Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

Month: March, 2013

Crying Inside


Some people cry in their beds. Some people cry in the shower. Some people cry in their cars. Some people do not cry at all. This evening I took a drive to Barnes & Noble. I wanted to buy a book for Rachel, my greatniece. I bought a copy of Ten Good and Bad Things about My Life (So Far) by Ann M. Martin. I bought the book because the description included this statement:

Ann Martin takes this appealing character into new adventures through which young readers will see that good or bad, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

That’s a serious topic, isn’t it? I have spent 18 months learning precisely that lesson since a doctor diagnosed me as having uterine cancer.

While I waited to pay for the book the woman behind me asked if I would mind telling her what I was reading. I showed her the cover. She did a double-take. I was sure she was thinking that I looked a little old for the material. She took the book from me and flipped through it swiftly.

“It’s a gift,” I said by way of explanation.

She handed the book back to me. “You don’t have any kids, do you?”

I blinked. “No, I don’t.”

She smiled. “Kids today don’t read books. They have tablets. They look at pictures. This book has what–maybe five or six drawings.” She showed me her purchases. She had two games. She waved toward the back of the store. “Haven’t you noticed? This place has become a toy store. You should get the kid a toy.”

I  smiled. I like books. I especially like books without pictures. I love books that carry positive messages. I want Rachel to grow up feeling resilient. Life can be tough. I hope Rachel will prove to be even tougher.

A few minutes later I was driving home with my purchase. An older woman in an out-of-style raincoat was walking between the cars at a major intersection. Her cardboard sign said her family had been evicted and she needed help. It was about 56 degrees outside and a light rain was falling. The woman was my age. She wore a bright red wig that was looking wet and bedraggled. I rolled down my window and reached for my purse.

When she walked up alongside my car I saw that she had no eyebrows of her own and I realized that I might be speaking with a fellow cancer survivor. I opened my wallet and handed over $15. It wasn’t enough to make a big difference, but it was what I had on me at the time.

“Thank you for helping me,” the woman spoke softly. “Happy Easter.”

That’s when I thought of the book. “Do you have any children?” I asked.

The woman looked at me like maybe I was not a nice person after all. She stepped back from my car. “Yes.”

“Do you have a daughter?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Why do you want to know?” she asked.

I handed her the book. “I think it’s about making the best of bad situations,” I said.

She looked at the cover and then tucked it back into the bag. “Thank you.” Her face was wet. It might have been the rain. It might have been tears. I don’t know for sure. The light changed and I turned right.

I went back to the store and bought an extra copy of the same book for my niece. The clerk looked at me and looked at the book. “I thought you already bought this.”

“I did.”

“Did you lose it?” the clerk asked.

“No. I gave it to a stranger and now I need another copy for someone else.”

The clerk laughed. I think she thought I was nuts.

I drove through the ATM lane at my bank on my way home and took out some extra money, but, when I drove past the intersection where I last saw her, the woman with the red wig was gone.

As I proceeded home I said a silent prayer for all of the people who tonight are having bad experiences when they had something better planned.

Deep Sleep

The only completely consistent people are the dead. – by Huxley, Aldous.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Friday was another day of very low level pain. I slept from seven in the evening until eleven without waking once. Then I sat up and did some reading and work until nearly two in the morning. I went back to sleep and did not wake for another four hours. That never happens to me. I often wake every hour.

My mom claims that the staff at St. Ann’s Hospital, where my sister and I were born, used to wake the babies for their first feeding at a very early hour. We have always been early to rise. Our brother Danny was born at Holy Family Hospital. They woke the babies later at that hospital, and he still enjoys sleeping late if he ever gets the chance.

When I was a child I slept about five hours a night. On Christmas Day it was always the sight of me seated before the tree staring at the lights and presents that greeted everyone else. One year my mom and dad tied all of the doors shut to keep me from reaching the den. They found me seated in the hall on a cold floor peering through the slats of the louvered doors when they woke.

In 1980 I started working the night shift at a hotel. I taught classes in the morning at a local college. I helped to coach a college debate team in the early afternoon. I slept from three in the afternoon until it was time to get up and get ready for work again. On many Friday mornings I finished work at the hotel and climbed into a van and traveled to debate tournaments. I did not sleep at all until the day was done. On Sunday nights I returned to work at the hotel and kept going.

I read the book entitled Sleep Less, Live More by Everett Mattlin and systematically reduced my sleep time to three hours. For most of my adult life I slept no longer than that.

Even when I wanted to sleep more I found it difficult to do so. Studies now show that this is terrible for a person’s health. The studies may be right. I find myself increasingly interested in reading studies and decreasingly influenced by them. They tend to contradict each other. Something is good for me. Something is bad for me. These inconsistencies would trouble me more if I thought inconsistency in life could be resolved. I agree with Aldous Huxley that life is inconsistent.

I was awake, other than when I was drugged, for the entire week of my hospital stay in October of 2011. I was awake for several days straight during my hospital stay in December of the same year. I have slept more than seven hours during a single day on numerous occasions since I finished chemotherapy and radiation treatment in that same month of 2011. But I do not go to sleep and stay that way for long. I wake up to roll over. I get that pins and needles feeling in my hands sometimes and wake from a deep sleep. I wake to go to the bathroom. In the last 18 months I have awakened often, sometimes every ten minutes.

I rarely have dreams that I remember when I am awake. I often wondered if my short sleep pattern meant that I did not reach REM sleep–the sleep that usually delivers dreams. I have read studies that say that this is nonsensical. The patterns of sleep are, like death, consistent.

Since my diagnosis and treatment I dream much more and the dream is nearly always the same. I am president of the United States and my son, a veteran of a foreign war, is missing because the government of which I am the chief executive has exposed my son to the werewolf virus. He has run off to figure out how to deal with his new reality. When I wake from this dream I am speaking with the Secret Service agent in charge of my missing son’s security detail. I ask him, “Do you know where my son is?” He tells me he does not and I think to myself, “Liar.”

I already have written about this dream and what it might mean.

Last night I had a different dream. It seems to have sprung from what I did yesterday afternoon. I drove out to the cemetery where my dad and his parents are interred. The place is a disgusting carpet of goose turds. Those devils of earth and sky use the cemetery as a gigantic toilet. In the wake of a cold and snowy winter, most of their droppings are bleached beige and dried down to the fiber. They disintegrate beneath my footfalls. Visiting the cemetery is far more treacherous in spring, summer, and fall when the droppings are fresh. I can barely negotiate my way to my dad’s gravesite without stepping on the stuff.

