Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year of Living Dangerously Glorious, 2010


Have your being outside this body of birth and death,
and all your problems will be solved.
They exist because you believe yourself
born to die.
Undeceive yourself and be free.
You are not a person.    Sri Nisargatatta Majaraj

You learn somethin this year?  I did.
It was the worst year of my life.
It was the best year of my life.


I learned a lot, textbooks full, classrooms full, about life and myself and Love.  I learned about getting sick, and thinking well, and things are not always as they seem.  I have an angel statue and it says "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet."  I get that now.  A lamp.  A lantern shining where I am, right here, right now.  Can't see the past, let it go.  Can't see into the future, stop worrying about it.  Just a lamp.  Keep your focus Here so that you can walk the walk you talk.  Leave the rest to Me.  Ok God.


I learned all kinds of stuff about having cancer, and treating cancer, and surviving cancer treatment.  I learned you could be rich or famous or smart or beautiful, but if you don't have your health, you ain't got nuthin.  I learned you could be rich or famous or smart or beautiful, but if you can't poop, you ain't got nuthin.

I learned the importance of friendship, and that every girl needs lots of Sisters to blossom and thrive and survive in this world.

I learned its not so much what happens to us, its our reply.

I learned without hair and eyelashes and brows, and without boobs after a journey to The Kingdom of Lost Breasts, I'm still me, and beautiful.  I learned it is much easier to travel through this Valley with other women who have been there before.  I learned I can help others who will come after me. 

Mostly though, I learned about Love.

I learned that Love is a healing salve, it does not sting or burn, and is not hard to swallow.  Love does not need to prove its presence, or reassure its existence.

"Love is" as surely as when God says "I am."  Love is always present.  You don't have to look for it or worry about where it is, or when its coming.  Love is faithful and abiding, like a candle in the window or at your bedside while you sleep.  Love seeks to make whole, and does not wound or slay.  Love never harms in the expression of itself.

Love speaks, it does not go silent when its voice is needed most.  Love does not hide or stay away, it does not withhold.

Love can be humbling, but it does not humiliate.

Love waits.
Love seeks.
Love speaks.
Love is.

It is simple and easy to recognize, and does not require fortune telling or reading of stars, magical potions or spells.

Love is as recognizable as a rock or a tree.

You would not pick up a rock and say "I wonder if this is an apple.  It looks like a rock, and behaves like a rock, and feels like a rock, but I really really hope and wish it's an apple.  Wait, wait, if I hold it just so, in this dim light, on this day, while standing on my head, on the moon, why, look, look, maybe this is an apple!  Maybe it is!"

I suppose it is possible that you could convince yourself that the rock in your hand is an apple, if you'd never seen or tasted an apple before.  Once you have, have an apple in your hand, smooth and shiny in your palm, smelling so fragrant, and tasting so sweet as you crunch and juice drips down your chin, there can never again be any mistaking a rock for an apple.

Go on, keep biting rocks if you want to, standing on your head, on the moon, but when love presents itself to you, you will instinctively drop the rock, get yourself right side up and sit yourself down, and get very very quiet, so Love can light on you, like a butterfly.  Even if your head is bald, and especially then.

Love is.

Let everything else fall away.

Put down the rocks baby.

Bite the apple.

Bite.

This is your life and the beauty and mystery of Love.  No matter what is happening, no matter when Bad comes knocking at your door, or a storm takes off the roof, or a fire burns everything you held true to the ground.  No matter what, Love is, and can be every single moment of your life, every single moment you have a breath to breathe.

You want more love?  Be more loving.

You want to get love?  Give love.

Bite.

Love.

and stop your whinin.

You got all that Writergirldreams?

It's ok if you didn't, cause every day of the rest of your life there will be review, and another chance for you to learn and get it right, if you didn't get it the first 2,010 times.

That's what I learned this year.

How bout u?



Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Wish You Could

I don't remember anymore what it's like worrying about the maybe's.  I used to do that a lot, tossing and turning, and mulling like spiced cider the what ifs.  What a luxury that was, a silly preoccupation, I realize now.

I don't remember what it's like to live each day just doing the normal stuff.  I don't remember what it's like making the small stuff big stuff.  I don't remember.

Every single day since April 21, 2010, has been dealing with the factual, the actual, living in reality, trying to move a mountain, living in the shadow of the mountain.

I walk into a room past a door that is seven inches thick with radioactive symbols everywhere.  I lay on a table draped with a white sheet.  I turn my head to the right while they bolus my breast, rigging me up, then pulling the sheet under me to move me in centimeters, then adjust me in millimeters so the targets line up.

They get me just where they want me and then they leave me saying "We'll be right back" and I say "I'll be right here."

I watch for the beam light to click on.

BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.

The machine moves around me into another position.  Shutters inside shift and click. Red lines of laser light cross like swords above me.

BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.

I think about things while I lay there, I think about my life.  I think about you.  A tear often slides down my cheek.  I don't know why.  Maybe because I am lonely, alone in there.

I wish you could see me in there.

BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.
BEAM ON.

Maybe it would give you clarity, maybe it would help you let go, maybe it would make you say "I love you" more, maybe you would take better care of yourself, maybe you would lead with your heart, maybe you would let the small stuff be small stuff, and realize how absolutely lucky you are not to live in the shadow of this mountain.

I wish you could see me in there.

I wish you could.

It would change you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Old Dog

Cancer therapy is like beating the dog with a stick to get rid of his fleas.  Anna Deavere Smith

I've been hit with the stick since May 14, 2010, the day I started chemo.

May.
June.
July.
August.
September.
Five months of chemo.

End of October.
Bilateral mastectomy.

End of November.
Started radiation.

It's December now.
Just a couple days left in this year.
Two weeks of radiation left.

I'm getting very very tired of the stick.

My fleas gone yet?

Woof.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Day At the Office

I had my weekly checkup after radiation today.  Dr. Lotus is on vacation, so her partner filled in for her.  I had met him once, sort of, my first day of treatment.  I was all in my guided position on the radiation table and the techs called him in to check that everything was as it should be.  My head was turned in the opposite direction, towards my right, and he was on my left checking the MacGyver setup of Flopsy.  He introduced himself, but there was only a voice, no face.

"Hello" I thought, "Nice to meet you and this is my left breast."

Flopsy and Mopsy sure get around.

Today he checked my skin, which he said looked very good.  The good news/bad news of that is because my skin is holding out, I will probably not finish treatment until the 14th.  The 7th would have been great, but I don't care, I'm in the home stretch now.

The results of the ultrasound on my right arm were in; no clots or blockage.  Dr. said its probably some inflammation and needs time to heal, and that I may be overcompensating with my right arm on behalf of my left. That was good news. I was worried.

I told him about my sore throat; he said it's hard to tell if it might be a virus coming on, or an actual side effect of the radiation.  There is a portion of the beam that goes into my neck, and some patients do experience trouble with a dry throat or difficulty swallowing.  He said to keep them posted if it gets worse and doesn't turn out to be a cold or something.

I was happy to hear I'd lost more weight this week, last week too!  The major change I've made is how frequently I eat and the portion size.  I eat my dinner on a salad plate or only fill the food to the inside circle of a dinner plate.  I also eat small frequent meals throughout the day.  With very little exercise right now, mainly rolling around or sitting on my exercise ball, the food thing seems to be working.  I lost 2 1/2 pounds last week, and 3 pounds this week.

