I’ve been strong. I’ve been positive. I’ve been a “rock star” patient (according to the nurses in the hospital). But today, finally, reality is starting to set in.
I have cancer.
It isn’t something that is just going to go away. I may battle this for the rest of my life. I will heal from surgery and jump right into chemo. I will essentially poison all the cells in my body to get rid of the cancer cells and hopefully trick them into submission.
But one day they may decide to come back. Then, the battle begins all over.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic. Today I take a hard look at what I’m up against. It’s all part of the show.
Photo courtesy of: Ted Van Pelt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Last night I ordered some scarves and hats from the American Cancer Society so I will be prepared when my hair falls out. For the past two weeks, since the doctor told me my hair will most definitely fall out, I’ve thought it’s no big deal that my hair will fall out. Today I know that’s BS. It’s going to be a HUGE deal for me. My hair is below my shoulders. What is it going to be like when my hair starts coming out in clumps? When I wake up and see clumps of it on my pillowcase, or see clumps of it slide down the drain in the shower? What will I look like without eyebrows? Without eyelashes?
And something I thought I’d never do: I’ve even found myself getting angry and thinking WHY ME? I did everything right: I had children, I breastfed them both for a year each, and I took birth control pills when I wasn’t pregnant–all protective factors against ovarian cancer. I’ve run ridiculous distances for the past seven years, I don’t drink, I’ve never smoked, never done drugs, and I eat organic as often as I can afford to. All that wasn’t enough to protect me from cancer.
Why am I having to go through this?
I don’t always believe that things happen for a reason. Sometimes bad things just happen. No rhyme or reason, they just do. It sucks. I understand that. I accept that in the Russian roulette of life and disease, I got cancer.
But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The outpouring of support since I started sharing my story has been incredible. Overwhelming, to a point. It’s hard to hear over and over how “strong” I am. I don’t feel strong, I feel realistic. I am a fighter by nature. I won’t roll over and play dead. I’ve always said: I’m going to live forever. Cancer certainly isn’t going to change that.
But today, after weeks of smiling and staying positive, I’m allowing myself to feel this exhaustion, this numbness as I accept that I have cancer and that the battle has just begun. I think that I’ve been very positive up to this point, but this is my reality today. And as I’ve stated over and over, I’m not one to sugarcoat anything. There will be days like this. I knew there would be, and that’s why it’s not a big deal. It will pass.
So having a bad cancer day can be like trashing your own hotel room. You put on a good show, do everything that’s expected of you, then you go back to your digs and get a little crazy.
Despite this one bad day, in the end I will win, and I will win big. And I’m going to bring as many women and their families over the finish line with me as I possibly can. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to make it happen.
My legs want to move, my brain says it’s time to do something, but my incision and internal organs say, heck no, all we want to do is lay around on the couch. Grrrr.
I definitely overdid things on Thursday after getting good news from the doctor. The staples came out, we found out the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes or internal organs, and I thought I was all that. Okay, I still had cancer, and a rare form at that, but death wasn’t knocking on my front door. Heck, he wasn’t even in the neighborhood!
So what did I do? I had lunch with my sister, my son, and his girlfriend. I went to Half Price Books, walked around the store, and bought knitting books (full disclosure: I did have to text everyone and tell them to come find me under the Arts and Crafts sign, sitting in a cushy, padded, wingback chair, probably fast asleep by the time they got there). I met my running group for drinks. I had a late dinner with some of them. I had brunch the next morning with my closest friends.
I had a blast. Seeing friends and family has kept me sane throughout this entire experience. But yesterday I was exhausted. My incision hurt and it was uncomfortable to walk. Today is the same. Setback. I was doing so well. A rock star. Now I’m just restless and impatient.
I haven’t had a really bad day since this all began. I haven’t had a meltdown about having cancer. I haven’t gotten angry and shook my fists at the gods screaming, “WHY ME???” I’ve been surprisingly accepting and realistic about the whole thing.
Cancer can happen to anyone.
I’m reading the Gilda Radner book It’s Always Something about her battle with ovarian cancer. It’s a great book, but shocking that it took almost a year before she was diagnosed. Things are better now, almost 30 years later, especially as far as treatment, but I can’t help but be saddened that there is still NO screening for ovarian cancer.
Dr K told me that being diagnosed as stage 2 is very rare. She only has ONE other patient who is a stage 2. The majority of her patients are either stage 1, when the cancer was caught early either accidentally or because of torsion (twisting) and pain, or the more advanced stages 3 and 4. To me, that’s shocking.