I took some paper towels with me so that I could clean off his headstone and those of each of my grandparents. Those stones are also liberally decorated with this stuff of foul fowls. As I walked past a woman my mother’s age who was decorating her deceased husband’s grave with Easter eggs (the real thing, hand-dyed and decorated with a piece of ribbon) on little spikes, I noticed a bird sitting on my dad’s headstone.

My mom thinks my dad’s spirit sometimes visits her in the form of a bird. When I am at her home I sometimes hear the thud of a bird hitting a pane of a window or the side of the structure. My mom loves birds. She always knows the caw of a blue jay and smiles at the sight of a cardinal. This was a rather large bird, but not big enough to be a duck or a goose. It was not small enough to be a sparrow or a robin.

It was quiet. The only noise I heard was the sound of my tinnitus. My ears “ring” all of the time since chemotherapy. The bird must have heard me, but he did not move from the headstone as I approached. I decided to greet my disembodied dad. “Hi, Dad,” I said softly.

The bird turned to look at me as I drew within a few feet of it. Then it started walking away. He stepped over to the headstone of George Prewitt, one of my grandparents’ good friends. George is buried next to my dad. Then he turned and looked at me. I stepped onto my dad’s grave and bent to clean the stone of its nasty “decorations.” The bird was close enough for me to touch and still watching me.

I usually speak to my dad when I visit. I told him the good news of my relief from the pain of radiation cystitis. I told him that my mom was visiting with my sister Kathy and asked him to pray for the entire family. I said some prayers for him, for his parents, for my mom’s parents, and for the rest of our family.

The bird turned away from me and walked deliberately to the next grave. It belongs to Flo Prewitt. The bird kept on walking to the grave of Agnes Luckey, Flo’s mom. Then the bird strolled up onto the grave of my grandma. He settled again at my grandpa’s headstone.

I went on with my news report (as if I really think my loved ones hang out in a cemetery). When my dad’s headstone was “clean,” I approached my grandpa’s grave and the bird turned to look at me once more before flying off and away.

When I had finished my greetings I walked back toward my car. I passed the now unattended grave the other visitor had decorated. I realized that the grave beside it already bore the woman’s name and date of birth. That must be interesting. I plan to someday be interred above my grandfather. We were born on the same day (fifty-five years apart) and were very close. My aunt plans to be interred above her mom. My mom plans to be interred above my dad. Someday there will be the six of us and the three members of Flo’s family lying in rest there. I don’t ever focus on that fact when I visit because, unlike the woman whose now empty grave I passed, my name is not already carved in a stone.

As I looked up I saw the bird again–at least I think it was the same bird–standing right beside my car. It was still there when I slowly drove away from my parking space.

Last night I slept without waking once during the last four hours of my night. When I woke I had been dreaming. In my dream I was back in the cemetery. I was speaking to my dad and watching the bird. In my dream, the bird answered. The last thing I recall from my dream was that the bird said, “This place is not for you. Dream bigger dreams.”

I think I really am getting better.

Just Around the Corner

If you are about to start or are in the middle of pelvic radiation therapy, do not read this blog posting.  Trust me when I say that my experience with the treatment was uncommon and unpleasant and you would do better to focus on positive thoughts. Moreover, my experience has a happy ending so there is no need for you to entertain any negative thoughts.


I do not want to jinx the situation, but I may have reached a breakthrough in my recovery from adjuvant radiation therapy following my diagnosis with uterine cancer and hysterectomy. This week I have gone hours at a time without any significant pain due to radiation cystitis. It is 11 p.m. on Thursday evening, and I have not had any pain today that I would rate higher than a 4 on a scale of 10 with 1 being minor pain and 10 being enough pain to make me cry out loudly. This is the single best day that I have had since mid-December of 2011.

My chief physical complaint after six weeks of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation was radiation cystitis. I bled from the bladder for some time during, and for a couple of months after, this treatment. In December of 2011 I was hospitalized for a week only a few days after this bleeding started. At that time the pain was so terrible that I sobbed every time I passed urine.

As blood clots started forming in my bladder I became incapable of passing urine at all. The blood clots pictured below are small ones. Matters got much worse. I had to struggle to eject the clots through a burnt urethra while tears ran down my cheeks. A day or two after I took the photograph below I had to have a catheter put in place to help me pass the blood. I received repeated injections of heparin in my stomach to help break up the clots and make them easier to pass. A bladder infection made an already painful condition even more excruciating. I had to stop radiation therapy treatment. My physician had planned for me to undergo internal radiation (brachytherapy) for a week after my five weeks of external radiation therapy, but decided I might lose a previously healthy bladder if I had that treatment.

When I got out of the hospital I was a mess. My bladder did not stop bleeding and it was some time before I stopped passing clots. I have never given birth, but it felt like every trip to the bathroom was “labor.”

But for the fact that my sister Kathy came out to take care of me, I probably would have gone home and stayed there for a month. With Kathy’s help I returned to work and functioned. She drove me to work every day and worked by computer while I taught classes. She slept on the couch in the next room or sometimes at the other end of a sectional sofa so that she could help me get up when my bladder was so inflamed that I went to the bathroom every ten minutes. She kept my water glass filled twenty-four hours a day. She did the grocery shopping and cooked our meals. When the pain passed beyond 10 and nothing eased it, she stroked my hair and prayed with me for the strength to keep going until the pain would pass. I cannot tell you how scared I was. I only know that my sister was there for me every minute of the day.

At the end of January of 2012 a urologist looked inside my bladder with a camera and found the contents murky with stalactites of injured flesh all over the lining of the bladder. I felt tortured. I started taking Oxybutynin to address the constant urge to urinate. Even after I started taking that medication the pain continued. I used to track it in a diary and the pain was consistently in the 5 to 10 or higher range. I had one 8 hour stretch in the entire year of 2012 without pain.

This year I decided to stop recording frequency and pain levels. I think this change in my behavior was good for me. I stopped living from hour to hour and stopped thinking about the fact that little changed no matter how much time passed. Earlier this month I had a second block of time without noteworthy pain. Ever since then there has been some improvement. I am starting to think I have turned a corner.

