Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Flipping the Birdbath

Stevie Wren has posted on the sorry condition of her brain. Muse Swings consulted with the misogynist also know as 'the good Dr. West'. Familiar with his practice before his death, I objected to his resurrection, and with the help of scrambled eggs, oregano, a sociopath kitty, and an assorted lot of blog friends (one armed with a babushka) , Dr. West was stuffed into an voluminous Chinese Red Imitation Coach Bag, where he will stay for a few days, nibbling spearmint tic tacs while he thinks about things. Then there was Lavinia who managed to dig up intrigue and a suitcase full of money and a wild tale about stolen things. Why are these things always unearthed when Lavinia is about? Is it because she is such an excellent sleuth? Perhaps, but more likely it is due to the fact that Lavinia tends to walk on the dark side herself, involved with many a shady charactor, up to her armpits in many a nefarious scheme.

Stevie, my dear, if you wander about with these two, your brain will turn to mush. You need neither Dr. West tender ministerings nor Lavinia's madcap chaos, which will result in even more stress. My suggestion to you is to watch 'Shall We Dance' whilst drinking a good wine. Doodle cute little pictures of Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. When the movie is over, you should be staggering just a little. Go to bed, and sleep soundly. Wake up tomorrow morning, and call in sick at work. Go back to bed, sleep as long as you like. Take a long bubble bath, while listening to your favorite music. Make dinner arrangements, meeting with as many friends as you can gather. to regale each other with ridiculous stories. Laugh until you cry, doodling your friends' charicatures for them on napkins. Go home only when you can laugh no more, when your urge to draw has been completely satisfied, when you have received a hug from all involved, and when (and only when) your wonderful joie de vivre has returned to you.

I will check in tomorrow.

Pepperoni Rolls

Cara came home over the weekend, bringing some college friends with her. These girls were all from the big city. One girl had over 750 kids in her graduating class. Cara's class was 94. When she took them to view her little country school, they were amazed that the doors were unlocked (they were having play practice). She showed them the one room school house that finally closed its door about 7 years ago. Washington Park provided an over view of the town. I'm not sure what the girls thought of life in the woods. My job was simple. I was to provide the pepperoni rolls. Jeanie e-mailed me to ask what pepperoni rolls are. It is embarrassingly simple. It is just my favorite bread recipe, usually doubled. After the first 'raise', I simply pinch off knobs of dough, roll them flat with a rolling pin, and lay a row of four pepperoni slices in the middle. I lay another roll on top of that, add a generous amount of mozzarella cheese, another row of pepperoni, and then I fold the top edges toward the middle, and the side edges on top of those. I arrange them in three baking pans, letting them raise one more time, and then I bake them. When they come out of the oven, kids devour them, dipping them in spaghetti sauce. It is the comfort food of choice for kids in my house.

As I knead the dough, I think about it. I wonder how many times I have made these. If you were to ask the kids, they would answer "Not enough." I have made them all through their childhoods. Pepperoni rolls were rewards for good report cards, and pepperoni rolls were birthday fare. Pepperoni rolls provided comfort during hard times. They made tears stop. Later, a batch of them sent along where ever my children were headed provided a bit of home, a reminder that their mother loves them, a bit of familiarity amidst the unfamiliar.

I knead the dough as I gaze out the window, thinking. I have no children at home now, but I've been making a lot of pepperoni rolls lately, for the children who do not live here. It makes me feel better. I'm providing a bit of home. I am reminding myself that my children love me. It is a bit of familiarity in the midst of this new, unfamiliar way of life.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another News Flash!

Dear Cara,

I have removed the mustard stain from your Clarion hoodie.

Love, Mom.

News Flash!

I've been able to see the faintest shadowing of eyebrows for a few days now, if I stand under the light and turn my head just right. Yesterday, however, after a shower, I suddenly realized that I can see my eyebrows. They are growing from the outside in, so what is most plainly visible right now is the edges closest to my nose. This gives me an angry look, but they are eyebrows! After months without them, I will take what I can get. My friend Mary says that hers grew back very suddenly. She noticed them, and then within a week or two, she had eyebrows, just like that. I'm hopeful. When I get eyebrows, surely eyelashes can't be far behind. I was thinking about mascara. It has been such a long long time since I've worn it that I probably ought to get a new tube. I think that I should do that today. Just to be prepared.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday

It was a long night full of strange and vivid dreams and alternating between being uncomfortably warm and then freezing. At one point, I woke up from a dream about a terrible storm coming. For some reason I responded to this terrible storm by moving into our basement (logical enough), fixing it up quite home-like, and then heading to the homes of my friends to steal their Tupperware lids. Just the lids. Don't know why. I woke up with a jolt, roasting hot. I threw off the blankets, and then Tim began to laugh heartily from his side of the bed, from a sound sleep. He was dreaming too. I drifted off to sleep again, and had another bizarre dream about shopping in the dark with a shopping cart that kept collapsing when I tried to put anything into it. I woke up again, freezing this time, and grabbed for the covers. Tim was gone from his half of the bed. When next I woke up, roasting and tossing off the blankets, he was back, but awake. Who can blame him, poor man?

This morning, when we woke up, it was gray and rainy. Yesterday, we did six hours of home insulation work at one of the houses. That, added to the restless night made us both lazy and not inclined to get up. This morning, we did something that we have never done before. Both of us simply 'skipped' church. We slept in, we had a leisurely breakfast in bed, we talked for a couple hours. When we finally did get up, I was in the mood to cook. I made a pot of seafood gumbo. Tim's never had it before. He looked at the okra doubtfully. "I don't know if I like seafood gumbo," he said. I'd heard this before. When we met, he'd never had cottage cheese with peaches in it before. He poked at it doubtfully, but after trying it, he liked it very much. He claims that he'd never eaten zucchini and he didn't think that he would like that, either, but I stuffed one, and he was hooked. Zucchini is one of his favorite vegetables, next to asparagus, which he was pretty sure he didn't like either, but changed his mind when I made it for Easter once. The list goes on and on. So I made the gumbo anyway.