The torsion, rupturing, and pain I experienced were the best things that could have happened to me. They literally saved my life. On the flip side, I have a rare form of ovarian cancer, and I fear that the doctors won’t know exactly which drugs to treat it with during chemo to send it into remission. I will get more information the next time I go to the doctor, but it scares me.
A good run would do me a world of good, but that’s out of the question. In the meantime, I’ll keep pacing the tiger’s cage, back and forth, over and over, until I can one day break free and return to my “normal” life once again.
You know how you buy a new car and you love it? And then someone hits your car and it’s in the shop and you get it back and it’s just never the same again?
That’s how I feel lately about my body.
I was happy with my body. It’s been a good body for 53 years. It gave me two children, produced food for them, and got me through eight marathons and one ultra marathon. I even had other surgeries, an appendectomy on my 27th birthday and a hysterectomy five and a half years ago.
This latest surgery and a cancer diagnosis and impending chemo have been the big car accident that makes it seem like I’ll never quite be the same again. My stomach is lumpy, for God’s sake.
I was shocked to read two facts about ovarian cancer on the NOCC (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition) website:
Cancerous epithelial tumors are carcinomas – meaning they begin in the tissue that lines the ovaries. These are the most common and most dangerous of all types of ovarian cancers. Unfortunately, almost 70 percent of women with the common epithelial ovarian are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced in stage.
Epithelial ovarian carcinomas (EOCs) account for 85 to 90 percent of all cancers of the ovaries.
Also, epithelial ovarian cancer rarely happens to women under the age of 60. This is why Dr K keeps saying “because you’re so young” when she talks about treating me aggressively, even though I’m not really “so young.”
So. Based on the stats I mentioned above, we got VERY good news at my first post-op visit with the doctor. All the biopsies were clear; no cancer cells were detected in any of my internal organs. Even better, 40 lymph nodes were removed (not 25, like we thought) and every single one was clear of any cancer cells.
In other words, the cancer cells have not spread anywhere else in my body.
The bad news is that I have a rare form of ovarian cancer, called mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer. The tumor was a mucinous adenocarcinoma. Something like less than 5% of ovarian cancers are mucinous, which means it may be a little trickier to treat if only because they have so little data to go on.
Dr K presented my case to the Tumor Board, and there was talk of being able to take part in a clinical trial (I’m not eligible because of the blood clots), but it has now been officially determined that my cancer is only Stage 1C.
1C, y’all. THIS. IS. HUGE.
This means that I only have a 20-25% chance of the cancer returning after remission, as opposed to the worst case scenario that Dr K spoke of in the hospital of an 85-90% chance of it coming back.
I feel very, very fortunate.
I will still do chemo in a few weeks, and she wants to treat it aggressively because of my age and my fitness level, so I have a rough six months ahead of me. But chances are I’m going to live a long, healthy life.
Which means I have many more years ahead of me to help other women who have to go through ovarian cancer. And that is very, very good news indeed.
Thursday, 6/13/13: FIRST MORNING IN MY OWN BED
I feel split open. I have no walls left, no boundaries, no anger. I have razor sharp focus. I feel pure love at my core. It all sounds so new agey and I could care less. There’s no room for anything but honesty, love, happiness, and acceptance. Amazing how coming face to face with your own mortality can change you overnight.
After the surgery, when we stayed up until 3:30am talking, I told everyone that this cancer has been a gift. I really meant it. It’s been a gift in that it’s cleared away a lot of cobwebs, that I can suddenly see what’s important in life and what’s not. It’s very much like that scene in Contact (one of my favorite movies because it’s from a book written by Carl Sagan) where Ellie travels through a series of wormholes on her way to the aliens who have made contact with planet Earth. In between the various wormholes she has the chance to look around at the solar system, at the incredible beauty and magnitude of the universe, and all she can say is “I had no idea. I had no idea.” That’s how I feel.
The first few days after surgery, while I was on morphine, I had a strange experience. Repeatedly, throughout the day and night, I would “see” something out of the corner of my eye, always in the same area, at the foot of my bed in front of the door. It was a tall, thin man wearing a hat like men used to wear during the 30’s and 40’s. I never “saw” this man, I just always knew he was there. It wasn’t scary or creepy, it was more protective. I never had the thought that this man was there to take me to the other side. He was just there, watching over me. I didn’t tell anyone about it until later.
Blame it on the morphine.
