Tagged: Life

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

peach pit and seedling

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.

– Angela

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Super Bald

Everyone has told me that my hair will start falling out fourteen days after the first chemo treatment, emphasis on WILL. I await this momentous occasion with trepidation, false bravado, and magical thinking that everyone is just plain wrong.

chemo

At my first chemo treatment, with shorter haircut #1

Monday: I am aware of the fact that my hair should start falling out in three days. While sitting in the car, waiting to order a sandwich at Great Outdoors, I feel something on the back of my head. I rub the spot and think, “Great. I’m going to be bald and have a zit on the back of my scalp.”

But there is no bump. Then I realize my scalp hurts, like when you wear your ponytail too high all day and then take it down and your hair is confused as to which direction it should bend. I’m thinking this is the beginning of the end. I’ve heard this is how it starts.

My husband (who is bald) wants me to shave it off, immediately. He tells me to “own it.” He is chomping at the bit, over the moon that, finally, someone will understand how he felt when his hair started falling out in high school. I’m glad I’m talking to him on the phone and not in person so he can’t see my huge eye roll.

I tell him I’m not going to shave my head until I’m certain that my hair is really, definitely going to fall out. I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be one of the lucky ones, that Taxol won’t affect me like it does almost everyone. I know I’m deluding myself, but you never know, there’s always a chance.

Time to pull out the scarves and practice tying knots.

short hair

Shorter haircut #2, and looking mighty thin after surgery and the first two cycles of chemo.

Tuesday: My son’s girlfriend and I have a discussion about not shaving my hair until I’m absolutely certain that it’s really going to fall out. She uses the words “clumps” and “patchy.” She thinks if I cut it really short and it comes out in clumps, I might have bald spots. If I keep it long then at least the longer pieces might cover up the patches.

Am I really considering a female comb-over for myself? Has it really come to this?

The hardest thing of all is going to be losing my eyelashes. I can imagine myself bald, but I cannot for the life of me imagine myself without eyelashes. Eyelashes are pretty, and mine have always been long and worthy of mascara. I resolve to continue wearing mascara until I have only three eyelashes left. Less than that would look ridiculous, right?

Now, losing the eyebrows is an entirely different matter. I don’t mind losing them at all. Here’s to a pluck-free next three months! And how can I complain about not having to shave my legs for the next three months?

Wednesday: My husband can hardly contain his excitement about getting to shave my head. It’s like Christmas in July. Who knew he could derive such joy from such a weird thing? Is this every bald man’s secret dream, to have their wives lose their hair and get to shave it off for them??? I’m mildly disturbed but glad he’s willing to help.

Thursday: Definitely more pain on the back of my head why I wake up. Hair still hanging tight, though.

Friday: A trip out of town has put some distance between my husband and his razor, thank God. This trip was needed, if only for that reason. For the first time, after I wash my hair, I notice a small handful of hair. The exodus has begun.

While visiting relatives in Oklahoma, including an uncle who is battling cancer, my aunt shows us photos of his curly post-chemo hair. I can only dream of getting the curly hair I’ve always wanted. My aunt’s sister-in-law, also a cancer survivor, tells me how hers fell out within a week. Her advice: “shave it all off.”

Saturday: More hair loss. An unexpected trip to the ER later that night (due to an infection where they removed the IVF filter from my neck), and seeing the semi-long strands of hair all over the pillow are proof of the truth. This is really going to happen.

losing hair

It has begun.

Sunday: I’m not happy about being in the hospital on my “good,” non-chemo days. Maybe this colors my thinking, but I’m starting to feel very sad about losing my hair. I thought it would be no big deal. I’m actually dreading having to shave it off.

Monday: I’m released and get to go home. I tell Michael it’s time. Let’s do this.

I’m crying before he even starts shaving. I’m surprised. Why is this so hard? I realize that for the first time in my life I will be bald. I had a full head of hair when I came into this word, jet black American Indian hair my mom always said, so this is something completely new. It feels like the time I decided to ride the double loop roller coaster for the first time with my son, how I would have paid someone any amount of money to stop the ride and pull me off before we got to the top of the hill and descended into the first loop.

