July 05, 2010

Comments Off

Without the constant daily drama of cancer, it seems that writing blog posts has moved down a few notches on my list of things to do. I continue to hear from other cancer fighters on a regular basis who stumble across my blog looking for information on their own diagnoses, so I don't plan to take the blog down. I love hearing from those people. However, I have turned off the comments in order to cut down on the hundreds of spam e-mails/comments I receive each day because of the blog. If you want to leave a comment on a post, please send me an e-mail at lawmom at gmail dot com and I will either post it for you or turn the comment function on so that you can comment.

I imagine that one day I will take up my pen keyboard again when I have something to say here. But for now, keep doing those monthly self-exams and getting your annual mammogram!

April 02, 2010

It's Been A Long Time Coming

I've been wanting to write this post for a long, long, long time, and now I finally can.

Bar results came out today.

I passed.

I probably don't need to describe my happiness and relief.

Now I can finally get on with whatever is next.

March 04, 2010

Second Chances

Last week I took the bar exam. Again. (Sometimes it seems like I’m in some kind of cosmic contest to see how many giant events I can fit into a twelve month period….graduating from law school, getting a job, studying for the bar, taking the bar, failing the bar, losing said job, studying for the bar, taking the bar, post-cancer surgery, etc. I’m totally winning.) It was…the bar exam. It wasn’t any easier or more fun the second time around. I was much calmer during most of the prep period, because I knew what to expect. I knew exactly what I needed to do, and I wasn’t worried about getting it all done because I knew that would happen. I felt more confident during the test itself this time, but I still don’t have any strong feeling one way or the other about whether I passed. I knew the answers to a lot of the questions…but I didn’t know the answers to a lot of the questions. And now there’s nothing left to do but wait.

About three weeks ago, the office that hired me last spring called one day while I was studying. I got the message at lunch time and hoped that maybe they were calling to offer me a job. But as I dialed the number, I began to think that maybe they were actually calling to tell me that they didn’t have any more jobs and that I should look somewhere else. And my mind kept jumping back and forth between those two possibilities as I listened to the phone ring and waited for someone to answer on the other end. Maybe they were calling to offer me a job! Or maybe not! I finally got in touch with the person who had left a message for me. You can probably imagine my happiness when she told me that she was calling to offer me a job. She told me that they wanted me to come back as a clerk while I was waiting for the bar results, and that once I got my license I would be reinstated as an Assistant State’s Attorney.

Since that phone call, I have spent a lot of time counting my blessings. I am so lucky not only to have a job, but a job that is essentially my Dream Job. I am humbled by the fact that they believe in me enough to offer me this position before I even receive the results of my second try. But the pressure! Oy vey! If I don’t pass this time, I will have to go through all the same pain and humiliation that I went through last October and the thought of that is almost unbearable. In fact, I’ve been trying not to think about it, because I can’t even imagine how it will all play out if it happens again.

March 03, 2010

Always Something There To Remind Me

I thought I should probably dust off the blog and post an update for those of you who still faithfully check in from time to time. Ya’ll are loyal, yo.

Last summer at my two year post-diagnosis check up my oncologist told me that I could have my port taken out. I meant to, but then things like graduation, work, bar study, bar failure, new work, and more bar study got in the way. In January, I decided that the best thing to do was to get the surgery on the calendar for a date immediately post-bar when I knew I wouldn’t be working. So I did, and I had the surgery this past Monday.

I went back to the same hospital where I had my initial lumpectomy and so in a way it was like coming full circle. This was definitely a “good” surgery, and even the nurses and doctors were upbeat about it. It was also a fast one….I was wheeled into the very cold, very bright operating room at about 10:17 a.m. and I had just enough time to answer my surgeon’s question about my new job (see the next post!) before I was out. I opened my eyes in the recovery room a mere twenty minutes later at about 10:40 a.m. As soon as I was conscious enough, the first thing I did was reach up to my neck to feel…nothing. The tube that used to run from the port (which was implanted on the inside of my right breast opposite the tumor site on the left breast) and up to my neck as a kind of express track for the chemo was gone. My neck and upper chest were just like they were in April 2007.

I am now two days post surgery and I hardly know I had anything done. I will have a scar where the port was and there is some healing that needs to happen at the incision site, but I feel fine. The little bit of pain I have feels more like a bruise than a surgical incision. In fact, I plan to try to run tomorrow morning and go back to my regular weight lifting on Friday.

So that’s it. I am free of the port and of the last vestige of cancer treatments. No more running to the oncologist’s office for a port flush every six weeks, and no more odd disk in my chest.