On the flip side, I never felt the presence of Bob or Arshad while waiting in the pre-op room before surgery (Bob and Arshad are two running friends who died in the past five years, Bob from lung cancer, Arshad from a car accident.) For some reason I always imagine Bob and Arshad coming to get me when the time is right, kind of like they’re bringing me into the heavenly running group they’ve started up there. I somehow “knew” I was going to be okay because Bob and Arshad were nowhere around.
[Do I sound really flakey and new agey? I do sound really flakey and new agey. I have no idea if ghosts and spirits exist or if there’s any sort of an afterlife. It’s all a fantasy in my head, but somehow it made sense to feel that way at the time.]
Michael and I had a great talk at midnight last night. We’ve never been able to be this open, to talk about our issues with patience and understanding. I guess we were both too defensive. He cried and told me this cancer is very serious, much worse than I think it is. Even if it’s only stage 2 it will be a battle. It may kill me in the end. He loves me so much. He is prepared to go on this journey with me. I am so incredibly lucky.
I’m procrastinating writing about the surgery and post-op. It is somewhat hazy and dark. Not sure I’m ready to go back to that place, but it has to be done. It’s time to rest, recover, and build my strength for the fight ahead. I’m also procrastinating reading about chemo and what to expect. I need to use all my strength to staying focused on today. Tomorrow will come, and I will be ready, but one step at a time. One day at a time.
Friday, 6/14/13: ONE WEEK POST-OP: HARDER THAN I THOUGHT
Took a shower this afternoon and took a true look at my body. First thing I notice is that I am skin and bones. My calf and arm muscles are flabby. My boobs are almost nonexistent. My incision scar is almost 9 inches high, from pubic bones to middle of ribs. My abdomen, waist, and upper hips are bloated and swollen.
But my skin is clear and acne-free and my hair has stopped falling out.
Stayed up until 3:30am watching The Notebook with Dom. Woke up feeling much better than yesterday. No stomach issues, and I ate well all day with no gas, no nausea.
The blood thinner injections are starting to become tedious. There is something very odd about sticking a needle in your body and injecting something. I have to admit, the blood clots kind of ick me out. The thought of something traveling through my body to my brain, lungs, or heart and possibly killing me — with no warning — is disconcerting. Maybe worse than knowing I have cancer.
Did a full loop of walking around the neighborhood. At 9:45pm it was still 91 degrees and no breeze whatsoever. My speed has certainly improved, though it is still uncomfortable to walk.
Looked at some photos Michael took when I was in the hospital. I am slowly starting to think about what happens next. I have a booklet I picked up at the hospital about chemotherapy and will begin reading through it. I also want to listen to the recordings Michael made of Dr K talking to the family right after surgery. Michael says she lays it all out and I need to know exactly what I’m up against.
One step at a time.
Very excited because tomorrow morning Bill is picking me up at 6:15am to meet WRRC for our very first Saturday Run My Hood in Sunnyvale at Kevin’s friend’s house. I won’t run, of course, but I am hoping to walk a little. Mostly, I just want to see everyone again and get back into some semblance of a “regular” life again.
Saturday, 6/15/13: A SHOT OF ADRENALINE
Spent the morning visiting with my running group in Sunnyvale. Bill picked me, Michael, and Susan B up at our house and we drove in together. Bill realized he might have left his phone on top of his car and had to leave immediately afterwards. He located his phone via GPS signal later in the day, in the median at Highway 80 and Big Town exit, smashed and pretty much destroyed — which meant a new iPhone 5.
It was so wonderful to see so many of my friends again, even if I couldn’t run with them. I managed to take about a three quarters of a mile walk with Michael and Katti (and her baby bump) and spent the rest of the time sitting and visiting with everyone. I was actually glad that I didn’t have to run because it was humid and a hilly route. Strangely, Stacy B was there with her busted up ankle and told me she also has blood clots and has to give herself injections of a blood thinner. She even has to have them twice a day. No fun.
I am thanking the Timing Gods for making this all happen during the hottest part of the year. I have probably lost a lot of muscle not only from not being able to run, but also from not eating for three weeks and my muscles being used for energy when the fat reserves ran out. Not sure how scientific that is, but my calf muscles are super flabby!
Appetite was great today, so Operation Fatten Up Angela is in full swing. After spending the entire morning in Sunnyvale, came home and took a long nap. It was the most activity I’ve done in weeks. Ran some errands with Michael (shoe shopping and buying dog food) in the afternoon, then finally got around to watching Alien with the family in honor of the alien monster baby I gave birth to a week ago. Just call me Angela Ripley Turnage.
First popcorn since surgery!
