Race For the Cure

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Throughout this past year, with all the ups and downs and major family crisis, there is one event that really sticks out in my mind–a moment where we ALL came together (including Jasmine)–The Race For the Cure. I am going to be completely honest here, I had always heard of it, but had never participated before. I had always read about it in the paper, but had never witnessed it. I had always seen news clips of our local race, but I had never been touched personally by breast cancer up until this year. I take that back, as I’ve stated before in my post Strapped In Tight , my oldest daughter’s daycare provider was affected by the disease and yet, after she got remarried and moved, we lost touch. We weren’t thinking about it daily anymore and therefore, details and extra curricular activities once again busied our lives.

I have spent a great deal of time flip-flopping between being on the outside looking in (even though I was very “IN”) or “owning it”. I have said openly–“I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO THIS CLUB”! I don’t. A big part of me really just doesn’t want to ever have to worry about cancer, statistics, prosthesis, chemotherapy, metastasis, reconstruction, wigs, mastectomy swimwear, etc. etc. etc. It’s like this…when you are pregnant for the first time, you are hyper tuned to all the strollers you see passing you in the mall, all the laughter of a preschooler playing in a park, a toddler crying for a piece of candy in the checkout lanes of the grocery store, or a baby and its mother conveying their love for each other through their eyes. If you aren’t pregnant or trying to conceive, you are busy with many other routines of life. Same goes for cancer. I am now, on alert when I read things in the newspaper regarding cancer treatments. I am more aware of (young and old alike) women that have lost their hair and whether they are wearing a head covering of some sort. I am more aware of the anguish some women are feeling as they are sitting in the Center for Breast Health. I know what they are feeling now. I have been there. I have walked a mile in their shoes. I have deep compassion and respect for these individuals who are facing their own mortality.

So, it goes without too much saying that when all the buzz about our local Susan G. Komen’s Race For the Cure was getting underway, that I found myself drawn to signing up. What an experience that was! I couldn’t believe how many people were at the sign up. I couldn’t believe how much pink was being proudly worn. I couldn’t believe how huge this was. The signup happened on a weekday and since I provide childcare during the day, I thought I’d just take them down with me–no big deal–we’d sign up–they would be my sign up supporters and we’d high five a good job done for Tina and we’d go grab a pizza somewhere. Little did I know that it would turn into a huge nightmare.

It was COLD and windy that day. The parking lot was jam packed and we had to park all the way to the back of the lot and run up. Once inside the convention center, I had to navigate through lines of women all the while continuously counting heads even though the kids are all knowledgeable about the rules I have while in public–hands on the stroller at all times, listen carefully for instructions, etc. We made it to the line where the applicants who hadn’t pre-registered were asked to stand. I waited approximately 20 minutes only to get to the front of the line when I remembered I left my debit card in the van. We turned around and headed back out into the cold to retrieve it. Once we returned the line had grown. We waited again for approximately another 30 minutes and once I reached the head of the row, the lady explained that they do not accept debit cards. I couldn’t believe it. I was so angry! She knew that was what I was going to get. It was the same lady. She heard me! Couldn’t she have told me then and saved me the trouble? Yes–but she didn’t. I turned everyone around and out we went to the van yet again. I loaded all the children, the double stroller and away we went looking for an ATM.

We ended up at a bank and after getting the exact amount of money we would need–plus a little extra to spend at the mini pink ribbon store that was there–we went back for a third time to the convention center. Pulling into the parking lot, I pulled out the snacks and had everyone finish up those before going in. I knew if I attempted it again, I would ultimately hear, “I’m hungry”. So, I crossed that one off the chesklist, first, and made my way through the throngs of women who were now standing in long lines. I found the same lady’s line that I had already stood in twice before. I know, you’re all probably wondering why I chose her again, afterall, she had already failed to give me pertinent information that would have made my life easier given the fact that I was trying to get through this process with 6 children by my side. It was a matter of principle at that point. I was going to prove to her that I was not easily deterred. That I was determined to sign up for this event–and really, if I left now without signing up after going through all the hassle, I would have been more mad at myself!