It would be nice if that freedom was complete and allowed me to truly distance myself from 2007 and from breast cancer, but that will never happen. Although I don’t talk about it much on a daily basis (unless I’m asked about it), there isn’t a day that I don’t think about it. My scars, the constant numbness and weird pains in my chest, underarm, and back, are there every day. I see the lumpectomy scar and radiation burn and missing breast tissue every morning and every evening, and now I can add another scar to that litany. When I shop for a shirt, I have to try on each one that I find before I buy it to make sure the scars don't show when I wear it. Sometimes I buy one thinking that it covers everything and wear it only to discover a couple of hours later that it tends to slip down too low. It’s not that I worry about showing too much cleavage, but about showing too much scar.

For a long time when I would go to the gym I would change in the locker room like everyone else, but I was always terrified that someone would see all the scars and would be uncomfortable. I may try to look at my scars as battle scars, but there is something discomfiting for everyone when someone catches a glimpse of my misshapen and scarred breasts unexpectedly. I don’t feel this way about being around my family and friends in a bathing suit, for example, but the gaze of strangers is enough to make me feel as if I have a neon sign on my chest in the form of an arrow pointing directly to the glaring evidence of my ordeal. A few months ago, I finally gave myself permission to use the private changing rooms. It was such a relief the first time I changed in one of the rooms, because I no longer had to worry about inadvertently flashing my breasts at someone. (And as it turns out, I am not the only one who experiences this. I ran across this post by fellow breast cancer survivor Clergygirl the other day, eloquently describing exactly how I feel.)

The locker room isn’t the only place at the gym where breast cancer is on my mind. I can't always do push-ups or tricep work or chest presses properly because of nerve damage, and sometimes when I inadvertently lift too much weight my muscles let me know about it the next day, and not just because they are getting stronger. There are also a million other little reminders each day. I can't shave my left armpit in the shower with a razor, because I can't feel anything thanks to all the dead nerves on my left side and I would probably just cut it open. Sometimes I get an itch on my left side under my arm or in my back or along my left tricep, and I can't scratch it because I can feel the itch but not the scratch. At least once a week I wake up in the middle of the night because I have rolled into a position that is uncomfortable thanks to the lack of nerves in my back and side.

In spite of these reminders, the cancer is behind me. The battle scars are there, but mostly they just remind me that every day is a gift, all tied up with a big bow and just waiting for me to unwrap. I still never have a bad hair day…I am so thankful to have hair on my head. I never turn down food I like...I am so thankful to be able to taste it. I am constantly grateful for all the love and luck in my life…at least I am here and able to live it.

As a cancer survivor, you never forget that tomorrow could be the day you find another lump or bump or rogue cancer cell in your body. If I was diagnosed with cancer again tomorrow, I would have to get a new port installed in order to receive chemo that way. And that is a chance I am more than willing to take.

December 15, 2009

Frisk the 15th!

Do something for yourself this holiday season! Check those breasts! th_friskthe5copy4XSMALLa.jpg

November 15, 2009

Frisk the 15th!

Don't forget to check those breasts today! th_friskthe5copy4XSMALLa.jpg

October 17, 2009

Keeping the Plates in the Air

One of the things that happens when you fail the bar exam is that you go back over every single excruciating detail of the test and the test preparation in your head to try to figure out "what went wrong." It could have been anything...maybe I had a bad test day (or days), maybe I didn't concentrate enough during the lectures, maybe I just didn't get it all like I thought I did. I received a detailed report of my results, so I know that it was the multiple choice questions that did me in and not the essays as I predicted it would be, but I still don't know exactly what happened. When I left the exam in July I felt relatively confident about it. Or at the very least, I didn't feel like I had failed.

I have begun to wonder if maybe I just did too much during that time. When I first started to study I remember reading a letter from the exam prep company about what the next couple of months were going to be like and about how the preparation was going to work. In the letter, they gave a few words of warning about how to do it "right." One thing they said, which I joked about all summer, was that they recommended that you do NOT try to work, plan a wedding, or train for a marathon while you prepare for the bar exam. And I didn't plan a wedding.

When I tell people this story, I always defend myself at the end by saying, "But I did everything they told me to do! I followed the schedule, I made it my top priority, and I just fit the other things in." And it's true...I did. If I can say anything about myself and what I have done in the past couple of years, it's that I'm a master juggler. I mean really...I juggled law school and three kids! I juggled law school, three kids, and cancer! Why shouldn't I be able to juggle bar prep, work, and triathlon training? And three kids? A friend who always speaks the truth said to me the other day, "Kim, I think you did too much. I know you can handle a lot, but this was one time when you should not have done all of that." And I have begun to wonder if perhaps she is right. Is that what it was? Did I divide my attention too thinly this summer?

