Overcoming Stage-Fright

“I need a name for my book, Kevin.  I’m stuck on the title.  I want it to be positive, yet, to the point.”

Kevin and I began brainstorming a host of different ‘puns’ about cancer – cuz we are pun masters – to try to figure out an appropriate title.  We got stuck on a few ideas, mainly that the word cancer begins with “can”.  And that’s pretty positive.  But that didn’t seem to cut it.

“I can’t help but think about the word, ‘answer'”, Kevin said.  “You know, Canswer – instead of cancer?”

That was good.  That was clever.  That didn’t make the final cut.

“Something to do with the word ‘stage'”, he suggested.  “You know, like you thought Stage IV was a death sentence?  We had no idea what the concept meant when we first heard it – but it scared the heck out of us.”

“Stage-Fright?” I thought.  That was a good play on words… double entendu as it were.

But that was too negative.  And I don’t want a book that is suggesting anything more depressing about cancer than it already is.

And then – it dawned on me:  Overcoming Stage-Fright.  That name would suggest there is a way to overcome the fear of cancer.  And that’s 90% of the battle – emotional.  At least, that the part of the battle family and friends can help win.

“Overcoming Stage-Fright,” I suggested to Kevin.

“Yes.  I like that.  A guide for friends and family.  You can give tips to people who are supporting someone through cancer – to help them know how they may be helpful and encouraging.  So many people don’t know what to say – or what to do.  And often, they say things that are hurtful, when they are only trying to be helpful. You’ve certainly gone through enough to know what was helpful to you.”

And that was that.  I liked it.

I introduce to you now, my friends and family – the title of my up and coming book.  I have the layout.  I have the purpose.  I have a mission.  And so, I begin a new journey which will challenge me to review my first year of life as a person living with cancer.  It feels good to have a mission.  It feels good to think I will perhaps be able to provide helpful tips to those who are support networks for people living with cancer.  And I mean it when I say living with cancer – as I am a firm believer that someday soon, cancer will be a chronic illness – not a death sentence.

Fingers crossed.

First chore:  download September’s stories.  Egad.  Wish me luck.

Posted in cancer, Cancer Journey, challenges, courage, Uncategorized | 32 Comments

It Takes Courage – and Maybe Some Tulips

I cancelled my appointment with Dr. Singh on Wednesday.  I just didn’t have the guts to find out how I was doing.  You’d think that I’d be used to it by now – once a month appointments.  Nope.  Every visit is tough.  No – that’s not right.  It’s not the visit that is tough – it is having courage to go to an appointment that is tough.  Afterall, I’m given the verdict of “you are doing well” or “your cancer is back”.  Either way, I trust my doctor.  I have faith in her.  That’s not really the issue.  I think it’s just finding out that the tiny plans that you may / may not have made for the upcoming week/ month/ summer may change.

Dr. Singh’s office called that very afternoon I didn’t show.  So, what did I think?  “This can’t be good.  Why is she so desperate to see me?  Is there something she needs to talk to me about?”  Millions of questions – none of them good.  The office wanted to see if I was okay and if I wanted to come in on Friday instead.  sigh.  Such a build up for nothing.

Friday – today – came.  Thank goodness the appointment was in the morning, otherwise, I would have had all day to stress about it.  That’s what happens.  Too much idle time breeds too many wrong scenarios.  And I was afraid of the results of this month’s blood work.  After all, it was a year ago when I was “re-diagnosed” with cancer and begin my third round of chemo.  It was two years after I ended my first round of chemo.  I know these dates (helped by facebook), even though I’d like to think I don’t define myself by cancer.  I buy tulips (not daffodils).  I won’t attend ovarian cancer events (but will contribute).  I don’t wear teal (the colour which represents ovarian cancer).  You get the picture.  Yet – when it comes right down to it – there is still not a day that goes by when I don’t think about cancer.  In spite of my best efforts – I still live my life with cancer.

I don’t talk about it.  At least – not in casual conversation.  I keep it pretty private (even though here I am posting to my blog about it like a blabber mouth) because I don’t want to be defined by or known as, “the girl/ woman” with cancer.  I didn’t think I minded talking about it – but I do.  I have more interesting things in my life to talk about.  Even though cancer threatens me every day.  It’s like trying to ignore someone holding a knife to your throat while cooking dinner, doing laundry, dancing and singing, or grocery shopping.  You know the knife is there – but you also don’t want it to change who you are or what you do.  That takes energy.

