Friday, June 22, 2018

Emerging from the vortex.

Well. I guess I was even less prepared than I knew. The hospital experience was, you know, a hospital experience. We had to be there at 5:30 a.m. for a nuclear medicine ordeal that was grossly under-represented as being "like a couple of bee stings." I'm going to call bullshit on that and let it go. Three hours later, radioactive material snug in my sentinel lymph nodes and prepped with an IV, I went into surgery. Which, although I didn't know until later, lasted seven hours. I spent another three in recovery while they gave me bag after bag of fluids trying to get my BP to an acceptable level.

My husband and my son's fiancée sat with me that evening, and my husband spent the night sleeping in a chair next to me, a reversal of our experience after his stroke. And then they discharged me around lunch time. I was so glad to be home and wrote a post on Facebook saying so.

And then all hell broke loose. Five days later, I came up for air long enough to post this:
"I was just glad to be home from the hospital. Sure, I was in a lot of pain and had limited mobility, but I had help and encouragement and I was ready to heal. And the Universe heard and said “You think you’ve got this? Ha ha! Fuck you! How about I see your breast cancer and raise you unrelenting migraines? How about I put your skull in a vise for days and reduce you to a shivering, puking husk of a person? Then how about I finally ease up for a few hours to give you hope that you’ve turned a corner, then wallop you again? Still think you’ve got this?”
Well, Universe, I can only say that If I were a prisoner of war, I’d have long since given up any secret I knew just to Make. It. Stop."

And then I retreated again, pulled back into the storm. I had spent nearly a week throwing up everything I ate and reeling in pain. Finally last Monday, my surgeon told me to come in and she suggested that maybe my narcotics were actually triggering the migraines. I switched to ibuprofen and very gradually life started to feel a little more like life. But only a tiny bit. I still hurt like crazy. I hate sleeping propped on the couch and maneuvering around drain tubes and having them flushed out twice a day. I hated setting an alarm to take an antibiotic every four hours around the clock. I hated lying awake with my skin on fire and counting the minutes until daylight.  In some ways I hit bottom Wednesday when I wanted to punch anyone who was telling me to be strong. Because I have discovered that people can react pretty badly when you aren't. I think it's overwhelming to be exposed to someone else's pain and many people just pull away. And hell, I didn't like me either. I didn't know if I even wanted to make it. I will tell you plainly that I was in a very dark place.

But yesterday rolled around and I went in to see the plastic surgeon. She was able to remove two of my four drain tubes, which helped a little, in spite of the fact that it was a remarkably painful procedure. It was quick, but an astoundingly sharp pain. I may or may not have yelled, "Fuck!" Even so, I am eager to get the other two removed and get on with the reconstruction process.

Even beyond the pain, which rolls over me in an electric way, it's just hard. I can't look at myself. I don't feel whole. I can't reach things or lift. I have a schedule loaded with appointments with surgeons and oncologists and decisions ahead about treatment. I have procedures and surgeries still to come and a long path of healing. I find myself reassessing friendships and thinking a lot about how I want the rest of my life to be.

Before you encourage me to look at the bright side, let me say that I am keenly aware of the blessings in my life. And I'll get to those. But this cancer business truly sucks with a suckage unimaginable. I feel like I am slowly making my way to calmer waters and letting myself just float for now.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"The changing of sunlight to moonlight, reflections of my life."

The day after I got my invasive breast cancer diagnosis, I headed into work and flipped on the radio as I drove. They were playing a song I've not heard in many years, the only hit of The Marmalade, from 1969, called "Reflections of my Life." The lyrics at the moment I turned the radio on were:

"The world is
A bad place,
A bad place,
A terrible place to live.
Oh, but I don't want to die.
All my sorrows,
Sad tomorrows,
Take me back to my own home.
All my crying,
Feel I'm dying, dying,
Take me back to my own home."


