I’m still here

Happy New Year, welcome 2017.

I was reminded (again) of this, my blog, when during the final weeks of 2016 a poster of Betty White made the rounds on Facebook stating  “I’m still here!  …”

Yeah; I’m still here.  I dropped the blog-ball when, towards the end of chemo, my fingers hurt too much to type out anything close to a cohesive sentence never mind then a paragraph.   One of the side-effects I experienced was the nails lifting off the nail bed which was painfully torturous.   A couple nails seemed to get infected, but soaking in vinegar then keeping them wrapped in a band-aid helped keep them intact.  Not so lucky with my toenails though, I lost the nails on my big toes, and halfway down on the middle toes.   Wearing shoes hurt for a long time.

But anyway, I am still here.  I finished the chemo and had a short break of about a month or so before I had surgery:  a lumpectomy and lymph nodes removal, and after a quick recovery from that there was 6 weeks of daily radiation.  I pushed to keep moving forward with my treatments as quickly as physically possible.  I wanted to beat this cancer to a pulp and not give it any chance to regroup and fight back (ie: come back)

I was tired.  Victorious but tired.  I took a two week, no agenda, vacation to the coast as water and salt air always seem to rejuvenate me.  And it did help as much as it could.  But I was worn down.  It was July 2015 and I couldn’t walk far without my legs feeling like they would give out.  I couldn’t do more than a flight of stairs up, and down was even more challenging.  My head was still foggy and I would get frustrated at work when I couldn’t quickly accomplish a task which I knew I had the ability to process.    Then I tried to dance.  I was weak, and tired quickly.  I could only take part in the warm ups.  But the worst was that the administration had moved our class out of the studio, and of our class – my troupe – most of my dance friends had moved on.

It has been and continues to be a long uphill climb of recovery.  I have had to push myself daily, and now looking back I am stunned at how physically drained I was.  But you know how it goes in life; when you are in the middle of something, you just have to keep pushing thru it one step at a time.  It’s not until later that you can look over the full situation and think wow – those were some pretty tough times.

As I was on this journey, the picture – the story –  I had in my mind was this:

I was a warrior in battle, hunting tiny monsters that were out to kill me, in a long dark murky canyon.  I had to travel through this canyon from east to west and I had to travel it alone.  I could see many loved ones at the top of the canyon walls shouting encouragement to me and occasionally one would swing down on a rope to give me something needed when I lost my sight or my foot got stuck, then they’d swing out of the canyon again to the precipice.   At first I was zapping many monsters with something like a wand, ala Harry Potter style. “Expelliarmus!” and each zap shot back a painful jab, but I was slaying them left and right, and recovering quickly.  After a few months of this, I was pretty beat up.  By then the canyon had gotten deeper.   My feet were heavy sloughing through the muddy floor where the sun could no longer reach.  The kickback from the wand had bruised my hands, my nails were getting torn from the fingers and my hair had fallen out.  Each purposeful step racked painfully thru my body, and with fierce intent I still hunted the monsters.   I could find no more and wearily climbed a slight plateau to rest.  It was elevated enough that I could hear the muffled sounds from my loved ones cheering at the top.

The next part of the journey terrified me.  I cried as I stood in front of an entrance to a cave of dark jagged rocks.  I would have to pass through this cave sideways, and with careful precise steps, otherwise it would cut me.  I needed to be on the lookout for the monsters as they sometimes hid in the dark caverns and I could not let even one be overlooked.  I was frightened to the core and wished I could just be teleported back to the top of the canyon right then.  I was not sure of my footing.  And, what if I ended up getting all cut up and in much more pain?  I didn’t think I could take any more; and yet – I could not take a chance on the monsters lurking in shadows and then coming back for me as they were known to do.  I finally steeled myself to take this step, to pass through this cave and make sure there was nothing hiding within.  When I started this journey, this battle, it was with intent to win and said “I WILL win this.”  I made it through the cave scarred with only two cuts, and the glorious declaration that no monsters were found.  I had probably got them all in my first leg of the journey.

None the less there was one leg left to go.  Looking at it, it appeared to be an easy path although with a steep incline.  With this part of the journey I had to quickly (and I did not feel like I could do anything quickly at this point) climb the path out of the canyon through a blazing sun.  I am prone to sunburn but this sun would burn and vaporize any remaining monsters if it shined on them.  I was feeling rather chuffed about my previous victory and propelled myself into this solitary race with that famous last wind.  I was doing quite well in fact, and as I got more and more tired in the uphill climb the thought of my old life, the life outside of the canyon, willed me on and gave me the energy I needed to keep up the pace.  I would think of songs to play at my “Kali Killed Cancer” party and think of choreograph for them.   I neared the end and saw my loved ones as excited to see me as I was them.   I approached the final rim and climbed out of the canyon; bloodied, burned, and bald.  Barely walking, yet intently saying “I did it.”    We all rejoiced.

And that was the story as it played in my mind.

I knew it would be a long recovery after all those battles;  the day I could bend forward and touch the floor of the dance studio, I quietly cried with gratitude.  The time I did a quick math calculation in my head I smiled to realize the gray matter hadn’t gone away, it merely had been muffled under a blanket. There have been many small mile markers, with still more to pass.

