Then Came Life: Living with Courage, Spirit, and Gratitude After Breast Cancer

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9781592409228: Then Came Life: Living with Courage, Spirit, and Gratitude After Breast Cancer
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Author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy Geralyn Lucas’s funny and moving story of leaving the traumatic experience of cancer behind and learning to survive all the challenges of a life she thought she would not have.
 
When Geralyn Lucas, author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, put on red lipstick in the hall on the way to the operating room, she was showing her doctors, her family, and, most important, herself that she planned on coming out of the OR and living life to the fullest. She figured that that day in the OR would be the hardest day of her life—but, it turns out, the twenty-seven-year-old cancer survivor was a bit short-sighted.

Then Came Life picks up almost two decades later, when Geralyn is now living the life she was afraid she’d never be able to have. After having almost died from cancer as a young woman, Geralyn felt that growing old enough to get wrinkles is a gift—one she prayed fervently for in her youth. But she is now in her midforties: Her two miracle babies (both C-sections, both advised against by her doctors) have grown into a mean tween with a fierce eye roll for her mother’s failures and a tornado of little-boy energy who refuses to play by his preschool’s rules; a storybook romance with her husband has become couples therapy with a grumpy prince; and her demanding corporate job at Lifetime TV that she loves moves across the country without her. She has lost the wonder of that cancer gratitude moment, and when she looks in the mirror at her hard-won wrinkles, all she can think about is that she wants to have Botox.

Then Came Life is a charming, quirky, delightful yet poignant story of surviving life, a collection of coming-of-(middle)-age stories of trying to be a role model for her daughter while being dissatisfied with her own looks, and what happens when her adoring son is more intent on romancing her than her husband is (right down to dueling Valentine’s Day cards). With the clear-eyed wit and observations of Nora Ephron, she not only explores the dissonance of facing the challenges she was afraid she wouldn’t be alive to have but also confronts them with a great sense of infectious empowerment and a hilarious voice. Geralyn harnesses her fighting spirit and leaves behind the trauma of cancer to battle all the rest that life has to throw at her. Then Came Life is not a cancer recovery story: It is about rediscovering the resilience, courage, and optimism it takes to reinvent yourself at every age. 

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About the Author:

Geralyn Lucas is an award-winning TV producer, author, lecturer, and women’s health advocate. She lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

Right Now: Stop and Smell the Roses

Italk too much. Mostly to myself.

Sometimes the conversations are productive pep talks, but usually they are negative and don’t reflect how optimistic I want to be and all the money I spend on therapy and that I am a cancer survivor and I’m still alive.

I was only twenty-seven years old when I was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer. Because of my age and the type of cancer, the prognosis wasn’t great: They expected me to have a recurrence within two years, and any future recurrence would more than likely be, as they said, “treatable,” not “curable.” Every six months I’d have blood tests to check my tumor levels; I was constantly put into different scanning machines so the doctors could look at all my organs to make sure the cancer hadn’t traveled somewhere else. A single rogue cell could start trouble again.

I’m forty-five now, but I remember when all I wanted was to hit thirty. At the time that seemed like a more dignified age to die than twenty-eight or twenty-nine. I had read the statistics for the percentages of women who would be alive two years, five years after my kind of diagnosis. Even though I survived the first round with cancer—six months of chemotherapy and a mastectomy—I never knew if or when there might be another round. Would I die or live? Which column would I land in?

When I turned forty, my forty-year-old friends started complaining that we were getting old. I always thought: Please don’t complain to me about getting old; I know the other option too well. Each year passed with the punctuation of tests, mammograms, and scary reminders of the possibilities. I still think about those statistics and hold my breath every time I wait for my medical test results. All that worrying—and then came life.

For instance: Tonight I’m on my way to Saratoga Springs for my seven-year-old son’s chess tournament. We are all squeezed into the car, three moms and three sons. We have already been pulled over by the cops for making a left turn from the right lane. It wasn’t really our fault; the GPS isn’t working. I am sandwiched in the backseat between two boys playing video games. The games are loud, there’s not enough heat, and I wish I weren’t in this car. The conversation has begun, and I’m so relieved that the other moms and kids can’t hear what I’m saying to myself.

You’re dreading the weekend. Chess moms are so uptight. After he lost a round, last year, Hayden complained that you don’t push him hard enough to practice, and that he wants you to be a Tiger Mom. You don’t even remember how to play checkers or backgammon.

I interrupt the conversation and ask Hayden to turn the music down so I can hear myself better. I pull out my mirror that lights up in the dark and stare at myself.

Your hair is so gray—you haven’t had time to dye it. Why do you always revert to pulling it back in a greasy ponytail?

I squint into the mirror to see better in the dark and realize how much my face is falling. My Botox shot is long overdue. My pants are too tight. I unbutton them so I can breathe. I pull my sweater down to cover my muffin top.