I probably don't need to tell you I cried all the way to work. (And pretty much off and on every day after that for the next week or so.) But when I got home that day and looked up the song, I also found a recent remake by the lead singer, Dean Ford. It is much more compelling from an older voice and now the song centers me and brings me comfort. I hear it now as a rueful acceptance that life is tough and yet is still worth holding on to.

At the Joyful Flight exhibit, I was particularly fascinated by this mirrored hummingbird. The reflections caused its appearance to change depending on where you stood to look at it. At first, with all the green, I thought it was filled with holes and then realized instead it was covered in round mirrors. I want that to be me - not defined by cancer or what is taken from me, but reflecting back what is good and life-affirming around me.
People have assured me that I am strong and brave enough to handle the path I find myself on.  I have felt anything but that. Then I remembered what I have often told my own patients - that being brave isn't about being unafraid. When you aren't afraid, courage isn't even required. Bravery is about doing what you need to do in spite of your fear. So I am leaning hard into my fear and moving forward. My first surgery is in the morning, and again I ask for your good thoughts to guide the hands of my surgeons and carry me through whatever treatment and recovery is ahead. Life has been brought sharply into focus for me and I hope to come out the other side of all this stronger and more appreciative of life in all its messy glory.

"I'm changing, arranging,
I'm changing,
I'm changing everything,
Everything around me."

Friday, June 8, 2018

Home again.

So just briefly... we had a lovely time in Aruba, and made it back home (flight delays, blah, blah, blah) this morning instead of yesterday. But the travelogue will have to wait - we have things we need to do here this weekend to get ready for Monday's surgery and my son and his fiancée coming over Sunday. I will do the Aruba posts when I have nothing but time in a week or so.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Taking the surgeon's advice.

Prior to my diagnosis, we'd planned to take several days to go to the beach and our airfare and room were already paid for. As it happened, it was precisely when they'd have scheduled my surgery. We asked and the surgeon said, "Go." One week wasn't going to make a difference and I won't be going anywhere for quite awhile afterwards. So we're listening to her and heading out. Since the airline charges even for carry-on baggage, we are both taking only one "personal item" (a bag not to exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches, including handles) and travel lightly. I plan to spend the next six days eating good seafood, staring at the ocean, and trying to get myself into a mental space for what's ahead for me. Back in a week.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

More of the university gardens.

In addition to the hummingbird statues, we enjoyed just walking around the gardens and then out along the river. We walked about 4 miles that day and have made a commitment to walking some every day possible. The garden entrance has some lotus ponds, which had a variety of white and pink blooms.
A robin posed for me on this iron sculpture of roses.
The gardens are divided into areas, including a kitchen garden with herbs, vegetables and fruits.
There are ponds scattered throughout, including some with brightly-colored koi and others with large turtles. Later, as we walked along the river, we passed dozens of snapping turtles, sunning themselves on logs in the water.
I believe this is Quan Yin, the boddhisatva of compassion who represents the divine feminine. Yet another thing in the gardens, along with the carved wood hummingbird, that I had to refrain from stealing.
A juvenile squirrel caused its mother some turmoil, racing away and having to be corralled again. When we approached, they both darted up the trunk of a tree and then froze, pretending to be invisible.
In the children's section was a fairy garden, with tiny houses tucked in amongst the rocks and plants.
Nearby was an enormous iron grasshopper.
The kids' area included an exhibit of insect-eating plants. Because what child isn't fascinated by plants that can eat bugs? Okay, fine, I'm fascinated by it, too.
 No idea about this sculpture but it had some vaguely Celtic carvings and also reminded me of something you might see in Central or South American ruins. Maybe an altar of some sort.
Crape myrtle trunks. I planted a few crapes at my house and look forward to when they develop this beautiful peeled look.
Another young squirrel foraged near us while we sat on a hanging bench swing. When it finally found a nut, it ran up to snack in the branches above.
Back out by the lotuses again. May we all stay rooted in the earth and flower in the light.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Good luck birds.

