Uncategorized

So Rad.

Walking changes your brain. It shifts it into neutral, turning revolutions and jostling about freely like a pinball that can’t settle on a direction. It puts information on hold – mask-making techniques, shows to stream, the latest Covid-19 numbers, stores stocking hand sanitizer – and propels you forward out of a shelter-in-place and into a new normal.

IMG_7570-1As my husband works from our living room couch and my boys learn remotely sprawled on their beds, I have my own project this month, and as odd as that might seem, I’m actually glad. Every weekday at 8am, I leave my driveway, backpack on my back, coffee in one hand, water in the other, and head out solo or with a friend ( 6 feet apart) or family walking to Emory’s Winship Cancer Center for my 9:15am radiation therapy appointment.

It’s still crisp and cool outside, and I’ve got a good time slot vs. a midday the-air-is-now-thick-and-it’s-hot-outside experience on my hands. The regimen is 21 treatments, and after today’s, just 17 remain, until the final one on April 29. There is a freedom about leaving my house on foot as the day is waking up. I get first dibs on it all, dialed up bright green and fresh.

The treatments are simple, all of ten minutes. There’s no pain and it’s surprisingly relaxing to lie on a table, topless, left arm overhead, carefree, languishing on my sterile stainless-steel spell couch. A machine hovers over my left breast, lining up with the sharpie lines covered in tape, which the techs initially drew on me to guide the beams to the exact place. As the equipment moves to treat from different angles, I must hold my breath five or so times, the longest lasting maybe 30 seconds, and a little box placed on my belly monitors my breathing. If I can’t hold my breath, the machine automatically stops, so I avoid any damage to my heart. So far, I’m a good breath holder.

Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something. -Fred Rogers

When I’m all done, the automatic door opens and the techs return, and I get up and dressed so the next patient can come in. It’s a well-oiled machine here, with minimal waits and prompt treatments, yet we all feel the pandemic, with masks covering our faces, tape marking where we must wait, and the substantial distance between us. Still, it’s quiet here and respectful, and we each go about our business, getting our treatment done, and then getting on with things outside.

IMG_7573The way home is different. Usually it’s the same route, but now the sun is higher in the sky, so my sweater is balled up in my backpack and my water bottle nearly empty. The houses and flowers and ivy beds and mailboxes I pass are each full of detail, and I notice every bit. Walking along, I think about plans for my own yard and house and future as I soak up these present moments. It’s so different from being at home inside the usual walls and with a predictable routine. I suspect each of these 21 walks and treatments will be distinctly different, with varying paces and conversations and traffic and weather.

IMG_7567When I look back, I will treasure these walks as much as the healing treatments I know I’m extremely lucky to get during this frightening time for our world, our hospitals in particular. I will remember the chatty conversations with girlfriends, and the sounds of my boys’ voices as they talk to one another along the walk, breaking up little twigs they find into small pieces and throwing them or dropping them like breadcrumbs along their path, as boys do. I will savor the houses we voted the prettiest, the waves across the street to occasional passersby, and these spring mornings it seems we alone got to taste.

This apocalyptic landscape, no longer dotted with many cars or people and with closed storefronts, is still full of squirrels and dogwoods and blue skies and pollen. So much is the same, yet it’s all changed. We’re still here, though, putting one leg in front of the other. These times, these talks, every breath is a gift.

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.

 

connection, Encouragement, Grace, Nature, Uncategorized

The Show Must Go On

The birds don’t know. They’re singing as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Spring is continuing with its plans as various shrubs come out of hiding for Fashion Week, sporting pink and white and red buds.

The news outlets are encouraging us to call our grandparents – if only! – to find out what they used to do in their day, how they filled their free time at home, inside with family and outside, playing with their imaginations. Board games can be dusted off, families can reconnect and we can return to togetherness, the new separate variety.

What do you do if your family doesn’t like board games, won’t sit with you and play Scrabble (asking for a friend :)? Do you force family fun time or let teenagers default to video games and group chats? The prospect of being home together indefinitely looms and I suppose as with most things, you strike a balance, engage and disengage. There is food in the fridge and dry goods to tide us over, though I wasn’t early on amassing TP so we’ve got all of 14 rolls in the cupboard. I remind myself, stores will restock and besides, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s toilet paper supply.

That I even stopped to count tells me I’ve been watching too much news. My husband toggles between CNN and MSNBC, and the numbers of doctors and experts they interview and re-interview is staggering. Yet the news is largely the same: wash your hands the right way (I’ll spare you another set of instructions), stay home, practice social distancing. It will get worse before it gets better. What else can we do as we wait?