It was a quiet day. It seemed short, because we had gotten up so late. It was just Tim and I, talking, watching the birds outside, the squirrels. We moved leisurely and companionably through our day. Good smells wafted through the house from my little kitchen. Today was just for us. I reveled in the comfort of marriage and good food and good conversation.

Oh, and it turns out that Tim likes seafood gumbo after all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Public Service Announcements

If you are fond of games, Scotty has a mystery photo game. The prize is a photograph from the Land Down Under done by the world renowned photographer, Bush Babe. Perhaps some amount of liberties have been taken here, but I have three of her photos in my home, and like them very much. I live on the other side of the world, and so I can't see how that doesn't make her world renowned, so there.

Anyways, your odds of winning are pretty good at this point. Go people! Go now!

Perspectives

Tim and I went to the Cancer Survivor/Caregiver dinner on Thursday night. It was the first time that I had really dressed up to go out in a very long time. I wore make up, and experimented with eyeliner, with surprisingly good results. Even though my turtleneck was covered by a wool blazer, I felt self conscious and wondered whether my lopsidedness was evident. I experimented with a scarf, and finally abandoned that effort. I took a deep breath, slipped on a pair of heels, and Tim and I left the house. It was an interesting night, one that put me in contact with a wide variety of cancer survivors. One woman still wept when trying to tell her story. Another woman and her husband were very angry at what they perceived to be the failure of medical diagnostics. One woman claimed that our lives would never, EVER be the same again. I sat next to the most perfectly cheerful woman I have ever met, cancer free for 34 years. Across the table sat a retarded woman, an 8 year survivor. I ran into an old classmate, who has dealt with cancer 3 times in 7 years. She told me that when her hair finally grew in after the third chemo treatment, it came in pure white. I was surprised to see the elderly lady who had so quietly sat listening to our little group talk that morning at the Cancer Center. I knew that she had chemo just a few hours ago, but there she was, sitting with the same quiet expression on her face listening to the others at her table. People from every walk of life, their emotions, their responses as varied as their life experiences. I did not have too much to say. I listened. Sometimes, Tim and I exchanged a look, a wry smile when something was said that touched on familiar territory. At the end, when Tim's name was called as the winner of the doorprize, he received a big bouquet of daffodils. Embarrassed, he handed them to me. Before we left, I whispered a question, and his arm tightened around my back. I gave them to the elderly lady from the Cancer Center. "I think you need this bright patch just a wee bit more than I do at the moment," I said, and I gave her the bouquet and a hug. We talked about chemo for a minute, and then Tim and I headed out the door.

I thought about things as my heels clicked across the parking lot, my long red wool coat turned up around my neck against the cold. I looked at the stars as Tim walked beside me. I really wonder how I will look back on this time. Years from now, I wonder what I will say when people talk about cancer. Viewed from the future, looking back, it takes on a hopeful perspective.

No Choice

Yesterday morning when I walked out of radiation, I saw a woman sitting by herself in the waiting room of the Cancer Center. From her little bag, I knew she was waiting for chemo. I'd seen her before, and she is always alone, sitting quietly. I stopped to speak with her. In the course of the conversation, she calmly told me that she was terminal. As a nurse, she understood what was in store for her. Not wanting to overburden her husband too far ahead in the game, she was handling her chemo and her radiation herself. She was so calm that I could be calm right back. I asked her, "Aren't you afraid to drive yourself home?" Although chemo was not a horrible experience for me, I do remember leaving with sparks before my eyes, ringing ears. Turning my head caused an odd disoriented feeling, not quite dizziness...I just did not feel right. I usually came home and took a little nap. By the time that I got up a couple hours later, things had begun to settle down. I could not have imagined driving myself home. I'd have been afraid to. I asked my question, and the quiet woman admitted that sometimes the drive home was tough, but she didn't have far to go. We talked about our children, and how you help them with such news. We visited for about 5 minutes, but we talked a lot.

By that time, other people started coming in. I talked to T-----, a woman that went to school with Tim. She is younger than he is, but shockingly, looks 10 years older. She is a quiet woman too. She sits and shivers with her mom. Our church provided her with a prayer shawl to wrap herself in during treatments. She had seen mine, and loved it so. Another woman came in and I complimented her on her regrown hair. She never wore a wig. I tell her that I thought she was the bravest of us all, to face the world with her bald head, and not mind in the least. She said that she did mind, but couldn't wear her wig, that it irritated her tender scalp something awful. She had no choice.

We talked about that too. An elderly woman had come in as we were talking and was listening with great interest but saying nothing. Our nurse friend is having chemo and daily radiation simultaneously. We all mulled that over. I said that I was not sure that I could have handled both at the same time. Even as I said it, I knew that was wrong. I spoke again, and the elderly woman chimed in...we spoke almost in unison. "No. That is not right. You just deal with it because you don't have a choice."

One nurse. A mother and her daughter. A woman with newly grown hair. An elderly woman. Me. We sat there in the quiet of the morning waiting room, united by our experiences, recognizing the truth of the situation. What can't be changed must be endured.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

She NEEDS me!

