breast cancer, connection, Food, Friends, hope

Hearts Wide Open

Maybe it’s this pandemic or the end of my cancer treatment, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to improve things — my outlook, my sense of hope, tapping into more curiosity and creativity and connection, and not wasting any more of this precious time we get. When I started this blog a few years ago, I titled it Hindsight because I realized it captured so much of what I’ve been doing, thinking about the past and noticing patterns so I can learn more about myself. I hope to collect the best parts of the past and reuse and refashion them for these times, because those bits are the ones I want and need more of.

I’ve been thinking about not wasting any more of this precious time we get.

There are plenty of traditions I’d like to resurrect. For instance, I’ve been wanting to go on picnics again, remember those? Growing up, we had a red checkered tablecloth and four of us would grab the corners and lay it down flat, smoothing out the wrinkles. Then the real fun began, unpacking the basket full of delicious things our mom had packed. Usually we were by a creek or a lake, so along with great food, there was a beautiful backdrop.

Other than packing a meal to enjoy on a car trip, or dining alfresco somewhere, the last real picnic I had, the kind where you make and pack up all the food and sit outside on a blanket, was a surprise one my husband pulled off over two decades ago. It wasn’t fancy or somewhere out-of-town. Instead it was in Ansley’s Winn Park here in Atlanta, and he’d cleaned out our fridge and created a lovely spread, with salami and baguette and artichoke hearts and some sweets and nice beers too. I think he even brought a blanket to sit on. He’d stolen a few hours in the middle of his workday at Colony Square, and the two of us lying under midtown’s twinkling towers in my favorite park was perfect. I don’t know if it was the surprise, the delicious meal resulting in a cleaned-out fridge, the loving company or the magical backdrop that blew me away, but am thinking what touched me most, is how thoughtful he was to plan and prepare this.

Remember visiting with people, before the Internet and answering machines and DVRs, and when we spent an enormous amount of time outside? Times when you would walk to a neighbor’s and knock on their door unannounced and while away an afternoon just being together? My recent visit with my friend, Karen, while planned in advance, felt much like one of these. She greeted me at her door with one of those hugs you never forget: big open arms that pull you in tight and hold you there. I haven’t had one of those hugs in maybe ever, nor had I seen her since my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Her hug communicated so much – such happiness and relief to see me smiling and healthy. We drove to Stone Mountain and walked the five-mile loop, and then returned to her house where she gave me a wonderful tour . She pointed out memorabilia and told stories about special items she and her family had collected. Afterward, we had tea on her deck and with lovely Lake Kenilworth in the distance, visited some more.

One of those hugs you never forget: big open arms that pull you in tight and hold you there

Recently my sister and niece came down from Chicago, their visit timed with my last chemo treatment. After the excitement of picking them up from the airport and settling them in, I remember us hanging around my kitchen table nibbling on snacks and catching up. In my usual self-conscious, self-deprecating style, I was poking fun at my various bald spots on my scalp, out of my control of course from the chemo, the ones where the cold cap didn’t fit well, a visible sign I was now different from them: I was the cancer patient. They assured me I looked fine, and after I joked some more, my sister looked up with her kind loving eyes and said, “Susie, we love who you are no matter what is going on with your hair. You’re still you and we love you like we always have.” In that moment, I saw the truth. All my jokes aside, these two wonderful women before me in my kitchen knew me and loved me all the more. My eyes well up just retelling this.

You’re still you and we love you like we always have.

I’ve always said food is love and I still believe it is. It’s my way of showing I care, that I want to nourish you and delight you with something delicious, and it’s others’ way too. This simple act of preparing food for someone is so intimate and layered and loving, and whether complicated or simple, it’s a recipe that keeps on giving. Over these last few months, I’ve had a half dozen or so friends bring me delicious things — soups, stews, seafood and chicken, all healthy and homemade with love. I’ve frozen extra servings and reheated them weeks later tasting and receiving the love all over again.