Maybe you didn’t need those fries with your meal today. Aren’t you trying to be healthier?

I have no cute clothes anymore. Earlier today when I was packing, I sneaked into my teenage daughter’s room to borrow a T-shirt. She claims my stomach stretches her shirts, so I’m not allowed to wear her cute stuff. She scares me. She’s the cool girl I never was. I worry about our relationship lately. She seems like she hates me.

I want to call Tyler from the car, but I figure he’ll just screen the call. I can’t remember the last time we had a real conversation.

I feel all the gratitude for my hard-earned life draining out of me. All the things I wanted so desperately, clung to life so I could keep, just feel like a drag at this moment. I sigh into the mirror.

· · · ·

Before they wheeled me into the OR, I put on bright red lipstick and I swore to myself that I would come out the other side and become the woman I never thought I could be. I would dare to live up to my lipstick and make every day red-lipstick-worthy. It was all about transformation: As my breast was being removed, I was going to be glamorous and reinvent myself. I had always been a gloss girl, and I thought I couldn’t wear red like other women. But I decided to wear bright red lipstick to my mastectomy to show the doctors and nurses in the operating room that I had places to go, things to do. And here I am in the car nineteen years later, a chess mom. Alive.

I pull out a new tube of red lipstick and pucker up.

You need a lip wax.

It’s going to be hard to put the lipstick on right at sixty-five miles per hour, but I need to live up to that notice-me hyper-red lipstick again. I need to make that feeling last, to remember the courage from that morning in the operating room and have it inform my entire life. No more taking life for granted.

I pause to reflect, and a different voice chimes in to the conversation in my head:

Remember when you thought you’d never have kids after cancer? This little guy is your bonus. Remember when he was in speech therapy and couldn’t pronounce an R and you worried about his future? Now he’s playing two-hour notated games. And your hair—remember when it all fell out from chemotherapy? When you used to watch Hair Club for Men commercials and cry? Remember when shampoo commercials made you lustful? You prayed to grow old when you were only twenty-seven and diagnosed with cancer. You said all you wanted were wrinkles—and now you hate them? And yeah, so you’ve gained a few pounds. At least you’re healthy. Do you remember when you had to drink Ensure to keep your weight up for the chemotherapy treatments? How can you be afraid of your own daughter? And so grumpy at Tyler? He was there when you woke up from your mastectomy. Why do you fight all the time if you were strong enough to survive cancer together? What else could be so bad?

You are lucky to be alive. To be a mom, to have hair, to have wrinkles. How dare you take one day for granted. Remember the friends you met who weren’t as lucky, who would give anything to be here, alive.

I take a deep and grateful inhale to slow down and smell the roses in my life. Long breath in through my nose, long exhale from my mouth. A cleansing breath. Breathing connects me to life. It is at this precise moment that my son and his friends begin to have a farting contest.

“Guys, gross!” I yell, and they all crack up.

I am trying to smell the roses, but all I can smell are the farts in the car.I lean across my son and hit the button to put the back window down as fast as possible.

“Mom, you have a double chin, like Family Guy. I’m sorry, Mom, it’s true.” Hayden is giving me the news as I’m trying to jut my face out the window to suck in the fresh air.

Sometimes gratitude is so easy for me. Other times it’s hard, like when I’m bored, cold, and grossed-out. I have everything I worried I never would, and it came with more heartache and pain and gray hair and wrinkles and cellulite and insomnia and even more joy than I ever imagined.

I’m not going to take one day of life for granted. I promise.

I keep inhaling. I’m visualizing my roses, even though the farts are lingering. The roses are long-stemmed and fragrant, not like the corner-market kind that have no scent. Mine are perfumed, and a reminder of how gorgeous life can be, how you can miss it if you don’t pause and reflect, appreciate, and see what is right in front of you as life whizzes by.

My son is laughing hysterically, even as I’m almost crying because his farts are so bad.

Be grateful.

Okay, it’s hard to be grateful for farts. But I need to remember to cherish it all, even the farts!

We arrive at the hotel. I smile at my son in the badly fluorescent-lit corridor of check-in. Hayden seems concerned and points at my mouth. I have lipstick on my teeth.

I’m not sure if he’s embarrassed by me or looking out for me, but I wipe my teeth quickly and do a lipstick check with him: thumbs-up. I decide it’s his way of showing me he loves me.

Chess: game on.

Life: game on.

Here is my story of mining the gratitude.

CHAPTER 2

Skye’s the Limit

My name is Geralyn Lucas, and I have a shopping problem. I have always had a shopping problem.

Admitting it is the first step to recovery.

