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.

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!

#Lifer

Pain woke me up in the middle of the night just a few weeks ago. Pain in my right thumb to be exact. At the base, where it connects to my hand, specifically in the ligament. And it was bent at the top joint, as if I’d been pressing a stopwatch for my entire life. Frozen in place, I couldn’t UNbend it… without using my other hand. And when I did that, there was a pop.      Whoa.

So I purposely bent my thumb to test it…you know, just to see if I could bend it without any aide from my other hand.   Just to see if I could do it. And, thank heavens, I could.

But then I couldn’t straighten it out again. Whaaaattttt?

I focused harder. I willed myself to straighten my thumb. I took a deep breath and concentrated really hard, like I used to when I was a kid and thought there was legitimacy to the game of Ouiji.

It didn’t matter how hard I concentrated. I could not straighten my thumb.

I looked at the clock. 3:17 a.m. I briefly debated about waking up hubby since I was so oddly fascinated in a baffled sort of way. But I decided to simply use my other hand to straighten the damn thing out. Another pop. I searched for a cold spot on the pillowcase that would mask the throbbing pain, and then I debated about climbing out of bed to take some Advil. Instead I sighed deeply, prayed this was a bizarre dream that I wouldn’t remember by morning, and I eventually fell back to sleep.

Morning came. My thumb was frozen in a bent position once again. And my other fingers felt… well, they felt peculiar. On both hands, my fingers felt stiff and achy, like they could just as easily get into a locked position as well.

I glanced over at hubby. “Look at this!” I muttered with annoyance. He was barely awake and showed no interest. So I muttered a bit louder. “I cannot unbend my damn thumb.” He turned to glance at it. Then he moved closer to inspect it. Then he straightened it for me. It popped.  “Hmmm,” he said in sympathy.

It can be downright depressing when I dwell too long on my ‘new normal’. I try very hard not to, and for the most part, I’ve been successful and keeping those thoughts at bay. Since I last posted a health update here (three months ago), I’ve lost three women from my life. One was a personal and longtime friend to my mom, whose cancer had returned after a very long  hiatus, like fifteen or twenty years. She and I became close after my diagnosis last year. She reached out on multiple occasions to cheer me on in my own journey and to compare notes. Our paths paralleled for a bit throughout our chemo treatments, which were similar in their drug side effects. She didn’t know anyone else going through this battlefield, and I know it brought her some sense of comfort to be able to express her thoughts about it to me, someone who’d been a comrade of sorts.  But she lost her battle just a month or so ago.

The other two were women that I came to know through an online cancer support site (specific to my bizarre diagnosis). Of those two, the first one was a complete shock, as I’d had no idea how advanced her cancer had become in a very short time. She was one of the first to ‘welcome’ me to this online group, to reassure me that she was there to support me in any way she could. The second one was an even bigger shock, as she received her diagnosis just one month before I received mine. She began her treatments three weeks before I began mine…and it turned out that we had the EXACT same treatment plan. Same four drugs to start with, at the same intervals for the same duration in time, followed by the same amount of radiation over the same number of weeks. Her body did not handle the drugs well, and within weeks of completing her radiation, her cancer spread like wildfire to her brain. So they radiated her brain every day for a month. And then she died shortly after that.

Her death rattled me to my core, and put me in a funk for days. Having never met her in person, we’d shared quite a bit of ourselves with each other through social media. She lived in Kentucky. She was a horse owner, I’d been a horse owner. She was raising a teenage daughter, I’d raised a teenage daughter. She was spunky and encouraging. I was encouraging though not so spunky. She believed deeply in Jesus. I believe less deeply in God. She was a young forty-something and I used to be a young forty-something.

She was a lovely woman. She was a fighter.    And she was far too young to die.

Treating cancer (including early stage) with surgery, even mastectomy, and/or radiation and/or chemo does NOT guarantee a cancer-free future. Cancer has no age restrictions, no rhyme or reason to whom it victimizes. Recent studies have claimed it’s not lifestyle or diet related. It’s not even genetically related.  It’s simply science. And bad luck for those of us navigating this stealthy beast.

A woman named Holley Kitchen has posted a very emotionally moving video to Facebook in an effort to EDUCATE the general population of the world about those little pink ribbons, and it’s gone viral. It’s a concise explanation for those who are clueless (and that would be MOST people) about what ‘metastatic breast cancer’ really means. The net of it is: for those whose breast cancer has marched on to a new location from where it originated…they will never, ever, Ever, EVer, EVER, E V E R …be cured. The odds of an initial breast cancer becoming metastatic are 20-30%, according to the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network.  Metastatic Breast Cancer is an umbrella term for an entire RANGE of unique and incredibly complicated  breast cancer diagnoses. Mine happens to be a diagnosis that involves a gene mutation, which happens in only about 20% of patients.

Metastatic breast cancer is terminal (I keep my focus on the fact that LIFE is terminal). These people (and that would include me) will live for the rest of their lives, whatever time is left for them individually, always fighting the fight, and in need of lifelong medical care. Cancer might go into remission, but the emotional weight of unfathomable worry will never vacate.

Holley Kitchen has coined the term LIFER.  It’s a club for members only, and I wish like hell I weren’t a part of it.  I pray that none of you become a part of it, and if you are, my hope is that you are living life without looking back, and focusing on the joys and comforts that already surround you.

I typed into Google: I can’t straighten out my finger.   It was all over the internet. Trigger Finger. It’s an actual condition CALLED Trigger Finger. Jeez, if I’d known I’d be getting this, I’d have spent more time in recent years at the shooting range. I’m a good shot. Or I used to be when I was at the range. Dad taught me how to shoot when I was a kid. Once he’d figured out I was left eye dominant, he adjusted his instruction accordingly.   It actually saddens me to admit that this trigger finger is from my damn cancer drugs. Nothing to do with my firearm skill set.

So these cardio toxic drugs I get every three weeks, which I refer to as my sniper drugs, have affected my heart. I wrote about that three months ago, in my last post here, titled ‘Don’t Be Scared, Okay?’ I had to skip a round of treatment in hopes my heart muscle would rebound.

It didn’t. But the next follow-up echocardiogram showed that that my heart muscle didn’t get any worse either, so my oncologist resumed my treatments with the approval of my cardiologist. Like clockwork, I go in every 21 days and they hook up Portia with the IV. The nurses there have asked me on three different occasions to speak with other patients who were in need of chest ports. All three were scared and concerned about the surgical procedure, and curious about the placement and comfort. One was a young man in his twenties, another a woman in her seventies, and the last one was a woman in her fifties. I’m always happy to reassure others, but find it difficult when they ask how much longer before I get to have my Portia removed. It’s a question I’ve not yet found a comfortable answer for.

