Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

Tag: Chemotherapy

I Can Hear You Now

One of the several lingering effects of chemotherapy appears to be tinnitus. Tinnitus is that ringing or buzzing in the ears that some suffer for various reasons. My tinnitus began back when I was in treatment for uterine cancer at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012.

I did not have the benefit of a huge medical team as I went through treatment. I did not have medical insurance and relied on the county’s medical services. I remain so very grateful for the county’s care that I will state up front that tinnitus has seemed a small matter by comparison with cancer.

No one has ever explained to me what causes my tinnitus or how I might treat it. Ever since the enactment of what people call Obamacare, I have had insurance I pay for without receipt of subsidies. I pay for a gold plan because I know how expensive life-saving care is. But I seldom have used my bought-and-paid-for insurance because, after I pay the high premiums and the deductibles and co-pays, medical care remains very expensive. I have had a more expensive safety net, not an affordable source of ongoing healthcare.

So I have worked on acquiring my substitute for qualified healthcare. I read online sites and try to reason my way through conflicting, incomplete, sometimes advertiser-generated, and often anecdotal information. It has suggested that chemotherapy may have damaged the hairs in my ears that assist with hearing. That damage may have caused or contributed to causing my tinnitus. Do not take my word for it. It is a theory.

I take a Biotin supplement that includes Silica and Collagen. I know. Some will say supplements are unnecessary if your diet is nutritionally adequate. Overweight people often have nutritional excesses. There is no way to judge the purity and efficacy of supplements across the marketplace. What I know is that the hair on my head, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, even the unwelcome hairs on my chin, are all thriving. Just this week someone who has not seen me in years was asking what was with the hair. It is brown, shows very little silver for one who is 58, is thicker than ever, and it is wavy. Once again, I am relying on “sign reasoning” instead of double blind tests conducted by scientists.

Still my ears ring. Sometimes it is a din. Sometimes it is a buzz. I never work or relax in a silent place. Because the “sound” is distracting, I often play a radio, turn on the TV, or run a fan to mask it in part. Nevertheless, it is never absent.

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I traveled east by car from Chicago to visit family. We picked a day in which each of the states through which we passed experienced rain. I’m not talking about wet road conditions. I was thinking Ghostbusters (1984) rain. From its script:

Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

For most of the four to five hours it took to cross Ohio we had trouble seeing the taillights of the cars and trucks ahead of us. It goes without saying that there was road work. The big rigs traveling on the other side of the road were in what turned into a channel formed by cement walls on either side. The water collected. As they drove past our car they sent up waves of water that slapped the windshield. Mom and I flinched each time that happened.

Road conditions improved in Pennsylvania, but the weather did not. I kept going. We did not stop for lunch because neither one of us could handle the mad dash from the car to the service stop buildings.

I turned on the car’s radio from time to time, but we never did find a station with weather reports. I would let the radio roam through the few available stations and then shut the radio off. My mom was silent except for the occasional breath caught in fear and released with a sigh when the rain eased a bit in its ferocity or a truck moved a safe distance or the windshield wipers cleared our view for a moment. I was very conscious of my tinnitus during that long drive.

While we pressed on through Pennsylvania, I located a station that was broadcasting the daily rosary. Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Bellevue Council #1400, someone led us through a rosary addressing the Sorrowful Mysteries. I left it on and we prayed along with the priest and the others present at the recording of the event.

Shortly after the rosary ended I shut the radio off. The rain slowed down. And the tinnitus stopped.

I started to cry because it was so quiet. I cannot explain how peaceful it felt to have the noise stop. I seldom complain about it. It’s not cancer, is it? I have handled many more scary situations. It is not painful. It is not employment discrimination. It is not isolating. It is part of the soundtrack of a busy life. There are a million other things that occupy my mind on most days. I cope with it. It bothers me most at the end of the day. I lie in bed and try to clear my mind. That is when it seems most loud. Sometimes I turn on a “sound machine” that plays crashing waves or a babbling brook or rain. But that is not silence. Most nights I turn on a fan and an air cleaner. But that is not silence.

I say my prayers of gratefulness for family and friends, health and hope, talents and opportunities. I fall asleep focusing on what I have and not what I need. I am blessed, not burdened in my earthly life. I still have the little scraps of paper on which I listed my blessings and my angels on October 6, 2011, when I could not sleep on the night before my hysterectomy. I know what they say.

I pray for the people I know and some I don’t. I pray every night for the souls of the departed. I spend a lot of nights focused on the special intentions of my mom, sister, brother, and their families. I pray for friends and students who face challenges, whether large or small. I pray every night for Mike Terrill and his family and so many other brave and kind people I have met here on WordPress during my cancer treatment and recovery. Somehow those prayers make my mind quiet even if I can still hear that ringing in my ears. But let’s be honest about my prayers–I’ve been doing most of the talking.

That’s why the trip through Pennsylvania was different. This was silence. I kept wiping my eyes because it was so wonder-full.

I did some more reading online and found some reports of tinnitus reduced or abated following fast descents. Maybe the mountainous roads of Pennsylvania helped. But, in the same way I put stock in my supplements, I am putting some stock in the possibility that prayer has found for me another way to silence the din.

The tinnitus has come back. In the week after it stopped, it faded in and out. It did not stop completely during the trip home, even though we passed through Pennsylvania’s mountains on a cloudy and dry day. It continues without change today.

My mom gave me a rosary recently. This past week the old friend who commented on my changed hairdo gave me a rosary she bought for me long ago in Medjugorje, the site of many unconfirmed miracles.

