This is What Happens When Cancer Takes Over Your Blog
Top searches that brought people to my blog this month:
– i’m 63 will i definitely lose my hair during chemotherapy?
– golytely not working kids
– i did my golytely prep but it feels like something is stuck
– chemo day 14
Well, I have only myself to blame.
It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy. Very busy. So busy I pretty much stopped writing for six months.
Let’s just say, life is good. Very good.
Last year was an incredible year. I got married, was in the best shape of my life, had just come back from a vacation in Utah (one of my top three places on earth) with my son and his girlfriend, and had enough finished knitted items to toy seriously with the idea of starting my own little business.
And then at the end of May I went to the ER. And quickly discovered I had cancer. Ovarian cancer.
I won’t go into detail about that year. I wrote extensively about the experience here on Mind Margins. After surgery and chemo, I was declared cancer-free by December 2013.
It was an incredible experience. I am so lucky to have caught it early and to have survived. Two friends I made during that time, and the majority of women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year (all years, in fact), weren’t so lucky.
Looking back at this past year post-cancer, I suppose I went through a modified version of the stages of grief. During treatment I was nothing but positive. I never, ever thought I wouldn’t survive. Post-chemo, however, was another story. Looking back on what I had gone through, and survived, I initially felt scared. I thought a lot about dying. That turned to anger. Then sadness. Then just plain depression. It didn’t last long, but these past few months I needed a break from all things cancer.
And every time I sat down to write, my fingers wanted to write about having cancer. My brain didn’t.
So I did everything but write–which means I got a lot of knitting done. I started running again. I spent a lot of time just sitting and thinking about what had happened and the things I learned from it. I put things in perspective and reorganized my life. My husband and I finally went on our honeymoon.
I grew my hair back.
And I knit. I knit a lot, sometimes for hours and hours. These past six months have been filled with family and love, appreciation for life, and learning to pick up where I left off. It sounds trite, but things that used to seem so important really aren’t anymore. When little things get to me now, it’s easier to see how unimportant they are. I don’t brood for days over them, like before.
I know how short life is, and how every moment is a choice. Either we embrace what we’re given and move forward, or we stay stagnant in resentments and feelings of injustice.
Relationships are important. Being kind is important. Never forgetting how short life can be is really important.
Though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading. I may not have commented on my friends’ blogs, but I have been keeping up.
I’m running again, and am up to 10 miles. I’m slower than I was before, but that’s okay. My oncologist says I’ve inspired her to run, and we’ve run two 5K’s together, both of them benefiting cancer. I even have my future daughter-in-law running with me. I’m also doing strength training and eating much healthier than before. Except for some residual chemo brain fog, I feel great. I’m not the same person I was before, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve learned a lot from cancer, but it’s time to release its hold on my blog. Here’s to more writing, more questions, and more thoughts on being human.
Picking Up Where I Left Off
I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve been doing everything but finish the post I had started about my second round of chemo. I had planned on finishing the story. Instead, I’ve done everything but write about it. In all honesty, I’ve forgotten a lot of what happened. Whether from the chemo drugs or selective memory, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did. I made notes during that time, and we have video and photos, but I haven’t wanted to look at them.
The main reason I’ve been procrastinating, though, is nothing other than pure dread of reliving the experience. Now that I’ve put a little distance between what happened and my return to “normal” living, I much prefer the way things have turned out. It’s hard to leave the bright lights of survivorship and go back to that dark, scary place.
And so I keep putting it off. I write about knitting. Or I don’t write at all. I have enjoyed getting my life back on track and feeling good again. I do yoga. I run. I go for a walk. Last weekend I ran my first 9 mile loop around the lake since last May, with walk breaks, and I’m starting to feel as good as I used to. Running is still very, very hard. It’s taken me much longer than I thought it would to get my conditioning and stamina back. I still have to walk a lot, and after every run I am bone tired. But I realize every step, no matter how fast, is an accomplishment. Thankfully, I have good friends who still want to run with me, despite the walk breaks.
I have been very emotional lately. All those salute to mothers commercials during the Olympics always made me cry. Any athlete’s story that was highlighted made me cry. Even seeing the winning athletes stand on the podium made me cry! I seem to feel things more deeply now that I know how tenuous life can be.
Reading other cancer patients’ blogs makes me feel so sad for them. I love reading them, but I feel frustrated that I can’t help. I saw a bald woman walking her dog at the lake the other day and I instantly teared up. I wanted to run over to her and tell her how beautiful and brave she was for walking in the open without a scarf. I didn’t, and I wish I had. I was never brave enough to walk around without a cap, even at the cancer center.
