breast cancer, connection, Encouragement, Health, hope, Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

Uncategorized

Toast Points

This morning, I attended a virtual Creative Mornings event titled Street Wisdom, the idea being a little tune-up we can all give ourselves, this first one guided by David Pearl, author at http://www.streetwisdom.org. We were given three tasks:

The light

1) Look around where you are. What attracts you and what doesn’t? I looked up from my bed from where I was participating–I determined my bedroom’s cream curtains made for a better Zoom background as opposed to the construction plastic draped from the ceiling in the other option for a Zoom call–and settled my eyes on a lamp on my dresser. This lamp and I go way back, 50+ years, actually. It was in my room growing up and always on my dresser, and now it sits on a different dresser wearing a new linen shade. The lamp base is the same, and offers a reliable consistency, like a good friend does, who knew you way back when. How is it that this pretty pink English calico lamp came to mind and into view? It attracts me on so many levels: its beauty, elegance, quietness and femininity, and especially its connection to my childhood and that little girl who walked up to it every day as she rifled through her dresser for something to wear, barely noticing it, really. It has stayed exactly the same while everything around it has changed. These artifacts from my past validate that this other life I had–which seems as if from a fading dream–really existed. The parents I had who left me nearly three decades ago, my mother who likely purchased this lamp. Was it for her living room initially, or was it always bought with her younger daughter in mind? If this lamp could talk, what would it tell my earlier self? It sits there ever so steady and peaceful; I want even a fraction of its unflappable grace. All the moves I’ve made, all the tabletops it’s sat on, the people who’ve touched it, moved it, dusted it, and here it still stands, not terribly tall, but proud and elegant, confident of its place in the room. This is what attracts me. 

The heap

What doesn’t? The pile of clothes heaped on the slipper chair next to the dresser where the lamp sits. They are haphazard, a cacophony of colors and wrinkles and not, some folded from clean laundry brought up days ago, some dress shirts, still unhung and flung over the chair’s back to keep more wrinkles at bay. The two dark pieces of luggage on the floor next to it, one perpendicular to the wall, one parallel. The disarray, the tasks needing doing, the darkness, the bold swaths of colors and shapes sloppily bleeding into one another, the visual stimulation that corner brings is a detraction and is what doesn’t attract me.

2) Our next task in this tune up was to “slow right down.” If I had a clean corner for every time someone told me to slow down, well, I’d have a tidier house and mind than I do now. This exercise involved getting up and moving about, wherever you are inside or out, and slowing down your thoughts, your pace, your breathing as you move. Noticing each step, a changing environment or a cat walking by, took me away from my predictable looping brain reel and into a reality outside my head, which replaced my usual thoughts, if only for a few minutes. It changed my vision from a wide frame taking in all stimuli at once, a busy horizon stretched to its edges, to a narrow aperture seeing single things in a slide show style succession. The external world felt smaller, but each item was bigger and more beautiful, and the overwhelm of tasks was delightfully at bay.

3) The last tune-up task was to see (and sense) the beauty in everything and everyone. The instruction was to see gratitude as a wallpaper in bright colors. Participants had 15 minutes to move about and do this. Many lived in trendy Brooklyn, donned in black with contrasting white AirPods in their ears, and they moved about soaking up those high rpms that are signature New York. During most of this Zoom call, I had wrestled with keeping my camera on and then off, rinse and repeat, distracted and a bit discouraged seeing my pale morning face, glasses and floppy pillows behind me. The jig is up, folks: this girl is wearing the same tank top she slept in, she’s propped up in bed for God’s sake, and hasn’t bothered to turn a light on, so of course her Zoom background is a dull, just woke up shade of grey! After the back and forth of video on/off indecision and background adjustments, I was relieved to simply turn my camera off and go downstairs. If something doesn’t work, unplug it for a while. Passing a laundry basket, I’d moments earlier filled with soaked towels catching rainwater (from poorly tarped renovated spaces, an entire other story, but did you SEE last night’s rain?), hungry, I made my way to the kitchen.

A logo so pretty you can practically smell the bread baking

To kill my fifteen minutes, I chose to do something useful, like moving a load of towels to the dryer and making myself some toast. The bread I’d be toasting was a gorgeous hand-crafted country sourdough loaf I bought yesterday from Evergreen Butcher and Baker. I told them they need to rent the place next door, where they could employ the third member of their holy trinity, the “Candlestick Maker.” The girl in the bakery laughed and told me her roommate had said that, too. The bread has that homemade substance you envision in an artisan loaf, but is light and airy, too. I forced the toast up from the toaster after what I determined was an interminable wait. I had two thin pats of butter ready to go and minced them for easy dispersing over the hot bread. I sprinkled a little salt over the top as I stood there watching the butter slowly melt, and helped it along with a knife, so I could eat it quicker and to uniformly spread the salt. I stood at the counter to deliberately eat the toast, one luscious bite at a time, salt and butter finding its way into the cavernous pockets of this sumptuous slice. I heard the dryer spinning on the other side of the wall and I heard the crunch of warm toast bites in stereo inside my head. I had thought to pop in two slices, but I don’t think a second slice would have compared, and my toast fascination and amazement would have been largely diluted. Sated, I slowly wandered back upstairs, back to the Brooklyn, Sydney, Paris and even a handful of Georgia Creative Mornings Zoomers. The screen slowly woke up and the chats began to flow. We’d each noticed different things, me, the hypnotic quality of towels tumbling in a dryer as slowly melting butter and salt sank into toast air pockets. We each were revived from this quarter of an hour, which offered a fascinating meditative hyper-focus where we could find a simple pocket of stillness and become reacquainted with our wide-open hearts, and minds, and eyes. 

Throughout the session, a few quotes were offered up, and I jotted them down. 

1) Whatever interests you is your future self-seeking to manifest itself in the present.

2) Sometimes you have to turn something off to turn something on.

3) Don’t stick with what we know.

4) Be patient with yourself.

5) Sit with your discomfort.

6) New things can be built up around the things we already have. 

7) How am I moving forward for myself?

8) You know where to go. You can steer.

9) Put what’s inside you outside you so you can see it. 

10) Creativity is that rare phenomenon where teacher and student reside in the same human.

Have yourself a wondrous weekend and maybe some toast.

xo