I do not want to shave off my hair.

He gets out the electric shaver and starts shaving. I cry the entire time. I hate it so much.

cancer scarf

I really, really hate this.

Afterwards, I look at myself and think of all the things my female friends have said when discussing this: You’re going to look great. You have such a pretty face. I can’t wait to see what you’ll look like.

I look like a concentration camp victim. I look like a bug. I look really ugly.

I don’t want anyone to see me. I am so embarrassed.

What is up with me? I’m a feminist! It’s just temporary!! I am more than my hair!!!

I am almost bald.

chemo hair

Fake smile. I’m still crying inside.

It takes me days to get used to the shock of seeing myself in the bathroom mirror. I wear a scarf or hat and never take it off until the lights are off. What I could hide before is now visible to the entire world: I have cancer. I could pick and choose who I let know what I was going through before. Now, there’s no hiding.

When I reached a certain age, namely 50, I noticed I suddenly became a little bit invisible. Ask most middle-aged women and they will tell you the same thing. There’s a certain threshold a woman reaches when male eyes glance and slide past to younger, greener pastures. But there is also a freedom that comes with being invisible, a more carefree kind of existence, and you learn to accept that you have to make yourself visible with more than just your looks.

But now, suddenly, people were looking at me again. Their eyes would linger just a little longer than they should, noticing my scarf and lack of hair. It wasn’t mean-looking, it was more curiosity-looking. It’s summer in Texas and she’s wearing a scarf. Something must be wrong with her.

chemo head

Almost gone.

And that’s the problem right there. I hate having to show my weakness to the world. Even against something like cancer, I hate having to show others that there is something that may be stronger than me, something I can’t fight off or wish away.

Being bald is the manifestation of the weakness one has to accept when they have cancer. It’s the loss of control that’s on display for everyone to see. Before, I didn’t have to tell you unless I wanted you to know. Chemo, in addition to all the other harsh effects on your body, makes it visible for everyone to see. It takes your choice away.

It’s really okay, it’s been a great lesson for me, especially in giving up control. But when you’re forced to make yourself so vulnerable to others, to show them what you’re dealing with, there’s a lot of pity that comes from that–and I do not want anyone’s pity over this.

All I really want is my hair.

last chemo

Leaving my last chemo treatment. By this time I’ve lost almost all of my eyebrows and eyelashes.

Have You Missed Me?

As you might have noticed, I went missing for a while. I started a story and left everyone hanging, right in the middle.

How rude of me, and probably somewhat thoughtless to those who don’t see me outside the words of these posts.  My only excuse, and the real reason I went missing, is that it was hard.

Life became a daily cycle of feeling like crap and not wanting to bring anyone down to where I was. I didn’t want to talk about it, think about it, or put into words how hard it was. It was too close. I needed a break from cancer, so I took it.

Chemo is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, in every way you can imagine. I never doubted that I would survive, but I have no idea why I ever felt that way. Maybe I was naive, or in denial, or just plain stupidly stubborn  And it wasn’t bravery or strength, and I’m certainly no hero just for having survived cancer. Braver, stronger women than myself have fought much harder than I ever did and still lost.

I was simply lucky enough to be diagnosed before it had spread.

I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy, but cancer itself was also never the enemy. It was always just something that happened to me, a bunch of rapidly dividing cells that found a home on my left ovary.

Chemo and I, on the other hand, were never friends, and I cursed him often. He had a job to do, though, and because of that I tried to be as accommodating as possible. I hated chemo. Chemo was scary because I could physically feel, with each treatment, that his poison had the power to kill all of me, and not just the cancer cells.

medicines

Having cancer has been quite an experience, a very humbling one, to say the least. But it’s even more humbling to know that I survived.

Today I sit here on the last day of the year, reflecting on everything that’s transpired this past year, from the first inkling I had on January 4, the day after our wedding, that something wasn’t right, to a trip to the ER, surgery, chemo, and now, recovery.  While I was thinking about all of this, the thought crossed my mind that I should be ready to see 2013 go. Hell, I should be ready to kick it’s sorry ass to the other side of the moon!