I dreaded going back to the hospital for blood work a few weeks ago for my three month check up. I thought that sitting in the waiting room amongst the people going through chemo was going to make me want to cry. It didn’t, and instead I looked around at all the amazing, strong, upbeat people who were waiting for chemo. They all had hope, and it made me proud to know I was once one of them. Instead of feeling sad, I felt powerful for having made it through. I got to see the chemo nurses. Seeing my oncologist and her nurses felt like going to see my family. And my CA-125 cancer antigen number was a 9, the lowest it’s ever been.
I celebrated a birthday this month. It was, of course, a very special birthday, one I might not have seen if we hadn’t caught the cancer as early as we did. A year ago Saturday was the last marathon I ran before I got sick. There are lots of milestones ahead in the coming months, and I plan on celebrating them all.
The kids are all gone again and the house is a lot more quiet. We’re starting a large vegetable garden in the backyard and I’ve been eating a lot healthier than I was before. I love being able to enjoy and savor the taste of good, simple food again. Losing my taste buds and not eating were by far the worst parts of chemo. That, and losing my hair, which has grown out to about an inch now–with a lot more gray, dammit. My body looks different after being sliced open and having tubes inserted for chemo ports, one of which still remains in my chest.
I’ve changed. There’s no way around it. The first few months after chemo were joyful. Everything was shiny and new. I had my life back. I had dodged a bullet. That was so close! Nothing could touch me now. I was like teflon; all the small aggravations and worries seemed inconsequential and insignificant.
Now that things have settled down again, and I physically feel almost as good as I did before I was diagnosed, I’ve had more time to think about all that I went through. I’m a little more somber. The shiny, happy feeling is a little more tarnished. The fog cleared and I understood for the first time how serious everything had truly been. I could have died. Chemo was hell. How did I get through all that? Every slight twinge of pain anywhere in my body now makes me instantly worried. What if it comes back? is always in the back of my mind.
But I survived. Hopefully the cancer will never come back. If it does, I know I’ll be able to deal with it, like so many others have done and continue to do every day that they’re given. I’m only one of many who have gone through this. Some days I’ll feel sad about what I went through, but most days I won’t. There’s no reason to. I’m alive, I’m healthy again, and life is very, very good.
And one day I will finish the story I started, all in good time.
My Last Day as a Normal Person
The day before my very first chemo treatment I decided to spend my last day as a normal person, doing some of the everyday things that I love the most. My objective: to have fun and not worry about the next eighteen weeks of chemo.
First things first: I slept in late. It was heaven. I lounged around until 10:00AM or so, read a book, checked my email, blog posts, and Facebook, then finally decided to get up and take a shower. There was no hurry.
Next on the agenda: really bad-for-you, high calorie fast food from Cane’s (chicken tenders, fries, Dr Pepper, and extra Cane’s sauce). I know. It’s my guilty not-so-secret.
It wouldn’t be a day as a normal person unless I went to Target. I love Target. My motto has always been: If you can’t get it at Target, then you really don’t need it. And no, Target is not sponsoring this post. (Neither is Cane’s.) I bought a bunch of things I would consider “cancer snacks,” which was really nothing more than stuff that sounded good at the time: gummy fruit snacks, chocolate pudding, nutty protein bars, and a big bag of pistachio nuts. I had no idea if I would really want to eat any of this stuff if I felt nauseous from the chemo, but we would certainly find out.
After Target, my son’s girlfriend made a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, my favorite. We had both been craving something sugary all week, so she was kind enough to make it. I had a huge piece and loved every single bite before dinner.
I spent a little time watching TV, relaxing, and gathering my thoughts about the next day. I was nervous, but not unnecessarily so. I wasn’t afraid, but felt uncertain about what it would really be like, and if it would be as bad as everyone said it would be.
I met a group of running friends for dinner at a small, local restaurant. We had been trying for several weeks to have a Ladies Night Out, but somehow Bill and Anil crashed the party and became honorary girls for the night. It was such a great evening, filled with talk of running, being sick, our lives, a little gossip, and exclamations over how good the food was. I had a tasty dinner salad with an excellent risotto with shrimp.
To end the night, all but two of us piled into our cars and went to see the movie Before Midnight. I loved the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and had been looking forward to the next installment for years. Literally, years. Maybe it was because being a normal person was exhausting, or because my mind was on the next day’s first chemo session, but I was disappointed. Maybe it was the build-up. Maybe I’m too much of a hopeless romantic. I still liked the movie, and should probably see it again in a different frame of mind and when I’m less worn out, but I found the talk exhausting. Maybe the pushing forty Jesse and Celine were both just a little too real this time for me.
I’m tired of real. I have enough real on my plate right now to last me a lifetime.
To top off my last day as a normal person, my daughter arrived from Portland to be here for me during my first two chemo sessions. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I have the best daughter and son in the world. Having them both here to help me through this, along with my husband and my son’s girlfriend, not to mention my awesome friends, has been the biggest blessing of my life so far.
It was a perfect day.
Bring on the chemo!