Cara: This is how you remove a mustard stain from your Clarion hoodie.

http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-remove-mustard-stains-from-clothes

Love,

Mom

Life's Funny like That.

Suddenly, I've noticed that I'm finding plenty of things in my life to laugh about again. I've always been lucky enough to have a good sense of humor, but things got kind of grim this winter. As I feel better, again, life's become funny like that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

*sigh*

As most of you know, I've been anxious to have my hair back, my eyebrows back, my eyelashes back. It's going to take a while. I can see the hair on my head. There is the faintest shadow where my eyebrows used to be. Can't see hide nor hair (no pun intended...) of my eyelashes. I'm trying to be patient. After all, a lot of the puffiness from my face is gone. That's a plus. Here's the thing, though. I have a May birthday, and I have to get my driver's license renewed by the end of the month. This means a new picture. I tried to see if it could be delayed by a couple months. I pointed out that I don't look like myself at all. However, rules are rules, and so I must have a new driver's license made by May 31st, dammit, so I've been peering at myself in the mirror, getting kind of anxious about the whole thing, praying, really praying, for hair. I should have been more specific, I suppose. My prayers were answered. Sort of. I shaved my legs last week. I noticed today that my legs are stubbly again. I'm trying to be positive about this, but as I told my sister, evidently my hair is growing in from the bottom up. This means my eyebrows aren't next.

Just saying.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Treating Myself

I am 1/3 of the way through my radiation.

Better day today. All the previous day's sleep did me good, and the cold chills did not start until the end of the day, when I started to get tired. Treatment consisted of flannel PJs (with fuzzy socks) and going to bed early with a good book. Helped a lot.

Different Day

I've been having a problem. I'm guessing that it's the radiation. I talked to my friend Mary who said that she had the same problem. I am freezing. Once I go outside, I get chilled, and I cannot get warmed back up to save my soul. Even with hot flashes. (What good are they?!) Yesterday, by the time that I got errands done after radiation, I was so cold that I came home, put on a polar fleece top and wrapped myself in a couch throw, and waited to feel warmer. I didn't. I had no energy, and dragged myself from one task to another, and finally gave up. I laid down on the couch for a little nap but I was astonished to see Tim walking in the door in the middle of the afternoon. My first thought was that they couldn't have laid him off after a week. Then I caught sight of the clock. I had slept for two solid hours and didn't even feel as if I had fallen asleep. Last night I went to bed and slept another 8 hours and could barely make myself get out of bed this morning. My morning cup is definately hitting the spot. The caffeine is waking me up, ever so slowly. The warm drink makes me feel better. I'm freezing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spark

Tim and I greeted as our congregation entered our little church, yesterday. Over and over, I heard it. "You look great!" "Your 'spark' is back!" "You're feeling better!" It's been a great week. I cut a truck load of shrubbery. I cleaned. I stacked firewood. I worked my tail off and rejoiced because I could. I feel different on the inside, and it is good to know that this is reflected on the outside, as well.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cleaning Quirk

Lavinia tagged me for this meme:
What is your "Cleaning Quirk"?
Something you do that is unusual or unique.
************
Easy enough. I am a great fan of the "Ten Minute Tidy-Up". I used to do it when the kids were small. If they wanted to go someplace or do something special, before we left, we did a "Ten Minute Tidy-Up. We all went to different rooms, and on the shout of "Go!", we'd clean like hellzapoppin' for (you guessed it!) ten minutes. It was a good way to keep things orderly. Now that my kids are grown, I am still a fan of the "Ten Minute Tidy-Up". Every day, I assemble my supplies, and pick a room to start in. I give it my all for 10 minutes, and only 10 minutes! I am flying, and I imagine that I look pretty stupid. When my 10 minutes are up, I move into the next room, and check the clock, and then clean like crazy again...for 10 minutes. I whip through every room at top speed. It sounds crazy, but you can get an enormous amount of work done in 10 minutes. Furthermore, if I do this every day, amazingly, I can keep up. Interestingly enough, I can now fold a load of laundry in ten minutes. I can vacuum my entire house in ten minutes. Somehow, breaking everything down into ten minute increments makes it all seem less overwhelming. Special note: spring cleaning cannot be done in ten minutes. Darn it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Cleaning

Well, now that I am feeling all perky again, I started taking a look around my 'castle'.Fall housecleaning had sort of gotten lost in the shuffle, and this winter I contented myself with merely keeping up, surface cleaning.


This meant everything looked nice as long as you didn't go poking around in drawers or closets.

Imagine Uncle Fester
doing June Cleaver's job.
although I've never seen June Cleaver stacking firewood

Also I don't think that Uncle Fester shaved his legs.

I've been praying for hair. I got it. On my legs.

*sigh*

**********
Anyway, back to the spring cleaning. I've been scrubbing and cleaning. Most importantly, I've been getting rid of things. How do we end up with so much stuff? Clothes and small appliances and extra bakeware (who the heck needs two angel food cake pans, and where did the second one even come from?), dishes, glasses, nick nacks, skates, video gaming systems...once I started poking around, I found an embarrassing amount of stuff we don't use any more. (Note to Cara: I haven't touched anything in your room or closet, although I have taken the slushy machine to the Goodwill.) And then there are things that have been kept for no discernable reason. They are useless. For those things we have a burn pile. And garbage pickup.

I'm actually a little surprised at how soul satisfying it is to be chucking stuff and cleaning. Tim even has supper waiting on the table when he gets home from work. In 11 years of marriage, that has seldom happened with both of us working.

