Thursday, August 17, 2017

Less is so much More


Birthday at Camp, circa 2007
Like everything else, our Maine trips are different post BC. 

Back in the 2000's, we contend with my frantic work life and my father's downward health spiral. Every year it's harder to relax, unwind and enjoy the fleeting moments of magic that surround our patch of the woods.  I am always in a state of readiness and connected to my work/father via cell phone. The last few years of his life there is no pleasure in our time away - just wary insomnia and mounting dread at returning to the hamster wheel of elder care and stressful work.

This is a work year at camp - already gone is most of the useless, broken and/or otherwise non-essential things. Before it was ours, the cabin was first host to Auntie Irene's hoarding problem, then to my father-in-law's similar issues. There are ratty chairs and nasty old blankets, decades of old newspapers, and dust from the 1970's on every rafter. It had been neglected and allowed to molder, a home to spiders of unbelievable size and asshole red squirrels with personality disorders. We spend years cleaning it out, donating items, sprucing it up, patching the holes. It's been re-roofed and painted, decorated in a lodge/log cabin theme. 

Anyway, it's more of a fun work trip since most of the biohazard work is done - a new bed and futon, finally getting up in the loft and digging out those few treasures that can be sold on Ebay - anyone need a bedpan?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Finally a gift that does not suck

I am all DONE with that dreaded menopause. 

Yep, apparently chemo hastened it and also, masked all symptoms. A silver lining of sorts. The gift that keeps on giving perhaps is developing some taste. 

Gift #1: It's over!

Gift #2: Now I know the real reason for the crazy, unexplained weight gain. Knowledge is power. 

Gift #3: Since in America, post-menopausal women over 50 are for the most part socially invisible and irrelevant, it's time to become as eccentric and weird as I want. Look out!

My pre-breast cancer personality would be obsessing, bitching and creating drama about getting older and fatter and grayer, blah blah blah. Getting all nostalgic for my former life, body and everything else.

Breast Cancer bequeaths another present right away - awareness and instant ability to be present in the moment, to appreciate the fragility of life and the blessings you have. This is something that eluded me for decades, despite my insatiable devouring of books on the subject. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Bitch is Back. Again.


These are some scary pics circa October 2014, about Round 3 of Chemo. Just look at the forced grins, steroidal moon-face and those medication-dulled eyes. 

Good times!

Reminders are everywhere. Scars, of course - hidden and those impossible to conceal.

Lingering depression and the terror of recurrence. For a long time post-acute treatment I'm unable to mount the mere thought of a comeback. Mourning my old life keeps me paralyzed, along with that fucking torn hamstring.

Departing slowly is the sad, stiff, achy, clutzy, obese girl. She can squat, she can move, she can Plank. Her core, formerly rotten and weak, is slowly morphing into something else. She can do things that she used to do before the Terrible Tumor Twins moved in. Things she thought would never be within her abilities again. Ever.

Oh! Also for the first time since the Twins' eviction, she has gainful, full-time employment. It's zero stress, fun and easy, and pays remarkably well with excellent benefits. It fell into her lap like a comforting blanket, unexpected and at the best possible moment.

I'm learning the importance of taking things slow. Savoring the journey vs. the race to the destination. It's fun to feel the fat fall away, along with that depression and fear. 

For the first time since my diagnosis, this feels like home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Zero

The last month has been painful and cathartic. 

The cancer may be gone, but its hurricane of destruction continues. The trauma of diagnosis, chemo, radiation and medication decimate me, body and soul. By 2017, I've gained 50 pounds, lost mobility and have constant pain in my joints.  The weight makes me miserable and clumsy. Sleep is fragmented, energy zero. 

Naturally, I overdo it immediately with my first attempt at getting in shape in 2015. This results in a torn hamstring that does not heal properly for a year. The pain is enormous and constant, the limb weak. I tear another compensating muscle in the front of the leg. A cane is now required to simply walk and the next 6 months are spent icing, wrapping and elevating and gimping. You may have guessed, this results in weight gain, depression and hopelessness. 

It's a dark time and there's a temptation to give up having any semblance of my old, healthy body. Obese people understand this - when even getting up out of a chair is difficult and painful, what's the point? Fuck it, bring on the fried chicken. Maybe this is just the way my life will be from now on. Perhaps one day some cute fireman will cut down a wall to remove my 700 pound corpse, still clutching dead chicken bones. 

That tiny spark of my battered spirit though...she's a feisty bitch that never gives up on me even though I've done so in every meaningful way. She's pretty pissed, and also, I'm tired of being miserable. The leg is as healed as it's going to get. 