A Great Way to Start a Day of Feasting
If you’re an athlete, you love to eat. It’s one of the main reasons I run so much, so I can eat what I want without having to worry too much about putting on weight. Thanksgiving, however, throws me under the bus every year. I love sugary desserts, and can’t resist going whole hog on that one day of the year (well, except for Christmas and my birthday, of course).
The solution: run the annual Turkey Trot in the morning and start the day of feasting with negative calories. Dallas supposedly has the largest Thanksgiving Day run in the country, drawing over 36,800 runners and walkers last year. With temperatures in the low 60’s at the start this year, I have no doubt that the 5K and 8 mile races drew an even larger crowd. I was sick this year and didn’t run, but my better half, Michael, took some awesome photos of the event.
Things always get started off with pre-race warm up exercises.
Some people really get into the warm up, especially the kids.
The event begins and ends in front of City Hall, which was featured in that fine 70’s sci-fi flick, Logan’s Run (yeah, the one with Farrah Fawcett).
Everyone and their dog comes out for the big day. There are lots and lots of dogs. And strollers.
It’s more fun when you run it with good friends.
Come on, Dude. Really? You’re kind of missing the point.
If you want to race, you better start up front to escape the masses. This guy’s serious about burning off his pre-feast calories.
A sprint to the 5K finish is a fight to the end for these guys. It was neck and neck all the way to the end.
Someone forgot to tell him you never run in cotton on a warm day.
She makes it look easy with both feet off the ground in her super fast minimal shoes.
Are they giving thanks, or just posing for a photo? I love people who run in costumes, but have no desire to do it myself.
There’s always one Dead Head in every crowd, in every city.
You gotta love a guy who runs barefoot wearing a t-shirt advertising beef. Muy macho. I wonder if he’s listening to Metallica, too?
The eight mile course has a puke-inducing uphill finish. Bon appetit, guy with the banana!
Here’s the real reason most people run the Turkey Trot: to drink beer and bloody Mary’s in the cemetery afterwards with their friends. It’s carbs!
And if you can’t join them, you can at least give them a hand.
Some people remind us just how much we have to be thankful for, and to remember those who can’t be with us.
Here’s to another year of eating and turkey trotting with good friends. I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Family: The Gift that Keeps On Giving
This past weekend we drove to Oklahoma for a cousin’s youngest daughter’s wedding. Though I have only one sister, I have a large extended family, including a gazillion cousins. This weekend was a touching reminder of how special it is to spend time with family.
Out of all my cousins, the ones I feel closest to are Mike and Mark. Only one or two years apart in age, we literally grew up together. They’ve been with me since almost the beginning of life as I know it.
They were the brothers I never had. When my parents moved from their small town in Oklahoma, we lived in the garage apartment behind their house. We lived a block away from where Lee Harvey Oswald lived, though we didn’t move there until a year after President Kennedy’s assassination.
We were always outside, running around, climbing trees, playing games. One of our favorite things to do was play Tarzan. Poor Mark always had to be either Boy or Cheetah, and sometimes he played both rolls. Their mom, Aunt Faye, was like a second mom to me and my sister. Despite the chaos and aggravation of raising three boys, she and my Uncle John usually managed to see the humor in the boys’ crazy antics.
Eventually we moved out of the garage apartment and got our own house, but it was still only a few miles from theirs and we saw each other often.
When we got to high school, my aunt and uncle decided to move back to the small Oklahoma town they grew up in. Since just about my entire mom and dad’s family still lived there as well, we visited often.
We’ve stayed close through the years, even as adults. One of the best times of my life was one fall through summer when Mark and I were both divorced and heady with freedom. I would drive up for the weekend and we would spend our time on his friends’ pontoon boat at the lake, followed by country and western dancing at the local honkytonk. There were family reunions and camping trips, and lots and lots of laughter.
There’s something about being with family that’s unlike any other time you spend. Family who’ve known you since you were born, who’ve seen you grow and change and mature, who’ve seen you become a parent and even a grandparent. It’s like a deep exhale. It’s like being yourself again, after years of pretending to be someone you’re not.
We’re kind of old now. I see my cousins and they look so different, but I know their younger selves are still there, just hiding beneath the surface. Mark smiles, and I see his evil grin and flashing eyes signalling some trick he’s just played on one of us when we were kids playing in front of my grandma’s house. Mike looks down shyly, and I’m reminded of how quiet and introspective he always was, even when other boys his age were full of bravado and showing off.
I love them both so much.
I know that no matter what I do, where I go, how different I can be, or how many times I stumble in life, they will always be there for me.
I can’t say that about many other people, even other family members.
I was so touched watching Mark walk his last child down the aisle, her veil covering her face. I cried when he tenderly pulled back the veil and kissed her on the cheek, before returning to his seat. My first child is getting married this summer, and I thought about what it will be like for me when that day comes.
