You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog..

We were sitting outdoors on a glorious day, enjoying the garden patio at a local restaurant. There were four of us at the picnic table: Henry (my seven year old grandson), his little sister Caroline (she’ll be 3 in August), and their daddy Mike.

Henry and I were seated on the same side together. It was a cozy table.

We’d all had fun together the night before and our German Shepherd, Shadow, loved every moment of it.

So I looked at my grandson and asked “Henry, how’d you sleep last night?”

“Good,” he said, while eating his French fries.

I smiled and asked “You know who else slept really well last night?”

“Who?” (I knew he expected me to tell him that I slept really well last night)

“Shadow”, I said. “She slept so hard she was in doggy heaven!”

He did a head swivel to look at me… and blurted out “Shadow’s dead?!?

Startled, I said “No, no! I didn’t mean literally, Henry. I meant figuratively. Do you know the difference?”

“Not really,” he replied.

So I explained it to him…that when used figuratively, it’s simply an expression to conjure up the image of Shadow sleeping so very hard, she appeared to be dead…but truly she was just sleeping very soundly from having so much fun the night before with him and Caroline.

Seemingly satisfied, he went back to his French fries. After a moment he looked over at me. And what he blurted out next was about as unexpected as it gets.

“Grammy, you look like a hound dog!”

He’s now touching my jaw, where my aging face has clearly begun to slip southward. So from the side, sagging skin below my jawbone is becoming more and more evident. Truth be told, I’ve often wished I could simply staple it all back up where it belongs. But if I could do that, I’d also have to staple up my eyelids, which are also slowly distancing themselves from my eyebrows. I tell myself that I’ve aged faster than those whose lives are still blessed with good health. But that sagging face is what stares back at me every time I look in the mirror. Who IS that? Ugh. And so its no big surprise that Henry would take notice as well.

Henry’s comment didn’t even sting…it actually made me chuckle. I glanced over at Mike, who was distracted with Caroline and clearly hadn’t heard this somewhat uncouth assessment coming forth from his son. Which was a good thing, because it gave me a chance to reply without any input from the peanut gallery.

“Henry…that’s called aging! It happens to all of us as we grow older. It’ll happen to you too! Shall we see what you’ll look like when you get to be my age?” Before he could reply, I held his face gently between my hands…he grinned to laugh, and I said there was no laughing allowed…I was going to see how his skin would sag when he aged up. Immediately he made a sober face instead.

I gently pulled down on his cheeks.

“Yup! Haha!! You’re going to look like a hound dog too! Isn’t it great, Henry?! You’ll look just like me someday!” He belly laughed with a twinkle in his eye.

Then the conversation took an even more interesting turn.

”Grammy, you’re going to die before me. Probably before I am all grown up.”

Whoa…

So, without missing a beat I told him life is like a conveyor belt. He’s at the end where there is still a whole lot of belt in front of him to travel. I’m near the other end where the conveyor belt rolls off the platform. It’s called the cycle of life.

“Grammy,” he says, “I’ll sob for hours and days when you die.” I had no words for him there…just a big Grammy hug.

Mike missed most of this (I’m pretty sure anyhow), but turns out the two ladies sitting behind us and in close proximity had clearly been eaves dropping. When we got up to leave…one had twisted around so now she AND her friend could see me as we were exiting. Their expressions were hard to read, but if I had to come up with a word, it might be ‘amused’. Or maybe it was ‘appalled’?

I simply grinned at them and said “It’s like a scene from that Art Linkletter show, ‘Kids Say the Darnedest Things!”

They laughed. I laughed.

Ah, kids…their honesty is pure gold.

 

#livethedash

Yes, and

Did you know that by the age of 85 (if you’re lucky enough to live that long), the odds of getting Alzheimer’s are shockingly high? Statistics say that one out of every TWO people will hit the jackpot.   Whoa. Say WHAT?!

Until last night, I’d assumed odds were very slim of being diagnosed with this insidious disease if there was no prior family history.  But then again, if I’d taken the time to actually THINK about it, I’d surely have known better. (Right? Surely I would have, right?!?)

