The Prism of My Life

When you’re young, you think the future ahead is literally endless. When the milestones begin to happen (turning 21, getting married, having children) you begin to think about how fortunate you are to be blessed with so much joy in your life alongside a partner whose unconditional love allows you to stay true to who you are. Then when middle age shows up, you realize that you’re likely midway along on the conveyor belt of life. Your kids go off to college… and you take comfort in knowing that they’ve earned their wings and now it’s their time to soar. As they accumulate their own milestones, you reflect on how fast the years have gone by. Surely it was only yesterday that those very milestones they are now celebrating were yours…the memories are still so crisp and clear. But alas, middle age is in the rear view mirror as ‘senior’ status begins the new chapter.

The prism of my life continues to rotate as it reflects clearly so much adventure, so much growth, so much overall joy and so much love that it’s difficult to articulate the true depth of how I feel. 41 years of marriage is an accomplishment to be sure, but 41 years of partnership, through the great times as well as the challenging times, has only strengthened our bond in a way that’s special beyond words.

Happy Anniversary to us 💞.
Here’s to another 41 years 🥂

#blessedbeyondmeasure

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

 

 

 

 

Fostering a Shared Humanity

We recently bid a tearful farewell our beloved Labrador Retriever, Charlie. It’s been a very rough loss. He was just a young pup when I was first diagnosed with cancer back in 2003, and he was eleven years old when my cancer returned after almost eleven years of dormancy.

Throughout the worst of the initial chemo treatments I received, Charlie’s intuitive concern was a tremendous comfort to me in a way I can’t even begin to express in words. He hovered close on the darkest of days. His unspoken devotion was more meaningful to me than any form of written expression.

I knew from all the statistical data of my medical diagnosis that Charlie would very likely outlive me. But, as it turned out, the ‘Emperor of All Maladies’ (cancer) silently and aggressively claimed his life before any of us were prepared to say goodbye. In my effort to stay steady, especially in the presence of my hubby and our daughter who has been at home these past several months, I’ve managed to keep myself ‘together’ pretty well, as they grieved their own profound sense of loss. We all miss him so much. But the ache in my heart remains substantial. And the quietness of the house…well, it’s become an uninvited guest that I’m ready to boot out.

So, in my effort to look forward, I’ve turned my attention towards the search for our next pup. Of course, with the high standards that Charlie set, this makes the due diligence somewhat more intensive.

I’ve researched purebreds and breeders, and I’ve researched rescues too, of all kinds. Hubby and I stopped by the local animal shelter and filled out an application. We looked at the many dogs already there awaiting for their forever homes. 95% were either Chihuahua types, terrier crosses or Pit Bull hybrids. None seemed a good match for us.

I spoke at length with the founder of a German Shepherd rescue group, who happens to live just a few blocks away. As convincing as he was to consider bringing a Shepherd into our home, a rescue leaves me very wary…especially given that we have young grandchildren to consider.

So, while clicking around on the internet to consider all angles, I came across a kennel in neighboring Sonoma County that raises AKC quality English Labrador Retrievers, both for show and hunting, as well as for service dog temperament and trainability. But, what really caught my eye on this particular website was their fostering program.

After careful review, I contacted the kennel owner and arranged a visit.  We spent an hour there, learning about her breeding program, her training methods, her fostering families, her lengthy wait list for those simply purchasing a pup.  We met her on-site breeding dogs, we played with the most adorable puppies and left feeling very happy.

Here’s how it works:

The owner of the kennel selects a female pup for the continuation of high quality breeding standards, and rather than keep that pup in the kennel environment, the pup is placed with a loving family. (Studies have shown that happy well cared for dogs produce healthier litters.)

When the pup is one year old, confirmation through x-rays and blood work will determine that she is sound genetically to produce high quality litters. The breeding process and the whelping process are managed by the kennel, so the pup is away from the foster family for ten days or so initially (when she comes into season), then again for five to six weeks during the whelping period. Aside from that time away, she is home with the fostering family as a beloved pet.

Here’s the BEST part though: From the litters she will produce, one special pup will be donated to a recipient in need of a therapy dog…a soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD, a child with autism, someone who is hearing impaired. As the foster family, we get to help choose who that recipient will be.

Now, that just warms my heart…perhaps because the holiday season is upon us.  But the opportunity to help someone in need is so compelling in this way.

So as to leave no stone unturned, I’ve reached out to other foster families who have all given heartwarming reviews of this breeder and her dogs.  And, a local vet who worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind over the course of ten years also gave this kennel an outstanding endorsement.

Yes, raising a puppy will be work, but so is pretty much anything that’s really worth doing, is it not?

And once she’s had her third litter, she will be “retired”…she’ll be spayed and the best part: she’ll be ours permanently. The breeder also gives us the option of a parting gift: a free puppy from that 3rd litter. Gee, any bets on what we decide there?

I’ve not yet signed the contractual agreement for fostering but that will be done ceremoniously on Thanksgiving Day, which is just days from now.

For me, it can’t get here fast enough. I am more than ready to detach from the talking heads and divisive rhetoric on social media, and instead foster a season of holidays that asks us to reflect on the blessings that are inherent in our own lives.

Hopes and dreams, compassion, and heart; they all weave each one of us together in our shared humanity.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

(Charlie at 10 weeks old)

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Focus

13227626_10153593182477286_8243213380518012620_oSometimes it’s wise to focus on nothing at all.  Because we all know that when we focus on something, anything, it evokes emotion.

My perspectives have changed somewhat in recent years. My field of vision has been more finely honed to reveal a level of clarity I might have never known was possible had it not been for a few unexpected challenges in recent years.

I take more pictures with my iPhone these days, in an effort to capture what I SEE.  That’s one thing I love about the iPhone…it’s always ready to point and shoot.  I notice things now that might have otherwise escaped my attention completely.   The burst of yellow wildflowers lining the endless mountain trails where I live.  The tall grass of mountain meadows blowing in the wind with patterns of such rippling rhythmic perfection. The explosion of color in my own garden at home.