I pray, but I am not one who often says the rosary. I think that might be changing.

I am sending a check today to the Knights of Columbus of Bellevue, Pa. so that they can continue broadcasting the daily rosary. And, Lord, I am listening. Whether or not prayer will stop tinnitus, I cannot say. I can still hear the tinnitus, but I think I can hear something that will help me cope with it now, too. Lord, I think I can hear You now.

Fire Drill

Photocredit: depositphotos.com

Photocredit: depositphotos.com

At about 9:37 am yesterday the fire alarm went off in my building. I was already in my ninth floor classroom preparing for my 10 am class. I had to power down my laptop and stow it because I once carried it down six flights and knew that I could not do that again. I tucked in a corner where I hoped it would not be noticed if someone came looking to steal it. Theft and a fire drill in the same day would be too much a bummer.

We have property crime here. We are steps away from public transit. People walk out of the school talking on their brand new smartphones or studying the oh so remarkable tablets I think I should try next. Someone knocks them down and steals their technology like people used to steal wallets and purses. Who carries much money anymore? We have cards for buying more things and we can disable them pretty swiftly (if someone else has a phone to lend us).

Because it was Friday and early the building was not as filled with people as it is at other times of the week. When I entered the stairwell I still did not know if this was a drill or a fire. I did not have to merge into a stream of young people that would move like floodwaters. I was able to grip the handrail with my best hand and walk down one step at a time. I felt the vestiges of the last few years’ physical suffering in every footfall and the painful connection to the handrail.

Darn this whole cancer experience! I am not a fit person, but I can still recall what it felt like to bounce my way down stairs. In fact, during my last fire drill I made it ten flights and I had the cancer still inside me. I performed much better than I did yesterday.

Someone who observed my labored escape said something to a maintenance person who climbed to the fourth floor and told me I could stop. It was only a drill. I still had to walk down another flight because there was no entry to the fourth floor from that stairwell. The door was itself “alarmed.”

Moments later the drill ended and I could take the elevator back up to the ninth floor and begin my class. However, last night I was feeling the effects of the six floor descent. My hands haven’t stopped tingling from neuropathy. My knees were clicking and grinding like bent gears. I took some Advil and went to bed at about 2 pm and stayed there until later in the day when I could hear my cell phone in the next room playing that awful AT&T ringtone set at five instead of vibrate–another false alarm because the voicemail from my mom said, “Don’t bother calling back. I’m seeing you tomorrow.”

Photocredit: wunderground.com

Rainfall in Boulder, CO. Photocredit: wunderground.com

I watched TV. The news was filled with stories of people for whom yesterday was not a drill. There were clips from Colorado’s raging floods. I have never been in a flood. But a great-aunt of mine survived one when she was a young woman. She and her husband were caught in their bedroom as they dressed. The brother who came to warn them had taken their baby to safety. The couple climbed up on bedroom furniture and stood on their tiptoes in cold, black, raging waters for an entire night. The water rose to their necks and, after part of their home broke off and was carried away, their dead farm animals floated in and around them.

My grandpa’s sister survived and lived a little while, but not very long. A year or two later she died of what we would call PTSD. There are things we can survive that we can never quite get over.

photocredit: abcnews.go.com.

photocredit: abcnews.go.com.

On last night’s news there was devastation to be faced at the New Jersey boardwalk that burned on Thursday so soon after it was rebuilt in the last ten months following what the newsman called Super Storm Sandy.

This past week one of my students suffered a fire that swept through part of his apartment building. He has had to look for a home. His belongings were destroyed or damaged. He has to start over just as he starts his second year of law school.

I was a new general manager at a small luxury hotel when someone set his hotel room on fire. I can remember walking down the street from DuPont Circle when my beeper went off, I heard sirens, and arrived in front of my hotel in time to see someone from my staff fling the smoldering mattress from a balcony. It landed on the street with its weird, black and red maw of still sizzling bedding smack in the center.

I had no way of knowing whether that was the worst of it, but I can recall running up the stairs toward the fire. My first thought was that I had a staff that was up there tossing items still burning. I wanted to reassure them that they should get out. I needed to be there with them if I could not convince them to leave. There are horrors that we can face with others–because of others. Disasters are times when strangers help strangers, too. Sometimes escape is not possible unless you first do what you can to help others.

The truth is that I reached the floor and found thick black smoke confined to one short corridor and the fire “out” once the mattress went flying. My adrenaline levels started to drop and my hands trembled as I wondered what I would have done if I had faced flames instead of the somewhat giddy coworkers who greeted me and wanted me to look at how smoke alone had done its worst. The memory always leaves me wondering how those first responders manage to do what they do again and again.

It was only a few months later that my husband and I evacuated our basement apartment in the middle of the night because of a fire in a top floor unit of a neighbor’s attached home. The fire was extinguished with water and the soot-stained walls showed afterward where the water carried the smoke. On that occasion, I was out on the pavement watching, not running back inside to see if I could help.

Photocredit: egyptindependent.com

Photocredit: egyptindependent.com

The news from Syria came with a clip of writhing citizens and white-wrapped corpses. Is this still news to anyone? My guess is that decades from now someone will still be denying that a nation’s leader gassed his citizens in much the same way that some still deny the atrocities committed in countless prior incidents–some of them so immense as to constitute attempts at genocide.

And last night’s news was filled with stories of death. Shootings, accidents, and other tragedies happen every day–decimating families and communities. It is mere days since we marked another anniversary of the terrorists’ attack in NYC on 9/11. Life sometimes forces us to contemplate death on a scale that defies comprehension.