Italians are choosing to open their shutters and sing, tap tambourines and wave to one another across piazzas. The Whos down in Whoville had the same idea as they awoke to nothing yet realized they already had everything. It’s morning and those birds are still at it, and a light breeze ushers in their concert through my kitchen window. The sun streaks across the breakfast table as the house sleeps. The TV off dials up the sounds, the refrigerator rattling, the dog sleeping and cats moving through rooms sizing up the day.

The natural world is calling. While we can’t touch our eyes, nose and mouth, we can see and smell and taste the season, and let it touch us. We’ve all got tickets to our very own Broadway show outside ready to fill up our insides. Be well and enjoy the show.

 

 

 

 

breast cancer, Health, Uncategorized

It’s Just Hair

IMG_6707I’m in the thick of it. No, not suddenly showered with the thick tresses I’ve wanted my whole life, but rather I’m in the thick of chemo. The twitching eyes, the mouth threatening to develop a sore if I don’t swish with mouthwash thrice daily, and then there’s the hair, which now resembles a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. With each step around my house, its needles fall, and it seems the tree’s trunk has weakened and bent over.

Just this morning I submitted my third patient support ticket to the Dignicap folks inquring what I can expect as I’ve been diligently wearing their cold cap during treatments. Certain they’re sick of me, sick of all the questions, like a child incessantly asking, “Are we there yet?” But I need answers and their experience to settle me down. Seems I’ve lost at least 50% of my hair at this point, with most of the shedding occurring last weekend. Even though their literature warns this will happen, with only half of my treatments behind me, if the shedding continues at this clip, I can’t imagine I’ll have a head of hair left by my final chemo blast February 28. It’s uniform at least and has thinned out symmetrically, though I find myself stepping lightly so as not to loosen any more strands. Shhh, don’t wake the hair! Crazy how obsessed I’ve become. My doctor thinks since I still have hair at this point that it will remain, and despite his words, I’m not completely sure.

Shhh, don’t wake the hair!

baby hairWhy does our hair have to be such a thing? I was born bald and by all accounts a plenty cute and happy baby. Yet as my hair grew in as full sheets of cornsilk and as I grew, like many girls, I don’t think I appreciated what I had. My hair was whisper thin, though to its credit a bright natural blond, and over the years I grew to love it, especially since I didn’t need to color it, but for the two times I did foils just for fun. All my life, my hair’s sleek softness, shine and spirit has wrapped my head and shoulders in health and bounce and in some ways, I suppose I took that for granted, assumed it would always be there, a pretty veil covering the nape of my neck.

I don’t think I appreciated what I had

These days, I pull my hands around my hair and realize the scant covering I now have, an oily few strands deep extending over my scalp which plays peek-a-boo when a little wind or head tilt reveal the sparsity. I know this is temporary and I know these drugs are doing what they’re supposed to do. They attack fast dividing cells, which are both the malignant ones and the ones affecting your hair, and digestion, too. It all makes such sense on an intellectual level, but I feel self-conscious even going to the grocery store at this point, though thankful that the weather is cold and I can wear a hat indoors. I bought a second bucket hat, camel corduroy, another option for ducking in and out of stores, hopefully unnoticed.

susieI feel a tad guilty about this vanity realizing I am lucky I’m even alive since my jarring discovery just three months ago. Still, I can’t wait until these drugs are done doing their thing and my hair and body can return to doing theirs, return to how they were, but that much stronger and better. Good hair days sure can carry you, help out a shabby wardrobe, dulling makeup, a bad mood. But good health, like a tall towering tree trunk, has the power to lift you like nothing else.

 

 

breast cancer, Uncategorized

Winter into Spring

I woke today and the room had that winter white cast that only December brings, the kind that feels new and especially pretty when a blue sky or red Christmas bow cut through it, when its shadows criss cross the bed over sleeping cats. It’s December 21, the shortest day of the year and the longest night, the most darkness and the least light. There is much about this day that suggests one should bundle up and go on a brisk winter walk, look around, take stock and breathe in the day with every sense. Or this day might call for a lazy nap, a pot of chili simmering on the stove, a pile of books by your side.

For me, this day was neither. It was just a day. I’m beginning to see how normal and ok regular ‘ol days are. I had a few plans but otherwise didn’t feel its magic. Didn’t step out into it in any real way to experience any shift, any movement out of darkness and into light away from this mood that has been lurking in the shadows for weeks.

I didn’t want to write another blog about my health or my worries, and instead hoped I’d find inspiration elsewhere. But this darkness culminating in this darkest of days has mirrored my days of late. I hope tomorrow’s light will cut through it shredding it into bits that erode into nothing. I didn’t mindfully breath deep today. I just breathed.

