Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thank You Note

Well friends (and maybe even strangers who I am happy to call my friends), I knew this post would come, and I have wondered how to approach it.  Today's news wasn't all that positive.  Actually, it literally was positive (the HER2 test I mean) but Dr. Bunnell explained to me that this result was unusual for a grade 1 tumor.  He wants to do further testing.  Unusual to me means uncertainty and I hate that.  Based on this data, my treatment post-surgery will likely include chemotherapy with herceptin.  (I'm not sure how to spell herceptin or even what it is but I'm terrified to Google it so the phonetic spelling will have to do for now.)

I'll admit, this news knocked the wind right out of my already flappy sails -- gave me that kicked-in-the-gut nauseous feeling that I remember all too well from last week's diagnosis.  Dr. Bunnell assured me that this doesn't change anything that we knew before, that the cancer hasn't necessarily spread, but he said it will affect treatment.  He told me not to worry, but I could tell, other news would have been better.  I wanted to curl up and cry.  Or at least get the feeling back in my weak knees.

Ultimately, it looks like my surgery will tell all, and I sit here wondering how I will ever wait for September 12 and how I will ever have the strength to hear the news that will follow it.  Then I realize a tremendous irony -- I am both wishing time away and trying to bottle up every moment of it.  A tough act to balance.  

So here's where I want to offer you an out.  Please don't feel like you need to follow this blog religiously.  I love to share good news but I hate to share bad, and there will certainly be both.  When I randomly googled, "start a blog," I never set out with a real plan as to what that effort would mean.  Largely, it is a way for me to cope.  And a way for us to keep you in the loop.  But I have learned in this last week that I, and possibly some of you, can tolerate only a certain amount of truth.  Didn't Aaron Sorkin write it best in "A Few Good Men" -- "I want the truth."  "You can't handle the truth."  This dialogue sums me right up.  I want the truth, but I'm also wondering if I can handle it.  If you feel the same way, I beg you to click back to Facebook and enjoy the day.  I promise you, I never meant to cause you pain.      

At the same time, I will keep writing because I feel like the truth could help someone someday.  Maybe it's helping the 2 people in Russia who, according to my stats, have viewed my blog.  (Who are you?  Tell me more!  I am so curious, especially since your page views have lit up most of Asia on my little "Advanced Blog Statistics Map."  I'm loving it!).   Lindsay, I'm guessing you're my Germany follower and Ryan, is that you up in Canada?  I'm half-joking, mainly to express to you how thankful I am that my words are reaching people.

With that less than lovely medical update, let's pick up where we left off last night....

So I have always tried to be good about thank you notes, with one really big exception.  I don't do them for gifts given to my kids.  I truly marvel at the incredible moms I know (not to be sexist but in reality I've only seen moms do it), who, after surviving their four or five year old's birthday party, write individual thank you notes recognizing the appropriate gift given.  I'd say I aspire to this, but I know I'd be crazy to set the bar that high.

Since I was diagnosed, I have received what I can only describe as a truly unbelievable, overwhelming, life-changing outpouring of love and support.  Let's be honest, it's one of the few perks that comes with getting cancer (that, and discounted parking in the Longwood area when you flash your Dana Farber medical record number card).  Seriously though, what you (and others that may be less blog-inclined) have given me over the past week has brought me to tears, tears of absolute and utter amazement that somehow over the course of my life, I have met the best of the best.

Of course, between the absolute craziness of appointments, tearful breakdowns, family visits, and trying to raise two little kids, I have failed miserably at returning your messages and I'd imagine thank you notes won't happen for months.  Lack of time is my easy excuse (as is the fact that post-surgery I basically won't be able to lift my arms).  But my hesitation is also because I cannot even begin to explain how thankful I truly am.  So this entry is my thank you note.  I know, it's kind of like a group email -- it'll mean less because it's not coming straight from me to you.  But please know that I have in my mind each and every single one of your texts, emails, letters, Facebook and blog comments, You Tube videos, quotes, phone calls, flowers, chocolate covered strawberries (yum!), evil eyes, key chains, bracelets, t-shirts, cards, babysitting sessions, inspirational stories, warm hugs, and other gifts I'm likely forgetting.  (Oh, and Sean and Lauren, trust me, I have kept track of all of the house-cleaning and laundry you've done.  Does that stop once I'm cancer-free?)

Anyways, there's one thing related to all of those unbelievable gestures that I feel compelled to set straight -- I am worried that I may have created a myth about my own strength through this and somehow planted a seed in your head that you would not be just as strong if (heaven forbid) you were forced to be.  Trust me, you would, and in many cases, you have.  So I feel that if I don't bust this myth,  I'm doing a disservice to you.  So here, in this odd blog entry / thank you note / mythbuster, I want to come clean.

Lest you think I forgot those lyrics I posted last night, let us return to them.  In a weird way, they are even more pertinent tonight than they were when I chose them last night, as I am in a darker place now than I was then, having now received the HER2+ news.