Photos I take with my iPhone remind me why I like to focus on nothing at all.  Nothing but the HERE and NOW.   Focus is highly over-rated.  Field of vision is where it’s at.

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Letting Go

Last week I attended a luncheon hosted by author Leslie Johansen Nack who spoke about her newly published memoir ‘Fourteen’.

Having already downloaded her book to my Kindle, not only had I read it, but my mother and my husband had also read it. We all agree…it’s a gripping story. The title’s byline leads you to believe that ‘Fourteen’ is primarily a coming of age story, but I think that’s the least of it, quite honestly. Beginning well before she was a teenager, this is about the unfolding determination to find the wherewithal to conquer circumstances no young girl should have to face. Climaxing in 1975, aboard a sailboat with only her sisters and her bizarrely controlling and sexually menacing father aboard, this is a story about courage as well as survival as they navigate clear across the Pacific ocean, from San Diego to the French Polynesian Islands… and then back again. Whether or not you know anything at all about sailing, the journey of this family unfolds in a way that is meant for the big screen of a movie theater.

Although Leslie and I had become acquainted two years ago through an online class called ‘Write Your Memoir in Six Months’, we’d never met in person until last week. I know publishing wasn’t without an emotional toll, and I admire her all the more for her bravery to take it public. She’s been traveling around the country on a book tour, and I got the sense last week that although she is extremely appreciative of the solid reviews and favorable attention her book is getting, she feels uncomfortable speaking so openly about it in public.   Thus is the dilemma of writing memoir.

From the get go, I had no interest in publication for my own memoir. My interest to write had been purely to leave a documented explanation of family history, which was already complicated long before I was born. I wanted my children to understand the circumstances and complexities that shaped not just me, but in part how it also shaped them.

As I was approaching the home stretch I already knew I’d be ditching and re-writing most of it because that online class inadvertently taught me an invaluable lesson; writing to appease someone else changes the tenor of my narrative, which in turn caused me to lose my own voice. Now it’s my firm opinion that family therapists who are unable to stop analyzing every situation have no business teaching and mentoring writers who are navigating memoir.

I actually got quite close to finishing that shitty first draft of my memoir. But just a few weeks shy of that six-month finish, the reemergence of cancer abruptly brought a screeching halt to my memoir efforts and immediately redirected my priorities.

We all know that the seconds, minutes and hours of our lives don’t ever move in reverse, just like the sun never sets in the east. Statistics prove out that life is short when you’re living with stage IV cancer.

For me, the only way to move forward is to simply let go. Hanging on only to look back serves no purpose. Whatever the future holds, I’ve let go of what was, and I live with what is. Because the ‘here and now’ is my future.

Santa called

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… and boy did I get an earful. It seems El Nino’s been wreaking havoc with his holiday season.   The reindeer are acting up and the elves are uneasy. He told me Mrs. Claus is freaking out, pointing fingers in every direction in an effort to rein in what appears to be (and I quote) “an atmospheric disturbance of outlandish magnitude!”

While I was still processing his outburst, he continued. “And something is trumping the sound of the sleigh bells! No matter how hard we make them jingle, there’s an incessant cacophony that is drowning out the spirit of this holiday season!”

Wow. I had no idea that Santa, out of all the illusionary characters I know, could be so easily rattled.

“Something is actually trumping the sound of the sleigh bells? Have you hooked up all of them? With Dasher and Dancer? Prancer and Vixen? Comet and Cupid? Dunder and Blixem?” I asked.

Santa sputtered in anger. “Well, naturally I hooked them all up! I even brought out Rudolph to egg them all on. But no matter how worked up they got wearing all those sleigh bells, that god awful trumping noise was still louder. Where’s it coming from? THAT’S what I want to know!”

Whoa. “Have you asked for Mrs. Claus’s help? Maybe she can figure it out with you,” I gently suggested.

Of COURSE I did!“ And then in a perfect Mrs. Claus voice, he mimicked ‘WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?!’”

Holy moly. If it weren’t so astounding, it would laughable.  I mean it could be fodder for Saturday Night Live, not to mention every talking head on every network.

Oh.   Wait.

Ok Santa. Here’s my advice to you (and all your colleagues of different faiths): Get yourself some earplugs and shut out the peripheral noise. Tune it out, completely. Because time is precious. Focus on what’s important; those you love and those who love you. Because you can’t change what already is. So, rather than get caught up in all the frenzy, take a breath, revel in your memories of years gone by and dream about those memories that are yet to come.

But whatever you do, Santa, don’t lose hope. Because when hope is lost, so is all that is good in this world.

Wishing you and yours a new year ahead filled with peace, prosperity, good health, and much love. May you find comfort and joy in the coming months, and the stomach to weather the political storm that continues to bluster from all directions.

Apple Pie and The Right to Die

For those of you who got an email alert late last night (as well as each time I post something new to my website), you might be wondering what happened to that post I’d written and titled ‘An Open Letter To Governor Jerry Brown’.

This will explain.

After learning on the evening news yesterday that the legislation for the ‘End of Life Option Act’ had finally arrived on the Governor’s desk for his approval or his veto, real HOPE got the best of me. I immediately sat at my computer and in a flurry of emotion I wrote the now deleted letter imploring him to SIGN IT INTO LAW.

Most Americans would be more familiar with this legislation as the ‘Death with Dignity Act’, which Brittany Maynard brought to the attention of our national media last year. At just 29 years old, Brittany had terminal brain cancer. She had to move from her home in California to our northern neighboring state of Oregon in order to end her life with dignity. Oregon voters passed this law back in 1994.

I believe with all my heart that every individual who is terminally ill should have the right to choose for themselves their own pathway toward their impending death. These words from our Declaration of Independence for these United States of America should ensure that right: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Death and dying are a part of life. Yet I know that there are many who remain steadfast in their opposition to this legislation. Remember, without life, there would be no death. So to those opposed, I ask you where is the humanity, the compassion, and the common decency in watching someone you love suffer a prolonged and painful death? Would you deny one of your terminally ill family members a peaceful death if they begged for a semblance of dignity? Would you instead prefer the anguish of watching them suffer in their final months or days, knowing that you’ve denied their own personal wishes? Are you aware that someone else’s impending death is not about YOU?

