All around me this month of November people are being grateful.  Gratefulness posts fill the Facebook feed. People are grateful in the newspaper. Soon it will be Thanksgiving, and people will take a pause on bad news and be grateful on the radio too. This gratefulness is very wearing.

I do not feel grateful. Although I know I should.

It is not yet three months since I was diagnosed with  bilateral breast cancer, and I have a lot to be grateful for.  My surgeon and staff were wonderful, and surgery went well. Lumpectomies, rather than full mastectomies. My surgeon is happy with the cosmetic result. So am I. Now it is November, and the prognosis is good. Friends and relatives call and write and show up in our family’s life to take care of the business that I can’t take care of myself. Despite being truly thankful for the help, I am not experiencing gratefulness in my heart. I see rather than feel the good fortune that surrounds me.

I am afraid.

I still cannot use my arms freely. I tire easily.

I wonder what the next treatments will bring.

Lately, I am a grumpy brat.

And unfortunately for my family, I have never been very good at “faking it.”  Honesty oozes out of me, like ripe cheese.

It’s taking far longer to recover from my surgery than I expected. I am not sure what I expected. The scar tissue in my underarms still pinches or burns if I lift things, move or twist. My lymph system hasn’t figured itself out yet, and sometimes my underarms are puffy with lymph fluid that can’t circulate properly. Three of my perfectly healthy lymph nodes in each armpit had to be removed to ascertain that they were cancer-free. I should be grateful that there were cancer-free, I know. But I just want my lymph nodes back. If this puffiness lingers or becomes extreme it’s called lymph-edema and requires medical attention. This is very frustrating to me me: shouldn’t there be a better way to tell if an organ is healthy or not, than by removing it from the body and chopping it up??  I was told about the possibility of lymphedema, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I didn’t think breast cancer would happen to me. I still don’t really believe it is happening to me.  I picture being stuck like this, alive, yes, cancer free, but unable to DO anything. Alive, but not able to LIVE.

I am impatient, as you would expect an ungrateful brat to be. At least I am staying in character.

People come up to me to congratulate me on the latest good news, which is that I do not have to take chemotherapy. The results of my tumor biopsy and my blood work show that hormone therapy with tamoxifen will be enough to repel cancer, (unless it gives me cancer which is also a possibility). I want to be happy about not having full scale chemo, and when the doctor tells me, I am relieved, and I celebrate. But once the  bottle of white tablets is sitting on the kitchen counter, the idea of really taking this drug for 10 years fills me with dread. I am already dealing with fluid-filled arms and other medical side effects of the cure — how next will my body be altered? I remember how I felt at the beginning of this process, before every appointment  like hiding under our bed. Now I feel like climbing into my car and driving to Mexico.  I like my body the way it is. I do not want to be altered, even in an effort to save my life.

One night before I say prayers with Owen, I try refocusing my mind on some things I’m grateful for. The temperature is dropping, so I say I am grateful for a home in which to stay warm and cool and dry, no matter what the weather. I am grateful for yummy, interesting food to eat. I am grateful for nurturing care from family members and from friends — for meals and groceries arriving at our door. Loads of laundry washed and folded. For people who care.

Owen leans over and places his hand on my head as I speak these words aloud. I have to smile. It feels like a benediction. The hand of an angel boy on my head. A  mischievous and naughty angel boy  — capable of pilfering snacks from his nephew’s backpack and sneaking off with them — yet who still seems to act on behalf of better, gentler spirits than my own.


Yesterday I poured out all my frustrations and negativity to my physical therapist Erica. It’s asking a lot from a PT, but she’s a game lady. Maybe I am not the first. Her response was to show me a diagram to explain how the lymph works, how it meshes with the capillaries and yet operates in an entirely different manner from blood. That really helped. I could see this troublesome lymph as beautiful, not stupid and lost, but clever.

And at that moment I made a decision. I will take my tamoxifen for my mom, I decided. I will do everything that imperfect medical science has to offer in her name. Rather than driving to Mexico or hiding under my bed, I can do this for her — because she didn’t make it in her fight against cancer, and I very probably will. So this afternoon, after a certain number of hours of avoidance, I faced down my white tablet of drugs beside the sink. It was surprising and nice to turn around and see her face just then, smiling at me from inside a frame on the kitchen counter. My mom, captured looking joyful and festive in her kitchen, preparing a turkey for a Thanksgiving long ago.



