The Dark Night

The night came riding in.  It was stealth.  I knew it would arrive again as it had in the past.  I expected it.  I waited for it.  I held my breath for it.

And then, one night, there it was.

The darkness first filled the room and then it filled my mind, then my heart.  Black.  Indelible.  It was too thick to see through.  It lay down in bed beside me to become my lover for the night.  We embraced each other and told each other our secrets.  There would be no intrusion from the outside world that night.  It kept me company and I was a good listener.

Dark.

It took my soul for the night and occupied my mind.  I was a captive audience to its tales and believed every word spoken.  It wrapped me in its cloak and hid me from the world.  We were the most intimate of partners.  It knew me and I certainly knew it.  We clung to each other through the wee hours of the morning and when dawn arrived, I was left alone but for its scent.  It had left its mark on me.  I did not want others to know that I had allowed this darkness into my bed.  I was ashamed.  I felt alone.  I had a secret which I felt would soon be exposed should I enter into the light of day.

Alone.

I wanted to be alone with its memory.  It had been my guilty pleasure for the night.  Its memory clung to my skin and I wanted nothing more than to let it linger.  Self pity.  It was all mine.  And I could indulge in its sweetness and bathe in its dark luxury.  The blackness of the night gave me permission to fear, to long, to cry, to yearn, to pity.  It encouraged my anger, fed my self-loathing, fueled my nonsense.  I allowed it to fill my core with dread.  And it felt so good.

Hiding.

And then it was time to break the silence which had been afforded to me.  The house stirred.  Light brought life.  Noises filled the air and ripped me from my shroud.  I clung to it.  I wanted to wrap myself up once again and simply lay there – still – in nothingness.  I needed no mask there.  I did not need to hide.  Hiding had become such an effort.  And I had become so good at it that it seemed quite natural to stay on my guard – in hiding.  It took so much energy to mask myself as the person I was before cancer ripped through me.

Ripped apart.

One word.  One comment.  Soaked through my skin like a toxin.  I had become so thin skinned that it didn’t take much to wound me these days.  Sensitive to criticism.  Sensitive to noise.  Sensitive to activity.  These were abrasive to my very being and I felt the thin membrane of my collective being fall into pieces as though it were being ripped apart.

The night lingers still.  I can still hear its voice.  I feel the pain of loss, of depression, of grief.  “Why me?” I ask myself.

“Why not me?” corrects my therapist.

How much more am I to endure?

The night disconnects me from my joy.  It springs doubt upon me.  It distances me from love.  It blinds my view from the beauty of life, of celebration, of song and dance.  And I feel guilty for liking where I am.  Alone.  Sad.  In hiding.  I am intimate with my feelings and for once we are telling each other the truth.  I want to rise and I don’t.  It is a purgatory of emotions which fills me.

I yearn for the dark of night once more.  I crave the taste of defeat and sadness.  Wrapped in self-pity, there is no need for the warmth of light, no need for kind words, supportive words, words of encouragement lest they violate the safety of this tomb I have built around me.

For today – let me breath in the night.

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My Fifth Fall

It was an absolutely spectacular morning when Jazz, our golden retriever, and I left for our walk.  Of course, it was difficult to know what to wear after listening to the weather forecast;  Would it rain, snow, or would the sun shine?  Weird, weird weather.  Nonetheless, our path takes us close to home and through the woods so there would be some shelter and a quick escape to shelter if the need arose.  A t-shirt sufficed for me.  I strapped Jazzy up to her leash and she danced around happily as I tied my shoes up – double knots every time – and closed the front door quietly behind me.

The heat was just beginning to build.  I had taken my cell phone in case a Kodak moment arose, but no glasses.  They simply suck in the hot weather between foggy up and slipping off my nose.  Whatever Kodak moment came along, it would have to auto focus for me.