I will be happy if each and every week for the next several months I can lose even one pound a week.  I don't regard this as a diet.  It's how I will eat from now on.  Lots more fruit and vegetables.  No artificial sweeteners, preservatives or artificial flavors.  A small portion of red meat once a week, if that.  Lots more chicken, turkey, fish and shellfish.  I buy organic beef and chicken whenever possible.  I eat small frequent meals throughout the day.  I primarily shop the outer sections of the grocery store.  I've also been using Stevia, which is a natural sweetener, in my iced tea or cup of tea.  The supplements I take every day are a D3 supplement, omega 3 in the form of krill oil, and Sam-e.  I have also resumed taking a baby aspirin every day, with the ok of Dr. Lotus.  Oh, I almost forgot, I've been drinking alkalized water, courtesy of Naniglenda's Hubby.  It sure tastes clean and fresh, and it can't hurt!

I met a new staff person at the Cancer Center today; she is an experienced  R.N. starting in a newly created job as a navigator for breast cancer patients.  She came to meet me in the patient waiting room, introduced herself and said she had heard about my blog.  She said I'd be her first patient.  I'm looking forward to getting to know her, and giving input and suggestions based on my own experiences.  We chatted a bit before they called me into radiation.  I told her I'd be thrilled to see them change their protocol so that they can diagnosis within a day or two after an abnormal mammogram.  We have the technology; it shouldn't be any other way.  A cancer diagnosis is bad enough, a woman shouldn't have to agonize waiting for it.  Let's start there.

After all that, I headed up Valley to my physical therapy appointment.  Have I told you about the football coach physical therapist with hands of steel?  Whoa.  This was my second appointment with him, kicking my cute butt.  The Coach is working on my neck, shoulders and upper back.  At times, the massage or positioning of his fingers or thumbs into my neck and shoulders is downright painful.  He talks me through it and helps me relax into it, and although sore later, I feel so much better.  He's awful cute, and built like a tank; he's the father of two little girls and his masculine face turns to puppy mush when he talks about them.  He has the most unbelievably strong hands and gentle spirit, and he laughs at my material.

It was a busy day for moi, working this cancer gig.

I can't wait to wrap up 2010 as the year of living dangerously, and welcome 2011 as the year I commit and achieve the best health of my life.

That's my only resolution for the new year, my health, priority one.

Check.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More Stuff Learned at Cancer Camp

I opened a card today, and snowflakes fell out, sent all the way from Idaho, just for me.

I'd like to send her some California sunshine, but we haven't had enough to fill an envelope lately, mostly fog and rain.  There were though some beautiful spider webs this morning, suspended on the lanterns that line our front path, delicate and lacy and shimmering with dew.  I'd send one of those if I could, but removing it and wrapping it would be pointless, destroying all its intricate majesty and mystery.

Some things are so fragile yet so profound; they are not meant to be handled or kept.  You have to enjoy them in the moment, right now, in all their glory and with an open hand, and you mustn't cry at their impermanence.

Trying to hold on to anything in this life or on this Earth would be like trying to wrap up and mail that dewy spider web to Idaho, or blowing on a dandelion then trying to collect all the fuzzy seeds and glue them back on into a puffy ball.

Your life is as fragile as that,
and as majestic too.
Can you find a way to be at peace with that?

That's the stuff I'm still learning here at Cancer Camp.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Glow Girl 19 Down, 9 or 14 To Go

I've been radiated nineteen times now, four weeks in.

I don't know if I was running on a Christmas high, or if the effects of radiation are finally exacting their toll, but either way, I am really pooping out folks.

I have noticed a dramatic change in my energy and stamina.  There are some great spurts of energy during the early part of the day, and I'm able to get some things done.

Then I plummet and crash, it happens like hitting a wall.  There is nothing gradual about it.  It's as if a voice and a presence enters my body and says

SIT DOWN.  LAY DOWN.  NOW.  I SAID NOW.

There is nothing else to do but comply.  I lay down.  Sometimes I am so sleepy I'm out right away; one day I napped like a rock for two hours.  Other times when I lay down, I'm not sleepy, it's just that my body needs to lay down, my head on a pillow, my feet up.

Dr. Lotus originally ordered twenty eight radiation treatments for me, but because of the close margin in the outer area of my left breast, she decided she may do 5 additional "boosts" if my skin holds out.

So far my skin is doing great.  There is some browning on part of my breast, and on the inside left of my neck.  I have not peeled and only occasionally there's a slight burning to an area just above my nipple, but it goes away after I gently rub the Miaderm cream in.

So far I have to say, I think the combination of Miaderm cream, which is only available for purchase online, and the Aquaphor, which you can get at any grocery or drug store, is really keeping my skin in good shape.  As I was taught, I gently massage the cream all over Flopsy, and underneath too, under my arm pit and up my collar bone and into the side of my neck. 

As suggested, I also have Husband rub some Miaderm onto my left shoulder blade, as one of the radiation beams actually travels through me and comes out that side.

Tomorrow right after my 10:15 a.m. radiation appointment, I have an appointment at the hospital for an ultrasound of my right arm.  You may remember I was having some trouble with my right arm swelling and aching, and in the last weeks of chemo, The Good Witch ordered an ultrasound of that arm.  The results were I had some "debris" in my veins, most likely from the trauma of port surgery and my ports, and later my PICC, which failed right at the end.  The debris could affect the flow of things and could cause some blockage, resulting in swelling. 

My left arm, which is my affected side, has been progressing along very nicely, and I'm still able to wear my wedding ring and thumb ring.  My right arm has continued to bother me and on that side, I'm not able to wear my regular jewelry.  Go figure?  I mentioned this to Dr. Lotus and she decided it was a good idea to have it checked out again.  I'm not really back under The Good Witch's care until after radiation is over.

The ultrasound is an easy procedure, I just lay there and it's just like when they did an ultrasound of my belly when I was pregnant.  The tech puts the special goop on, and then rubs a wand over the area, in this case my upper right arm into my neck, and the sound waves produce pictures of what's happening.

I don't think there is any relation between what's happening with my neuropathy, which is predominantly in my right foot and leg, and this problem with my right arm.  I don't know, maybe it's not a coincidence.  I hope they can figure it out.  It makes no sense that my right arm is problematic; the physical therapist said it was odd that my right arm was reacting this way when if anything, it should be my left that's acting up.  Looking at my hands and wrists side by side, I can clearly see that my right is swollen compared to the left.

Other than the fatigue, which can happen throughout, skin problems usually happen right about this point in radiation treatment.  I'm keeping a close eye on it, and so is the radiation staff.  I know it helps my skin when I get the weekend off; last week and this week I will receive only four treatments each week because they were closed on Christmas Eve, and will be closed New Year's Eve.  It extends my treatment a little further out, but probably will help in these last weeks giving my skin a three day weekend, instead of two.

Sure was nice not to have to go for three whole days in a row.

Sure will be nice when I don't have to go at all.

I can't wait.









 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas

Dogs dreaming in front of a crackling fire,
wrapping paper littering the floor like confetti after a parade,
candles flickering,
blessings overflowing.
We are all still here,
in this house we made a home,
on this foggy Christmas night.

I sip chamomile tea
from a cup that is half full.
I drink in all this sweetness and cream
that is my life tonight.
Peaceful and content,
how could I want or worry?
Love answered every question,
and erased every doubt.
It offered tranquility
if I could put the chaos out.

and so I did,
at first resistently.
and then I surrendered,
like Dorothy.

I got as small
and quiet
and awake as I could get.
I waited.
I listened.
I opened.

They say when God wants something done in this world,
He sends a baby,
and then,
He waits.

I've kept him waiting fifty two years.
I'm stubborn that way,
but I get it now.
There is nothing to get.
This is the plan.
There is no plan.