Maybe I'd have made a good '50s housewife after all.June Cleaver and Lucy never had to worry about Wally, the Beav, and Little Ricky coming home with tattoos. Oh. And June and Lucy had hair. Not being ungrateful, Lord. Just saying.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Better Every Day

Ack. Woke up to snow this morning.
*********************
I cannot get over how much stronger and better I feel each and every day. I don't think that I fully grasped the term 'chemo brain' until now. I find myself looking back at this winter and realizing that it really passed me by in a fog of exhaustion and emotions, drugs, pushing myself, trying to cope. Each day, my thought processes clear a bit more, and, physically, I can push a little farther than I did before. I realized yesterday that I was trotting across the parking lot to the Cancer Center. Without realizing it, my body has begun to fall back into its old rhythms and habits. I've always walked at a fast clip, a 'farmer's walk' as it is phrased here.

Yesterday, while I lay on the table and a big machine whirled and buzzed above me, the piped-in 'oldies station' played 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' and, suddenly, I was someone else, younger, long hair flying, sure of everything, too young, too busy to be thinking of cancer.

What was and what is. For a winter these two phases of my life seemed as if they were totally unconnected to each other. My step slowed, and I looked at my own mortality. My thoughts became fretful and confused. Now winter is past, and once again, life rises within me. I am becoming again what I was always. I look about me, and I take nothing for granted.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Defining

Tim and I are going to a survivor/caregivers dinner next Thursday. I've never been to something like this. They have meetings, support groups, things like that, for cancer patients. I never went to one. They were held on a Wednesday, invariably on a chemo day. By the time that my chemo was inexplicably changed to Thursdays, I had a handle on everything, and did not feel the need to go to a support group, although it was very nice to talk to others who had dealt with, or were dealing with, cancer. So Tim was a little surprised when I told him that I wanted to go to this event, held in the banquet hall of a local hotel.

I've been thinking about it a lot. Life is beginning to go back to normal. Tim is working again. I will be returning to work soon. Cancer treatment has gone from a long drawn out thing with plenty of side effects to a short procedure that seems to have (knock wood) no side effects at all. I suppose that it is too early to say that I've beat it. I imagine that there will be tests to verify that the cancer is gone, that it hasn't spread, etc. In my mind, though, I feel like the battle has turned in my favor.

I plan to be part of our Relay for Life. I also think of my friends Mary (Mary, the childhood friend and Mary, the new friend who's also dealing with breast cancer), and know that the most important thing that I can do is to be a Mary to someone else who is starting down the same scary path. I've met people, though, who have taken on the identity of 'cancer survivor'. That is what they are. If you asked them to describe themselves, it would be the first thing that they say about themselves. It is a banner of triumph that they wrap themselves in, and well they should; cancer is not the easiest walk in the world. I just don't ever see it becoming the most important chapter of my life. I can't imagine that it will ever be 'the' defining thing about me. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am a sister. I am a friend. I believe in God. I am a hard worker. I am funny. I am responsible. Oh, and yes, I had cancer.

I suppose that the daily dose of tamoxifen will remind me that I had cancer. While the scars have faded remarkably, my mishapen breast will remind me of this time as well. My life will return to normal, but the new 'normal' will include reminders of this time. It is an important chapter of my life, and I firmly believe that it was a chapter that I was meant to learn from. I'm also meant to use this chapter to reach out to others. Life is about balance, though. In a few months, when you ask me about myself, I will again list the things about myself: "Well, I'm a mom, and I'm a wife. I am a good friend. I believe in God. I am a hard worker. I love to laugh, and I am responsible." As I tick off a description of myself, I may get to the part about cancer. Maybe I won't. Cancer will never become my identity. It will merely be a chapter in my life.

Unless (God forbid) it comes back.

Luxury

Yesterday, I got a call from the radiation department. The machine had broken down. Someone is coming in to fix it, of course, but I asked to come in the afternoon instead of at 7:45 am. I got up with Tim at 5, but went back to bed when he left. I slept in this morning until nearly 8. It felt great.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Returning

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

What's this picture got to do with this blog post?
Nothing.
I just thought it was funny.
**************
I'm sort of amazed how, about a month after chemo ended, I'm feeling pretty darn human again. My energy levels are coming back. I still have to write everything down to make sure that I remember, but the good news is that I'm remembering to write everything down. My thought processes are beginning to clear, and that makes me gladder than I can say. The lethargy of the preceding months has been shrugged off like an oppressively heavy winter coat.
The radiation doesn't seem like it's going to be that big of a deal. Today is my 6th treatment. I realize that it can cause muscle weakness on the affected side, so I really concentrate on using my left arm for everything. Yesterday was a nice spring day, so I threw and stacked next winter's firewood, listening to the birds, and sweating in the warm spring sun. I did not stop. Ka-chunk! Ka-chunk! Ka-chunk! It is a familiar sound, a sound that's rung through these tree-covered hills for generations. It is not new to me either. I've stacked firewood since I was a teenager. It is a reassuring sound to me though, a sign that I am easing back into the current of life, that I am again part of the changing seasons, that I am again productive and purposeful. I never realized just how important that is to the human experience until I found myself sitting on the sidelines, tired and foggy, watching life continue on around me, watching life continue on without me. I'm so glad to be back.

Just for grins and chuckles

One morning, three Cajuns and three Yankees were in a ticket line at a train station. The three Northerners each bought a ticket and watched as the three Cajuns bought just one ticket."How are the three of you going to travel on only one ticket?" asked one of the Yankees."Watch and learn," answered one of the boys from Louisiana.

All six boarded the train where the three Yankees sat down,but the three Cajuns crammed into a restroom together and closed the door.Shortly after the train departed, the conductor came around to collect tickets. He knocked on the restroom door and said, "Ticket, please."The door opened just a crack and a single arm emerged with a ticket in hand. The conductor took it and moved on.