Surgery plan in place and a couple of weeks to wait, we decided to take part of our weekend to visit the new hummingbird exhibit, "Joyful Flight," at the university gardens.
Artists were provided with a wooden hummingbird form and could paint or decorate it as they wanted. Scattered around were signs with hummingbirds facts. For instance, a hummingbird's wings move 38-78 beats per second (more when diving).
This one looked a little melancholy in spite of its admonition to love life. Like me right now, I guess - I do love life, and I'm also sad.
I loved this ceramic-covered bird. It's hard to see but the pieces of ceramic that cover it are carved in patterns.
The sign for this one identifies it as a king, but when I saw it, I said, "Oh, I like the queen hummingbird!" I'm sticking with my interpretation.
This metallic-covered version includes spoons, chains and other odds and ends. The placement near an old truck and gas pump is perfect.
This bird was by a little pond. Weighing less than a penny, they are fast and can be aggressive. Indeed, I've watched tiny bold hummers duke it out over territory and mates and buzz my head when the feeder runs low. Hummingbirds will even use their long, sharp beaks like little shivs and stab each other in the throat when fighting. Now that's fierce!
At one with the trees around it on one side of this bird,
and decorated with delicate vines and birds on the other. Not all were decorated differently on either side and I appreciated the effort.
A modern bird, covered in CDs. As good a use for discarded discs as I've ever seen.
Another hummingbird fact - proportionally, they have the biggest brains of any bird. They can remember flowers they visited and often return to the same feeders each year.
This hummingbird speaks to the hippie in me, living life on its own terms. I especially liked the yarn fringe on his cap.
Cosmic hummer. A friend told me he'd be conversing with the Cosmos on my behalf so this is clearly his bird. In some traditions, hummingbirds are seen as healers, appearing to people in need.
Possibly my favorite, a hummer of carved and colored wood. I'd put this one in my garden if I could. Representing both fearlessness and lightness of being, these hummingbirds were a timely message for me. I will need all the courage and joy I can get for the months ahead.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

May 9, a story in two parts. Part 2: And then this happened.

No sooner had we started driving away from the graduation lunch, my cellphone rang. Anyone who knows me knows that, in true introvert style, I never answer my phone. I figure that's what voicemail is for. But this call I took, because I knew I needed to. It was the radiologist who'd performed the stereotactic needle biopsy the morning before, to say he was very sorry, they weren't expecting the results they got, but I have invasive breast cancer.
I won't lie, I was gobsmacked. I'd been told that the mammogram showed new calcifications that had a 20% chance of indicating the relatively safe and contained DCIS, and that small possibility I was prepared for. Not the invasive ductal carcinoma even the radiologist was surprised by. And yes, I admit I ran through the "how is this possible?" questions in my head. I'm thin, I eat a healthy diet, I avoid processed foods, I exercise, I don't drink heavily, I don't use drugs, I don't smoke. But you know what? If I've learned anything in my life, it's that fair's got nothing to do with it. Asking "why me?" is nonsensical. After all, why not me? My husband and sister and I came home and cried, and then wiped away our tears before my younger son and his fiancée stopped by to pick up his gift and have a celebratory drink with us. It was his day, and I wasn't going to spoil it.
On Mother's Day, my son and his partner invited us over for brunch and afterwards I told them what I knew so far. And then came home to call my older son and tell him. Those were hard conversations and it pains me to make my kids sad and scared. But they needed to know and also to be reassured that I plan to do everything I can to get well. So that's where it stands. I had an MRI Monday morning and have made myself a little crazy reading the path reports and learning how extensive it is. The oncology team will review my case tomorrow and then we meet with my surgeon next Tuesday to talk about what options I might have.
In the meantime, please send some good thoughts my way.
"Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right.
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face." 

(Alanis Morrisette)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

May 9, a story in two parts. Part 1: Graduation.