I might get better after all. And that prospect is so wonderful that I have been afraid to admit just how much I long for it. But tonight I will send a copy of this posting to my sister and several of the friends who saw me through this trial (minus the gross photograph), so that they will know that, thanks to them, I see a path before me that is much easier to walk. I could not be more grateful to my family and friends for their support. Their strength and the strength I felt because of my faith and theirs has seen me through.

If you have also experienced radiation cystitis and are wondering whether it will ever get better, well I believe it can! Feel free to skip the graphic and gross photograph that follows if you are squeamish.















Tick Tock

I have a friend who likes to tap her watch and announce, “Tick tock,” when time is a wasting commodity. Tonight I spent a couple of hours reading several blogs from start to finish. Was that wasted time? I had papers to grade. I had other work to do. There were chores that I could do. However, I wanted to check in with some of the people I have “met” on line.  I follow a number of health-related blogs. Many of the writers have received a diagnosis of cancer. Some are providing care to family members with cancer. Some are caring for family members. Some are on the “other side” of life crises and reflect on their experiences while looking forward to futures they hope will one day cease to unfold in the shadows of trial and terror.

After reading several of these blogs this evening I asked myself why I was spending so much time reading blogs about human suffering when I have a couple of boxes of books within arm’s reach that might help me escape the shadows of my own health scare. I could thrill to a romance. I could unravel a mystery. I could race against time with someone committed to averting a disaster. For most of my life I have read a novel a week, sometimes a couple novels a week, sometimes a couple of novels a day. I have not read a novel in months. I like to follow a series. I have dozens of sets of books on my new IKEA bookshelves. I have every Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I have four series written by Charlaine Harris. I have J.A. Konrath’s series about the detective Jack Daniels. I have Kim Harrison’s series. I read Catherine Coulter. I think I have every book by Jayne Krentz, Jayne Castle, and Amanda Quick (all written by the same woman). I read Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. This started when I was a kid. I still have nearly every Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, and other children’s series I ever began reading.

My point is that when I care about a character I want to follow the story no matter where it leads and no matter how long it goes on. Yet I now have books from some or all of these skilled storytellers that I keep picking up and setting down because . . . . I have been trying to finish that sentence tonight.

Tonight I decided to stop questioning why truth is so much more intriguing than fiction. It is fascinating because it is authentic in a way that fiction rarely can be. The stakes are always real in real people’s lives. And, even when the writing is rushed or inartful, its lack of art makes up for misspellings and uncalculated revelations. Ever since issues of life and death became real rather than imagined in my life I want to know how others are handling their challenges.

In reading fiction I let someone take me into a world that is an escape but can be a lesson. I forget my troubles. I let them take me places I cannot imagine until they lay out a scenario. The real life stories of people do that, too, but I cannot escape to their worlds. Instead, they come into mine in a way that a fictitious character’s life cannot. When I say I care about them I mean that I do care. We may not be friends. I will never meet them. We may never even exchange names. But they are real people and I do care about what happens to them.

The bloggers are relating their real life events, but I am not a big fan of “reality TV.” I do watch America’s Funniest Home Videos because many of the videos are funny. But I get up and walk to the next room when I am watching a string of groin injuries or some adult’s recording of children engaged in risky activities for yucks. I like best the animals that defy explanation, the children that stun us with their natural reactions to events, and the seemingly infinite capacity of some to bounce back from adversity with laughter. I cannot bring myself to watch the scripted, edited, and creepy accounts of people who are no longer satisfied with fifteen minutes of fame but need to capitalize on their own idiosyncracies by making the decision to go out to dinner into high drama and reducing the decision to marry or have a child to a farce.

Every time I hit the “Like” key on a blog written by someone in the throes of a real life crisis I feel guilty for sending a message that I am finding this experience in any way pleasurable. I do not want to be a gaper on the highway of others’ health and life hardship. But, it really is not pleasure that makes me hit that key. I wish would add a new key to our blogs that reads: “Care.” I want the bloggers whose lives I am now following to know that this is an experience unlike what sometimes motivates me to read fiction or watch reality TV. I am not a voyeur that watches and thinks, “How screwed up is that person’s life?” I am not watching and thinking, that was “fun.” I think the biggest difference between this medium and reality TV is that the people whose lives I now get to observe are not “characters.” They are people to me and I like them. To borrow from Sally Fields, I really like them.

So, as the hands of time wind forward, I will not regret time spent reading others’ blogs. It has never been wasted time.

Here’s only a partial list of the blogs I follow and whose authors inspire me:
A Broken Vagina
An Only Child’s Journey Into Parent Care
Cancer: My Journey Back to Health-Kicking, Screaming & Whining the Whole Damn Way
Considering the Lilies
Derailing My Diagnosis
Fierce Is the New Pink
It Happened to Me . . . Seriously
My Daddy Is Dying
One Bad Boob
Sarah And Andy Live
Tangling With Cancer
The Big Scary ‘C’ Word
The Misfortune Of Knowing
The Other C-Word
Tropic Of Cancer
Walking Faster In Philly
That just scratches the surface. When it comes to writing about real life, there are amazing people out there. Tick Tock, I am heading back to reading.

Dust “Mights”


Look, Mom, no boxes!

Look, Mom, no boxes!

I have many “things.” We’re talking two rooms of the house are filled floor to ceiling with boxes filled with things. I have been trying to go through some of those boxes to get rid of what is no longer necessary in my life. Most of those things are not necessary at all, but very many of them still give me pleasure–when I get around to looking at them.

Before my diagnosis with cancer I had to clear a pathway to the windows in both of my storage rooms so that someone could open and shut the windows while painting their frames from the outside. I moved more than twenty boxes into the hallway to make way. The painters never did get to me in 2011. In fact, they did not get to painting my windows until fall of 2012. I have been walking past those boxes for all of these months.

There were times when I considered dragging them back into storage, but never did. I was told not to overdo it after surgery. I was too weak and tired during chemotherapy and radiation. I was in pain after radiation. I was too tired to care about the task or too busy with work or overwhelmed with life events.