I thought that if we went and looked through the store, killed some time while picking out some bumper stickers, the lines would diminish some. I kept my eyes on their status and when I realized they were only getting longer, I figured I better go and grab a place. As we stood there, we played Simon Says and amused all the women around us. We also played I Spy until I was sick of it. I was getting hot and so were the kids. I started to peel coats off and pray the line would move faster. I finally get to the front after another 40 minutes only to have her smile sickeningly at me and ask me where all the registration forms were. That was it! I was about to blow and I knew I couldn’t because I’d have 6 children watching me. It’s moments like these when you know they are watching you. This is a teachable moment in patience, tolerance, and keeping my mouth shut firmly. I tried. I really did. I couldn’t help it, though and so I leaned over the table and got very close to her and as I smiled sweetly to her I told her through clenched teeth that this was my first time here. I had no knowledge of the process, the order to get that process done, or that I needed to bring cash or check. I told her that it was her duty as a volunteer to be trained adequately so that when someone shows up and looks lost, they are given ALL the information they need to produce the items necessary to register”. I then asked her where in the hell are the forms. She pointed to the back of the line where a table was set up. AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!

“Calm Down”, I told myself. “Breathe”. So, I did. The sound in the convention center was becoming deafening with all the chatter and women’s laughter. I was totally over stimulated. The kids, although satiated for the time being, were bored. What was supposed to take me 15 minutes had now taken me over two hours and I was still no closer to getting my race badges. Here is where the crucial mistake was made. Recall, I had given the children snacks in the van? What goes in must come out, right? Yeah–I never thought about that in all my frustration. So, after spending 10 minutes filling out all the information on front and back of 5 forms and standing in line for another 20 minutes, I hear that familiar sound, “Tiiinnnnaaa–I have to go potty!!!!!” That prompted the next one to grab themselves and start dancing–and the next one and the next one–etc. etc. etc. I looked at the front of the line–I was second in line. The women all behind me were secretly happy. I could tell. They were tired of listening to the umpteenth repetition of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”. “Can you hold it just a little longer?” I begged. “NOOOOOO! They all cried”. I should have pottied them when we were filling out the registrations. Hindsight. Crap. “I give up”, I dismally said out loud.

I took them all to the potty but the women’s line was out the door. Double crap. I can’t go in the men’s bathroom, especially with a double stroller so, I am going to let the 4 preschool boys go in as a buddy system and I would be standing right at the door listening for them. The first sign of trouble, I was coming in. Note to self: Never let 4 boys go into a public restroom with urinals hanging from the wall because 1.) they are not preschool sized or hung at a preschool height; 2). They can’t reach the sinks or the soap hanging from the wall; and 3.) the toilets are usually plugged and not flushed and no one will want to go. I could hear the laughter. I knew something was going on. It was just a matter of time, really. They all were bored and it was more fun to be playing in a big boys bathroom then to stand in a line waiting to be helped. I asked a man coming out how it was going in there. He was in there and I know not only had he heard me, but many, many women all around me heard the ongoing conversations I was having loudly with the boys. The man told me they were the only ones in there–noone else if I needed to go in and check on them. I thanked him and started maneuvering the stroller into the narrow opening.

What I saw was comical to say the least. On the one hand, it completely helped break the tension that had been building in me from our disastrous morning and on the other showed me how ingenuitive these boys really were. There they were–still buddied–only not hand in hand as I sent them in there. They had collectively figured out a way to use the urinals so they could all have a chance of peeing on the blue urinal cake. One buddy hoisted his partner up by holding onto his legs. Boy being hoisted was leaning with both hands on the wall on either side of the urinal and the forward lean was helping point the arc in the correct downward spiral. Once done, they switched spots and the hoisters now became the urinators. I do wish I could have taken a picture of that–although highly inappropriate–it was hysterical. My boy was heard throughout the immediate vicinity to say very loudly–“Just don’t pee in my mouth–ok?” I laughed and helped the boys all up to wash hands. I congratulated them on their use of logistical thinking skills and their cooperative teamwork, but asked them kindly to just use the normal potty from now on–even if it means you have to pee on someone’s poo (that was the overwhelming concern they all voiced).

As we emerged from the men’s room, I realized how odd that statement probably sounded coming from my son for those who had not witnessed what was going on. I couldn’t help but openly smile. I re-entered the line to register with all my applications and noticed the lady I had dealt with was now gone. “Probably out to lunch”, I thought. The lines were starting to dwindle and as I approached the front and got all the applications turned in and paid for, I mentioned to the lady as briefly as I could how unprofessional I felt the woman she replaced was. She asked me if the woman had shown or pointed to where the ATM machines were located there within the facility. I was horrified and speachless and as I turned around and looked down a dark corridor, I saw it. AAAAGGGGHHH!!! I turned and told her “Absolutely Not”. She shook her head and apologized. She finished up and told me to take my badges over to the T-shirt table to pick up our groups shirts. I thanked her and headed over there hoping we were close to being done. It was there that the gentleman helping me shorted me one shirt. He swore he had only received 4 vouchers. I swore I gave him 5. He went back through a giant stack of vouchers and began to check. I looked to see if I had dropped one somewhere. Then I saw it. One application that had gotten shoved down by the coats in the cargo bin of the stroller while I was in the restroom with the boys. It was Jasmine’s application. Triple Crap.