Yet, what I am now still saddened by and still working on is the realization that while I was gone to battle for two years, life continued on.  And life, as we all know, is about change.  I “came back” and so much had changed.  My dance troupe is gone.  People have moved, moved on, or taken on new hobbies.  Dear ones have moved on.    Life has gone on and done so without me.

I feel like I am sitting on the rim of that canyon, catching my breath thinking “what just happened?” and “Hello? Where did everyone go?”

I guess I just have to start walking and find out.

 

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Act IV : Why, Yes! You can take a vacation while in your chemo plan!

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“Well, make sure you stay well rested.” This was the advice when I asked my doctor if it would be okay for me to go on a vacation which had been planned for 6 months. And so that is what Act IV was all about: Staying relaxed and well rested.

Let me begin with emphasizing that I have been blessed with so much good luck in how my body is handling the chemotherapy. I know many people who have really had it rough. I’ve been able to work full time throughout, and have adapted to this ordeal. I think part of it is luck, part of it is tough genes handed down to me by my tough-as-nails parentage, and part of it is my “oh no you don’t” attitude. This is me talking to myself: “whine whine” and I’d then respond with “oh no you don’t! You’re going to Maui for your birthday, what are you complaining about?!”

Yes, I talk to myself. But I do a good job of keeping myself in line.

Last summer I had mentioned that I wanted to spend my birthday (February – always cold, often snowy) somewhere warm and on a beach. I was thinking Florida at the time, until my sweetie said “I’m going to Hawaii – let’s go together!” We talked it over and in a few days had picked a place and booked air/car, it was a done deal! We just had to wait for February! Every so often we’d say to each other, “We’re going to Maui, baby!!”

Then November came and my diagnosis, and the chemo schedule. I had only heard about debilitating chemo stories and fully expected that Maui might be out of the question for this birthday.   I even told my sweetie to see if he could take a cousin or friend and still go. He wouldn’t hear of it. At the time it was the least of my worries and besides what could be done about it except wait and see?

And that is what we did; waiting until chemo 2 was over and had gone well; then talked with my oncologist. My sweetie promised to provide me all the rest and relaxation, and to take very good care of me (which he sure did). After chemo 4, my oncologist printed out my medical record with the diagnosis and treatment spelled out, for me to take with me. He made sure I understood what to be concerned about and what to pay attention to. This was mostly about infections, or catching a bad cold, etc. in which case he wanted me to seek medical attention right away.

So, chemo #4 infusion went as beautifully uneventful as the previous ones. The next day I got the Neulasta shot. Then the next day I drove to his place to leave my car and start my vacation. The shot was starting to kick in and I fell asleep on his couch while he packed up his car and locked up his house. I was already in very good hands as he was attentive to me like this the entire trip. He would watch me and ask “Give me a number?” Like, how was I feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. By the time we were on the plane, I was down to feeling like a 6.5, but hey – we were on our way to Maui !

Maui was gorgeous; full of active whales, amazing scenery, fully scented flowers and greenery everywhere. The lava beds, where the earth is created – right there, and then goes to meet the ocean and the tide pools of little fish swimming in them; felt of centered and healing essence.  Sunsets warmed my heart, as did warm tropical rain and warm friendly people. It was magical.

I had fresh pineapple, fresh salt air and sunshine, fresh flowers! I didn’t wear a wig the whole time I was there, just a beanie for sun protection. I packed way too much, I will know better next time. And I was prepared for everything health wise, which gave me the comfort and ease to go about the day knowing if I needed something I already had it. Oh, and I had brought the Bio-tene mouth spray which was so helpful during the second week when my taste buds went away on their own vacation.

There was much I could not do (the road to Hana on a chemo tummy was not advised) and I will not dwell on that, but will plan for a return trip when I have triumphed this little setback, this speed-bump.

But you know, maybe having a speed-bump was a good reminder to stop and smell the plumeria and live Aloha.

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Angels amongst us

Angels around us

In a dark world we shine our light and gravitate towards those that shine a light back to us. The everyday life is filled with small interactions of kindness and consideration, spreading a little warmth between smiles.

Someone at work happened upon an ad for wigs, she thought of me and emailed the link. I knew that I *should* get a wig, but had made no effort to do so. So, I replied to the ad, contacted the person, and we made arrangements to meet the next afternoon.

I was surprised to meet a very young woman; and she had survived 3 years of chemotherapy. She had survived and was now 3 years into recovery. And – she wanted to give away her wigs to a chemo patient who needed them! These are expensive items, and she just wanted to pass them along to help out another person. She told me how to care for them, tips for wearing them, and I came home with 2 wigs – a long and a short one. This beautiful young mom was certainly inspiring to me.

Then today, several friends had a laying on of hands & a prayer circle for me. This truly touched my heart and left me feeling uplifted and strong. I know I am heading into a battle, but I know more and more every day that I am not walking alone.

Let’s not forget the angels at work around us, even on the simplest of days.

When life brings its difficulties as it always will, then those moments of light and thoughtfulness become ever more meaningful.   They shine a light reminding us what to focus on – the goodness and positive parts of our life.

I’m feeling grateful, and feeling blessed.IMG_0595-001