. When I see pictures of him as a young man, dressed in his military attire, I can see why my momma fell in love with him. What a looker! However, my father was also an abusive alcoholic and when he drank, the portals of hell could not compare to the evil rage that came out of him. The demons he wrestled with wreaked havoc on any one in his path, and most of the time that was my momma and us children.

I am the third child of four children, and other than the fact that I look more like my momma than the rest of my siblings, I was just like any other ordinary child trying to grow up in a hostile world. In his drunken rages, my father made no bones about the feelings he had towards me. He despised me, detested me, abhorred me, loathed me – heck, he downright hated my stinking guts! I endured many beatings for simple things like looking at him the wrong way or laughing too much. I still recall the piercing sting of the steel rings of his thick white belt all over my back, sides, stomach and legs as he beat me for laughing at my sister while she was in the shower.  I was 5 years old. The physical beatings were painful, yet the things I recall that hurt the most were the words he would spew out of his cigarette and liquor ridden breath. I heard often how I was such an ugly child, so stupid, nothing but a cry baby and if I heard it once I heard it a thousand times how he wished I wasn’t his and how he didn’t even want me to call myself by his last name. He always called me by nicknames, which to him were amusing, but to me they were degrading and made me feel less than human. I was 33 years old before I ever heard my dad say ‘Christy’ and it shocked me so much that it took me a minute or two to respond to him.  As a young child, I did not have the ability to process that these things he would say weren’t true, I thought a father’s words was the gospel!  Nor did I have the wisdom I do as an adult to understand that these vicious demons belonged to him and had nothing to do with any shortcomings on my part. The aftermath of his destruction left me wounded, bleeding, literally and figuratively, broken, fearful and confused. I had no identity, no value in myself, I just knew that I was disgusting, unwanted, worthless and unlovable.

Needless to say, Christmases in our house were not the joyous occasion they were intended to be. I honestly only remember just 3 holidays that were significant for the first 13 years of my life. One was when I was in 5th grade and someone from the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program came to our house and met with my mother to get a wish-list,   clothes and shoe sizes for all of us children. I was ever so proud to wear a brand new outfit on our first day back to school from holiday break. I felt like a runway model as I sported those baby blue corduroy pants and a blue and brown plaid button up shirt. When my momma was finally able to break free from my father, get a restraining order and file for divorce, she was able to go to work at a local department store. That year we all had a brand new pair of house shoes under the Christmas tree! The third occasion I remember was the following year when we were picked to have a Christmas shopping spree at the department store where my momma worked and that is when I found her, the Christmas doll. The moment I laid eyes on this doll I knew that I had to have her. She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen and she looked like someone straight off of my favorite TV show, Little House on the Prairie. I coveted Laura Ingalls Wilder, her simple life with a daddy who loved her and her family ferociously and worked hard to take care of and provide for them. There was a deep longing in my soul for this doll, and I chose her as my Christmas gift.

Fast forward almost 40 years, to a grown woman, sitting on the living room floor, holding this doll that I had kept for so many years. Through nine moves, two states, broken relationships, a wonderful marriage, a hateful divorce, unspeakable heartaches, terrible loss, shattered dreams and life-threatening disease. Through years of healing, helluva hours of counseling, renewed hopes, incredible transformations, perseverance, and self-discoveries. Through hard times, good times, joy, laughter and tears. Time and again  I had set her out on beds, put her back in boxes, set her back out in chairs as decor, only to put her back in boxes to safely store away and move again.

 When I saw her so many years ago sitting on the shelf in that old department store,  I had no understanding of the depth of why I not just wanted her, but needed her so badly or why I would keep her for so many years. Yet finally, on a rare friday evening that I found myself home alone, the answer flooded my soul like a dam break. This Christmas doll – she was beautiful, she was valued, she was wanted and she was loved. She was everything that I had yearned to be as a child and everything that I had fought to become as a woman.  I was her and she was me. 

Alone on the floor in that quiet house, I rejoiced because I am no longer that lost, broken child searching for love, significance, worth and acceptance. As an adult woman, I know that my wounds have healed, my scars, although still a part of me, have faded and I am fully aware that sometimes in life we are the victim of someone else’s battle. I can honestly say that I do not hate my father, I feel he has hated himself enough through the years for the mistakes he made and the devastation my tender heart suffered at his hands. I pray he has found the healing, peace and forgiveness in his own heart that I have embraced for myself and that we all desperately need. I breathed a slow, heavy sigh as I placed the doll back into the safety of her tote and laid my other keepsakes around her. One day, when I am long gone from this world, my children may find her and wonder why their momma kept such a simple, old doll stored up as a treasure. 

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles – Life After Active Treatment: The Quest for Normalcy

10 months ago I finished up active treatment for Breast Cancer. 17 months of my life spent dedicated to eradicating the terrorist that had invaded my body and threatened my well-being.

18 weeks of chemotherapy involving 2 chemotherapy drugs and 2 immunotherapy drugs.
17 immunotherapy infusions.
5 surgeries including a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
25 radiation treatments.
Completed. Done. Finished. Over with. Sigh. Hallelujah.

Being the hope filled, positive-attitude-kind-of-girl that I am, I had noble aspirations that finally life could go back to normal after everything was said and done, right? Yeah, I know, I love the way I crack my own self up sometimes but a girl can dream, right?!?