Anyone dealing with a disease or life-threatening illness must be the same.

In any case, the knife moved away from my neck today to give me some breathing space.  “Your bloodwork is outstanding,” reported my nurse to which I replied  –

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?”

Oops.  Couldn’t help it.  She laughed.  I asked her if I could give her a hug – she was good – we hugged and laughed and left to get my oncologist.

“I love it when you come to see me, Stacey,” she said.  “You are always so positive.  You inspire me.”

(What????)

“I inspire you?” I queried.

“Yes.  I love your attitude.  You lift my spirits and give me hope.”

Well, who knew.  She is real.  My Dr. Singh is a person too.  I needed my students to tell me when they thought I was doing a good job – and so did she.  Not a problem for me to sing her praises.  Without her – I’d be dead by now.  How does one not appreciate that!?

“Well – I am so very grateful for everything.  I am living my life, watching my children grow, travelling.  I went to Myrtle Beach this March Break with my family . I saw a ballet with my daughter.  I look forward to my son’s return from school.  I have made “tiny plans” for the future and have hope again that I will be able to see the Grand Canyon one day.   All this – because of you!”

She argued with me that it was because of my positive attitude that I was doing well.  But, we all know that it takes more than that – it takes good medicine and stellar care.  So – I would suppose my Dr. Singh and I have a symbiotic relationship.  And that’s good for me.

While I should look forward to next month’s visit – I know come time I will be trying to muster up courage once more.  It is not easy.  Nothing is easy about cancer – other than to recognize how challenging it can be.  Still – I am in good hands.  I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends who are here for me and with me.  How lucky am I?  I count my blessings every day.  And it seems the more I count them, the more joy I feel.  So, I’ll continue on this path for as long as I can – to summon a positive attitude and to face life with courage – and a nice bouquet of tulips doesn’t hurt!

I do wish I could have shared a glass of wine with my Mom and Dad, though, to celebrate as was always our tradition.  I am thankful to have those memories and to making new memories as we celebrate life.

Cheers!

Posted in acceptance, advice, appreciation, attitude, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

From Emotional Health to Mental Healing

“I don’t understand why we don’t consider emotional health as important as mental health!” Maggie would say to me.  “Honestly, it is just as important – if not more so.  If people were able to talk about their emotions they would perhaps be less inclined to experience better mental health.  Don’t you think?  When I ask you how you feeling, what would you say?”

“I’d say I feel fine.” I replied.

“There you go.  Fine is not an emotion.”

Right.  Fine is not an emotion.  So, how did I feel?  What are the words from which I could draw:  happy, sad, angry, depressed, anxious… I felt none of those.  At least, I didn’t think I felt any of those.  So seriously how did I feel?

“How are you?”  So often we ask one another this exact question.  And what is the reply? Fine?  Not bad.  I’ve been better.  And do we listen for the response?  I’ve come to think that how are you is really code for hey – I acknowledge you are here, but I really have to go.

What would happen if someone really gave a true answer?  “I’m sad.”  If they answered, that would require the person who asked the question to stop and engage in a conversation.  And that isn’t always the desired outcome when one is rushing off to work, or rushing to get home to cook dinner, or when one is exhausted from running around doing errands.

Furthermore, how would we handle the answer if it came at us?  “I’m sad.”  Then what?  I think the inevitable response would be, “why?” And if that came – then hold onto your hat for the story.

It seems to me then – we ought not to ask the question if one is not prepared for the answer.

Or maybe when asked the question, the response ought to be, “Do you really want to know?”.  That may just seem like an odd response though.  It could be considered highly indignant, almost rude, like you are insinuating that the person who asked didn’t really care.  That may be true – but how rude to challenge one’s integrity.

