Oh my goodness! I can’t believe I am about to share my story with you. Did my love of crochet and Jessica just lead me to this moment? Is it possible to “fangirl” and feel extremely vulnerable at the same time? (Breathe, Allison.) Like many of you, I am always so inspired by The Hook Nook and all the wonderful makers featured on her blog. Before reading the posts, I never thought about sharing my story. However, why wouldn’t I want people to know why I crochet? What if my story helps you or other women, just as others have for me? So, I went to my website and started to write. It was the most intimidating thing I have ever done. I poured my heart out, but being such a newbie limited the audience. Something kept telling me to reach out to Jessica to have my story shared with a larger audience. So, here is how some stitches lead to other stitches.
On December 20, 2011, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. At 35 years young, the doctor told me the words I will never forget, “We have a problem.” At the time of diagnosis, I was a special education teacher, a mom, and a wife. I had recently earned a Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology with research concentration in internalizing disorders (i.e., anxiety and depression). I used my education to work with children who had special needs. Teaching was my calling, and the school was a second home. Life was so damn good, and little did I know what surviving cancer actually meant..
I had a right mastectomy, the side with the cancer. My doctor was very conservative and felt it was best to focus on the diseased breast. He removed it and all its glory (the nipple) along with 17 lymph nodes, three of which had tumors (Stage 2B). Within a month, I was receiving chemo. Interestingly, I suffered many of the possible side effects of that awful stuff. Teaching and chemo treatments weren’t something this girl’s body was going to do at the same time, so I had to take a leave of absence. It was such a difficult decision for me. Yet, I thought I would bounce right back once I was finished.
Allow me to insert the funny side, as written in my original post on my blog. “I went through a year of stuffing fuzzy socks in my bras (I needed that boob space filled…thank you, middle school years, for the lessons. Ha!) Sometimes, I would take the socks out and tell people I was flashing them my boob or tell them I could wear my boob on my foot (insert giggle with slight eye roll). Humor was extremely important for me and those around me.”
After spending the year dealing with chemo and radiation, I had hope with an upcoming breast reconstruction surgery and the “all clear” from cancer. By using my stomach tissue, surgeons were going to replace my sock stuffed bra with a new boob. At the time of surgery, I also had a left mastectomy and reconstruction. So, basically, ya girl had a tummy tuck and new ta-tas! I felt well and returned to work! My story wasn’t so bad. Well, until the second phase of reconstruction surgery. One December day (Yeah, I’m starting to sound like a Counting Crows’s song.), I had the most intense stabbing pain I’ve ever felt. The pain caused a full blown crisis, and I was sent to the hospital. Doctors worked around the clock for eleven days to find out what went wrong. It never stopped. I spent years traveling to various specialists to find a cure for my new ailments, though to no avail. My body and mind eventually gave up.
This time last year, I was going to die. My body started to negatively react to abrupt medication changes, extreme exhaustion and insomnia, physical pain, and depression. I started experiencing seizures on a daily basis and required home health care to receive monitoring and daily IV fluids. My body was so weak, I couldn’t walk or care for myself. The future seemed grim, and my family felt every bit of stress. I had become completely dependent on them, and knew I was a burden. How could I continue to live like that? I was done. My knowledge of psychology didn’t seem to break through my deepest level of despair and hopelessness. Even though I was surrounded by family, I felt isolated and alone. I truly, with every ounce of me, felt my family would be better off without me. I no longer had purpose here.
I started to plan my death in the early part of July of 2018. It’s so sad because I almost found ease when I was planning the ending. If you have never been in that state, you can’t imagine that feeling. I was no longer going to suffer or cause suffering to my loved ones. Well, my husband found out, and we addressed the situation. We decided I needed to go get inpatient treatment. There I was, a psychology graduate, weak as ever, entering the mental hospital. “Boy, this is going to be great for my community to find out.”, I thought. “Did I not learn anything during six years of college?” Relentlessly, I spent seven days on suicide watch before convincing everyone I was well enough to leave. Sadly, I still had my mind made up that eventually I was going to die. My husband had other plans. He called a psychologist who offers a 21 day outpatient intensive pain rehabilitation program, and I was accepted into the program. I promised I would give it a try.
I didn’t go with the intention of living; I went with the intention of trying to not want to die. If that makes sense. We spent 21 eight hour days doing physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition, pain management, exercise, deep breathing, yoga, and so much more. I have never been so agitated as I was by week two in that program. Yet, I stuck with it. Thank God I did! I ended up taking away some valuable lessons (See http://spunkyowl.com/ten-coping-skills-for-chronic-pain-and-mental-illnesses/) and learning a lot about myself. The day before our “graduation” I erased the death date mark on the calendar and made the decision to live. In August of 2018, I made a commitment to myself to do everything in my power to live the best life I can within my limitations.
One of the activities I found to be peaceful and easy to do while struggling physically and mentally was coloring in adult coloring books and Bible journaling. These activities took my mind off the pain and allowed me to rest while awake. Trips to Hobby Lobby for markers, stickers, and such became a new hobby. (Great store name ya got there, HL!) I have no idea why I went down the yarn isle for the first time ever, but I picked up a crochet hook and figured why (k)not try it. A few YouTube videos and many cuss words later, I was crocheting. That was October 2018, and now I’m hooked! (I know, overused.) Crocheting, although physically painful at times, allows me to focus on something other than my body. I can decide I want to do something challenging that requires intense concentration. Alternatively, I can do an easy repetitive stitch and get into a meditative state.
I never thought I would find something I was good at after all I went through. Crocheting and running my small (very small) business challenges me to keep going. When I lost my job teaching, one of my main roles was taken from me. No one really needed me, in the practical sense. We are all innately designed to be wanted and accepted, and we can become depressed when we feel we aren’t. I can instantly see I am taking a ball of fibers and turning into something beautiful people want and need. Purpose. Need. It’s that sense of purpose we have to find when times are difficult. Ultimately, it’s finding the purpose those struggles can serve. Crocheting allows me to reach out to others and support those who may also be suffering. Therefore, crocheting helps calm me and allows me to help others. Maybe none of this is about making but about the relationships we share within this community. Maybe my talents are simply a way for me to connect with you and show you that everything gets better.
Find that one thing that makes you feel good, productive, and purposeful. Then, when the bad days, weeks, months come, do it! You just have to get through it. Seek help when you need it, and never be ashamed. Your brain is an organ, like the liver or any other, and requires care. There is no stigma in that. I can’t believe I encouraged people professionally to get help, but was embarrassed when I needed it. My life would have ended last year had I not. I wouldn’t be here to experience all the joy this craft and community bring me. My children and husband wouldn’t have seen me thriving in new roles, and would be mourning today. You are not alone. I promise.
Though I made it through the darkest times, it doesn’t mean it is easy now. I suffer from constant itching/burning pain and frequent muscle spasms in the breast. Any movement involving the right arm exacerbates the pain, and causes multiple physical responses (such as hives). I rarely get more than 3 hours of sleep at one time, which makes fighting pain more difficult. As you can read, it’s no surprise that I struggle with anxiety and depression. It takes every ounce of energy to show up and be present somewhere, yet I try to get out and live as much as possible. The biggest difference one year later is the “will and hope.” The will to live. The hope for better.
I’m healing from my most recent major breast surgery and have a few more to go, but I will continue to try to heal. The surgical stitches can’t keep me from enjoying my crochet stitches. (Oh, yes, I did! Ha!) So, let’s get our wine glasses and cute Crochet WIne Cozies (Get the pattern here. Use this code to get the download free: THN) to toast to life!