According to Webster’s dictionary normal is “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.” “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” I am sure that at some point in my educational plight ‘normal’ had been a spelling word that I had to look up the definition for. I was in fact the spelling bee champion for many years throughout my elementary and junior high years (hey, we all have to be good at something! I just so happened to thrive at memorization!) and I have always had a love for words, their meanings and the way you can scramble them together and write a beautiful story. Anyways…

I was ready to be ‘normal’ again. My healthy, active, adventurous happy world had been rocked by the diagnosis of breast cancer. I had sat week after week enduring treatments that, although the ultimate goal was healing, came in like a wrecking ball and transformed my fit, strong body into a caricature of weakness. I worked hard during the off-weeks of my treatments to keep myself built up, knowing that the next round would inevitably wreak a little more damage, bring a little more fatigue, a little more muscle atrophy, and a little more transformation to the woman I saw looking back at me in the mirror. I don’t despise the treatments that were successful and have given me more years to live my life, but I won’t pretend that I enjoyed those suckers one hairy bit! They were a dastardly yet necessary task and I would be just fine to never, ever, ever have to endure them again! I was ready to begin the process of rebuilding without the task of being tore down again.

I was ready to be normal again. To not have to undress in an open room and lay bare chested on a table while nurses chatted casually as if I wasn’t present. At times I didn’t even feel human as they lined up the fire-breathing dragon machine to zap any cancer cells that might be lingering in the shadows of my chest area formally known as my breasts but now a cavity with muscles separated from the chest wall and stuffed with concrete filled expanders.

I was ready to be normal again. To get up, get dressed, put on my face and not have to worry that throughout my day my painted-on eyebrows would get rubbed off and I would be walking around looking like Pinky after his horrifying eye-brow shaving bathroom scene. (referencing Pink Floyd’s ‘live action/adult animated surrealism musical The Wall Movie’ that was popular in the 80’s. The majority of you reading this blog may have no clue what I am talking about, and if you don’t, it’s okay, don’t watch it.  You will forever be traumatized any time you hear any of the songs from the soundtrack. Just googling the album cover is enough to scar you for life!)  

After 17 months of fighting a disease that was sent to take me out, I was ready to be normal again.

9 months later, I can say to you that normal is:

A setting on your dryer.
A temperature of 98.6.
An average statistic.
A blood pressure of 120/80.
A man not asking for directions.

However, normal has nothing to do with how you feel after active treatments are over.

Don’t get me wrong, physically, for the most part, I feel great!

My hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes have all grown back and I look pretty much like myself again (except for the natural hair color. No more Clairol! 😊)

On most days, my energy level is fantastic. I can now work again until I am done – not until my body says whoa…you have used up all of your energy cells today and I am shutting down…at 11 am.

I am starting to rebuild muscle tone – it’s a slow process but hey, it’s a process!

I can wear tank tops now without being self-conscious of a port bulging out of my chest like a third eye.

I am no longer referred to as a cancer patient – I am now a cancer survivor! whoop whoop!

There are SO many positives and for each and every one I am thankful.

But am I normal? Of course, some would debate that I was never normal to start with, right but zip it!

My point is I have discovered that going through cancer changes you. There is no such thing as going back to normal. It not only alters your physical body – noobies and nice new boobies are not the same! Trust me! My whole entire upper body has been restructured; I have shoulder aches, I have noobie muscle spasms (OUCH!), I am constantly aware of the discomforting tightness on my right side, blah blah blah – For more information you may read a previous blog about the new girls. 😉

There are some days, for absolutely no reason at all, that I am unusually tired and I have to have a zero evening.

My hair that was so nice and thick growing back is now thinning due to the medication I have to take daily.

I am depleted of estrogen as a preventative to keep new cancer cells from growing back. My body went from pre-menopause to post menopause, which is normally a several year transformation, in 8 seconds.

In spite of all of the physical changes I have experienced, I can honestly say that the thing I have found most challenging with surviving cancer is the way that it affects your mind set. Yes, I feel great, I take care of myself, I eat healthy, I exercise on the daily. I feed my body, soul, and mind daily with positive energy. I am religious with my check-up appointments and I even google my bloodwork to make sure things are, yeah you know, NORMAL! UGH!

However, any woman (or man!) who has had cancer knows that there is a constant nagging forethought of reoccurrence. Any odd feeling. Any abnormal pain. Any unexplained fatigue. Time for a check-up? Count on some anxiety. Time for yearly scans? They call that nervousness ‘scan-xiety.’ Even on the best of days, the thought of reoccurrence can creep up like an ex-boyfriend showing up at the same restaurant.  The timetable of your life is now forever associated with and referenced to “before cancer” and “after cancer.” Will this course of thinking change with time, perhaps, maybe, hopefully, please Lord!

So, is life after active treatment perfect? Nah? Am I back to normal, double-nah. It is a futile pursuit and I have given up the ridiculous notion that there is such a thing as me and normal in the same sentence. Nevertheless, I am certain of one thing as sure as my name is Christy. I endeavor to enjoy every single day of life after active treatment that I am blessed with and to live to the absolute fullest. I also know undoubtedly that I am much better now than I was when I began this journey many months ago, and for this I am forever thankful.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2021 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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