The Morning After

It dawns with such hope and breathes life back into me. I wait in anticipation of what noises I will hear, what smells I will smell, and what awaits me. I feel compelled to review the dream from which I just awoke. I hadn’t had a teaching dream in such a long time. Why now? It seems so strange – after having not taught for nearly seven years… why now? I try to hold the feeling, the empowering feeling of inspiring student minds. I miss it. They inspired me more than I could ever have inspired them. I hope one day this point will be made.

Coffee. Shower. A new beginning.

As it is every morning, my coffee is brewing as I come down the stairs. It is something I look forward to very much – time spend with Kevin over coffee. The morning debrief of the day before and the list of the things that approach this new day.

The debrief. It was David’s 18th birthday yesterday. Our youngest boy – now a man. Now able to vote. Now borrowing my car. Now sure of his footing – at least for the day. A strapping 6′ something and a heart as big as a horse. He has most certainly lived up to his name. I breathe a new breath. My brain is still sorting things out. The little boy is now a man. I try to clear the haze of his youth from my vision so that I may open a lens to who his is now. I want to see him clearly, yet I keep clouding my vision with memories of who he once was. I yearn for a clear picture yet am unsure I am doing it justice. I want to look at him as others would see him – without my bias, without my history, without the stories. I feel like that would free him and allow him to simply “be” him – to be “David”. But I can’t. He – my baby – is indelible. Eternal. From the moment he was born, the dye was cast and my love for him forged. He is a mix of his past and his present – of what I saw and what I see – of things that have happened and things yet to be. They all are … all three of my children.

My family. Oh, how much fun we had last night celebrating David’s birthday. And his siblings took to their roles as masters of ceremonies like ducks in water. I stood back and watched. I followed. I let go of the reigns of parenthood. And they charged forward with me in tow. Each of them is unique and each has talent. Each has grown into fine, young people. And I am proud to call them my children.

The dishes. The house empties and quiets as the morning leisure time turns its hands to write the list of endless morning chores. Tidy, mop the floor, clean a cupboard or two, prepare the recycling… mundane chores that keep our house running smoothly. It is the calm context in the chaos of life. While the world swirls around me I keep my own pace and look for cracks in the armor that cancer and covid put around me. I’m not sure whether to cast off the protective barriers or to patch them? Too soon? Am I too fragile? Who am I underneath it all?

A new day is dawning on so many levels and with it brings the thrill of discovery and the threat of change. There are so many days it feels like a double edged sword and a salve that heals all at once. I breathe in such hope, and exhale the despair. I breathe in the challenge and exhale the debris. It is time to move on.

The walk. A walk clears my mind and grounds my intent. I am pragmatic as I walk through the woods and bathe through the trees. It is the morning after David’s 18th birthday celebrations. And I look forward to living the day – and to tomorrow’s debrief.

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The Person You’ve Become…

Dedicated to David, on the occasion of his 18th birthday!

I knew where you went and I knew who you were
I knew how you felt – before you grew bigger.

My baby, my boy, my sweet bundle of joy –
You were so easy to please when you played with your toys.

I held onto your hand and you walked by my side
You jumped in my arms with a smile oh so, so wide.

I carried you, sang to you, watched on as you grew
And I knew that one day these moments would grow few.

I watched and I waited and hugged on while I could
I loved you whole-heartedly as any mother should.

But the pebble had dropped and the ripple spread wide
As your life it unfolded with time on your side.

I measured your progress through life as it came
Through sports and through school and through each of your games.

The ripple grew wider as every day passed
And I knew this day would come upon me too fast.

Here you stand – my sweet baby boy –
No longer happy to simply just play with that toy.

The time it has come for me to let go –
And give you the courage and strength that you know

I hold for you always as you go on your way –
Into adulthood, independence, and have your own say.

What a miracle I’ve watched from your moment of birth –
There’s been no time to languish – no time to rehearse.

Yet – what perfection there is in your kindness and smile –
Still I hate that you beat me in chess once in a while.

You’re talented, unique, creative, and often wise –
And the hearts you can break with those Arctic – blue eyes!

If I could just see through that lens to your soul –
To know what awaits you, to see how life unfolds!

But, my eyes are now bleary as I move further away –
And though gladly I do so – I wish that one day…

My ripple return as I come back into view –
And our paths cross again with the boy I once knew.

Who are you now that you’ve grown up so far –
That there are times when I have to borrow my own car!

My gift to you, son, on your eighteenth birthday –
Is to hug you with words and with words I will say…

“You are my heart and my soul, and the life that I bake –
Happy birthday, sweet David, may that cat lick your cake!”

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Walking in Her Shadow

There are days I feel I am a shadow of my former self. What I used to do and what I used to be have been slowly shedding away. I don’t know when it started. I don’t think I knew it was happening. My world got smaller and smaller and so did I. Like a bright colour, over time, I’ve faded.

When did it happen? How did I let it? How do I get myself back? I remember reading “The Stone Angel” when I was in high school and that image struck me as an image that was so powerful. I remember the character in the story (Margaret Lawrence, I believe) was aging and she felt she was no longer “her”. I wonder if that is happening to me?

If I were to walk in the sun, I would want to see my shadow – firmly planted on the ground. I want to see the outline and the depth. It must be dark and crisp and fluid. In that way, I know I still exist.