Ask me how I am.  Go ahead.  I’ll tell you.  I am frightened.  Yes.  That is an emotion.  I am lost.  No that’s not an emotion – but I feel that way.  I guess the reason I am frightened is because I am lost.  I sometimes feel that I have no direction, no purpose.  I don’t know what tomorrow will hold.  None of us do – but it seems cancer sharpens the word tomorrow to cut just a bit deeper into the darkness of the unknown.  Make plans for next year?  Ha!  I cannot.  I guess that’s what older people mean when they speak about tomorrow, next week, or next year with such uncertainty. I’m frightened I have lost my purpose.  Yes, my son still needs me to be around for him.  He needs to be loved, hugged, cuddled, and cooked for. The other two – well – they have found lives of their own.  I know they love me, as does my husband, but they don’t need me.  I’m a Mom – but the meaning has changed.  I’m a wife – but the meaning has changed.  I am not a teacher – at least not a classroom teacher.  I am not a daughter.  I am not many things.  Yeah – I’m frightened and a bit sad.  I think that’s part of cancer . There are many losses and grieving those losses is translated in so many ways.

Ask me how I am.  I am thankful.  No, that’s not an emotion.  Being thankful makes me feel joy.  Yes.  I am also happy.  I am glad.  I have so much to be thankful for and focusing on that makes me happy.  I guess this is a choice – to think about what I have to be thankful for.  My Dad always said, “remember the good times, Stacey and count your blessings.”  He smiled a lot in his golden years.  So – being happy is a choice?

Cancer.  The word is hotbed of emotions – most bad ones.  It calls us to take arm against an enemy (fear?), the fight a good fight (rage?), to think of the future (anticipation?), and maybe it calls us to be thankful (joy?).  And that’s just the beginning.  How many other words can evoke so many emotions.  I guess any chronic illness would do the same.

What happens, though, when we lock our emotions inside us?  What happens if we don’t talk about how we are feeling?  To not express joy, anger, fear… is to deny ourselves of our own humanity.  To stuff emotions causes stress and anxiety – leading to mental health issues.  Can we be poisoned by our own emotions?  We all need to be able to express how we are feeling.  And equally important, we all need to have someone who will not only ask the question, “How are you?”, but will also listen for the answer.  Maggie would call this person a “loving listener”.  We don’t need to solve the emotion. There is nothing to solve.  We don’t need to offer solutions, simply empower the person to find their own solutions.

Three words:  how are you

They are the key that could unleash the power of emotional health which could very well lead to emotional health and good mental healing.

If someone were to ask you, “How are you feeling today?” what / how would you answer?

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The Family Dog

When Lola conceded to getting a family dog, she knew exactly what she was getting into.  A family dog, as the script reads so often, becomes the responsibility of the parents.  “Jazz” was just a pup when she came home.  She was hand selected by Lola’s daughter – the reason for the dog in the first place.  The journey home with Jazz was rather uneventful, though very emotional.  There was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air … finally the family had a dog!  This request had been in the works for nearly ten years.  Lola was not sure how she finally gave in – but she did.  And now, Jazz was the latest member of the family.

The morning walk with Jazz had become a routine which pleased both Lola and her husband.  The children had long ago abandoned the walk with Jazz.  In fact, they had abandoned almost everything about Jazz – particularly the goodies that she left behind the back yard.  It was a good thing that the youngest member of the LePage family knew his allowance was pretty much tied to feeding Jazz – or Jazz would have been sole property of Lola and her husband.  Jazz loved her morning walks.  She began expressing her pleasure as soon as Lola came downstairs – but only if Lola was not wearing the over-sized housecoat she had purchased for her father shortly before he passed away.  Lola was a bit pragmatic in that way and, well, maybe a bit sentimental too.  If Lola came down in “clothes”, Jazz would rouse herself from the mat at the front door immediately.  She ran to find her “baby” which, as soon as she had it in her mouth, gave her the ability to speak.

“Grrrrrrrrrrr,” she’d emit.  “Argghhhhh grrrrrr,” she would continue.  You know the kind of gutter noises that dogs make to vocalize their pleasure – kind of hard to describe in words, but you know the dog is happy.

“Want to go for a walk Jazz?” was the question that would set her off into a flurry of jumps and leaps and turning circles.

“Oh, how nice it would be to experience the same simple joy of anticipating a walk as the dog does,” Lola thought to herself.