All I had to contend with yesterday was a drill. Sometimes we have to face the real deal. I put on some clothes and went back to unpacking. I’m good.

Worst Case Scenarios

Two Rooms to Go

Two Rooms to Go

I manage fear by imagining the worst case scenario and convincing myself that I can “handle” it. Once I have done this, I do not think about it any further. I am very stubborn about this. If I find myself worrying over the “what ifs,” I get up and enter into an activity and focus on the activity. My tactic has not been working as well as it usually does. I am not happy about this.

Lately I have been as worried about the side-effects of cancer treatment as the return of cancer. All of the packing, move, and unpacking have coincided with the end of summer term and start of fall term at school. There never was a summer vacation. SO many projects are waiting for me and I cannot give them my full attention until I unpack at least one more room. I am down to having made some progress on four rooms. My living room and storage room are a shambles (see photograph taken minutes ago). Ordinarily I would take my mind away from obsessing about my health by working on a project. I used to write a novel every summer (I have several in my desk drawers). I researched my family tree back to the 1400’s one summer. This year my activity has proven inadequate to take my mind off of what ails me because my primary activity has been making things worse.

My ears are ringing. TV would distract me from that, but my TV is piles of boxes away from where I sit. My hands are alive with neuropathy. The left hand tingles the most. I took almost all of my six chemotherapy doses in that hand. My joints rarely bothered me before treatment. Now my knees hurt. When I say they hurt I mean that I sometimes have to use a cane to climb the back stairs. I rock back and forth before getting up from a low chair. It has not been this bad since the last weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. I have what appears to be arthritis in the joint at the base of my left thumb. It has me grabbing things gingerly–always contemplating the possibility I will drop something. Aargh! My doctors want me to get my hernia fixed. It feels like it is a little bigger when I measure it with my eyes or hand. I have to lift with my knees. Oh wait. They are already iffy.  I’ve considered the worst case scenario (that things will go downhill) and now want to move on to activity, but the only activity available is more unpacking, which keeps getting me focused on my health concerns.

I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning. Photocredit: clker.com

I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning. Photocredit: clker.com

 

I work for awhile but then have to stop. There isn’t a comfy chair in the place right now. I climb up into my bed and lie down. Sometimes I take a nap, but it is tough to sleep. Right now my landlord Zen is scraping the wood frame around my big front window. The noise is intermittent but deafening. This started Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. and continued until after 11 p.m. It resumed Saturday night at 11 p.m. and went on until 2 a.m. I could go out and complain, but I am SO tired of conflict. I have considered the worst case scenario and have resolved to hold off a little longer before pursuing it–an argument that could mean I will have to move at the end of my 1 year lease. How long can it take to scrape that big picture window? Surely this is the last day his toil will interfere with mine. When the noise got so loud I could not continue work on this blog I went back to unpacking.

Currently my home is filled with waiting “activity.” There are boxes upon boxes still waiting to be opened, organized, and re-stored. It has become a mindless activity. Yesterday I assembled ten power strips not already employed somewhere in my apartment. Of course, there are three rooms without a single power strip plugged in so they may yet find usefulness. Are power strips like cats and bunnies? Do they reproduce every season regardless of need?

I love office supplies. My dad and I used to enjoy going to office supply shops together. I must miss him even more than I acknowledge. I have a four-drawer vertical file cabinet half-filled with office supplies and there are boxes I have not yet opened. Everything is now moving into space with other like items, but I find myself wondering, what if I cannot recall in what storage bin I assembled all my highlighters? Will I go back to the Staples store and buy even one more? The concern that I will has prompted some worst case scenarios of its own.

I found some items I have no recollection of purchasing, too. Last night I collected several containers of tools and hardware supplies. I can never find a screwdriver when I need one. Somewhere in the storage room I cannot even enter yet, there are two tool boxes. I needed a screwdriver last night and started opening and shutting boxes in search for one. I discovered I have power tools! I thought I had one electric screwdriver, but my brother Danny gave me one as well. Is that too many for a single woman to own? Can I host an evening at my home and invite others to use the tools with me so that all may be happily employed at the same time? Maybe I should choose between them and give one away? Should I keep the one I bought because it has many great features? Or should I keep the one Danny gave me? Because there is something really sweet about my brother imagining there is anything material in the world of which I am in need.

He and his wife Lisa rode their new motorcycle to my home last Sunday. Danny installed my two air conditioning units in windows for me. I was afraid to lift them as I already need to be getting my hernia fixed soon. Lisa stood in awe of the piles and told me she thought I could get a million dollars if I sold all of it. I dismissed the idea at first, but if I sold them for $1 apiece . . . . What might be the worst case scenario for that concern? How many paperclips can I get with $1 million?

Just in time, Zen is taking a break. I think I’ll try resting. Maybe I can manage a short nap before I succumb to the urge to drive to the nearest Staples store for paperclips!

Photocredit:abcteach.com

Photocredit:abcteach.com

Checking In

Back at the hospital

This morning I went for my six-month exam. Other than fatigue from having survived a swift move, I have been feeling well. In late February/early March. the daily, serious pains associated with radiation cystitis abruptly stopped. In June I determined that the other side-effects of cystitis–distress and incontinence–were well behind me. I stopped taking the Oxybutynin that had been prescribed for me. My bladder and bowel seem to have healed from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

I have had several “clean” pelvic exams and tests for cancer cells. My last scan was June of 2012. It showed no signs of cancer. In October it will be twenty-four months since my hysterectomy. In December it will be twenty-four months since treatment ended. I was thinking there would be a scan and blood tests, but there were no tests today.