Other than,
get out of your own way,
and His.
Be yourself.
Tell your truth.

and Do all things with Love.

Go on.

If I can do it, you can too.

Go on now.  Go on.

and when my heart finds Christmas, I hope it finds you too.  Harry Connick, Jr. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wise Girls Still Seek Him

I was seeking Him tonight, as I do every Christmas Eve.  Looking for the Christmas star, pointing the way towards the greatest Love in the smallest bundle.

I did not have to travel as far as the Wise Men, only to Napa, as I have done the past several years to a beautiful church there.  It is not Christmas for me unless I attend the Children's Mass, and see Him, and him too.  I am not a Catholic, just a believer, and on Christmas Eve there is no place I would rather be.

It all started several years ago, when I worked as a server up Valley, in Yountville.  There was a threesome I waited on almost every other Sunday night.  Two women, and a man.  A very special man with a great sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye, and wit drier than a martini with no vermouth.

I never could figure out the relationship between the three, if they were family or old friends.  I just knew I looked forward to seeing them every time they came.  They always asked for me, it was just a given that I would wait on them.  Everyone knew.

One Sunday night as I arrived at work and got ready to go on the floor, the Hostess let me know, as she often did, I had reservation requests.  I always loved that, my little fan club of people who always wanted me to be their server.

"Who's coming in tonight?" I asked her.

"Well one of your favorites, for sure" she smiled, and her blond ponytail almost bounced as she nodded her head.

"Who?" I was excited.

"Monsignor Joseph and the Sisters."

I was puzzled.  Monsignor Joseph?  H-m-m.  I didn't recall waiting on a priest and must have had a puzzled look on my face.

"You know silly, Monsignor Joseph, you wait on him like almost every Sunday, for the last year.  He comes in with Sister Peggy and Sister Philomena.  I go to his church, you know him.  Monsignor Joseph!"

Oh my Go...sh.  I was shocked.

"Do you mean to tell me that man is a priest, the one I've been flirting with and being silly with the last year, and the two ladies are nuns?"  Gulp.  I never knew, they never let on.

I started re-tracing all my steps and evenings I had waited on them; what a cutup I had been, oh dear, had I said anything naughty?  That night when I approached their table I said "Happy Sunday FATHER."

He grinned.  "So, I've been found out!"

I laughed like a schoolgirl.  "Why didn't you tell me you were a priest?"

"And spoil all the fun?" he said, getting the better of me, even if he is a priest.  I like that.

I've been waiting on Monsignor and the Sisters, all of whom I adore, ever since.  Even when I made a job change, they followed me there.

I love them.  They love me.  Once Sister Peggy whispered to me as they were leaving "Father loves you, you always take such good care of him and us, and we look forward to seeing our Debbie."

It has been my tradition to attend their Christmas Eve service for the last several years, and they treat me like visiting royalty, always ushering me to a front "reserved" pew.

I had not seen them since receiving my diagnosis, although I did call Monsignor Joseph when I did.  We had a long talk on the phone; I cried and he reassured me.  That was early this Spring.

I called a couple of days ago and left a message for Sister Peggy that I would be there this Christmas Eve.  I received a voicemail from her later that day, so happy to hear from me, and  thrilled I was coming.

So there I was tonight, after all I've been through, so happy to be there Christmas Eve, with the end of my treatment in sight.  I walked in to the church and saw Sister Peggy right away, and we embraced for a few minutes, then Sister Philomena saw us and joined in.

I took Grandma with me tonight, she has attended with me the last few years.  We were both grateful to be there again; she is 86 now and suffered a stroke in the weeks prior to my diagnosis.  Husband really had his hands full this year with his Mother and his Wife.

The Sisters lead us up front, to our saved spot and the church looked absolutely beautiful, as it does every Christmas Eve.

Soon enough, I saw Monsignor making his way towards me.  He couldn't walk fast enough for me, and I could have hurdled the pews but restrained myself.

"It is so good to see you, you look just great" he said, hugging me.

"It is so good to see you Father."

"I have something for you" and I saw he was holding a small blue box.  "I got this for you, and I'm so happy to see you tonight."  He handed me the box.

Inside was a beautiful silver medal, with a pearly robin's egg blue inlay, and the Mother Mary standing there, her arms open.

Ya got to be pretty special to get a necklace from a priest.  I'm just sayin.

"The Bishop has been asking about you too, we've all been praying for you, and talk about you all the time."

I met the Bishop once when he was in town, and Monsignor brought him in to the restaurant to have dinner, and of course, meet me.

Tonight I am writing my blog with my blessed medal on, thinking about the service tonight, and all the beautiful little children as angels and shepherds telling the story of a miraculous birth in the most humble of places.



It is often said that God uses our greatest challenges to reveal to us our greatest gifts.

I have one big present coming my way.  Just kidding God.  Sort of.

Of all the beautiful, sacred Christmases I've had, and there have been so many, none is better than this one.

I feel like George Bailey in my heart tonight, running through the snowy streets of Bedford Falls, thanking everyone and everything, kissing trees, and pulling rose petals out of my pocket.

It's a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas, with much love, so much love.

Merry Christmas.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Snowflakes

This is my grandmother's pin.  Grandma Helen.  My Mama's Mama.  Isn't it the most beautiful snowflake you've ever seen?



I wear it every Christmas Eve, and the rest of the year, it sits on my piano.


We celebrated our last Christmas with my Mom in 1989.  After a wonderful holiday, all of us knowing it would be our last with her as she was dying of cancer, Husband and I brought her home to be with us.


Although it was early January, we still had our tree up in our small Sausalito apartment.  I hesitatingly returned to work, thinking my Mom had weeks to live, not imagining it would be days.


Mom had visiting nurses that would come to look after her while we were gone.  She was on morphine for pain, but amazingly coherent and cheerful.


I called from work one afternoon to check in.


"How you doing Mom?  Everything ok?  We'll be home soon."


"Oh I'm fine, I'm fine" she said in her sweet voice, more like a child than a woman.  "Grandma is here keeping me company, and we're decorating the tree."


"Uh, Grandma is there with you Mom?"  I was in the fourth grade when Grandma Helen passed away.


"Yes, yes she is, and we are having a wonderful time."


I think about that every Christmas.  Especially when I put on the snowflake brooch.  In the days to follow without my Mom, she died a week later, that phone call gave me a lot of comfort.


My bilateral mastectomy surgery was October 26, my Grandmother's birthday.  Duncle Dody, my Mama's brother, said that was a good omen.  I think he was right.


I know Grandma is with me, and my Mama too, and the memory of them has been so strong during my months of treatment, and especially now during the holidays.


I feel their presence in my house, like snowflakes falling from heaven, following me as I flurry from room to room doing Mommy things.  Just as they would have done, Grandma for Mommy, then Mommy for me, now me for my boys.


I'm so happy I have eyelashes again to catch the glistening miracles, reminding me Love never dies.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Come In





Come in Friend, hello, hello.

I'm so glad you came.

Been waiting for you.

Sit down, I'll make you tea.

I hope you don't mind company.



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Come Closer

Tension is who you think you should be.  Relaxation is who you are.  Chinese Proverb

You remember that scene out of "When Harry Met Sally" when Sally is mailing letters, standing out on a snowy New York street in front of a mailbox, and Harry is with her.  She examines each letter, and one by one puts them into the mailbox.  Harry gets so impatient with her obsessiveness, he grabs the stack, and throws them all in.