Lola tied the laces of her all-weather boots and away they went.  Jazz could barely restrain herself from bursting through the front door first, but, she knew her place and she held fast until Lola had left.  Like a rubber band snapping after a taunt pull, Jazz sped through the door to the sidewalk.  She was wild with anticipation of the walk.  Unleashed, untethered, unabated.  While Lola loved how excited Jazz was, she was always slightly nervous about walking the dog unleashed – city by-law and all you know.  Once, Jazz and Lola had been walking in the woods when a doberman and its owner (unleashed – the doberman not the owner) had encountered a little poodle and its owner (leashed).

“That dog has to be leashed, you know!” screamed the poodle owner.

“This is public property, lady” retorted the doberman owner.

“That means you need to obey the by-laws of the city!” argued the poodle owner.

“I can take my dog unleashed on public property”, argued back the doberman.

Lola could hear the conversation continue as she turned around and planned a different route.  The poodle owner scared her.  From that day on, Lola was ready to encounter poodle owner with an “excuse” for the unleashed Jazz.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I must have forgotten her leash.  My memory has never been the same since chemo.” she would reply.  Honestly, her conscience poked at her every time she thought about playing the cancer card.  Would that be dishonest to claim memory loss?  No. Would that be unethical to play the cancer card?  Well. Not really  – having cancer has to have some advantages – too many disadvantages to not take advantage of the advantages.  Is that playing on people’s heart-strings?  Most definitely.  The response would, no doubt, stun the recipient.  And that would serve its purpose.  At least until Jazz and Lola had passed by.  Lola knew no one would question as her hair was still very short and very grey.  At best, even if she were challenged about cancer, she could claim senility as a little old lady.

“I think I spend too much time thinking about these things,” Lola thought to herself.

The morning walk was wonderful.  Lola had energy.  And on days like these, Lola felt, well, almost normal.  The birds were so loud they almost deafened Lola from her self-talk.  Cardinals, chick-a-dees, wood-peckers, red-winged blackbirds… so many birds.  And they sang all at once.  It was amazing.

Over the pond, through the woods, down Tiffin, and back via Elizabeth Street they went.  This had been the same route Lola and Jazz had taken for several years.  She knew when she would be cold, she knew when she’d heat up, she knew when she’d be winded, and she knew when she would feel on top of the world. This – this route was about as predictable as anything in her life.  The snow had melted to reveal the garbage left behind from winter.  Thank goodness there would be a spring clean soon.  The buds on the maple trees – the soft maples – were swelling.  Soon, there would be a “haze” of green.

Lola and Jazz reached the front door.  “Well, Jazzy-girl,” encouraged Lola.  “Another walk down.  What a good girl!”  And Lola wasn’t sure if she was referring to Jazz or herself.

It had been good to have Jazz on the walk.  She was a good dog.  She was a friendly dog. And, although she was last one to concede to the family dog, Lola was glad Jazz was around.

 

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Never Go it Alone

“I’ll be damned if I am going to remain tired for the rest of my life,” Darya said to herself.

And she meant it.

It wasn’t without trepidation that she made the commitment, however, since she had been tired for a long time and all the side-effects of Lynparza posted on the internet pointed towards this on-going and incurable symptom:  fatigue.  Who wouldn’t be slightly intimidated by that?

She had been fit throughout her life.  She always knew the benefits of cardio and weight-lifting.  Expressfit in the Bayfield Mall had been perfect for her work-outs.  It was a short walk down the hallway, past the coffee shop, and opposite Canadian Tire.  It was a humble gym – run by a former Team Canada hockey player who was, well, FIT.  Having never belonged to this sort of gym before, Darya was skeptical at first.  It was her decision to lose weight after having a baby at age 40 that forced her down the hall to Expressfit and pay her fee.  It was not fun – at first.  In fact, it had been downright awful.  But she kept going.  All by herself.  Eventually, she met a new instructor named Vandie.  That changed everything.  Vandie tailored classes to Darya – which gave her the entertainment she needed.  She brought students.  They participated.  She brought friends.  They participated.  Eventually, fitness became part of her daily routine and a must to eliminate the stress of work.  It was wonderful.  Darya was fit!

Sadly, the gym closed.  Darya had to find another outlet – Vandie began fitness in her basement and Darya was quick to sign up.  So did many of the other ladies who had be loyal followers at the gym.

