Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Sight for Sore Eyes

One thing that I love about people who have had cancer is that they reach out, automatically to other cancer fighters. It's instinctive, and it is heartfelt, and I love that. This is how I met my new friend Mary. She's just finished her radiation, and she has been a huge comfort to me on my own journey. Yesterday I sent Mary an e-mail.

Mary!!!!!!

After a couple weeks of feeling like a bristle head, that sensation of unshaven legs (on my head), I CAN SEE HAIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Silver hair, like a grizzly bear, maybe. I CAN SEE MY HAIR!

*stands here blinking tears back*



Standing in front of the mirror, turning my head this way and that, my first instinct was to run from the bathroom in a towel to send Mary an e-mail. I couldn't wait to share my 'happy'. The thing is, I knew that it would make her day, just as she has, so often during these dark times, made my day. When this is all over and done with, the best thing that I can think to be is a 'Mary' to someone else.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fear Not

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more puppies

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Okay. Maybe there is something wrong with me, but that picture above cracked me up. I howled with laughter. Funniest thing I've seen for a while. Some people will find it sacrilegious. I'm very aware that my mindset is quite different from the mindset of a lot of Christians. I've been doing a lot of thinking about my church. I'm fully aware that my pastor would like me to be quieter. I'm fully aware that as a Sunday school teacher, I'm awfully laid back. I don't believe in raising hands. I tell them that they are in middle school now, and that they are becoming adults. They are old enough to discuss things with one another without raising their hands. I do not teach the class so much as they teach each other. We read our lesson and then beat it to death with discussion. They are just getting the hang of discussion. Last year they did not talk in class. They listened to their teacher and did a craft. I'm also aware, despite my atheist roots, and the fact that when I finally did begin to attend church, I was a heathen Episcopalian (joking, people, I'm just joking), the congreation at my church loves me, and they made this known to Tim and me in these last few months. It is a humbling thing to be on the receiving end of this outpouring, and I have learned a lot about love from my people. I love my church and I love the people there. In return, they love my joy.

Have you all heard about 2012? It is reported to be the year that the world will end, according to the Mayan calendar. Nostradamus has also predicted the end of the world in 2012. I've heard that some of the televangelists are jumping on the bandwagon. The buzz appears to be getting louder. People are convinced that the world will end in 2012. In churches, on TV, on college campuses. When I went to Philly to see Dixie, we talked about it over wine. Dixie was shocked. Apparently this news has not been disseminated within the heathen Episcopal church yet. Dixie and Bob are two of the smartest people that I know, so I was trying to explain how I can love the people of my church so much even as I struggle with this feeling that I do not 'fit' there.

A couple weeks ago, a elderly woman in our church got up to tell us that something big was going to happen in 2012. She talked about great spiritual leaders predicting the end of the world. She spoke on the prophesies of the Book of Revelations. She cautioned us all to get right with God before the world ended, and she specifically targeted parents to make sure that their children were being raised in a Godly home, so that they would not be lost. It was quite a stirring sermon, and I'm sure that she earnestly meant to do God's business that day. I listened, and I cringed a little. I am a Sunday School teacher after all and I knew, for a fact, that she had just scared the bejeebers out of every child in that church.

Sure enough, the following week, the lesson was on Jesus calming the storm. The first question from our book was "What are you afraid of?" Eyes grew wide and the answer came. 2012 scared the mess out of every one of them. I'm kind of direct, so we hit it head on, from my point of view. I thought of my friend Peryl, who had died, and of the mother who lost her daughter, and of my own dealings with cancer. I explained to them that every single day the world ended, for people we knew, for people we didn't. God put us here in this time, in this place for a reason, and that as far as I was concerned our top priority should be living the life that He intended. Is the world coming to an end in 2012? No. I don't think so because Jesus himself said that no one knows when this will happen. Ergo, if everyone is convinced it is going to happen in 2012, it seems unlikely that it would happen then since the element of surprise would be lost. In any case, it seems to me that the end of the world falls completely in the realm of 'God's business'. I'm a big believer in letting God handle His business. Hopefully, in the end, He'll be happy with the way I'm handling mine, my business being my life, my own life. Not the life of others. My own life. The end.

I've been kind of wrestling with this issue, and was curious about how other teachers were handling the topic in the classroom. I was advised not to discuss it. I'm watching to see how this unfolds, but I have to tell you, the most often repeated phrase in the New Testament is 'Fear not'. I think that a church full of fearful children would grieve God something awful. I can't be a part of that. I won't be. Anyone else out there dealing with this?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fear Factor

When I was at Dylan's house, kneading bread dough, I noticed a sharp pain in the front of my neck whenever I turned my head. Touching it, I was surprised to feel a large lump. I called the cancer center and made an appointment. Then I went on kneading my bread, and set the dough to rise. Inside, whole 'nuther story. It was just heartstopping. It just couldn't be happening. I just finished chemo, for pity's sake! Amazingly, by the end of the day, the lump was gone. This morning, the doctor said she couldn't feel it either, and speculated that it might have been a swollen lymph node.


I keep thinking of that sharp shock of fear when I felt that lump. I'm a pretty calm person, not given over to fearfulness. Well. At least I used to be. Cancer has changed me. I find myself wondering if things will ever go back to normal, or is this the new me?