There is no sun today and I remain unsure if I can be seen. What defines my image now? When there is no shadow – what is my shape? If the image of my emotions were to cast a shadow, I don’t know what I’d see. I would be almost afraid to look. Yet I want to. I want to fix me. I want to be whole again. I want to be – not young – but I want to be “me”.

To sing. To dance. To run.

Where did I go?

I cook. I clean. Repeat. Yet. I can see nothing else at this moment. I am a woman in the kitchen. Yet. I feed. I provide. I give. I love. I nurture. Who is this person to me? The image looks so familiar.

Then it dawned on me that sometimes, when the sun casts a light on me, I see that I the shadow of my mother standing within me. Oh, how I have come to know her so well as I age. I understand her pain. I understand her struggles and I understand her love. Has she awakened in me to become me? Have I gone to sleep and she is supporting me, encouraging me to take shape once again?

She comforts me still. She supports me still. She loves me still. And I can rejoice that when I see my image on the ground, she is what fills the holes and completes me still. I may be a mere shadow of myself afterall, but as long as I can walk with her, I have hope to be “me” once more.

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Happy Anniversary!

May your love grow strong as the mighty oak –
It roots run deep and firm into the ground upon which it stands.
Its trunk supports the challenges the changing seasons and weather may present.
Its branches, though solid, bend so they don’t break.

Its leaves present the beauty of its soul in the spring to bring joy to all who come seeking shelter and protection. And in the fall, they return to the soil to nourish its roots and fertilize its own growth.

May your love grow as steadily as the mighty oak –
To mature each year and grow in stature and in purpose.
To rise above the earth and touch the Heavens above.
To learn and to listen, to watch and to rejoice.

In knowing each day has brought you closer to one another and when in times when the winds cause your branches to sway – that the winds too shall pass – and that you’ve weathered the storm.

Open yourselves to each other.
Be vigilant as you grow.
Respect one another as equals.
And soon you will come to know…

That love must be patient and love must be kind –
That love must forever be first on your mind.
Take time to remember this special day –
To ensure that the memory will forever stay.

Wishing you a very happy anniversary!

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A Tribute to Henny

(This poem is dedicated to Jan)

May your grief be more like the snow that falls at night –
When the wind is calm and the candle light is bright.

May the weight of your tears not pull at your heart –
But cleans of your pain so anew you may start

To laugh, to love, to live, to sing
To find your meaning as the new day will bring –

A calm you will find as you reconcile your past –
So the loss that you feel may soon disappear fast.

The joy that you shared with your family so near –
The love of your children whom she held oh so dear.

A good bowl of soup and a Dubonnet brought great cheer –
Perhaps a ritual that you may enjoy through the year?

A mother who lived with her head held so high
Who knew to not let her life just pass by.

The land and the ocean she held close and would guard –
She knew they were special and held high in regard.

A chair she would cane, and the clothes she would sew –
The plastic re-used and her own veggies she’d grow.

By her family she stood, by her community too –
As her children grew older, her wishes were few.

A life that was simple and honest and real –
To gather together her friends for a meal.

Should we all be content to live life such as this –
May our eyes be wide open – not a moment to miss.

To pioneer and go boldly – to live true to one’s heart –
To dance in the rain and to eat that last butter tart!

As you gather together this Christmas, there will be –
One less person to gather round the tree.

She will still be among you – her spirit you will feel
As you share seafood chowder and drinks with your meal.

You will grow to be closer, let your grief wrap you warm –
And keep you protected and safe from the storm

That may rise within you – it may come in waves –
Let your tears flow in sorrow – of these do not be depraved.

For soon the fog lifts and a new day will dawn –
Although she’s not with you, you will see she’s not gone.

A new presence awakens with each passing tide –
You will soon come to know her again by your side.

She will come in the wind and the snow and the rain –
She will soothe your troubled mind and help ease your great pain.

Indeed may your grief be like snow in the night –
A gentle blanket that wraps you and holds your memories tight.

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To My Daughter

I’ve been absent because I’ve been present
I’ve been busy to help you be calm.
I’ve been doing so that you are ready
Ready to move your life on…

I’ve been absent because I’ve been present
And helping you plan “this” day
Your day is so quickly arriving
In a destination so far away…

I’ve been absent because I’ve been present
Oh, such a gift I can barely take hold
Each breath that I take – I thank God I’m awake
To witness your beauty unfold

I’ve been absent because I’ve been present
I’m blessed to be part of your life
From a baby I’ve held and I’ve nurtured
To this woman who will soon be a wife

Oh – my heart sings with such joy and such sorrow
For the future that is yet to reveal
What adventures will lay down before you?
To taste, and to smell, and to feel?

You
My daughter
My heart
My reason

You – are why I’ve been absent
My life falls second in line
I give you my heart, my soul, and my spirit
I give you the gift of my time

I watch as you move through her journey
And celebrate your life as my own
I pray for your path to be easy
Yet, knowing each challenge from which you have grown

I am here, in the winds that blows gently –
I hold you so close in my heart
And it’s here where I’ll hold you forever
We’ll never be too far apart

I’ve been absent because I’ve been present
In your life as you’ve grown till this day
And forever I’ll be beside you
But never to stand in your way

My dear, may your blessings be many
May your trials be few
May your lives twine together
May your love remain true

Forever,
Mom

Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your life and to share your wedding day with you, Katya! I am blessed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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