“I’m in it for the long haul,” I say. Their eyes widen, but I don’t offer much explanation aside from the fact that every cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is unique, and not to base the need for a chest port on the prognosis of their diagnosis. It’s solely for ease of access to their arteries while getting drug infusions.

Next week, I’ll get yet another echocardiogram, which will determine if my heart is continuing to hold steady or if the heart muscle has deteriorated further. IF it’s deteriorated further, again treatment will be suspended. Possibly a new treatment plan will be discussed, but I’m hoping not, because the treatment plan I’m on is THE best of the best for my specific and rather unusual diagnosis.

I’m experiencing excessive worry on occasion, but not for myself.   I’ve been so ridiculously busy with house guests, work and other activities that have kept me fairly well distracted, but every now and then, well, okay, DAILY, I am obsessed with tracking (via the use of an online GPS system) the exact location of a 72’ sailboat. It’s called the Sea Dragon, and at this very moment it is literally in the middle of (nowhere) the North Atlantic Ocean…as it sails from Bermuda to the Azore Islands, quite a ways off the coast of Portugal. Picture a single grain of sand floating in the midst of the wide wide wide open sea.

Why am I obsessing over that? Because my daughter is on board, crewing for an organization called Pangaea Explorations. They use the Sea Dragon to take teams of scientists all over the world to study issues that are ocean related.

This current group is studying the issues of plastics in the North Atlantic Trash Gyre (North Atlantic Garbage Patch), using a unique trawl built specifically for this expedition in an effort to determine the depth below the surface of the water where the trash has gotten caught within the ocean gyres. It’s a leading edge technology that’s literally unfolding right at this very moment, and I can only imagine my daughter’s excitement to be so intimately involved in this part of the research process.

But this mother has never experienced anxiety (okay, WORRY) quite like this before. While she’s out there trawling in the middle of… nowhere, I look at the sky and I pick out a star. I wonder if she’s able to see what I see. And I want to be able to text her to say : You see that star up there? Make a wish for me, okay? And then get on home so I can get my arms around you!

Trawling. The sniper drugs, before going in for the kill, trawl for a specific gene mutation which causes my cancer to proliferate. They’re called targeted drugs because they leave the good cells alone but trawl for the deadly mutant ninjas.  Boy, I hope my compromised heart can take it…I don’t want to lose my sniper drugs. I’ll happily deal with trigger finger so long as my sniper drugs can stay on the job.

Don’t Be Scared, Okay?

1508991_10152560487116439_7362674108437283273_nOkay, so it’s been a crummy few weeks. In a moment of lost composure, I posted a snippet of my frustration to Facebook. Mistake. Within 24 hours, I deleted it again.  And I’ve not updated here because I keep waiting for a brighter perspective to seep into my thinking about it all.

So here it is.

I completed radiation two weeks ago. (YAY!) Radiation didn’t leave much in the way of a calling card… skin burn and some cumulative fatigue to pile on top of the cumulative fatigue I’d already been gifted from chemo. That first batch of fatigue had just begun to recede when I began my daily treks to the city to get radiated.

After too many weeks, I finally allowed myself to count down the last remaining treatments. My second to last appointment happened to fall on Friday the thirteenth. And wouldn’t you know? I had a full schedule that day with not one, not two but three medical appointments all scheduled on Friday the thirteenth. Maybe that’s the nod medical folks need to mess with their patients. Hubby came along with me on this day. His lucky number was always thirteen.

First stop of the morning: oncology. I got my required blood draw, then hubby and I trotted down the hall to the suite where I get my drug infusions (the ones I get every three weeks). The nurse hooked up my Portia to the IV drip and two hours later I was once again ready to roll.

Second stop was radiology. Excited to finally see this particular finish line within reach, the technicians high-fived me as I entered the room. “AFTER THIS, JUST ONE MORE! WE’LL THROW A TICKER TAPE PARADE FOR YOU!”

My last appointment of the day: echocardiogram.

And here’s how it went down:

I report to the cardiac care center, two floors above radiology. After changing to a hospital gown, I’m seated on the end of the exam table. The technician (who’s technically a sonographer, and whose English is not great) begins by stating that she’s already seen my prior echo results. And now she wants my confirmation that those last results were prior to beginning chemo.

“No,” I tell her. “My last echo was done three months after beginning chemo.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Not before chemo?” she asks.

I tell her my FIRST echo was before chemo started. My second echo was three months after chemo began. I tell her that both those echo results were normal. And now this, my third echo, is three months after my second echo. Every three months, I tell her. I get them every three months.

She doesn’t seem terribly satisfied with my full explanation answer. Maybe it was more than she wanted to know. Maybe she felt it sounded a bit like a lecture. Oops. But I wanted to be sure she had her facts straight…you know, those facts about MY medical tests.

She now asks me if I know what my blood pressure is. I tell her no, I don’t know.

“You don’t know your blood pressure?” She’s starting to annoy me, and I think to myself: I’m in a cardiac facility and she’s not going to take my blood pressure? She’s just going to quiz me about it?

“Well, I know it’s normal because they just took it this morning before chemo,” I tell her.

“And you don’t know it?”

I nicely ask why she doesn’t just take it herself. I gesture to the equipment sitting behind her. And she seems miffed. And then she asks “What’s generally normal for you on your blood pressure?”

So I tell her “115 over 70 …somewhere around there.” And that’s what she types in on her computer monitor where I see my name blinking in the top data field. 115/70.       Alrighty then, moving on.

She wordlessly glues sensors all around my heart area. Each sensor is connected by long tangling lengths of thin cable to a high tech piece of equipment that is used to measure how well my heart pumps with each beat. Once I’m fully wired, I’m asked to lay back and to roll over so that I’m fully turned onto my left side, facing her and the high tech equipment. Then she wants me to scoot forward to the extreme edge of the table, even closer to her. With a quick release, a small section of table directly beneath the side I’m turned on drops away. This is how she accesses my heart area from beneath me, using a wand gadget that has gel on it, much like those used for ultrasound tests.

The computer screen is positioned very closely to my head and it’s angled so that it’s very easy for me to see. I refocus and watch silently as colorful imagery (that looks and moves just like the flames of a campfire) comes to life on the monitor.

She works the magic wand with her left hand, repositioning it as she goes to capture all angles of my heart, and with her right hand she uses the customized computer keyboard, deftly capturing snapshots and drawing etch-a-sketch type circles around those still shots that measure…well, I’m not sure what it measures specifically. All I know is she’s assessing my left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) which is the measurement of how much blood is being pumped out of the left ventricle of my heart (the main pumping chamber) with each contraction.  Pop quiz after this read.

About fifteen minutes in, I’m thinking I may as well nod off. But instead I re-focus on the monitor and notice the flames are suddenly still. No lines are being drawn around them. But now I see there are six small sub-windows on the monitor, displayed off to the side. They appear to be prior images already taken. I wonder why she’s reviewing what she’s already seen.