The Waltons

Through the wonders of cable TV, I found myself watching an episode of 'The Waltons' at Dylan's house as I packed my stuff up to go. It was my absolute favorite program as a teenager. I have not seen it in years. My back was to the TV when the theme music began to play, I froze, and the past came rushing in. I remembered the pattern of the brown rug I sprawled on to watch it. I remembered the olive green naugahyde furniture. I remembered what it was to be skinny, to be healthy, to be young, and to take these things for granted.
I sat down to watch the program and indulge my nostalgia. It was so sweet and simple and wholesome. The episode ended happily, as they most always did. "Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, mama. Good night, Daddy, etc." Unexpectedly, I found myself ready to cry. It sure would be nice if life could be that sweet and simple and wholesome. It would be nice if all crises worked themselves out in an hour. It would be nice if everything had a happy ending.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Last One

Today I will give myself a neupogen shot. It is my 54th. It is also my last one.
(Happy dance!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dylan

There is understanding something with your head, and there is understanding in your heart I understand, in my mind, that my children are grown ups. In my heart though, I'm always going to be one of those moms who keep forgetting that fact. I've had a very nice visit with Dylan. It has been again brought home to me that he's a man now. I've watched him go off to work in his nice Jeep. His house is small and neatly kept. He's very organized. He is very sensible. I watch him have a beer after work and I feel no need to lecture. I was even surprised to see that he now owns an iron and ironing board.
Huh.
I know he's a grown man and can take care of himself, but today I made a double batch of pepperoni rolls and made chicken and biscuits for him. I folded his laundry. It felt good to revert to 'mom mode', and Dylan is now mature enough not to mind.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ordinary

Well, I made it. I'm sitting in Dylan's house. It was quite an adventure starting out. It was snowing, and there were white outs. I drove very cautiously, with my heart in my throat for most of the first half of the trip. I just figured that things would be much better once I began to head east on 80. Not so much. The first thing to meet my eyes was a wrecked semi truck, and within sight of that, another vehicle, an SUV, had crashed through the guardrails and was lying down over the bank. I started to doubt the wisdom of my celebration trip.

Gradually, things cleared up, and I was able to actually go the speed limit. By the time that I finally made the five hour trip, it had taken me well over six hours. I got to Dylan's house 7 minutes before he had to leave for work. "Watch some TV," he said. Easier said than done. He has four remotes and cable, and something to record programs for him when he's not home. Shoot. I couldn't make the system work. I spied his laptop. I figured to check in with you folks. I called him on his cell. "What's your password?" I asked. "Er..." he said. "Um. Let me clean it up a little before you get on it." *sigh* He was not raised this way. I sat very still in his little house trying not to touch anything. Living in the woods makes one a bit technologically challenged. Dylan would tell you that I am technologically retarded. Dylan does not worry about being politically correct.

So I folded Dylan's socks. He has a lot of socks. Probably because he would rather buy new ones than match the ones that he's got. It took a long time to match and fold his socks.

He had to go to work briefly this morning, but I expect that he will be home shortly. Then our weekend will begin.

I'm happy to be here. I'll be happy to see Dixie and Bob tomorrow. Hawk Mountain is near by, and I am going to give Dylan a few cooking lessons. We'll explore around and see what's happening in the little town of Fleetwood. We'll talk and visit. I'll take pictures. It seems kind of ordinary and tame, doesn't it? Maybe. It's actually been quite a while since I've had a chance to be ordinary. I'm savoring every minute.

PS. I brought a camera.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Overwhelmed

What a day!


There was a big 'happy ad' in the newspaper for me. Karen came from church with a tote which contained all sorts of pampering type stuff...velour pajamas, bathsalts, scented candle, a CD of thunderstorms (you will not understand how terrific that is unless you've seen me stop what I am doing to watch a storm roll in). These things will be wonderfully comforting. Another Karen made me a pillow case. It is soft and emblazened with princesses. Mary J. who just finished her radiation and been such a wonderful support to me had a gift bag. I have a 'Save the Ta-tas' teeshirt and bumper sticker, and the really good chocolate. I nearly cried when one of the staff gave me a pink ribbon pin. I hadn't realized that I began coming to the cancer center at about the same time she started working there. She privately considered me 'her' patient. It seems like I'm finding a congratulatory post everywhere I go in blogland (Bush Babe's got the most complete list, I think, since this was all her idea) and I have to tell you that these things have touched me more than I can say. I'm emotional, lightheaded, sparks flashing before my eyes, ears buzzing. I need to go lie back down, but I wanted to say thanks, from the bottom of my heart. I will write a more coherent post later, but I wanted to tell you all that this has been one of the most remarkable days of my life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thanks

This morning started off like any other morning. I woke up early and slipped downstairs, made my morning cup, and wandered to the computer to wander around in blogland. Much to my surprise, I found that Bush Babe had arranged a virtual party to celebrate my last day of chemo. I sat there with tears in my eyes as I read her post. I was even more touched to see that Alison had posted, after a long absence. Through the day, the posts kept coming in, one after another. Oh you guys! I'm overwhelmed. This is just one of the very nicest things that ever happened to me. As I discover each new post, I have to say, you all make me smile. Big.