In December I bought four bookcases because some of the boxes contained books. The unassembled bookcases from IKEA joined the boxes in the hallway. From time to time I sat down to watch TV and went through boxes discarding old papers. I rarely watch the TV any longer. It is something I turn on in the background while I read students’ papers or work on projects. As a result, it got to the point where new boxes joined the original boxes. Most of the new additions related to my recovery. There were special cushions I bought when the radiation burns around my hips made it painful to sit down. Even now when I am told I am cancer-free I am reluctant to toss them out. There’s a cane I bought when my joints hurt so bad that I feared I might fall. I never used it. I couldn’t even figure out how to adjust it to my height when I needed it. There were boxes filled of get well cards. My friend Roberta sent me a card every few days for months. I bought many books on dealing with cancer. They joined the towering evidence of my inability to clean house.

This month all of that changed. I assembled the bookshelves and they now line one wall of my office/dining room. There was plenty of room for the books. There are no more boxes in the hallway. I have thrown out mountains of old papers, even parting with things that evoked strong memories. I did not throw out everything. If that happens, it will be a sign that I have accepted my mortality can no longer be held at bay.

Some people have a bucket list. There are places they want to go and things they want to do before they die.  My friend Roberta took her sister to the Grand Canyon before her sister died. I understand that the trip did what it was supposed to do. Roberta’s sister was at peace. I am not the type to jump from an airplane or climb a peak.

My dad had a shopping list. He always said that he would live as long as he had a shopping list. We never thought the list would end because he wanted the best he could find: the best belt, the best coat, the best umbrella. My dad loved to say that it only cost a little more to go first class. My dad died within 48 hours of being diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. When he was gone we found lots of reminders of his affinity for lists. He had written inside of every closet how much paint and time it took to paint the room. We found a list of his favorite jokes that he would tell at parties. He used his own code for some of them, but we knew every one of those jokes by heart. In his calendar he had written, “Iron suits,” for every Saturday for the rest of the year. We found index cards and notebooks in which he had written his own clothing sizes (as if one walks around shopping and cannot recall one’s own sizes). We never found a single shopping list. I think he should have warned us when he finished it. As I saved a few of my dad’s old lists, I could not help but think of what might have happened if my dad had gone to the hospital that last time with a shopping list in his wallet. Might he have survived?

The decision to clean house must be a sign that I am getting older. It seems like my mom started to obsess about such things in her fifties, too. It has become a familiar refrain that she asks us when we three kids would like to come over and help her empty her house. We usually do what she asks of us, but I have noticed that none of us are working on this task. Maybe we are behaving superstitiously.

As I went through my boxes I was reminded of many happy times. I found the birthday card my Aunt Arlene sent me in which the recipient was referred to as “buzzard breath.”  I laughed over that card before I finally parted with it. For many years my aunt has sent me insulting birthday cards and I have usually returned the favor. Today is her birthday. I sent her a card with a picture of the mighty redwoods in California. It said that they were reminders of someone’s long ago efforts to cover the earth with majestic trees–and thanked her for having done it. It will probably be the last time I do this. I tried to call her today to wish her a happy birthday, but she never quite figured out who I was and I never quite got around to the birthday wishes. She will not long be with us and I cried when the call was done. I am not sure what she might have left to accomplish here on earth, but I am glad that my mom made it out to see her sister this week and will get to see her again tomorrow because the happiest memories are not cards. They are time spent with people we have loved.

I found a folder of compliments from people with whom I worked in the long ago past. When I first started work as an attorney I often struggled to figure out what people wanted of me. I sometimes worked with people who challenged me not only to be my intellectual best but to exercise my emotional intelligence. I used to need that folder to keep me motivated when it seemed that I was not quite mastering the lessons someone was trying to teach me. I no longer need someone else to do that, but I smiled as I recalled some of the people who wrote those compliments. I tried to throw the memos out, but in the end I saved them again because I might want to look at them again and recall how I learned to be a lawyer.

I even found a folder containing some old love letters from my ex-husband. I usually tell people who ask me for relationship advice that I have not got the slightest idea how to make things work. I point to my track record as proof of the truth. But I was reminded that there was a time very long ago when I thought I knew my heart and his. I might have known my own, but I might not have known his. Reading those cards and letters again reminded me of what might have been.

The thing about my boxes of stuff is that they do more than collect dust. They periodically remind me that life is a journey to be treasured. It tests me sorely at times, but it enriches me as well. It is a record of what was and what might have been. Sometimes those dust “mights” are what I need to keep going.


Alternative and Other Remedies

Ever since my sister-in-law Lisa told me that selenium might help me keep my hair through chemotherapy, I have been exploring some alternatives to conventional medicine for dealing with the side-effects of cancer treatment.

I took the selenium before chemotherapy started and for several months after stopping chemotherapy. Then I switched from selenium supplements to biotin. I still take the biotin daily. I never lost enough hair to warrant shaving my head. Moreover, I did not lose all that much hair until after chemotherapy had been over for several months. My hair came back pretty well, too. I have been getting it cut every month for about a year. I still don’t have much hair on my arms and legs and what is there is baby fine and snowy white, but the hair on my head is thicker, wavy (rather than as straight as it was before treatment), darker, and less gray than it was before. I have more and darker eyebrows and longer eyelashes.

My doctor advised me not to take probiotics during chemotherapy because they are bacteria and chemotherapy lowers immunity to infection. She felt that the probiotics could cause problems but had no problems with yogurt. About a month after I finished chemotherapy, I started drinking kefir. Then I added probiotics. I stopped that after a month.

I drank two gallon jugs of aloe vera juice mixed with other juices during chemotherapy and radiation. The taste? Blah. But I have read this is good for easing bowel problems and is anti-inflammatory. It did not hurt and my doctor had no objection to it.

It took quite a few months before my bowel, which was treated with radiation, was up to the challenge of meat, vegetables, and nuts. I still go easy on nuts, but I can tell that there has been healing. Dominique brought me aloe vera juice to drink during chemotherapy. I mixed it with apple juice and spearmint tea. I don’t know if it helped, but it did not hurt. I never threw up once during chemotherapy.

I drank ginger ale during chemotherapy if I longed for something fizzy. I also overcame my distaste for it and drank Gatorade and Pedialyte when going through chemotherapy. I tried a ginger tea, but could not tolerate the taste of it. I found spearmint tea much better than that. I drank it hot and cold every day.

My tongue looked terrible for nearly a year. It had yellow marks on the sides and was very sensitive to the touch. The probiotics seemed to help, but I finally tried acidophilus and at last saw those marks disappear.