I subtly shift my eyes to her face, being careful not to move my body at all. But I’m caught red handed…looking at her. Awkward.

She has that universal look of alarm written all over her: the widened eyes, the speechless blank expression.  After two or three melodramatically very silent moments, it’s a bit of a stare down. So I finally break the ice.

“Everything okay?” I say it in a lighthearted tone…in jest, really.

Still deadpan silence. She suddenly swivels back to the computer monitor, clicks a few more times on what I assume are prior images, and then abruptly leaps up from her seat.

“Don’t be scared,” she blurts out. “I’m going to look at your last echo.”

My last echo? I barely heard that last part because she was already out in the hallway. And, she’s already seen my last echo…she told me so at the beginning.

GOD DAMMIT. Don’t be scared? Well, too late for that.

Now my heart is pounding as I struggle to stay calm. Minutes tick by. I want my hubby. I attempt to sit up but immediately feel the strain of all these sensors glued all over my chest. More minutes tick by. I look at the clock wondering how long she plans to be away…maybe I should just get off the table and drag the equipment behind me. HUBBY! HUBBY!

I decide instead to look more closely at the computer screen. All imagery is stopped, no flames flickering or colors flaring. I squint at the data fields. I see percentages. But I have no idea what those data fields are. The percentages are very low. Huh. Maybe those reflect the minimal effort my heart utilizes in order to function …which would mean my heart is a powerhouse, right?

Just as I’m pondering and panicking all at the same time, she reappears. And immediately she repeats “Don’t be scared.” But, she looks distressed. So I ask her again, is everything okay?

She shakes her head with the universal sign for no. “This is borderline,” she says.

“Borderline? Borderline normal?”

“No. But don’t be scared. I’m not a doctor. A doctor will tell you.”

I’m stupefied and now I’m speechless. But she continues. “I work twenty years. The patient is my one concern. Understand? You get dressed now, but don’t be scared. Doctor will call you. You don’t be scared, all right?”

Ya. Right

We drove home in Friday rush hour. Hubby and I spent a long 48 hours stewing over this. I berated myself for not demanding a cardiologist on the spot. I berated myself for not dragging all that equipment with me to get hubby from the waiting area. I berated myself for not telling her that her ONLY job was to DO HER JOB and to keep her opinions to herself.

I even berated myself for allowing my mind to wander, in the days just prior, to a happier and easier road ahead…one that would take cancer from my daily planner, and kick it to the monthly page instead.

Finally I reached my oncologist by calling her on Sunday night. And then on Monday, I called the hospital administrator who oversees the management of the cardiac care center where I had my echo. I felt he should hear about my experience there on that Friday the thirteenth.

I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty detail…other than to say that I am once again in an elite group.  I’m one of the five to ten percent of patients whose hearts are adversely affected by these cardio-toxic drugs… the only two drugs that are gene specific to my exact diagnosis and therefor the clear standard in any effort to prolong my life.

Shit.

So now my journey has taken a detour. I get to add a cardiologist to my medical team. He’s head of cardiology for the medical center, so I imagine I’ll be in another set of good hands. (I could field a baseball team with all the good sets of hands watching over me.) As it happens, he’s also the cardiologist who reviewed my echo results that very day.

Two days ago, I arrived for my appointment for a routine blood draw and then a visit with my assigned oncology nurse. After the routine exam and discussion of ‘how I’m doing’, she surprisingly suggested (almost as an afterthought) that maybe I should get a chest x-ray for a lingering cough I’ve had. With a compromised immune system now, every little cold becomes a big deal for me…so not only have I had this crazy annoying cough, I’ve also had a few other cold symptoms I’ve not been able to shake. But, it’s just a cold, granted a more annoying cold than I’d have ever gotten pre-cancer, but still…it’s a cold.

Hubby and I head down to x-ray. (Hubby has been a valued partner in this whole journey, let me tell you) The x-ray technician takes the first image. “Hmmm, there’s some haze there,” he says. “Turn to the side and I’ll take one more to be sure.”

He’s put a STAT on the x-ray results and tells me I may as well hang around in case there’s anything further my doctor may want me to do. He directs me to wait for results back upstairs in my oncologists office.

The receptionist there is surprised to see me return. I explain I’ve been told by x-ray to hang out for a bit. “Really?” she asks. “You don’t seem sick.”

“I know!” I tell her. “I’m actually feeling pretty good! Aside from this cough.”  And, then word comes.

Damn it. I have pneumonia.

And now that my oncologist has realized I’m still in her suite of offices, she asks to see me personally. I didn’t have a scheduled appointment with her.

Turns out she too has been fighting some sort of bug, and has lost her voice completely. “Well,” she whispers, “I do nothing but talk most of the day.”  I suppose that’s true. Hubby and I sit in the two chairs in front of her desk, and right away we both lean in closer in an effort to hear her better, as I try desperately not to cough.

She whispers that she’s had several conversations with the cardiologist (the one who interpreted my echo results from Friday the thirteenth). They’d discussed not only the results, but also the manner and level of professionalism (or lack of) in which the sonographer administered the echo test that day. And then with a smile she says my ears should have been burning with all the discussion about me. “Really?” I squeak trying to suppress a cough.

Then she wants to know if I’m related to the ‘celebrated family’ in San Francisco who shares our last name. I think that’s rather an odd question, especially after all this time she’s been my doctor, so I answer honestly. “Not directly, but I’m sure there’s a link generations back somewhere.”

Now she gets down to business and whispers her new game plan. It seems that my heart now takes precedence over my cancer, so she is suspending my infusion treatments for one round. She is ordering another echo three days before the next scheduled infusion round is due (towards end of April), to see if my heart muscle has rebounded. I’m told that often the heart will rebound on it’s own, given a break from these cardio toxic drugs. If it has rebounded, she will proceed with that late April infusion as scheduled, but using only one of the two drugs.

This doesn’t make me happy. It’s these two drugs working together that have been so groundbreaking in their ability to buy a patient more time.

“How will you choose which one to drop?” I asked her between coughs.

I know all too well that first; doctors aren’t God, and second; when it comes to cancer, there are no rules. She told me she wasn’t really certain which of the two drugs she’ll drop, but she suspects she’ll drop the newest of the two, the one approved most recently, in 2012. If all goes well down the road, she could add it back in.

So, hubby and I came home and I Googled that celebrated San Francisco family who shares our last name. And I learned that the patriarch, who passed away just a few years ago, was a huge philanthropist, highly admired. He liked to stay under the radar, but contributed in huge ways to many causes. He served on the boards of museums, aquariums and colleges, and quietly but joyously supported the world of sailing (one of his many passions) as well as The America’s Cup. Turns out, he also spent forty one years serving on the Board of Directors for the California Pacific Medical Center, the very place that is home to my team of good hands. No wonder they were all abuzz when my ears should have been burning. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on that wall? Makes me smile just to think about it.