I’m finding these times are further connecting us as we isolate. With much of the background noise of our busy lives gone, it seems our conversations, Zoom cocktail hours and texts are stripped down to their essence: how are we each doing and how can we connect, how can we help one other? I’ve got a few friends who thoughtfully tell me when they’re headed to the store and can pick up an item or two I need. And these days, I surprise myself by letting them. In turn, I’m already thinking of what I can do for them, maybe something special to eat or helping to solve a problem they’re struggling with. Or maybe it’s just staying in good touch.

How can we connect, how can we help one other?

The other night our power went out, unfortunately timed precisely during our return from a particularly large grocery run. As I knelt on my front porch, flashlight strategically propped and Clorox spray in hand, wiping down the contents from endless plastic bags, a rush of gratitude spilled over me at this sweet assembly line: I wiped down the items, one son took them from me at the front door and brought them to the kitchen where, by candlelight, the other son and my husband organized them and planned how they’d refrigerate and freeze it all with 1-2 limited refrigerator door opens. These hundreds of dollar’s worth of groceries were our livelihood, our next week to ten days of preparations and conversations over nourishing meals and yes, our share of Haagen-Dazs and chips, fried chicken tenders and other empty calories, too. The candles and oil lanterns I’d rounded up lit our hall, dining room and kitchen, so for the next hour until the power came back on we mostly hung around those areas, all of us hovering near all the food we’d scored and safely stowed.

Today the lights are on, the sun is shining and it’s a new month. It’s also the start of my new and final cancer treatment, the daily ten-year pill I started today to keep this long-gone tumor forever in my rearview mirror. This medicine is known equally for its effectiveness and side-effects. When and if the joint pain or night sweats or doldrums hit, I hope I’ll remind myself that these are signs that it’s working. I hope these annoyances will actually lessen or else become something I absorb and get used to, and that they begin to seem like the helpers you’re supposed to look for in times of need.

So, here’s to more picnics and visits and helpers, and to loving each other with hearts wide open. xoxox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

breast cancer, Family

No Depression

IMG_7913Heading out of town. Leaving the four walls we’ve shared this last month. Crossing into another state entirely. Feels like we’re getting the hell out of dodge and maybe even leaving Covid behind too when all we’re doing is driving to Highlands, NC for the day so my husband can check out a jobsite for a potential project. The pets remain to nap the day away. Gave the dog two Benadryl to help with her skin itches, so she’s definitely in for a good nap. Wonder if they have weird Covid dreams too?

I had another strange dream last night. It was my birthday and I went to the mailbox and it was packed with little gifts wrapped in brown kraft paper, a delightful surprise I’ve never seen. I filled my arms with as many as I could carry and went to the front door. The street was somehow smaller and the driveway shorter to this house, the one in the dream, yet it was still the house I live in now. The front stoop by the door was filled with more birthday packages, these boxes beautifully wrapped. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was exciting. As I approached the door, several people I didn’t recognize left, and none of them were wearing masks. I went in and the house had either just had a real estate tour or a closing had already happened in the eight hours I’d been at work. A woman with ‘50s sprayed brown hair with a “That Girl” flip greeted me. She moved about as if she was the lady of this house and carried a refined contentment amid its new décor. All I could utter is, “Where are the pets?”, imagining the coming and going must have led to their escape. In an I’m holding them hostage tone, she told me they were secure upstairs. I scanned the place full of berber carpets and monochromatic décor, straight out of a Ballard catalog. There was nothing personal, not a family photo of mine or hers, a stack of bills, or umbrella stand. Knowing my pets were safe I quickly tried to figure out how I was going to handle this situation. Forget my birthday, which normally was a day I’d savor, my entire life had been hijacked. And still it seems by some miracle Covid hadn’t seeped into this antiseptic environment. I wanted to go see my pets and rescue them, but where was I going to go? My family wasn’t around – maybe they were at work and school? – but this lady was clearly planted here. Then I woke up.

