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

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)

charlie-10-weeks

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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Riding Blind

The chamber is loaded and the hammer is cocked. The muzzle is aimed directly at me. I squeeze my eyes tight, waiting…waiting. I can hear the pounding of my own heartbeat and I can feel the blood coursing through my veins as I look within myself. I pray for the waiting to be over. Whether it’s a bullet or a blank, I just want them to get on with it. Deliver THE NEWS.

I grapple emotionally with the knowledge that whatever time remains for me, it is slipping away, and there is nothing I can do to recapture any of it. Not one single moment. JUST GIVE ME THE NEWS.

This is what it’s like for me. Russian Roulette. Every three months, each time I get a CT or a PET scan. I lose sleep at night wondering if it’s time to begin the big clean up…get rid of the tangible nonsense, so my kids and hubby don’t have to deal with it. I mean, what is there, really? I’m not a hoarder by any means, but I have hung onto things that have emotional significance to me, but to anyone else they’d simply wonder why the hell I was hanging on to that old thing. My closet is loaded with clothes I never wear, but they make me feel good looking at them. And then there’s letters and photos I’ve kept from decades ago…I already purged much of that. Dumped images of people that no one, aside from me, would know anything about.

Russian Roulette when you’re living with metastatic cancer goes like this:

If the news is good (say ‘stable’ or ‘remission’) when that trigger gets pulled, then it’s simply the sound of an empty chamber, a quiet click.  And I can breathe a huge sigh of relief while I shed a waterfall of joyful tears.

But if the news isn’t good, the gun goes off with a nasty blast, causing me to lose my emotional balance just momentarily as I absorb the shot. And it’s simply a matter of how lethal the shot really is…and did it hit a vital organ?

Positive attitude only takes you so far. You stay busy, upbeat, occupied, or just asleep…anything to keep your mind from wandering to a dark place. But no matter how well you’ve mastered that, it’s still a bit like riding blind.  You have good centered balance and navigate the turns well with strength of character and sheer faith, but you simply can’t prepare for what you can’t see.

And it’s so easy, SO EASY to get emotionally swept away by the incredibly comforting energy of positive thinking.   You begin to envision your celebratory victory lap as you now wait for the scan results to come in. But I know from experience, you can get completely blindsided by the proverbial gun when it in fact fires off a dreaded bullet.

Well, at long last…here’s THE NEWS (received 3 weeks ago…sorry, it took me some time to truly absorb it before I could publicly report it). This time around, all I heard was a simple click…the sound of a blank. The PET scan results confirmed that my cancer is stable. This means there is no change since the prior PET scan. Although my cancer is not in remission (the better outcome), it has not progressed any further. Godzilla is my new best friend, and I can breathe easier for another 12 weeks.

I’m STABLE.  I’ve said it out loud to hubby, to myself,  at random times.  The relief of that news was greater than I can adequately describe.

I’m back in the saddle and I’ve fully regained my balance.  Feeling so grateful.  So blessed.

#LiveTheDash

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!

On This Thanksgiving Eve: a reflection on cancer

Spread your wings and learn to fly!

Spread your wings and learn to fly!

On the eve of this Thanksgiving, it will be exactly ten years since I was diagnosed with cancer.  I am so blessed to have had the love of my family, the support of my friends, and the perspective that has allowed me to simply move forward, without questioning why.  It just seems to me that the ‘WHY’ isn’t all that important.  It’s the ‘NOW WHAT’  that determines where the future leads, and sometimes that too has tremendous unpredictability.

Like the skies above, life has the kind of turbulence that you can’t see coming, not with the naked eye.  As mere mortals, it’s our job to spread our wings and fly, even when a sound landing isn’t guaranteed.  I recently blogged about my own journey, and how when faced with decisions hard to fathom, I found the inner focus to simply do what was necessary to steal my own health back.

On this very special Thanksgiving Eve, I wish you all the blessings of good health, valued friendships, and a loving hand to hold onto if your life journey takes an unexpected turn.  And, most importantly,  I thank you for being my friend…I treasure each and every one of you.