The first night after my diagnosis was the worst night of my life.  I was not strong, not a hero, not a fighter, not anyone's inspiration.  I fell asleep around 11, snuggled safe next to my husband and completely spent, but at 1AM I woke as if bombs were falling outside.  Of course I didn't want to wake up Brian who deserved his sleep more than anyone, and I wouldn't dream of bothering my mother even though she insisted that I do so (and was so upset that I hadn't).  So I just lay there, alone in the blackness of my grave, wondering about how our house would feel without me in it.  Wondering about whether my family could enjoy a vacation on the Cape if I wasn't there.  Hoping that there is someone else out there that would treat Brian like the most wonderful man in the world that he is, and angry, so deeply angry, that it wouldn't be me that could enjoy his company forever.  So fucking angry that something would steal me away from my kids, my parents, my siblings, my relatives, my friends.  Bursting at the seeming injustice that I wouldn't hurt a soul, but some nasty disease was tearing mine apart.  (Sorry, had to pause to find the tissues so my laptop doesn't become covered in my boogery tears.  Which led me to the recent pile of BJ's purchases stacked in the garage - paper towels, diapers, toilet paper, and my much-needed tissues.  Which then led me to realize I need to clean the garage.  If anyone needs a huge file cabinet, I've got one in there I'm trying to get rid of.  Nothing like multi-tasking right?!)

Anyways, boogers wiped and tissues nearby, I power on.  In that first night of knowing I had cancer, I dwelled in a very dreamy deep as Bruce wrote.  From my head to my feet, my body had gone stone cold.  Cancer crawled up and down my neck like poisonous spiders.  I kept on thinking I heard the kids cry for me but it was just the airconditioner humming.  Then I just shook uncontrollably.  Could barely breathe.  Starving, but couldn't eat.  Needing to vomit, but without the strength to do it.  It was one fucking awful night.  (By the way, my friend Heather likes to swear about my cancer and I have to say, it makes me feel so much better so please pardon my french throughout.)

I tell you about this night for a few reasons.  First, lest you think I solved the problem solely with my inner strength (again, dispelling any myths), the next morning my mom called in for some sleep and anxiety medication.  Yep, I don't do natural birth and if there was a pill that would make sure a night like that never happened again, I was going to take it.  Even if the side effects were that I grew a tail.  (I haven't.)

Yes, the small dose of sleep medication has helped.  But that little pill is nothing compared to you.  In other words, you mean more to me than Ativan (this is shaping up to be quite the odd thank you note, isn't it?).  No seriously, let's talk about you all for a bit.

The day after that dreaded night, as we began to share my diagnosis and hear from you, I heard voices calling all around me.  The earth rose above me, my eyes filled with sky.  In all honesty, it wasn't only what you said to me that filled my eyes with the sky again.  Beyond that, something amazing happened.  I started to think of each of you and the burdens I know you carry, and most of all, the strength you have shown in the face of your own struggles, during those times I'm sure that you lay alone there in the dark.  Among you, you have taken care of sick parents, siblings, and friends, and even held their hand as they passed.  You have been shocked by tragic accidents and somehow got out of bed the next day.  You have had complications with pregnancies, with births, with kids that need special attention.  You have suffered through painful divorces, painful illnesses and injuries, or the loss of a pet.  You have raised kids alone, struggled to make mortgage payments, or dealt with depression.  You have suffered abuse that no one deserves, or loved someone that didn't love you that way in return.  And, in what I honestly think must be the worst of all worst, you have seen your own child laid to rest.  Boy, put us all together and we sure sound like a pathetic lot!?!  But we're not.  We're just a slice of humanity.  And in the last week, I have learned more about humanity than ever before.  Most of all, I have learned to draw my strength from those I love, and from those of you who, despite your own burdens big or small, get up in the morning, smile, breathe, work, love, and move forward.

So to wrap up this great comedy of an entry, I quote the Boss:

Our souls and spirits rise
To carry the fire and light the spark
To fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
We are alive

We are alive.  With scars, and hurt, and love, and hope.  With cancerous boobs and questionable lymph nodes.  With uncertainty, and fear, and appreciation beyond explanation.  We are alive (and, as I believe Bruce intends, so are the souls and spirits of those we have lost).  Thank you all for standing with me this past week and in the weeks to come, and for letting me stand with you.

Oh, and tomorrow, I may just post a video of newscaster bloopers.  I always think those are hilarious, and seriously, I don't think I can take all this emotion.  Or maybe I'll post the drawing that the plastic surgeon did of my new boob options.  That's pretty funny too.  Either way, we'll lighten it up a bit.  I wouldn't want to lose my Russian readership.


  1. I don't even know what to say. You bring me to tears and laughter within mere seconds of one another. When all this is over and you are cancer-free (and there is no doubt in my mind that you will be!), you should take these blogs, turn them into a book, and go on tour. We miss you at One Boston Place (Square? Man, I haven't even learned our address yet), my friend! Hope you get some sleep tonight. And keep up that fight in you!