Since I feel like Zero, where better to begin? That leg protests immediately. It hurts to move, I cannot keep up with the instructor. My moves are clumsy and unbalanced, with limited range of motion. This makes me want to stop, cry, to order a pizza. Instead, I continue with careful attention and at my own pace. The leg aches 24/7, but in a good way. Pilates Core for Beginners is incredibly difficult, because my core is rotten. I continue. 

After the first week, the leg stops aching and the tightness eases so I add short, low impact cardio and small weights. Mobility, balance and endurance improve. Within a month, my clothes are looser and my joints no longer ache. When rising from a sitting position, the stiffness and stone-like muscle lock are gone. 

Yesterday was a rest day - and I was tempted to workout because already my day does not feel right without it. I didn't though. No reason to rush it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Goodbye Girl

I was born with an overabundant love of nostalgia. Goodbyes have never been easy.

Saying goodbye to my old job circa 2014 was crushing, and not just because of breast cancer, and all the charms that go with it. That apocalyptic, scary as shit diagnosis out of the literal blue and the ensuing frenetic medical carnival. The feeling that the universe was shitting on me for some reason that I could never fathom. I'd been a pretty good person overall - in my opinion, there were many, truly evil, awful people that deserved truckloads of all kinds of cancer (all of which are still alive of course, with nary a health care in the world).

But back to my point. See, I truly loved my job.

Yesterday during a temp gig, a call came in - guess who?  My old boss from my last job pre-BC!  

It was nice to catch up. It was even nicer to learn that he finally is closing up shop next month. 

Maybe he took the advice which I bark at him, chapter and verse, between gritted teeth when we say goodbye in 2014. Despite my sad state, so emotionally decimated and nauseated from the first chemo it's difficult to form coherent thought or even walk, I tell him to look outside at the beautiful day and that maybe, since he is beyond financially secure, it would be better to be enjoying life vs. being hunched over that fucking keyboard all day. Which is where some other future assistant will one day find his corpse, on some other fine day just like this one, hunched over for in earnest and forevermore. Because you really never know, how many days you have left.

It is good to hear his voice, to know his family is well. Instead of the sadness I imagined feeling for my old life, there is only peace and contentment, and looking forward with hope. We had a good run, didn't we? I'm proud of the quality of our teamwork.

 Happy retirement, Boss.

Downward Dog Days of Summer

No, this woman in the pic is NOT me. Yet. 

About a year ago, when trying to get in shape too quickly, I suffered a debilitating hamstring tear and knee pull. Probably I should have gone to the doctor, but my hatred of all things medical prevented such. And, it did heal on its own. After a very, very, very long  and pain-filled year. Still not 100%, but it is improving with my new exercise routine.

Yes!!! I'm finally back at it. This time, it's different - I'm using my head and going very slowly. It helps that it's so bloody blazing hot outside that any outdoor activity such as bike riding is off till November. I'm stuck inside the a/c with my Acacia subscription and free Youtube videos, both of which are awesome.

Acacia is through Amazon Prime Channels - it's $6.99 a month and worth it. Loads of beginner, low impact, short videos to get me going. Youtube has Jessica Smith TV and she's likewise got tons of short, easy to do, beginner programs. I'm walking, stretching, doing cardio and push-ups for the first time in years. Well I did one push-up, but you have to begin somewhere, right? 

Also, after that hamstring tear, a few things are apparent. It's not 1988 and I'm not in my twenties - no longer can I whip myself into shape in a week. I'm done with overdoing it and getting nowhere except on a crutch. Best to focus on what I can do right now, and build upon it slowly. A lifestyle change, not a quick fix. You know the rest.

Anyways, last night was a Kathy Smith 30 minute interval video with weights and cardio and I'm feeling the pain, which is well-earned and better than any cookie ever tasted. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Puzzling Nature of Recovery

Our mini-getaway in the woods was relaxing, quiet and fun. It's something that I would have paid dearly for pre-cancer, during my tenure at the family law practice.

How lovely to have zero job-related stress, one of the many benefits of being non-essential. Its taken a few years to embrace this new normal. 

I'm far from the file-slinging, turbo-typing, doing-a-thousand-things-at-once-juggling dynamo I used to be. And it's okay. 

Post-treatment, nearly 3 years out, there is ample time to pursue hobbies, crafts, relax, write and take classes. There was simply no time, energy or inspiration pre-BC. The part-time gig which brings in less than half of my old full-time salary is enough and Mike is busier than ever with his work. We live a simple, abundant life, saving more money and traveling more frequently than ever before. There are no sacrifices. 