But in all actuality I’m kind of sad to see this year end. In some strange way, I’m okay with all that’s happened. It wasn’t all bad.

I married a wonderful guy, one who challenges me everyday to see things in a different way and to be a better person. I logged a lot of good running miles the first five months of the year, and I’m slowly starting to run again.

I got a lot of reading done. It wasn’t always quality reading, but those fluffy novels got me through many hours of post-chemo nausea and fatigue so deep I could barely get out of bed. And I won’t even go into depth on all the hours I spent watching Breaking Bad on my iPad. I credit it for saving my sanity those first two worst chemo treatments.

I got a lot of knitting done, too, and set up an Etsy shop. I rediscovered walking. My taste buds are back, and a good, cheesy pizza is once again heaven on Earth.

I learned that my children have turned into good, kind, caring adults, and that they chose their partners well. I discovered that people you think you barely know can turn out to be nicer than you ever imagined. I realized that people want to help, that almost everyone is kind in their own way.

I got four new hairstyles this year: shorter, even shorter, bald, and now a quarter inch of baby fine fluff with a lot more white hair (or extreme blonde, as I prefer) than before.

That’s me on the right, in case you couldn’t figure it out. Everyone loves to rub my baby soft hair now.

I learned that you can become friends with someone and love them just through their words and emails, and that losing them hurts just as much as losing someone you’ve known your entire life. Friendships, like life, can be forged–and lost–in the blink of an eye.

The words “life is short” became real this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate more now, the so-called little things. Taking a walk outside, running without a watch, playing games with my kids, cooking a meal together, hearing a good song on the radio . . . I could go on and on. I try not to waste those moments.

But there is still a story to be finished, a resolution to be told.

So in 2014 I want to finish the story I started, if only to help other women and their loved ones, and to honor my friend Katie and all the women who didn’t make it. Even though you all know that I’m okay now, please bear with me for the next few months while I write up all the unfinished posts I started. Maybe something I share will help you or someone in your life one day.

So, as I bid adios to 2013, I have to admit it was a good year, if only for this one big reason: I’m still alive.

teal ribbon

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.

The best people in the world!

The best people in the world!

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.

I'm holding the beautiful blanket Heather gave me, inscribed with my name.

I’m holding the beautiful blanket Heather gave me, inscribed with my name.

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!

Too Good Not to Share

I stumbled upon a great blog I love, My Swollen Stomach, when I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer two months ago. Her story is slowly unfolding into something similar, yet very different, from my own. The writer was 22 years old when her journey began.

Please take a moment to read her blog. Start at the beginning. All I can say is, if someone had told me I had to wait six months for surgery to remove my “cyst,” like this young woman was first told, and sent home in the kind of excruciating pain I was experiencing, cancer probably would have killed me.

Sadly, this is what happens all too often to women who are not lucky enough to experience any symptoms or pain that may alert them earlier to the fact that they could have ovarian cancer.

There is no diagnostic screening for ovarian cancer.

Most women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer when it is already in the advanced stages. The overall five year survival rate for ovarian cancer is only 43.7%.

This year alone, 22,240 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. 14,030 women will die from this silent, deadly killer.

Chilling.

Cancer statistics for ovarian cancer

teal-ribbon1

New Plasticware and Smurfdom

I now have two more cancer related procedures under my belt and a new piece of plasticware in my body. Last week I had the IVC filter (aka the clot catcher) removed and a second chemo port inserted in my upper chest. Neither procedure was necessarily painful, but both were certainly uncomfortable and strange.

It was a very long day. My son and his girlfriend brought me to the hospital at 10:00am. We waited afterwards in the waiting room until 12:15pm, waited in the pre-op room until 3:00pm, and I was brought back to the room at 6:00pm. After recovering from the sedation for about an hour and eating a sandwich and chips, I got home around 7:30pm. Apparently Mondays are their busiest day and they had had no cancellations, like they usually did.