Further to those opposed to this legislation I’d say: Support it anyhow, and when your own time comes, feel free to suffer as much as you’d like. No one is stopping you from experiencing your own terminal illness with whatever pain and agony will come to you, all for your own loved ones to witness. Completely YOUR choice, and I would be the first to support whatever YOU choose to do in your own impending death. Because that choice should never be anyone’s but your own.

As soon as I’d posted my open letter to Governor Brown onto my website and Facebook page, I climbed into bed, but became amped up even more …and quickly realized I was actually uncomfortable with my decision to be so public about this particular issue.

So I reached in the dark for my iPhone and I decided to read one more time my words to Governor Brown. And in doing so, I became aware that some of you might interpret them to think my time on this earth is now within my sights. It’s not. It may be out there on the horizon somewhere, but I don’t see it, not yet. I’ve had to stop worrying about what the statistics on my own diagnosis suggest. And although I live in the ‘here and now’ as was recommended by my oncologist, I also have no illusions about my cancer; I’m fully aware of the magnitude of this very personal challenge.

And the reality? It matters not one iota what I think Governor Brown should do, because the legislation is already sitting on Governor Brown’s desk, passed finally by both the Assembly and the Senate after hours of in-depth discussion and testimony from many on all sides, including Brittany’s husband and Brittany’s mother, both of whom were at her side when she passed.

With the ease of iPhone app technology, I deleted the open letter just fifteen minutes after I’d posted it (to both my blog site and my personal Facebook page). Then I checked my blog stats… twelve visitors in those fifteen minutes, and one Facebook share…all honed in on that Open Letter to Governor Brown.

I felt better once it was deleted but remained awake all night, too edgy to sleep. I wondered if Jerry Brown was sleeping soundly, if he’d already made up his mind about this legislation, one way or the other.

As I sipped my coffee early this morning, it really began to bother me that I led you, my loyal followers, to a dead end post. So, here’s why I’m back on my laptop posting once again, a bit embarrassed if truth be told to have posted something that I truly did not feel was the correct expression of my feelings.

I’ve just carved up 30 apples I picked from our own backyard apple trees. About half of them, all perfect on the outside, were actually already rotten on the inside. And that seemed fitting as an analogy to sum up my feelings a bit more concisely:

Things aren’t always what they seem. NO ONE knows the pain and suffering of someone else battling a terminal illness. On the surface, they may appear to be managing well. But until you peel back those outer layers revealing quite the opposite to be true, you likely spend little or no time imagining your own death.

So today I am making an apple pie from those apples that were healthy inside AND out. And I will pray for Governor Brown to honor our Declaration of Independence by signing the End of Life Option Act into law. It would bring me personal peace of mind, and I suspect it might do the same for you.

If he vetoes it instead, when my finish line is within clear view don’t be surprised to receive a ‘change of address’ notice from me. I’ll be in beautiful Montana, or Oregon, or Vermont, or any other state where I can live out my final days in the manner of my choosing.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for hearing me out.

My apple pie looks about as distressed as I feel waiting for Jerry Brown's decision. Hope the distress doesn't doom the palatability!

My apple pie looks about as distressed as I feel waiting for Jerry Brown’s decision!

Dear Henry

Henry Nov 2014

Oh what a joy it’s been to watch you grow and learn. Your smile melts our hearts and your sweet disposition, combined with your undeniable ‘joie de vivre’, are traits that compose the very best of humanity. So, Henry, I have no doubts that you will continue to be the light of our lives for decades yet to come.

And with that in mind, I’ve got a few thoughts I’d like to pass along to you now, while I have the time to fully consider and express them. I know you’re only turning three years old this week, and that your primary focus is really Hot Wheels, Brio’s and watching Lightning McQueen on your iPad. Okay, to be fair, I know you also LOVE your bedtime stories, playing outdoors on your big boy bike that has no pedals, kicking the soccer ball, playing in the rain puddles,  playing in the sandbox, and on the swings. I know how much you enjoy anything that involves engine noises and racing, tickling and laughter. I may have left a few things out that you love but the point is: you’re three years old, so I don’t expect this letter to resonate with you just quite yet.

Realistically, I should have plenty of years ahead to share these things with you. But if I’ve learned nothing else in these past months, I know for a fact that ‘plenty of time’ isn’t always a sure bet.  But I won’t expect you to put down your Brio’s, set aside your Hot Wheels, quiet the engines, and take a listen because this is going to be well beyond your level of comprehension. Hopefully Mommy and Daddy will let you take a listen in about five (maybe even ten) more years.  That will depend upon you, I suppose.

So, Henry, here we go:

First, and foremost, you have two parents who truly adore you. So, you are already blessed in this life. And I know for a fact that they both love you to the moon and back. Sure, you may challenge them every now and again because… well, after all, being TWO is never easy on anyone. But make no mistake about it: you’ve got their hearts forever.

As you grow up, whether you have younger siblings to join you in the years ahead or not, I hope that your very sweet nature will never change, and that you will always show your Mom and Dad the love, respect and kindness that they deserve. You might be raising your eyebrows at this, but Henry, trust me when I tell you that far too many of your peers will be heading down the path to self-righteous stupidity…some might refer to it as ‘mindful stupidity’…a phrase I heard recently by a television celebrity when describing generically those who live in Marin County. You may well live in Marin County your entire life, so Henry, if you do…please be brave enough to swim against the tide of mindful stupidity. Use your common sense and your well learned good manners to guide you in this life. I know you have those traits because I know who your parents are.

Don’t become part of the herd mentality just to keep pace with your peers. Don’t become someone you aren’t, just to be included in the cool crowd. When the herd mentality takes over, one slight upheaval can cause them to run directly off a cliff, endangering not only themselves, but everyone in their wake. Don’t fall into that trap. Beware of peer pressures. Don’t be smart by becoming stupid. Just because the cool kids want to include you doesn’t mean the cool kids have your best interests at heart. Choose your friends wisely and learn how to be a loyal and true friend in return. Learn how to laugh and have fun without it being at the expense of someone else. And learn how to laugh at yourself along the way, because otherwise, it’s a long grab to steady your boat.