Um, that was me at the post office on Monday, mailing my Christmas cards.  After having them checked by the clerk, it was determined that most of my cards needed extra postage.  I bought more stamps and took the stack over to a desk and put an extra one on each envelope.  I carried the stack over to the slot for outgoing mail, and stood there checking each card again, one at a time sliding them into the slot.  I didn't realize a man had come up behind me and was waiting.  I don't know how long he was standing there.  I quickly looked over the cards left in my hands, dropped them in by two's, but left doubting if those last few cards were ok.

I do this every time I drop mail in the slot or in the drive through mailbox; I still have to check each item again, even though I know I've checked them at home.

When I go to my favorite thrift shop, I check the book section first.  They usually have a large and good selection, and often something I've been wanting to read is there.  I have this thing though.  I can't buy the book if someone has written in it.  I can check books out from the library.  I do all the time.  When purchasing a book though, even if it's one I'd really like to read and it's only 99 cents, I can't buy it if someone else has written in it.

I don't have a problem buying clothing from a second hand store, doesn't bother me that someone else has worn the clothes.  I can't read a book though if there is writing in it.

I cannot explain the letter thing, and I cannot explain the book thing to you.  I don't know why I have these particular quirks.  I just know I do, and it's ok with me.

One of the great things about fiddy sumpthing, at least for me, is accepting yourself as you are, and relaxing into your skin.

I'm not saying there isn't anything I'd like to change about myself.  I'm not saying I don't have personal and spiritual work to do, and will always have, to do.  I'm an introspective person, and I work at the work, despite being very stubborn.  What I find though is I am more patient with me, kinder to me, appreciative of me, get a kick out of me, and know a lot more about what I like, and don't like.

This whole cancer gig has reinforced this.  Exponentially.

Now more than ever, I got my back.

It's done something else though.

It's thrown me completely out of my comfort zone, toppled me, humbled me, turned me upside down, opened me, crushed me, and forced me to let go of assumptions and expectations I held so tight and rigidly.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. Pema Chödrön


A part of me has been burned down to the foundation.

What I never expected is that much of what I held on to and was lost in that annihilation, was of no real value to me.

What is left is all I need.

It is indestructible inside this human body.

It cannot be taken from me.

It speaks to you now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

8 Weeks Out and A Treat For You

No Duncle Dody, there's nothing wrong with your computer.  This is my blog in Christmas colors.  LOL.

It's been eight weeks since my surgery (bilateral mastectomy with 5 lymph nodes removed); what a difference after having some time to heal and some physical therapy.

The long scars under each breast don't hurt or burn anymore, and are only occasionally tender (unless I try to put them in a bra). The quarter moon scar under my left arm where five of my lymph nodes were removed is also healing well. At this point, most of my tenderness is when I raise the left arm; it pulls from my rib cage up into the underside of my bicep. It is considerably better though, and although there are still spots that are numb, the prickly pain is mild now, and the "rubber band" inside doesn't feel like it will snap.  It just pulls.

I still have a cinched feeling across my chest underneath my breasts, but it no longer feels like a nylon rope digging into my skin.  It feels more like a belt.  It changes as it goes around to the back, where it becomes a wide band of aching muscle, and there is still a vertical line of numbness between my shoulder blades leading up into my neck.

I have gotten used to all of this, although still rather puzzled with what to do with the deflated, sleeping like rocks, Flopsy and Mopsy.  I can only wear the loosest fitting sports bra for a couple of hours and these girls don't fit into a regular bra.  I decided to schedule with the mastectomy bra fitting specialist after the holidays.  Maybe she can MacGyver them like they do for radiation.

Speaking of radiation, I am growing fond of my two radiation techs, "R and R."  They have worked together for the last ten years.  I thought they were early twenties but are actually late twenties.  The girls met in college, landed their first job together at another hospital and worked there as radiation techs for five years.  In 2005, when the Cancer Center where I receive treatment opened, they were hired together there.

They take good care of me, and their music selection cracks me up.  They play one of their ipods in the radiation room and some days as the lasers flash I'm listening to classic Christmas carols; the next day its contemporary Hawaiian pop.  I get a kick out of them, and was surprised to hear they've been doing the job for ten years, and together no less.

Sometimes when either "R" or "R" carefully removes the bubble wrap platform underneath my left breast after being radiated, Flopsy hits my chest with such a smack it sounds like a clap.  Maybe I could go on David Letterman and do the "Stupid Human Tricks" segment.  Well hell, if some guy can play the Star Spangled Banner spanking his armpit, can't I let Flopsy flap?  Maybe I could get one of those clapper things that turn the lights on and off, and surprise the audience when Flopsy flaps, the lights go out.  What do ya think, do I have a shot?

Anyway, as far as Flopsy and Mopsy are concerned, I usually wear loose upper clothing and let them hang, or rather lay, fast asleep, like good little flat little bunnies.

Between my hair and boyish chest, I feel like Mary Martin when she starred in "Peter Pan." Some of you are too young to remember that.  Look it up baby, you got a computer.

Oh fine, do I have to do everything for you?  Just click and enjoy.  This is what TV used to be like.  Those were the days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Baptism

Most years we put up the tree and all the decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Fall abruptly ends in our house, and it's Christmas dangit!

This year was different.

Husband has a new job, a promotion, and is working lots of hours.  Batman also works in retail and has been working late many evenings of the week.  Robin has band till 5pm three days a week, and by the time he eats dinner and finishes homework, he is one pooped puppy.

We were all too tired over Thanksgiving weekend, and both Husband and Batman worked.

We put our tree up a week ago, and as I've mentioned, I've been putting up decorations in the house a little bit each day.  I used to do this marathon thing, almost as if I twitched my nose like Bewitched, and all of it flew into place.  Bam!  Christmas!

I did just a few things each day, slowly and methodically, and something happened because of it.

It wasn't a blur.

I saw everything.  I held it in my hands and saw it and enjoyed it.

I got a kick out of the wreath as I hung it on the door; I made it a few years ago.  Most of what's on it is from my favorite thrift shop, all kinds of bears and birds and toys and pine cones and ribbon and beads.  A cable car hangs down from the center of it, a reminder of the days when Husband and I were yuppies and worked office jobs in San Francisco.

I set up our Christmas Village, which we call "Snow World."  Batman named it that when he was three.  In the middle of the village is a mirror that looks like a frozen pond, and we have a ceramic girl skater and a plastic skating Minnie Mouse we always place on the rink.  Every Christmas, they skate side by side.

I hung lots of glittered ball ornaments and sugared fruit from the chandelier in the family room, and when the light is on, sparkles fly, and that's not from my thighs rubbing together.

I placed the nativity scene in the living room, and turned the small light on.  It's very rustic looking, and old.  It looks real, and I wish I could shrink myself to crawl inside and sleep in the hay next to the lowing cattle.

Husband always puts the lights on the Christmas tree, and then all the boys, including him, have special ornaments they hang on the tree.  I hang the rest.  I enjoy it, setting the mood with Christmas music, candles flickering in the room, and the smell of Noble pine.

It was cold and gray and rainy today, ark weather.  I spent most of the day handwriting Christmas cards; I had lots of extra people on my list this year.  So many wonderful people, my doctors, nurses, friends and coworkers, and strangers who became friends, who all showed up to do their part for my cancer party.

So far, this little party has cost several thousand dollars, well into the six figures.

The givens are still that any day of the week cancer sucks, and I wish it never had to happen,  but as Christmas approaches, and I wind down treatment, the worst of it over, I'm feeling pretty lucky right about now.

I had to step outside in the cold, out the french doors onto the back patio and around to the side of the house to put some recycling out.  It was a mild drizzle, and I was in my zip up robe and slippers.  The pink chenille robe, remember Librarian?