Sunday, 6/16/13: FATHER’S DAY VISITORS
Best sleep since I got out of the hospital. Slept four hours straight through, got on the iPad for about 45 min, then slept for another three hours. I felt great all day. Am trying to stretch out the pain meds to 5 hrs or more. It’s only tough when I walk around and the pain meds have worn off. I’d really like to get off of them as quickly as possible.
Feeling sad because my daughter flew back to Portland today. She will be back in a few weeks, but I will still miss her.
Completely forgot to take my blood thinner until after 2:00pm, the first time I’ve done that. I made the kids buy me a pill case the other day so I could keep all my morning and afternoon medications straight. I’m going to put the alcohol wipe in the morning section to remind myself of the injections.
Treated ourselves to What-A-Burger for dinner after the dog park (first junk food post surgery!), called my dad, and watched Smoke Signals in honor of Father’s Day. I pretty much napped off and on all evening on the couch. Nick loves to make fun of me for falling asleep all the time. Woke up at midnight just as The Shining was coming on, so Nick, Nicole, and I watched it until 3am. I, of course, fell asleep repeatedly.
6/17-19/13: SETTLING IN
The rest of the week the family and I tried to settle back in to our lives. I have had a lot of visitors, but this Monday we managed to have our first visitor-free day since being admitted to the hospital. I continued walking in the evenings and made it up to 1 mile.
The stress of dealing with everything hit Michael the other night and he had a little meltdown. It’s to be expected. Everyone deals with tragedy in their own way.
I finally sat down and listened to the 45 minute recording of Dr K talking to my family directly after surgery. It was tough. While my family was celebrating the fact that she got all the tumor, she brought them down to earth with the reminder that this is still serious. The most sobering moment for me was when my daughter asked what are the chances the cancer will return, and she answered 85-90% chance it will return. I had no idea. I’d rather know the truth than have everything sugarcoated for me.
She took 25 lymph nodes to be biopsied, in addition to tissue from all my major internal organs. Now we wait until the pathology report comes back to see if it has spread. In the meantime, I need to start reading up on chemo.
6/7/13 Friday: RELEASING THE MONSTER
On the morning of surgery I woke up at 3:30am, more than likely because someone came to take blood, my temperature, or my blood pressure. The nurse said they wanted to do an ultrasound on my legs before surgery to see if there were any more clots. They had scheduled me for 5:00am, but had asked if they could go ahead and get me early since they were very backed up. Since I was already awake, I didn’t mind at all, so I pulled out my iPad and checked emails until they came to get me. In reality it would be 5:00am before they actually got to my room.
Despite the fact that I was going to have major surgery later in the day, I felt great. The song Safe and Sound (Capital Cities) was playing incessantly in my head. I had started hearing the song on the radio a few months earlier and loved it, and we heard it in the car on the way to our first meeting with Dr K. It was always in my head in the hospital, and the morning of surgery I played the YouTube video and posted it on my facebook wall page, asking everyone to play it and sing it while I was in surgery. It had become my own personal anthem.
Being in the hospital had made me start to think of the tumor as being something from the movie Alien. I have no idea why this was. I really didn’t have any bad feelings towards the thing, but I did keep envisioning that scene from the movie where the alien pops out of the guy’s stomach, slimy teeth and all. I started thinking of it as the Alien Monster Baby.
Dr L came by later in the morning. Dr L is very serious and very matter of fact. I made it my personal mission to catch Dr L off guard, ask him random questions, and make him laugh whenever I could. Since I had just posted the Safe and Sound video as my personal anthem, I asked him if he listened to music in the operating room. He said sometimes, depending on the type of surgery and the procedure. I asked him what kind of music they played. He kind of smirked and said the technician played Top 40. I really wanted to ask him what kind of music HE listened to, but thought it might be too much.
He tried to escape, but I wasn’t done. When getting my ultrasound at 5:00am, and calculating how little sleep I had gotten (again), I had thought of another random question that would be perfect for Dr L: If I got three hours of sleep last night, and the surgery lasted five hours, would that count as my eight hours of sleep for the day? He shuffled and looked away nervously, laughed and said, “No, those are two completely different kinds of sleep,” and left as quickly as he could get out of the room.
Dr L is my very own personal Christina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy.
I felt anxious but also relieved that the tumor would soon be removed. I was tired of being in pain and tired of having no appetite. More than anything though, I was ready for a shower. The nurse disconnected my IVs and covered both forearms in plastic, taping them shut so no water could get into the IVs. That shower was the highlight of my hospital stay.