My oncology team wants me to undergo surgery to correct a pre-hysterectomy hernia. The surgeon who originally diagnosed my cancer was going to repair it as part of my hysterectomy, but he ended up having someone else perform the surgery. That doctor did not touch the hernia. But it was in the way of his reaching my lymph nodes. As a result, no lymph nodes were tested–which explains why my chemotherapy and radiation treatments were “adjuvant.” They addressed risks unknown. I learned that the scans also can be confounded by the hernia, and that my radiation was more extensive because of the state of my “habilis.”

Everything looks good right now, but, if cancer were to return, everyone would feel better if things got “tidied up.” There’s no question but that I would like to get this addressed as well–EXCEPT–I do not have health insurance, I do not have the money to pay for this surgery, I am about to start school and cannot imagine undergoing surgery during “school time,” and the very thought of checking in to the hospital after my December 2011 experience there is out of the question unless it would save my life.

I am returning this week to teaching at the law school that terminated me the day of my hysterectomy. The law school is facing declining enrollments and has decided to cut the compensation paid to adjuncts, like myself, by 40%. At the same time, it has increased class size by 25%. The school has conducted its own internal investigation of my case and has cleared everyone involved of any breaches of university policies.

I suppose that means that the school would support my termination a second time if I underwent surgery–even if my surgeon said, “You can return to work next week.” That’s what the surgeon said last time.

The EEOC is examining my case now. I would like to wait for the results of that investigation before chancing fate on the subject of job security. As if an adjunct has any job security.

The Affordable Care Act will go into effect this fall. I would like to wait to see whether I can afford insurance when the new exchanges open in my state. I might have new options for treatment at a hospital that does not scare me.

The doctors think the charity that covered so much of my post-surgical care would agree to pay for this surgery if I appealed to it. That will take some time.

The doctors want me to go now for a mammogram. My cancer was estrogen-related. Some breast cancers are estrogen-related. So, I’ll do that. My maternal aunt died after more than a decade of dealing with breast cancer, so I will have the test.

My weight had dropped somewhat. My blood pressure was much better. I’m only taking a water pill for that. The doctors put off until my next check-up an ultrasound of my legs that might rule out varicose veins as the reason for my sometimes swollen right leg. No one else reacted when I mentioned the possibility of lymphoedema–which means nothing. I know that it could be the reason for my swelling from reading the excellent blog http://lymphnodetransplant.wordpress.com/. Check it out if you have unexplained swelling after surgery or other treatment that might have affected your lymph nodes’ ability to function.

I am seeing a GP in late September. I see the P.A. for another gynecological check-up in October. I can investigate my insurance/charity/surgical options between now and my next oncology appointment in February 2014.

I am feeling relieved to have gotten through this check-up, but my definition of “relief” has changed from “phew” to a sort of uneasy reduction of the alarm level from orange to yellow.

Photocredit: ripsaw-defence.co.uk

Photocredit: ripsaw-defence.co.uk

A lot can happen in six months. And I have some checking to do before checking in again with my oncology team.

Man-handled Pedicure

pedicure chair

Photocredit: uspedicurespa.com (NOT affiliated with the salon discussed herein)

I’ve been getting the occasional pedicure since chemotherapy ended. The Taxol worked my finger and toenails over pretty badly, and I lost the sense of relaxation I once had in tending to my own nails. My nails had all of these strange bubbles that looked like fizzy, orange soda percolated up from the nail bed. There were white and yellow cloudy marks. My nails peeled. And my skin was bone dry. I read about how a pedicure could expose me to infection and read a number of reviews of places before choosing one. The place I chose for my first pedicure was clean and the owner was a breast cancer survivor. It was a very positive experience.

At some point since 2012 the salon was sold. All new chairs and tables were installed. There now appear to be three or four family members working there. A mother and her daughter have handled my pedicures on most occasions. Both are very gentle. I chose to have only clear polish applied so that I could monitor the appearance of my nails. This summer–about 18 months after chemotherapy ended–I appear to have no more cloudiness or marks on my nails. But they are weaker than they once were, prone to peeling unless I keep them polished. I do plenty of polishing between pedicures and apply tea tree oil to my bare nails before polishing them to diminish the possibility of infection.

This week I had my pedicure handled by a male attendant. According to reviews on yelp.com, this is the owner’s son-in-law. I wasn’t sure how I felt about having a male provide this service. It is a personal service. No one else touches my feet. I grew up in a family in which hugging is strange. We sometimes have gone long periods of time between visits without hugging when reunited. It’s not quite a head nod greeting we exchange, but it’s close. I actually had to think awhile about overcoming my aversion to casual contact to have the first pedicure. But I like to think I’m “equal opportunity” when it comes to workplace matters so I made no objection.

The experience was not the same as it has been in the past, and I have since asked several friends who have a long history of having manicures and pedicures and they have not had a male attendant so I don’t yet have a complete handle on what troubled me. Maybe you can help.

The attendant was polite and spoke excellent English when he greeted me and asked me what services I wanted, but he did not use English again until I was ready to leave and he suggested I wait a little longer for my nails to dry. During the pedicure process, he used hand gestures and spoke in another language to the other two attendants in the shop. The air conditioning was not on and it was 85+ degrees outside. After my feet had been sitting in some warm water awhile, I started sweating. Everyone else in the shop (the three attendants on duty) enjoyed a good laugh after a lively exchange in another language right before the salon owner turned on the air.