You already know that humans are resilient as all hell and you will get used to your new normal - no one is exactly the same after BC. It takes time and some effort to let go of your former self. 

One of the old hobbies I'm taken up again is puzzles. 

Recovery is so much like a puzzle. A life which took years to assemble so meticulously can quickly be torn apart and tossed back in your face. Everything is a mess, you have no clue where even to try to begin putting it back together. Those pieces that used to fit together perfectly are now jagged, lost or damaged beyond repair.

The larger the puzzle, the harder the task. It takes time and patience. Best to start with the edges and work inward. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Eggs and I

I love Easter.

It invokes wonderful memories of family gatherings that can never be duplicated. All my loved ones have passed on and the ones less loved have scattered to the winds. But, for decades before they leave, we enjoy Easter Sunday with food, lawn games, board games, flower picking, egg hunting, cooking and sleeping under the stars (weather permitting).

This time of year, their absence hurts the most. 

Until she dies at age 98, my Grandmother is the glue that makes Easter incredible fun and the reason we all gather. She bestows Easter baskets with REAL chocolate and jelly beans. She prepares a feast of baked ham, fried chicken, creamed spinach, fresh corn and string beans, kidney bean salad with slivered onions and vinegary delishness, and my favorite: the Best Freaking Potato Salad in the World. For 25 years, I've searched everywhere for something approximating her recipes, but no matter the source, Austrian/German pedigree and my efforts, the dishes never come close. 

In the early 70's we have Easter egg hunts on my Grandmother's enormous flower filled yard and sometimes the eggs contain real silver coins. Faded Polaroids show me in pigtails and fancy pastel dresses, tiny lacy trimmed socks and shiny Mary Janes, my father in Cuban shirts with perfectly quaffed hair, my mother, cigarette dangling from her ruby lips, resembling a brunette Jane Mansfield in full glamour mode with black stiletto heels and cocktail dress, my grandmother in a simple house dress. All of us are tan from the Florida sun - this was well before melanoma scares and sunscreen and we spend every weekend on the beach. There are a few showing the table groaning under the Easter Feast - I forgot to mention the ceiling scraping layer cakes, sporting fluffy white icing and my dad's sketchy efforts at decoration. 

Of course, these days, there's none of that. 

I've been thinking about honoring the people and places that made me, especially since there is another book in the works about it. Those photos are disintegrating, aging in a way I never would have believed possible. A little like me.

What we do have is a brand new, large, beautiful country table and chair set. It even extends to a larger size. It's perfect for a photo preservation project I'm starting. All those happy times and good souls deserve a lovely place on the wall, to remind me where we've been and where we still need to go. 

Oh - at least this year, there will be cake. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Taking to the Woods

It's been too long since our last servings of camp coffee.

It's a big year for us. My 50th birthday and our 27th wedding anniversary. 

Everything takes on new meaning and urgency after cancer. Not so long ago, I'm refusing cake on my birthdays, not decorating for holidays, not preparing special meals. You are always worrying about recurrence or discovering that all that expensive, nasty, mutilating treatment you took just slightly delayed the inevitable journey to Stage IV. It gets real scary at year 3 post treatment, right where we are. Whatever will be will be, as Doris would cheekily sing. Still. I no longer assume that I will necessarily reach my golden years and have unlimited stretches of existence. 

So, we kick around the idea of seeing Billy Idol in Vegas. That would be awesome, but after consideration of the painful travel and expense, it becomes clear that's not it. What do we need?  Something peaceful, relaxing and filled with nature, where we need no fancy clothing or large amounts of cash. 

Florida has many natural springs which we have never been to, and a huge national forest up north that is very different from our local scrub pines and palmetto filled tiny patch of woods. There are fresh waters and large, undeveloped, pristine forested areas with shady trails galore, geocaching, antique stores and miles of country roads. 

We discover an RV resort with all the amenities, right in the middle of Ocala National Forest, and directly across the street from springs. We will ride bikes, fish off the dock, swim in the springs and the pool, lounge around in the huge, luxury RV and have fires at night. All we really need to bring is food and our personal items. There's a golf cart provided too, and a Dollar General store at the entrance to our park -- what more do we need?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I hope Mandi would like this post.

Though we never met we have many things in common: RV’ng, cooking, family, animals,  work, friends, life itself. She even had her very own Mike. He’s a badass, just like mine.  