It wasn’t long before Jazz and I rounded the corner to enter the Bear Creek Wetland.  A tsunami of colour hit us – much to my delight.  I stood still – just for a moment – to soak it all in.  The thing about fall is that it is so ephemeral.  If you don’t absorb the beauty right there and then – it would be gone.  And no two years are ever the same.  I took a snapshot of the scene in my mind  We walked on further and down into the wooded area.  The fall smells caught me by surprise.  The previous day and night’s rain had mixed with the few early fallen leaves and the earthy forest floor to produce a scent that it so indistinguishable yet familiar.  Earth.  The noun became the adjective.  The earth rose to my nostrils and I was transported back in time to every fall I had lived since I remember.  It was always that same smell.

This would be my 55th fall – and my fifth fall at the same time.  It was the fifth fall since my diagnosis.  I remember my first fall the most; I wondered if I would see spring, let alone another four falls.  Women diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer face some pretty intimidating odds.  Only 17 percent of us with this diagnosis live five years.  This fall – my fifth – would be my second most memorable.

The pond was full.  There were ducks and geese everywhere and everyone of them squawked like there was no tomorrow.  It seemed they became territorial over the pond locations once again.  Nesting in the spring and departing in the fall seem to be the most valuable times for real estate selection.  It is when the water fowl are most active, when Jazz chooses to follow rather than lead our walk together.  “The great defender” is a bit selective in terms of the amount of risk she is willing to take to defend, but we made it.  We walked down the moisture-laden boardwalk, through the frost-touched reeds, and the mounds of dirt that the muskrats had packed into the slats of the wood which formed our bridge over the pond.  I saw no turtles but wondered if they would be coming back out of their mud huts to catch today’s last gesture of heat from the sun?  They could profit from a day like today.

The humidity was building.  I wished I had worn shorts instead of jeans.  Jazz seemed to being feeling the heat too as her panting grew louder and faster.

We made our way along Tiffin, past the traffic of Patterson, to reach the oasis of the Bear Creek once again.  “My fifth fall,” I marveled once again.  “Imagine.”

It is moments like these when one takes stock of one’s life to evaluate contributions, significance, mistakes, situations.  “Have I been a good wife?  Have I been a good mother?  Have I been a good friend?” I have most certainly done my best to think about what that term “good” meant.  And by being more contemplative about it – maybe I had been “better” at it?  Being mindful brings more purposeful results, that’s for sure.  My energy has been my biggest challenge over the past while.  Fatigue.  It. Just. Sucks.  I had tried to pace myself.  I tried to save my energy for the things in life that I value the most and to not use it frivolously on anger, or spite, or conflict.  Of course, no one is perfect.  But there is no “one” way in life that is clear.  There are multiple right choices – and multiple wrong choices too.

My fifth fall.  I guess something went right to get me there?  I guess there was something more I needed to do?  I guess…

Four winters.  Four springs.  Four summers.  But this – this was my fifth fall.

The fifth fall session of taking in the summer patio furniture, seeing my kids go back to school, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, clearing out summer clothes to make room for winter clothes, changing from air conditioning to heat, watching the leaves change from green to glorious golds and reds… and giving thanks for the many, many gifts of family and friends.  And of course, my walking partner – Jazz.

We walked home without much ado, Jazz and I, rounded the corner to our street and along the sidewalk to our house.  I had worked up a sweat and Jazz seemed to be quite content to sprawl on the cool tiles in the front hall.  I didn’t care much that she was dirty.  I knew the sand which had clung to her for the ride would dry and fall to the floor around her eventually.  And I’d need to get the vacuum to clean the house anyhow so – what the heck.  There would be more dirt and more wet paws coming soon.  After all, it was fall.

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The Grace of Another Year

I once believed I had no time
I was busy every day
The kids, the job, the house, my dog
Life got in the way

From early morn to late at night
I worked, I worked, I worked
No time to eat, no time to sleep
In the wings, my cancer lurked

I hunkered down and moved along
There was no way I could delay
A deadline here, a meeting there
And birthdays merely days away

There was no time for me to breathe
I was cloaked from head to toe
In obligations, bills, and chores
Life did reap what I could sow

But in the wings, my cancer lurked
I hadn’t seen the sign
It had been moving steadily along
To take what had been mine

My health, my spirit, and my time
The time I never knew
The cancer robbed all I had owned
But had changed my point of view

The time I thought I did not have
Was now staring back at me
The life I thought I would have lived
I had to set it free

I was raw.  I was naked.  I was afraid.
“Who am I now”, I thought?
What would I do? Who would I be?
Would I have another shot?

