Hi my name is Carlyn, I am related to comedian George Carlin through my grandmother, hence my name. He was her second cousin, I never met him but ‘Comedy’, it turns out was the best medicine and ‘Laughter’, my best friend as I survived chemo and radiation.
Diagnosis Day, my personal “D-Day” was a Friday, at the time I was the adjunct art teacher at my children’s elementary school, I had taken the day off to see my surgeon. Moments after hearing the words, “You have cancer.” I found myself on the school’s courtyard picking up my 2nd and 5th grade boys.
Surrounded by fellow teachers who knew something was wrong people began hugging and reassuring me as word spread. It was then that ugly old ‘Self-Pity’ got it’s grip on me. No sooner was I feeling sorry for myself when our Media Specialist Julie pushed her beautiful 5’4″ frame through friends to remind me, “You could be dead tomorrow from some other dumb thing, get a hold of yourself, don’t let those boys see you cry!”
Snapped back to reality I managed to get through that day and the one following painting as well-wishers visited, sharing their thoughts and prayers. Those days honestly, are nothing but a blur to me. Like a wet watercolor painting left outside in the rain, the days dripped in color, I am sure they were beautiful, but I was numb. Trying to get out of my head, trying to grasp onto something, anything I found comfort gripping a paintbrush so I painted, not listening.
Sunday morning I woke before everyone else, it was early and gently raining. Quietly I made a cup of coffee taking a seat by the long bank of windows fronting the house. Gazing at the grand oak through the window, gnarled branches dripping, I became overwhelmed and began crying for the first time, the only time I had been left alone since Friday.
As I wept I began to feel sick and an unrelenting desire to go outside. I remember thingking, “What are you doing?” as I stepped through the back door onto the deck and into the rain. Suddenly I knew what needed to happen next. I found a spot in the middle of the deck, raised my hands and face to the sky, closed my eyes and softly cried out, “Dear God, please wash this self-pity from me and never let me feel this way again.” The moment I spoke the words it began. I felt it first in my fingertips, it slid down arms, into my body, down my legs and exited at my toes. A tingling sensation impossible to describe. Somehow it was gone, self-pity had been washed from me and I could feel that it was gone, it left the building and I never cried over cancer again.
I started to have fun with my situation. I was the Tin Man from Oz that year in what became my first Relay for Life as a ‘Survivor”. My students thought I was a total nut case who shaved her head for a costume! I rarely wore a hat or scarf, I had eyeballs painted on the back of my head and wore my glasses backwards proving mommies do have eyes back there! I occasionally wrote messages and drew flowers. I made the best of a terrible situation. I challenged all fighters to take off their hats, their wigs, their scarves asking them to let the world see how MANY of us are out there, fighting to survive. Let the world see, let them know, there are too many of us! Don’t cover it up!
Chemo was hard on me, and I hated radiation. I had plenty of bad days but the good ones far out-weighed the bad. Refusing to focus on the situation I did my best to remain focused on the solution, it worked for me. The year was 2004, I am eleven years in remission, and I still approach each day like I did this morning, like I did then, smiling as my eyes open on a brand new day, grateful.
I’d love to know your story! And will share bits more of mine as time allows. Till then remember. cancer does not define you, it refines you!
With a smile, Carlyn 🙂