Don’t let anger find a permanent landing pad on your back. And don’t let anger about anything consume you. Frustration is not anger. Frustration can appear to be anger, but it won’t sit on your shoulder like an ink stain you can’t remove. True anger will eat away at your overall happiness, until the delightful, bright and happy little person you were born into is all but vanished. I only bring up anger because I see angry young people every day, in the news, in our own communities. They are angry about everything and they let the world know about it through their often violent outbursts and poor decisions that not only get them in trouble, but they drag along all the other sheep who cling to anger themselves.

If you find you’ve got your brain in a funk, talk to someone. If you’re sad, if you’re depressed, if you’re uncertain, if you’re confused. Talk to someone. By the way, your parents are great listeners. And, I might add, your grandparents are great listeners. Take our concerns and caring to heart. We all love you and will guide you with a kind and gentle hand always. Unless you screw up big time…then you’ll need to be mindful, because kindness should not be confused with weakness.

Personally, when I was an active Mom raising your Dad and his siblings, I subscribed to a two-step parenting playbook. I might be old now, but the playbook is timeless. It’s pretty simple, really, and I’m pretty sure your Dad is fully aware, and your Mom has likely heard these pearls of wisdom from me once or twice in the past year or so as well.  I can’t say for sure whether or not they’ll use the same playbook I did, but I’ll share it with you just the same:

Rule #1: Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Rule #2: Save the confrontations for the really important issues.

Which means, in a nutshell, that Mom and Dad may occasionally need to lose their temper to get a message across to you, but knowing you as I do now, I suspect the odds of that happening will be pretty slim overall.

Work hard, Henry, so that you can stand proud of your own personal accomplishments in this lifetime. Sure, Mom and Dad will be right there to help you along the way, but don’t just be a taker. Accept help when you need it, but be sure to be a giver too. Those things we accomplish by our own initiatives hold the key to self-esteem. And self-esteem is the key to being your own best friend. And being your own best friend, Henry, is the key to learning how to navigate this very complicated world we live in.

Be accepting of mistakes, those made by others and those you’ll make yourself. Be kind to yourself and be aware that failure can be the best teacher of all. Learn from your past mistakes, so that when success comes, you’ll truly understand accomplishment.  And learn how to celebrate the joys of life. Celebrate not with mindful stupidity, but with mindful revelry. Have fun with your friends, create memories of your youth that will endure the years with good warm feelings as you reflect back.

And, be generous of your time for others. Volunteer. At home, at school, in life. Step up, be a helper, be an example of kindness, of willingness, of strength. Be the guy that others admire for all the right reasons.

And, finally, as you navigate your youthful years and those well beyond, I hope you cling to the certainty of FAMILY. Because we all have your back, Henry. That you can count on.

Three is a wonderful age to be. It’s older than two and it’s younger than four: that means you’re still young enough to not have a single care in the world, and you’re old enough to already care about those you love.   So you see? You are well on your way to a life well lived.

 With love that will linger forever,

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Three R’s

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 9.53.45 PMFor whatever strange reason, hearing that one singular word last week (remission!) was peculiarly hard for me to absorb.  Sure, the CT scan showed great results,  so logic would say I should just breathe in the good news, revel in it and joyfully celebrate.  This whole journey has been so peculiar from the outset.  It’s hard to emotionally stand down, take a step back and ease up.

After my oncologist happily declared my remission, we went on to discuss next steps in the treatment plan. Steps which are above and beyond the ongoing schedule of infusions that I continue to receive every three weeks.  We discussed other tools in the weapon arsenal, one of which is radiation. Given the outstanding results of my CT scan, my oncologist felt the discussion should continue with a specialist in radiation oncology.  So she set me up for a consultation appointment with the radiation oncologist who is also a member of the ‘tumor board’…a weekly gathering of highly skilled physicians who provide a forum for discussing complex cases that require an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to treatment.

Hubby and I met with him two days ago. Turns out, he’s very familiar with my case (and has been following it for quite some time) because it was thoroughly reviewed and discussed with the tumor board months ago.  And given my history with cancer, which my entire medical team thought we’d licked eleven years ago, he pointed out some unknowns.

First, there’s considerable question (and no way of knowing) whether or not my cancer is an actual recurrence from eleven years ago.  The possibility exists that there might have been ‘rogue cells’ left behind which have since migrated to a new location and thrown out a new twist in the form of a gene mutation…making this a much more aggressive cancer now.  The migration scenario isn’t impossible, but it’s also not terribly likely given the scope of multiple surgeries I endured all those years ago. However, the fact still remains: there is no way of knowing for sure.

Second, although the cancer was found in the axillary tissue adjacent to and tucked up around a swollen lymph node, the swollen node proper did not have cancer cells present. So, one might presume that the cancer had traveled no further, although the pathologist reported that there was ‘likely lymphatic invasion’ based on his findings that the adjoining tissue had cancer ‘percolating throughout’.  Which leaves the possibility that the cancer could have already attacked nodes which would no longer be detectable on the scans.  And we already know that scans don’t catch all cancer, especially microscopic in nature.  I found that out eleven years ago at the very beginning of my cancer journey.

As hubby and I listened to what is UNKNOWN about the particulars of my case, I felt oddly assured.  The mighty fight is going to continue, even after six hard rounds of chemotherapy and a host of bizarre and annoying side effects.  Even with an excellent CT scan result,  that one singular R word, remission, rings awkwardly in my ears.  I would love to be convinced about remission with absolute certainty, but the fact of the matter is…I feel no certainty about this.  Cancer is a nasty beast.

Oh how I would love to grab that word ‘remission’, knowing confidently that it has been firmly affixed to my medical records.  But there’s an unease that I can’t deny.  A discomfort, an intuition…and it’s screaming at me:  ‘Tread lightly! Eyes wide open! Insidious enemy lurking! Don’t let your guard down!‘  

Which brings me to the second R word.  Radiation.