Let's face it - graduations are a little dreadful. Long and boring, with an often mind-numbing speaker. This particular graduation had the added irritant of some rich guy getting an honorary (aka fake) doctorate, which I consider an insult to everyone who has worked their tails off to earn an advanced degree. But I still cry when someone I love is graduating. This time it was my younger son, wrapping up his four years at the University.
I teared up when they played Pomp and Circumstance and the graduates filed in, and again when they turned the tassels on their caps to show they'd graduated, and yet again when his name was called to cross the stage. Afterwards all of us who were there to watch his graduation drove to the restaurant he'd chosen for a late lunch and a round of margaritas - his fiancée, both sets of his parents, our older son and my sister.  I sat directly across from my ex-husband's wife and we chatted about the possums who've been visiting our yard and about graduation traditions, while next to me I could hear my husband talking with my ex about their shared love of old sports cars. I was hit by the loveliness of having the sort of pleasant blended family that allowed us to all celebrate this son's milestone together, without a hint of awkwardness. I was thankful that my sister had made the seven-hour drive for the occasion. And also thankful that my older son, who is on summer break after his first year of optometry school, put his research project on hold to make the equally long drive to be there.
After photos outside, we all parted ways. My sons and their father had to go retrieve my older son's truck which had gotten stuck in the mud the night before. My husband and I had done our bit the night before, when I received a 1 am phone call from the boys asking if we could come pick them up as they'd been unable to get a tow truck to agree to make a middle-of-the-night run to the wildlife management area where they were stranded. It was 2:30 in the morning before we crawled back into bed. In spite of the fact that both my sons are in their 20's, Mom is who they call for help. And I love that. As we pulled out of the restaurant parking lot, I thought about how I'd seen both kids through college and felt a wave of pride, gratitude, and relief.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Another month down.

I'm running a little behind....

But here we are, now four months in, and still a complete success:

EXPENDITURES
   April         Year to Date      Category                              
      $0                       $0                   Clothing                                                   
      $0                       $0                   Shoes                             
      $0                       $0                   Accessories                                       
      $0                       $0                   Cosmetics         
      $0                       $0                   Kitchen items                 
      $0                       $0                   Gadgets/electronics 
      $0                       $0                   Furnishings
      $0                       $0                   Books 
      $0                       $0                   Shrubs/trees
      $0                       $0                   Non-necessary household goods 

As you can see, I originally only excluded shrubs and trees because I had three pots out front that needed flowers and I usually fill them with annuals. And I wanted to put in an herb garden. The herbs count as food, so that's easy. I use them regularly in cooking and growing my own is cheaper than buying them fresh through the long warm season. So I did that this weekend - put in basil, parsley and dill in the raised bed, and rosemary and oregano in pots on the deck. But I scouted around my yard and found some thriving perennials to divide and transplanted them into the pots. It was a major victory for me to enter a garden center - my personal kryptonite - and walk right by all the colorful flowers for sale without buying anything but the herbs.
I've been watching a few videos on minimalism and found one interesting idea about shopping. In addition to the usual questions about "Do I have a place for this?", "How long will this last?," "How does this purchase align with my goals?" and so on, the guy suggested asking "How will this new thing serve me in a way that nothing I already have does?" Well. That changes everything. Interestingly, I had been thinking that maybe after the year was up, we might start buying, one plate or bowl at a time, interesting pottery to replace our dishes. But when I ask myself that question, the answer is clearly, "It won't." I may have a place for new dishes, a new pottery dish may last, it may even align with my goal of having fewer but lovely household items, but it definitely does not serve me in a way the perfectly fine dishes I already own do not. And when I think about it that way, it also doesn't align with my goals of allocating money toward larger goals like travel and retirement.