The nicest thing was seeing one of the two guys and the beautiful Kenyan woman who were there when the IVC filter was first inserted the night before surgery. J, the missing participant, called in sick that day. Having the same people there really helped make the procedure less scary. Amazingly, the nurse who was in charge of me during the procedures also knew one of the women in my running group. He mentioned Kim who was “always running crazy distances.” I asked if her last name was _____, and he couldn’t believe I knew her. It’s definitely a small world.

By the time I got to the room I was very tired of being on my back. I always sleep on my side and have never been able to get comfortable on my back. When they wheeled me into the room and closed the door to surgery, the door popped back open on its own. This happened over and over. The doctors scrambled and tried to barricade it with surgical equipment from the room, but the door wouldn’t hold. My nurse, A, would very calmly move the equipment the impatient doctors tried to jimmy-rig and calmly tell everyone that maintenance would be there soon and they would have to move it anyway. Then another doctor would get antsy to get started and move something else in front of the door, and A would very calmly move it once again. Over and over.

port

A maintenance guy finally came and unscrewed the hinge so they could open and close the door manually. Apparently there had been an override button that had been removed very recently that would have solved the problem from the beginning.

All of this took a full hour, and I was on my back on the hard, plastic bed the entire time.

Finally the doctors could get started with the first procedure: removal of the IVC filter. W, the Kenyan princess, swabbed my neck and chest with antiseptic and the “conscious sedation” was begun. I was told to turn my head to the left and not move, and a large paper sheet was put over my face and head. They made sure to tie it up in front of my face because I’m  a little claustrophobic.

I had to wonder who was in charge of the music in the room. It was definitely some sort of classic mix, and there was a lot of Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver. Being a former JD groupie in junior high, I kind of liked it. Since I was already under sedation, I remember babbling to the doctors and nurses about how much my tough, inner city fifth grade students loved John Denver songs, especially “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” S said he didn’t think he’d ever even heard that song. (Really? Am I really that old?) I think the doctors thought I was a little weird, but I’m sure they’ve heard worse from patients under sedation.

After my embarrassing display of John Denver nerdiness, the doctors were on a mission to get started and GO HOME. I understood. It had been a long day and I was the last procedure of the day.

I just wanted off that uncomfortable table.

First I was given shots of Lidocaine, which hurts and burns a lot, to deaden the area on my neck. The procedure to remove the filter lasted about an hour and they even showed me what it looked like, dripping with blood, after they took it out. Pretty cool stuff. I asked if I could take it home but they wouldn’t let me. Liability issues.

IVC-Filter

After that they put in the port. Both procedures involve making a hole in the side of my neck and accessing a vein. For the IVC filter they sent down a wire into a vein in the middle of my chest, where the filter was previously placed, and they grabbed the little hook on the top and just pulled it out. It took a few tries (remember, they are leaning right over my right ear the entire time and I heard everything they said, every “ugh,” “aw,” and sigh).

Inserting a port seemed a little more involved and was a little more uncomfortable. After inserting a tube into a vein going up my upper right chest, that then goes down to the top of my heart, they made a small pocket below that in my chest and slid in the plastic port. Now all my chemo meds can be accessed through this port rather than having to have an IV each time.

I was glad when both procedures were done and I could go home. I didn’t realize how much I had been dreading the procedures.

A few hours later, at home, I looked at myself in the mirror and was aghast to see blue lines all over my neck, chest, and right shoulder. It looked like my veins had exploded.

I looked like a Smurf.

Smurf

I thought maybe it was the contrast they had used for the x-rays. Then I got a little worried. I went online to do some super-sleuthing, but all I could find was something about calling the doctor if your lips and fingernails turned blue. Nails and lips were good. Skin, not so much.

I debated calling the on-call doctor. I felt okay. Nothing hurt. I decided to sit on the couch and do nothing.

Suddenly I had a thought. I went to the bathroom and wet some toilet paper. It was on my skin. The blue stuff was left over from when W had washed me down with antiseptic.

It all came off. I felt like the world’s biggest idiot.