I’m going for twenty five rounds of it, five days a week for five straight weeks.  Based on the brazen return of this enemy, and with the use of a linear accelerator (doesn’t that just sound so freakin’ awesome?!) we’re going to blast the hell out of the whole damn lymph node playground.  There will be no percolating allowed.

Remission and Radiation.         Radiation and Remission.

Those two R’s go hand-in-hand, clearly.  The third R?

RELIEF.

One Singular Word.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the sound of just one singular word to be so pivotal to my sense of well being.  It’s been a wild ride, these last six months.  A left-field diagnosis that came with a nasty gene mutation I’d never heard of (gene mutation? Who the hell expects THAT to be on their medical radar?) It was so surreal to me, all I could think of was the same three words, over and over again:  I have WHAT?  (picture a deer staring into the headlights)    What?  (still a deer staring into the headlights)  I have WHAT?   (you’ve got the visual now, right?)

Because time was of the essence, I was immediately catapulted to a journey that took me from what I thought was a ‘more than acceptable’ and maybe even an ‘above average’ life of really great (albeit aging) health and plunked me down hard forcing me to face a future that statistically says my life is going to be substantially abbreviated… thanks to this mutant ninja gene mutation that moves at a very stealthy clip. In short: prognosis statistically is grim, and I know this because the internet tells me so.  The oncologist didn’t say it that way.  She said This is a disease that is best managed in the here and now.  Cleverly crafted phrasing that drove the message home.

BUT, statistics were garnered from studies of patients that didn’t include me, and from studies that weren’t from the here and now, but from the then, a.k.a. yesterday.  Diagnosed in the here and now, medical technology has advanced since yesterday, and miraculously produced some new extremely promising drugs.  They can’t CURE me, but they can sure tip the scales in my favor…maybe even buy me LOTS more time.  I’ll be on these drugs for the long haul, every three weeks by IV infusion.  They go after the gene itself, direct to the crime scene.  Bada bim, bada boom.

The round of chemo drugs I just finished go everywhere…they invade the whole damned community, killing everything they can in order to sleuth out the bad guys.  Well, they got my hair, and they are STILL killing my finger nails, and even the nerves in the bottom of my feet.  But in the grand scheme of things?  Who cares… it’s just hair.  Hair and finger nails will grow back eventually.  And, although incredibly annoying …well, all these side effects from nasty chemo are incredibly annoying, even numb feet are no big deal. No, really.  I can’t feel my toes or the balls of my feet, but hey; no biggie.  They’re just feet.  I can wobble around with the best of ’em.  There’s shoes for that problem, right?  Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.  But guaranteed, I’ll be back out there whacking golf balls if I have to use walking stilts to get around the course.  Mark my words!

The singular word that changed my sense of well being?  Nope, it wasn’t CANCER…that nasty six letter word only served to bring out my own stealth ninja instinct to kick cancer’s butt.  Cancer will NEVER define me.  It tried once before, eleven years ago when I endured multiple surgeries, each one with additional bad news until I finally forfeited body parts. I don’t need that stuff anyhow.  It’s just body parts, not major organs.  Unneeded body parts?  I’ll take my future, thank you.

So, then… you’re probably wondering what IS that singular word that’s become so pivotal to my sense of well being.  I just heard it today, actually.  It was joyously pronounced by my oncologist.  REMISSION.     REMISSION.  I am IN remission.  I am in FULL REMISSION.

As hubby and I were getting back into our car, preparing to head home to Marin County, I  had to ask.  Did she say I was in remission? Did she use that exact word?  Hubby happily confirmed what I already knew she’d said, exactly. She said I was IN REMISSION. She was smiling broadly when she said it and she’s not a smiler, normally.  She told me I’d ‘responded to the chemo extremely well.’

Actually, I simply showed up when scheduled, my Portia (to the newbies here, Portia is my chest port…she’s implanted, I HAD to give her a name) did her job channeling those creepy drugs from the IV drip bags directly into my heart and onward throughout the rest of my body.  I ‘responded’ the only way I know how to respond…mentally prepared and ready for the fight.  Throughout my lifetime, that example has been set for me time and time again. My peeps don’t mess around.

REMISSION.  Peculiarly hard to wrap my brain around that word…just like it’s been so hard to wrap my brain around this stinkin’ gene mutation that they tell me I have. I’ll always have it …lurking….and because of that, I will continue to go forward with those new breakthrough drugs, getting them via IV drip every three weeks as planned.  Portia and I will be a team for the long haul, or at least the foreseeable future.  But today? The shadow of ‘a fight to the death’ has been temporarily lifted.  My silver linings are glowing.  They’re almost blinding, in fact.   Damn.  It feels so good.

REMISSION.  Now THAT’S a great word.  A word to celebrate, to worship, to pray to God for.  I hope it stays glued to my medical chart for years to come.  Because I want to drive nails into that word, to ensure it NEVER leaves my medical chart.

CANCER, you will never define me.  Even if you prove those damned medical statistics out, you will NEVER define who I am.  My life, my ‘new normal’ will march onward because I keep my eyes on the horizon, I don’t look down, and I don’t give a crap what you’ve got up your sleeve.  I have an ARSENAL stockpiled; I’ve been blessed with a medical team that is truly outstanding, not to mention a host of friends and family who surround me with unending support, nurturing, and unequivocal love. I’ve got a hubby who continues to love me through every single moment, whether it be high or low or tearful or not. He is there with me every step of the way.

And finally, I’ve got the instinct of a ninja SURVIVOR.  I’ve been trained by the best of the best….I’m tellin’ ya.  Don’t be messing with me.  I GOT THIS.       And, now…if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a life to get back to.

Mount Burdell

Jingle Bells, Cancer Dwells

jingle bells

JINGLE BELLS, CANCER DWELLS

CHEMO ALL THE WAY…

OH, WHAT FUN IT IS TO HIDE

IN A WIG THAT’S ‘TINA FEY’, HEY!

JINGLE BELLS, HOLIDAY SPELLS,

SIDE EFFECTS GONE AWRY.