After the wedding, Michael and I, and Mark and his wife Terri, all went back to Mike and Kym’s house at the lake, and sat on the patio around a fire. Surrounded by pine trees and a full moon, we drank beer and reminisced. I got to know Kym and Terri a little better, and they got to know Michael. We talked about life in a small town, our lives as adults, and our children. We talked about growing old.
Mostly, we laughed. We laughed a lot. We had the best time. It felt like being home.
It felt like family.
Channeling My Grandmother’s Chicken and Dumplings
The other day I happened to notice on my calendar that this Sunday is Grandparents’ Day. This made me think of my grandmother, Moss, who always makes me think of chicken and dumplings. In my humble opinion, there’s no greater comfort food than chicken and dumplings, and no one made it like Moss. Anytime we visited her in Idabel, Oklahoma, I would always ask her to make it for me, despite my mom’s protests. I can’t remember a time that Moss refused.
Moss got her name from my little cousin Stevie, and I think it came from saying Grand-MA’S, which eventually turned into Ma’s, then Moss. You know how these nicknames come about. Moss used to tell me that one day I would be a teacher, and she was right. She always had my Big Chief writing tablet waiting for me when we came to visit, and I would find a spot to sit and write plays, stories, poems, or whatever else came to mind. While I wrote, she was in the kitchen with my mom, making chicken and dumplings. I was a skinny kid, and she was always trying to fatten me up.
Both my mom and dad are from Broken Bow, and my sister and I were born in the nearest town that had a hospital, Idabel. Broken Bow was tiny, and they left there for Dallas shortly after my sister was born. They went back often, and we had lots of aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins in Broken Bow. I hated those three and a half hour drives, but my little sister and I always had tons of fun playing with our cousins once we got there. I learned to ride a bike in Broken Bow (thanks Becky), tried to learn to water ski (never successful), and huddled in a root cellar to dodge a tornado once (it was scary). We spent every major holiday in Broken Bow, had the best Easter egg hunts ever, and I now realize those were golden years.
One Friday we left Dallas to spend the weekend in Oklahoma. I was 13. Idabel, where Moss lived, is about a 20 minute drive down the road from Broken Bow, and was always our first stop. We stayed for awhile to visit, and I decided to spend the night with Moss while the rest of the family drove over to Broken Bow. Moss and her friend were going to go see a movie and I wanted to go with them. At the very last second, just as my family was backing up the car, I changed my mind. I wanted to go stay with cousins Keith and Becky instead.
The next morning, we were playing in one of the back bedrooms and the phone rang. I don’t remember the particulars of what was said, but I knew something was wrong because my mom started crying. I just sat there, listening, knowing something was wrong, and I think my dad came in to tell us what had happened. Moss and her friend had been killed in a car accident on the way home from the movie. Someone had rear-ended their car on the highway and they lost control. The police thought it was probably a drunk driver.
I remember Keith telling me it was okay to cry. I didn’t. I pretended nothing was wrong. But inside, I was thinking, what if I had spent the night? Would it have made a difference?
The rest of the weekend was a blur and I don’t remember much. I chose not to go to her funeral because I wanted to remember her alive. I think I wasn’t ready to let go. I don’t remember when I finally cried, but a few years ago, when I drove through Idabel to visit family in Broken Bow, the memories of Moss and that weekend came flooding back and I cried like my heart was breaking. Maybe that was the first time I truly cried from losing her.
She was gone way too early. Moss always loved and accepted me, and she didn’t care if I was skinny, or quiet, or mean, or bossy. She bought me finger paints, and she made me chicken and dumplings. I don’t remember her ever raising her voice, or getting angry, or being impatient. All I remember is love.
So yesterday I found a recipe and started cooking. I had only attempted chicken and dumplings once before, when I lived in Switzerland in the 80’s and craved something from my past. None of the Europeans were very impressed with my Southern comfort food.
This time I was older, a more experienced cook, and there was purpose behind the intent. I wanted to honor Moss and all the times she had made me such a time consuming dish for no other reason than she knew it would make me happy.
After the shock of eviscerating a chicken (I knew I should’ve gotten the cut up fryer), and frying it up for a nice brown crust (making me realize there’s a reason fried chicken has always been so popular), things got easier. The entire dish wasn’t difficult at all, but it was time consuming. It took me about 3 hours from start to finish, but it was worth it. Even Michael liked it, Ohio Yankee that he is (he still doesn’t like okra, though).
Was it as good as Moss’s chicken and dumplings? No, nothing will ever compare to that. Hers was infused with love for her children and grandchildren, the special ingredient that only grandmothers own. One day I hope to carry on the tradition and make chicken and dumplings for my grandchildren, without even thinking twice about it, and I’ll tell them all about their great-grandmother Moss, and how much she loved me.
I can’t wait!