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 Life Throws a Curveball, Reposition the Mitt

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 11.34.47 PMMadison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and every single one of our San Francisco Giants have proven that the impossible isn’t so impossible after all. It’s what you believe you can do, regardless of what the odds are. Winning their third World Series in five years was the epitome of focus, grit and a sheer determination personified by those who really understand what the game is all about. They left it all on the field.

It’s been a busy few months. It’s hard to believe that I’m just one week away from my fourth round of cancer drugs. So, here’s the update for those of you interested to follow along.

Portia and I are getting along just fine. My golf game hasn’t been compromised at all, and if anything, maybe it’s improved just a bit. I played 9 holes just the other day, walking the course, surprised at the great golf shots that somehow were catapulted off my club heads. It was a day to enjoy with my golf buddies, and a stretch of several hours where I could simply enjoy the fresh air, exercise and camaraderie of those who also love the crazy little sport that drives most men crazy. I especially love when I can feel rather like my old self, temporarily forgetting about my ‘new normal.’

Not that it’s been bad…it hasn’t. Sure, the drugs have some side effects that seem to be more prominent in the first week or so after treatment, and then suddenly on about day ten, they dissipate. But they are manageable. With each visit to the oncologist I feel blessed, especially when I look around at others getting chemo on the days I’m there doing the same. It’s a somber place. I don’t do somber very well.

I’m out and about most every day even when I’m feeling less than stellar. I’m resting when I feel my body telling me to ‘chill’. I’m keeping pace with work and all of my clients, who tell me how wonderful I look.

I know I look like a complete imposter in that silly wig, or like an aging gypsy with one of my many new scarves. I just suck it up and motor onward. Because that’s what stealth survivor’s do. We don’t waste time dwelling on the stupid stuff. We focus on the priorities. Hair? Overrated.

I silently chuckle as everyone compliments my clear complexion. They think it’s the drugs. Newsflash: my complexion has always been clear. Obviously no one ever noticed before I lost my hair to chemo. So, I’m thinking that when (and if) my hair ever grows back, I may just keep it super short. I think that may be the more flattering look.

My oncologist is very pleased I’m doing so well. Last time I saw her, she remarked about my ‘wonderful attitude’. Her bedside manner isn’t all that fuzzy, but I’m not there for her personality. I have noticed a rogue smile sometimes escapes her when we chat about my progress. And it shows up again after I give her a departing hug of gratitude when our time is up…an awkward moment for her I think. “Sorry, I’m a hugger,” I told her this last time. Then I quickly made a mental note to not hug her next time. I’m so appreciative of her careful oversight and management of my challenging situation, that I instinctually reach to give her a departing hug. She’s Head of Oncology and Hematology. I think hugs are probably off limits at that level. Really, I need to stop.

Yesterday was my nadir day…the day when my blood counts are at their lowest, always two weeks post chemo. I go in each nadir day and get my blood work done. After a finger poke, the blood gets squeezed into a little tube and inserted into a machine that spits out a complete blood count within minutes. Nancy, my assigned oncology nurse, reviewed the test results with me. And we spoke about my progress with the side effects, followed by a quick weigh in and physical exam. She too was delighted to see me doing so well overall. “It’s your healthy lifestyle,” she said. “And her great attitude,” hubby chimed in.

Whatever it is, I’m thankful. Personally, I chalk it up to hitting the ground running. I was perfectly healthy at the time I was diagnosed.  I wasn’t run down, fatigued, or compromised in any way. I was playing GOLF for God’s sake. I may have been challenged, but I was NOT compromised.

Who knew that this surreal and bizarre turn of events would be such a complete and total game changer?

But that’s life. When an unexpected curve ball comes barreling across the plate, you’d better be a damn good catcher. Because whether it’s thrown by Madison Bumgarner or by the very essence of fate, there’s no time to do anything but reposition your mitt.

That’s all I’ve done. I’ve repositioned.       BRING IT.

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)

Ports, Portia and Hoofing It Forward.

Portia was a champ for her inaugural run today!  (For those of you just stepping in to my journey here, ‘Portia’ is the name I’ve given to the chest port that was surgically placed inside me  just two days ago.  Because I will be getting drug infusions for a very long time (‘indefinitely’ according to my oncologist) on a schedule of every three weeks like clockwork, a chest port is necessary because without one, the veins in my arm would become collapsed quite quickly making it very difficult over time to find a vein to use for needle insertion that will deliver the drugs via intravenous drip.  The port itself a triangular shape and thicker than I expected it to be.  It is typically placed beneath the skin just below the collar bone.  Because the port has raised bumps on each of the three corners, once implanted the nurses can feel for those three bumps and know where the center of the port is for insertion of the needle.

At my pre-op appointment with the surgeon, who looked ridiculously young with an over-sized mug of a half downed and likely cold cappuccino sitting on her desk, she explained all of this to me by showing me exactly what the port looked like. She had one handy sitting on her desk.  I could touch it and fiddle with it (right after I picked it up off the floor because I immediately dropped it in my clumsy attempt to hide my shock that it was PLASTIC. Plastic?  Ten years ago after my bi-lateral mastectomy, I opted for no reconstruction because I didn’t want anything foreign in my body.  Good grief.)

“Plastic?” I asked her with an unrecognizable chirpy voice.  She just smiled and said there were ports made of metal, like titanium, but those would prohibit me from getting accurate MRI’s and other scans medically necessary down the road.

Ohhhh. Well, then.  Plastic it is.  And the color purple is nice, a lovely easter shade.  Are there any other color choices? I wanted to ask her, but I decided not to sound stupid after that chirpy voice had just come out of my mouth.

So, instead I asked “Where does it connect inside?”   Given that they stick needles into arm veins when there is no port available, I was curious to know what vein lives inside my chest  that they’d connect this purple plastic thing into.   It was an answer I wasn’t anticipating.

“It goes directly into your heart.”

HOLY SHIT!  MY HEART?     My…. HEART???

Now, if hubby had been with me, I’d have grabbed his arm and likely squeezed it to a size substantially smaller.  But hubby was away on a trip I insisted he not cancel…a reunion of his high school football team that he’d organized and planned for almost two straight years. I knew this reunion was hugely important to him.   Fifty years ago his team went undefeated two years in a row, winning their conference championships both years (they didn’t have state playoffs back then.)  In Ohio, football is a big deal…so he flew back to the little town of Aurora where he grew up and connected with these guys who he’d grown up with.  Some went on to play pro after college.  My hubby went on to become an All American in lacrosse, having never seen a lacrosse stick until he was a freshman at Denison University.  These guys are all hard core athletes…the reunion was a three day event, the high school rolled out the red carpet for them, and teammates came from far and wide to be there.  I desperately wanted hubby to go, and  have a reprieve from this cancer shit…because it affects him in a deeply emotional way  that only devoted hubby’s would understand. So, at my insistence, he went.  Which is why I was solo in the surgeons office that day.