FINGERS AND TOES, CAN’T FEEL THOSE,

AND MY NAILS ARE GONNA DIE.

TASTE BUDS ALL BUT DEAD,

NOT ONE HAIR ON MY HEAD,

A CONSTANT RUNNY NOSE,

AND THAT’S NOT ALL OF THOSE…

EYES THAT WATER NON-STOP,

RASHES THAT BURN AND POP,

WEIRD STUFF THAT KEEPS HAPPENING…

IT’S ENOUGH TO JUST YELL “STOP!

Ohhhhhh JINGLE BELLS, HER-2 CELLS

MUTATING RIGHT ALONG.

YOU CAN’T FOOL ME,

‘CAUSE I’M ON IT, SEE?

BANISH YE! BE GONE!

CANCER SUCKS,

BUT LIKE THE OREGON DUCKS,

I’M FIGHTING FOR THE WIN.

AND WHATEVER IT TAKES,

I’LL NAVIGATE…

BECAUSE YOU CAN COUNT ME IN.

HO HO HO!   Well, it’s been a long stretch of silence on this blog, five straight weeks. During much of that time, I’ve had to lay low. Not because cancer has tripped me up, but because something as simple as the common cold seized me in a way that made me think I was in the grips of the Christmas Grinch.

It wreaked so much havoc that it depleted my energy to the point where I was mostly useless. Sure, I understand that cancer drugs reduce my ability to fight off infections and even the common cold can be monstrous…but the timing on this was just downright rotten. It stole precious time from me that I wanted to be able to spend with my daughter, who isn’t home much throughout the year. She arrived to spend time in between jobs, and for three of the four weeks she was here, I was sick. Too sick to do ANYTHING but hang at home and rest. Boy, it was so frustrating for me.

She arrived the day before my fourth round of chemo, and kept me company as I sat in the infusion chair for almost four straight hours. She took it all in, observing the somber mood of those around us, noting that one in particular must have been close to her in age, and far too young to be dealing with cancer and chemotherapy.  She stayed close, and watched as the drugs dripped their magic into my Portia.  Three weeks later, she came along with me to my fifth chemo (which I coughed incessantly throughout).  That happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, which meant that I couldn’t eat much on Thanksgiving Day, which really wasn’t a problem since I can’t taste anything anyhow. But our family was together for our first holiday in our new home, so that in and of itself was very special. There were eight of us: both our boys, their wives, our grandson (who, at two and a half years old, is already a great spirit booster), and of course our daughter.  The weather was wonderful and we spent time playing a family round of golf using rubber golf balls and hitting to pins that hubby and sons set up all over the property. Then there was a brief game of lacrosse that followed.   It was a Thanksgiving wrapped in blessings. We’ve always been a close knit bunch, and I’ve never taken that for granted. Our great fortune has been that we’ve somehow managed to raise three children that have found their wings and soared. It’s every parent’s dream, and knowing that our dream has been realized brings a joy that knows no bounds.  I ask you, what more could a parent want?

It was a weepy farewell as children returned to their far away homes at the end of the holiday weekend.  Chemo round six is coming up on December 19th …just in time for the Christmas holiday.  And that leaves me thinking that this song needs just a brief second verse:

DASHING TO THE LAB,

FINGER POKED WITH A STAB.

LAUGHING ALL THE WAY

AS BLOOD COUNTS SWING AND SWAY.

BELLS ON CHEMO BRAIN RING,

MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT.

IT’S A TRICK TO NAVIGATE

THIS JOURNEY I’M ON, EVERY NIGHT.

 ♦

Ohhhh, JINGLE BELLS, CANCER CELLS

LURKING ALL ALONG.

CAN’T FOOL ME!

I’M ON IT, SEE?

BANISH YE! BE GONE!

 ♦

CANCER SUCKS,

BUT LIKE THE OREGON DUCKS

I’M FIGHTING FOR THE WIN.

WHATEVER IT TAKES,

I’LL NAVIGATE…

‘CAUSE YOU CAN COUNT ME IN!

 ♦

VIEW FROM TOP OF OUR PROPERTY

 FROM OUR HOME TO YOURS, BLESSINGS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!

When Time Slips Away

This is been quite the national news week. Ebola has dominated the headlines, and as the media ramps up the hysteria, the stories get more and more strange.

The strangest one for me is about Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the physician who took an NBC film crew to Liberia to cover the Ebola story. She’s the network’s chief medical correspondent. When her cameraman tested positive for Ebola, she and the rest of her crew were told to stay quarantined. Apparently, time just slipped away for Nancy…and she had a momentary lapse of judgement. So, what does she do? She decides to make a soup run. That’s right. She drives herself to a local restaurant in order to pick up some soup for herself. I’m just guessing here, but it must be one hell of a restaurant, and I’d love to know what kind of soup that was…and if they’d share the recipe.  Assuming they’re still open for business, that is.

Next was the coroner’s report on the death of Joan Rivers. She’d gone in for a routine outpatient procedure, an endoscopy on her throat to learn what might be causing her raspy voice. It seems time just slipped away from her doctor that day…he took selfies with Joan while she was knocked out under anesthesia, and just before she went into cardiac arrest. The coroner’s office has ruled her death ‘the result of a predictable complication’. I’m just guessing here, but I’d say there’ll be a massive lawsuit coming soon, which will now put the spotlight on all surgeons as each one of us who’ve been under anesthesia will now wonder what the hell goes on in our presence which just happens to be simultaneously in our absence. A very horrifying thought.

And then there’s the cover of People Magazine this week. Brittany Maynard is just twenty-nine years old and has terminal brain cancer. A newlywed when she was diagnosed just months ago, she and her groom have moved from California (along with her parents) to the state of Oregon which passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1997. She has chosen to leave this earth on her own terms, and in Oregon she has the legal right to do so. With prescribed drugs, she will be able to pass peacefully at the time of her choosing, rather than endure the horrific death that brain cancer would otherwise force upon her. As she watches her time slip away, she has become focused on the love of her friends and family, strength and inner peace. Every state in the union needs to get this law passed. If you disagree, push for it anyhow. You can choose your own death of suffering and pain…that’s your right as well.

