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Friday, February 25, 2011

Lead Clothes

My very articulate writer friend, Theresa Williams, recently had this essay published.  It really speaks to me.  I relate very much to the metaphor of a coat of lead.

Read it.  Enjoy.

Does how you live influence how you die?

My "Crazy Cancer Club" is getting smaller.  It was a small club to start with, really just four of us.  Amy died in December after a 14 or so month fight with a relatively rare, very aggressive form of cancer.  Now, another member is making the transition, after a three year battle with ovarian cancer.  If I were to vocalize my gratitude for today, it would probably be "I'm grateful that I had breast cancer, given the other options out there."  Yep, that would be it, I think.  Breast cancer is not a walk in the park; it frequently causes death; it's also not as bad as many other forms of cancer.

Yet, the times I've visited this particular friend as she's been in hospice the last few weeks, over in the 18 months I've known her, I've learned a lot from S.  While the vast majority of us don't get to choose how we die, we do have the opportunity to lay the groundwork way before the inevitable event.  This is probably the biggest lesson I've learned from S. 

No matter what we've talked about, even with the inevitable conversations centered on the side effects of the drugs that we take to combat side effects (OK, I'll just be blunt here: when cancer endurers get together, we frequently talk about poop, too much, too little, too soft, too hard; it's a never ending battle) or if we talked about other indignities, S always, always, always remained upbeat.  Even when I visited her in the ER one night when her port was infected, before I could ask her how she was doing or what the medical plan was, she was asking me about me.  Did I manage to get my kid started on his homework?  Yes, two hours earlier I'd mentioned that one of my kids had procrastinated on his weekend homework and I'd have to be getting home to monitor that.  S had bacteria in her port, spreading through her body, making her ill, and she wondered if my son had started his study guide!  I don't think S had even met this particular child.  She doesn't have children of her own, yet her first thought was of my child. 

Today, I found out that S had 47 visitors yesterday!  I'm not sure I can remember the names of 47 people, let alone get 47 people to leave their warm homes on a gray day in late February when a winter storm is being expected.  Forty-seven friends and family members, though, trooped out, in dribs and drabs, to show their love for S.  They had no way of knowing if she was having a good enough day to even see them, yet they went.

I've now met two of S's siblings, sisters, and a high school age niece.  Even in these trying times, they are able to smile, laugh, and be supportive, not just of each other and S, but of others as well.

Many of us fear dying.  And why wouldn't we.  It's something we haven't done before, and unknown experiences are frightening.  Many of us claim to know what happens after death, but I don't think any single one of us can say for sure what the mechanism of "after death" actually entails.  Rightly so, then, dying is something we can justifiably look at with less than enthusiasm.  Even more than dying, though, I think many of us fear dying alone.  Hospitals and nursing homes are full of people who are in the process of doing just that.  Many times, we say things to the effect of, "It's sad he/she is alone, but he/she made that bed and now has to lie in it, sad as that might be."

In essence, we all do die alone.  It's a solitary endeavor.  No one can experience it for us.  The most that can be done is to help us alleviate discomfort and show us love.  The transitioning can be assisted, but ultimately, we transition by ourselves.  Yet, I can't imagine that no matter how we approach this transition it can't be made better by having others involved for support.

Throughout her life, S has made great connections to her family and community.  She's kind, caring, generous, and supportive of others.  My guess is that they way she has lived her life, for how many years she's been living it, she's been a good person. Oh, I'm sure she hasn't been perfect.  In fact, I've heard her say a few snarky things.  I'm sure that she and her siblings fought as children.  She's probably done some not nice things.  Every one has and does.  Yet, I'm also sure that S is leaving the world having made it a better place than how she found it.

There's no denying that personality and lots of other variables play a huge role in all of this conjecture.  I'd by no means want to be misunderstood:  we shouldn't be nice or good for selfish reasons.  However, I really do think that we can learn a lot by knowing people at the end of their lives.  Good begets good, some times.  Luck and circumstance certainly play a role, but S is not dying alone in large part because she's lived a good life.  We all are better off for having known her.  People who haven't had the opportunity to know her are better off for her having spent time on earth simply because others are better people.  Her nieces and nephews have that much more goodness within them because of the love she's showed them.  Her siblings now have the opportunity to share some of her goodness to others, whether they know it or not.

As humans, unless we are true hermits, we influence those around us.  The world is either a better or worse place because of our actions and inactions, whether large or small.  We all do make a difference.

In the case of S and her current transition, what goes around comes around.

And that's what I've learned from S.

Go in light.  Your light shall perpetually shine here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Now what?