Because, back in the BC (read: Before Cancer) days, I also thought the odds of ever getting breast cancer, with no prior family history, were  very slim. Turns out that was complete baloney.

Last evening hubby and I attended our monthly lecture series and the speaker was Dr. Lisa Genova. I have to admit, I had no clue who she was until I read the brief bio about her in the series brochure. So, assuming you don’t know who she is either, I’ll tell you.

She’s the neuroscientist (Ph.D. from Harvard, no less) who wrote the book ‘Still Alice’. It’s a novel about a woman in her early 50’s, who has a full and busy life until she gets upended by a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Genova’s manuscript was initially rejected by dozens of agents. (I think she said close to 100). The general consensus, if it wasn’t a standard reject letter of 2 sentences, basically came down to: No one wants to read a depressing story about a woman with Alzheimer’s.

So she decided to self-publish and sold copies from the trunk of her car, for several years. Finally a personal connection offered her an introduction to speak with another book agent, who agreed to read the manuscript. Although the odds of wide publication were still dauntingly slim, he decided to take a flyer on it and find a publisher.

The rest is history…a best-seller, ‘Still Alice’ was translated into 37 languages, and a few years later it became an Academy Award winning film.

Not only was Dr. Genova’s lecture last evening about Alzheimer’s Disease educational and highly enlightening, it was also engaging in the most unexpected ways.   The audience was captivated for the full hour. Afterwards, the 30 minute Q & A left us all with much to think about and personally I was so impressed with her innate ability to not only convey complex science to a broad audience in a way that was easy to follow, but to also ensure we were fully engaged with what she presented.

We learned that Alzheimer’s begins in the hippocampus area of the brain, where emotions are regulated, particularly memory. Slowly over the course of several years, the disease atrophies the hippocampus, stealing memories both old and new. Because it can take years for Alzheimer’s symptoms to surface, it’s rarely detected prior to the changes in memory behavior that become noticeably unusual.

At very late stages of the disease patients will have lost the ability to swallow, because their memory of even the most basic functions are wiped out.

Dr. Genova decided to write a novel about Alzheimer’s after watching her beloved grandmother rapidly decline with the disease. Frustrated over lack of understanding, she decided to delve into heavy research. Rather than pursue the science of it, she went after the reality of it…the human experience.

Having sympathy for someone does not bring you enlightenment or understanding, even if you think you can relate in some way. And quite often, when it comes to Alzheimer’s (and this applies to late stage cancer as well), a stigma comes along with it. Alzheimer’s (and cancer) are scary subjects. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, so rather than truly engaging with someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, they tend to back away. They express sympathy, but don’t have the empathy to step up and truly engage in a meaningful way.

Dr. Genova spent 18 months speaking with dozens of Alzheimer’s patients, and maintained ongoing conversations with them as their disease progressed. During that time, she began to write the novel ‘Still Alice’ (at Starbucks!) with the intent of shedding much needed light on a difficult subject matter.

By creating a fictional character to personally narrate their own story and the ensuing odyssey of coping with initially subtle symptoms of confusion, then more advanced symptoms that became impossible to ignore, the character she creates brings us along to hear the stunning diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s, and the aftermath of it’s impact on those she loves the most; her family.

Dr. Cordova envelops the reader as she exposes them to the shocking realities of what it truly means to become diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Decline of the mind can be slow, but it’s always relentless as it continues to march towards ultimate death.

Though advanced stage Alzheimer patients will lose the ability to recall the names of their loved ones, and often revert to their earliest childhood memories until those too vanish, it is important to remember that they can still experience emotion such as joy, sadness, anger and even love.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon for people to walk away from their own family members who’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s scary, so they back away from what they don’t understand.

“My mom has no clue who I am anyhow. She keeps telling me she’s waiting for her mommy to pick her up from school. I had to tell her, ‘Your mother has been dead for 50 years! She’s not coming for you.’  So, I just stopped going to visit, it’s pointless.”

But, is it?

