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.
Rogue Flowers in January
We’ve had a fairly mild winter this year in North Texas. No surprise, really, after the hottest summer on record. I was surprised to discover, however, that there are still a few rogue flowers trying to push out a few more blooms in the cooler temps. While playing with the dogs in the back yard the other day, a flash of golden orange appeared in the wildflower patch. I believe it’s Calendula, one of my favorite flowers from the summer.
Last spring I bought a packet of wildflower seeds and spread them out along a fence, along with some giant sunflower seeds. Of course it stormed a few days after I spread the seed, and a lot of them washed away. It was fun to see what flowers survived the deluge and would appear throughout the summer. There were quite a few Black Eyed Susans and Sweet Alyssum (which is also still blooming in January), but one of my favorites were the Calendulas. Their large, showy, dark green leaves are impressive on their own, and stand out amongst the more fragile wildflowers. The color of the flowers are a beautiful deep, golden orange.
The other flower that made a reappearance last week was a Blanket Flower, otherwise known as Arizona Sun. It’s trying really hard to bloom, but I think the cold nights were too much for it. It’s a little sad looking, especially in the rain.
This winter has been so mild, in fact, that I’m still able to grow lettuce in my vegetable garden. I’ve been covering them on cold nights with a sheet of clear plastic and, except for an attack of hungry caterpillars that nearly did them in, they’re growing splendidly. The bricks on the sides and down the middle are to gather heat during the day, but also to keep the plastic off the lettuce when it’s covered.
In my book, you can never have enough flowers in your life, so these unexpected rogue flowers were a real treat this week.
The Winter Garden: Kamikaze Gardening Cont’d
Michael and I are novice gardeners, living in the heart of the ninth largest city in the country. I like to call it kamikaze gardening at its best. Now that the weather has finally turned cool again and we can actually spend time outdoors without dying of heatstroke, my thoughts have turned to growing a winter garden.
In my continuing effort to eat healthier, last week I visited my local used bookstore for cookbooks. I was specifically looking for books on cooking vegetables. I found two really great books: Serving Up the Harvest: Celebrating the Goodness of Fresh Vegetables and Simply in Season. What I love about both books is that the recipes are set up by season, and go along with the things you might grow in your garden. I can’t wait to try out all the recipes.
After perusing both books, and realizing there are vegetables that actually grow during the cold months, I announced to Michael that we absolutely had to go to our local nursery and plant a winter garden. A few weeks ago we spent an entire day in the garden, cleaning up after The Hottest Summer on Record, and planting a row of loose leaf lettuce. Since we don’t usually have our first frost until the very end of November, we figured we might be lucky enough to get another crop of lettuce before it got too cold to grow anything.
In the spring we had planted a gazillion miniscule lettuce seeds, but a huge thunderstorm the very next morning washed all but seven tiny seeds away. I found seven little lettuce plants scattered around the garden a few weeks later and transplanted them back to their original bed. I nurtured them all spring like they were my children. Despite the dogs’ best efforts at trampling them to death (before we got smart and erected a fence), for a few weeks in spring we had the best lettuce I’ve ever eaten. Then the extreme heat took over and pretty much did them in.
On Saturday we went to the nursery and bought chives for the herb garden, three broccoli, three brussels sprouts, two spinach, and two arugula plants. Since we had done such a good job in the spring of mixing our own compost into the clay soil, planting the new vegetables didn’t take long at all. Hopefully we’ll have delicious winter vegetables from our very own winter garden a little later in the season.
I’ve always been somewhat of a “granola” type, but even I’m surprised by how much I love growing things. Flower gardening brings its own sense of fulfillment and creates beauty for the house, not to mention being good for the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but growing our own vegetables and herbs is much more satisfying. I feel both self-reliant and Earth Mother-ish at the same time. Michael and I are making a serious effort to live more self-sufficiently, and this is a step in the right direction.
Before the Heat, There Were Flowers
We made it all the way to 40 straight days of triple digit temperatures here in Dallas, two days away from tying the record. Most of us were somewhat sad we didn’t at least tie the record because we wanted something to show for our Summer of Misery, like a medal at the end of a marathon. Oh well. Little did we know that we hadn’t yet crossed the finish line. Yesterday we officially claimed the #2 spot for total number of days at or above 100 degrees. We’re at 57 days so far and need to reach 69 to tie.
I’m hoping we don’t make it to 69. Chances are we will.
The potentially hottest Texas summer on record also happened to coincide with the summer we decided to start a garden. We had a bumper crop of tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, zucchini, and herbs in June, but the only things that have been able to withstand the intense heat have been the peppers (jalapeno, habanero, cayenne), okra, and watermelons. Several of the watermelons split from the intense heat before they were ripe, but the okra is thriving. I love okra, but have never eaten so much okra in my life.
Before the extreme heat, while the vegetable garden was in its infancy, we had flowers. Beautiful, vibrant, abundant flowers. Here’s to the memory of those flowers and cooler days.