During chemotherapy the backs of my hands developed calluses as if I worked hard with my hands. I scrubbed them with a nail brush in an effort to wear away the thickened skin, but it was unrelenting. I tried several types of lotion in an effort to fight the calluses. Eventually, I tried Cackleberry Apiary Facial Night Crème applied several times daily. My friend Dominique got it for me from a farm in Wisconsin. The website is My calluses are gone. I now use the crème on my neck. It smells a little like honey. I have switched to using a hand cream that my former student Joelle brought me from Israel. It’s called Sea of Spa. I know, it seems like the words are out of order, but the lotion feels fantastic.

My fingernails have been a nightmare to look at it when bare. There were ridges and white marks. For many months there were yellow bubbles that looked like orange juice stains deep in the nail bed. On several occasions the markings grew out only to return. In addition, my nails peeled sometimes until they seemed ready to peel off. I soaked them in water. I scrubbed them with a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. When they were thick enough to withstand it, I lightly buffed the surface off of them in an effort to get past the markings. Every month the markings came back. There were divots, too, unexplainable really. I have kept them sealed under nail polish all of the time. I was starting to think that there might be an infection in my nails when I read about someone treating infections with 100% tea tree oil. I started brushing it onto clean nails before using nail polish. It did not seem to be helping until this month. I am down to one nail that still shows signs of white marks and one nail with a single divot left in it. Those marks appear to be very close to growing out.

I had open, red burns on my hips, flanks, and stomach from radiation burns. Ugh. They were raw and painful. When I was in the hospital in December of 2011, one of the nurses covered them with Coloplast Citric-Aid Skin Paste. It is used to form a thick paste barrier over severe skin irritation from incontinence. It was wonderful. One of my sister’s friends sent me a topical cream by Align Pharmaceutical called Xclair cream. It is for radiation dermatitis symptom relief. I think it helped the burns to heal. I can no longer see the marks.

I take supplements now: a multivitamin for women over 50 years of age now that my iron level seems back to normal, fish oil, cranberry, Reservatrol, green tea, biotin, tumeric, and lots of cinnamon. Every couple of months I switch things up a bit, reduce some of the supplements to three times a week and introduce something new.

I have been taking Oxybutynin for incontinence brought on by radiation cystitis. It has been about three months since I developed red spots all over. One theory is that the medicine caused the spots. They are no longer forming big, strawberry-colored splotches, but they are still there. Nevertheless, I have no intention of stopping the medicine at this time. It has made a tremendous difference to the quality of my life. I may have to deal with radiation cystitis for the rest of my life, but I no longer live in fear of that loss of self-control that had me running to the bathroom every few minutes for almost three months.

I have tinnitus now. I never had it before. I have read that it can be a side-effect of chemotherapy, too. If anyone has had any luck in treating it, I would appreciate knowing what worked for you.

There are plenty of cookbooks for people who have had cancer. I have bought a few and have realized kind of late in the game just how bad it might be that I have eaten so much yogurt, cottage cheese, and hard cheese this past year. It seems like it spurs hormones that have been associated with breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My cancer was uterine, but research indicates that uterine cancer also may be stimulated by hormones. It is not a stretch, I think, to be concerned about the hormones in dairy products for my form of the disease, too. I plan to reduce my consumption of dairy foods. I try to eat some apples, cauliflower, broccoli, or cabbage every day.

I am steering clear of sugar except for the occasional celebration. It seems as if all cancers feed on sugar.

The veins in my hands were used every time I received chemotherapy. Some of them look sort of gnarly even after fifteen months. I am not sure what, if anything, can be done to help them heal.

If you have benefited from any type of alternative or other treatment for the side-effects of chemotherapy or radiation treatment I would appreciate hearing about it. My oncologist is excellent, but I do not get any type of advice or support for going forward at my county hospital. I am very interested in hearing what things other people are trying.


My October 2011 diagnosis with uterine cancer has triggered in me a number of fundamental changes. Before cancer, I was conscious of my own mortality, but not worried about it. I figured that I had time to get my life in order. I had some goals. I wanted to accomplish some things before I died. I wrote those goals on an index card and stuck that card to the computer monitor on my desk. I wanted to enjoy time with family and friends. I wanted to publish a book. I wanted to teach full-time. I wanted to live by water. I have no idea what happened to that index card, but my goals have changed.

I want to live longer than five years without cancer returning so that I can feel that I have put it behind me. I want to forgive some people against whom I have harbored a grudge. I want to be forgiven for wrongs that I have done. I want to forgive myself for not having been the person I might have been if I had been stronger or kinder or smarter or somehow better. I don’t need an index card to keep those goals front and center.

Before cancer, I had very little experience with physical pain. Now it is a part of my day. When it began, the pain was sometimes a tidal wave that drowned me. I spent many days and nights crying out in pain, pleading to God for relief from it. Over time it has ebbed quite a bit. In the aftermath of that experience, I have had to figure out ways to deal with pain rather than let it overcome me. I stopped keeping a journal that tracked my pain so that it no longer preoccupied my every hour. This helped me to change my focus from suffering to healing. I have hope that healing is taking place. I would like to help others heal, too.

I have let go of some old grudges. I am at work on letting go of a few more. That has proven to be rewarding. If you are angry with someone, then I highly recommend resolving to “get over it.” A grudge is remarkably similar to pain. It commands my attention and saps my energy so that less is available for more critical activities. Giving up on grudges means that, when I sit down to count the many blessings in my life, I no longer haul out some of those, “if onlys” or “but fors” that leave me feeling less than happy with how things are today. Now that I have given up some old grudges I find myself much happier with the way things are. I feel better today about many things than I did before was diagnosed with cancer.

The people against whom I have held grudges have not had to do anything to obtain these releases. It feels good to let the grudges go rather than to treat them like accounts against which I need to collect. I won’t embarass anyone if I tell you about a few of the silly grudges I have held. You will have to trust me that some were not as easy to give up but their release has made me feel much better.

[I set out to write this paragraph and realized that no petty grudges came to mind. The great thing about having let them go is that I now have to struggle to recall them. I then decided that I was happier not trying to recall them for this blog.]

I want to be forgiven for wrongs I have done to others. In some cases the people I fear that I have hurt are no longer here to hear my apologies. I apologize anyway. I have not led a perfect life. My chief errors involve not taking enough time for certain important tasks, not exercising enough patience with others’ human frailties, and caring way too much about how I am perceived instead of how I behave.