24 thoughts on “Brat

  1. Ken Austin November 23, 2017 / 2:18 am

    Woosh. Thanks for writing this.


  2. Wendy November 23, 2017 / 2:39 am

    It’s okay to feel bratty sometimes for life contains both the peaks and valleys. Nice to hear from you as you have been on my mind.


  3. Gwenda November 23, 2017 / 2:52 am

    This is gold. True gold. Xo


  4. Kathleen Johns November 23, 2017 / 3:07 am

    Cathartic sentiments – so honest and raw – ending with that beautiful picture of your mom. If it were me, I think I would be on the way to Mexico. Happy Thanksgiving!


    • wystansimons November 24, 2017 / 5:28 am

      Nah. ♥️ You’d be plugging away with your special needs boy, if you had one, just the same way you cheerfully support Brad in his surgery recovery. But thanks for the encouragement, all the same.


  5. Gaynelle Elphick November 23, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    You are being real. I love that. Feel what you’re feeling, straight on! Life is meant to be walked through not tip toed across the top. I know well how much it stinks to not be your best self but you will get that back and more once you’ve felt all that you need to feel through this process. Keep your awareness muscles stretching as you are. Bit by bit you will pull out of this version of self back into one you feel inspired to wear daily. Sending love.❤️


  6. Bonnie November 23, 2017 / 2:39 pm

    This really touched me! And though there is no comparison, I find my aging body a hugh frustration… aching knees, aching back and the daily loss of youthful strength.

    Like you I am a doer a thinker, planner… expecting an endless well of energy to allow me to do all I can think of.

    But that is not the way it works. I have to face the fact that I can’t do everything, can’t be the hero of my story… always the “sure, I can do it” person…and, oh yeah, humility will be the only way safely out of this world to a youthful new God given body. It is a bitter pill for me to take.

    Fortunately during times like this the Lord reminds us of who we are and what true ways we can be useful… yes grateful and happy.

    I for one am grateful for your insightful writing. Your willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and your weakness with others… and hopefully you can find your gratitude in this….

    Happy Thanksgiving!


    • wystansimons November 24, 2017 / 5:23 am

      Thanks so much Bonnie. ♥️ So so true about being a doer who needs to become an appreciator — I have been thinking much about this myself.


  7. Peggy November 24, 2017 / 3:12 am

    I love and appreciate that you can accept this path for your mom. I liked her very much. And I remember her as happy and joyful and empathetic. Thank you for sharing you inner thoughts. I often wonder how I might handle these difficulties and I feel you are giving me tools should I ever have to do so. Prayers for you and your family .please keep writing


    • wystansimons November 24, 2017 / 5:19 am

      Thank you Peggy for your encouragement. ♥️ I sure will. Keeps me sane.


  8. Rachel Asplundh November 24, 2017 / 2:14 pm

    I’m a brat too. Just on a normal day, and I can’t use cancer as an excuse. You express yourself so beautifully. I love reading your blog. We all love you for who you are. You are quite the fighter, and I admire your strength


  9. Mandy Steen November 24, 2017 / 2:32 pm

    Wonderful words expressing the grief and trauma of your recent diagnosis. I think we are capable of carrying both a negative feeling, (anger, disappointment, grief, fear, etc) at the same time as positive ones- (gratitude, love, appreciation, joy, hope) At least, that’s what I have found- especially when you acknowledge them both as you have- sending love-


    • wystansimons November 30, 2017 / 6:34 pm

      Yes this is so true — plus it’s always helpful to laugh at oneself. I a loving way, of course. XO


  10. Ann November 24, 2017 / 5:30 pm

    Nodda brat!!! Not. Maybe a cheese. A very ripe Brie? Thank you for sharing about all of this so those of us who don’t know can glimpse your journey. I LOVE the pic of your mischievous angel boy, too. I love that you are creating words even though you can’t yet do all the other things. Mom would so approve.


    • wystansimons November 30, 2017 / 6:38 pm

      A cheese. For sure. Nice to think of Mom. Wonder what she’s up to? XO


  11. Aunt Dorothy November 24, 2017 / 5:57 pm

    I think you have faced this very difficult challenge with honesty and courage. These will carry you through the months ahead.


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