The Yankees saw this happen and agreed it was quite a clever idea. Indeed, it was so clever that they decided to do the same thing on the return trip and save some money.That afternoon when they got back to the station, they bought a single ticket for the return trip and watched while, to their astonishment, the three Cajuns didn't buy even one ticket."How are you going to travel without a ticket?" asked one of the perplexed Yankees."Watch and learn," answered the three Cajun boys in unison. When they boarded the train, the three Northerners crammed themselves into one restroom and the three Cajuns crammed into another one just down the way. Shortly after the train began to move, one of the Cajuns left their restroom and walked over to the one in which the Yankees were hiding. The Cajun knocked on the door and said, "Ticket, please."

There's just no way on God's green earth to explain how the Yankees won that war.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Winding Down

It was such a nice weekend that we decided to take a drive to visit some elderly and beloved relatives. It's been a long winter, and we'd not seen them for a while. We sat around the table laughing and having our coffee and pie. It seemed like any other visit, but Tim and I both noticed a new sort of weariness. We noticed that his stubborn independence had been replaced by a gracious acceptance of help. We noticed that before his daughter left, she made sure that her mother had both her and her husband's cell phone numbers because their phone upstairs was not ringing in. She wanted to be sure that her mother could reach them in the middle of the night.

We left that warm and loving little home, a place where we had spent so many pleasant times seated at the table talking with two of the loveliest people I know. It seemed that we could hear it, a tick of a grand old clock, a work of art the likes of which you do not see often in this day and age. Somehow, that ticking that had begun to slow without our even noticing. Now we are aware. The ticking is so clear to us, that slow steady tick with the pauses in between; how did we ever miss it?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Routine II

For the first time since Thanksgiving, I packed Tim's lunchbox. This morning, Tim got up to go to work. The sad thing is that he was wide eyed and awake at 3 am, sure that one or the other of our alarms would not go off and that he would be late for his first day of work. The sad thing is that when Tim can't sleep, neither do I. We finally dozed off just before the 5 am alarm went off. I remember thinking, drowsily, "I'll just lay here until he gets out of the shower." The next thing I heard was the car starting up in the driveway. He did not get his good by kiss or a 'good luck'. I feel badly about that.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Routine

Here I sit with my morning cup. I've been out already, to radiation and back home. It's becoming part of my routine. I head off the hill, whisk in the cancer center, gown up and go to the waiting room. I've been getting to know the gentleman whose appointment is after mine. He comes in, turns the TV to Fox network, and settles in with his newspaper. He's interesting, and a talker, like me. He's a sign painter, lives in a small town about 45 minutes from here.

I've also gotten acquainted with the radiation staff. Ironically, one of them is a girl who grew up down the road from me. For years, the kids from her family were the only playmates that my brother and sisters and I had. I can remember little about her because she was so much younger than the rest of us. We chat too, as we go through what has become, after three days, a practiced routine. I'm lined up, the radiation is administered in four jolts, and then, just that quickly, it is done, and I am headed down the hall to get dressed again. I wave goodbye and leave the cancer center to get on with my day. It is interesting to me how quickly a new (and intimidating) procedure just simply became part of my life, part of my 'rut'.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Me

How I look.
It is what it is.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oldies

Yeah, yesterday was one of those days that really, your best bet is to end it and go to bed early. We didn't get to do that though. I went to my dentist appointment. Shortest one that I ever had. The insurance that is 'accepted everywhere, by everyone' is not accepted at my dentist. I had not even considered that possibility.

Tim had his work physical. It was a two hour drive so I went with him. The appointment was long too. We allowed ourselves extra time because of the heavy rains (flooding in some areas), and were shocked to discover that the 4:45 appointment time given to us by the company was wrong. His appointment was actually at 5:30. The appointment itself took an hour and a half. There was a lot of reading time there. Unfortunately, I had not brought a book. I flipped through some old magazines while I waited.

After the physical was done, we stopped for a bite to eat, and headed the two hours back home. It was pouring and dark and New York State's roads were rife with potholes, a sign of our poor economy. It used to be just the opposite: you could tell when you hit the New York State line even without the sign, because Pennsylvania's roads were bad, theirs well maintained. So we bumped and rattled along, the rain and the fog making it very hard to see what was ahead of us. The radio faded in and out but just as we entered the Seneca Nation, an oldies station came through clearly. We listened to Harry Chapin sing 'Taxi'. I sang along ('another man might have been angry, another man might have been hurt. Another man never would have let her go. I stuffed the bill in my shirt....' ) It had been years since I heard that song, and it brought back memories. The Doobie Brothers came on to sing 'Black Water', and I sang along with that, as well. That song was popular when I was 16. When I was 16, my father had seen the light and herded us all off to be baptized and confirmed. I took the confirmation classes, but I did not believe. I tried to, because I worried about being struck by lightning when I stood before the church and lied about what I believed. I had to acknowledge the irony. If lightning struck me dead, at least in the one moment of clarity, I could be sure of His existance. The Doobie Brothers assured me that 'old black water keeps on moving,' It had been a comforting thing to think that even when lightning struck me dead at the front of the Episcopal Church, the Mississippi river would continue to run, as it always had. I saw the Doobie Brothers in Erie, with Heart and Rush. Then Cheap Trick sang 'I want you to want me...' and I remembered being stationed in San Antonio and going to see the Texas Jam Fest. I saw Cheap Trick sing that song live. VanHalen came on and I remembered meeting my ex-husband's family for the first time as he graduated from Rutgers. His grandmother, in her 70s had sung 'Jump' as we waited to be served at a crowded restaurant. It was hilarious. Then Aerosmith was singing 'Dream On', and I was remembering what it was like to be 18 and realizing that 'dream on, dream on, dream until your dreams come trruuuuuuuueee,' was a load of horse pucky. It might happen if you're Steven Tyler, but it wasn't going to work like that for a skinny shy girl from podunk Pennsylvania.