We both find our own lumps and are diagnosed with breast cancer just before our birthdays – hers at 31, mine at 46. By the time I discover her blog at Darn Good Lemonade in late 2014, I’m well into chemo and all its horrors. She is well into dealing with her metastic disease process.

It is now my year three post treatment, near where Mandi was upon learning that she was Stage IV, despite the extremely aggressive treatments she had received. Chemo, surgery, radiation. Just like me.

It’s her blog that convinces me to write. Unlike me, Mandi can tell a riveting story with nary a curse word, and make you laugh and sob and rage right along with her. I respect this quality and never could emulate it. But maybe I can tell my story in my own way -- and perhaps help someone through it along the way. It's been a liberating, empowering, incredibly healing thing that probably would never have occurred had I not discovered DGL. 

While breast cancer a terrible diagnosis for any woman, I can’t comprehend having it made at the tender age of 31. Mandi's grace and strength resonate in every post. How to feel self-pity after seeing her photos? They tell their own story, before and after BC:  Mandi in the wild, on another rv trip with Mike and the furbabies. Mandi with friends and family. Mandi cooking. Mandi in her wedding dress, and my favorite: Mandi in a hospital gown, face defiantly beaming at the camera. Fierce and determined. 

Mandi Hudson died this week. It’s hitting much harder than anticipated, though we knew it was coming. Maybe it’s because her blog inspired me so much, or all the things we had in common. Mostly, it feels like I lost a friend. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

There will be Blood...and money

No one that has suffered a serious disease, accident or bad medical dilemma will ever look at money and medicine the same way.

Before BC, there came the Recalcitrant Uterine Crisis of 2009. Actually, it begins years earlier, but becomes unbearable around 09.  

My first doc (let’s call her Doctor Slingshit) drugs me with birth control pills in some clinical trial that gives her kickbacks. It does zippo for me, unless you consider the worst cerebral migraine ever progress. It feels like an elephant is standing on the base of my skull and scares the shit out of me, it’s so debilitating.

For the record, my uterus has mocked every single effort to reign it in. Organic diet, a 40 pound weight loss, fasting, acupuncture, meditation, exercise, castor oil packs, prayer, Chinese herbs. But the birth control pills really piss it off. It ramps up, blasting its maniacal explosions of flesh and blood, with no discernible pattern, except One. Whole. Helluva. Lot. It’s very painful and messy, and incredibly embarrassing. No amount of feminine products can contain these Tsunami-like deluges. Hysterical laughter overcomes me when placing the biggest size made pads on – they resemble quilted Kleenex boxes. The very largest ones I can find last for about 1 hour before soaking through and requiring replacement.

Doctor Slingshit becomes visibly annoyed when I refuse more pills and complain of the brain-crushing headache. Well, she sniffs, for a headache like that you need an MRI. Well, I sniff right back, if you bothered to read my history, and as we have discussed dozens of times, my history of migraines goes back decades. Oh, and Doc, my research says that BC pills can exacerbate migraines. Oh! And Doc?  I’m not carrying around an extra 3500 bucks for unnecessary imaging.

Doctor Slingshit is done with me. She becomes combative, dismissive and arrogant. Pissy at losing those kickbacks, I guess.

I find a new doctor, let’s call him Dr. GQ. He’s extremely handsome with a gentle, laid-back manner.  More importantly, he is a highly-skilled surgeon and very sought-after. He properly diagnoses me for the first time. In addition to the legion of massive fibroids, there’s also a fun thing called Adenomyosis. It’s very nasty and widespread. Options are discussed, the lesser evil of partial hysterectomy selected. Recovery goes well and it’s a welcome change to years of suffering.

Fast forward to today. Still digging out from the financial shit-storm endured from fun in Cancerland. 

Seems my shitty insurance was particularly shitty, and I was not exactly on top of things back then. The comely Dr. GQ. is owed $311.00, from way back in 2014, right after my diagnosis. Hmmmm, good times. Lost my health, job and savings. Perhaps his bill got past me, lost in the others that I stopped looking at when they reached $850,000.00.

Dr. GQ resides with his likewise GQ Radiologist wife in a 7-bathroom mansion. I know. My husband has been there, unbeknownst to Dr. GQ, to fix things some of the many pesky, expensive and totally useless things that rich people break.

I’m tempted to call Dr. GQ. It’s just so damned curious that $311 is so vital. That he finds it necessary to send a by fucking God cancer patient to collections, instead of just...writing it off. Perhaps for my mental health, as a courtesy to a long-time patient.

You know the answer already, don’t you?