After the shower the rest of the morning was spent relaxing with family before surgery, which was scheduled for 1:00pm. A doctor had come by earlier to initial the side of my abdomen where the affected ovary was located, and I was in good spirits.
I played Safe and Sound one last time before surgery. Another song played and we kept talking. The third song was Coldplay, Warning Sign. My son suddenly stood up and said, “Okay, I think I’ve had enough of the music.” I thought he just didn’t like Coldplay, but quickly realized he was crying. I looked over at Michael and his eyes were becoming red and he had a panicked look on his face. I diffused the situation as quickly as possible.
I texted my sister, who was in charge of offering comic relief while I was in surgery. My text said: Please hurry up and get here! The men are falling apart!!!
Eventually, my husband, my kids, my sister, and my friend Liz were all hustled upstairs to the pre-op room. Two anesthesiologists came in, then a third, to discuss the risks of anesthesiology and the decision not to have an epidural port put in because of the blood thinner, Lovenox, I was taking for the blood clots. I hadn’t been thrilled about the idea of having an epidural anyway, so I was relieved the option was off the table. Someone talked to me about donating part of my tumor for research, which I agreed to do if it could help someone else in the future, and I signed papers for that.
I told every doctor who came into the room not to give me any more IV’s unless I was asleep. I was pretty adamant about it. After having to have another IV put in for the CT scan, I was down on IV’s. I was tired of being hurt. I wanted to be sedated.
It was like a party in the room. I had somehow morphed into a stand-up comedienne during my entire hospital stay, and I had no idea why. Maybe it was the pain meds, maybe it was nerves, or maybe just my way of coping, but my entire family and I were constantly cutting up and laughing. We were still going strong in the pre-op room, and I had to make everyone promise not to get us kicked out of the hospital while I was in surgery. I needed a room to come back to!
Dr K stopped by to initial my abdomen again (the previous doctor’s initials had come off in the shower) and to check in with me. When she left, I saw she had forgotten her marker on the table beside me. Oooohhh, very dangerous move on her part. The wheels started spinning and I asked the family what they thought about writing a little message or picture on my stomach for serious Dr L. Of course they jumped all over the idea and I quickly had to rein them back in from wanting to turn my abdomen into a graffiti filled billboard. I had my daughter draw a small smiley face and write “Hi Dr L!” underneath it.
I had visions of him being so shocked he passed out in the operating room, so when he checked on me just before surgery I fessed up and told him what we’d done. He was genuinely delighted and amazed that we thought he needed to “lighten up.” I finally asked him what kind of music he likes to listen to and he said we “might be surprised.” Thinking he was going to say he liked country music (no way), he admitted he likes to listen to 70’s classic pop, like Neil Diamond. Not quite the Yo Yo Ma that I suspected (though he said he had seen him play in concert before), but not so surprising. I would have loved it if he had said he liked to listen to country music.
I apologized to my family for anything I might say after the surgery, before the anesthesia wore off. From the moment I entered the hospital I seemed to have no filter. I knew it could get me in trouble if I was zonked out on anesthesia and pain meds.
My daughter’s flight from Portland was delayed 25 minutes, but as one o’clock came and went, and we learned that Dr K’s three small surgeries had taken longer than expected, we realized Dominique had a real shot at making it to the hospital before I went into surgery. Indeed, we got to spend almost an hour with her before they finally wheeled me out of the room around 4:30pm — three and a half hours after our planned time of 1:00pm.
Saying goodbye to my family and Liz was strange. Everyone looked so worried. I had to keep reassuring them that everything would be okay — and I really meant it. I wasn’t worried at all and knew that I would be fine. I remember someone telling me they were going to give me something to relax me, me saying “good, I need that,” and someone putting a cap on my head and trying to shove my hair underneath it.
The last thing I remember is asking the doctors if they could sedate my husband so he would stop taking so many photographs.
In the next instant, my eyes were closed and Dr L was telling me that everyone saw our little joke on my belly and thought it was hilarious. The clock above my head said it was 10:30pm. How could that be? I was conscious but I could not for the life of me open my eyes. It was too much effort. My entire upper and lower abdomen was one huge white bandage. I had new IV’s on both wrists and arms. I had a hard plastic thing inserted under the skin below my left breast.
I don’t remember how I got back to my room. I do remember Michael leaning into me right after surgery telling me that we will be staying in Dallas for a long time, that I will have to see Dr K every three months for the rest of my life. I reassured him not to worry about that now. I wondered why he thought that was so important. I didn’t care where I lived as long as I was alive.