As all physicians do, she began to explain the risks of this surgery and as she went on, the color began to drain from my face.  “It’s a confined space there without much wiggle room.  There’s a possibility that I could puncture your lung. But, don’t worry!  The hole heals up in about an hour or so, and we’d just give you oxygen in the meantime until its closed.”

Once I found that chirpy voice again, I asked about risk of infection.  Overall the risk is low, but she of course had to divulge all risk factors, which she did quite well. Please oh please let Portia not get infected, I prayed to myself.

Then I asked about exact placement.  Turns out I had choices…as long as there was a flat surface behind it, it could really go anywhere.  But I had to keep in mind accessibility and comfort.  Typically just beneath the collar bone, but she could try to move it to where it wouldn’t interfere with my wardrobe necklines.  I made sure she understood that I was only concerned about my golf swing.  “Are you right or left handed?” she wanted to know.  After I told her I was right handed, she was pleased because she didn’t want to put it on the right side anyhow because that’s where my cancer was surgically removed seven weeks ago.  They try to avoid cancer locales.  I stood up and demonstrated my swing in an understated way.  Hmmm, not real sure about placement on the left either…could be in the way.         No matter…my game isn’t great anyhow.  Maybe Portia would balance my swing out better.

Then I asked how long one of these things would really last. That was my very last question, because the answer left me so rattled, I was weepy on my drive home.  “The longest one I’m aware of was over seven years…but the cancer outran the patient by then.  The port was still working great though.”

I left her office only to find all elevators out of service. A medical building with ALL elevators out of service?  Her office was on the sixth floor, so I hoofed it down the stairs trying to find the lobby.  But the door below the 2nd floor was the basement.  Where the hell was the lobby?  The lobby IS the first floor. What the hell?  So, I hoofed it back up a level.  Nope…second floor.  I hoofed it back down a level.  Nope the basement.   God damnit!  I want OUT of this building.  So while I was fuming, the elevator door in the basement suddenly burst open with a crowd inside packed like sardines.  I pushed my way in.  The button for Lobby was illuminated.  When the doors closed and the elevator lurched upward, I prayed.  I’m not a religious person, but I prayed anyhow.  And before I knew it the doors burst open once again, and there was the lobby.  All of us raced out like a stampede at record speed.  I then was focused on finding the machine where I could prepay my ticket for the garage.  I looked everywhere.  Unable to find it, I asked someone nearby.  “Do you know where the prepay machine is for the parking garage?”

“I think its by the elevators inside the garage.” he said.  Great those damn elevators…all broken, including the garage elevator from the lobby. So, I walked outdoors and stepped over the construction barricade that was to have blocked my way to the most direct route to the sidewalk. Once there, I walked briskly to the garage entry where cars drive in.  There was thick tape strung there too with ‘WET PAINT’ signs hanging on it,  blocking my way to the low concrete median that separated incoming and outgoing cars.  I stepped over that and stepped onto the bright fresh yellow paint job.  Then I had to think about the fastest route down to seven levels below me where I parked my car in the space apparently meant for deep subterranean termites.  I got there by using the ramp that cars drive to climb out of the depths of darkness back up to street level…so I was actually hoofing it against traffic.  NOT fun.  Finally I made it all the way to the bottom level and headed to the elevator where two people waiting there instantly asked me if the elevators could possibly be broken. “Yes, they are…happy hiking!”  I glanced around for the prepay ticket machine.  Nothing.  So I asked these annoyed people who’d been waiting too long for an elevator that wasn’t coming if they knew where the machine was.  ‘In the lobby of the medical building behind the pharmacy door,” they said.  Well, SHIT.

I hoofed it back up those damn ramps, leaving them in the dust as they tried to stay with me.  I barreled back across the wet paint, jumped to the sidewalk, leaving yellow footprints as I went, and burst back through the construction zone.  Inside the lobby once more, I was winded.  And ready to cry.  I went to the pharmacy and looked behind their door.  No machine.  I walked up to the register in the back and asked.  “Oh, they moved it just to the left of  the construction barriers  blocking access to the broken elevators.  It’s hard to see, really.”

Back to the broken elevators, I followed the construction wall and peeked around the corner.  BINGO. Got my credit card out, paid for my parking and raced back outside.  Now there were construction GUYS there…so I took the handicap ramp instead to the sidewalk below, ran back through the yellow paint, down the seven ramps of  garage hell, and got into my car.  Where I sat and sobbed.  For about five minutes.

Then I chastised myself and started the engine.  Chevy Tahoes weren’t meant for these stupid old garages…I ducked my head every time I had to drive in one, certain those low concrete ceilings would sheer off the top of my Tahoe (and me). After carefully navigating my way to the exit with the precision of a finely threaded needle, I at last got to the gate where two cars were ahead of me.  I saw the first driver in line put their ticket into the machine that opened the gate immediately…they drove off.  Then the car ahead of me dropped their ticket trying to feed it into the machine.  They had  to open their door and retrieve it.  They tried again.  Success.  But the gate didn’t  open.  The ticket was spit back out.  They inserted it a second time.  The gate didn’t open.

Wide eyed, I sat there staring.  Then I could see the driver lean out further, seemingly talking to no one…so figured there was someone on the intercom inside the kiosk where normally a parking attendant would stand, telling them what the problem might be.  FIFTEEN MINUTES later, I gently honked my horn.  The driver stuck his head back out the window, looking directly to me and demanded I not honk at him.  What’s going on up there? I asked kindly…well, as kindly as I could manage.   Turns out, he couldn’t find the prepay machine, and so the voice on the intercom was running the credit card numbers from some unseen location.  ARGHHHHHH.  Another five minutes later, the gate finally swung up to let the guy drive out.  Adios! 

I drove up, fed my ticket in and the gate swung up immediately.  I left a bit of rubber as my lead foot hit the accelerator.  Traffic in the city was heavy for mid-morning hours, but I cranked up the radio and focused on meditating as I inched along.

But I digress…

The surgery itself was easy…outpatient, and I was given a ‘local’ type of anesthesia, but don’t remember one thing once they started the drip. Next thing I knew, I was in recovery.  No oxygen and  no nausea from anesthesia.  Major relief!

On our way home from the hospital just an hour after I woke up,  hubby and I stopped for a late day breakfast at my favorite spot in Sausalito.  We’ve been regulars there for 16 years. I get the exact same thing EVERY time…the ‘veggie storm’ scramble with fresh fruit instead of hash browns, and an English muffin. Typically I’d get their vanilla latte too, but I’ve walked away from those for awhile…without taste buds, its rather a  frustrating waste on me now. I look forward to that breakfast once a week with great anticipation.  Wonderful local spot, wonderful owners, and simple good food, although I couldn’t vouch for much other than my Veggie Storm.