I've been looking forward to February 19th for what seems like forever, even though it has only been four months. Flipping the page to February was pretty exciting. Now I sit here on the eve of the big day, and I'm actually so anxious to get this last one done and over that I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep tonight. Seriously.

I'm trying to think of something profound to say, and I can't. I leave you with this: Today I went to the Cancer Center for my first radiation consult. An old man came in wearing a long blonde wig. He had the wig pulled into two pig tails, braided, with pink ribbons. He had plunked his ball cap on top of it. I burst out laughing as soon as I saw him and he grinned. "I love your hair," I said. He said, "Well, hell, if you gotta have cancer, you might just as well have some fun with it." I agreed with him. He was a garrulous charactor. I'm sort of a blabber mouth myself, so the next thing you know, we are talking and laughing like two people who have known each other a hundred years. It wasn't long before Bob was whisked away for his treatment. I heard his voice echoing down the hall as he tormented the staff mercilessly. There was another old gentleman sitting there and I said, "You know, I envy that guy! What a wonderful attitude." And that gentleman related his story of the first time he'd run into Bob, and how hard he'd laughed at his comic chatter. We both agreed on this one thing: One person with a big smile makes everybody smile.

Know what? When I go back tomorrow, I'll be the one grinning. Thanks to all of you for putting that grin on my face. I will pass it on. God bless you all.

Thank you Bush Babe, Hal, Pam, Jeannie (and 'Salina), Alison and her kewl girls, and Scotty. You made my day!
PS: If I missed anyone, I apologize. I didn't find you. Leave me a comment and I'll stop by.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monster

I keep studying my calendar. The picture of South Molle Island is nice, but even nicer are the carefully inked words in the box labeled February 19th: Final chemo. Only two words, but it makes me glad every time I read them.

The first chemo seems so long ago, like staring back through a long dark tunnel at the pinpoint of light that marks the entrance. It was an exhausting time. It was emotional. My drug clouded mind often meant that it was hard to think straight. The changes in my appearance were hard to take. I often felt lonely and isolated, but at the same time, hesitated to call people because I was ashamed and fearful that I would sound like a whiner. The last four months have not been a good time. I read the words on the calendar each time I pass. February 19th: Final chemo.

Friday morning, when I wake up early, instead of lying in bed trying not to wake up Tim as my mind whirls off on this tangent and that, I will simply get up and drive to Allentown to have five days with Dylan. While I am there, I will get to see my friend Dixie who lives 29 miles away from him. I have raised a hilarious son, and Dixie is drop dead funny. We will drink wine and celebrate, and we will tell funny stories. We will laugh until we cry, I imagine. We always do. She will regale me with stories of her cousin Florrie, and Boom-Boom the cat, of her job adventures. We will laugh until we are gasping for breath. I'm no slouch in the funny stories department either, so I will add my own, and we will laugh some more. Before it is said and done, I imagine that I'll be telling some chemo stories. The first treatment of the second half of chemo, when the benedryl affected me so badly, and my blood pressure dropped, and I was trying so hard to be stoic. The day in the ER with the excruciating headache and the cheerful doctor with the booming voice who whistled while he worked. I explained to him, repeatedly, that the whistling had to stop. After three shots of morphine, I wearily and tearfully told Tim that if he walked in the room whistling one more time, I would rise from the table and rip his ****** lips off. None of these events were particularly funny at the time, but as I tell them, in hindsight, I will see enormous humor in them. Dixie will add her two cents, and before you know it, tears will be falling and hands will be slapping on the table as we howl with laughter in the most undignified manner. As good storytelling does, one story will lead to another, and to another. I expect that by the time we've put a bottle or two of wine away, we will have found a great deal of humor in these last months.

On September 26th I found a lump. It was cancer, and cancer was a frightening monster to face. This weekend, I will laugh in the face of it, and I can guarantee you that I will laugh as hard as I've ever laughed about anything in this life. When I come home from Allentown, a monster will have been whittled down to size. I will take a deep breath and begin radiation.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fun and Games

My friend Debbie sent this along(thanks, Debbie!). I am not a mathematician so I cannot tell you how this works. If there is someone out there who can explain it to me, let me know. Will write more later. Am still trying to the stump the little rodent.
PS: I noticed that the symbols don't stay the same, changing from turn to turn.
I'm hopeful of an explanation from one of you brainiacs.

Announcement to 'my sheep'