One of my failings has been to over manage situations. I like to fix things and, in my rush to get things done, I sometimes am quick to offer solutions and then consider a matter finished. I try now to listen more before rushing to offer solutions. There are times people want my help. There are times when people just want to speak. I can make time to listen. I am perceiving a much larger world by listening to others before telling them what to do (not that I have been all that successful at managing to stop telling people what to do).

I don’t think there is a person in my family who is reluctant to care for others with human frailties. My dad used to open the doors to anyone in need of help. During the great Chicago snowstorm of 1967 my dad realized that some of the electricians that worked for him were stranded at a nearby job. He got them and brought them to our home. They stayed with us for several days. It was uncomfortable. The snow was so deep and none of our “guests” lifted a hand with snow shoveling. My mom was keeping their stomachs full, but we needed some essentials to do that. My dad was the one who trudged to a store with a sled and then dragged the sled back. My mom has volunteered her services to Meals on Wheels, SeniorNet (where she taught seniors to operate computers), and the Kenneth Young Center (where she still performs clerical tasks at the local center for people in need of social services). My sister makes quilts for injured soldiers and for sick children. She and her husband Jeff travel around making presentations to young men and women returning from the wars overseas. My brother is always fixing things for people. I do that as well, although not with a screwdriver or a hammer.

After all the wonderful support I received during those first six months after my diagnosis, I am working hard to “give back” in any way I can to the community. It is not enough yet, but I will keep looking for ways to help others if I can. Some days all I manage is to share encouragement, but I am committed to the principle that one of the greatest measures of justice is mercy. I do not want to be judging any more than I want to be grudging. I want to give with renewed freedom.

It is going to cost me sometimes to be a better person. There are times when it would be easier to sit by and watch bad things happen to others. I hope that I will always have the courage to do the right thing and say the right thing. And, if I fail, I hope that I will make amends. That’s what I most want to do with the time I have here. In the wake of experiencing a catastrophic disease, I am humbled and grateful. I see more purpose than ever in earning forgiveness.


I attended a business/social event this past month at which I had to reintroduce myself to several people who have known me for years but had not seen me in some time. I recognized them as soon as I saw them. Their faces bore familiar landmarks that could not be dismissed even after as many as ten years had passed. The slope of a nose, the shape of a moustache, the slightly more deeply etched laughter lines, and the curve of a lower lip were recognizable from across the room.

When I approached these long ago colleagues each of them seemed at first uncertain about my identity. Eyebrows met in confusion. One head tilted a little to one side, as if trying to catch the lilt of a distant tune. Another turned his ear toward me, prompting me to say my name. One of them stuck out his hand even before he “placed” me. His smile just grew broader when I said my name.

I had not imagined that I might not be recognized. I have been to some of their homes. I have traveled with some of them for business reasons. I have worked with them. I have not forgotten them and they had not forgotten me. But they could not place me in the legion of people whom they have met, worked with, and known.

This is not the first time that I have been called upon to jog another’s memory of what I imagined was my unindelible place in it. It has been about 18 months since my diagnosis with cancer. I have had to reintroduce myself to some people who last saw me only one or two years ago. I recently waved to several former students and they looked at me without seeing me until I said my name. Then they smiled and admitted they had not recognized me.

I lost some, but never all, of my hair following my treatment with chemotherapy. It used to be dark blonde and cut in a chin length bob. It was that length, although sometimes lighter, nearly all of my life. When I was very young, my hair was very light in color. My dad called me “hayhead.” There were reddish highlights as I grew older. My Grandpa Kayo had those same red highlights in his moustache and beard, so I was quite comfortable with them. There were times when I lightened or brightened or even darkened my hair, but it was not all that radical a change after I stopped using “Sun In,” a hair lightener that combined lemon and sun to return me to my “hayhead” blonde coloring in my teens.

Since chemotherapy, I have worn my hair short and its color has faded to a brown. It has a wave that appeared after treatment and was not there before. I have traces of silver across the crown that are new and have been mistaken for “frosting.” So, yes, my hair is different.

I used to dislike these changes. I have become accustomed to them. My hair has never been softer to the touch. I wash it and do not worry about it. There is no need for cream rinse or gel or spray to manage it. I see Mariam to get it cut once a month. She snips it into a short cap and tries to talk me into teasing it with my fingers and a little gel into a spiky cap, but I cannot be bothered any longer to mess with what “nature” (if there is anything natural about chemotherapy) has given me. I no longer use a comb to regiment its strands. I run my fingers through it and forget it.

I have no idea what has happened to my several hair dryers or curling irons or rollers. I finally assembled all my barettes, headbands, scrunchies, clips, and other devices into a shoebox. I am thinking of mailing them off to my niece’s “tweenage” daughter on the theory that she might reinvent some use for them. They are vestiges of the old me for which New-Me has no use.

When my hair was falling out, sometimes a strand at a time, sometimes in small tufts that somehow avoided leaving me with bald spots, I learned to stop touching it at all. I started sleeping with a neck roll instead of a huge pillow. The roll supported my head without putting pressure on my hair. I still find strands of my former mane when I wear what I think of as my “chemotherapy” sweater. I detach them carefully because the hairs that remain have become entwined with the garment’s gray woolen strands. I set them aside or toss them in a handy trash receptacle. Little by little I have shed the old me.

This week a former student met with me to discuss her job search plans and she asked me what happened to my red hair. She spoke of the red wig I wore when my hair was quite thin but starting to return. I also had a red-gold wig and a very blonde wig that I never did wear out of the house. I don’t wear the wigs any longer. My hair may have changed, but it is back, and I still recall the day the wig fell off during a lecture and I had to grab it and plop it back on my head. I may be unfamiliar to some who have not seen me in awhile, but I am more comfortable in my own “skin” than in anything else.

I do not think I look all that different now that I wake each morning and look in the mirror at the New-Me every day. But this past week was a reminder that, even when it seems that nothing much has changed, what is happening in my life is making changes. My body is different. My hair has changed. My outlook reflects new concerns.

Many of the changes have nothing to do with cancer. I turned 56 in the last week. Age takes its own toll.