The next key talking point of the lecture was a concept that Dr. Genova calls: Yes, and

It’s actually pretty simple.     It’s not about you!  So instead of finding fault or correcting what they’ve said, try saying “Yes and…

Yes and while we wait for your mommy, shall we have a cup of tea together?” This was the very example Dr. Genova used.  Just play along.  Step into their reality and experience the emotions with them.  Even if you disagree, the dialogue can continue rather than end in a frustrating disconnect.  When you experience someone else’s reality,  you can actually gain empathy and that in turn brings compassion.

Yes and can apply to every situation in life.  Every single one.  It’s how we find common ground.

So, I’ve been thinking today about all the many things folks have said to me over the past almost five years…in their effort to be supportive of my own health situation. One of the most memorable comments made to me was when a woman who used to work with me blurted out one day that “coffee enemas can “cure” your cancer.”

I looked at her with probably a bit too much intensity before I finally said “And you know this how?”

Turns out her sister was “cured” using coffee enemas, which she began after completing chemo and radiation first for her early stage breast cancer.  In hindsight, I now realize what I should have said:

Yes, and did you know that if you brew a fresh cup of Folgers, pour it into your left ear canal, it will trick your brain into thinking you’re a kangaroo in the Australian Outback?”

*for those readers taking offense to this notion that coffee enema’s don’t in fact cure cancer, I suggest you just keep on doing your own enemas. Seriously, whatever floats your boat. Go for it!

So, what’s The GOOD News when it comes to Alzheimer’s? The gene risk: whether you carry a genetic component for Alzheimer’s or even if your parents both are/were gene carriers, this is not a guarantee you’ll in fact develop Alzheimer’s yourself.

There are in fact some things we can all do to lower our risk of Alzheimer’s (aside from making sure we die before we’re 85).

  • Stay away from alcohol and smoking (do I sound like your mother?) Both are known risks for Alzheimer’s. Both literally reduce the health of your brain, not to mention the rest of your body at large.
  • Stay cardio fit.
  • Mediterranean diets are apparently proven helpful to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. Who knew? or…did I…… just forget?

But if you just can’t manage any of those things…there’s still a glimmer of hope.

  • Learn NEW things. Because the brain benefits from learning NEW things. Here’s some examples we were given:
    • learn a new language,
    • learn a new sport,
    • read a new book,
    • see a new movie,
    • take up a new hobby,
    • go on a new adventure.

All these new things help to restore some critically important brain cells that might have otherwise been lost for good to Alzheimer’s.

STOP DOING CROSSWORD PUZZLES! You are recalling things you already know. So just stop it, okay?

So, I came home last night and thought about my own life.

  • I quit those silly crossword puzzles long ago when I realized I had no idea who the Hollywood hotshots were anymore,
  • I’ve taken up a new hobby (watercolor and acrylics) that I am enjoying,
  • I’m reading books of fiction and memoirs regularly,
  • I’ve brought a German Shepherd into my home that simply needed consistent and clear direction (so that’s basically an ongoing devotional between this dog and her adoring humans), and
  • I’m balancing my busy work life while also managing my never-ending schedule of cancer care. In that department, I have carved out time to become a volunteer for a wonderful organization in NYC called SHARE…they educate and empower women affected by breast or ovarian cancer by providing a multitude of support services.

Just this past week, a client remarked how well I looked, and she followed that up with “you must be doing really well.” I couldn’t think fast enough, so I simply smiled appreciatively and re-engaged with the task at hand, which was showing her the monthly financial reports.

But in hindsight, I should have replied with “Yes and thank you!”

Because I am doing really well. Godzilla and Portia both have my back. I’m blessed to have an oncologist who is in dogged pursuit of a breakthrough for Metastatic Breast Cancer. Do I understand the actual realities of this disease? Yes, and although I am living with them every day, I am still just so very grateful to still be living in the here and now.

Blessings to you all, dear friends.  xo

#LiveTheDash

 

 

 

Trick or Treat?

Thank God October is almost over. If you believe all the media hype coming from those pink campaigns, you’d be convinced that in this day and age no one dies from breast cancer anymore…unless they simply didn’t take care of themselves. Sure, they lose their hair, they get chemo and radiation and then… they re-emerge from the darkness to live full and long lives.

These campaigns spotlight survivors everywhere, celebrating the end of their “cancer journeys”… living their lives with relief that they had “the strength and personal empowerment to beat cancer!”