But, I digress yet again.

So TODAY, Portia (newly installed just a mere 48 hours ago) and I sailed through the infusion process in fine form, just as I did without her three weeks ago.  It was all pretty much the same in terms of the drug line up…first a bag of anti-nausea drugs, followed by the two chemo drugs dripping one after the other, followed by the two gene specific targeting drugs (also administered one after the other), followed by Heparin to prevent blood clots that are a potential risk of infusions.

THEN Portia was released of the IV needle  (pain free, I might add…both going in and going out), and then I was given a shot of Neulasta…which is to ensure I produce more white blood cells over the next two weeks, because all those drugs will cause the white blood cell count to drop very low…as happened after my last infusion three weeks ago.  So low in fact, that they delayed my port surgery pushing it back two days due to high risk of infection.  They quickly got me an injection of Neupogen which boosted my white blood cell count quickly over a matter of days, confirmed by yet another blood draw… and surgery took place at long last. It all worked out just fine, even though it was an unexpected delay.

I’m feeling well, I’m feeling strong, I’m not looking back and I’m thankful I’m in very caring and capable medical hands.  I have the best team.  THE BEST.  My nurse today was delightful, young and actually knows my daughter…from the small world of competitive sailing.  We took a selfie, me in the infusion chair with nurse smiling broadly behind me.  I texted it to my daughter….gotta love this age of instant communication! I’d post it here, but my Portia might scare a few of you in her raw appearance, and quite frankly, next to adorable nurse, I don’t look so hot.  So instead I’ll post a photo of my gypsy-esque attire that I wore on my noggin today.  I get a bit cold sitting in that infusion room for hours on end, so I didn’t want my head to be cold too.  The receptionist was lovely to compliment my new look.  Yup…it’s my new normal.  No biggie.

I GOT THIS.       I SO GOT THIS!

gypsy look

 

 

Fall Is In The Air And Chemo Is In My Hair

Summer is over but these blooms aren't convinced even when the afternoon sun has faded away.

Summer is over but these blooms aren’t convinced even when the afternoon sun has faded away.

Today is another beautiful day here in northern California. Sunny, clear skies as the fog has retreated back to the coast for the bulk of the day. But as the afternoon hours press on, the sun is beginning to fade and I can feel just a wee bit of a chill in the air. Our flowerbeds are still in glorious bloom, but change is coming.

And, change is coming for me as well. Chemo is clearly working, as exactly sixteen days after round one, my hair is beginning to fall. No biggie, it’s only temporary. It’s rather odd to have so much hair sitting in my hand, but I’ve been fully prepared. Waiting, almost. Wondering which would be the last day I’d feel like me when I’m out in public. If tomorrow might be the day I’ll feel like an imposter when I wear my newly purchased wig, or possibly a scarf instead.

I’ve spent the better part of the day wondering if I should just get those clippers and deputize my husband, allowing him to take charge and buzz it all off for me. But…it’s only dropping in strands.  Small groupings of 10 to 15 strands in a pass.  But it’s just a matter of days, or maybe hours, before those small groupings become small clumps…and I sure don’t want to be in line at the grocery store missing a massive clump of hair I’ve no idea has fallen off, leaving a bald spot back there that only the customer behind me can see.   AWKWARD.  What to do?  Buzz now or buzz later?  One more day of feeling like me or one less day of hanging on to something that is clearly departing, no matter my wishes for an extended stay.

It’s not the loss of hair…it’s the loss of incognito. No flying under the radar this time around. And, of course I knew that…which is why I figured I wanted all of you to hear it from me this time, not from the scuttlebutt on the street. Because, well, you know…it’s like that telephone game. Most people really do mean well, but somehow the facts just get lost in the translation from ear to ear…and by the time they get back to me, I’m already on death’s door. Don’t ya just hate that?

With each new transition from one season to the next, change is inherent. Much of it is predictable, like the drop in temperatures, the shifting skies, the gathering of winter clouds.

Some changes are almost imperceptible, they are so slow to happen. The subtle change of the leaves on the trees, the lower cast of the sun each day as earth quietly shifts its axis rotation.

With each strand of hair that falls from my head, I wonder if maybe it will grow back next time a wonderful new color…you know, like in those Clairol hair ads. Rich, lustrous locks befitting a woman of my age. No white or gray, but something along the lines of…maybe Joan Rivers blonde. She looked wonderful for her age (just a few decades older than myself)…and although I understand that was the work of many talented surgeons and hair stylists, hey…it’s not too much to ask for, is it? Or, how about Melissa Gilbert? Have you seen her lately? Gorgeous red hair. We’ve got redheads in our family…it’s not a stretch. Maybe chemo will give me hair just like hers. I could throw everyone for a loop: “I know, right? Ya, the chemo did it!”

Chemo is working…my hair is falling out. That’s the GOOD news! The bad news? Well, I’m hard pressed to find any, unless hubby shaves a Mohawk on my head. Don’t laugh. Could happen. He’s never wielded clippers before in his life.

Here’s to YOU, Joan.   R.I.P.

Life goes by fast.

Enjoy it.

Calm down.

It’s all funny.

            –Joan Rivers

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.

 

 

One Foot In and One Foot Out

birdhousesLife is full of unexpected twists and turns.  By the time you’ve aged up enough to understand that these are the events that create growth opportunities and keeps life from becoming boring routine, you know that the anxiety which always often accompanies these circumstances is something that will eventually work itself out.  You won’t be hyperventilating forever and you will eventually get a solid night’s sleep.

We are preparing to downsize.  ‘We’ is me and my husband of 35 years (well, 37 total if you count the two years we were together before we got married).  Downsize doesn’t refer to our weight (although we could both stand to drop a few pounds and likely will be at optimal weight by the time this particular adventure is over).

We thought we’d be downsizing twelve months ago, when we sold lots of our furniture, packed up 50% of our household clutter goods, hauled it out to our oversized garage, and then paid a professional stager to come in and make our home look beautifully appealing to ‘the masses’, all in preparation to list our home for sale.

But the most unexpected thing happened.  We listed it with a highly successful and well-known listing agent who taught us a huge lesson:  No matter how highly regarded a listing agent is, they are really NEVER working for you, the seller.  SELLERS BEWARE!  That’s all I’m going to say about that (unless you give me a glass of wine, and then I’ll tell you the whole outrageous story).

So, long story short, we UNlisted the house, yanked out all the staging and decided to stay put for a while to re-think the entire adventure. I got a whole bunch of new furniture out of it, so really it was okay.

We raised three children in this home.  And none of them live here any longer.  All of them wish we wouldn’t sell, because for them, this property is home.  But in 37 years, hubby and I have had many homes (9), all over the country, as relocations were part of the career building. And before that, I had a childhood that included several major moves around the country.