    1. A book tour huh? That sounds pretty cool! With a tour bus and an entourage? Yeh, I could see myself doing that :) It would also be a pretty interesting marking technique for our health care group! :) Thanks for everything Sara!

  2. Another great post, Tara! I haven't reached out 'til now, but you and your family have been in my thoughts...

    This part of the blog really spoke to me "somehow somehow over the course of my life, I've met the best of the best."

    I've often felt that way myself, that I've been so lucky to know the best of the best and I've counted you among them, keep up the good fight, we're all here with you.

    1. Thanks Erin, you're definitely in that group for me. :)

  3. Tara, keep it up! This is not about us. It is about what you need to do. You have a unique ability to use words to describe and covey very complicated emotions. Somewhere in the world (perhaps Russia?) there is someone, maybe more than someone, who is reading your journey and learning how to understand their own. Write whatever you need to write and know that we are all here. "When going through Hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill


  4. Tara, I am blubbering as I am typing this and my kids are wondering what the heck is wrong with me this time as I have always cried at everything, both happy and sad... And at Campbell soup commercials ;-) But I just had to tell you once again how much I love you, Cam loves you, my kids love your kids... WE ARE ALIVE!!!! XOXOXOXOXOXO Much love FOREVER, Leslie

  5. I second the book comment. You are truly inspirational and hilarious in the face of adversity. Once this cancer is gone a book your is a must! Perhaps you will get to Russia to meet your fans! Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers- keep fighting and writing.

  6. I always knew you were amazing but this blog confirms it. Your words are amazing and reach every person that reads them. I've enjoyed your references to "The Boss" because I always loved calling you "My Boss"! I miss you every day but wanted you to know you have a very loyal following here at Ropes and we await every entry. Stay strong my friend

  7. Tara,

    I've been reading your blog and you have been on my mind constantly since your first post about your diagnosis. I know we have not talked much with law school, but since you've shared so much I feel compelled to offer something back to you.

    I remember when I first met you back in 2004 when we were all wide eyed first year law students milling around in the foyer of Suffolk Law for a meet and greet. I was instantly drawn to your quick wit, beautiful smile and wonderful sense of humor. This Tara Talbot was someone I wanted to know.

    Throughout law school, you continued to impress. I remember one time in particular when we were preparing for a final in class for Property when you remembered this obscure law and even cited the case (so obscure, in fact, that I can't even remember it now) and it was one of those moments when all one hundred or so of us in Section 4B turned and gasped. You, sitting in the front row of our stadium style seating classroom, sheepishly smiled. I loved that moment and loved watching your shine.

    Then, in our last year of school, while we wearily went through finals and dreaded thinking about the bar exam, there you were, very pregnant and still smiling. I remember thinking, How does this incredible girl do it all with such grace and humor? You are definitely someone I admired greatly in law school and still today. But, sadly, we never say all that sappy stuff to our friends. And it may have been awkward for you to hear me say, “Gee, Tara, you’re really awesome.” back then right?

    And then this happens. And I cry as you pour your heart out in written words. I feel helpless from my computer screen and fumble for the right thing to say. And I think, now, right now is an important time to tell this person how you feel and hope that in some small way it gives them some strength.

    Since law school, I've had three dear friends battle breast cancer and had my own scare myself. I've become all too familiar with the lingo, the waiting and the treatment. What has been hardest for me helping my friends and family through their war with cancer (which they’ve all conquered by the way) is that proverbial elephant in the room. FEAR. Everyone is positive, everyone smiles and everyone tells you that you are strong and tough and that you will overcome this---which you WILL DO. However, it’s very difficult for us to confront the fear that goes along with the journey. The fact that you acknowledged this so openly and with such raw emotion made me “ugly cry”—you know that crying when you look in the mirror and see how ugly you look from crying and it actually makes you cry harder. I think that once you acknowledge the fear so openly and blatantly, it gives you power over it to triumph. Fear is no longer the elephant, it’s something you deal with daily, but the acknowledgement empowers you. For me, fear was one of the most difficult issues in helping my friends through cancer. Everyone deals with difficulties so differently, but it’s that raw emotion, honesty and candor that is so freeing and actually gives you that super hero strength you never knew you had.

    I know that your journey will be one that will touch many people and give strength when they thought they had none left. Your words are powerful and while they help to heal you, they will make a difference in many people’s lives for years to come.

    All this to say, that four years after law school, you, Tara, continue to amaze me and inspire me. I’m thinking of you, praying for you, and I’m here for you! Keep blogging and we’ll all keep reading and we will lift you up on those dark days and scream from the rooftops when you win this war.

    I admire you greatly,
    Jennifer Davidson

  8. Again, your comments bring tears to my eyes and my heart bursts with thanks.

  9. I think it is amazing that you are even finding the time or the energy to do this. As my PCP tells me, 1 in TEN are diagnosed with Breast Cancer, You are surely going to help many with your blog. Prayers to you all and Scottie will be looking over you for sure. Barbara Theodore