Yesterday's post generated a quick response:
"you seem to be very good at not judging people! NOT! if it isn't what your views are you're very quick to condemn people. you may lead your sheep to believe that you are a peaceful and wise person, but you're not what you say you are or lead people to think you are. sorry you're sick and I hope you get to celebrate your 50th anniversary. from someone who knows"
The person responsible for this comment (either directly, or indirectly) is known to me. Hell. He's related to me. His major problem is that he is a serial cheater. He breaks up marriages. Tim and I believe that if a marriage is not working, you give your all to fixing it, or you end it. You don't sneak and cheat around, and then become outraged because people don't see you as the innocent victim. In justifying his behavior, he has said, "I may have done the wrong thing, but I've done it for the right reasons."
What?!!!! What does this mean?
Cheating is a choice, and it is a wrong one. We want our children to understand this. Anonymous is a loud mouth who wants the world to feel sorry for his latest mess. He cannot stop condemning his soon to be ex-wife. He feels that it is 'telling his side of the story'. He seeks to justify his own behavior. That's all, and if you think that he's wrong, the name calling begins.
"Judgemental."
"Hypocrite."
"Our lady of immaculate perfection."
He thinks himself quite clever.
The fact is this. People have a right to their opinions. Anonymous spouts his opinions all the time. He does not seem to understand that other people can have different opinions, and that this is the way of the world. He ridicules and criticizes others endlessly. His opinions are, of course, the only right ones.
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I had a choice here. I could have blocked all anonymous comments, but I chose not to. I love to hear from people like DavidM and BB's mum, two other 'anonymous' commenters that spring to mind right away. I'd hate to miss them. I have enabled comment moderation and will simply delete Anonymous' comments from now on in. He has nothing of importance to add. We don't welcome his anger and his deceitful chaos into our lives, and I will not welcome it on my blog. I think at this point, it would behoove him to simply shut up and leave well enough alone.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Marriage

One of the greatest things in this world is a marriage that 'takes', one that lasts for life. I will never have that. Tim and I married when we were 41. We will have our 11th anniversary in a couple months. We had already missed a significant portion of each other's lives by the time that we met. When we married, I told Tim that I'd always wanted a 50th wedding anniversary, and that I meant to have one. He needed to take care of himself, because if something happened to him before he turned 91, I'd kill him. My little joke seems ironic these days. Cancer is a question mark.
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Divorce is a fairly common thing. I'm not going to judge anyone else's marriage. It's not my business. Believe me, I know that sometimes two people simply cannot make a life together. Still, though, it seems sad though that so many of them don't last. They run into a rough patch, and suddenly it's over, everything being divided up, two very angry people finger pointing and blaming. They begin another relationship secure in the knowledge that everything wrong in the first marriage was the fault of their ex. Their complete and utter blamelessness dooms the new relationship from the very start.
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I like to watch people who have been married for years. If someone has been married for a lifetime, the one thing you can know is that not all of those years have been good ones. The hard times come, and together two people endure. Romance turns to parenting and work and bills and other struggles. No one is the same at 20 as they are at 40, so the marriage must acknowledge and accomodate those changes as well. All of the emotion there is in the world finds its vent within a marriage. Just as marriage does not fail because of hard times, it does not succeed because of the lack of them. People just learn to cope with these things, and as each crisis comes, as each crisis is met, a marriage becomes stronger.
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This is not one of the easiest times of our marriage. I've always been self conscious. Now I am bald, and my skin is fine lined, and I'm lopsided, and I have no eyebrows or eyelashes. I try to be good natured about it, calling myself 'Uncle Fester', but it bothers me. A lot. But when my husband reaches for me, he does not see what I see. He sees what I was before all of this. He sees what I will be again when this time is done. It is not the candles in the bedroom that create that illusion. Tim deals with unemployment. He cannot get a callback. He feels stupid, and he feels inadequate. I imagine that he is a little afraid. Together we have worked a plan to get through these times. He is not happy about my job and a half, but I tell him it is what it is. We can only tough this time out. He'll work on the apartments, and we will wait for this horrible time to pass. He is the hardest working person I know. It is not his paycheck that creates that illusion. We struggle with these things, and we move from one day to the next. Our marriage is a good one. It is not a life of ease that creates this illusion.
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'The two shall become as one...' This does not happen in a wedding ceremony. If you let it, though, it will happen in a marriage. When it does, it is beautiful. Illusions fall away, and what is left is real. What is left endures.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Book of Love


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Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.
(Sorry that this came too late for your Karma-thon, Blicky Kitty)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stories

I read blogs because I think that everyone has a story, and I find them all fascinating. There are as many stories in the world as there are people.
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Melissa's mother wrote me to tell me how much my blog meant to her daughter. Her daughter had terminal cancer. I don't understand how my journey could have possibly made a difference in her journey, but I am glad that it might have. Her mother wrote again to tell me that she had died on Thursday. This mother has lived every mother's nightmare, watching her grown daughter lose a battle to cancer, and I cried for her.
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Today at the Cancer Center, I met another couple on the church prayer list. Only in their 20s, the young wife is also dealing with cancer. We had plenty to talk about and regaled each other with 'God moments' from our respective journeys. I drew strength from her.
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Yesterday, I met a friend who's dealing with cancer for the second time. She knows the ropes, having walked this walk before. We talked for a long time. I asked lots of questions about radiation. She answered them patiently. I learned from her.
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I saw Mary again. She told me that she is about ready to give up her wig. She gave me a peek at her hair. I could not believe how much it had grown since I'd seen her just a couple weeks before. I rejoiced with her.
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We all have stories. I've heard so many of them this week. Peryl's story. Bush Babe's story. Scotty's story. Stevyn's story. So many others. I understand why we are called to be in fellowship with one another by God Himself. Our stories matter. The life of one person is meant to dovetail neatly into the lives of others. We are designed to be part of a bigger picture. I can't think of anything sadder than a person who honestly believes that s/he has no story to contribute to the great narrative of this world.

What to Say?