It was shortly after her mother passed away that Darya fell from fitness.  Then she broke her elbow – twice.  Same place.  Long story.

She had no time to go to fitness between raising three children, caring for her husband, working full time and taking care of her father.

When her father passed away, Darya decided it was time to return to fitness.  As it turns out, she had fallen from the top of the fitness chain – to the bottom.  That was hard for Darya who had worked so hard to be fit.  But, she tried.  She worked through the pain in her shoulder (didn’t know what that was), the pain in her abdomen (what was that?), the fatigue (she thought because work required a lot of energy).. and so on.

Then – when she was diagnosed with cancer, she had to quit – once again.  Chemo was a bitch that sucked out the life within her.  Or at least, it tried to.  Darya was, once again, determined.  She went to fitness.  She started with one riser.  No more.  She stopped when she had to.  She went when she could – once the fatigue, aches, and mania of chemo had passed.  She went.  And Vandie helped keep her there. It was a mild work-out, but it was a work-out. Darya knew that fitness was a way to help her heal from all the toxins coursing through her body.  She kept at it.  Then Neulasta hit.  It was a drug she had to take to help build up her white blood count – to allow her to continue chemo.  The pain was excruciating.  She tried to walk through it – but it didn’t work that way.  The more she walked, the more pain she was in.  Worse than child-birth, she would say.

When chemo ended, she walked to Vandie’s.  It was a 45 minute up-hill walk, followed by a 45 minute step class, and a 45 minute walk back home.  It was an amazing feeling.  She loved it.  She felt – almost normal.

The second round of cancer threw her another curve ball.  Fitness became, once again, sporatic.  She never gave up.  Vandie never let her.  It just – became more challenging.

Chemo ended.  That’s when Lynparza began.  She was tired – all the time.  She was nauseated.  She had head-aches.  It wasn’t looking good.  But – she kept going to fitness.  Eventually, she was less dizzy, had more energy, felt… more normal.  And that she was in a remission, although chemically induced, she was elated.

The fatigue continued.  It weighed on her like the weight she had gained when she was 40.

She was tired of being tired.

But, she walked.  She continued to walk.  Darya was slightly stubborn and eternally optimistic that she was going to beat the odds.  Of course she was not like everyone else with cancer – she was fit.  She was healthy – okay maybe diseased, but other than that she was healthy.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to be a statistic,” she affirmed as she hopped into the car with her son and husband to try her next fitness adventure:  weight -lifting at the gym.

It was hard.  She was dizzy.  She was winded.

“I need a personal trainer” she realized.  And with that, she contacted a former student who she knew would be able to help.  She knew she was not going to be able to do this alone.

 

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Get on with Living

The day began much the same way as the previous day had ended; Amy was snuggled in her faux-fur blanket in her uber-warm bed.  She liked to be there to “recover” from life’s events whether the event was a walk, a talk, or even a grocery shop.  Everything she did seemed to need some recovery time these days.  She guess that was the new norm and that would be just fine – as long as she had a bed and her faux-fur blanket to snuggle into.

It was hard to imagine that only one week ago she was waking up after a long 16 hour drive from where the family had vacationed in Myrtle Beach.  Come to think of it – it wasn’t so difficult as the temperature on this morning was similar to the temperatures in Myrtle Beach, maybe warmer.  It wasn’t always that cold down south, in fact, it had always been warmer.  Amy and her family spend countless hours on the beach, building sandcastles, playing frisbee – Amy was never particularly good at frisbee but she didn’t like to miss out on things so she played.  Amy made it a habit of being involved, in some way, shape or form, in everything that the Myrtle Beach crew did.  And that become more important than ever this past trip down south.

Amy was in a chemically-induced remission.  She was going to be damned sure that that fucking disease wasn’t going to stop her from being involved with life – well – at least from sampling the goods that life had to offer.  It had already robbed her of so much:  her job, her physical fitness, her mind.  Fucking disease.