I stepped with time and kept its beat
I moved together with its stride
And danced life’s dance on broken glass
And swallowed all my pride

Would I survive what was to come?
Would I be given a cure?
What would the treatment make of me?
Time held a new allure

Day by day and week by week
My strength it did return
I was not the same as I once was
But no longer did I yearn

For the life I had or had not seen
For the hectic pace I kept
The grace I’ve seen with clearer eyes
With gratitude I’ve wept

I’ve stood upon my own two feet
And raised my hands up high
I lift my voice to roar aloud
Upon it I can fly

I stand before this gift of time
Unshackled, bare, and bold
And I expose my vulnerability
Its beauty to behold

My journey is not over yet
But never do I fear
For, I have the hope, the will, the strength
To embrace another year!

 

 

 

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Teal Magnolias

I know the undeniable strength of community.  I know it in terms of what it takes to be a successful teacher, student, cancer patient; It takes the courage of others when my own courage falters. When I can,  I offer my support back.  I have cried on the shoulders of giants and I have dried many tears rained upon my own shoulders.  My family and friends were, and continue to be, my life-lines when my diminished immune system kept me in isolation.  There is no denying that I have an indefatigable community backing my walk with ovarian cancer.  And the evidence has become quite clear as September 9, 2018 approaches. This date – is my very first “Walk of Hope” for Ovarian Cancer.

I’ve never been much of a fund raiser, but this year I thought I may dabble in it a bit.  From the moment I dipped my toe into the waters of change, however, I was a convert.  I recognized that my journey with ovarian cancer is not unique; There are many other women whose lives have been turned upside down with this disease.  Like me, the majority of these women were diagnosed when the disease had spread extensively throughout their bodies:  Stage Four.

There is no screen test for ovarian cancer and more often than not, the cancer grows undetected.  It is sometimes found by happenstance when something else goes wrong and the cancer is accidentally discovered.  And that is the best case scenario.  In my case, I didn’t know why my side hurt so much when I coughed, or when I sneezed.  I dismissed the pain as menopause.  I dismissed my bloated middle as menopause.  I dismissed my fatigue as stress.  I simply – dismissed the symptoms which masked themselves as “something else” which was innocuous.  This story – is far too common.  I hear the words, “I dismissed my symptoms” far too often during my volunteer shift in the chemo-suite.

I have had great success to date with a drug which was specifically designed for individuals with the BRCA II gene – the only thing that Angelina Jolie and I share, sadly.  The drug is known as Lynparza, developed by Asta Zenica.  And so far – it is holding my cancer at bay.  It will be two years this September.  I am hopeful.  But I am realistic.  And reality hit me hard yesterday when I met a woman who was on her third bout of ovarian cancer – after Lynparza failed to work for her.  It is my understanding her kidneys were not coping well with the drug.  Of course, it is a toxin so something at some point is bound to give out – whether that be kidneys or liver or… what ever else.  For now – I am holding – trying to take good care of my body so that the toxin can do its job and then “move on”.  What was remarkable about the woman I met, though, was that her spirit was still strong.  She was still fighting.  She was resigned to the fight – not knowing the outcome, but having faith in her doctors and the chemo.

I’m not sure I have that sort of grit?  One has to reach down and dig really deep to muster the courage to face chemo … again.  The seventeenth chemo was tough for me. I wonder how I would face an eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth?  I wonder how I would feel about losing my hair all over again?  Feeling toxic all over again?  Having to isolate myself all over again?

This is why I am walking on the 9th.  I don’t really want to have to go down that road of knowing the answers to those questions.  I am spoiled by my current quality of life – even though I am a slave to my fatigue.  No biggie.  I taste like a normal human being.  My sense of smell is that of a normal being.  I am not clouded in my thinking (although my memory sucks).  I can carry on a meaningful conversation and organize my daily routines.  I want to continue to live this way.  I want to be the one “helping” others to recovery from their chemo and ideally – their cancer.  So – I will walk.