I was in my room surrounded by my family. I told them just because my eyes were closed didn’t mean I couldn’t hear them. I was alive. I was so out of it.
We stayed up talking and had “Family Therapy.” Dominique said I looked like the Dalai Lama sitting up high on his throne, eyes closed, dispensing clairvoyant information. We talked and talked. I told everyone some changes we needed to make as a family. Some things seemed crystal clear, others completely unimportant.
I knew the anesthesia was going to make me act weird. If there were any vestiges of my verbal filter left before the surgery it had been nuked out of existence once and for all by the time I got back to my room. Nothing seemed more important to me at that moment that getting my life in order and setting some things straight.
It was hard to talk. My mouth felt like it was one big cotton ball. Michael and the kids had to keep swabbing my mouth and gums with these little sponges on sticks that the nurse gave us. This cottony dryness lasted for days after the surgery and was very unpleasant.
We talked. We laughed. We cried. My family is so patient with me. I am bossy and selfish and they waited it out with me.
Finally, at 3:30am, I couldn’t stay awake any longer. My sister and the kids drove home and Michael slept on a cot in the room. Apparently I moaned a lot in my sleep. I remember having nightmares in my sleep, dreams of lions eviscerating another animal as I watched.
And for the record, the alien monster baby was officially 13.8 cm long and weighed half a pound. We might have photos of the little beauty, twisted and ruptured in all his glory–but I’m pretty sure you won’t want to see them.
To be continued . . .
Confidence doesn’t come from being the best at something. It comes from realizing you don’t have to be.
How many times have we found ourselves working harder and harder to be better than others at a specific task, only to then reach our goals and realize we’re still just as messed up as we were before? I’m a runner, and the day I qualified for the Boston Marathon was one of the most amazing days of my life. I had finally proven to myself that I was legit, and I felt like qualifying meant there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish.
Only the incredible feeling of invincibility eventually wore off. Even worse, I felt less confident about my running than I did before I qualified. I became plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. By the time I stood at the starting line, I was a mess. I had gotten sick a few days before the race and knew I was in trouble. I looked around at all the toned, athletic bodies around me and felt as if I was an imposter, as if I didn’t really belong there, as if I didn’t deserve to be there. I had a miserable race and wanted to make myself invisible from the cheering crowds.
I was sick alright, and it wasn’t just physical.
My friends and I sometimes push ourselves to the point of injury to get faster, to get better. We claim it’s because we’re competitive, or because we want to be our best selves. Some of my non-running friends find all of this inspiring. Others think it’s just plain crazy. I think it’s probably both.
Because when it’s all said and done, it’s just not that important. Look at Lance Armstrong. His drive to be the best cost him everything in the end. Hubris also played a huge part in his downfall, but perhaps hubris and the drive to be the best at something go hand in hand.
Wanting to be the best doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be the impetus for some incredible changes in our lives. I think it’s when we make being THE BEST at something more important than anything else that leads to a hollow type of confidence. It’s like not being afraid to jump off the ledge but forgetting what’s waiting at the end of the fall.
Fast forward to today. I can’t honestly say that I’m any more confident than I was in Boston, but I can say that I no longer care as much about how fast or how far I run. Of course I still love to run fast. And long distance running is what I love the most. But I’ve realized neither defines who I am or how I view myself, and I don’t feel as if I have anything to prove, to myself or anyone else.
And if I don’t have anything to prove, it just means I’m one small step closer to being happy with what IS. And that’s good enough for now.
I have never reblogged another post, but I loved this one so much I couldn’t resist. It kind of goes along with my most recent post, and I think the sentiments behind the ideas are wonderful and heartfelt. Please check out Run to Inspire’s blog and send them some love.
They say home is where the heart is, and I believe it. I’ve written before about how being in Wyoming feels like home, even though I’ve never lived there. What is it about certain places that instantaneously feels like home?
I admit that home doesn’t have to be a place. People can also feel like home, and make the unknown places you visit better if that person is with you. But for me, home is a place, where things are open and spacious, inspire awe, and make me joyful to be alive.
For me, a place feels like home when I can be myself, when I don’t have to hide who I am or pretend to be someone I’m not. I can live in jeans and t-shirts, forgo almost all makeup, and not worry about having the latest hairstyle or making enough money. I’ve lived most of my life in Dallas and have spent most of that time trying to get away. Even though my closest friends and family are here, as are years of memories, it’s not where I belong.