On the other hand, she was thankful for some of the gifts that cancer had given to her:  time to spend at home with her children, the patience to listen, and freedom from the stress of work.  She had had a demanding job.  She had loved teaching and she was good at it.  To do a good job, however, she needed to dedicate her energy to her students.  That didn’t leave much to offer to her family when she got home.  Amy found it difficult to find that life- work balance. No matter what, she felt that she was always robbing Peter to pay Paul.  At the end of the day the one who was robbed more than anyone, in terms of her emotional and physical health, was Amy.  So, while cancer took a lot from her, she was able to see a silver lining.

Amy liked to see the silver linings.  She knew she had a right to be anger, to be sad, to be afraid.  Afterall, she had been through a lot trying to recover from a stage 4 ovarian cancer diagnosis.  So had her family and her friends.  She was always so very thankful for the support that her community of family and friends had shown her during her three rounds of chemo and, mostly, her stints of recovery.  She had received three beautiful quilts – each had been made thoughtfully, carefully, stitch by stitch.  It seemed to Amy that that was a good way to live life – stitch by stitch, second by second.  Truthfully, there were some good days  – the good days strung in a row – when she forgot this mantra and simply lived.  She would panic when she realized that she had forgotten to count the stitches – almost like life had slipped through the needle, leaving no trace of a pattern.  And these days, she needed to remember.  Her memory sucked!

The Canada Geese honked outside her window.  They did that every year.  The first year of her chemo treatment, she wondered if she would ever hear the geese again.  She noted their presence.  She noted the first buds to swell on the trees.  She noted the first robin to sing.  This year, these notables seemed to be, well, less notable.  She appreciated them – but for some reason, she felt that she was just missing something – some sort of joy.  And that – was a sin! Life needed to be celebrated and not taken for granted.

Maybe it was the news of a good friend struggling with a potential cancer diagnosis?  Amy had supported many people before through their cancer journeys.  It seemed that that had been many years ago – in a different era.  Medicine was different then.  A cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.  It seemed that now, people could live long lives.  It was almost that cancer had become a chronic disease rather than a death sentence.  There was hope.  In any case, the news of her friend had disturbed Amy and her family deeply.

Amy’s thoughts of her friends were put onto the back-burner as her husband came bounding into the room, laundry basket in hand.  “Hello, Princess!”  he said.

She smiled, knowing that her quiet time, snuggled under her faux-fur blanket was over.  And that was quite alright by her.  Life goes on.  There is a time to reflect and there is a time to move on.

It was time to get the day started.  Life.  Get on with it.

 

Posted in acceptance, appreciation, cancer, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Last Martini

You don’t know when it will be the last one.

Honest.

You don’t know when you will have the opportunity to say, “Gosh, I’ve enjoyed that”, and to not be able to say that again.

So – the lesson is – always enjoy as though it is the last.

That’s not a fatalistic view – it is honest.  And it it pragmatic. There is nothing wrong with that.

Today marks the birthday of one of my favorite aunts.  Honestly, if someone were to ask me who was my favorite, I’d not be able to name her. They all had their moments.  They were all very special. And they all played very different roles in my life.  Some were more supportive than others – some more entertaining.  And Auntie Helen – well… she was the quintessential entertainer.

I have to be honest that I am tired tonight – but I feel the need to recognize this amazing person whom I have enjoyed.  Yes, I would say, gosh I’ve enjoyed her.

One would think that it would be impossible to enjoy someone who has “gone” – but that would not be the truth.  I enjoy her memories  I enjoy thinking about her – and laughing out loud about the time Ron, Auntie Helen, and I spent together – drinking martinis.  Three olives were better than two. And laughter was the elixir of the day.

Happy birthday, Auntie Helen.  Still love you!

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Life’s Pause

“It’s not what you accomplish in life that counts – it’s what you overcome”

Well, the timing of that message to me from a friend this morning couldn’t have been more perfect.  It was a reminder to carry on.  And sometimes, life can cause a pause.  I’m in one of those pauses right now.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing – I think it happens when one processes new information, to adjust to news, to let the brain catch up to circumstances.  Pauses take time.  Sometimes they take a lot of time. Of course, this is directly correlated to the actual drama of the news itself.  Hence, I guess, someone coined the term, “pregnant pause” to explain a really long time of “nothing”.