The Walk of Hope is the only annual national event dedicated to supporting ovarian cancer education, support and research. Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope (Barrie) is being held on September 9, 2018 on Barrie’s lakeshore, starting at the Southshore Centre.  Click on this link to read my full story or to find the “donation” button.  The name of my community?  Teal Magnolias.  What else would we be called?

 

 

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A New Day Had Dawned

The day was about to begin.  There was a sense of mystique about that notion.  Beginnings were always exciting to her – more than “being in the middle of’s”  or “ending up as”.  Dawn, no matter whether rainy dawns or sunny dawns, no matter snowy or foggy, dawn was always special.  It had been her mother’s favorite time of day.  It was during that time when she connected with her mother.  Quietly.  Intimately.  Without anyone else even knowing.  It was an awakening of sorts as she was finally able to reconcile her mother’s spirit which lived within.  The trees seemed greener.  The wind seemed kinder.  The birds’ songs seemed more chipper.

Looking out her bedroom window, she could see that today was going to bring rain.  That was okay.  She loved the rain.  Rain brought calm.  Calm brought reflection.  It was a time to gather thoughts, organize memories and make sense of her world.  There had been so much happening in her life that her sense of priority had become muddled.  There was much ado about everything.  She needed someone to set her straight – to inukshuk her world per se.  Her mom did that for her for years – then Thelma.  Now?  Now she had to turn inward to find the guiding spirits.  She needed to listen closely to the voices of the past and to hear their sage advise.  Rainy days provided more reliable conduits for mentors of her past.

“Be still.  Listen.  Float.” she repeated to herself.

But she was  distracted.  There was a hum in the air that gummed up her hearing.  She just couldn’t seem to get a clarity.  Even through the morning rain.

She looked away from the window.  There was laundry to do.  There were beds to be made.  There were bills to pay.  The routines of life seemed to drown out the pleasure of her dawn divinities.  The walls of her room had been painted so many years ago and she was painfully aware the colour needed to be updated.  The green of the 90’s had been slapped on the wall as an emergency cover-up for the orange – bedroom makeover the previous owners had indulged.  Bit of orange poked through out of the green in spots.  They had been staring at her for the last decade.  And she had been staring back.  This stand-off happened when she lay in her bed, thinking how that stucco on the ceiling would influence the resale of the home.  She didn’t mind stucco – but she had watched enough home decorating shows to know that it was “out of style”.  The orange paint inevitably won the staring contest as she blinked and looked away every time.  She knew though, that one day, that paint would lose and a carefully selected shade of grey would put the orange beast to sleep once and for all!

It was nearly ten minutes later when she snapped out of the decorating battle she had waged in her own head.  She bent down and picked up the laundry basket – then walked out of the room and into her morning.  Dawn had ended – the mystique was gone.  The day faced her head on.  Down the stairs she went.  She was careful to step over the dog who lay at the foot of the stairs in an awkward sprawl which encompassed the base of the stairs and the bottom step.  This was a good place for Jazz, the dog, to claim.  She was not permitted upstairs – from the time she was a puppy.  One of the children had a rather severe allergy to dogs and to have Jazz upstairs would have resulted in distress.  Of course the obvious solution would have been to simply not get the dog in the first place.  A pleading child, which then became the chorus of three children and a husband trumped logic – and poof – the dog became the new addition to the family.

The washing machine was full of clean, wet clothes already.  The dryer too – was full of dry clothes.  It was as though the machines had done their job, but the master of ceremonies had departed and left the machines to perform the closing act all on their own.  Of course, this was not to happen and so “she”, the supply emcee – stepped up to the plate to remove the dry clothes into a hamper and transfer the wet clothes to the dryer so that this new load of laundry could begin it’s own first act.  Wash.  Dry.  Fold.  Remove.  Wash. Dry. Fold. Remove.  Wash. Dry… sigh.  There had to be more to the day.

And there was.  Just down the hall – waiting for her in the kitchen sink – the dishes were calling her name.