The first time we drove out West to visit my then-husband’s family, I felt like I relaxed for the first time in my life, like being surprised to realize you’ve been holding your breath and tightening your shoulders. All that melted away when I saw the beautiful, sweeping grandeur of the West.
At first I thought it was just the landscape that made it feel like home, like finally being somewhere I could explore the outdoors and hike and run in beauty. But it was more than that. I lived in Switzerland for seven years in my early twenties, and despite its breathtaking scenery, I never felt comfortable there. I felt like an outsider, and it was a feeling that never left. Switzerland couldn’t have been more different from Texas in every way imaginable, and I was the stranger next door peeking in.
There is something about being in the West that speaks to my soul. I can understand traveling across the country on foot, next to a wagon, following a trail that leads to an unseen place to start a new life. I can understand taking that risk, especially if it brought me to a place where life was what I could make it, not what someone else told me it should be.
I don’t like crowds, and generally avoid large cities when I travel. I especially take to emptiness and lonely landscapes. I like having space. Most people find the places I love to be boring, a whole lot of nothing. Not me. I imagine lying in the grass, watching the clouds slide by, or viewing the heavens on a star-filled night.
I used to do a lot of that when I was a child. Being outdoors, with no particular purpose, may be my best childhood memory and the thing I miss most about being a child. Just being. Outdoors. Just enjoying.
Some places feel like more than home, they feel sacred. Utah is that place for me. I don’t really believe in energy vortexes and all that stuff, but there is a certain feel about all that dry, barren, rockiness that seems electric. It’s almost an unnameable mystery that makes me want to be there. I think of walking there, exploring, trail running, or meditating, of vision quests and being creative, living in a trailer, rejecting modern society, and making things with my hands.
Utah brings out my inner hippie.
Home feels like a place where you don’t care what others think of you, because you know most of the people around you either think the same, or you know they will be accepting of your differences. You speak the same language, so to speak. It doesn’t matter your political views, your stance on religion, or what kind of car you drive. When you’re outdoors, you’re a member of the same tribe.
Remember that old John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High, about “coming home, to a place he’d never been before?” It happens, and when it does, even if you can’t always be home, you know you can live anywhere because home is never far from your heart and mind.
I hope you find your home.
What do you consider “home?” Is it a place, or the people you love? Is it where you grew up, where you now live, or someplace else?
There are places in the world that feel like home even if you’ve never lived there. Places that feel immediately familiar, where your shoulders relax and you sigh deeply. Places that deeply touch some part of your soul and beg you to stay. Places you yearn for when you’re away. Places where you don’t have to be anything other than who you are.
For me, that place is Wyoming.
I’ve traversed America countless times to return to Wyoming. Each time is like a homecoming.
On a flight to Oregon once we flew directly over eastern Wyoming. It’s expansive nothingness was unmistakable. I looked out the window and thought, “My heart is down there.”
I don’t think I’ve ever said anything more true.
For years, my family made summer road trips to Montana and Wyoming. My daughter worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone, then a geologist in Jackson Hole. This summer we returned for her wedding overlooking the Tetons.
On our first trips, Wyoming seemed so far away. Two full days of driving with two bored kids in the backseat almost didn’t seem worth it. The fights, the restlessness, the boredom. But once we got out of Texas (which is over nine hours of the entire trip), and the drive became more scenic, even the kids couldn’t complain too much.
Nowadays we avoid Colorado and sacrifice mountain views for the easy, monotonous drive through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. I ponder the emigrants of the 1800’s walking through these arid places, following their wagons, ready to start a new life. I wonder what it would have been like to be a woman, coming to such a place and raising a family.
This year we drove up through southern Utah, another place I think of as home. Still clinging to our stressful, fast paced city lives, we were anxious to reach Wyoming and help with wedding preparations, and made no stops in Utah. It was tough to drive past Canyonlands and Arches and not enter the parks. For me, southern Utah and the four corners area is like the center of the world, and if there is such a thing as “sacred space,” it is found in Utah.
Regardless of which direction we enter Wyoming, I’m in love the moment we cross the state line. From the lonely, empty landscapes of the east, to the mountains of the west, it’s all magical to me. The sky is huge and never remains the same. Weather changes are dramatic and sudden.
We camped on Shadow Mountain, across the valley and overlooking the Teton mountains. We camped five nights on forest service land, and I couldn’t have been happier. We had only planned on camping three nights, but the choice between a hotel room and sleeping outdoors was an easy one. Despite a fire ban, which meant no evening campfires, every minute spent on the mountain was priceless.
My daughter was married there.