Life has its highlights and its big moments, and they are grand, although few and far between for most of us. But the small moments also make up a life, and I realized that I had a ton of those to think on. For awhile, in a dark car, I listened to old music and I sifted through those glittery small moments, reliving little pieces of my life.

Deep in the Seneca Nation, we lost that station. It began to fade, and the static started. Tim hit the seek button, and Beyonce was singing about single ladies. The spell was broken. We continued driving on, in heavy rain, fog so thick that you couldn't see what was ahead. We hit some bone jarring potholes. Our two hour drive home took closer to three, but in the end, we made it home safely.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Morning has Broken

This day had a pretty inauspicious start. I was dumbing around at the cappuccino machine and managed to knock over a glass, and in my attempt to try to catch it, dropped a dutch oven on it. Glass from one end of the kitchen to the other. Also managed to break the handle off the dutch oven. I got that mess cleaned up, and then returned to making my cappuccino. Walking from the kitchen, I felt a sharp sensation in my foot. Quickly assuming that I missed a piece of glass, I flopped down to look at my foot, and saw, of all things, that I'd stepped on a hornet. A hornet in March?!!!! I haven't even seen one outside yet. Tim dispatched the hornet, since he had the foresight not to be padding around in his bare feet.

By this time, I was running the teensiest bit late, so I was hurrying about. We got a call from Cara at college. The flu has been going through her dorm. Luckily she and her roommate have managed to avoid it. It starts with an abrupt onset vomiting. Cara finally succumbed this morning. She woke up feeling dizzy and feverish, sat up, and, without warning, threw up all over her comforter. "What should I do?" she wailed. "I can't go to the laundromat, and I don't think the comforter will fit in the dorm washers." She had no spare blankets, so I began to plan a trip to Clarion.

Despite the day's rocky start, the appointment was okay. By the time that I got home, I had a message. Unwilling to expose me to the health risks of 'Influenza Hall', Cara had handwashed her comforter, and then put it in a washer anyway. Now all I have to do is get through my dentist appointment.

Radiation

Today I go for the radiation simulation, to make sure that the measurments have been calculated correctly. Tomorrow the actual radiation will begin. 7:45 each morning for the next six weeks. Weekends off for good behavior.

By my calculations, I should be finished with radiation by April 22nd.

The first day I stood outside the cancer center, I simply did not want to go in. I lay in bed the night before my first chemo and dreaded that. I did not want to see that morning come. I guess that I've gotten more matter of fact about the situation, because radiation has simply become what stands between me and the end of treatment.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The First Orient Express

This is a complete copy and paste job for Muse's Orient Express Adventure. It is a busy day here, and we've got two loads of firewood to collect. It's just a little history lesson for all of you. My own comments are in red.


Georges Nagelmackers (now, does that not sound like a name that Musey would invent for one of her tangents? But it's not. It's the poor man's real name. I imagine that Mrs. Nagelmackers must have loved him a great deal to marry into a name like that) invites guest to a railway trip of 2000 kilometres on his 'Train Eclair de luxe' (lightning luxury train). The train leaves Paris (Gare de Strasbourg) on Tuesday, October 10, 1882, just after 18:30 and arrives in Vienna the next day at 23:20. The return trip leaves Vienna on Friday, October 13, 1882, at 16:40 and as planned enters Paris (Gare de Strasbourg) at 20:00 on Saturday October 14, 1882.

The train is composed: 1. Baggage car, 2. Sleeping coach with 16 beds (with bogies) (bogies?!!!! sounds like one of Muse's adventures, alright. Bogie men under the bed. I'll just sit up tonight), 3. Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axes), 4. Restaurant coach (nr. 107), 5. Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axes), 6. Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axes) (all those axes...for pete's sake, no wonder there was murder on the Orient Express), 7. Baggage car (complete 101 ton) (primarily filled with Lavinia's stuff. That woman is not known to travel light. Moreover she tends to accumulate an enormous amount of stuff along the way, bless her larcenous heart). The first menu on board (October 10, 1882): oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ‘à la chasseur’, fillet of beef with 'château' potatoes, 'chaud-froid' of Game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, buffet of desserts. (This time around, don't forget that I brought molasses cookies.)

Original train

Historic routes of Orient Express
On June 5, 1883 the first 'Express d'Orient' left Paris for Vienna. Vienna remained the terminus until October 4, 1883. The train was officially renamed Orient Express in 1891.
The original route, which first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l'Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Rousse in Bulgaria to pick up another train to Varna, from where they completed their journey to Istanbul by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv and rail again to Istanbul.

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If any of you out there have never played along on one of Musey's adventures, go, go now. It's great entertainment with a loveable cast of charactors.

Our Weekend

Last night, the remnants of the warm weather left, but not before bringing a torrential downpour, and finally, a thunder and lightning storm, our first of the year. I love thunder and lightning and it was nice to fall asleep to flashing skies and rumbling thunder. Not so nice to wake up to a roaring wind and more swirling snow. Ack. But seasons are changing here, and you learn to go with the flow.

We had a nice weekend here. Tim's a lot more relaxed since he has a job offer. We did work on one of the apartments, but we are, again, working at our own pace, talking comfortably as we worked. Life is settling back down.