You know what that meant. I had to return to line to pay for hers and get her voucher. At that point I was wondering if I should just forget about it. I mean, she was, at that time, MIA and Lord knows when she was going to be back. I went with my gut and decided to wear her badge along with mine should she not show up. Knowing that if she were in her RIGHT mind, she would not miss this and if she did, she would walk in spirit with me. When I got to the front, the first lady was back. I glared at her. She asked me for the money and I handed it over. She said I was $5 dollars short. WHAT??!!!!! I was FURIOUS!!! I had no more money, time, or patience left. I began to replay the events of my entire morning to her including the part where she failed to tell me there was an ATM ON SITE!! Her supervisor came over and it was waived. I was not trying to get out of donating to a worthy cause, mind you, I had spent upwards of $100 that day and knew I would spend more at the race as I perused the vendors, so it’s not like the organization wasn’t going to be making any money off of me, that’s for sure. I snatched the voucher out of her hand, marched over to the T-shirt table and had the man bag up all my shirts. I was relieved to be done, finally. The kids were relieved to be done, finally. Finally, we were going home.

We left the center and it was so nice to hear the quietness of that cold morning. We went to the van, loaded everyone up, loaded the stroller, and began to exit the parking lot. QUADRUPLE CRAP!!!! This sickening feeling washed over me as I looked in between the seats for the bag of shirts. “Oh God, please tell me I didn’t forget them all in there!” I kept muttering “Please, Please, Please” as I pulled over to check the cargo bin of the stroller. Not there. I looked up at the convention center and realized I had to make one more trip inside. I was about to say “Forget It” and take off without them, but I had paid for them. I wanted my family to all wear theirs with me. I pulled back into the parking lot and for the last time, I unloaded all the kids and walked into the center. Now–I just hope someone hasn’t stolen them. We waded through the sea of women and came to the table. There, all bagged up and sitting on top a pile of t-shirts were mine. I opened the bag, counted the shirts, made sure the sizes were all right, and left for the last time.

This would be my first Race For the Cure. I prayed that my children would walk it every year in memory of me and not because they had been affected themselves by the disease. I prayed that I would be a more willing participant of the “Club” once I could see visually how many people are affected by breast cancer. I prayed Jasmine would come home. I prayed that I would have the strength of an army to get through the rest of this year. I was just happy I had made it out of the damn convention center without killing someone!

The morning of, it was chilly and rainy. Not bad, very spitting conditions, yet not my ideal forcast for my first race. We didn’t let it get to us. We donned our shirts, our race badges, and peeled Jasmine out of bed–she had made it. I’m not sure how with us she really was, but she was physically there and she was willing to participate–so that spoke volumes to me at least. I was overwhelmed and found my eyes tearing up on more than one occassion. I had never seen so many people! I even knew some of them–more members of this club of women–some I had even remembered seeing in the Center for Breast Health’s waiting rooms. We walked that day–all 5 of us. Jasmine pretty much walked ahead of us and at times I wondered if she were looking for an escape route somewhere along the way. We posed for pictures and I secretly wondered if I would be around for next year’s. I began to notice the little patch on the survivor caps that delineated how many years cancer free they had been.

I didn’t wear a wig and I was trying to own my baldness on that day. I had a baseball cap and a smile and my family. That was all that mattered to me. We walked the long route. We saw all sorts of crazy and funny things from t-shirts to dogs decked out in pink ribbons and booties. We saw memorials emblazoned across the backs of countless idividuals walking for loved ones they had lost or were battling their dragons. It’s hard to explain, but the whole time I walked, I had a lump in my throat. It was hard to swallow. Just as it is hard to swallow the fact that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed. Seeing that many women walking, and watching more intently to the chatter on Twitter regarding similar walks all around the country has prompted me to really think that statistic is not correct. “It just has to be lower than that”, I kept saying to myself as we walked.