I don't know if I will ever know exactly what happened, but I do know that this time I will do things differently. I have registered for the February 2010 bar exam and I have re-signed up for the same bar prep course that I took before. But this time I will not work at all during January and February and I will not train for any triathlons during those months. I will still have to feed my kids from time to time and probably emerge from my office for fresh air and bathroom breaks every once in awhile, but this time my main focus will be bar prep.

October 16, 2009

Grief and Loss

It has been about two weeks since I received my dismal bar results and it has taken much of that time for me to work through my feelings associated with the failure. It has been a blow to my ego and self-esteem, but after a few days I realized that the worst part of it was the loss of my job. It happened so suddenly and I really didn't plan to leave, and it turns out that I had to go through a period of grieving the loss.

After my first year of law school, I worked as an intern at a local state's attorney's office. It was a small office and there were only two interns so we got to do a lot of work while we were there. I didn't have a 711 license that summer (a temporary license granted by the state to "senior" law students which allows them to practice law in some fields under the supervision of an attorney), so I was not able to approach the bench, but I did many other things and I was in court almost every day. Despite the fact that I had said that I never wanted to practice criminal law, I loved it. I loved it so much that when it was time to look for a job after my third year of school (of four...I didn't work after the second year because of chemo), I started my search with other state's attorney's offices. I found an internship with another local office, but this time I had a 711 license so I was able to approach the bench and to do both jury and bench trials with other attorneys. I went back again two semesters later for another internship. And then they hired me.

I was offered a position as an Assistant State's Attorney Law Clerk with this office before I graduated in May. They knew that I had to study for the bar, and they agreed to let me work part time during May and June, and to have July off to study. I went back full-time as soon as the exam was over at the beginning of August. I loved every second of it. Working there as an ASA Law Clerk was even better than working there as an intern. I had my own cases and was in court every single day of the week both for daily court calls and for jury and bench trials. I would often walk through the halls of the office and think about how thankful I was to be there and how lucky I was to get to do this every day.


Continue reading "Grief and Loss" »

October 15, 2009

Frisk the 15th!

Today is the day! Please make sure you do your self-exam today! th_friskthe5copy4XSMALLa.jpg

October 04, 2009

Bounce

So far there has been little about my law school experience that has been anything like the way most people do it. Most people don't start law school at thirty-nine years old with three children and a husband at home. Most people don't get diagnosed with breast cancer half-way through law school. Most people don't attend class bald and sick from chemo. Most people aren't lucky enough to land their perfect dream job before they even graduate from law school. And most people don't fail the bar exam. I, however, have now done all of those things.

When I first read the results online at the end of last week, I was in shock for a few minutes. I had to read the sentence over a few times and I felt a physical sinking of my stomach, my heart, and every other organ in my body as the news washed over me and began to sink in. When I left the exam last July I didn't feel as if I had aced it, but I certainly didn't feel as if I had failed it. I was (and still am) devastated. I immediately thought of the ramifications of this failure: I would lose my beloved dream job, I wouldn't have any way to pay my loans, I would have to prepare for and take it again.

As the shock of the initial news began to wear off, I felt (and still feel) a deep sadness and frustration. I worked so hard this summer and I did everything I was supposed to do...how could this happen? I was (and still am) embarrassed and humiliated at the thought of all the people I let down with my failure: my husband and kids who went through it all with me, my parents, my family and friends, the people who had enough confidence in me to hire me before I graduated, the people in my unit at work, and myself. While I always knew failure was a possibility, this was not the way I had planned it all out in my head.

One of the things I hated about having breast cancer (one of many!) was that I never wanted to be the poster girl for cancer. And yet when you are bald and sick, that's exactly what you are. I hated that role, and I was so happy when my hair grew back and when people I met didn't know about it unless I told them about it. This time I get to be the poster girl for a bar exam failer. At least I don't have visible signs this time, but I am still reluctant to have to take on a role that I would never have chosen on my own.

I wasn't sure how to share this information, but in keeping with my recent tradition of over-sharing the difficult parts of my life, I decided that maybe the best thing to do was to just own this and put it out there. I know I'm not the last person who is going to go through this, so maybe if I just go ahead and write about the experience here it will be cathartic for me and maybe someone else will find it and know that they are not alone.

So now I'm just trying to figure out the best way to bounce. The next step, just like with a cancer diagnosis, is to figure out what to do next. Not being one to take to my bed and pull the covers over my head, in between crying bouts I have updated my resume, cleaned out my desk at work, and signed up for the February test. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I keep telling myself that this could be worse. At least it's not a cancer diagnosis! Failing the bar isn't going to kill me, even if it does feel like I want the earth to open up and swallow me right now.

I keep comforting myself with a growing list of people who failed the bar and who have all gone on to be successful and to do some great things: Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, both Daleys (father and son), several fantastic attorneys who I know personally, John Kennedy, and one of my favorite law school professors, just to name a few. That is not such bad company.