I blame it on the sedation.

Back Home Again

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.

Eating in bed

Donut pillows make the best plate holders for eating in bed.

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.

WRRC

White Rock Running Co-op, my running group

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.

Runners

The fast guys at the front

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!

Kilt

The indomitable Dane, who’s really a Scots, who proves that real men do wear skirts.

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.

Marine Corps Marathon 2013 shirt

Hoping there’s some way I can still be ready for Marine Corps.

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.

The Confidence to Not be the Best

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.

Dallas Marathon 2012

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.

Enemies and Rivals

We have met the enemy and he is us.  – Pogo

I’m tired. I work hard, I run hard, and I never seem to have enough fun. Everywhere I turn these days it seems someone is showing me their angry face, or I’m reading yet another snide blog post from someone who is angry at someone else who is taking all their hard-earned money and having a great life at their expense.

I’m so tired of the rhetoric.

The election is over and we’ve all moved on. Right? Wrong. And of course we shouldn’t just “move on.” That’s not how democracy works. We should all be ready to roll up our sleeves, dive in, and get this country back on track. All of us, We the People, not just the ones who vote the same as we do.

And that’s what is making me tired.

Seven years ago I started running. The people I run with are the best friends I have. We laid one to rest yesterday and perhaps it’s the reason I woke up this morning with these thoughts pushing their way to the front of my crowded brain. Things that once seemed important no longer do. Life is short, and I have some things to get off my chest.

My friends and I run crazy long distances for hours at a time, and no subject matter is off the table. Within my larger circle of running friends we rarely talk religion or politics, which pretty much mirrors life at large. I suspect most of us don’t talk religion or politics with our less close friends either. Within my smaller circle of running friends, however, religion and politics is what we talk about the most, kind of like what we do with our families.

Even amongst my less close running friends, we all get along great. We come from all walks of life, have very different jobs from one another, enjoy varying interests outside of running, and we break bread and toss back a cold beer together quite often. We really like one another.

Beer

Beer: the great equalizer

Of course we all stay in touch on Facebook when we’re not running together. But something happened these past two months. We had to choose our next president. For some people, Facebook suddenly became a battlefield. Things I never would have expected to see were posted, not just by my running friends, but by everyone. Some of the posts were funny, some rude, some mean, and some downright ridiculous. What bothered me the most wasn’t what was said — though some of it was very surprising — it was the vitriol behind the words, the hatred and disrespect if you felt differently.

The other day I read a blog post that disturbed me, but I couldn’t figure out why:

When we answer to each other, as we do now, we are only as successful as our neighbor allows us to be and he is only as prosperous as we permit him to be.

When one neighbor can pass a law or raise taxes on another neighbor, then we all lose making one man’s tax benefit another man’s income loss. This negative spiral of self-defeating tax and law resolutions causes every man to have a small piece of his own personal freedom (and income) taken away from him by his neighbor. In this way we each take turns taking from, and losing to, each other until in the end, everyone is just a slave to everyone else.

Many people feel this way. Even my better half leans in this direction, and I still love him. I find those words sad and cynical. What happened to being my brother’s keeper and all that? The fact that for this person his “neighbors” are the ones keeping him from personal happiness (and solvency), and his equating this to slavery, makes me wonder how we got so far off track. I appreciate his thoughts, though, because I’m trying really hard to understand views that are so different from my own.

(Personal aside that really bugs me about his post: he eventually throws in something about having to pay for his neighbor the teacher’s higher salary, health care benefits, pension, and school building improvements. Sigh. Those evil, greedy teachers who are once again out to steal money from those who have real jobs. At least he didn’t bring in the unions. For 18 years I was admired for being a teacher, and about two years ago I seemingly overnight became the root of all problems in this country, without even being a member of a union. Fighting teacher-hate makes me really tired. I apologize for the digression.)

Dog

Shasta asks the question: Can’t we all just get along?

