By Contributing Mama Diane LeBleu
I tried to be a good sport last year through my chemo treatments for breast cancer that left my blonde locks just a memory recorded only in digital photos, including my Facebook pose. Now a year later, my hair, while much shorter, is back to my ‘original’ color – the same color as when I learned I had breast cancer.
I had just returned from a trip to visit my best friend Holly in Budapest. She was living there with her family for two years. My sweet husband indulged my desire to travel thousands of miles to do ‘research’ for a book I wanted to – and may still – write some day. At the time, little did I know that this tiny spot in my right breast would turn into Stage 2 breast cancer followed by a bilateral mastectomy and six months of chemo resulting in the loss of all my hair and whatever forward momentum I would have to finally write a book.
After a year devoted to cancer abolishment, things have pretty much returned to normal. Today was fairly typical: carpool duty for swim practice for Danielle, kill 90 minutes with Sabrina & Caroline (plus a friend), eat dinner at north Austin fast food chicken eatery that will remain nameless, hasty retreat from this restaurant after an anonymous child poops up the child play area (It’s mine, of course. Caroline used to be very regular until she discovered how much she loves cheese). Another establishment I can no longer frequent.
I still yell at my kids, curse the stained and vermin-infested carpet we cannot afford to replace. I do laundry over (and over and over) and dread the weekly grocery trips because I have absolutely no imagination when it comes to cooking, a chore I also barely tolerate.
I’m still in the clutches of the longest mid-life crisis on record. It started somewhere in my mid to late twenties. I recall a conversation with my friend Cici, who was on the same career track as me. We were both lamenting the fact that we were both good at our jobs but finding it not very fulfilling. Imagine, we both agreed, how great we would be if we found something to do that we actually liked. Were we victims of our culture’s claims that we deserve to be fulfilled (and handsomely compensated) for our work? Work that ought to define us and provide an immediate response to those that might ask, “What do you do?”
Then came motherhood and the response was fairly self-explanatory. If you were talking to another stay-at-home mom that is. Husbands still didn’t fully understand what we do all day while they are at work. Some days, as I look around at the laundry and mess, I too wonder where my productive hours have gone. What did I accomplish today? When you work at an office, you have fairly clear cut tasks, objectives, and deliverables. Something you can point to and say…. See – I did that today. Crossed it off my list. Now I can reward myself with cocktails after work with friends.
How is it that I have reached 40 and still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up? As I see it, I am on my third career now. First one, out of college, business and IT consultant. Second, SAHM. This really does count as a career – one is just not compensated monetarily. Third – TBD. I had a false start coming off the blocks last year. I thought I would be able to be an insurance advisor and even went to all the trouble to train and be licensed. To this day, I have not sold one insurance policy. Zero. As I tell others, I’m finding that I am more of a service person than sales. So now what? What kind of divine intervention will come down to coax, urge, kick me in the butt to get me pointed in the right direction and launch me out of my middle aged angst?
What’s different now between pre and post-cancer Diane is that I hope this is my mid-life instead of end-of-life crisis. Cancer has a funny way of getting you to rethink some things. Take my idea to get a dog. For years, I have been in the anti-dog camp. The hair, the chewed up furniture, the neediness. I used to shake my head at the poor souls in my neighborhood out at all hours in inclement weather with a leash and a plastic baggie and proclaim ‘That will never be me!’
Most (sane) people would celebrate their 4th child getting out of diapers with, I don’t know, some kind of ritual diaper genie burning or something along those lines. Instead, I decide that…. Hey, life is short, I don’t want to deprive my children of a chance to own a real pet. Here’s what I have found out since we have become dog owners. Big dogs generate big poop. And dogs are like goats. They eat anything – even dead birds.
What’s also different now is that I start and finish my day with prayers of thanksgiving. For my husband, children, family and friends. For what health I have today. For the funny things my kids will say and do. For the frustration at trying to get my recently scatterbrained 9-year-old son to follow two directions – in a row. I had lunch with a pink girlfriend the other day. We were both diagnosed at the same time and she is now happy that she only thinks about cancer some of the day rather than the 24/7 ache she most recently had on her heart. I told her that I didn’t want to forget my cancer. Forgetting my cancer makes me forget to be thankful for all the blessings I have – today.
So I try not to worry too much about what my new career will be. I try not to feel like a big dork if I try something new like sales. And fail. Failure is a part of life, after all, and isn’t that the whole point of all this? I am trying to keep things simple and enjoy things I love doing, like writing and reading, spending time with friends and jumping on the trampoline with my kids. Maybe I’ll get back to writing that book or maybe it will be a different story altogether. In the meantime, there is more laundry to do.