She looked out the window once more.  The sky was grey.  It sucked her in.  She flew up towards the misty Heavens and soared with the gulls who played in the currents.  They swooped, dove, hung suspended on an updraft, carried by the winds.

“Mom!”

Crash.  An emergency landing to reality brought her back down.  “Canadian Tire wants to know if I can go into work tomorrow!”

And the world of work was about to begin for child #3!

The morning had already thrown her a curve ball.  How to juggle this new schedule?  How to balance her world?  How would she manage to fit this one extra piece of the family puzzle together?

“That’s awesome, David”, she exclaimed.  “Sounds great!”

David ran back up the stairs with a bounce in his step.  It was a big deal to begin working.  He had stuck with his efforts to get that job for more than a month.  After six visits to see the manager, he had finally been afforded the opportunity for an interview – and then – a job offer.  Steel toed boots:  $100.  Work pants:  $50.   Hair cut:  $30.  It was expensive to get a job.

Her mom would have been proud of David.  She knew how her mother would have reacted with delight!  She had already, most profoundly, most emphatically proclaimed her adoration of David when he was a toddler.  She giggled as he took her order, when he played “restaurant”.  It was always the same order.  “I’ll have a nice, juicy steak with a hot baked potato and sour cream, please.  And make sure you don’t over-cook the steak.” And away he went to her kitchen to prepare the fantastic meal.  It always arrived quickly back from the kitchen and was “cooked to perfection.”  A quick kiss to her fingers was sent through the air to indicate her great content … to then repeat the entire process several more times before David grew tired of the game.

She drew closed the sliding glass door.  The wind, for the first time in what seemed months, was cold.  It was a relief.  She hated the heat.  Now, the cold was just a bit too much to take all at once.  She reconsidered and opened the door just a crack – just enough to enjoy the refreshing coolness but not enough to throw the family into the deep freeze.

The song of the dishes grew louder.  She turned to listen.  They weren’t going to wash themselves.

The day had definitely begun.

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My Own Hundred Acre Woods

Watching Christopher Robin with my youngest child, David, rendered me rather nostalgic and I took a rather blissful walk down my own memory lane to enter a 100 Acre Wood of my Own.

I grew up in the middle of pretty much  no where.  There were 80 acres of no where.  At least – it was no where when I was growing up.  Now, of course, towns have expanded their girth and inflated to include grocery stores, liquor stores, and paved roads.  But – when I was growing up – there were no real conveniences in our proximity.  The odd car would venture down our dirt road, but it would not pass without commentary.

“Who is that?”  my Dad may inquire.

“Oh, that is Dr. Shannon”, or “Looks like the Ivys may have a new car”, my Mom would add.

No car went unnoticed.  Several “odd” ones may turn around in our driveway when they noted the street was not really the one they had anticipated it to be – it was the wrong way on a long dirt road.  And in winter, the road was not maintained.  Travelling too far would lead to a mound of snow and blowing drifts.  Followed by nothing, leading to no where.

Nothing and nowhere was a good place to be for me as a child.  It is primarily this line in Christopher Robin which triggered my own memory:  “Doing nothing can lead to a lot of something”.  Or something like that.  I had no siblings at home to play with, nor were there neighbours and so my time was spend with my parents, my horses, or Mother Nature.  She (Mother Nature) would dictate my activities.  When it was cold and icy, I would skate right on the road which had iced over.  The ice was seldom challenged by any machine applying salt or sand.  Remember, the road was a dead end?  I would throw on my skates – not knowing how far I would go – not knowing what rocks would suddenly pop out in front of me – not knowing when I would return.  I just went.  In summer, I would collect seeds and pretend I was a chef.  The seeds, I would collect in a bowl and stir the mixture until it looked “divine”.  Of course – they were inedible but that didn’t really matter.  Doing dishes was easy – the mixtures would be tossed out of the bowl and float down to the bare dirt which covered the forest floor.  Normally – the kitchen “du jour” was in my tree-house deep in the woods by the cabin.  A lot of life happened in that tree-house.  It was a safe place to be – unless you fell out of it which did happen on occasion.