I’m swirling a bit in this pause.  As always, it is about me.  I’m at the centre – looking around those people who surround me.  And in my mind’s eye, I am watching them.  I watch to see how they react – to see if they are crying, hugging, smiling.  I spectate.  They perform.  Only, they don’t see me watching.  I’m in a different house, a different city, a different province.  Yet – they are so clear to me.

I had visited these people only last summer.  Kevin and I had gone to BC to visit.  Thank goodness we did as this visit has given me context with which I can imagine their grief, their suffering, and their relief.  The visit was more important than I could have known at the time and the visit almost didn’t happen.  I was just not sure if I was travelling too soon after my chemo had ended.  It was always that way, my concern about my immune health.  It was on a wing and a prayer that I decided that life is meant to be lived.  That’s tougher to do than it sounds.  It was a good decision and a good rule to live by.

Pam’s voice was soft and low.  This was in marked contrast to the raucous I heard in the background.  The children and grandchildren had already arrived to her house – the house where she and Brian had lived.  The house where they had entertained friends and family.  The house where Brian had told stories and stuffed the walls full of joyous belly laughter.  The house that gave the family comfort, character to grow into strong individuals, and history to ground them when their roots were ripped from the family soil.

“I am okay, Stacey,” Pam reassured me.  “I have been grieving for a long time now.”

I knew that.  I had witnessed that as late as last summer.

“The thing I grieve for the most is that Brian was robbed of his experience as a grandfather.  He never got to appreciate the gift of grandchildren.  It’s not fair that he missed this part of life.”

She was right.  I hadn’t thought of that.  I wanted to tell he that he would never miss what he never knew and that it was “her” that missed watching him grandfather his children’s children.  No need to voice that one. It would be me yapping away in the face of a woman who was, quite simply, masked quiet by grief.  She paused on the phone.  I heard her breathe.  I heard the sadness in her sigh that told me everything that words would never be able to tell.  I listened.  We were with each other, though on either sides of Canada.  Distance is only a physical measure – not spiritual.  And we were spiritually linked.

She was the first to lose a Mom – of all the cousins.  She was the last to lose a Dad – of all the cousins.  She was the first to lose a partner.  There is something to be said about being first and last.  We look to see what it will feel like when something happens.  We look to see if it felt the same for all of us when it is over.  Losing a spouse to Alzheimer’s… I’m not sure if there is anything more challenging than that.  It’s like a double or triple death.  It is to lose a person – one piece at a time.  At least, that’s how I think it must be.

She is the Matriarch of the family.  That is the role.  How will this role be played?  What are the expectations for her?  She must be brave.  She must be strong.  She must be clever.  She must be stoic.  She must be….. everything that everyone needs.  And then grieve herself.  She is at the centre of the circle – looking out at everyone around her and watching them to see how they cope.  Some will be angry.  Some will be relieved.  Some will turn their backs to her and some will turn to her for comfort.  She remains in the middle of the pause.

But it cannot last too long.

That pause.

A breath in time, really.

And then, life must move on.

They will re-adjust to their new lives.  I know this to be true.  Life will never be the same again. Ever.  That’s the way it goes.  Each event leaves a mark on our lives.  Each person, we carry as a tattoo on our souls.  The ink – indelible.  We never forget – forever changed.

But for a while – we pause.

 

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Living in My Own La-La Land

Yes, I saw the movie.  Yes, I danced when I got home.  Yes, Ryan Gosling is my new rock star.

But what the heck is La-La-Land?

I live in my Ho-Ho-House.

With my HUB-HUB-Hubbie.

And my Fa-Fa-Family.

Is that what this title is all about?

I take my Pi-Pi- Pills.

Every Da-Da-Day.

And I Ea-Ea-Eat a good diet always.

When I’m happy, I Si-Si-Sing and Hu-Hu-Hum.

On week-ends I do La-La-Laundry.

That doesn’t sound like I’m on theme, though.

What If-If-If, however, our Li-Li-Lives were to play out with fun titles representing our actions?

Would I be Bo-Bo-Boring?

Would I be Ex-Ex-Exciting?

Would I be Hi-Hi-Hilarous?

Maybe that’s just plain, Si-Si-Silly.