That’s all complete crap.

Because the fact of the matter is, no one dies from breast cancer. They die from METASTATIC BREAST CANCER. And all those jubilant survivors? Thirty percent of them, no matter how clean they’ve lived their lives, thirty percent of them will be diagnosed again, maybe just months or maybe years later, with stage 4…metastatic breast cancer.

This cancer doesn’t care how old you are, what the color of your skin is, what language you speak, or what country you were born in, and it doesn’t care about the foods you eat (or don’t). It doesn’t care what gender or religion you are.

It doesn’t discriminate. Period. NO ONE is immune from getting breast cancer or even metastatic breast cancer. It’s all a complete crap shoot.

The five year survival rate of metastatic breast cancer? Just 22%. You don’t need to be a math whiz to know those odds stink.

Can YOU imagine? What would you change in your life if you were handed that diagnosis? Would you cut through the noise to insist on hearing the narrative?

Would you decide who does and does not bring joy to your life? Would you choose to take on new hobbies as you watch the old hobbies take a back seat to your disease? Would you be willing to take daily chemo pills and/or attach yourself to an IV every three weeks, like clockwork, that drips cancer-fighting drugs into your body in an effort to stop the charge of an insidious disease…the same disease that garners a paltry 7% of all dollars raised in an effort to ‘find the cure’? Nancy Pelosi would call that “breadcrumbs”. Of all the billions of dollars raised, funding towards research to find a cure for the only stage of breast cancer that kills gets measly breadcrumbs. Sounds like a very cruel trick to me…but well, hey.

Tomorrow I meet with my oncologist to discuss results of my recent scans. A nurse told me the scans looked great…BUT.   It seems there was something new… ground glass, seen on one of the CTs.

Huh? Is this a TRICK?  Ground glass isn’t a medical term I’m familiar with and although Google tells me what it often refers to, I’d like confirmation from my oncologist that, in my particular case, it’s nothing cancer-related.  It may in fact only be the ghost of my nagging cough that struggles to go away due to damage left in my lungs by radiation.

Yet, it still sort of feels like a TRICK…but I’m hoping not. Because I really want to do that happy dance…but not until I hear my doc declare that I’m STILL STABLE.

Please oh please oh please.   My TREAT? Godzilla #55 will be tee’d up for me tomorrow. #BringIt

Who Knows Best?

So today, while Godzilla was kicking cancers ass, the woman in the chemo chair next to mine decided that she, not her oncologist, was better informed on the manner in which to treat her severe dehydration. Her nausea was bad, and she was complaining about her inability to stay hydrated. Apparently, she then tried to light up a joint (privacy curtain was pulled between us, I couldn’t see her) and when the nurse told her she couldn’t light up on hospital property, she went on this rant about how UCSF is in the dark ages and that her doctors in Alaska (!) know far more about how to treat cancer than the clueless f-ing doctors here at UC f-ing SF. And with that, she dialed her “bro” from her cell phone, told him to come back for her. “I am NOT wasting a full f-ing hour here getting NOTHING but saline!” she barked into the phone. The nurse offered to call her oncologist right on the spot. That woman was already out of the chair, and preparing to head directly out the door.
I couldn’t help myself…I leaned forward and peered around the privacy curtain. I’d assumed this was a younger woman, but nope…she looked about like me, but with no hair and sporting a rad chemo beanie. Probably made in Alaska. Her face looked so drawn and fatigued, I couldn’t be sure but I’m guessing she’s not early stage. But either way, I’d say her emotional rope, whatever remains of it, was quite thin.
Ya can’t make this stuff up….and that movie line just keeps on playing over and over again in my head. You know the one. “Help ME help YOU.    HELP ME….HELP Y O U !!!”
That woman’s got a rough rodeo in front of her. Hope she’s got some good strong weed…she’s gonna need it.

Soooo… Godzilla #51 is in the books. Wonder what #52 will be like. I’ve got three weeks to ponder the possibilities.

Four Decades

Back on our wedding day, exactly 40 years ago today, this milestone was nothing more than a vision in the far distant haze of life.