Why do people do that? I don’t care whether or not they found my discomfiture amusing as much as I care that they spoke so that I would not understand them. There’s more courtesy in talking in the storeroom than there is in doing this in front of me. I was reminded of an episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine realizes the Korean nail attendants are using the same word to discuss her as to discuss a customer’s dog “princess.” She takes George’s father to translate and opens a new can of worms.

I understand that I may be overly concerned about the possibility that I have been discussed in my presence:

The narcissists or paranoid customers might think that nail technicians are talking about them when they speak to each other in other languages across the room, but they aren’t. Apparently they don’t care to share with each other how lovely your nail beds are or how gross your big toe is. “In general, they mostly gossip about their family and friends and the shows they watched last night,” says [celebrity manicurist Jin Soo] Choi.

http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/nail-salon-secrets#4.

This attendant did not display the pampering that is part of getting a manicure. He barely had me soak my feet before he got to work. The hot soak in bubbling water is one of the best parts of the experience. He used a rotary tool to file my nails. I found myself wondering how clean it could be when, following his use of it on me, he just plugged it into the wall to recharge and did not place the rotary head into the steamer for cleaning. He did a good job handling my cuticles, but he had me keep both feet on the footrest the whole time. I am accustomed to more soaking between some of the stages of work being done. This helps with exfoliating. He didn’t do much exfoliating. My feet were in pretty good shape to start. It was only a month since my last appointment, and I don’t wear open shoes, which means my skin is not that dry now that chemotherapy is further and further behind me.

The foot massage was minimal. Have you seen the commercial for a spray-on lotion in which the woman in the commercial sprays a stripe of lotion onto her legs and steps into her clothes and runs? That’s only a little less attention than I received. All the time, he’s using these hand motions to communicate. Usually the word “manhandle” implies unnecessary roughness. Here, I use “man-handled” to convey a lack of attention to detail by a particular man.

I came home, stripped the polish and covered my nails in tea tree oil. Then I soaked my feet in a combination of Listerine and vinegar (thanks to a tip from pinterest.com) and used a pumice stone to finish exfoliating my feet.

I hoped the pedicure would counteract some of the punishment my body has taken during the month of packing, moving, and unpacking, but I ended up feeling like I had subjected myself to new suffering. My knees were painful from thirty minutes of sitting with them flat out while he conducted his checklist of activities.

I don’t think this service needs to be performed by a woman, but I don’t think I’ll be giving that shop my business again. I tend to be pretty direct with people when I am unhappy. But I did not speak up during the process. I just kept thinking this was wrecking my effort to pamper myself. I’m not sure why I did not say more. I only know that I grinned and bore it and then skedaddled home to fix things.

Nails are a $6 billion business, according to totalbeauty.com. Manicures were one of the few things I did to pamper myself. Now I have to go check out new places. Bummer. But the suspicion that the rotary tool might not be properly cleaned is reason enough to choose another place. I found this online:

Podiatrist Dr. Robert Spalding, author of “Death by Pedicure,” states that “at this time, an estimated one million unsuspecting clients walk out of their chosen salon with infections — bacterial, viral and fungal.” And no matter which salon you go to, there is always a risk of infection. He claims that in his research “75 percent of salons in the United States are not following their own state protocols for disinfections,” which includes not mixing their disinfectant solutions properly on a daily basis, not soaking their instruments appropriately, and using counterfeit products to reduce costs (for example Windex substituted for Barbicide), says the doctor. And the problem is that there is no way to really “verify an instrument has been properly soaked and sterilized,” without watching the process.

http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/nail-salon-secrets#2.

I don’t mind having men cut my hair. I’ve had that experience several times in my life. I worked several times with a male trainer at a gym. He was fine. My opthamologist is a man. He crowds right up against me to study what’s going on inside my eyes and behind them, but it is impersonal. I have had many male doctors. But this guy rubbed my feet the wrong way. Is it me? Or have you had a pedicure that killed your buzz?

Unpacking

Photocredit: www.indianajones5.com
Photocredit: http://www.indianajones5.com[/caption%5D

It’s been more than two weeks, and unpacking has a long way to go. I am so physically weary of the process that I now unpack for a day or two and then need a day off. The largest room in the house is my office. I have made headway there. Books fill the bookshelves. A file cabinet is filled with supplies that are in some order. My desk is assembled and has space for me to work. Most of the furniture that will remain in this room is in place. My kitchen table will now become a conference table. I have not yet attached two of its legs so that I can set it in place. A mover handed me some washers and screws during the move. I put them in a “safe” place, but that box has not yet appeared from the rubble that is my storage room. That room still looks like the government storage room at the end of the movie Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Ark of the Covenant gets filed away.

My bedroom is 90% unpacked. It needs a little organizing. When the movers were unloading they filled my closet with things that should have gone into the store-room closet. I need to move them to make room for what is waiting to go into that closet. Then I can finish that room. Of course, the storage room is filled all the way to the door. The work must wait.

The bathroom is small, so I unpacked it first. It looks pretty good.

The kitchen, living room and storage room are overrun with boxes and shelving units. The movers brought in the boxes first and the shelving units at the end, so I have to move boxes out of the way before I set the shelving units in place and then can store the boxes on shelves.

Sifting through the haphazard collection of a 56-year-old woman’s life in boxes marked no more specifically than Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom, Office, and Stuff has convinced me that much of this must now go.