BUT…the story that has really stayed with me this week is the one about Glenn Campbell. You know, the guy who hit big time with songs like Rhinestone Cowboy, Wichita Lineman, Gentle On My Mind, By The Time I Get to Phoenix, and Galveston…there’s a whole host of ‘em. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, well, you’re just a few decades too young (but if you head over to iTunes, you can take a listen). He’s won nine Grammy awards, the most recent in 2012 when he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

So, what’s news with him? He’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, yet has just released his final song video. It’s a ballad that was written for his wife. As Glenn Campbell’s time quickly slips away, he is cognizant enough to leave one last message.   It’s both a heartbreaking and tender act of lasting love, of self-awareness, of inner strength and of incredible dignity.  It’s titled ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’. For Glenn, that’s the blessing and the ‘only thing that selfishly remains’…because Alzheimer’s is a disease of stolen memories.  He can’t miss what he can’t remember…that’s the silver lining that Glenn has found.

Let’s hope the news next week is less memorable.

Do You Have Faith in Something Greater Than Yourself?

Today begins the month of October.  We are clearly entering into the autumn season as the leaves turn color and the evening air has a crisp coolness that settles like a comfortable blanket as the last of the lingering dusk wanes.  Stores everywhere are bombarding us with pumpkins and cornstalks, Halloween candies and costumes, jack-o-lanterns and ghouls …all on display for purchase at almost every turn.

October also shines light on the color PINK  Those familiar pink ribbons are everywhere, visible on product labels, window displays and all over the television news as well.  Unless you live under a rock, you know that they represent breast cancer awareness.   October has long been the calendar month designated to shine a very bright light on this difficult health challenge that affects millions of people every single year.

For me, it feels a bit weird, knowing that my ‘new normal’ has made it obvious to complete strangers that I am in the throes of cancer. Head scarves aren’t really in vogue right now, so unless they suspect I’ve escaped from a gypsy caravan, their next guess would be that I’m enduring chemotherapy.

Cancer often has a way of drawing attention, and I sure didn’t want that attention to turn to sympathy.  Nope, I’m not sad.  I’m not struggling. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a strong woman, I’m a fighter and I’m a doer.  I’m realistic and I understand that the way I choose to square off with whatever challenges come my way will have a clearly defined impact on the outcome of my journey.

No one knows what life will bring, on any given day.  But the reality is this:  life is fatal.  No one gets off the hook.

And what about the other months of the year?  There are of course eleven more of them. Do you know what health challenges those months are designated for?  I didn’t either, but I looked them up.  And the list is EXTENSIVE.  And it’s alarming, unless you have the good fortune of excellent health and are convinced that nothing will change your great luck as you motor forward throughout your remaining years.

But, should you or someone you know be facing a daunting health diagnosis that feels insurmountable, I offer you this video to watch.  It’s inspiring, uplifting and worth listening to over and over again.

In order to persevere, to thrive and to live life’s ultimate journey, I believe you must have faith in something greater than yourself, be it God or the daily sunrise that will never, never fail you.

January

  • Cervical Health Awareness Month
  • National Birth Defects Prevention
  • National Glaucoma Awareness Month
  • National Radon Action Month
  • Thyroid Awareness Month
  • National Winter Sports TBI Awareness Month
  • National Folic Acid Awareness Week (second week of January)

February

  • American Heart Month
  • AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month
  • National Children’s Dental Health Month
  • International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month
  • African Heritage & Health Week (first week of February)
  • Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week (February 7-14)
  • Condom Week (week of Valentine’s Day)
  • Eating Disorders Awareness Week (last week of February)
  • National “Wear Red” Day (first Friday of February)

March

  • National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Endometriosis Awareness Month
  • National Kidney Month
  • Multiple Sclerosis Education Month (promoted by the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and others)
  • National Nutrition Month
  • Save Your Vision Month
  • Sleep Awareness Month (promoted by the National Sleep Foundation)
  • Trisomy Awareness Month
  • Workplace Eye Wellness Month
  • Patient Safety Awareness Week (first full week of March)
  • National Sleep Awareness Week (the week before daylight savings switch)
  • Brain Awareness Week (second full week of March)
  • National Poison Prevention Week (third full week of March)

April

  • Alcohol Awareness Month
  • National Autism Awareness Month
  • National Child Abuse Prevention Month
  • National Donate Life Month
  • National Facial Protection Month
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Month
  • National Minority Health Month
  • Occupational Therapy Month
  • National Sarcoidosis Awareness Month
  • STI Awareness Month
  • Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month
  • Sports Eye Safety Awareness Month
  • Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month
  • National Public Health Week (first full week of April)
  • Minority Cancer Awareness Week (second full week of April)
  • National Infertility Awareness Week (last full week of April)
  • Every Kid Healthy Week (last full week of April)
  • World Immunization Week (last week of April)
  • National Infant Immunization Week (generally last week of April)
  • Air Quality Awareness Week (last week of April)

May

  • American Stroke Awareness Month (promoted by the National Stroke Association)
  • Arthritis Awareness Month
  • National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month
  • Better Hearing and Speech Month
  • National Celiac Disease Awareness Month
  • Children’s Mental Health Week
  • Clean Air Month
  • Global Employee Health and Fitness Month
  • Healthy Vision Month
  • Hepatitis Awareness Month
  • Lupus Awareness Month (promoted by the Lupus Foundation of America)
  • National Mediterranean Diet Month
  • Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
  • Mental Health Month
  • National High Blood Pressure Education Month
  • Older Americans Month
  • National Physical Fitness and Sports Month
  • National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
  • Preecalmpsia Awareness Month
  • Ultraviolet Awareness Month
  • Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (first full week of May)
  • Food Allergy Awareness Week (second full week of May)
  • National Women’s Health Week (begins on Mother’s Day)
  • National Alcohol- and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week (begins on Mother’s Day)
  • National Neuropathy Awareness Week (second full week of May)
  • National Senior Health Fitness Day (last Wednesday of May)