Mother Nature kept me busy.  And when I think to my childhood, I am flooded with memories of the woods where she lived.  They were ethereal.  On days, the sun would shine through the trees to the saplings below as though bathing them in a bath of gold.  These places – of which I knew almost every one of them – were satellites of Heaven.  And I knew if I went to one of them and sat very still – I would be able to visit with my Grandpa who had passed away when I was nine.  Our visits were very quiet.  And they were very secret.  I didn’t expect that anyone would understand or experience my encounter of the divine the same way.  Funny how I still remember in vivid detail just exactly what those “spots” looked like.  They seemed to be unchanging.  I think I would still be able to find them even today.  The greens, the golds, the sun.  They still wrap themselves around my thoughts today and comfort me.  They shield me from life’s storms and offer me comfort when I am alone.  This memory is one that I cherish the most – just Grandpa, Mother Nature and me.

I am still mesmerized by the forest, even today.  To walk Jazz, my dog, in the woods is much like taking a bath after a long, hard day of work.  I will simply stand in the middle of the forest and breathe.  Every breath is full of purpose.  Every inhale cleanses my soul.  They give me the gift of life and, in turn, I offer them my breath.  It is symbiotic when I am there – doing nothing but breathing.  And dreaming.  And remembering the feeling of being a child once again.  There is an earthy smell emanating from the ground.  The cool breeze touches my cheeks.  My memories dance in my mind and I know that if I let them free – they will take me to a time when life was simple and easy.  At least – it was for me.  At least – that’s what I thought.  There was an innocence to my childhood that is almost illusive to me today.  I think if I concentrate on it too much it will be tainted by the judgement life has given me as a adult.  If only my judgement could be lifted, my childhood would be set free to join my adult self and let me play in the wonder I once experienced.  If I am still and quiet for long enough – I can remember the joy, the play, the security I enjoyed.  The trees, the song of the wind, and the warmth of the sun walk me down my more enjoyable childhood story.

It is in the woods where I cast of the layers of troubles I carry with me daily.  I am relieved of the weight of routine, bill-paying, worry, decisions… challenges.  I am liberated from the what-ifs of cancer, travel, work… struggle.  It is in the woods where nothing leads to something.  And something can lead to many things.

So – thank you Christopher Robin – once again, for reminding me of the joy I can still find in the childhood I had in my own 100 Acre Wood.

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There’s your sign

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to get my brain spinning on an idea or a concept.  Other times – it’s like there is no room at the neuronal inn; Guest concepts may walk through the corridor of thought and find the place jam packed full of baggage and so, they have no other option than to turn around and walk out.

I am getting much better at predicting when I will be receptive to thinking and when I’ve reach capacity, though.  There are a myriad of circumstances that have become “benchmarks” for me – signs per se  – that caution me to speed up, slow down, or even completely stop.   I learned today that it may be that I am starting to self-regulate.

Self regulation is something of a novelty to me.  When I was teaching, and before cancer, I was, as others would have called me, “the energizer bunny”.  I knew no limits.  I could fly by the seat of my pants and turn a lesson around on a dime if need be.  I had ideas that grew wings and flew uncontrollably around others that they would often be damaged or bruised by the force of the collision.  No limits.  No boundaries.  And then, I would crash.  Inevitably, by March Break, I would be sick with a cold, the flu, whatever ailment was hovering.  I had no idea how to find the work/ life balance.  It was all or nothing.

Then – boom!  Cancer hit.  Hell hath no fury like a woman’s ovary that is ripe with cancer.  Or something like that.  The cancer was even more energized than I was.  And the chemo knocked me on my ass in an effort to do the same to the cancer.  I went from bunny to tortoise in one fell swoop.  My life was flipped upside down and I had no idea how to manage it.  What was even more interesting was the roller-coaster ride of emotions and energy brought to me, courtesy of the steroids I took to control nausea and vomiting.  I remember having the energy to re-upholster a dining room suite.  And then renovate a town house to be ready for sale.  Then four days later – not being able to get out of bed to motivate myself to walk.  I had no idea what my new limits were – or where they would be headed.  And nor did my family – with me or even themselves.