One of my all time favorite movies is Superstar featuring Mary Katherine Gallagher, a clumsy parochial student who is just looking for acceptance. She always strikes a pose and cries, “Superstar” as an affirmation to her awesome-ness. When I passed the finish line I pulled my signature Superstar move. Everyone there laughed and cheered! The news crew came down and asked me to give my name so they could give a shout out to me on the radio. I told them I was Christina Heald, 3 month survivor so far, and I was a Superstar!

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Superstar!

Moral of the story: Always pre-register for the damn race!!!

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A Work In Progress

“Get your shoes on–you need to come with me” I stated matter of factly as I walked in the house. My husband, who was playing the new Tiger Woods WII golf game I gave him for Father’s Day looked up and wondered what was going on. I moved directly toward the cupboard above the kitchen sink where I kept all my meds and as I opened the door, I knew exactly what I was going to need–Vicadin and Ibuprofen–And a lot of it. I figured with what I was about to do, I needed to get a jumpstart on curbing the pain factor.

I have never been a big “taker” of things. I am a lightweight. I admit it. I never liked that feeling of the room spinning, dry heaving from drinking too much, or the next day’s hangover. I hated not being in control–(there we go again). However, after my mastectomy, I found that my pain tolerance was off the charts. I was also in extreme emotional distress and I was very glad for those pills which helped keep me out of it for two weeks straight. I had a few Vicadin pills left over from my mastectomy and decided I was going to take advantage of them on this evening. I popped two of them and 4 Ibuprofen, grabbed my debit card, my camera, my hubby and away we went.

I wasn’t nervous at all as we drove. Jeff asked, “what’s going on?”.

I simply stated, “I’m going to get a tattoo”. He couldn’t believe it. Me. The pain wimp.

“You’re joking, right?” he said.

“Nope”, I replied.

“Where are you putting it?” he came back with.

“On the nape of my neck”, I said.

“Geez, that’s gonna hurt like Hell. I’ve heard that’s a really painful place to put it”, Jeff said.

“I’m not worried about it.” I smiled.

“You’re never gonna go through with it”, he looked at me smirking.

“Watch me”, I retorted.

We drove into the parking lot of the Scorpion’s Den, a local tattoo parlor. Ironically, the building that houses the business actually used to be my husband’s late grandmother’s house. He can remember playing in the house when he was a little boy. He was amazed at the changes and began to talk to the owner about which room used to be used for what. The owner asked him to bring in a picture of the house or the rooms and he was very interested in framing them and hanging them in his business.

While the men were talking, I went over to the scariest looking guy there that night. I struck up a conversation with him and showed him on the computer the image I wanted. As he sized up the image and traced it out on the transfer paper, I took a few minutes to look through some of the artwork. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this. I had always been against tattoos–personally. I am all for freedom of expression and didn’t care what anyone else did, but for me–it wasn’t a statement I wanted to make. I had never felt like “owning” anything like that before, but what that girl said to me in the wig boutique changed my mind. I was also beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I had grown up a little too much. Its hard for me to explain because anyone that knows me–knows I live in a kid’s wonderland–literally. I play with kids, teach kids, hang with kids, laugh with kids, chase kids, swing with kids, paint with kids, etc. How could I be ‘too’ grown up?

Since I am entrusted with kids each day, I maintain a very high quality childcare in my home–one of the top in Scott County, IA. Since my business is kids, I’m not just asked to play with the kids, I am also obligated to teach them and to guide them in making good choices. I have to be an example to them–a good role model. So, in almost 14 years of providing care and having a ball doing it–had I essentially grown up and forgotten what it was like to really just have fun and let loose–lose control–personally–on a leisurely level? Maybe if I did drink a small glass of wine each evening I wouldn’t be wound so tight. Maybe if I made it a point to spend time laughing with girlfriends instead of pouring myself into my classes I would remember how it feels to loosen up. Maybe if I just went and got a tattoo, I could say to myself that I hadn’t forgotten the rebel inside of me.

There were a few other justifications, as well, for getting the tattoo.

1. It was a symbolic outward representation of the disease I was fighting.

2. It was a daily reminder that I needed to live life fully because we never know what is going to be thrown in our path.

3. It was my acceptance into the club–the one I had been fighting against for months. My VIP stamp of sorts that bound me to other women that had gone before me and would come after me.

4. It was going to be in a place that would be out of sight when my hair grew back so it wouldn’t be a nuisance should I ever be interviewed for something that might affect future endeavors.