It got worse after my cancer diagnosis. Not only was I looking to replace my lost nipple with every purchase, but shopping took on a deeper meaning. Shopping was a way of running toward life, a declaration that I was sticking around: I needed to wear all the purchases. Buying stuff guaranteed more time: I was shopping, not dying.

The things I bought seemed to promise a new identity, novel experiences, and possible life-changing opportunities. A new me was always just a purchase away. Hiding my shopping bags from my husband, Tyler, was a full-time job. Tyler would ask, “Is that a new dress?”

“No, I’ve had this forever. You don’t remember?”

Even chemo couldn’t keep me from shopping. After my injections, feeling woozy, nauseated, exhausted, veins blackened, I always found just enough energy to make it to T. J. Maxx. Plus, losing my hair opened up a whole new shopping category: I was suddenly in the market for berets, baseball hats, fedoras, and scarves. No one could judge me for buying new head coverings; they were an essential part of my self-esteem. Did I really need four fedoras? Or eleven baseball caps, in every color, smooth velvet and plush velvet, wool and satin? Yeah, I did; the berets would bring a sophistication that had always eluded me, the baseball caps a downtown edge I had craved.

After spending time with the skull and crossbones on my chemo bag, wheeled over to me on the IV pole, shopping felt so alive. I had places to go, people to meet, things to wear.

“I shop, therefore I exist.”

One day, after an especially awful chemo when they couldn’t find a “good” vein and had to reinsert the needle three times, I fled to the warm and reassuring shopping aisles of T. J. It was only when I was at the checkout counter, surveying my loot, planning all the different outfits that would coordinate with my new hats, that I had an existential moment of sorts. Just as I was about to swipe my credit card, a voice inside my head boomed so loudly that I was sure the cashier could hear it too.

You can’t take it with you.

People could be buried in their favorite outfits, but there was no way that I could wear all these hats at once to my funeral. I didn’t know how to explain all this to the cashier, so I bought everything anyway, but as I unpacked at home I had that sickening and paralyzing thought again: I couldn’t take it with me.

Where exactly would all my prized possessions go?

Before I could spend too much time worrying about that, I had more stuff. After chemo my hair grew into a chemo-chic short buzz-cut look, and none of my old clothing matched my hair. My wardrobe was too conservative. I needed edgier suits to match my hair. And then there was my chest. Two A-cups had become a removed-then-reconstructed B-plus-cup, and the other one enhanced to match, thanks to my plastic surgeon. So of course I needed new bras. It was nice to have a medical excuse to shop: It felt like having a prescription that said “Go shopping” instead of a prescription for a dose of medication. I did need an entire new wardrobe after my cancer treatments, and I was ready. My look was evolving. Tyler bought me a black satin suit with zippers, to match my new punk hair. I was trying to forge a new identity for my new life. I loved feeling so new and different, like maybe the cancer couldn’t find me again.

But I worried a lot about the cancer coming back. I developed a phobia about waiting. I couldn’t wait in lines at the bank. Tyler tried to take me to an art exhibit to cheer me up on a really bad day, and I had to leave because of the crowd. It got so bad that I had to go on medication. I went to a doctor who specialized in EMDR, a kind of therapy used for people who have suffered severe trauma and PTSD, and I began to understand that I had a fear of waiting because I thought I didn’t have enough time left until my cancer might return. Waiting for anything reminded me of being in doctors’ waiting rooms, waiting for bad news. Waiting for test results, watching the second hand on the big clock as I waited to get my bone scan. Minutes in machines felt like hours; days waiting for blood-test results to see if my tumor levels were up and my cancer was back were torture. My doctor prescribed Zoloft to take the OCD edge off my cancer-returning ruminations. It helped with my worrying, but nothing soothed me like being let loose at a T. J. Maxx. Spending time in the home-goods section was better than a double dose of Zoloft. Looking at linens, shopping for pots and pans, buying another ceramic rooster, just brought a sense of calm that maybe I had a future.

I became a big returner of gifts because that gave me a chance to shop again, without guilt, and it seemed there was always something better out there just calling my name loudly. Returning was a guilt-free shop—found money that I could spend on something new.

After all the anguish, I made it to thirty, and got fantastic birthday presents. The “Now that you have cancer, let me show you how much I love you” presents. I was drooling over one particular present-return because the gift came from a store that was way out of my league, a store that had a doorbell, plush carpeting, and in which—when I walked in—it was clear from what I was wearing that I did not belong. The only reason I was holding a shopping bag from that store was to return something. I did have awkward return-guilt, and was extremely self-conscious to go to such a fancy store. I knew the drill: Fancy stores have the worst return rules and are real sticklers. I reassured myself that it was ridiculous to be intimidated by a store, and especially not a fashion-model-look-alike sales associate named Candy, who inspected me as I handed over the bag.