I was just rounding the corner, near the path and roses, when the rain poured down on me.  It startled me, and then I stopped and closed my eyes with my face to the sky.

I cried as the rain cried with me.

I felt as if it was a baptism.

The last one I had was at age 13, submerged in the baptismal pool of the First Baptist Church; the strong hands of my pastor leaning me back and pulling me up out of the water, as the congregation looked on.

Today it was just me and God and the rain, and the only witnesses to my rebirth were goldfinches finding shelter in the towering climbing roses.

This was my cathedral.

Grace drenched me today.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Savoring

Three tawny, speckled doves on my front lawn, waiting for birdseed to fall from the sky, with the help of two finches at the feeder in our tree.

Ornaments from my childhood, carefully placed and nestled in my tree.  I have two left of the ones that spin inside when heated just enough by a strategically placed twinkle light below them.  I am the strategic placer.

A mini Cinnabon, all warm and gooey, shared with one of my favorite people on the planet and in the galaxy, my boy Robin.  Ice cold milk too.  Two straws, mine is the one with the mauve lipstick on it.

A long distance girl talk with Midge.

Two big dogs that given the command, know how to wipe muddy feet on a rug near the back door.  One little poodle who doesn't have a clue but loves the pink turtleneck sweater Grandma bought her.

Baby Bear's pretty face, working the register at Victoria's Secret today, a line of customers twenty deep, and she lit up when she saw Robin and I.

Just fruit for dinner - grapes and pineapple and banana and watermelon and clementine orange.  Oh my darlin, oh my darlin, oh my darlin Clementine.

A bed made up with clean cream flannel sheets, next to a glowing salt crystal lamp, next to a window cracked just enough to hear the rain while I type. Negative ion overload.

Alive, as things are, it does not matter, cause if I'm alive, I'm not dead.

Savoring.

Did you remember to savor today?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Objects May Appear Bigger...

There is something I've had to face since losing my hair and my big fat bunnies.

The chubby body that was hiding under all that.

How could I miss it, you ask?

Maybe cause for years, I've focused on the self in the mirror that only consisted of a face and upper body, but mostly a face.  Brushing my teeth, combing my hair, putting on makeup, I had nice teeth, great hair, and a face that looked pretty good for fiddy sumpthin. I realize now how distorted my image of self was.

In these weeks after my surgery, I've become acquainted with the Pooh Bear tummy that previously was hidden under two huge bunnies.

Where did that come from?

Today while changing into my gown for radiation, I turned around and took a look at myself in the full length mirror in the dressing room.

Look at how tiny you are, as in my height.  I always imagine myself way taller than I am.  Then,

Dang Girl, Baby got back!

It's not like I don't know how I got here.  All kinds of reasons.  I am a total foodie.  I love food.  I love restaurants.  I love the Food Network.  I love working in a restaurant.  I love making a meal and watching my family eat it.  I'm part Italian, and my Grandmother was 4'11" and probably 250 pounds.  It's in my genes baby, and in my jeans too.  Ah food.  Pure comfort.  Food is so beautiful.

and I suppose I've done my share of eating my feelings.  I get all that.

What startles me now is how many years I've carried this weight around, and not taken better care of me, settling for this rubenesque me.  You know where that word comes from?  Peter Paul Rubens was a seventeenth century Dutch painter, who had a thing for painting large, voluptuous women.

Click on this link.  You'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c6/Rubens_Venus_at_a_Mirror_c1615.jpg   

Notice how she just focuses on the self in the mirror?  Uh huh.  She looks good in the mirror, doesn't she?

I've put the hand mirror down.

I see me now, and as lovable as I am, there is just too much of me to love.

I'm ready to change that.

Diets don't work.  I know that.  I'm just going to keep it simple.

Eat less.  Move more. 

What's my goal?

To have my body in the mirror, the full length mirror, match the one in my head.

Healthy and strong, with upper arms like Michelle Obama.

Our First Lady sure can rock a sleeveless blouse or gown, can't she?

Dang Girl.

 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Little Drummer Boy

I think this has to be one of my favorite Christmas carols, the one about the boy who had no gifts fit for a King, and so he lovingly said "I will play my drum for you."

Sometimes we make things really complicated, don't we?  Running around, making ourselves crazy, looking for the perfect gifts, spending too much money, feeling pressured and before you know it, the buildup of the big day comes crashing down, and then it's gone.  And then we feel sad and empty, like something was lost and not found.

I think The Little Drummer Boy had the right idea.  I think the most beautiful gifts are often the simplest, and can't be bought in a store or ordered online.

Things like when someone makes you something, oh I love that.  I still have the little ceramic pieces both boys made me in 1st grade.  Little clay dishes made with stubby, clumsy fingers and so much love for their Mommy, fingerpainted then fired until shiny.

How bout when someone writes you something?  I love that too.  A letter, a letter, a letter in the mail!  And comments on my blog, yummy, like candy.

How bout when someone does something for no occasion or no reason, but just because they want to make you happy, see you smile, or surprise you?

How bout when someone says Thank you?  Thank you is good.  Especially when it's a thank you for something someone said or did, and exponentially when it's anonymous.  This year, I am slipping thank you notes in the mailboxes of people I don't know, to say thank you for all the love and care put into outside decorations.  I'm a fool for people that go crazy with that.  I love it.

There are so many ways to be giving and charitable, and so many opportunities to practice.  One of the simplest is to just say something nice, or not say it if it's not nice.  I learned that in kindergarten.

Sometimes the best gift is listening.  Sometimes it's just being there.  Sometimes it's a phone call or little message to say "I miss you.  I'm thinking about you."

If every Christmas you get your panties all up your booty with worry and stress and trying to achieve that perfect holiday, maybe you need a reminder of what Christmas is all about.

It's not what's found under the tree, or inside a stocking and won't sell out this year at Best Buy or Walmart.

Christmas is an open hand, and a forgiving heart.  Christmas is placing you before me.  Christmas is your gratitude spilling out of you and letting it flow where it's needed most, especially by those that can never repay you.

Christmas is the greatest love coming in the smallest package, and it's a way of grateful, joyous living, every day, come what may, and not just the 25th of December.

I'm humming my favorite Carol tonight, and thinking about what it means to me, especially this Christmas.

It's what I've been trying to do, despite this cancer diagnosis, despite this challenging treatment and recovery, despite so much uncertainty.

To live the gift of each new day in a way that serves and pleases Him.

I want to play my best for Him.




 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Can Do That

I met with Dr. Lotus, my radiation oncologist, today.  We meet once a week to discuss how things are going, answer questions I might have, and examine the area I am being radiated to check for any skin problems or irritation.

I pointed out a couple of areas I've noticed, on the left side of my neck, and an area of my breast where there is a crease.  In each of these areas, my skin is starting to tan, and my breast is a little tender.  I've been good about gently rubbing in the Miaderm cream after each treatment, and at night before bed.

Dr. Lotus said that the neck is a very common area to show some reaction, as well as any areas where skin touches skin.  For now she said these changes are typical, and we'll keep an eye on them.  She also asked me about my fatigue.  I told her I'm not experiencing any more than usual.  I know I'm still recovering from the months of chemo and the surgery, and all of that was going on before I started radiation.  I feel as if I have energy in two or three hour spurts, and then I need to rest.  Most afternoons by 4 p.m. I need to take a nap.  I don't always sleep, but I need to lay down.

I asked her if there was any update on when I'd finish radiation; it's based on the length of time she scheduled and/or how long my skin holds up.  She said she'd probably know within the next week or so, and figured I'd either be done the 7th of January, or the 14th.  I hope it's the 7th!

