Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coping with Crap 101

My place of work celebrates numerous observances, from black history month to gay and lesbian awareness month.  A few weeks ago, a scientist at work approached me and asked if I'd be willing to be the breast cancer awareness month speaker.  I hesitated only momentarily before agreeing to do it.  I thought it could be fun.  So I invited one of my nurses to co-present with me, and our presentation was yesterday.  Needless to say this is why I haven't had time to compose a blog post this week.

This marvelous poster was made by a talented artist at my place of work to advertise within my place of work.

Oh my goodness I felt like I was doing a live sketch of a Lifetime original movie, complete with moist, red eyes in the audience.  It was also a lecture in Coping with Crap 101.

In the days before the presentation I was really nervous.  My scientific colleagues can attest that I no longer get very nervous before a typical public speaking event.  This, however, was oh so different.

This presentation was so personal, and I didn't really know what details people would want to know about.  With science I can find a punchline, and people will learn what I want them to learn.  In presenting my journey through breast cancer, I didn't want to presume that I was the only one in the universe to have taken this journey, but I also wanted to educate the young people who might have no clue what goes on with cancer treatment.  Turns out that's a fine line to walk.

So, I tried to keep it a tad bit scientific.  This is of course what I know how to do.  My nurse presented first and laid the groundwork for the different types of cancers and what the details mean.  When it was my turn, I framed what I was going to tell them as a breast cancer case study in the context of what my nurse taught them.  I tried to step away from myself, otherwise I was sure to sob my way through it.

But sob I most certainly did NOT!  I even snuck in a few jokes, which was easy considering I chose to include such delightful cancer bonuses as the sinus UFO and my original displeasure with the port.  I did get choked up at times, mostly when I thought of my own mortality or everything my loved ones did for me throughout the ordeal, but I was able to power through.  Also, a new thing for me was to include "readings" in my presentation, and these were from my blog.  Wow was it handy to have this treasure trove of insights in real-time.  I chose five portions of posts that I thought were salient thoughts from a given time, and I read them aloud at relevant points in my presentation of slides.  (Thank you, Martha, for inviting me to read at your wedding so that I could gain some experience in the public reading department.)

When it was my turn to present, my nerves were totally silent.  That's standard for me.  My nerves just know that there's no turning back now, so why be that person with the jittery laser pointer?  May as well calm down and save some face.

Afterwards, however, the nerves spiced up again.  For many hours I couldn't figure this out, because after a presentation is over I should be overcome with relief.  But here's what I've figured out:  the presentation made me re-confront the gravity of my former disease.  On an ordinary day in my marvelous life, I spend exactly zero seconds thinking about 40% chance of blah blah blah in 2 years, only 40% median blahsey blah in 5 years.  But that dang presentation made me think about all of those horrible, horrible statistics, and to realize that year number one is already over (happy cancerversary to me, today in fact).  Needless to say it took me until bedtime last night, with some furious playing and crocheting in between, to get a grip on my heartbeat.

Speaking of my nervous heart, I have a PET scan tomorrow.  Yay if it comes out clean, boo if it doesn't.  I won't know the results right away, but I'll post them as soon as possible.  We are hoping:  T9 is still clean, that a certain 7mm node in my left lung has mysteriously disappeared, and that there is NOTHING NEW.  Geez I hate PET scans.        


  1. Sending you SUPER positive thoughts for the PET scan. I'm sure everything will look fantastic and that pesky T9 will be a problem no mas!

    xo B.

  2. You were amazing at presenting an extremely personal and emotionally vulnerable experience and shared it beautifully with everyone in the room. I knew many of the folks in the room that you did not (APHIS employees), and I heard so many positive comments from them afterwards - but mostly shock at 1) how young you are, 2) what courage you had getting up in front of that room talking to everyone about your past year, and 3) your positive attitude that was so obvious. Also murmurs of your excellent writing skills as evidenced by your blog readings!

    You amaze me every day, and I am thankful to call you my friend. Now... let's have another crack at a party without the rain and hail! And we need to have a kid free night with more wine!

  3. Heather, truly you are such an exceptional woman. Knowing the results were awesome as I write this is wonderful...but I gotta tell you, all that has come before is phenomenal. Good for you, doll! Your story, and your documentation of it, is one of bravery, humbleness, information and inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing your life and being an encouragement to others even during an intensely personal and surely forbidding time of your life.

  4. Wow, thank you, Kandi. I'm just doing what I do, and it works out that folks appreciate it.