Here I sit, one week away from what I have been hoping is my last surgery.  It's not a significant surgery.  It's scheduled for 8:30 a.m. and I expect that I'll be home around lunch time.  It's a simple procedure that is mostly cosmetic, just a re-adjustment of my one implant, making the "normal" one match the abnormal radiated side.  The recovery is supposed to be on the painful side since the surgeon will be stitching the implant to my rib and there will be lots of pinching, pulling, and tugging as it heals. The surgeon and the second opinion I sought out  both suggested that I'll have to restrict movement, lifting over 8 lbs., and not engage in anything physical for two to four weeks, but both also said I might find it really uncomfortable for up to 8 weeks.

I've been resigned to this for a while now.  Although the "problem" isn't significant and truly is mostly aesthetic, I really do feel like a freak when my fake boobs can't even line up right.  So I'm going through with it.

Lately, though, I've been noticing that I'm losing range of motion in my left arm.  At first, I thought it was just me, just in my mind, just my perception.  I guess I began noticing it when I was in Zumba class and tried to "windmill" my arms backwards.  My right arm went back, my left rotated to the side, and I looked like a fool.  Now, looking like a fool in Zumba isn't too disturbing to me.  I'm rather used to it.  As soon as the music starts, I look like a fool.  ::shrug::  It's what I do best.  It's fun and I'm by no means alone looking like a fool in Zumba class.  But, for shizzle I'd like to be able to rotate my arm backwards.  It's hard to feel remotely graceful or strong when your arm makes maybe a 105 degree angle from the side of your body instead of closer to 180.  One side of me does backstroke.  One side does the elementary backstroke.  Unkind.

Now that my one exercise teacher has also noticed it, I no longer think it's in my head, which is making me paranoid.  On the bright side, at least I no longer have to feel like I'm incapable of doing a push up because I'm incapable of gaining strength.  It's because I'm incapable of doing a push up.  Because this left side isn't working right.  But will it ever?  Is it going to get worse?

I suppose I need to make an appointment with someone about this.  Surgeon?  Radiation Onco?  I don't have time to actually go to any appointments in the next week since I'm cramming in as many office hours and one-on-one opportunities as possible with my students before Spring Break.  Then, I'm not ruining Spring Break any more than recuperation will ruin it, plus Amy and I are going out of town for most of it.   Later this month, I have a check up with Dr. Mo, so I guess I'll start with her.  I imagine, knowing her, there won't be a good answer or an easy path.  On the bright side, her office is very good at making appointments for me, so at least I don't have to make all those calls myself. 

I wonder what other damage has been done?  So, now I worry whenever I'm out of breath, whenever I cough, whenever I am miserable doing cardio-work if my heart and lungs aren't damaged.    I've had a little cold, sometimes I feel "chesty."  Is that lung damage?  Heart disease?  When I'm exceptionally tired, I worry about heart failure.  I've taken a nap for the last two days.  What does that mean?  Am I just tired?  Or is it something more than that?  Do I even want to know?

I bet it's back on the medical appointment merry-go-round within the month.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased, part II

A year or more ago, I wrote an entry with the same title.  In it I describe how my youngest son procured a very special necklace for me. This post, however, is about another of my sons.

Yes, I'm proud of all three of my sons, one no more than the others.  However, at different times, they all step up to the plate in different and surprising ways.  Lately, it's been the middle one who has me bursting at the seams.

You see, things aren't going so well in Ohio right now.  Our new governor seems intent on turning Ohio into a third world nation of sorts, stripping rights left and right from public workers, imposing not just an conservative agenda but a Tea Party conservative agenda on the state, throwing support to corporations, just all around bad stuff.  The mood here is quite negative.  He's a mean, vindictive guy.  For instance, the state teachers' unions actively opposed his campaign, and he publicly threatened that if they didn't take out full page ads in the large newspapers apologizing for opposing him, he's make them pay.  And so he is.

So, that's the background of what's going on in the state.  Now, my middle son, who is quite the empathetic young man at 15, is also full of vim and vigor when it comes to ideas of how the world should work, what it means to do the right thing, and wants to take an active role in making it happen.  He has an internship with Organizing for America, and prior to that worked to re-elect the former governor, to help get some reforms passed here in town, and has knocked on many, many doors, made many, many phone calls trying to make the world as he sees it a better place.

In recent years, he's grown from the hard to console, harder to please, hardest to placate child I've known to--not to sound trite--a fine, young man, an upstanding member of the community.

Yesterday, this same child who I thought would never leave my side, this same child who I thought would never, ever wean, this same child who I thought would never sleep alone in a bed let alone alone in his own bed (and to save his reputation and mine, I won't mention how old he was before some of these milestones were reached), went to a demonstration in Columbus yesterday to protest against a bill that would limit the rights of public workers to bargain collectively.  Even if I personally didn't oppose the bill (which I do), I'd still be proud of him for going, and even prouder that he was invited to attend the rally by adults with whom he works.