Our meeting was fairly quick; I also met with the registered dietitian who is on staff at the Cancer Center.  I'm going to call her Montana, since her real name is another state's name.  I really enjoyed my discussion with her, and let her know my goals regarding my weight.  We discussed what I usually do for exercise. which had been walking and swimming.  I explained to her I wasn't doing either now; the walking became difficult when the neuropathy set in, and Dr. Lotus does not want me in the pool till after I've finished and recovered from radiation.

I explained to her I wasn't really sure what things I could do given my limitations right now, and would really appreciate some suggestions.  I explained that generally I eat healthy foods, but I am a healthy eater!

Montana had some great suggestions for me to try this week; I'll see her again next Wednesday.  First, to start managing my portion control.  For instance, I told her I eat nuts every day, usually almonds, but after our discussion, I realized I've been eating too much of them.  I should only have about a 1/4 cup per day.

She also suggested I have my dinner on a salad plate.  If I'm still hungry and would like another plate, then she recommended that the second portion should only be salad or more veggies or fruit.

She also said I need to spread my meals throughout the day.  For years, I've had a tendency to not eat most of the day, work my server shift, then come home and eat dinner at midnight.    Montana said this sabotages my metabolism (and the proof is every time I step on a scale!).  When you don't eat all day, she explained, your body thinks it's being starved, and wants to hold onto energy, i.e. stored fat.  She recommended I eat smaller meals, but make sure I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a snack at 10 a.m., and a snack around 2 p.m.

I don't eat like that at all.  I usually have either breakfast or lunch, I don't usually snack during the day.  Then around 5 p.m. I'm really hungry, and start grabbing nuts and fruit and celery, and then I eat dinner around 7 or 7:30 p.m.  I have noticed, when I do eat breakfast and lunch, my hunger during the late afternoon and at dinner is very manageable.  I know I get into a danger zone by entering that time of day starving.  I'm going to switch that around and will report back to you.

Montana also recommended I use my large exercise ball to sit on while watching TV with the family in the evening.  She explained that even just sitting on the ball and maintaining balance requires the core muscles to work.  She also said if I have some small free weights, which I do, I could sit on the couch and do arm exercises, and even leg lifts.  I thought these were some great ideas to keep me going while I'm still in treatment, and my neuropathy is still an issue.

I may have already mentioned to you my physical therapist told me that with my doctor's referral, I am eligible for a Cancer Wellness Program in the same location as I receive my physical therapy.  It's a 12 week program where patients meet with a trainer, a dietitian, and other counselors to work through any residual physical problems from treatment.  It's also designed to teach healthy lifestyle changes which can better your odds against a recurrence.

Dr. Lotus and I discussed this, she has already made the referral for me.  I can start the program anytime, although she recommended I start after radiation so I can get the full benefit of it.  I decided that is a great way for me to kick off the New Year, and celebrate the completion of surviving nine months of CANCER TREATMENT.  I'm really looking forward to it, and the new and improved me.

Gosh am I ready to look good, feel good and be uber healthy!  I will give this to me.

I can do that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Glimmer and Glow

I've been making Christmas.

Flitting around this house like a fairy, dusting everything with sparkle and glitter and glisten and GLOW.

Slow down, slow down I think, let me drift in these days leading to Christmas.

What's your rush Time?

These last months you limped along, and now you wanna whizz by like a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer?  Why you wanna do me like that?

My boobies are like two sleeping babies, resting on top of my tummy.

Wake up bunnies, wake up, Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Welcome to Week Three's Epiphany

Today is the start of week three of radiation.  I'm getting used to the routine now, Monday through Friday at 10:15 a.m.  It's a little strange how if you do something often enough, it starts to feel almost normal to you.

There is something very comforting about a routine.  I learned that a long time ago from my pets and kids.  We've got a dog in our house who knows exactly when it's 5 p.m., on the dot.  Well, she gets a little confused when we switch to Daylight Savings, and then for almost a month, she is convinced at 4 p.m. it's 5 p.m. and actually she's right, but we have to remind her about the time change and all.

Right now my routine still revolves around my cancer treatment.  As you know, its been months now.  It's still a daily project and challenge and reality.

I can't say I've accomplished much in these last eight months.  Not the usual things I might have hoped to.  Like cleaning out the garage or finishing my second novel.  I have though, had more than my fair share of time to think and be introspective and I've used it well.

When faced with the reality of your own expiration date, I think it's common  to think about your bucket list.  You know, the things you'd like to do or see or accomplish before you kick the bucket.  You might think this started for me when I was diagnosed, but actually it happened before.  My bucket list came into sharp review when I turned fifty.  I started to really worry about it, and beat myself up for how much of the list there still was to do.

Eight months into treatment, that has changed for me.  Occasionally I think about the list, especially as finishing my treatment is coming into view.  There is nothing though, on that list, that seems anywhere near as important to me as it once did for making valuable my life.

I realize I may never see the pyramids in Egypt, or eat little fishes on the patio of Le Sirenuse in Positano, and may never publish one of my novels.  I may never play the piano as I'd like, or skate at Rockefeller Center in December.  I understand now that life is short and shit happens and it's anybody's guess how many of these things I will check off my list.  I can plan and dream, but life may have other plans for me.

There is something though I can do for sure.

Every day I can show up as me.  Holy Shit that was holy.  Say it again.

Every day I can show up as me.

Every day I can say what's on my heart or mind and not edit myself to try and please or protect someone else.  Every day I can tell the people I love, I love you, you matter, I love you.  Every day, whether I'm climbing the steps of the Statue of Liberty someday, or baking a yellow cake with chocolate frosting for the boys in this house, I can do these with love and intention and the fullest expression of me.

There is no understudy for me.

There is no sugar substitute for me.

There is just this one me, and I was created this way.

Every day I perfect embracing my imperfection.

Every day I am condensing into a richer version of me, like a damn fine coulis.

Every day I celebrate that for every time I felt like giving up I kept going.

Every day, if I accomplish nothing else, I can say I love you.

Every day, I can show up for this life as me, and how overflowingly grateful I am, every morning receiving the gift to do it all again.

Even on those mornings when I lay inside a vault, with my arms above my head, and close my eyes to daydream but can still see the red beams when they flash across me.

Even then.

I am glorious.  Me.  Just as I was intended.

Hello Debbie.

Meet Debbie.

This is your life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jump Start Your Energy and Attitude - Jin Shin Jyutsu

I took a free class at the Cancer Center last week on a form of Asian bodywork called Jin Shin Jyutsu.  I've always been interested in reflexology and acupressure and I thought it might be interesting.

The class was taught by Kathy O'Hare, who is a certified Asian Bodywork Therapist.  It was a two hour class and very interesting, and included demonstrations on how to do the exercises.

Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient healing practice, where the laying of hands on specific places on the body help release blocked energy.  It is a form of acupressure, and the hands are considered jumper cables in the practice.  The basic philosophy is that the body has pathways of energy, and along the path, there are 26 points where energy can get stuck.  These points are referred to as Safety Energy Locks or SELs.

When a pathway becomes blocked, energy stagnates in that part of the body.  If the flow through that area is not released, it can potentially create imbalance along the entire pathway, eventually leading to disease.

What I thought was so interesting is that much of what we learned in class corresponded with what my physical therapist also taught me about creating good flow in my lymphatic system.  Without even knowing the biology behind it, it seems plausible to me that the creators of this ancient art used the healing benefits of healthy lymphatic flow.