In the flurry of recent appointments, today I forgot and then I remembered. I forgot about the big picture as I stayed busy these last 7 weeks moving through milestones and biopsies, scars and scans. Today I remembered the treatments I’ll start December 27th and then the break I’ll get in April, then the other treatments after that and the medication beyond. I remembered the happy that took hold when I learned about things like negative nodes and margins and how I thought surgery marked the end and the beginning, the end of worry and the start of healing. I rejected the journey and instead made it a timeline. It was behind me and everything was ahead.

You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how you’ll fare tomorrow in Atlanta traffic or if a bus will run over you. You don’t know if you’ll have success with the last items on your Christmas list or if time will run out, the store will close and you’ll come up short, having to change your plans and instead of little gifts you’ll find yourself at an ATM out of ideas withdrawing cash. You don’t know if after these treatments, this invader and his growing list of friends who felt welcome to burrough inside you will return. As if you were robbed and you fortified your locks, installed an alarm, hid your jewelry and now you can either roll on, knowing you’ve done all you need to do or stand still and wonder, frozen by what ifs.

For the last two weekends I travelled, first to Chapel Hill and then to Ann Arbor, two great college towns hosting holiday parties for my husband’s company that I each gifted with a pink pen I’d picked up at my appointments. I couldn’t carry those pens, carry all that pink ink. Those pens needed to leave my possession, my state even, and reside elsewhere. I made my husband leave them at hotel reception or the restaurant where we had lunch. Someone else can pick up those pens and have that hot potato in their hands. Someone else probably won’t view those pens as I do. They will find use with those pens, use them as the tools they are.

Today I felt it, the heavy road I’m on, a dread I’m feeling in advance of the nausea, a dry run of the dry heaves, a dress rehearsal for treatment. It felt large, it felt useless, it felt endless. I’ve got to return to my timeline and instead check off days, treatments, milestones. I can’t look ahead because five years out and then ten can’t come soon enough. I want to be cured and have all this in my rear view mirror, but the road is still in front, long and winding, unknown and unseen. 

Tomorrow a friend will help me begin to learn how to meditate, a key tool in the toolbox I will need for now and for later, a tool we all need if we’re going to navigate choppy water and have it not feel so rough, or paddle in still glassy waters and be able to fully experience that velvety calm. And then I will see a friend and we’ll share a meal. And after that, who knows what. Like a child on a trip, I keep asking am I there yet, and the answer never comes. But the lack of an answer is an answer. I’m not there yet, none of us are. We are moving forward, together, and with ourselves. 

Today has now shifted into tomorrow which begins the start of longer days. I’m reminded to keep moving, and as I drive out these cells, I must walk out of my own cell, and be free. Breath deep. Begin where you are. You are enough. The sunshine is ahead even though you can’t see it. Spring is coming.  

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Drawing out your self

Before we were told to color between the lines, what did our art look like? I remember kindergarten and I got the tough teacher — was it Mrs. Timmons? When I told friends that morning at Trinity School which room I was in, they sighed shaking their heads relieved they hadn’t wound up in there. She assigned what felt like piles of homework that first week while the rest of my friends with easier teachers got to play outside until bedtime. The piles amounted to scribbling a picture of our family on a sheet of paper or determining a food we liked and getting our mom to help us write down its word, but still, it was homework.

Mornings we sat at rectangular tables with rounded corners coloring, with fresh crayons and beige ruled paper in the middle. Mrs. Timmons walked around the room, peering over our shoulders and inspecting our progress. As she circled the room, she reminded us to color between the lines, a simple methodic instruction that stuck, such that I never considered there could be another way.

She reminded us to color between the lines, a simple methodic instruction that stuck.

Self-expression made me nervous. I chose Halloween costumes from Elmore’s already boxed up and figured out, or I went as a ghost (simple sheet with cut outs), a witch (black cape, pointy hat, creepy mask) or cat (drawn on whiskers, headband with ears, black leotard and pinned on tail). I could qualify as a trick or treater eligible for as much candy as the next kid, but I didn’t have to build my character from scratch, hoping people “got” my costume. Because, horror of all horrors, what if they didn’t? I wanted to sail along house to house unnoticed, filling my pumpkin pail with Three Musketeers and Milky Ways. The goal was candy, the costume the ticket. All the attention on whether I measured up could ruin the fun and was an unnecessary distraction for the evening I’d anticipated all year. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I was the only one measuring me.

Growing up, one of my good friends lived in-town near Peachtree Street, and on weekends I’d spend the night there and we’d sleep in, hanging out upstairs in her sunny bedroom. Her brothers often brought in their hamsters and we’d play with them and let them run loose, and they’d eventually wander off where no one could find them. They’d always turn up, though, and I know this only because I would ask.