5. The place I was going to put it–ahhh–the nape of the neck–during chemo–while I was bald or my hair was very short–it would serve as a sort of spiteful gesture to those that would look at me and question or whisper behind my back why I looked the way I did. Yes, this one is completely childish, but it also gives me the biggest laugh. It was a fact–I was going to lose my hair–something I was fiendishly upset about. The kicker–I would lose it right at the start of this summer’s pool season. I had counted up the days on the calendar. I had circled the day the pool opened. It was always circled each year–my family lives for that day. The thought that I was going to be a uniboob mom this summer was excruciating enough but to think I would also be bald was enough to leave me sobbing for days on end. I pictured in my mind people at the pool looking at me from the front and averting their eyes, or staring disgustingly at me. I pictured them pointing and whispering to their friends to look at me.

I also pictured turning around so they could see a large pink ribbon tattooed to the back of my neck and without having to turn around to see their expressions, I could see their faces melt into sorrow and then they would feel bad for pointing and staring or laughing at me. They would get it. Instant guilt trip. I win. 🙂 My childish mind had come up with the perfect solution to combat what was about to be my toughest summer on record and I loved the idea!

6. I knew that things were aligned perfectly for me to get the tattoo on that day. In two days, I would be sitting in my new dentist’s chair as he put me under for my root canal and to also fix the 5 cavities. I knew I would go home from that with a lot of antibiotics and so if the tattoo should become infected over the course of 48 hours, I would have enough penicillin to help put that back into submission. I also knew the antibiotics would help everything heal faster and so–if ever there was a time to get a tattoo–today was the day.

7. Most importantly, my chemo was going to start that upcoming Thursday. In 5 days I would be sitting in a chair while poison was being infused throughout my body. I knew my oncologist would not allow me to have a tattoo after I started treatment. My white cells would be shot from the drugs and if I developed an infection from the tattoo, then I would be in big trouble. So, it was now or never.

8. Last, but not least, I had been told that if I would ever consider a reconstruction, the new boob would have the areola tattooed on. That’s how they do it. Wow. I never knew that. I decided I certainly didn’t want my first tattoo to be that of a nipple!

When it was time to go back to my room with Jesse, I gave my hubby the camera and told him to take a ton of pictures. I wanted to remember this rite of passage. I never wanted to forget this moment in my life. I felt like it was a very visual way of me “owning it” and that it was also a way of me being able to move forward. Jesse’s appearance complete with tattoes and body piercings didn’t scare me. I was a bartender for 15 years and I was able to comfortably joke around with him. I think that surprised him from the woman he probably mistook for being conservative and sheltered.

We talked about the ribbon itself. I told him I didn’t want it to look perfect. I didn’t want it to have clean lines or neatly trimmed edges. I wanted it to look “Torn and Tattered”, “Worn and Weary”, and I also wanted it to look like a “Work in Progress”–because that’s exactly how I felt. I told him, “I’m a Work in Progress” also and I hoped someday in the future, when I truly feel in my heart that I have beaten this cancer that I would come back and write the word “Survivor” underneath the ribbon. Jesse looked at me and said, “Awesome”.

He shaved the back of my neck, placed the transfer on it, and gave me a mirror to check it out. I was so excited. He showed me where to sit and he went to work. With my head bent forward over a cushion I joked with him about life while Jeff captured it all on film. I listened to the buzzing of his tool and could feel the oddest sensations–some of which were slightly painful, but tolerable. I could visualize how he was outlining the ribbon and where he was filling it in. I could feel him going over certain areas repeatedly for extra shading. I could feel him trail off the ends of my ribbon to make them look frayed. It was so meditative for me and I won’t lie–I was so glad I took those Vicadin beforehand!

I knew we were getting to the end and I was glad because I was beginning to grit my teeth each time he rounded over the top of the ribbon. I was also making a low, gutteral sound each time the vibrating needle came close to the base of my skull. You know what it feels like if you put a massager on the top of your head? That’s what it felt like in a weird way only with pain involved. The vibrations from his needle would come up the back of my skull and travel all the way across the top. I couldn’t help but think what it must feel like for some people who get their whole skull tattooed–wait–I don’t want to know about that–I was ready to be done. And just like that–we were. I stood up and looked at it in the mirror. I couldn’t believe it. Jeff came and told me, “Good Job” and gave me a quick kiss. I was in awe. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was a part of me now. There was no escaping it. I was branded for life.

A Work In Progress

A Work In Progress

There are new pics over in Flickr Photos. I spent way too long trying to get them in chronological order–it just wouldn’t work. They are going from last to first?? Click on more pictures and you’ll see the album sitting to the right–that is in order. I am letting go of it so I can move forward. Enjoy.

Started Tracking on 12-1-09

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