Our instructor for the class, Kathy, recommended a book if we were interested in learning more about it.  The Touch of Healing: Energizing the Body, Mind, and Spirit With Jin Shin Jyutsu by Alice Burmeister is available on Amazon.com.  Here is the link if you are interested.

http://www.amazon.com/Touch-Healing-Energizing-Spirit-Jyutsu/dp/0553377841


This is a quick exercise Kathy taught us in class that involves your fingers and toes, and is very easy to do.  The idea is that your own hands can direct and release energy flow; it's as simple as holding your own hands.

Here's how it works.  Each of the fingers and thumbs represents an emotion that blocks your flow of energy.
Your thumb?  Worry.
Your index finger?  Fear.
Your middle finger?  Anger.  (That one is hysterical, thus the origins of flipping someone off?)
Your ring finger?  Sadness.
Your Pinky?  Trying to... in other words, pretense or trying to be something, instead of just being who you are.

Each of your toes corresponds with each of your fingers; big toe is worry, second toe is fear and so on.

All you have to do to "harmonize your attitude" through your fingers and toes, is to hold each one with the opposite hand for a few minutes.  So, take your right hand and hold your left thumb.  Then move on to hold your left index finger.  Then hold your left middle finger.  You get the idea.  Complete all the holds on your left hand with your right hand, then switch hands.  Use your left hand to hold, one at a time, each of the fingers on your right hand.

If one of those emotions is ruling you, hold the finger that corresponds to it a little longer.

You can also do the same with your toes.  Use your right hand to hold, one at a time, each of your left toes. Then switch and do the right foot.

I've been trying it.  I don't know if it's working, but if nothing else, doing it makes me sit and get quiet; I focus on my breathing and what my hands are doing.  It feels as if open space is cleared in my brain as I do the holds and my breathing slows, fixing my gaze on the warm orange glow of my salt crystal lamp.

Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.  Remez Sasson

Yes.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

When Negative is Good for You

Goldenwings and I made a long overdue trip to Fenton's for an ice cream and HomeGoods for a little shopping.  I was hoping to find some Christmas ornaments to add to the collection, but there wasn't much to choose from.  I guess it is too late in the season to expect much of a selection.  The Caramel Almond Crunch was delicious though.

I did find something at HomeGoods I've been wanting for awhile.  It's a Himalayan Salt Crystal lamp.  Ever heard of those?  I found one that is the perfect size for my nightstand.  It looks like a large piece of quartz, and stands about 6 inches tall by 3 inches wide.  It's actually a large piece of salt that has been mounted to a rosewood base, and has a hollowed hole carved into the bottom that a small bulb fits into.

The claims are that when slightly heated, the salt crystal produces negative ions in a room.  What's a negative ion and how is something negative good for you?

A negative ion is an invisible molecule that we inhale, and is most often found in certain natural environments like near the ocean, or in a forest.  When we inhale lots of these, they enter our bloodstream and all kinds of biochemical reactions occur, causing us to feel better and have more energy.

The negative ions also bind with pollutants in the air, causing them to drop to the ground and so they are not inhaled.

I've read all kinds of things about these lamps on the Internet, testimonials from people who say they really work, and other sites saying they don't produce enough negative ions to make a difference.  The sites that sell the lamps say the lamp needs to be on for the effects, and recommend you leave it on 24/7.

I don't know if they work, but the orange glow coming from this big piece of salt crystal sure is pretty to look at for a rock lover like me, and has a calming effect.

If it does work, great!

If not?  The amber glow is soothing and mesmerizing, and makes for a great night light.  I really like it.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Glowing with the Flow

What a difference in my experience at radiation since speaking up.  Now when I go into the vault, the table is all set up for me.  Me likey.  There is a towel for my head, pillows for my knees and feet, and the lower part of my body is wrapped in a warm blanket.  Then they wrap my feet up in another warm blanket.

Except for the fact that my boob is MacGyver'ed to stand up and laser beams shoot across me and a light clicks and flashes "Beam On," why you'd almost think I was there for a spa treatment.

It has made a huge difference for me.  They are gentle with me now, as they make all their small adjustments to get my tattoos lined up.  Once I get into the general position, they move me; I am to lay still.  They stand on either side of me, each tech looking at the tattoo on their corresponding side, and both eyeing the one in the center of my chest.  They talk back and forth something like this, while tugging the sheet under me to move my body:

Ok, I need 1 cm on my side.
Very good.  Here we go.
Ok, great, just one more of those please.
Alright.
Great.  I'm all lined up, and let's see, yes, the center is too.
Ok.  Now I need hips moved 1 cm, yes, that's it, Ok, I'm all lined up too.

That was the quick version, often the polite banter goes back and forth for several minutes.  They make the slightest adjustments to how my arms are positioned above my head, and turn my head a little more to the right (I always have to face right).  Once they get me in the perfect position, with tattoos lined up, then they want me to hold that position and don't move a bit.  If I need anything, like an itch scratched, they would do it for me.  Then they say "Ok, we'll be back in a few minutes" and I say "I'll be right here if you need me."

They leave the vault and lock the door, and go to the control room, while I wait for the laser show to begin.  They have cameras to watch me, and speakers so they can talk to me or hear me if I need something.  Soon enough, the big round metal piece comes over me as if an alien robot from outer space is going to perform experiments on me.  The "Beam On" light starts flashing, the red lasers are shooting, there is a clicking sound coming from the big machine, and in about 4 minutes, I'm done.  They speak to me over the speaker "Ok, we are done, you can rest your arms now."  Then they come in and untie the ace bandage that ties me to the tray, remove the bubble wrap under Flopsy, uncover all those blankets, and help me down.

Waiting for my turn and then positioning me on the tray takes far longer than radiating me.  So far, I have only noticed a slight change to my left side.  Flopsy is tighter and firmer than Mopsy, and there is a rosy color on the left side of my neck.  That's it so far.  I have been delicately massaging the Miaderm cream into the left breast, arm pit, and neck area.

I've finished two weeks of radiation, and two more sessions of physical therapy with the lymphedema therapist.  The upper body work she did on me Thursday had me wincing and almost begging Uncle.  I was so sore that evening.  There was a substantial difference in how much better and relaxed all the muscles in my neck and between my shoulder blades felt today.

She also showed me how to manually express my lymph nodes on the left, by moving the lymphatic fluid towards the right side of my body so it could pick up some of the work load.  I was surprised to find that this only required gently running my fingers across the surface of my skin.  For the left arm, I place my right hand on top of my left, and then gently run my hand up the top of my arm and into the left side of my neck.  There are lymph nodes there.  I can also take my hands and gently move the surface of the skin from my left arm pit, across my chest, and into my right arm pit.  It is important to go in one direction only, moving the lymphatic fluid from left to right, only because the left is my affected side.

This week I attended a free evening class at the Cancer Center on a form of Asian bodywork for cancer patients.  There was so much information covered there, I will write about that separately.  One thing I thought fascinating is how many of the acupressure exercises were very similar to those shown to me by my physical therapist.  With the acupressure, the goal is to move energy through the body, and it was remarkable to me how it was a great complement to what I had just learned, coaxing lymphatic fluid through my body.

I got it all going on here baby, getting my chi energy flowing, and my lymphatic river too.  I decided in the spirit of things to read from my little book of Feng Shui to keep all this good energy flow going.

You know about Feng Shui, right?  It's the ancient Chinese art of changing your environment to get energy, or chi flowing, and to seek balance.

Did you know that dust slows or stops the flow of chi?

Uh oh.
     

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Funky Tink

Sometimes I get whiny.

About the what ifs.

Not too often.

Just every now and then when I feel a little overwhelmed and scared.