I have discovered over the past month or so when I have been volunteering at the chemo suite at Royal Victoria Hospital… my limits.  First – let me explain that I absolutely LOVE this volunteer work.  I have met so many absolutely amazing people who demonstrate the grit of human resilience.  I am inspired by them and buoyed by them.  And I can only take so much of it till my bucket is over-flowing – usually this is within two hours.  And that’s it for the day – two hours of volunteer work and then I go into hibernation for the day.  Volunteer Tuesdays have become “Take-out Tuesdays”.  I can’t cook.  I can’t talk.  I can barely walk.  I have reached my capacity.  This is all good.  I have finally learned my limits and am beginning to respect them.

I wonder?   Had anyone told me when I was in the chemo-suite as a patient that I would learn my limits if I would have listened.  Hard to say.  I know that this is a message I am continually offering to patients.  “Take it easy.  Respect the fatigue.  Listen to your body”, are the tidbits of wisdom I try to share with them.  I think anyone that has been affected by cancer and received chemo or radiation for that matter, has learned a new respect for fatigue.  Still, it is with a heavy heart that most of us accept our new norm.  We have had to give up so much already and fought so hard to win a battle without knowing our own arsenal or game-plan, that accepting we will forever be changed somehow, is a big pills to swallow.

Learning to respect my limits has helped not only me – but those around me.  I’m getting it.  I accept that I have limits.  I still want to push the boundaries and learn that I’m not super-human after all when the results of the push are me being irritable, short-fused, and/or developing a massive head ache.

It will take time.  I will learn.  I will accept.  I think learning to regulate myself better is also a part of aging and what my parents learned as they lost their energy over time.  Accepting my own limitations has helped me to understand the importance of saying “no” to invitations when I need to rest.  Saying “no” is okay.  People get it.  Friends get it.  Family gets it. I just need to pay attention to the signs that caution me to slow down, take it easy, you’ve done as much as you can for today.  Tomorrow – is a new day.

 

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13:55

One at a time
With a breather between
I take my pills
And inside I scream

One by one
I swallow with care
I take my pills
And I still have hair

Third one down
With a gag or two
I’m not a pill taker
But without I’m screw (ed)

One more is gone
With three to go
I Crush some Candy
With really nothing to show

Five gets stuck
And waits around
Until the sixth
Comes stumbling down

This is the last
Until later tonight
I’ve done my job
Time for my pills to fight

Who would have thought
That 13 pills a day
Would be the greatest gift
For my 55th birthday?

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A Victory Whoop!

I want to write my story
With pages full of words
That tell the tales of all my dreams
Such were stories never heard

A mystery and a drama
A thriller read by all
A tale to find in the fiction aisle
A good drama to enthrall

My pen is poised and ready
The paper crisp and bare
I look up to see her watching –
She is watching from her chair

She wants to see me writing
She wants the words to flow
And take me far away from here
To where I need to go

I smile when I look at her
She knows me oh so well
She reads the story inside my head
No words I need to tell

The tale seems dark and scary now
It’s difficult to read
We do not know just where I’ll go
To finally be freed –

Free from this script where I am held
A captive so it seems
A great escape is what I need
I see it in my dreams

I’ll fight so hard to pen my fate
And liberate my soul
I promise, Mom, I’ll do my best
To get back some control

I move the pen and craft a phrase
And then a little verse
The story starts, the plot unfolds
Stage Left – please enter in the nurse

A momentary lapse of time
It stands outside the door
And holds it breathe the seconds halt
For we are now at war

I’m still unclear my battle lines
Who is friend or foe
I’ll write a script to prophesize
Who draws the final blow –

My story starts, I am prepared
The actors become clear
There are so many by my side
Who hold to me so dear

My faith, my trust, my mind, and hope
Like waves upon the sand
Wash out the scene which lead me here
And reveal a golden land

I hold Mom tight, I squeeze her tight
She has nothing more to fear
I put my life in my warrior’s hands
And keep my mission clear

Because…

I want to write my story
With pages ripe with words
The tales of all my dreams continue on –
My victorious whoop is heard!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Out of the Darkness

“Only after you are broken, can you know what you are made of”

How did the Thailand Wild Boars soccer team survive for 17 long days in a damp, dark cave.  They had no idea whether they would be saved.  They had no idea how long it would be until someone noticed they were even missing.  How is it that they did not just throw in the towel?