Later, we’d make cookies, and if they happened to be out of chocolate chips, it would be sugar. Flour and crumbs dusted the counters and floors of their large sunny kitchen and, unlike at my house, no one seemed to notice. There was nothing wrong. Colorful art hung on the walls and leggy plants spilled over sunlit window sills. Her mom would come in and inspect our rows of cookies cooling (instead of our mess), sample one and rave, making us beam, and then move to the sunroom to open mail and read or paint. Hours later after we’d ridden bikes in the rain and gotten an ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, we’d come in soaking wet and trailing water, the kitchen mess still there, and remarkably, still producing zero stress for anyone. I learned years later that her mother was an artist, and I can still picture her in that sunroom seated before her easel and stacks of mail.

I’m fairly certain I was the only one measuring me.

Sometimes I feel like a beautiful songbird who wants to sing, but I’ve taken the liberty of taping my beak shut, eliminating my voice so no one can judge it. As a child, in the privacy of our den, I blasted my favorite albums, singing into my tall tapered candle microphone Marilyn McCoo’s Wedding Bell Blues or Barbra Streisand’s Queen Bee — and every other song on the A Star is Born soundtrack. Years later, I found the nerve to try out for a singing role in my school’s Academy Awards production, and stood weak-kneed in Westminster’s chorale room before Mr. Spence, who patiently waited at his piano for my cue. I nodded and it started, the unremarkable audition from the shy, shaky singer, nothing resembling that sparkling performer I seem to have left at home. I wanted to explain and get a redo, but I left as soon as it was over. I didn’t get the singing part, but they gave me instead the part of presenter, decked out in fancy clothes announcing nominees into a microphone, not the substantive, courageous role I was after.

Years later I wanted to try out for an acapella group with some Atlanta Botanical Garden carolers I’d seen at Christmas time. They were amazing and for me, far outshone the holiday lights. I wanted to join them then and there, and it was all I could do to not sidle up beside them, blend in and start singing, but my family had moved on to see more lights, so I hustled to catch up. Still smitten, I found them online and signed up for an audition, only to cancel when my cold morphed into a sinus infection, killing my high notes and my courage to try again.

After college, having worked a few years in admin and marketing, I was itching for more, for something creative. I applied to The Portfolio Center, an advertising school which, true to its name, required a portfolio to get in so you could then develop a real one. I savored the hours I spent creating mock ads, and much to my surprise and delight, I got in. A few months later, juggling full-time school, a full-time job and the full-time work of caring for my aging parents, I was overwhelmed and needed to drop something. I chose school before giving myself enough time to hone what I’d later realize was a budding talent. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned this: Don’t cut out the fun stuff, the things that get you thinking, the stuff that brings you to life. You’ve got a lifetime to handle responsibilities, but it’s your job to infuse your life with life.

If money or time or circumstances were no object, what would you do? I asked my niece this question and her answer surprised me. It turns out she loves making furniture, and her boyfriend has given her tools to support this hobby, and also she’s found a course to learn more. I could hear her excitement as she came alive describing what she loves, but less so when I asked about her day job. This question can reveal telling things if you ask yourself, especially if you move in that direction at whatever pace you can muster.

Don’t cut out the fun stuff, the things that get you thinking, the stuff that brings you to life.

What if I’d kept writing ads or singing or taking more risks? What if I started now? Why have I allowed hesitation and trepidation to be my guides instead of fascination and exhilaration? I’ve taken personality and career tests to uncover what I might be naturally good at or with which careers my interests align, and the results haven’t propelled me in any one direction. A test isn’t going to fire me up, but letting my curiosity wander and refusing to let anyone, myself included, stamp it out or push me back in between those damn lines, very well might. That time my friend’s mom spent in her sunroom, quietly reading or sitting or creating art, is sacred. It’s not finding the time, it’s making the time to slow down so you can notice new paths to explore.

Why have I allowed hesitation and trepidation to be my guides instead of fascination and exhilaration?

I haven’t spent nearly enough time looking and listening and far too much of it coloring inside the lines, creating very little. I do still have a couple of clay pots I made in high school, and one of them cracked in the kiln from that day I forgot to wrap it. Other than it’s ruddy glaze, I think that mistake is what I love best. I also made a beautifully shaped coil pot, and glazed it a cream color, painting its rim a pretty blue. Later I added Sharpie chevrons around its edge, a junior high school choice I wouldn’t repeat today, but I love that 8th grade girl trying something, marker chevrons and all.

It’s not finding, it’s making the time to slow down and notice new paths to explore.

It’s not the mess, it’s the exploration. It’s not the mistake of coloring outside the lines, but trying to play with colors in the first place, and seeing what happens. Because something always happens. We can either encourage it or we can suppress it, but if we accept the rules as the Rule, we can’t expect to discover something new about ourselves, our world and even more important, what we might be capable of. If the mess distracts or derails us, we are completely missing the point. Lift the brakes, sing, dance, paint, let it out. Because that song? It’s gonna be sweet.

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