Like when I'm in a vault, by myself, behind a 4,000 lb. door and beams of red light shoot across the ceiling and into me.

Sometimes I get whiny and wonder how I'm supposed to live my life after all of this is over and keep the cancer from coming back and what if...

Husband reminds me.  None of us was given any promise of how many days we have.  Not even you.

That's like slapping Tinkerbell.

The slap knocks the pout out of me and I remember he's right.

All of our days on Earth are numbered.

Not just mine.

Let me live each one the best I can.

How does a person do that?

Be yourself,

joyfully,

and do the math baby.

Do the math,

and eat as much lobster as possible.

Oh by the way, thank you Kimberly for that Tink ornament you and Mama bought while out shopping cause you said it reminded you both of me.

Tanky.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Night Night Sleeping Beauty

For most of chemo, and after my surgery, insomnia was a constant problem, wide awake till the wee wee hours.  During the second phase of chemo, Decadron, affectionately known as chemo crack and given to counter the allergic reactions associated with Taxol, was the main reason my insomnia started.  It was drug induced.  I was wired on steroids.

What happens though is once your body gets used to that schedule, it's as if it thinks that is THE schedule, and the insomnia continued.  I wish I had gotten help sooner.  By the time I did, I was beside myself and very concerned.  I knew it was affecting my ability to heal, and seriously affecting my positive spirit and hopefulness.

Once I was able to get my pain under control about three weeks after BLM surgery, I started sleeping better and I was determined to get more and better sleep.  Don't wait three weeks to figure out your pain is not being managed, ask for a different medicine.  Vicodin had always worked for me, but it didn't after chemo.  I needed something stronger, and Dilaudid did the trick.

These are some of the changes I made that have really helped me.  Yes, there are still nights I am up late, but it's the exception now.  I also sleep through the night.  What a miracle!

I had read somewhere our bodies naturally start sending signals to us around 10 p.m. that it is time for bed.  I did feel those signals, but I ignored them.  Once it was midnight or 1 a.m., it became easier and easier to stay up.  Then I'd be so tired the next day, I'd have to nap, and the whole cycle would start again.

I made a goal to have lights out by midnight, and knew I had to change some of my patterns and habits for it to happen.  Chemo was not the only factor.  Menopause is too, having been thrown into it involuntarily.

These were some of the habits that affected me going to sleep and staying asleep, and what I did about it.

Worry.  Writing and journaling earlier in the day or evening helps me purge my brain and clear out the mental clutter.  When I write something down, I don't have to keep reviewing it and processing it.  I write in my journal or post in my blog, then read what I wrote, and I am better able to let it go.  Don't use bedtime as your thinking time to work out your problems.

Drinking too much tea or water before bed.  I have meds I take at night, and like having a cool glass of water on my nightstand.  I realized I was drinking way too much before bed and having to wake up to pee several times.   I take the meds earlier now and only have a sip or two if I need it after 9 p.m.  Only decaf hot tea at night, preferably chamomile.

Dressing too hot or too cold.  I have always been a pajama girl, and more so since Motherhood.  You Mothers out there understand this, nothing worse than a kid coming into your room and your big booty is hanging out of the bed.  Pajamas are best when they fit the season, as in the winter, my arms need to be covered and my body warm.  In the summer, I can get away with less, like a comfy sleeveless nightgown.  Either way, lightweight cotton jersey pj's are best.  And good sheets!  Flannel sheets in Winter, and silky sheets in the summer.  Delicious.

Winding down.  I have a ritual about the last hour or so before bed that helps me wind down and end my day.  I light a candle on my nightstand, and when selecting candles for the bedroom, I only use scents that are for relaxing.  According to a study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, some scents, like Jasmine, relieve anxiety and promote sleep as well as traditional sedatives, without the side effects!  [Thank you Natural Health magazine.]  A flame less candle is a great way to go if you are worried you'll fall asleep before blowing it out.  Just remember, citrus smells energize, don't use those to promote sleep.  If you aren't a candle person, aromatherapy lotions work well too.

Set up your nightstand with the things you love, especially beautiful things to look at.  My nightstand has rocks and crystals and snowglobes and crosses and flowers and little books.  Literally small books, that fit into your palm, and have great quotes or happy thoughts such as The Little Zen Companion by David Schiller or Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado

I enjoy reading a bit before turning out the lights.  Always something positive, inspiring, hopeful, funny or spiritual.  One of my favorite treats is to read from a favorite childhood book before bed, like Charlotte's Web, Peter Pan, A Wrinkle in Time, or The Giving Tree. 

A small high carb snack before bed helps, like a few whole grain crackers, or a small piece of fruit.  Complex carbs!  Turkey is not the only food high in tryptophan.  So are bananas and yogurt.

Slow deep breathing is an easy relaxation technique.  It's almost like doing biofeedback on yourself, by slowing your heart rate and getting you into a content and tranquil place that makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Counting your breaths is a good way to stay focused on your breathing, and keep your mind clear of thoughts.

Speaking of counting...  Counting my blessings.  I try to have my conversations with God early in the day!  Bedtime prayer for me focuses on gratitude and naming my blessings and people, not problem solving or guidance.

All of these small changes in habit have helped me get a better night's sleep, without drugs.

I forgot something, really important!  The "E" word.  Exercise.  Moving and stretching my body during the day helps me sleep better at night.

I hope some or all of these help you.  Sleep is so important for your immunity, healing, coping with stress, and how you look!  Make your bedtime ritual a soothing, calming, enjoyable one.  It will change your life.

Night.  XOXO

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sister Down

You probably heard that Elizabeth Edwards died today.  She was the very visible face of a woman with Stage IV breast cancer, living graciously and courageously while cancer stole her life.

She was diagnosed in 2004 and received treatment.

It came back in 2007.

I thought a lot about her this evening.

I imagined what this day must have been like for all the people who loved her and were at her bedside today.

Especially her children.

There is something I'd like to tell you.

I'm not afraid to die.

I just can't stand the thought of my children without me.  Not yet.  Not for a long time.

Of all the bad that comes with a cancer diagnosis, the fear, the treatment, the uncertainty, looking at yourself in the mirror and not finding you, out of all of it, and believe me, there is a lot of it,

what makes me cry and scares me most

is exactly what the children of Elizabeth Edwards faced today.

Mommy is gone.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Radiation Winter

The wall of windows in the waiting room for radiation patients overlooks a small garden.  The edge of the garden is bordered with redwood trees, giving seclusion from the street.  The small private garden is planted with sword ferns and a petite Japanese maple.  It is absolutely lovely, standing about five feet tall and close to the window, with beautiful five-pointed leaves.

While some patients wait their turn to be called by the radiation techs, they read or watch the TV.  I like to sit on the small upholstered bench closest to the window where just outside is the tree.  My whole first week I sat in the same spot, next to the tree.

I wait in my hospital gown, a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders, and look out.  The lacy leaves in burnt orange and blood red are like a wild explosion against the beige and neutral decor of the waiting room.  The tree waits with me, keeps me company and makes me feel peaceful and content.

Today I changed my clothes, got my warm blanket and took my seat.  Hello Tree.

Poor baby!  What happened to you?

I wanted to run outside and wrap her in my blanket.

Every single leaf was scattered on the ground and wet with rain, like a beautiful soaked carpet.  With just its branches exposed, Tree looked cold and stark and sad, compared to all her previous autumn glory just last Friday.

I know this feeling.

Tree whispered to me today, reminding me this is a season in my life.  Be patient.  Winter will end, and Spring will come again.

and we will bloom.







  
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