After church, we did something that we have not done for a long while. We went out to eat. I came home to bake a batch of molasses cookies. Tim ran a dozen down to Ken's house, still warm from the oven. Ken is still grieving Peryl, but smiled big at warm cookies. We rented 'Australia'. Hugh Jackman does look very nice without a shirt, BB, but he's got the strangest ears I've ever seen on a body in my life. (Sorry. I notice these things.) It was a sweeping drama of a show, way too many 'just in the nick of time' coincidences to be believable, in my humble opinion, but I enjoyed the movie and the story plot, and the scenery.

"Oh look! A bottle tree!"












Or "Look at the red dirt on the windshield!
That reminds me of BB's Prado!"



Tim just rolls his eyes. He thinks it's funny that I talk so familiarly about the Granite Glen sisters and their mother as if they live right next door.

It was a quiet weekend, very ordinary. I had a chance to be with the 'old' Tim, the one who is not harried and stressed, and working at a frantic clip. It was very nice to be together, quietly and companionably. You know, after I wrote a post detailing the difficult times our marriage has weathered, I cringed a little at my own candor. I waffled back and forth with myself about deleting it. But it is what it is, and so, in typical style, I decided to leave it. Laura Jane left an encouraging comment saying, "You'll get your twosome mojo back on track before you know it." Laura Jane, you were wise, and you were correct. Marriage is not always an easy path. But the seasons are changing here, and you learn to go with the flow.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Transformation

Cara and her childhood friend, Sarah, went to Dylan's house for winter break. Dylan had finally caved. After years of living a very spartan life, he had decided that he needed to decorate his home. I did not know about this plan in advance. It is probably good. I would have been itching to do it myself. Instead I was able to focus on the important things like home made bread stuffed with pepperoni and cheese. So Cara and Sarah drove out there last Friday. Now let me describe Dylan's living room to you. One couch. One loveseat. One entertainment center with all manner of entertainment upon it and a bookshelf stuffed with technical manuals. A lamp. That is it. He has ascribed to three hard and fast decorating rules ever since he's been on his own: No plants. No throw pillows. Three framed photographs are enough for any home. His decorating rules were the opposite of my decorating rules: Lots of plants. Lots of throw pillows. Framed photos everywhere. Just last year, he still wasn't clear on why, for instance, towels needed match the shower curtain and bathroom rugs.

He handed over his debit card to his sister (!!!!!!!!!!!) along with a limit. He told her that he would keep his mouth shut. Cara and Sarah had free rein to transform his little house. Cara assures me that he has been pretty good about sticking to his word, although there were a few initial squawks and nervous palpitations when he discovered that money ain't for nothing and your drapes ain't cheap. However, he does have MTV as a cable selection, and settled down after a bit. The girls were then able to get to the serious decorating. They bought a coffee table and an end table, a floor lamp, explained the concept of 'scale' with him and replaced his current table lamp. The walls now are decorated. Vast expanses of white are now covered with a wall clock and tin reproductions of old time beer advertisements. There are even throw pillows on the sofas and a throw. Furniture was rearranged. Last night I even got a call from Walmart. Down to the final finishing touches, they were trying to decide on a plant.

I've been receiving updates all week long from both Dylan and Cara. It's been fun to follow the progress, even from the other side of the state. It is not only a house being transformed. I think Dylan is, as well. The last time he was home, one of the girls he graduated with took him out shopping for clothes. For the first time, he returned home with shirts that required ironing. Khaki pants. Shoes that were not sneakers. When I went to his house, he was ironing clothes and wearing dress shirts. Now he lives in a decorated house. I think Dylan may have grown up. Completely.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cried Again

I don't blog everything. You may be surprised to hear that, but it's true. There is a lot of interesting things that have come up during the course of this journey that I have not blogged about. I started out blogging quite honestly about the impact this has had on our marriage. It was taken as a criticism of my husband, Tim, and I grew self conscious about posting on that side of cancer. I didn't mean for it to be a criticism. I am pretty practical. Tim is not an emotional type, and if I am looking to get those 'warm, fuzzies', generally speaking, I do not look to Tim. We've had counselling on this issue, twice. It doesn't change anything. He cannot bring himself to be more demonstrative. His family is like this. He will always be pragmatic and a worker. Does he love me? Certainly. Can he show it? Not so much. I am pretty practical myself and tend to just accept the situation as it is. He is a good man. I know this about him, and it is enough. I had a marriage with all the bells and whistles, at least from the outside looking in. It was a lie. I prefer the truth of a situation that will not swing around to bite me in my ass down the road.

The fact is though, cancer has had a profound effect on my marriage. Tim and I have always been good in bed. Sorry for being graphic, but it is a fact. The surgery that changed my shape also changed how I viewed myself, and I began to struggle. By the time that my hair fell out, I was struggling a lot. By the time that I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes, I was pretty much unable to look at myself without cringing a little. By that time, Tim was dealing with his unemployed status. Withdrawn to begin with, he withdrew even more.

What has suffered here is our sex life. Something that should have comforted us both has been lost. When my husband comforts me by awkwardly saying, 'Don't worry. Your hair will grow back. You'll be pretty again,' or something like that, it made me even more self conscious. His focus on the houses and getting the apartments going meant that he was working hard, driven by his own demons. Obsessed, he can talk about nothing else. Nothing else. He has even at times, lashed out in frustration that I have ceased to pull my own weight. I've always been a worker myself, and this makes me even more ashamed. Even though he understood, intellectually, that chemo leaves a person dragged out and exhausted, he began to get frustrated at working alone. Communication has slowly begun to shut down. It is frightening to me. (I don't know if he has noticed.) I've tried to explain, but he sees himself as doing what needs to be done to insure the survival of our family. I'm kind of focused on doing what needs to be done to insure the survival of me, and the survival of us.