IMG_7813Our third cat, a gorgeous black outside older kitten, is no longer with us. Early in the morning a few weeks ago as I was upstairs in the bathroom looking out the window, a large coyote confidently and ceremoniously ambled across our back yard, our sweet black cat dangling from its jaws, its mate following behind. I’ve never seen anything like this, as if somewhere in the depths of the woods surrounding our house, the earth just opened up and swallowed up this sweet creature I’ll never see or hold again.

A dad in my town named Matt died recently of Covid. He leaves behind four kids and an ex-wife and friends and family all who were pulling for him. He used to teach yoga at the Y, and I loved his classes. He was so calm, and I always felt that way during and after his classes. I hate that he had to fight so – which went against his chill Zen nature, but Covid is horribly unpredictable and relenting. Emory University Hospital said he was their sickest patient, and while I didn’t hold out much hope after hearing that, now that he’s gone, I feel sad for all he left behind. And for him too. So much more life to live.

IMG_7920Driving up I-985 with Uncle Tupelo coming through the speakers and half eaten deli sandwiches rewrapped for later, we were quiet anticipating whatever was coming next. I hope we’ll find ourselves on curvy roads so Evan can strike the riding the fast car on the curvy mountain roads off his bucket list. I hope I see cows or colorful mountain ranges, or both. Joe brought along a Bass Ale for me and a Hopsecutioner for himself, just in case I decided to take off the brakes and have a beer. With my hyperfocus on my health of late, I still feel guilty drinking anything and average only a glass of wine every week/ten days. Surely, that’s allowed?

It felt mischievous slinking out of town

We all seem glad to be going somewhere after standing still for weeks. It felt mischievous slinking out of town, as if we had needed a permission slip to leave the city and had decided to hell with it and just up and left. We certainly weren’t slinking and made our usual production — kids scurrying about looking for stuff, headphones and jackets and snacks, and grownups grabbing coolers and ice and drinks. The dog understands this commotion all too well and got that pitiful look on her face, as if saying, really? again? You said you wouldn’t leave me anymore! The Benadryl had kicked in and she started to nap, realizing even her most convincing looks were futile and we would keep right on packing.

Maybe nobody will be wearing a mask in NC. Maybe Covid would magically go away while we were on the road and we’ll return to something that feels normal. I need this escape. We all do. It offers another day behind us. Something different.

I’m going where there’s no depression to a land that’s free from care   – Uncle Tupelo

I tried adjusting my warped sunglasses to hide my exposed right “eyebrow” both of which have disappeared without notice in the last few weeks. Eight weeks post chemo, I’ve got more hair loss still, a little more from my scalp and now this void where brows should be. Maybe I’ll draw them in and give myself an astonished expression with high arches above my eyes, like our dog’s vet’s assistant used to do. The line was so sharp and looked wide awake, and I’m assuming she drew it on fresh each morning. On my face there is a faint dirty blond space where my brows were and a few scattered hairs remaining. Summer is going to be strange as it is, so the brows’ return will be something to look forward to.

We’re in Rabun County now passing signs for Lakemont, the turn off for Lake Rabun, which takes me back to fun weekends with my childhood friend, Margaret, at their lake house there. For these weekends, my mom would crank out one of her famous pound cakes to bring with me, and we’d have it for dessert after the beef fondue with consommé rice dinner her mom made. Afterward, on Saturday night, Margaret, her brother and I would boat over to Hall’s Boat House to hear the Blue Grass music and watch the cloggers. There were kids our age from area and Atlanta schools, and it was fun to check out who was there.

IMG_6732Heading back toward home, we stopped along the road in South Carolina and walked along a path leading to expansive views from Bald Rock. Walking as people approached, Joe reminded me, “Don’t forget to hold your breath.” I thought there must be some dog poop ahead or something, but he was referring to the coronavirus. (We’ve discovered we both hold our breath sometimes when passing people if we don’t have on a mask.) I had forgotten about the virus for much of this day trip since we saw so few people. There was that one man we saw in downtown Highlands wearing a mask, but otherwise no signs of any pandemic. How nice to forget and just focus on the path in front of us.