I read the blogs of many people who have been treated for cancer. Some of those people speak of their scars with horror, sadness, or misgiving. They have often experienced radical surgery that forever changes the landscape that was once familiar. My scar runs from side-to-side across my body, but I cannot any longer see it. Dr. D, the surgeon at Advocate Masonic Medical Center did such a superb job that the staples came out within five days after surgery. Long after the incision had healed I had difficulty feeling anything within several inches of the site. The nerves have reconnected and I am not feeling visibly scarred by surgery.

Not that treatment has left me physically unchanged. In addition to changes to my hair there are changes from radiation and chemotherapy that linger. There is pain. At times I have thought the pain had etched scars in my life far more disturbing than the scars visible on my body. It is not a good thing to have pain every day.

Ever since I decided to stop recording my pain level a few dozen times a day it has ceased to define the New-Me. It is there, but it is becoming like my missing hair dryers. I no longer feel the urge to snap at others when I am feeling pain. I have learned to unclench my jaw and let the pain radiate through and out of my body. When the pains are sharpest and seem to gouge into the core of my body, I wrap my arms around my own body and rock a little. If the pain is bad enough to make me cry, then I let the tears well up and tell myself that those tears will carry the pain right out of me. It comforts me to send a message of love to that part of me that seems foreign and wrong. And, luckily for me, my pain is not sustained. At this stage in my recovery, my pain is episodic. I believe that it will keep abating. That belief sustains New-Me.

I used to hate the strangeness of my post-treatment body to the point where I hated the smell of my own body. I really do not know if that sense of alienation has disappeared because chemicals have left my body and returned me to “normal” or if I have become more accepting of the changes that have taken place. I am relieved to have gotten past the feeling that I was a stranger to myself.

Soon I will get past the sense that I am a stranger to people who have known me. New-Me is someone I have come to know and like. She just takes a little “getting used to.”

Pain Relief

Wednesday, February 27th was the first day since December 2011 that I passed the entire day without bladder pain. That’s right, my previous record of painlessness was about eight hours and it was in spring of 2012. The pain-free experience ended and the pain has already returned, but the experience has given me cause to celebrate. There is no treatment that has been offered at Stroger Hospital that would cure radiation cystitis. My friend Mary discovered that time spent in a hyperbaric chamber could help, but there is no such chamber where I receive treatments, my doctors are skeptical of the utility of such treatments, and I have not sought treatment at a nearby clinic that sells 1 hour stints in its hyperbaric chamber to people wishing to be more fully oxygenated.

I have been taking a drug that reduces spasming of my bladder. It has successfully managed the other side-effect of cystitis–incontinence. Of course, the medication has its side-effects. I continue to be covered with pinpoint-sized red dots on my lower extremities. That has been happening since the start of the year. The dermatologists at the hospital are not certain whether this is a side-effect of the medication I take or is the rest of a new, nuisance-level immune disorder. I already had decided to put up with the splotches of red rather than discontinue taking the drug that might be causing the condition.

There are many things in life that prove to be acceptable when the alternative is worse. For me, the pain I have been experiencing–like the red spots sprinkled over my legs–has been part of the price I pay for wanting to do all I can to prevent the return of cancer.

The pain has been wearing at me. Some days it has reduced me to tears. Some days it has continued for hours rather than ending when I have emptied my bladder. Every day it has been something I anticipated, feared, or tolerated. To have had an entire day without it was most excellent.

If you know what it is like to have pain (physical or emotional) every day then I pray this morning that you also will have such a day. Already it is giving me renewed hope. Hope is more intoxicating even than depression. It is like the first pings of popcorn in a covered pan. It is like the pop of a cork from a bottle of something bubbly. It is like the warmth of the sun when it comes out from behind a cloud on an overcast day. It is like the smile of a friend you have not seen in a long time. It is like a memory of a happy time that pops into your mind in the moment before you wake up. It is so wonderful that you question whether it happened at all because it is tough (but not impossible) to sustain the feeling when pain returns. It makes up for quite a bit to have such an experience.

I am using that sense of optimism to hope and pray that this will be the first of many pain-free days for me and for all of you have pondered the opening words of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence: “Hello, darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.” It may build character to face pain without rancor, but it is a far more wonderful thing to not face it at all.

The Company We Keep

My Aunt Arlene has been fighting breast cancer for longer than a decade. It is metastatic–spread to other organs and to the bones. She has had radical surgery, radiation, and many rounds of chemotherapy. To keep her immune system working, she has needed countless transfusions of blood. She has a benign brain tumor as well.

My aunt has known of the brain tumor for many years, too. It cannot be safely removed because it is shaped like a bunch of grapes and has invaded the brain that surrounds it in a manner that makes it impossible for surgeons to safely remove it. It puts pressure on Arlene’s brain, sometimes causing bad headaches. Doctors took her off of hormone replacement therapy when they learned that the hormones made the tumor grow in size.

In December, Arlene’s husband Dan died unexpectedly. He was a difficult man, but he managed her life during his own. He made decisions. He took her to and from medical appointments. He waited patiently for her in countless waiting rooms when he was patient with, and for, no one else. He was determined that she survive and, while in his care, she did.

Arlene has two children who love her and have been caring for her since their father died. Eric flew down from his home in Virginia. Jill came in from Australia with her youngest child and stayed a month. Her husband Arnold held down the fort back home with their other children. Jill and Eric finally did what Arlene and Dan had not done since they moved last May from Las Vegas to Florida. Jill and her brother Eric “unpacked” the condo in Florida and disposed of as much stuff as they could. My aunt and uncle had downsized from a house to a condo, but had not downsized their belongings. Tough decisions had to be made. My cousins made them. Then Jill drove Arlene up to Virginia where Eric lives with his wife. They have even managed to sell the condo in the two months since their father’s death.

Eric found Arlene a home in an assisted living community near his home. The move was disorienting for Arlene, but unavoidable. Arlene cannot live on her own. She has not got the strength and, over the last decade, has lost the independent living skills to do this. Now Eric is minutes away and a frequent visitor. He has had no time to adjust to his new role in his mom’s life, but he has stepped up to meet each large and small crisis one at a time.

Arlene has a studio apartment in the community where she resides. She started waking in the night and wandering around. She once got lost and spent part of the night in a chair in someone else’s unit. That had to be a surprise for everyone in the morning!

She has fallen several times, mostly when negotiating transfers from her wheelchair. She has had two stints in the hospital in 2013. She has spent some time in a rehabilitation facility that neither she nor Eric liked much. She has had some therapy to assist with her walking, but has not improved enough to be able to move around on her own.