Seals and Crofts
I had no time to weed through stuff before the move. But this time capsule in which I now live feels like a confused jukebox. One minute I am opening a box in which I relive high school. I keep hearing Seals and Crofts singing Summer Breeze and We May Never Pass this Way (Again). I find journals from college in the next box. The soundtrack from those years is very disconcerting and revolves around guys I was dating. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John, Weekend in New England by Barry Manilow, and C’est la Vie by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, do battle with countless disco songs. I still have the LPs, cassettes, and CDs. In the next box there are wedding photos from the marriage I hope will finally be annulled this year–today would be my 32nd anniversary. I hear Dan Fogelberg singing Longer, a song sung at our wedding, but our song was Babe by Styx, and he did leave me, so it is the song that lingers longest in my memory as I encounter items I received at the time we wed.

I collect. I have a number of blue and white porcelain items: lamps, vases, pots, figurines, and boxes. I have pink and green Depression glass. I have children’s books, mostly written when my mom was a child. I have thousands of books on various subjects. Long ago I imagined these would be interests I would pass down, but I never had a child who would be saddled with my proclivity for assembling collections.

I suppose I should do my family a favor and get rid of them. After all, I might only live as long as my dad did (59). I may sell them off now. But this is the “wealth” I accumulated in my life and it is difficult to “spend” it when I could live as long as my great grandmother did (99). What I do know is that it takes too much energy now to pack, move, unpack, or even experience all of this again.

I don’t need another thing, except a couch or maybe a chair or two. See how easy it is to keep accumulating. Barb and I were in the store buying moving supplies a couple of weeks ago. She saw me looking at a display and started scolding me not to even look at anything!

Thanks to www.fotosearch.com

Kevin, my former naturopath, once told me that the reason why I collected and could not part with so many things was that I am a Pisces with a south node in Taurus. The Taurus south node was tied to things that provide comfort. It also made me stubborn so that I would not part with them. I don’t know if I believe it is that simple. I think, however, that I might have enough containers to open my own Container store. Maybe life would improve without at least some of them.

Taurus-NASA Public domain photo
(Image of Taurus)
It does not help that I am physically affected by cancer treatments in ways that linger. My knees have had it. The joints were never a problem before my 2011 diagnosis with cancer.  I think it was the chemotherapy that rendered all of them “tricky.” At the end of the day I lie on my back in bed and listen to little clicking sounds every time I adjust my position. The neuropathy in my hands has become more than annoying after weeks of packing and unpacking. I am very conscious of the fact that I have an uncorrected hernia. My mom keeps telling me, “Enjoy this moment. It’s going to get worse!” She’s probably right.

From my desk

I’ll tell you what part of me feels younger than ever though. My mind. As I have pondered thousands of reminders of days gone by I could not help but think of what is just around the bend for me. Today it is raining. I sit at my desk that faces a busy street. Cars rush by, their tires making that shushing sound that draws me down an unexplored road. If I got in my car with no itinerary, where would I drive? My current home is mere blocks from Lake Michigan. Today I would drive north along the lakeshore until I could drive no farther. There is nothing that makes me feel happily tied to my world like a shoreline. Perhaps that is my water sign directing me.

There are trees in front of my window. As the rain strikes the leaves and then bounces down to the ground below, my eyes are drawn up to the sky. It is gray with clouds, but a plane passes just to the north, and I think about travel. Where would I be today if free to fly away? I think I would choose to sit in some huge cathedral in Europe to contemplate lives spent on the construction of a single building that could not be completed in one person’s professional lifetime but would still draw in people many, many years after its architect’s death. Imagine using your life to leave such a monument. This must be that Taurus south node at work again.

In the back of the building there are workmen finishing a new deck that makes me think of parties. If I could have the party of my dreams, who would be on that guest list? Ah, that I will keep to myself, except to say that I might need the help of a higher power to assemble everyone whose company I would enjoy even for an hour.

If I disentangle myself from some or all of what now holds me down, will I catch the upsurge of a breeze and fly away? Who can say?

It almost is enough to make me forget that I see Dr. H on Monday for my six-month check-up. Bummer.

What have you hung onto that ought to now wind its way somewhere else so that you can feel free for new adventures as well?

You Gotta Ride the Rails, Little Lady

Grandpa Tom

Grandpa Tom

This week I had to cancel plans to visit my sister and friends in Washington, DC because my landlady has decided not to continue leasing my apartment. I have to move and the news has upset me. I know, I kicked cancer, but, seriously!!! I am tired. And I cannot help wondering why I never get the “test” in which you get a million dollars and the heavens watch to see if you will use some of it for charity.

Someone from among my friends suggested that I should have planned a trip to Disney world. She says that, if she kicked cancer, that’s where she would go.

I do not have children. I am not required by the natural law of making children’s dreams come true to visit the place. My family visited Disneyland for our last “family” vacation in about 1972. My sister and I were in high school. Grandpa Tom wanted us to see the West. He was 100% Irish, but he retired in Santa Fe, New Mexico with Grandma Elsie (50% Swedish/50% German) and he “went native.” He adopted the bolo tie. He explored every historical site in the area. He read the history. He had always told us stories of natives living in the western states while the women (sometimes Grandma Elsie all by herself) washed the dishes.

In my grandpa’s stories, the natives were smart and possessed a wonderful sense of humor. I am not sure where he learned his stories, but his father was a railroad engineer (as in a designer of the engine cars). They lived along the railroad tracks in many American cities. Perhaps his father told them. Perhaps he read them. After he moved to New Mexico there was little talk of Ireland. He identified with the native cultures. We think he adapted his “look” to blend in. He even started to refer to the Spanish that claimed the territory and subjected the native population to their rule “bloodless devils.”

He wanted my sister and me to take the train to New Mexico. We traveled by ourselves. Our parents loaded Danny into the backseat of the station wagon and set out by car while Kathy and I shared a two-bed sleeper compartment and dined in the diner car with its linen tablecloths and napkins.