One year ago, cancer was still something that happened to other people. One year ago I still hated my hair. One year ago the idea of giving myself shots in the stomach would have been something that I would have said that I could never do. I would have still been the self sufficient woman my husband married. My poor stressed dog would not be an emotional eater. The list goes on and on.
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I've learned a lot about myself this year. I've learned that I can endure a lot more than I ever thought that I could. I've learned that turning to others is not a weakness. And that no matter how close I am to 'breaking', if you bring my children into the room, I become a mom, and I am wise, and sensible, and practical for their sakes. I've learned to live day by day, to deal with the issues at hand instead of fretting over the stuff that looms on the horizon.
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I've been trying to assess the impact that cancer has had on my life. I'll be speaking at Clarion University at their Relay of Life, and I cannot imagine what I will say. Cancer is not the worst
thing that has ever happened to me. This surprises me, but it is true. The truly good things in my life were only made better by the experience. I finally found the courage to simply step away from the negative things that I've agonized over for years. This awful time has been filled with blessings. Cancer is scary and uncertain. It's uncomfortable, and it is a mental challenge, always, but I feel like the person emerging from this dark place is a better person than she was before.
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I'd also like to vote that the next time I have a big life lesson to learn, I just get issued a study guide with the answers at the end of the chapter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Big Hairy Deal

I'm almost afraid to put it in writing, but it kind of looks like my hair might be growing back...

Go in Peace

"Forget past mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you're going to do now and do it" - William Durant
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Sometimes to move on, you must take a good hard look at your life and figure out what holds you frozen and immobile. You must make a conscious decision to step away from the chaos, to refuse to be bogged down any longer. It is not an act of hate. It is a simple acknowlegement that you wish to head in a different direction.
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It is a time for me to consider my life.
To cherish my husband.
To nurture my children.
To immerse myself in the joy of friends.
To think on God.
To pray.
Right at this time, I am called to judge myself.
When it is over, mom is right.
God will be my judge.
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I'm looking for peace in my life, and I am finding it.
Wish me well.
For those who are headed another way,
go in peace.
I wish you well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ordinary Miracle

Well, after getting the computer operational again, we kept getting a message that the printer and the computer were no longer on speaking terms. We were not aware that there was a problem, but there it was. Two pieces of equipment shunning each other. We are trying to get our tax paperwork organized. Tim is still applying for jobs, and needs cover letters done. We needed to reconcile this equipment's relationship, so we dragged out the self help books, we dragged out the disks. We were trying our best.
Yeah.
It must have been quite the argument.
These two were still not speaking after two long days.
Tim got home from Pittsburgh today, and asked me if I'd fixed the computer. Had to tell him no. He pulled the printer forward to take another look at things. Oh, me of little faith! I uttered the fateful (and sarcastic) words. "I've already done all that, Tim. It still won't work." He muttered something back, and I said, "Yep. And this time, we'll get a miracle."
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The words no sooner left my mouth then the printer sprang to life. Tim had not yet touched anything. It just began to work.
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Dear God, forgive my unbelieving.
Oh.
And thanks, too.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Importance

We went to the funeral home for Peryl's viewing. There was a huge line, and we talked with others while we waited in line. None of their children live close by. Ken thanked us for the cold cuts, and began to ask questions about how I was doing. That's his nature. Still it made me want to cry. I asked one of his sons specifically when the family will be leaving so that I could spread the word. We've already decided to help out with meals, stop in to visit. We cannot bear for our neighbor to be alone. The son says that he thinks his father will come home with one of the children for a while, and that makes us glad. They are a couple who took great delight in their family, so this is a good thing for Ken. Later, when we talked to Ken, his voice cracked, when he said, "I don't know how I can go on living in that house by myself. I don't think I can do it."
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I think about all the marks that a person can make on this world. I think of the great men and women celebrated by history, by the media. I think about what it means to be important, to make a difference. I look at Ken and Peryl's grandchildren, many with quivering chins and red eyes. I look at Ken's gaunt face. There was a teeny, tiny lady named Peryl that no one outside our little corner of the world ever heard of, and realize that there are different ways to measure importance. Peryl was important. I look at her lying small in her huge casket, her worn and well used Bible lying next to her. She was a hardworking dynamo who loved her family and God.
She left quite a mark on her corner of the world.
Peryl was an important woman.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Oz

I've heard a lot about the hot, hot Australian summer from Scotty, and Bush Babe has been telling us about the brush fires. One of her friends, Gem was heartstoppingly near the fires. It is a frightening thing to read about (newspaper article here). Let's take a moment to say a prayer for the folks affected by the flooding and the wild fires in Australia.