Our three children weren’t born here…they were born four states ago, and also had the experience of relocation as they transitioned from Denver (Colorado) to Los Angeles (California) to Santa Fe (New Mexico) and then to a little town in Ohio for just thirteen months, before finally coming to this lovely community just over the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco.  That was fifteen years ago.

Now it’s just the two of us rattling around in here.  We don’t spend time outdoors on the property, on a substantial upslope with terraced back to 419gardens  and meandering pathways. We don’t use 50% of the main house.  And it’s spacious with soaring ceilings, far too many walls of glass windows and lots and lots of stairs.  To bring groceries in from the car, I have to climb far too many stairs to get up to the kitchen.  The cottage, which sits over our huge garage and which we’ve kept fully furnished and fully equipped, does attract some wonderful paying guests, but WE have to look after the business of it all.  WE have to manage the bookings, the cleanings, the contracts, the little details.  True, it’s been relatively easy and we’ve met some lovely people from all over the world who’ve come to stay with us at the cottage, but…it’s time.

While we’re still functioning young enough and alive healthy enough to take on another adventure, while the house is still in fabulous condition thanks to our ongoing and neurotic attention to the detail of it all… it’s time to move on. Let another family treasure this amazing place that we have lovingly renovated and cared for over the past 15 years.

front stoneMy husband holds a California brokers license, and even though his business has nothing to do with residential, we RE-listed the house five days ago under his own license. I built a website for it, posting a ton of photos and explaining the history of the property (the house was built in 1918) along with the various ownership transitions.

In just five days, it’s been ridiculously busy with property showings and it appears we have garnered serious interest from a variety of potential buyers.  There’s no way of knowing how many (if any) offers we will be receiving in the coming days, but if the past 48 hours are any indication, I suspect we will get at least one and very possibly several offers.  I hope so.  I’ve had one foot in and one foot out for a full year now.  I’m ready to take my other foot out as well and simply move on to our next adventure.

Really, it’s time.  Will I miss this place?  Sometimes, probably I will.  But quite honestly…not so much.  I love what we DID to this place, how we morphed it to become OURS.  I love the memories we MADE in this place.  But, there are more memories in the making…and I will morph the NEXT place into a home that’s ours, where new memories can be made.

Home is where the heart is.  And over my lifetime, I’ve learned to be adaptable. We’ve never once failed at making a house a home.  I’m ready to renovate, to take on another project, to see what our next chapter has in store for us.  The possibilities are endless…it’s exciting.  It’s daunting.  It’s not dull.  It makes for great adventure.  It’s life, and best experienced with both feet in.

What Makes A Writer Write

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 5.22.15 PMLast evening I watched the film documentary ‘Salinger’, which is the biographical story of the very reclusive writer J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher In The Rye.  Although the film was somewhat lengthy, I found it to be an interesting account of a very complicated life.  A graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy (his parents sent him there when he floundered around in local schools), Salinger went on to take some college classes in New York where he began to focus seriously on writing.   But WWII changed the trajectory of his life, as it did for most young American men at that time.  Right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was shipped off to France where he fought in the Normandy Invasion, and then in the Battle of the Bulge. Surrounded by the atrocities of war, he began to write and carried complete chapters around with him into battle. A troubled young man named Holden Caulfield was at the center of his story.

The film is worth watching, if for no other reason than to get a more complete picture of what makes a writer write.  In Salinger’s case, he was considered to be a literary genius, but only after he received rejection after rejection after rejection from the publishing industry.  He’d had a few things published prior to serving in the military, but he didn’t feel successful because what he really wanted was to become published in The New Yorker magazine.  For Salinger, THAT was success.  In all, J.D. Salinger spent ten long years writing Catcher In The Rye.  When he submitted the completed manuscript for publication,  his work was rejected again and again.  Finally, he found a willing publisher but the offer came with a mandatory re-write, and he refused to do it.  Salinger refused to allow any changes whatsoever, not even for punctuation.  So he walked away.  Until Little, Brown and Company came along.  They agreed to publish the book EXACTLY as Salinger wrote it.  The year was 1951. Over 65 MILLION copies have been sold, and over 250,000 copies continue to be purchased each year, according to the film.

I’ve begun my 2014 writing challenge, which is to complete my memoir in six months…by end of June.   I have writing deadlines and accountability to a writing mentor, a woman who has taught memoir for fifteen years now, has published memoir herself. By day, she is a psychologist.

So far, I’m right on schedule with the deadlines and word count goals (actually I’ve surpassed the word count goals). Part of the requirement (class structure) is to submit 2500 words every two weeks for her review and commentary. I’ve sent in my opening chapter, with a scene that shows a tapestry of raw drama amidst family dynamics that took decades to unfurl.  Now, having twice received feedback from my mentor, I’ve drawn a few conclusions…which were strengthened after watching ‘Salinger’.

I am writing my personal story.  I lived it.  I experienced it. My emotions as I navigated that journey are my emotions. Although feedback from a reader perspective is highly valuable and I am grateful for the guidance on outlining, scene and narrative delineation, and a host of other things, I am most intrigued by the comments from my mentor over the ‘situation’ of the story.  Comments such as ‘I don’t understand how this could have happened,’ and ‘Maybe that’s just the family therapist talking here, but so far, how this came to be isn’t clear to me.’

These are comments that lead me to believe I’ve already done my job as a writer…In just the first 5000 words or so, I’ve left the reader wanting to understand how a situation like this one possibly could have happened.  She is asking me, the writer, to help her understand.

If I could do that, I wouldn’t be writing a memoir.  There’d be nothing really to write about.  “Oh, this happened, but it makes complete sense.  End of story.” 

Salinger had stopped submitting for publication in 1964, becoming famously reclusive. The film quoted a phone interview that Salinger gave to a San Francisco journalist in 1974.   “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

I am writing my memoir.  Whether or not the reader can neatly fit round pegs into square holes isn’t for me to instruct.  Every reader has to come to their own conclusions and whether or not they approve of the ‘situation’ is irrelevant to me as a writer.  I’m not writing for their approval and I’m not writing for publication.  I’m writing to record the experiences that molded me into the woman I am today.

Each one of us got launched into adulthood via our own custom built springboard.  My board may have had a few unexpected bounces, but that’s what memoir is. Holden Caulfield was revolutionary for a reason.  He was the writer.  And when it came time to submit that finished manuscript, J.D. Salinger knew that story was his, and his alone.

Leaning In…at my own table

Sit at the tableI love Sheryl Sandberg for helping today’s professional women pursue their goals.  Her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead‘ has been inspirational to so many, including my own daughter.  ‘Lean In’ is the phrase she’s coined to suggest that all women have a valuable contribution to offer…our ideas and our experiences are equally as important as those offered by our male counterparts. With encouragement to ‘sit at the table’, she encourages women to ‘seek challenges, to take risks and pursue goals with gusto.’  I’ve long been out of the corporate world, but her message is one that certainly resonates with me. I’d often found myself as the only woman sitting at a conference table surrounded by men.  It was intimidating, I won’t lie.