Initially, I'm sure just going to the rally seemed like a fun and exciting day off school.  And it would have been just that.  However, the weather was fickle.  There was  ice, freezing rain, and snow the day prior to the event, leaving school cancelled.  Instead of "missing school to do something cool," this wonderful child got out of bed at almost the same time as a school day, stood in the cold to await his ride, rode on a bus for 3 hours, and then stood in the cold chanting slogans, standing in solidarity for and with public workers, for hours, arriving home close to midnight. 

What I'm especially proud of is that most people don't grow up thinking that the life of public workers is glamorous.  Some few grow up saying they want to be teachers or nurses, police officers or fire fighters.  But few, if any, dwell on the possibility of being a road worker, a linesman, a trash collector.

I'm incredibly proud of my boy and his friend for standing in solidarity for those who don't have the glamour jobs.

Friday, February 18, 2011


For the new year, I set some goals.  Some have been trashed due to my upcoming surgery.  There's no way, with having my boob stitched to my rib March 3rd that I'll be running a marathon in April, for instance.  For some reason, I'm incapable of losing weight these days.  On the non-physical front, I'm dropping the ball everywhere is seems, which includes dropping the two classes I was taking.

However, I have been exercising 5 days most weeks; 6 or 7 on others.  I've discovered the "free" faculty and staff exercise classes (zumba and cardio/strength) at the Rec Center.  Free is in quotes because while we don't have to pay for these classes, we pay in other ways, oh, we most certainly do.  BGSU also has landed a grant from the Komen Foundation to offer exercise classes specifically for breast cancer ensurers.  At first, I was repetitious about these classes, fearing they'd be all fluffy and pink and stupid.  However, K, the teacher is anything but and has designed the classes to be quite rigorous.  These classes are wonderful, too, because there are never more than three people in them, so that's like having a personal trainer nearly all to myself twice a week, for free!  I've also got the weight routine that Mr. Happy has set up for me at the Community Center.  I try to do that three times a week.  And Amy and I have been hitting up Zumba every Saturday.  I love Zumba.  Loving zumba is not to say that I'm good at it.  I work up a sweat and have a good time, but what I'm doing certainly can not be construed in any way as dancing.  I'm getting better at it though.  My cha-cha-cha is up to the cha-cha-c level now.

Anyway, not much is happening in the professional and intellectual realms of my life.  My chemo-brain is not lessening.  I keep trying, but I'm not seeing much improvement on that front.  I still have not motivation for work.  I still experience annoying amounts of fatigue.

But today, I accomplished 200 squats and 200 crunches, two of the physical goals I'd set for myself for this year.

And that is a good feeling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wrestling with Demons

I've not written much here lately, not because I I'm intentionally ignoring this blog, but because I'm wrestling with some demons, survivor guilt, and feeling overwhelmed by life.

It's not fair to burden others with this, but I'm going to blather on about it for awhile now.

Right before Christmas, one of the members of my Crazy Cancer club died, leaving behind a husband and three young children.  Shortly after Christmas, a friend who already suffers from a serious and life threatening illness was also diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of cancer.  A third member of my Crazy Cancer Club had some bad reactions to chemo, ended up hospitalized, and has since quit treatment and called in  hospice.  And the husband of one of my oldest friends is, tomorrow, being biopsied to determine if the thing in his brain, a thing which is affecting his ability to walk and tend to himself, is indeed cancer and what kind.  Regardless of whether his tumor is benign or cancerous, it's nasty, deep, and going to have some significant impact. 

My friend recently said, "I now know what you mean by it's always with you.  I open my eyes in the morning and within seconds think 'this is my reality.'"  And yes, in general, I'm in darn good health.  The pain of neuropathy is mostly gone.  I occasionally, maybe once or twice an evening,  I'll get a shooting neuropathy pain, but it's short lived and they don't take my breath away like they used to.  I've got some lack of sensation in my feet and the very tips of my fingers.  I don't notice the stuff in my fingers, but the stuff in my feet is a constant reminder of what I am now.  I have to constantly, multiple times daily, work on range of motion in my arms.  I move like an old lady when it comes to shoulder rotation.  Again, this doesn't affect my life, per se, but it's a constant reminder.  The numbness of my skin and muscles in my left arm is annoying.  It's just another constant reminder.

It's just always here. 

So, a friend and I went to visit our other friend who just entered hospice.  Hospice means you are actively dying.  Sooner rather than later.  Yes, once we are born, we are all fated to die.  Yet, when you are in hospice, you are acknowledging that death is nearby.  She looks like she's dying.  She's lost a lot of weight.  Her skin is gray.  She's up, around, and bright eyed, but she's a little more distant.  And I imagine she'll get more and more distant.  Whereas I wake up and think about ME, while she's in the most me-centric stage of life (outside of infancy and early childhood), she wanted to know about my kids, my husband, my job, my health.

I don't know if I'd be able to be that way.  I'm too selfish, too ego-centric.

I can't even keep a blog entry focused on others.  In my survivor's guilt, I'm still ego-centric.