Ken And Peryl


Tim and I went to visit his brother, Dan and Dan's wife, Carrie, a couple years ago. In hindsight, I cannot tell you exactly how it came to be, but by the time we left their house, Tim had bought a backhoe. Carrie was thrilled. Hornburg men have a pretty unconventional idea of what constitute lawn ornaments, so I understood her excitement as she offered a buy one, get one free deal. I declined her offer without hesitation, since I've got a Hornburg man at my own house who has his own stash of necessaries artfully arranged around the property. We certainly did not need any more stuff for our yard. I did, however, invite them to come visit us just as soon as possible.
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Tim immediately began to tear up large patches of lawn with his new toy. I have always wanted a koi pond, so he dug a huge hole in the side of the yard. It has sat there for a couple years, just being a hole. When you have children, there is just always something that you need a lot worse than a koi pond, but finally, this year, I got the kit to do the pond. Oh, it was exciting. It took forever to get the liner set up properly, but I wanted this to be a nice pond. We got it all just so. The only thing left was just to get rocks to arrange around the lined hole in the ground.
My husband found a nice pile of rocks down in the woods. We had been having a long stretch of rainy weather, but one day the sun came out. Tim took this as a sign and hopped on the backhoe, heading down to the rock pile, Cara and I walking behind. Now, I will say that as we walked behind the backhoe, going deeper and deeper into the woods, there was a small voice inside me saying, "I don't know, this doesn't look so safe...this might not be the best idea that Tim has ever had." I ignored the voice. Tim's a pretty smart guy, not given to recklessness. He would not put his backhoe in danger. I told that little voice to shush and marched on.
When we got to the pile of rock, I do have to say, there WERE some mighty fine rocks there. We got the rocks we needed for the pond, but there were also a lot of flat rocks that would make a very nice walkway, so we loaded them up too. Tim started the backhoe up to head back home, but the big wheels just spun, digging themselves deeper and deeper into the mud. That little voice inside me began to speak again, and this time, I was having a harder time ignoring it, as my sense of foreboding grew. In one heartstopping moment, one of the rear wheels began to bobble up and down a little, and I knew what was going to happen. I started screaming my head off, just as loud as a person can scream with two hands over her mouth. But Tim heard me, and as the backhoe leaned to the side, he leapt off, climbing over the side as it rolled, not completely over, but up, hanging there on three wheels, tilted crazily.
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We all stood staring at the scene in shock. When I saw Tim purposefully striding right back toward the backhoe, I started shrieking some more. He gave me a disgusted look, pushed a lever, swung the bucket as far to the left as it would go, and the backhoe dropped back onto 4 wheels. Determined not to ignore any small voices this time, I continued yelling for him to "Get away from that! leave it right where it sits! I mean it! I mean it! get back!" etc. etc. etc. To the untrained ear, it may have actually sounded as if I was furious at him. Any wife would understand that it was really love being expressed, lots and lots of love. As we walked out of the woods, I did not stop expressing my love for him at the top of my lungs. I loved without ceasing for some time. At one point, I did stop to draw a breath. Cara wryly interjected, "Hey, Tim, there it is...proof positive that Mom loves you more than the dog." Once love begins to flow, it's a hard thing to stop, so I turned to her, and unleashed a flood of love in her direction, too. Love was in the air, and it touched every living thing within earshot.
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Well, I did calm down. I got lunch on the table, got Tim off to work, and Cara off to work. In the silence of the house, I began to consider the situation. I just knew that Tim would not be reasonable and simply leave the backhoe in the woods for all of eternity. I knew that he would want it back decorating his yard. Being the faithfilled woman that I am, I was worried sick, afraid that he would damage himself badly in the process.
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That night, at a church meeting, it was asked if anyone had any prayer requests. Boy, did I ever. I poured my concern out to a group of sympathetic women, who clucked their tongues at the careless natures of men, related similar stories, and promised to pray. It was during that time that it ocurred to me that our neighbor down the road had a backhoe. Ken was also 80-odd years old. I figured that any man with a backhoe that had survived that many years would certainly have some handy tips to provide my husband. The women all assured me that going to talk to the neighbor on my own was certain to make Tim good and mad, but my mind was made up. I didn't care how mad it made him, I was going to ask Ken for help.
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I left the church and on the way home stopped by to visit with our neighbors. His wife, Peryl, met me at the door and understood my fears straightaway. She comforted me by telling me about the time that Ken did flip his backhoe. Not partway. All the way. Laid that machine right on its side. Ken filled in the details. The only actual comfort that I was able to derive from their story was that Ken stood before my very eyes, none the worse for his misadventure. I made a mental note: Men with backhoes appeared to live to be 80 only by sheer good fortune and divine intervention. But Ken hopped on his four wheeler and went right off to take a look. He called later that night to assure me that the situation was not so dire as I thought, and that once the ground dried out, it would not be a big deal to get the backhoe unstuck and back home. He cheerfully offered to help.
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Well, to make a long story short, it rained and rained and rained, but nearly two weeks later we were able to get the backhoe back home, only after unloading all of our rocks. In his quiet bullheaded way, Tim did it without help, not wanting to inconvenience Ken and Peryl. Later on that night, talking as we fell asleep, I told Tim that it really did not matter if I ever ended up with my little pond. I tried to explain to Tim how scared I was, heart stoppingly, stomach droppingly terrified to see that wheel bobble and I pleaded with him to never take such a risk again. In the darkness he said, "You know, when Columbus set off for the new world, he did not know what would happen. For all he knew, he was going to fall off the edge of the world. Men just do things. We don't stop to be afraid, we just do what we have our minds made up to do."
Incredulously, I gasped, "Surely, Tim, you are NOT trying to justify this thing?!!!!" He laughed in the darkness, and it happened again. The love began to flow, and it flowed at the top of my lungs...
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This is a story that I wrote a long time ago. It pleased Ken and Peryl to no end. They loved it. They also featured in other newspaper columns. They are a couple in their 80's who have survived and thrived in harder times than we can imagine. Although we are neighbors, we've spent this winter holed up in our respective homes, Peryl having had a pacemaker installed, me dealing with my tiresome routine of fighting cancer. I was surprised to read in the paper that Peryl had passed away Friday morning at her home. It seems strange to think that I will not see little Peryl walking her daily mile. She was always such a busy little sprite, such an active little gal. Ken is a pretty tough guy who still runs his backhoe and his tractor, plants 100s of trees, cuts his own firewood, and runs. As tough as he is, losing his partner of 60 years is going to be a hard thing to take. There's not a lot that neighbors can do to fill that empty place.
My condolences to Ken.
Peryl, my dear, rest in peace.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Getting Over It