I've been struggling with these things, and I've been feeling pretty guilty and very ashamed. I try to be upbeat and positive. We've discussed the situation, but really, it is what it is. This is just a difficult time, and all marriages have them. I take marriage very seriously, and am in this for the long haul. So is Tim. This is also not something that you can sit down and discuss with your friends. I don't want anyone to think badly of Tim and his remote nature. I would never want to shame him. Like I've said before, he is a really good person. I've been kind of on my own on this one, trying hard to convince myself that 'this too will pass,' and that Tim and I will be right again, but I've been discouraged. Our marriage is not as comfortable as it used to be.

Wandering around blogland today, I found a website. I didn't know such websites existed. It not an easy topic to discuss, but the fact that people do is a real blessing. My self consciousness may be a little extreme, but every woman that has walked this path seems to have dealt with this issue to some degree. One link led to another, and to another, and soon I was reading stories about other marriages that had foundered, but regained their footing and moved forward. Predictably, I was so relieved that I cried.

Up for the Challenge

The elliptical workouts have been going so well that (always in a hurry) I stepped it up to two workouts a day. A 30 minute one in the morning, a 45 minute one in the evening. Yesterday, I hit a wall. I worked all day, at home, and at one of the apartments, hauling bins of 150 year old plaster down a flight of stairs and on to a truck.

End result? I was so exhausted at the end of the day that I could not keep my eyes open. Yeah. I am, physically, a very strong person. I never realized this about myself. Also, though, I've got to acknowledge that, physically, this body has taken quite a beating, and I need to ease back into my life. Anxious as I am for things to 'get back to normal', it's not going to happen overnight.

I've been thinking about it this morning. I've been really blessed by the fact that when this all hit, I was a healthy person. (I still make the joke: 'Really, I'm a very healthy person, except for the whole cancer thing.') I did a load of walking in my job. I had noticed last summer that I was exhausted a lot, and stumbled a lot. I used to get pretty impatient with myself. ("Pick up your feet, for gosh sakes.") It never dawned on me that I was exhausted for a reason. I'm used to just pushing on through. So I'm made of pretty sturdy stuff. Physically, I was up to the challenge.

The mental challenges were another thing altogether. My brain reeled, initially, at the amount of information I was processing in an awfully short period of time. I was making decisions that I never dreamed I'd be making. Staring at my own mortality was surreal. Mentally, I really stumbled. I think that my blog posts from this time sort of reflect that. It was easy to get bogged down, discouraged, frightened. That's the challenge that I could have never faced on my own. I prayed a lot. I turned to friends, both friends that I see regularly, and friends I've never met. I was encouraged. New friends, old friends, friends all over the place. That's where I found the courage to laugh, and to keep on putting one foot in front of the other. There were an awful lot of blessings during this time.

So, in an astonishing turnaround from last fall, right now, physically, I am struggling. Mentally, though, I've been getting quite a 'work out' since September. Mentally, I am up to almost any challenge. Even getting my poor body back into some semblance of 'physically fit'.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Winning

I have, again, become one with my elliptical trainer. I've got to get physically fit to go back to my job. Is there anything more boring than working out on your own? (Answer: If there is, I haven't had the misfortune of stumbling upon it yet.) I'm plodding through my regimen and I've discovered that although I don't enjoy the actual workout any more than I ever did, there is a new glow of satisfaction upon realizing that I can still do it. It takes more effort than it should, but I can still finish my workout. I am a strong woman.

Amazing.

I've been thinking a lot. I have no pictures of myself from this time. I'm a very self conscious person, and being bald, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, hasn't diminished that at all. However, there is something to be said for having something to commemorate this time, something to confirm these days. The picture would not be attractive, but it would be the truth. The battle is not over yet, but there are small victories to be celebrated. I've confronted a lot of fears, and won. I imagine that I can also confront this one, and beat it too. So, Bush Babe, I'll post a picture.

Whew!

Tim tested for a company several weeks ago. We had given up hearing from them. Out of the blue, he received a call, and a job offer. It's a longer drive than I'd like, and it is a second shift job, but it pays better than his last job. We are not sure when he'll get his physical, but once he's cleared to work, the job begins immediately. I begin my part time job on March 16th, and my full time job on April 6th. We realize that we are very, very fortunate.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Emotional...again.

You know, maybe I'm getting excited over nothing. I got kind of emotional when I felt the first growth of my hair, although I could not see it. I got even more emotional when I stood before the mirror and saw the silvery shimmer across my head. Tonight, I was brushing my teeth, and I could see a faint darkness where my eyebrows used to be. I start getting emotional all over again. I find myself wondering how long it will be before my eyelashes grow back. I miss having eyelashes. Oh, how I miss mascara. As sappy as I am lately, the first time that I am able to put on mascara, I'll probably cry it all off almost immediately.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Robin

"In the depths of winter, I learned that within me lie an invincible summer." Camus

On February 26th, on the way to the cancer center, I saw my first robin of the year. (For those who live in other parts of the world, the robin flies south for the winter, and returns in the spring.) The robin was at the peak of a house, feathers fluffed, looking quite grumpy as he pondered February.

I was actually shocked to see him. I have lived a winter focused on cancer treatment and learning the lessons of that time. For the first time in my life, I had forgotten to even look for spring. It has been a long winter here, and the promise of a new season actually brought tears to my eyes.