The entire point of my tiredness is this: WE, the citizens of this country, are not the enemy. When did we let ourselves be convinced to turn on each other, to be each others’ victims and rivals? We’re spending so much time these days hating some other guy (myself included, apparently, considering my response to the aforementioned blog post) that we’ve lost sight of the fact that our country is only as great as we make it.

We own this place. Those people in Washington are there as our representatives. I live in Texas and I’m not a Republican. My congressional representatives rarely represent my views. That doesn’t mean I throw up my hands and cry uncle. I don’t want to go out and shoot up a school, either, but I do bitch and moan a lot because I earned the right to do so when I voted.  I continue to make my views known to my Senators, even though I rarely agree with their votes, because that’s the way it works. I have to trust in that. If I didn’t, I would try to change it.

As for taxes, of course there are problems. Teaching in a low income neighborhood for 20 years illuminated a lot of welfare abuse. I saw it firsthand. But here’s the deal: those poor families and their children who need assistance aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t going to magically disappear and suddenly leave more money in your pocket. Isn’t it better to try and help their children, and at least offer them a good education as a way out of poverty? If we can’t see the benefits of having good public schools, as a way of preserving our country’s future, without resulting to privatization and making a profit off our kids’ education, then there’s no hope for us. None. Hopefully those tax dollars will come back to us in the form of intelligent, responsible citizens. They won’t all be lost. I’m willing to help my neighbor with that, and I’m willing to see the bigger picture and think of the ramifications for the future, not just my own small, short life.

Poor people are not the enemy. A larger share of our tax dollars go to mega corporations in the form of tax breaks, grants, and incentives. These corporations then use our tax dollars to develop new products, which then leads to jobs being outsourced overseas to people who will work for pennies a day. Then these same companies turn around, pay the guys at the top six and seven figure salaries, and the corporation pays little to no taxes. Isn’t this just another form of welfare? Socialism? Capitalism? I’m not seeing many benefits to our country by continuing down this path. I’m not anti-business. I would love to run my own small company. But if you’re going to use my tax dollars, I’d like you to at least contribute something back to society.

We have plenty of money in this country, it’s just in all the wrong places. But, really, rich people aren’t the enemy either. We all know that. Let’s work on putting our money where it can be put to good use.

Maybe we should all turn off CNN and Fox News and start thinking for ourselves. Look around. Talk to those neighbors you resent so much. Bandy together and see what you can do to change the things you don’t like. Accept that there will be differences in your beliefs. Those differences are what make life interesting. Assume that most people are smart enough, and have enough common sense, to be able to make good decisions. Debate. Talk.

And, please, let’s get rid of all the catch-phrases and labels. Liberals, socialists, conservatives, entitlements, idiots, blah, blah, blah. I am not an idiot because I think something other than you. It’s not okay to belittle someone because they’re different. Please, be respectful.

Houston Marathon 2012

Houston Marathon 2012

I didn’t support the decision to go to Iraq. I had a teenage son at the time and worried about all the sons and daughters being sent off to die for something I wasn’t convinced was right. It hurt when others felt my nonsupport was unpatriotic and treasonous, as if the simple acts of questioning war and fearing for the safety of our troops made me less of a patriot. Now I shake my own head in disbelief at those who talk of secession. Is that a more honorable solution, to walk away rather than work towards a better future? I’m very confused by this.

It’s all much more complicated than I’ve stated. There are no easy answers. I would lose any debate on this issue, I’m sure, and get way too emotional for my own good. I’m just someone who is tired of the way we all seem to hate each other these days. I see it when I drive my car, when I buy groceries, when someone steals my lawn mower and my grill, and when people talk about others they don’t even know. I honestly think our differences are smaller than we imagine. We seem to have lost sight of the ability to “walk a mile in someone’s else’s shoes.” Compassion is not only reserved for those who believe as you do.

I sometimes feel as if we’re treating each other as opposing sides at a football game, with our future, the football, being thrown around so haphazardly. Us against them. Maybe we could take a lesson from my running group, all of us so very different, but all running — together — towards the same finish line. I think we owe it to each other, to our children’s futures, and to the future of this country that we all love.

We have a lot to lose if we don’t.