Yesterday, our computer got sick. It picked up some sort of virus, and started having some real violent symptoms almost immediately. Pop up warnings that we were infected with 103 Trojan viruses began to pop up. (Danger, danger, red alert!) And when we clicked on 'ignore', more pop ups appeared to warn us that our paypal account was being hacked into that very minute, and that we MUST take immediate action. We pressed on 'proceed without protection' and started our own virus scan. The next thing you know, this new virus protection system had installed itself on our desk top, and was on our tool bar. It blocked our access to our internet system, with warnings that accessing this could destroy our computer unless we bought their security right now, and let them make our computer safe. Meanwhile, our own security system was telling us that there were no threats. I was actually a little amazed that they weren't noticing that our computer had been completely hijacked. I couldn't access my e-mails and the internet for all the warnings and pop ups. Our system was completely imobilized by this damned A360 thing. I've no idea where it came from, how it singled in on us, but it was far more troublesome than any virus that we ever came across, I'm telling you.
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After trying to find out how to get this thing out of my computer, I finally ended up going in and doing a complete system restore. It worked. Mostly what I'm proud of is that even with my fuzzy chemo brain, I managed to remember this option, and moreover, I was able to figure out how I'd done it the one time that I'd done it before. It was a pretty easy step, eradicated the problem, made me feel competant and bright.
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I'll begin a part time job in March, and a full time job in April. I can work both of these jobs around my daily radiation. My life is getting back to normal, it feels like. I'm looking forward to the day when I have hair again. I'm looking forward to feeling in control of my life. I'm looking forward to the day when my schedule does not revolve around 8 trips to the cancer center every 14 days (this down from 11). People have been so kind, but I am looking forward to being able to repay those kindnesses. I am just happy, so happy to find myself looking forward again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sparks

Well, it's official. One more chemo to go. I want to do something to mark the occasion. I've made up my mind to drive across the state to Allentown to see Dylan. He's been kind of left out of the loop on this, and I have been feeling bad about it. The girls have questions, and we talk about the situation freely. It's important that they be informed on this. Because I have breast cancer, this raises their risk. They'll begin having mammograms at 35. We discuss this, and they ask questions, and I answer them. Cara called from college tonight, to ask me to set aside April 17th or 18th, to come speak at Clarion University at a Relay for Life rally. I said yes. Our daughters need to hear about breast cancer, and I find it easy to discuss this with them. They seem to find it easy to talk to me, in return.
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It's different for Dylan, though. I've had a harder time talking to him. He's a little embarrassed about all of this. He asks halting questions. 'How's treatment going?' 'Do they think you're going to be okay?' 'When will they know?' General stuff. God knows a 22 year man does not find it easy to talk about his mother's breasts. He lives on the other side of the state, so he doesn't get the reassurance of assessing my situation with his own eyes. Our phone calls have become halting conversations that dance around his unspoken concerns about me, my unspoken concerns about him. I assure him I'm doing fine, and he assures me that he's doing fine. I've decided that I want time with my son. I have never seen his little house in Fleetwood. I want to be some place else for just a little while. I want to think about other things for a while. I want to comfort my son. I want to fill his freezer with home cooking. I want to look at him.
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I was afraid that maybe I couldn't go, because I have a very small window of time to work it. I have a job, and training begins in March. There are the shots of neupogen to worry about. I talked to the oncologist about it, and was amazed to find out that it is do-able. They'll teach me to give myself shots. I want to go so badly that this is not a deterrent. I can do this.
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I marvel over the change that this makes in my mood. I could scarcely force my cowardly ass out of bed this morning. I was ashamed of myself, because, really, I only had two treatments left. I should be looking at the light at the end of the tunnel but I wasn't. I'm just unutterably weary of playing 'cancer'. I want to put this particular game back on the shelf and play something else for awhile, like maybe 'World Traveler' or something.Tim told me the game was not over and to get myself out of bed. I did. I plodded into the Cancer Center with my 'Cancer Sucks!' pin, and I got my chemo. For the second time I had a reaction. Simultaneously, two other people in two other chairs had reactions.
The poor staff.
As usual, my reaction was comparatively mild. I've always said that I'm in remarkably good condition, except for the darn cancer, and really it seems to be true. This body of mine keeps right on trucking no matter what they're throwing at it. I had to stay for an extra IV of fluids, and then I was out of there, clutching the oncologist's words like a prize.
"Yes, I think this trip is do-able," she said.
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You know, February 19th, it will be a lot easier to get out of bed and march myself to the Cancer Center. That final chemo has become something that I've got to check off my list before I head out of town. I've got things to do, places to see, and my boy to hug. I'm so excited to go, that the final chemo is almost the anticlimax.
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While I fight this fight as gracefully as I can, while I try to make lemonade from my lemons, I continue to see hopeful signs with Brianna. Cara just called to ask if she can bring a college friend home with her when she comes to visit next weekend. My aunt came for coffee and a visit. I got a very lovely letter from Tim's cousin, Donna that touched my heart. I got a card from two of my clients. They are retired, but they are sending Tim and I out to the local Pizza Hut. We decided to save this treat for Valentine's Day. What they cannot realize is that when Tim finally got around to asking me out, our first date was with our five kids at the local Pizza Hut. It was a fun night, and it went so well, he asked if we wanted to join them to watch the 4th of July parade the next morning. Thus began the story of us. We were no longer just two coworkers at the local factory. I have become so aware that it is these bright hot sparks of life and love and living that get us through our dark times, and I am grateful for these things. Oh. And that includes you folks as well. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February