As this last holiday season approached and 2013 was seriously winding down, I’d already made the decision to lean in at my own table.  After attending a meeting of the  California Writers Club as a non-member (because I don’t consider myself a real writer) I listened to several panelists, all published authors, speak about their personal writing experiences over the years and the importance of perseverance when it comes to the journey that all writers embark upon.

After attending that meeting, I became excited about THE END.  In the weeks that followed, I began to give serious consideration to the commitment of completing my big writing project within SIX MONTHS.  That’s a huge undertaking for me, because this project has been going on now for… well, for way too long.  It’s not because I want to be dragging my feet, but it’s because the emotional pain of writing it has been such a burden that it’s weighed me down for months and months at a time. And, I’ve allowed that personal pain to intimidate me…because why else would it be taking me this long?

I know that it must be the same for everyone who struggles to write about difficult times in their lives.  I’m not unique, and I know I’m not alone.

And, I’m not at all interested in publication.  Which is why I know it’s time… to simply get on with it.  It’s my history, the fabric from which I’m made, not perfectly ironed, but solidly formed.  I can’t wait to type the words THE END.  The personal sense of accomplishment will be incredibly gratifying, and finally, I’ll be able to put that part of my life back inside the emotional vault where it was securely contained for so many decades, until something unexpected happened that simply blew the lid off.

I’ve signed the contract, I’ve made the official commitment to complete this manuscript in SIX MONTHS.  June 2014.

That’s my table…and I am LEANING IN.  Who’s with me?

Memoir Music: What’s In Your Playlist?

IMG_0385As the holidays approach and the year winds down,  I’ve created a ‘memoir playlist’ on iTunes.  It’s all the music that I became immersed in as a twelve year old after an incomprehensible loss.  These songs will once again comfort me as I embark upon a six month intensive writing curriculum, transporting myself back for one last microscopic journey into the life that was mine. I will come full circle, as I finalize the narrative to the broadest circumference in the ripple effect that was launched by the careless toss of somebody else’s pebble.

Do you have a memoir playlist that transports you to a pivotal time in your life?

Do You Take Your Surroundings For Granted?

image_2As I review the iPhone photos that I took last weekend while hiking a local area with my dear friend, I wonder how many of us really take the time to notice our surroundings.  I mean, really notice.  Having lived all over the country, I feel blessed to have lived in so many spectacular locations over the years:  Colorado, New Mexico, and California are by far the top contenders for scenic awe. Other places I’ve lived are also gorgeous areas of the country: Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio and Illinois.  Well, wait.  Illinois and Gorgeous in the same context?  Hmmm….maybe not. BUT, Illinois is pretty darned memorable with that famous mid-west hospitality they’ve nurtured over the generations. Same with Ohio…although the area in Ohio where I lived truly IS gorgeous.  Those states get a bad rap for climate alone.  But is that really fair?  image_8

No matter where we live at any given time, our surroundings are what makes a place feel like home.  If the skies are gray, the dingy snow everlasting, the weather volatile, home is where the heart is.  The physical surroundings become less important than the emotional ones.

When the geography catches your eye each and every time you’re out there in nature,  then just count yourself as being completely blessed.

These photos are where I live.  It’s so accessible it’s inexcusable for me to NOT be out there every single day.  Yet, I’m only out there once or twice a month on average.  Life gets so busy that I sometimes forget what’s right in my own backyard.

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This particular day, I enjoyed this challenging hike immensely as my dear friend and I took our time to catch our breath take in the views and appreciate our good health which was instrumental to completing this adventure.  Her health journey has been very challenging these past two years with a hip replacement, followed by marital separation, which was trumped when a heart attack truly put her life into fine focus.

So we took our time.  We took deep breaths.  We took some photos. We took some video footage. We chatted, we gazed, we laughed, and we pondered those steep ascents and steeper descents. We pushed forward as we navigated loose gravel on slopes steeper than our comfort levels.

When we completed our five mile hike, we were elated and relieved.  We did it.  My friend commented afterwards that she’d didn’t know what to think.  It was incredulous to her that she was able to complete that hike.  Life is like that.  We can’t always see the unexpected bends in the road, but we learn to navigate.  One step at a time.

How lucky we are to live where we do.  How lucky I feel to have dear friends who encourage and challenge each other.  We’re blessed, all of us.

Do you take your surroundings for granted?

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Don’t Look Back

 

pathIt was startling to find, and difficult to confirm. Even though my doctor told me the imagery was clear, I knew that there was something amiss. To appease me, she sent me on for an ultrasound. I had to wait four more weeks to get the appointment, scheduled for late November. And it was there that the radiologist decided to err on the side of caution, taking six core samples to be sent off for biopsy.

Prepping my dinner table the eve before Thanksgiving, I took a call from the hospital. Pathology results were in.

It was a Thanksgiving of blessings.  Gazing at the faces of my many loved ones, I formulated a plan: take whatever steps necessary to steal my good health back.

I had surgery two weeks later, expecting eight full weeks of radiation to follow.  But pathology from surgery showed more problems…the margins weren’t clean. Malignant cells had been left behind.

Back to surgery one more time, this one scheduled for Christmas Eve.  My surgeon felt it was important to move quickly, so the holiday took a back seat.

Christmas Day was a day of blessings. Looking at the faces of my children gathered around me, I saw the road ahead with acute clarity. I expedited the healing process.

New Years Eve I took at call in the last hours of daylight.  My surgeon identified herself by her first name.  It took me a moment to understand, but then in an instant, I got it.

My husband wasn’t yet home from work, so I reached him on his cell phone to suggest we meet up at a local spot for a festive drink together.  Let’s ring in the New Year a few hours early, I suggested.

The pub was packed with revelers, all in good cheer as they sat at tiny tables sharing appetizers and raucous laughter together.  Spotting a quiet corner, I grabbed a newly vacated table for two and waited for his arrival.

His eyes lit up when he spotted me.  We spent two hours talking about a thousand things, as we’d always done throughout our twenty-five years of partnership together. I waited until he was finishing his third glass of wine before I broke the news.

With an incredulous stare, he struggled to retain emotional control. I reached across the small table and held his hands firmly in my own. Listen to me, I said.  I’ll get through this.  It’s doable…it’s just body parts. I can live without body parts.

Sometimes the most unexpected journeys teach you the most profound lessons.  For example, if you simply keep your eye on the horizon, you can travel just one day at a time. By doing so, statistics on travel time become irrelevant because the only timeline you’re on is the one you choose to manage.

The horizon is always there…just waiting for you to arrive, no matter how long the journey. Don’t look back and most certainly don’t look down.

 

 

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