“Return?” She was glaring at me like I was ungrateful, and her stare seemed to say, “Do you know how much time we spent looking for the perfect present for you, scouring the store? Your friend thought you would love the shirt. If she could see you now, she might cry.”

To make matters worse, the birthday card was still in the box. It had a heart drawn on the envelope, with my name above it.

“You forgot something,” Candy said with a smirk.

I kept checking to make sure my friend wasn’t outside the store looking through the glass and watching me return the present, or standing behind me at the register because she had forgotten something in the store and just happened to be there at the precise moment I decided to come in and return the present. I imagined the expression on her face when she realized I hadn’t come to find a pair of pants that matched the shirt she had painstakingly picked out. Is there return-karma? I felt it burning shame into my red face. I wanted to blurt, “I know it’s not the present, it’s the thought that counts, but I...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy Geralyn Lucas s funny and moving story of leaving the traumatic experience of cancer behind and learning to survive all the challenges of a life she thought she would not have. When Geralyn Lucas, author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, put on red lipstick in the hall on the way to the operating room, she was showing her doctors, her family, and, most important, herself that she planned on coming out of the OR and living life to the fullest. She figured that that day in the OR would be the hardest day of her life but, it turns out, the twenty-seven-year-old cancer survivor was a bit short-sighted. Then Came Life picks up almost two decades later, when Geralyn is now living the life she was afraid she d never be able to have. After having almost died from cancer as a young woman, Geralyn felt that growing old enough to get wrinkles is a gift one she prayed fervently for in her youth. But she is now in her midforties: Her two miracle babies (both C-sections, both advised against by her doctors) have grown into a mean tween with a fierce eye roll for her mother s failures and a tornado of little-boy energy who refuses to play by his preschool s rules; a storybook romance with her husband has become couples therapy with a grumpy prince; and her demanding corporate job at Lifetime TV that she loves moves across the country without her. She has lost the wonder of that cancer gratitude moment, and when she looks in the mirror at her hard-won wrinkles, all she can think about is that she wants to have Botox. Then Came Life is a charming, quirky, delightful yet poignant story of surviving life, a collection of coming-of-(middle)-age stories of trying to be a role model for her daughter while being dissatisfied with her own looks, and what happens when her adoring son is more intent on romancing her than her husband is (right down to dueling Valentine s Day cards). With the clear-eyed wit and observations of Nora Ephron, she not only explores the dissonance of facing the challenges she was afraid she wouldn t be alive to have but also confronts them with a great sense of infectious empowerment and a hilarious voice. Geralyn harnesses her fighting spirit and leaves behind the trauma of cancer to battle all the rest that life has to throw at her. Then Came Life is not a cancer recovery story: It is about rediscovering the resilience, courage, and optimism it takes to reinvent yourself at every age. Seller Inventory # AAS9781592409228

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy Geralyn Lucas s funny and moving story of leaving the traumatic experience of cancer behind and learning to survive all the challenges of a life she thought she would not have. When Geralyn Lucas, author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, put on red lipstick in the hall on the way to the operating room, she was showing her doctors, her family, and, most important, herself that she planned on coming out of the OR and living life to the fullest. She figured that that day in the OR would be the hardest day of her life but, it turns out, the twenty-seven-year-old cancer survivor was a bit short-sighted. Then Came Life picks up almost two decades later, when Geralyn is now living the life she was afraid she d never be able to have. After having almost died from cancer as a young woman, Geralyn felt that growing old enough to get wrinkles is a gift one she prayed fervently for in her youth. But she is now in her midforties: Her two miracle babies (both C-sections, both advised against by her doctors) have grown into a mean tween with a fierce eye roll for her mother s failures and a tornado of little-boy energy who refuses to play by his preschool s rules; a storybook romance with her husband has become couples therapy with a grumpy prince; and her demanding corporate job at Lifetime TV that she loves moves across the country without her. She has lost the wonder of that cancer gratitude moment, and when she looks in the mirror at her hard-won wrinkles, all she can think about is that she wants to have Botox. Then Came Life is a charming, quirky, delightful yet poignant story of surviving life, a collection of coming-of-(middle)-age stories of trying to be a role model for her daughter while being dissatisfied with her own looks, and what happens when her adoring son is more intent on romancing her than her husband is (right down to dueling Valentine s Day cards). With the clear-eyed wit and observations of Nora Ephron, she not only explores the dissonance of facing the challenges she was afraid she wouldn t be alive to have but also confronts them with a great sense of infectious empowerment and a hilarious voice. Geralyn harnesses her fighting spirit and leaves behind the trauma of cancer to battle all the rest that life has to throw at her. Then Came Life is not a cancer recovery story: It is about rediscovering the resilience, courage, and optimism it takes to reinvent yourself at every age. Seller Inventory # BTE9781592409228

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