June

  • Cataract Awareness Month
  • Fireworks Safety Month (through July 4)
  • Hernia Awareness Month
  • Men’s Health Month
  • Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month
  • National Aphasia Awareness Month
  • National Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month
  • National Safety Month
  • National Scleroderma Awareness Month
  • Scoliosis Awareness Month (promoted by National Scoliosis Foundation and others)
  • Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week
  • Men’s Health Week (second week of June)
  • National Cancer Survivors Day (first Sunday of June)

July

  • Cord Blood Awareness Month
  • International Group B Strep Throat Awareness Month
  • Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month
  • National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month

August

  • Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month
  • National Breastfeeding Month
  • National Immunization Awareness Month
  • Psoriasis Awareness Month
  • World Breastfeeding Week (first week of August)
  • National Health Center Week (second full week of August)

September

  • National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month
  • Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Food Safety Education Month
  • Fruit and Veggies-More Matters Month
  • Healthy Aging Month
  • National ITP Awareness Month
  • Blood Cancer Awareness Month (promoted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society)
  • National Cholesterol Education Month
  • Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Pediculosis Prevention Month/Head Lice Prevention Month
  • Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Recovery Month
  • National Sickle Cell Month
  • National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month
  • National Yoga Awareness Month
  • Newborn Screening Awarenss Month
  • Whole Grains Month
  • World Alzheimer’s Month
  • National Suicide Prevention Week
  • World Suicide Prevention Day (10)

October

  • National Breast Cancer Awareness
  • National Down Syndrome Awareness Month
  • Eye Injury Prevention Month
  • Health Literacy Month
  • Healthy Lung Month
  • Home Eye Safety Month
  • National Physical Therapy Month
  • SIDS Awareness Month
  • Spina Bifida Awareness Month (promoted by the Spina Bifida Association)
  • Mental Illness Awareness Week (first full week of October)
  • Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week (12-20)
  • National Health Education Week (third full week of October)
  • International Infection Prevention Week (third full week of October)
  • Respiratory Care Week (last full week of October)
  • Red Ribbon Week (last week of October)
  • World Mental Health Day (10)

November

  • National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
  • American Diabetes Month
  • COPD Awareness Month
  • Diabetic Eye Disease Month
  • National Family Caregivers Month
  • National Healthy Skin Month
  • National Hospice Palliative Care Month
  • Lung Cancer Awareness Month
  • Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Stomach Cancer Awareness Month
  • GERD Awareness Week (Thanksgiving week)
  • Great American Smokeout (third Thursday of November)

December

  • Safe Toys and Gifts Month
  • National Influenza Vaccination Week (first full week of December)
  • World AIDS Day (1)

Life Is Never About Just One Thing

Well, it’s been quite some time since I posted anything here.

“Where the hell ya been?” you might (or might not) be asking. Well, let me tell you. The primary reason for blog neglect was to focus on the wrap up of my original writing project, a memoir that was emotionally slow going. Remember? I told you in my intro post that it was the reason I began this blog in the first place…to encourage the ‘habit’ of writing.  I’d say that goal has been achieved…well, up until four months ago anyhow. Since January and as springtime turned to summer, not only did I have close to 50,000 words for my memoir, but my hubby and I had also managed to market and sell our home. It seemed the thing to do in the midst of a red-hot sellers’ market (but still no easy task, I might add. Feats included staging, creating a website, creating marketing brochures, and holding open houses). Then much to our delight, we sold our home (success!), held a massive garage sale, made endless trips to Goodwill, and with total serendipity we stumbled upon the home of our downsized dreams…by which time we were exhausted.

July rolled around and while we were busy unpacking a multitude of moving cartons, we realized that fifty percent of what we’d moved with us was going to have to live in the garage because there was just no place to put it. Soon it was clear a small addition to the home would be wise…so we set in motion a few contractor interviews and requested detailed write ups of our remodel scope. All this was going on while we both continued to juggle our working lives. It was a very busy and highly stressful time, when it should have been a very busy and joyful time.

The stress came from several directions. First, we sold to the buyers from hell. They were delightful up until closing day. They’d offered us a sixty-day lease back period, which we thought was great because it allowed us the time to find our next home, but in actuality it turned out to be an absolute nightmare because these people morphed into snakes in the grass. To call them incredibly brash and intrusive landlords would be a sweeping understatement.

By the time our moving van finally arrived to whisk us away, I was ready to torch the place. These buyers were so toxic that they oozed an insipid sense of creepiness throughout the property that I just couldn’t shake. My husband asked me, as we were pulling out of the driveway for the very last time, if I wanted him to stop the car and take a moment to say goodbye to the property. “No, I want to flick a match behind me, so you better just keep on driving before I absolutely do it.”

Ahhhhhh…finally with all that behind us I was really looking forward to some well deserved vacation time and ultimately getting back to my memoir. And I missed blogging. But trust me, it’s a good thing I’d stayed away from blogging or you’d all be reading about those nasty people, post after post.

So, now we’re into July, and my stress level is pretty much off the charts.  I’d had an alarming discovery just weeks earlier (while still in the throes of the lunatics who’d bought our home), and now I’ve been to see my surgeon. My cancer surgeon.

And this is where life throws a major curve ball my way.

For those of you who have an interest, I’ve created a category (in the column to the right, towards the bottom) called MY CANCER JOURNEY.  That’s where you’ll find my posts which are specific to this part of my life, and you can follow along accordingly if you so choose. I wanted to create a special spot for these types of posts so that my entire website isn’t just loaded with nothing but this topic. Because, after all, you and I both know that life is never just about one thing. (my first post is titled ‘Cancer Will Never Define Me’, and here…I’ve got the direct link for you in case you are computer challenged and can’t find that column to the right easily.  Um, Mom, I might be speaking to you here…LOL.   http://wp.me/P2dc6t-fa)     Just to be clear, CANCER WILL NEVER DEFINE ME. It might dictate a new normal, but it will NEVER define me. So, for those of you not truly interested in all this medical crap…no worries. It won’t hurt my feelings one iota, because if I could, I’d be running in the opposite direction myself.

 

 

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