I asked him tonight what his most memorable memories were (aside from the birth of our three kids of course) over the past 40 years. After a few moments of pondering he said “This will come as a surprise to you…” It was a day we’d spent, years ago when the kids were young, at the beach on South Padre Island. Kids were having a blast, and the weather was perfect. I remember it pretty well. Turns out, he clearly recalls that he’d wished we could just stay there forever.

The second thing he mentioned was an even bigger surprise to me. It was the day I had to say a very emotional farewell to my horse, who was going to a new home. We were living in southern California then, and while making the long drive home from the barn for that final time, I’d called him at work from my car. I was crying so hard on the phone, I had difficulty getting the words out. Geoff had never had any interest in the whole horse thing, but had always tried to be a good sport about it for me, because I was heavily IN it. Which is why I was so surprised to hear him say tonight that the memory of that phone call stands out prominently in his mind. 

Over the decades, he’s cheered me on in my accomplishments, both professional and personal, and been supportive of every decision I’ve ever made, including the tough decisions that cancer has thrown my way. Four decades ago, I couldn’t have wished for anything more. He’s everything to me, and then some.

On the Eve of This New Year…

I find myself reflecting on a question asked of me recently. An office manager at one of my client offices casually wanted to know if I had any New Year resolutions. I was caught just a tad off guard and had to take a moment to decide how to reply.

I thought about the obvious replies: I want to run a marathon. I want to travel more. I want to get more organized. No, No and No. Or the proverbial: I want to lose weight.

Hell no.

I tried to come up with something quippy…but when I didn’t respond immediately, she turned to look at me directly.

So I bluntly said “I just want to keep on keepin’ on”.

Not what she’d anticipated, clearly. But she promptly nodded in agreement. “Ahhh, I hear ya!” She said it with that all-knowing tone of voice, and that was the end of conversation. She returned her attention to her desk, doing what no one can quite figure out.

Um, no. You don’t hear me. You don’t have an effin’ clue.

I want to keep on keepin’ on… to create more wonderful memories with my special peeps: my three kids, my husband, and our many extended family members and dear friends, all of whom I adore to the moon and back.

I want to keep on keepin’ on… to enjoy watching my grandchildren grow and thrive, as they become good and kind citizens of this world. I want to watch them treat everyone kindly, and to show respect and thoughtfulness towards those with whom they may disagree on many topics.

I want to keep on keepin’ on…in hopes that those who control the research dollars for cancer finally understand that early prevention does NOT save lives. The number of annual deaths from breast cancer has not changed in THREE DECADES. 40,000 a year. That’s 109 people a day. Just imagine a regional jet… crashing, with ZERO survivors, and some fatalities on the ground to boot…every single day of the year. An effing regional jet crash, every single god damned day of the year….

I wonder how long it will be before anyone starts a loud boisterous national march demanding that research dollars focus on that?

To be sure, I have enjoyed many blessings in 2017:

I’m still STABLE according to most recent scans, and for that I am incredibly thankful. The odds of hearing the R word (remission) are extremely remote, but I can be forever hopeful as science continues to advance, even if it is at a starving snails pace.

I’ve connected closely to several other ‘metsters’ around the country and even locally at the hospital where I get treated. They’ve become kindred spirits as we share our similar thoughts and concerns about the uncertainty of our futures. We boost each other up on all fronts.

I’ve found tremendous joy in a German Shepherd who was in need of a new home. I am so overjoyed every single day, as she continues to blossom in all the best ways possible.

I continue to work and stay busy. Having wonderful clients truly makes it a real pleasure to stay with it after all these years.

I continue to enjoy dabbling in paint…watercolor, acrylics. Who needs talent when you can simply lose yourself in the relaxation of creating something unexpected and often unplanned?

On the eve of this New Year, I reflect on many things.

I hope for a future filled with renewed strength, spirit, and prosperity for all.  But most especially I reflect on the fragility of life. We’re all walking on the edge of an incredibly slippery precipice, yet some have no clue, nada…none. These are the folks who may in fact be so much better off that way. I sometimes wish I could join their club.

Please be thankful for those who love you, for that which makes you whole and for this glorious life we’ve all been gifted in the here and now.