A little taste of our music, and the song Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, along the way:

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=TAwwtgKTSHE&list=OLAK5uy_lFrQViIio3lZzMqezdN4OSNmnPateFBs0

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=TAwwtgKTSHE&list=OLAK5uy_lFrQViIio3lZzMqezdN4OSNmnPateFBs0

breast cancer

Gone viral

The spotted bananas were on the verge of turning black, another accelerating situation spiraling out of control. To halt their decline, I made muffins and luckily found an opened bag of chocolate chips, a must if my younger son is going to eat them too. Once cooled, I arranged them on a cake pedestal, instinctively worrying they were too close to one another, before reason kicked in: The muffins do not have Covid-19, are not Coronavirus carriers and can touch if they want.

IMG_7337The days are bleeding into each other, and the pets are confused. Glad we’re home 24/7, but still, they give us that, “Why are you all here, like ALL the time?” look.  I’m not their cruise director, but even with full bellies and exercise, potty breaks and unlimited adoration and attention, their eyes say, “What now?” I think we’re all asking that same question, despite thinking we should be cleaning out closets, learning a new language, taking up piano, and scores of other things we swore we’d do if only we were home and had the time.

The days are bleeding into each other

IMG_7415I’ve become a TV watcher. Savannah Guthrie and Lester Holt are my AM and PM bookends, with CNN occasionally running in between. It’s been interesting to see the reporters in their own homes, no longer TV personalities, but real people with imperfect homes and clutter and regular morning faces. Dr. John Torres typically broadcasts from his entry way with his coat rack behind him, a bicycle helmet dangling on top. Is he the cyclist or his kids, if he even has any? Al Roker greets us from his kitchen, sometimes juggling the weather with kids’ breakfast duties. Savannah Guthrie speaks to us from her basement, and even without the benefit of hair and makeup staff, she looks great and you realize those things no longer matter. Miguel Almaguer comes to us from his living room. Where did he find that gorgeous tufted blue sofa behind him? As if that matters during a pandemic, but it’s clear he chose that room to speak to us from for its stunning sofa.

IMG_7370Last night an Oral B commercial caught my eye and made me gasp. Their electric toothbrush’s brightly colored bristles were spinning fast in concentric circles. They looked evil, like the Coronavirus. Everything does now. When life resumes, I’ve wondered if artists will play with the virus’ form and its signature spikes, or just let it go, burying this bad dream, without trying to make chicken salad from chicken shit.

We are social creatures and being asked to isolate goes against the grain. We have an exam to take, one that matters more than any before. We are way behind, and haven’t even bought the book, yet now find ourselves scrambling to get the Cliff Notes. Staying home could mitigate umpteen lives lost and with lives vs the economy in the balance, wouldn’t saving the former save the latter? The doctor’s daughter in me is inclined to heed the advice of our surgeon general and chief immunologist. Especially faced with something for which we have zero immunity, zero safety net, and when our hospitals are about to bottom out on PPE as they wrestle with a berserk mutating virus which has for months zigzagged across the globe.

The Coronavirus Task Force is updating us daily. Recently Dr. Fauci has been noticeably absent. When he’s not there, I can tell it’s going to be more of the same rhetoric, the VP telling us all his “wartime president” boss has done (and I say that in quotes because while he’s slightly stepped up his game in recent days, it in no way compensates for the years of self-absorption, lack of curiosity with anything not directly benefiting him, and the culture of division he’s fostered), each time reminding us of the unprecedented halting of flights from China and Europe. The impressive resume continues with this and that and when POTUS himself moves to the mic, you never know what you’re gonna get, like this eye rolling gem: “I’ve lost biyuns and biyuns of dollars being President. I’ve got lots of rich friends. We inherited an obsolete broken system.” Yes, and your inauguration, with doctored crowd photos as proof, was the largest attended ever. It was perfect. Like that conversation. Like all of it.