I tell you, this whole no-shopping challenge is making me think deeply about spending and goals and values in a way that all the decluttering I've done over the years has not. And I'm only a third of the way in!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Little Too Minimal

In my zeal to really explore minimalism, I joined a bunch of facebook groups related to the topics of minimalism, simplicity and anti-consumerism. At first, I found it very helpful and motivating. And then, something shifted. I am still committed to being frugal, and less consumeristic, and trying to tread more lightly on the earth. But good grief! My feed became absolutely clogged with photos of houses purged to the point of barrenness, with people asking if it was still too cluttered with one chair and a side table. Others would weigh in - yes! get rid of the side table and use the window sill instead! I knew without even posting a photo of my bedroom that they'd object to my having dressers and that having a few things on them would be an additional sin. We won't even talk about that small stack of books waiting to be read. And it wasn't just about furnishings. There were frequent photos by people proudly showing off their empty refrigerators. Well, honestly, what is the point of having a refrigerator if not to hold food? And tips on how to feed a family of five for a month on soup beans and leftover vegetables or lauding the benefits of family cloth. What's family cloth, you ask? I'm not sure you really want to know but since I had to read about it, so do you: it's the practice of replacing toilet paper with bits of cloth you can wash and re-use. You read that correctly. Sorry you asked, aren't you? And when you're done gagging, we can resume....

Post after post about aspects of your life that could be minimalized (a word I have come to loathe): Hair - shave it off! Flatware - only have sporks! Color - paint everything white! Beds - put a mattress on the floor! Shoes - flip flops every day! Wedding rings - get a tattoo instead! Coffee - give it up! And for each of those, the chorus of folks countering that even those suggestions weren't minimal enough. It all just started making me twitchy. Listen, I am keeping my hair, I'm not eating soup with a freaking spork, I like having my mattress on a bed frame, I can't wear flip flops to work, I adore my Celtic wedding ring, and I want my damn coffee every morning!

There were rants about using dryers. Rants about television. Rants about wasting money on wine. Rants about the evils of having children. And oh, the challenges:  How few dishes can you get by with? Who has the fewest books? What is the least amount of money you can spend on travel? Is there a single product you can get away with for washing hair, body and dishes? Or better yet, can you eliminate soap entirely from your life? But I knew I had met the limits of my tolerance when I read a post asking people to list the number of clothing items they owned and then the comments of people bragging about how they were able to get by with 22 or 10 or 7 items of clothing. I could no longer rein in the snark. I commented, "One. A single pair of footie pajamas that I wash in rainwater I collect from the downspout and then hang to dry overnight while I sleep naked on the bare wood floor."

Clearly, it was time for me to get out. So I "minimalized" my facebook groups. I stayed in some that are more about simplicity and left the others. It helps me to have some contact with like-minded people who lean toward mindfulness and "cozy minimalism." But I am just not made for the spartan life. Hygge, anyone?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The yard over the last week or so.

The end of March ushers in spring in these parts, and I'm more than a little giddy with it. I have more tulip varieties than I can count.
The clover lawn is filling in and the wild violets are fully in bloom. It looks like a rabbit paradise in the front yard. I love walking in it barefoot.
I take almost as much joy in the things not-quite here - like the beautiful curls of the fern fronds before they unfurl under the dogwood trees. Behind them, hostas are opening.
The stone crop (Autumn joy sedum) has just emerged and will become enormous and covered in rusty pink flowers by late summer.
Lamiums and hellebores, some of my favorite late winter shade plants that bring life to the garden early.
Out back, the trillium I planted last year are coming up. I hope they flower!
This purple leafed sand cherry is a favorite of mine, from its pretty pink blossoms to its burgundy leaves. The more upright main trunk died off early, but I like how the other trunk leans into the mulched bed.
I love daffodils of every variety, but these with the apricot centers are especially pretty.
I have three or four different heucheras (so far!) in the back bed under the dry shade of the old hemlocks. They add some really nice color.
More daffodils and tulips out back, keeping one of my stone frogs company.
I have grape hyacinths scattered everywhere and they echo the color of the wild violets.
These bleeding hearts were added last year and I love their old fashioned look.
Next to them are blue asters, a beautiful contrast.
So, yeah - warm weather and lots of flowers? Now you're talking.