Blessings to you and yours in 2018, my dear blogosphere followers.    #livethedash

On the precipice

On the precipice…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Fighting It

My appreciation for medical research and the dogged pursuit of maintaining ‘quality of life’ only continues to grow. I’m also acutely aware that my future is precarious, but isn’t that the case with all living beings? That is in fact the reality of life.

During my last meeting with my oncologist, she started out by apologizing for her tardiness. The tardiness and the apology weren’t unexpected, because she’s been late, often as much as two hours late, for all of my appointments.

She’s in high demand. And to her great credit, she does fully focus and converse with each and every patient she sees. She answers all questions honestly and in great detail, without a single glance to the clock. Occasionally her cell phone rings, and she picks up, but I don’t begrudge her that either. Rather than dart off, she takes the call, gives medical direction to the caller, and immediately refocuses back to me, the patient.

So with apologies out of the way, she got seated and began with a comment so unexpected, it has since taken up residence in my mind and continues to hang out there like an uninvited guest who won’t take their leave.

It was clear she was referring to the patient she had just seen before me.

I wish they’d stop fighting it. It’d be so much easier. Anger and denial doesn’t help.”  For a very unsettling moment, I thought she was actually looking to me for advice. I didn’t know how to respond because my mind suddenly stalled out.

stop fighting it. It’d be so much easier. Anger and denial doesn’t help….

With absolute certainty, I know there is no truth more powerful than that.

When it comes to terminal illness, anger and denial only begets more anger and denial. Which in turn brings on depression, despair and hopelessness. Anger is exhausting, both physically and mentally. And it changes nothing, because the fact still remains. Terminal is terminal…whether it’s imminent or delayed. It’s still terminal. But then again, we are ALL terminal.

So how do you tell someone who is living with stage four cancer that they must see a brighter side of the universe?

Which brings me to the anger and denial that is sweeping our cities in response to our Presidential inauguration. Maybe you’ve experienced that anger and denial yourself. From my seat, the rage and declaration of denial has become so unhinged, that those who protest against what they claim is the vitriol of hate do so by using the vitriol of hate themselves.

Do they not see the hypocrisy?

The Free Speech Movement was birthed in the 1960’s on UC Berkeley’s campus, the very campus where violent rioting just days ago shut down an event where the invited speaker dared to have an opposing view. America has so much freedom that those who smashed store fronts, attacked the media with paint balls and pepper sprayed a woman giving a live interview on the street apparently forgot that they could have instead simply chosen not to attend.

The negative attention they garnered from their own reprehensible behavior seems to have been lost on those who support the notion that it’s okay to deny First Amendment rights when it’s denied to those with whom they disagree. And now they’ve unwittingly gifted the one individual they tried to silence with more national exposure.

The election is over.  It’s really baffling to me; those who protest and march under the guise of ‘love not hate’. Is it only attainable to those who vote a particular way? Do they not see the hypocrisy?

If we can’t take pause to digest what IS, to learn what we might have done better, then how can we move forward in concert with each other…in the effort to lift America and ALL of her citizens UP?

Coupled with blatant disrespect for our duly elected officials, anger and denial only serve to deepen the massive divide that President Obama left in his wake, which unquestionably has given rise to President Trump.

How can we come to understand that sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan…but life can still have a favorable outcome?

Well, here is something I do in fact understand: A poor medical prognosis is NOT irrefutable. Perspective and attitude can morph prognosis into a variety of possibilities that don’t preclude personal acceptance of what is and what is not.

All of us can make a directional correction in our behavior, but it must come with the understanding that life isn’t something we can control. With each second, minute and hour of the day, life is a gift…delivering lessons for furthered understanding of our own individual immortality, along with hope for a better tomorrow.

And for those of you living with stage four cancer who may feel anger and a sense hopelessness? Look within yourself. Listen to the beat of your own heart until you feel its’ strength and steady rhythm. Then eyes forward! And keep your eyes on that horizon. Don’t look back, and don’t look down. Eyes forward always, because time is what YOU make of it. No matter the distance, no matter how long the journey, the horizon will always be there waiting for you, no matter how long it takes.  Treasure the moments along the way.   Blessings to you all.  xo

#LiveTheDash