(c) cardcow.com--Hope I don't offend by borrowing this photo.

(c) cardcow.com–Hope I don’t offend by borrowing this photo.

It was a wonderful experience. Having spent several preceding summers under the camp names Kettle and Little Pot at Norwesco, a Girl Scout camp in Wisconsin, with five cots in the tent, this was luxurious. We even had misadventures. We stored our Brownie Hawkeye camera in the tiny cabinet in our sleeper until our porter exclaimed that, “You don’t put your camera in the shoe box.” We were unaware of the fact that he could access shoes from the shoebox when outside of our room so that he could shine them. “Everyone knows you can’t leave your camera in the shoebox.” That was not true until after we rode the train. Grandpa had wanted us to see the world from a train and we learned many things from our experience. One thing that I learned was that a train ride can be marvelous! I loved the many luxuries and the stress-free travel.

Brownie Hawkeye Camera

Brownie Hawkeye Camera

We met up with rest of the family in Santa Fe. After an excellent exploration of the surrounding area, we set off in the station wagon for Arizona and then California. We visited with one of my dad’s friends from the Marine Corps. The two men posed gut-to-gut after deploring the way in which married life had softened them. At the last second one of them sucked it in and made his buddy look bad. I think it might have been my dad. He was a prankster.

We visited my mom’s dear friend who lived near the ocean. Her family seemed unfamiliar with Chicago. The kids kept asking us about Illinois where we “pushed cows and pulled pigs”–whatever that means. The culmination of our trip was a day at Disneyland.

I can remember every detail of the railroad ride to Santa Fe, but the only thing I can remember of Disneyland is Pirates of the Caribbean.

Fast forward about thirty years to the summer I took my niece and her son to Disney world. My plan was to rest in the hotel room. I was exhausted after a difficult project completed while I was sick with an upper respiratory infection. I was hospitalized the evening before my departure. I thought I was having a heart attack, but it turned out that my esophagus was seizing following weeks of coughing. I slept and read novels in the comfort of an air-conditioned room. Lisa and Ryan spent day and night in the park.

I only joined Lisa and Ryan one day. I paid for the lunch with the costumed cartoon figures and wanted to see Ryan’s reaction. I drove to the park and took a little train ride to the correct portion of the park. As I recall, I went to Frontierland. The heat was devastating for me. Then we ate lunch. I took pictures. When lunch was over the kids decided to continue on with their steady pace of rides and meals. I arranged to pick them up later at the park. Lisa asked me if I would mind taking back with me a bunch of souvenirs.

A storm was rolling in off of the ocean. I carried my umbrella, Lisa’s umbrella, a purse, a camera bag, and a bag of toys. At one point it did rain, and I was grateful to be under cover by that time. I joined the line for what I presumed was the little train that would take me back to the park entrance. I waited with lots of other people, but it never occurred to me that we were all waiting in the covered waiting area for anything other than the little choo choo. No one spoke with anticipation of a roller coaster–no one. When we finally entered a building the wood-slatted walls of the building reminded me of the train station. Then I turned a corner and saw the loading area for a roller coaster. It was the California Gold Rush ride.

A costumed employee who looked like Pecos Pete waved me toward the ride. I did not want to get on the ride. I explained my reluctance. I did not want to ride a rollercoaster. I was sick. I did not have anyone with me to share the ride. I was holding too many items to hang onto the handrail.

“There are only two choices,” he said. “Get on the ride or push and shove your way back out of here.”

It was, for me, an impossible choice. I refused to get in.

That’s when Pecos Pete snarled, “You gotta ride the rails, little lady!”

I got in and Pecos Pete locked me in. For the next five minutes or so I screamed as my behind slid from side to side in my seat. It was all I could do to hang onto the items in my arms. I did not have a free hand to stop the relentless motion.

I screamed until I coughed. Then I could not stop coughing.

When I got out of the rollercoaster someone had to grab my hand and drag me out. I looked like I had been dragged through the bushes backwards. A park employee came over and offered to escort me to the train ride when I could not stop coughing even after they got me some water.

The moral of the story is that you take a train when you want a scenic ride in comfort, but you never know when you buy your ticket if you’ll be taking a choo choo or riding the rails with Pecos Pete.

I may not like the fact that I will be moving in the next forty-five or so days, but I can complain all I want and I will still have to ride the rails. The thrills and chills are part of the price of the ticket in life.

I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.

I See Dead People

“I see dead people.”

In the past couple of weeks I have not felt well. I don’t think anything is wrong. But I am tired. My body feels heavy and I have vague complaints that I hesitate to articulate because, by comparison with what I have endured in the recent past, they are minor. But I will confess here that the tingling in my hands sometimes drives me crazy. The ringing in my ears means that I have to be asleep to enjoy peace and quiet. I have blemishes every day after never having had them any more frequently than occasionally. I feel like a camel some days. I can carry about six pounds of water by bedtime and have it be gone by morning–not making for sound sleep. I take a water pill that seems to help with this, but yesterday evening one of my feet was like a balloon. (Can you have lymphedema if no lymph nodes were removed?) My blood pressure soars when I am upset, then settles back down to normal. But, when it’s soaring, my head pounds without pain, like when I’m sitting at a light beside a car that shakes the street with its bass notes. My joints seem to get better, then they go back to aching. Today it is my lower back that hurts. My fingernails recovered from chemotherapy months ago, but they are now back to peeling and there are little splashes of orange bubbles like when treatment was ended and my body was still recovering.