She was receiving chemotherapy in December; but it did not help for long. She has pain. It can be terrible. She wore pain patches to address the unrelenting pain, but they slid off of her skin and they were never strong enough to bring her peace. She once described her pain to me as being so severe that she could feel it in every bone but distinctly. In other words, she could feel pain in the tiny bone in the tip of her little finger distinct from the pain in the next bone.

Arlene changed doctors-three times in the last twelve months. Her doctor in Las Vegas changed jobs and became unavailable to her. At the same time, she lost access to an experimental drug that he had access to and that had proved successful in managing her cancer. Then she changed doctors when Dan moved them to Florida. She started treatment with a new form of chemotherapy that proved less successful. Now she has changed doctors a third time when she moved to Virginia.

Her new doctor gave her “homework” to look at the long list of treatments she has gone through since her first diagnosis. The doctor asked Arlene to write down what side-effects she had with each treatment. The doctor hoped that Arlene would see the futility of trying the one last chemotherapy treatment that she has yet to take.

When we last spoke, Arlene did not say she had decided that further treatment was futile. Instead, my aunt said she appreciated it that, when she returned to see the doctor, the doctor said it was time to stop further treatment. She did not want to make the decision to give up.

I can understand that feeling. It is better that Nature makes some decisions for us. None of us want to have charge over deciding when it should be winter. We can adapt to what we do not control. As long as we have power to change, it is tougher to give in than to fight to keep things the same.

I asked Arlene whether she knew what would happen next once she stopped chemotherapy. She said she did not. But she was a very good nurse when she was younger. I think she has an idea. And Eric tells us that she has good days and bad days when it comes to mental acuity.

Despite accepting this medical decision, I understand that she may have withdrawn her “DNR” (a written order to her medical team that she not be revived if she stops breathing). I think that she, like so many of us, understand that life can be short but wish that was not the case.

My sister, Kathy, and her husband Jeff have already driven down from Maryland to Virginia to visit Aunt Arlene during one of her times spent in the hospital. Kathy and her daughter Maureen visited again last weekend. My mom, Arlene’s only sibling, hopes to be able to visit next week. My mom is the older sister. She is worried about making this trip. She has been having medical issues of her own, some very challenging. She does not want to travel by herself. I will not be able to travel with my mom. I am about to start two new classes. I already am teaching two classes and have midterms to give and grade.

I think all of us know that the time is short, but we do not speak in terms of days, weeks, or months. We, too, are finding it easier not to acknowledge the end will draw near now that Arlene has stopped treatment.

Eric tells us that it is time for his mom to accept hospice care. I think this means that she will not only stop chemotherapy, she will stop receiving the transfusions that deliver so much energy to her depleted immune system.

My aunt has a soft voice, sort of breathy and girlish. It has always been out of place with her height and physical strength. Now that we communicate only by phone, I can easily forget how strong she has been, how strong she is. This transition from battle to repose must be tough for her. She has her faith in God to comfort her, but it has to be very difficult to be told there are no more options.

On Ash Wednesday Arlene waited in line for ashes at a mass held in her assisted living community. Someone else yelled out that she should not receive ashes or Communion because she was not a catholic. My aunt declared herself to the community. “I am a catholic,” she said. Faith can be an incredible source of strength when life and disease seem joined in a fight that will not end well. As part of the Shepherd’s flock, she counts on Him to take care of her. Still, she is a little afraid.

When Arlene fell again earlier this week the doctors tested her for injuries and learned that her brain tumor has started to grow again. It is pulling water to the region as well. All of this is putting pressure on her brain. Is this a blessing because it may vanquish thinking and ease passage from this life or is it going to cause more pain? I do not know. For me, I think that it will just add to disorientation and make it harder for Arlene to move about. I keep thinking about what the priest said earlier this year when my mom’s friend Maggie died–we go from a world in which we moved freely to a neighborhood, a street, a house, a chair, and then a bed. My aunt’s life will shrink yet again as she remains most of the day in her bed.

Two of my grandparents suffered physical declines in the weeks before their deaths. Both of them told us that they saw deceased loved ones beckon them. Both came to want to go with those loved ones. My Grandma Babe would grow restless. She used to beg me to “push her” as her time came close. I could not make her transition happen (and had trouble back then accepting that it had to happen at all). Will my aunt ever embrace her own passing? I do not know, but I suspect that she will.

In this past fifteen months I have contemplated my own death and received the Sacrament for the Sick twice. Even as I took medicine and underwent procedures to save my life, I contemplated the alternative. I signed a DNR before my surgery. I don’t think it is the same thing as what Arlene now handles.

I think I felt that I could accept my fate. Some outcomes were beyond my control. But the ones I could influence–like taking treatment–those were things I wanted to pursue to extend my life. I have not seen my aunt, but I think she still wishes she could go on living. She might want to take any treatment, no matter how many side-effects it has. However, she understands what her doctor has said. These treatments are no longer capable of buying much time. The toll they take does not buy her enough time to recover from them. The medical profession is not producing new treatments fast enough for there to be another ready for when the next one ceases to work. (Don’t be fooled by pink ribbons and finish lines, folks. The fight against breast cancer has yet to be won. This country does not spend enough money developing treatments for the metastatic forms of breast cancer!) Arlene may have cancer and a brain tumor, but she loves to read. She and Dan used to listen to radio talk shows and love the banter. Only a few months ago they used to walk around the lake in their community and track the arrival of migrating birds and then speculate as to where their “summer homes” were.

Maybe the passage from life to death is like the cycle of seasons we see here in life. Perhaps there comes a time when the life that surrounds us seems to wane. Like the birds, we see the place around us become colder. The blazing colors of life grow dimmer. Nothing holds our interest any longer. One day something happens near us. We realize that other members of the flock have become restless. We become restless, too. When the time comes, we lift off, with the others, and do what others have done for so long before us. We fly to another place. When we get there, it will be like Florida, Arizona, California, or Mexico. There will be many others like us. We will bask in the warmth of the Son. We will feel renewed. And we will wait to welcome the rest of our flock when it is their turn to find their “winter” homes.

For those of us who stay behind, the winter is gray and lonely. We will watch at our windows for signs that life returns. For us, spring will come and we will go on through the cycle of life we know on this earth. One day we, too, will feel the restlessness of the flock that surrounds us–and take flight.

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