The Tetons wear a different face every morning. Its face changes throughout the day. It’s fascinating to watch those changes. I could never grow tired of the view.
One could sit for a lifetime on Shadow Mountain and grow old, watching the changes sweep across the mountains, and know that despite the changes, nothing really changed at all. This is the mountains’ greatest lesson.
I used to think of Wyoming as being someplace far, far removed from my Texas life. It isn’t. Even if I never physically live there, I will always carry it’s songs and pictures in my heart.
When I’m back in Dallas, in my air conditioned house trying to escape the 100+ degree temperatures outside, I can close my eyes and imagine myself standing before the Tetons. I know all the roads that will take me there. I imagine one long road, a tether, an umbilical cord, between myself and the mountains. I know that at any moment, if my everyday life ever becomes too overwhelming or artificial, all I have to do is start driving.
I’ll be there soon enough.
A couple of weeks ago I experienced some problems with procrastination and motivation, especially in the area of writing. It happens fairly often and tends to coincide with a random change in routine (like being out of town for a week). For inspiration, I downloaded the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short, easy read on fighting Resistance.
I’m terrible about trying to get everything done in my day before sitting down to write. I like to save the best for last. Of course I never get everything done that I want to, and writing usually pays the price. And to be honest, there are many days when I question putting so much time and effort into writing posts that are sometimes very personal and that very few people actually read. Writing takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes I question why I spend so much time doing it.
I remind myself that Vincent van Gogh never sold a painting his entire life either, except to his brother, Theo. Obviously, he wasn’t doing it for the money.
So I turned to a book to help me out of my slump.
As these things often happen, the last part of the book synchronized with a post I had recently written on being who we are, as opposed to who we are meant to be.
We’re not born with unlimited choices.
We can’t be anything we want to be.
We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.
Um, I’m not so sure about that. Mostly, I just don’t believe in a “specific, personal destiny.” I don’t believe there’s that one, true thing everyone was meant to BE, kind of like I don’t believe in that one, true soul mate. He continues:
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.
If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.
If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.
Well, maybe I do agree with that.
I have two children. Both kids came into this world with distinct personalities, interests, and talents. Each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. One is very artistic and creative, the other very logical and mechanical minded. I could not have molded them to be otherwise. They were literally born that way.
Ironically, the creative one became a geologist. Her saving grace: she makes sure there’s enough time in her life for artistic, creative endeavors after work to be happy.
Getting my other child to read anything other than maps, cross-sections, or Tin Tin–and that’s if I could coerce him away from his Legos or video games–was like pulling him from the jaws of a grizzly bear. He now builds wind turbines and couldn’t be happier. And he still doesn’t really like to read.
(Remember, I’m a teacher. Having a child who hated to read was tough.)
In twenty years of teaching, some children’s natural talents were like billboards in the classroom. I’ll never forget third grade Madai and her incredible artistic talent. She made beautiful drawings in class (she was constantly drawing), and was also emotionally mature beyond her years. When I read a picture book aloud to the class about Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics in 1960, I looked up to see tears streaming down Madai’s face. She was absolutely born to be an artist. She felt everything so deeply.
I can honestly say that if she does anything other than something artistic, it will be a terrible shame for herself and the world. She was born to create art.
Other children were fantastic athletes, eloquent speakers, and gifted mathematicians. Most students didn’t display their talents as brightly as a select, dominant few. I was often surprised–and relieved–when the music teacher would tell me one of my academically struggling students was musically gifted. I suspect many quiet students had talents they chose to keep hidden after years of testing and being forced to conform in the classroom.
For me, I’ve always loved to write. From the time of my first lock-and-key five-year diary to journals in high school, to English Lit papers in college to this blog, writing is a natural love. I suspect almost everyone feels the need to express themselves in some manner, and for me writing always met that need.
I never had enough confidence or courage to make it a career, or never made enough time after earning a living to do something with it. I don’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself, or haven’t lived up to my potential, however, because the desire to write is not going to suddenly disappear.
It’s just there, like breathing. It always was and always will be. And as long as I respect the urge to write, and keep writing–even if it’s junk–I’m being true to myself and the person I was “meant to be.”
It might not pay the bills, but it will keep me happy.
Perhaps life is nothing more than figuring out what you were born to do (which to me is the same thing as figuring out who you were meant to be), even if you never make a penny doing it. You may put in the hours at a lackluster job to pay for the groceries and that great vacation you’ve been saving for, but hopefully there’s something else, something meaningful, that makes you feel like a whole person.
Make it your job to make it happen. Life is too short not to.