Grit?

Resilience?

Faith?

Team spirit?

It would seem that many are attributing their survival before their rescue to their coach.  A former monk, he taught the boys how to meditate.  Not only did this help to lower their need for oxygen – in an atmosphere that was oxygen deprived, but it also helped them to remain mentally calm.  Reports suggest they were meditating when the British scuba diver(s) found the boys.

The boys could not swim, they could not dive.  The path in front of them was down-right perilous.  The cave was pitch black.  The waters were turbulent and resembled coffee with cream.  The team was weak from lack of food, water, and potential infections.  If that doesn’t constitute a break, I’m not sure what does.

“Stacey, do you relate to this story at all?” asked my friend Sandra of me this morning?  “Did you feel like you were in a cave when you were first diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian cancer?” Now, there was an interested parallel in which I could sink my teeth.

That was a good question.  But I had a pretty quick answer.  “Yes. yes, I do relate.”  My diagnosis threw me into a cave of sorts.  I was lost, in the dark.   I didn’t know when or where help would arrive.  I was cold, numb.  I did almost everything I wasn’t supposed to do:  panic, read about my illness on the internet…. you know the story.  I couldn’t believe the world slept while I was wide awake in the middle of the night.  I was dying.  How could people sleep?  I felt almost trapped in my own body – all I wanted was for someone to cut the cancer out of me!  I had to learn patience.  I had to learn to not panic.  I had to learn to accept my reality without losing hope.  Yes – I could related to those boys.

My oncologist, my surgeon, my family and friends taught me how to meditate per se.  I received medical care swiftly and, although, there were no guarantees, I felt that I had partners in my health care and that these partners were much more capable of saving me at that moment than I was of saving myself.  I had no choice but to turn my life over to them.  Like the cave divers, however, my doctors were sort of navigating in an arena where there were no clear answers.  They could not guarantee they could save me – and time was ticking.  I went through chemo – surgery – more chemo.  Then more chemo.  I lost my hair three times.  When it seemed the chemo could no longer shrink my tumors, I met with doctors from Toronto General who told me about two more options:  immunotherapy and a freshly approved drug:  Lynparza (Olaparib).  Either choice was risky as neither one was really clear in terms of whether it would “save” me/ prolong my life.  Both were “shot in the dark” solutions.

I chose.  My family and I chose.  My doctors and I chose.  We chose to go the Lynparza route.

Like the boys being extracted out of the cave, my treatment too was perilous.  It was scary.  I counted on the advice and expertise of others.  I gave myself to medicine.

I was “rescued”.  To date, I have been in a drug-induced remission.  I have my doctors, the medical community, and my family and friends to thank for that.  They are my heroes.  They may not have made it to the international news – but they most certainly have made the same impact to me as the divers made to the Wild Boars Soccer Team.  I am alive today because of them – and because I believed in a solution.  I had faith in the process.  And there was some mighty Divine Intervention that had to have happened.  In my opinion.

I have lived for nearly four years now with a previously “fatal” form of cancer.  I am at peace with it.  I have not resigned myself to it – but I have become stronger because of it.  It took a lot of counselling and therapy to help me deal with my “new” reality, with the fears associated with having cancer, and with the memories of the trauma.  The mental healing was, quite truthfully, more challenging than the physical healing.  And I would anticipate the soccer team may require the same course of therapy to help them to emotionally deal with their ordeal as well.  Their journey of recovery has only just begun.

Yes.  I can relate.

I cannot presume to compare our journeys, but I feel I can walk a mile – have walked a mile – in their shoes.  I am confident that, with the proper help, with prayer, and with patience and support from others, they will see they are made of tough stuff.  I can only imagine what they will go on to achieve for themselves and, perhaps, for others.

Thank God for this very happy ending for the team – that in truth – is their beginning.

And I thank God for mine.

Posted in cancer, Uncategorized | 20 Comments