You know when you’re in a relationship that you know is failing and you need to leave, yet you’re still in it and now everything, including voice intonations, is bugging you? This guy’s stress on the second syllable of industry is just wrong. It’s a multiple times a day occurrence, and each time I cringe, correcting him in my mind. “Our inDUStries. We want inDUStry to do well.” And just so we’re clear, Peter Alexander is not only a wonderful reporter, I’ll wager he can correctly pronounce INdustry.

In an effort to offset my news consumption, I’ve finished a few crosswords and watched an old movie, idle 2+ hour distractions for the pets too who are more than willing to curl up next to me. It feels cavalier, the juxtaposition of me home idling my time while doctors and nurses are scrambling to stay afloat, risking their own breath to sustain others’. While it’s a paltry donation, as we’ve heard over and over, staying home IS contributing.

I’ve learned hospitals have resorted to cancelling some cancer treatments and surgeries. This virus is hitting everyone hard, but for someone about to start radiation for breast cancer, this news is particularly alarming. Despite a week’s delay, as of now, my radiation treatments will start next week, though things could change. Following yesterday’s simulation, I’ll go 21 straight business days, smack dab in the middle of Emory’s and many hospitals’ crises. Maybe like flying after 9/11, being in a hospital is one of the safest places I can be? I am relieved and fortunate that I can still get these treatments.

Staying home IS contributing

IMG_7414Yesterday I walked to Emory, criss-crossing the streets weaving around a few scattered people. We waved so there was a friendly vibe, but the distance was palpable. I found a stick on the ground with which to press the elevator buttons. You feel the virus everywhere. At the entrance to Winship Cancer Center there was a friendly crew asking you why you’re there, if you have a fever or cough, etc. There was tape on the floor demarcating the 6 ft. distance from reception where you need to stand. I stood even farther back. During my appointment, my masked and gloved radiation oncologist offered me gloves to use for signing paperwork, lest Emory’s pen be a conduit for the virus. Everyone I dealt with wore an N95 mask except the nurse educating me on RT side effects. I began rolling my stool away from her to get more distance and she asked if we were good, and I told her I’d like more like 10 feet between us. I felt I was being rude, yet if I catch this thing, my treatment could stop, and I can’t afford that. None of us can afford to catch it.

I worry about people waiting for surgeries or on medicines in short supply or facing eviction or hunger, and countless other things this virus has brought, or worsened. Those with mental health issues, low on companions or medications or hope, and businesses, some in families for decades, wondering if they’ll ever reopen. Marriages already struggling before this mandated togetherness took hold. First time parents who can’t together witness their baby’s birth, moments you dream about but won’t get back. This spring’s college and high school graduates, my own son included, likely robbed of that hard-earned moment, parading in cap and gown with family cheering on the sidelines. People who can’t be with their loved ones who are dying or lonely or both. Doctors and nurses and truckers and grocers and teachers, who like us, have never seen such times, yet who deliver their best every day.

None of us can afford to catch this thing.

I hope people will listen and stay home and our connection with each other will strengthen, despite our distance and these hardships. A friend recently admitted her frustration at a Facebook post along the lines of things happen for a reason, there is good that will come out of this and maybe the universe did this on purpose so we can all reset. She personally knows people whose businesses are deeply struggling and for her and them, there is no silver lining. I keep looking for the good because my brain keeps resorting to try and fathom the layers and layers of depth of this distress, and it just can’t. We all are managing in our own way and we are all in this together.

Be well. Wash your hands for 30 seconds. Keep hand sanitizer in your car, and use it after you go to a store. Don’t touch your face. Stand 10 feet away from people. Outside don’t touch anything, not stair rails, light poles, building doors, nothing. And then go wash your hands again. Did I say don’t touch your face? xoxoxo

IMG_7269
Someone shared this on social media and I don’t know and therefore can’t credit the artist.

 

 

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.