There are three nice things about flipping the page on the calendar.
The first is that I get to see a new picture of Australia. Thanks to Bush Babe, I am looking at a very nice sunset on South Molle Island for the entire month of February.
The second is that January is done. January has been a snowy, cold, miserable month. February is one month closer to spring.
The third is that, for the first time, I can glance at the calendar and see the day of my final chemo. February 19th is that day, if everything stays on schedule. I keep trying to think of some profound words, or some funny words, any words actually, and I can't. There are no words to tell you just how glad I am to see this all coming to an end.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Unconditional Love

The thing about kids is that they grow up. You raise them to do their own thinking, to be independent, and then, shock of shocks, they do just that. Tattoos are nothing new in this house. Our oldest two girls did it years ago. They didn't ask our opinion on the topic, just matter-of-factly got it done, and never saw fit to mention it. By the time we saw the tattoos, months had elapsed, and there was no sense to debate the issue at that point. They've both got some sort of Chinese symbols. I've no idea what they mean.
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Dylan got a huge tattoo that covers his entire left side. It's something he designed himself. The tat is a torn flesh design with micro chips and gears peeking through the hanging flesh. It's gruesome and enormous and when I first saw it, I was rendered speechless. He's fiercely protective of this design, and will not allow me to photograph it, because he does not want it copied. He thinks that it is a cool design that expresses his love of his job, an electrical mechanical maintenance specialist with an interest in robotics and programmable logic controls. I guess. All I know is the thing is HUGE. That's what happens when a young man finds himself with disposable income.
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Cara is in college now, a history major. I should have been prepared for it, but still it came as a shock. She began by telling me this story about Constantine's Divine Sign. It was an interesting little story, but I did not see what it had to do with me. She wanted to send me an e-mail, but kept requesting that I not get mad. In my obliviousness, the idea that she had gotten a tattoo never even occurred to me. Even when I saw the pictures. Squinting, I said, "Wait...is that a tattoo?" and when she laughed, the dawn began to break. "Wait..." I said again. "Did you get a tattoo?" She laughed even harder.

This is the Divine Sign of Constantine. Cara's a bit of a tightwad, especially now that she's in college, so I was flabbergasted. She explained to me that she had been thinking of getting one for a while. When she heard the story of Constantine, and saw the symbol, she decided this was her tattoo. A local tattoo place just happened to be having a sale. She could get her tattoo for $50. Not being a girl to make a decision in haste, she left the tattoo place to mull it over, came back to her dorm room, and stopped for her mail. There was a birthday card from her father with $50 in it for her 19th birthday. "Don't you see?" she chortled. "It was a divine sign!"

Dear heavens.


Some girls would do a cute little butterfly, or a fairy, or a rose. Cara's a history major. She got 'The Divine Sign on Constantine' on her hip.
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She hasn't told her father. As a matter of fact, two years later after his tattoo, Dylan hasn't told him either. Their father is unhappy that Brianna has 'defaced herself'. The top of his head would probably blow off if he ever caught a glimpse of Dylan's huge tattoo. If he knew that all three of them had tattoos, it would become an issue of faulty parenting, which would put the blame fully on me, which is makes it convenient for him.
*sigh*
Curious, I asked "Why is it that you don't hesitate to tell Tim and I stuff like this, but your father never hears these little stories?" Cara said, "Because we know that you'll love us anyway." "Hmmmmmm," I mused, "until this moment, I'd always seen unconditional love as a good thing."


Post Script: Due to the fact that Cara checks in on this blog, and doesn't hesitate to criticize, here is the story for those who don't take the time to click on the link.
Constantine was in the midst of the battle of Milvian Bridge, a battle that seemed quite hopeless for a time, when he saw the Chi Rho, emblazoned upon the Sun. Along with this sign, words were whispered to him, "In hoc signo vinces" or roughly translated, "under this sign, conquer." Constantine did indeed conquer under that sign, and won the Roman Civil War. In 313 he went on to issue the Edict of Milan, ending the Great Christian Persecution (begun by the dominate Diocletian c.284-305 AD) Chi Rho literally means the sign of Christ, and it is occasionally referred to as "the divine sign" (side note. Pagan Worship was finally banned by Theodosius (reign 378-395 AD)