What I do realize, is that there are only so many two-letter combinations that you can use until the introduction becomes repetitive.  In fact, I guess someone has already used the La-La’s up for a movie.  That leaves a Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu, and sometimes By.  Well, then there’s the vowel combination with every other consonant in the alphabet.

Yeah – so these are the Ra-Ra-Ramblings of my Mi-Mi-Mind when I am taking my time swallowing my Pi-Pi-Pills.  Welcome to my La-La-Life.

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If We All Had a Vandie!

My first thought this morning was, “maybe I just won’t go”.

I had a good excuse; I thought I cracked a rib yesterday.  It was a silly thing – I leaned over the console in the car to reach my purse in the back seat.  I felt something.  And it hurt!  Of course, I was glad to be by myself as a thunderous, “SHIT!” came out of me.   I sat in the car.  Alone.  Stunned.  Terrified my guts would somehow spill out onto the floor.  I waited.  I didn’t pass out.  The world kept going.  No one stopped to ask me if I was okay.  No one passed by.  Another day.  Then, I cried.  All I needed was another tier of trouble.  Living with cancer was enough. Do I now have to deal with healing a cracked rib?

I rolled over to test the limits of my rib.  It felt pretty good.  Maybe it wasn’t broken?  Maybe I strained a muscle.  Of course, my mind wandered even further… maybe my cancer from the liver grew out through my ribs and I ripped a piece of it off and it has spread to all other parts of my body – and I’ll be dead in an hour? Yeah.  Well  – if I’m to be honest, this kind of thinking just seems to happen when you live with cancer.

I sat up.  Okay.  Not bad.  I thought, “If I go to fitness at least I’ll be able to test my limits and know what I can and cannot do.”

So, I drank the coffee Kevin had served me earlier (which I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach, let alone drink), got David ready for school, and away I went.  I must also add, I moved throughout this process ever so gingerly as I did have twinges when I moved the wrong way.

“How are you feeling, Stacey?”  asked Vandie as soon as I arrived.  Did I mention she greeted me at her front door with a concerned look on her face?

“Good to go, Vandie”, I responded hoping my words would define my health.

Laura, who just went through cancer herself, and I were soon positioned behind our steps and ready to go.

“Step touch,” Vandie began.

We all chatted as we do at the beginning of the class.  We have energy and enough breath to breathe at the beginning.  The conversation was casual.  We chat about life, kids, food… Always, interspersed between the chatter, is Vandie’s, “you gals okay?” and “Laura, do this instead of that for your arm”, and “Stacey – do this instead so you don’t strain your rib”.  Always.  There are always accommodations made to our routines.

How would I fare in a regular fitness class, I sometimes wonder.  Exercising with 30 other women with no issues would not give me the assurance I need to move through.  I’d be broken by now.  I know it.  I push too hard and I would not give in to my injuries.  I still get dizzy on occasion and Vandie gives me Gatorade.  I get winded and Vandie modified my work-out.  I want to get rid of these muffin – tops I have since chemo – and damn it – we work on that.  “Be careful what you ask for, Stacey, you know you are going to get it!” Vandie laughs.

I look at Laura, she looks at me.  We smile through gritted teeth.  This happens when we are using elastics to firm up our butts.  We aren’t really smiling and we both know it – we know it is the smile of a woman in pain who knows she needs to give it!  But while Laura moves, so do I.  And while I move, so does she.  We motivate each other – and this is good.  Neither can get away with anything as Vandie watches us.  “Get those legs higher, girls,” she’ll say.  “We can do 8 more, can’t we?” she will ask er… demand.

I got through the class.  Oh, how those stretches felt so good at the end.  “This will help stretch out those ribs, Stacey.” And they did.  I felt relief.  I felt better.  I felt great – both mentally and physically.

As we parted from one another, we all affirmed how important fitness has been in our lives.  It pushed us to know our limits.  Without that, we’d be wallowing in self -pity and getting weaker by the day.  I don’t know how people recover from illness without fitness.  How do you know your abilities?  How do you challenge your limits?  I know I’m a shadow of the fit person I once was – but I am so much better than I would have been had I not had Vandie in my life.  I know Laura agrees.  We all need a push.  We all need inspiration.  We all need to be reminded of our current limits – to respect them.  Oh, if we could all have a Vandie.

 

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