I think these are normal aches and pains, but the changes are things that bug me. It’s one thing to want to live to a ripe old age and another thing to do it. I wake up every day feeling so grateful for what has not happened to me that I push aside my complaints. But I find myself returning to the “woe-is-I” attitude from time-to-time. It’s like a torn nail that you cannot leave alone until you have torn it to the quick. Some bloggers talk about the “new normal.” Maybe I just need to accept that this is how it is now.

But today I realized that I am one of those people who cannot let go. I see dead people.

It does not take any particular skill. This afternoon I took a different path to school and passed the building where I worked in the 1990’s when a young coworker fell or jumped from the top of our office building. The description of his death as accidental was probably to ease his parents’ grief, but the building had several walls or barriers around the roof. He had to climb over several of them to fall. He was feeling overextended and tired from too much work. That happens to young professionals in large law firms. I feel tremendous sadness when I think of him because he had confided in me his distress and I had encouraged him to see the practice group leader and get help. Like many young professionals, he received a message that he should hang in there. That evening was when he fell. Someone said he was unrecognizable as a lawyer from our building when discovered on the street below. The suit did not distinguish him. Someone thought one of the city’s homeless men had been struck by a car.

When I see his face, it is in memories. But I recall boyish charm. He was a prodigy of sorts. He graduated from college and law school early. To this day I remember how he looked at a picture of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sistine-chapel-ceiling-opens-to-public. I had been there recently and had shown off my travel photos to persons too kind to escape. This colleague saw God and Adam with arms outstretched toward each other and wondered aloud about the space between them. As I recall it, he wondered what it would be like to see them after that touch. He thought Adam would be transformed, unrecognizable. He thought the artist painted what was safe–a man–not one touched by God. I am haunted by those recollections as surely as if his spirit appeared to me. And I wonder what he felt when he touched the hand of God.

I think about my friend from Washington, DC who suddenly got it in her head to move to Tennessee to live near her mom and a sister. My friend had a young son and an ex-husband doing a little time for what I cannot recall. Once she decided to move she was hell bent on getting there as fast as possible. But she had no money or plan for doing it. I sent her a book by overnight express and stuck six one hundred dollar bills in between the pages. She barely made it home in time. Within a month, she had died of an aneurysm in her brain. She saw her son off to school and told her mom she was going to lie down for a nap because her head hurt. Her mom found her several hours later. They said she must have seen it coming because she had gotten up in church on Sunday and declared her faith in Jesus. I think she knew something. We spoke just days before she died about the money I sent her. She was very grateful and wanted to repay me but worried that it would take awhile. I “forgave” the debt because it seemed to bother her, and I was happy that she seemed happy when I said it–almost like her house was in order.

There was nothing funny about her death at such a young age, but I think of her every time I see Elvis because the preacher at her funeral (which had enough drama for the stage and deserves its own posting) remarked that, thanks to her having declared her faith before death, she was already in heaven. And that meant that she had seen the King–yes, Elvis. The preacher mentioned God softly, almost as a footnote, “Jesus, too.”

I think I see the first boy I ever loved when I drive down the street on which we lived way back when. His name was Michael and he was very sweet. We played as part of a neighborhood group, usually in people’s garages because the housing development was brand new and no one had shade trees yet. In our garage we had a cardboard kitchen set, which was “home.” Michael and I were the oldest, so we played the mom and dad. Like lots of kids, we brought to play what we saw at home. My mom muffled laughter one afternoon when Michael stomped into the garage and yelled at me, “Burnt mashed potatoes again! When a man comes home he needs fluffy potatoes on the table!” Talk like that in our house would have meant noodles until November.

Michael died in a motel room in what appears to have been a drug bust that went bad. By that time I lived far away and was no longer in touch with him or his family. But I still see him winding up with his bat when his dad was getting ready to pitch the ball. And he still looks way too young to be so long gone.

Some of the dead people I see are ghosts, too, but I can only lay claim to seeing a very few of them. They were strangers to me so I could not possibly tell you their stories. I can only tell you that when I think back on my life so far I keep wondering about what that young lawyer said about the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Did Michelangelo paint the scene before Adam touched the hand of God because it is impossible to imagine the scene after the contact? I have the feeling that once Adam touched the Lord he never looked back.

That’s the normal I want to find here on earth. I’m living in that space between Adam’s finger and God’s. Not giving up. Not ready to go. Not quite feeling that my time has run out too soon. I want the sense of mystery and adventure back. I don’t want to malinger when there’s work to be done. And I do believe there is work to be done with this time I have here. So, instead of looking back at people gone–including my pre-cancer self–I’m looking forward, one hand extended, hoping when I do find Him (maybe even before I find Him) that I will be transformed.

Recalculating

Cars pull up and honk to see if I am leaving

Cars pull up and honk to see if I am leaving

I cannot stand those GPS systems with their ceaseless commentary on my driving. One of the increasingly appreciated advantages of being divorced is that no one complains about my driving. No one presses an invisible brake when I am slow to do the same. No one comments on my preference for a less well traveled route. No one exclaims when I choose to gun my little car and overtake another because its driver ticked me off.

When I travel with my sister Kathy she likes the instructions, the reassurance, the computer co-pilot. I think she would admit that my sense of direction is a little better than hers. As a result, the GPS system’s announcement that it is “recalculating” feels more like an expression of patience than the criticism I perceive it to be.

Today I finally went for the four month follow-up on my first thorough gynecological exam after hysterectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy. It has been twenty months since surgery.

I got up at 5 a.m. and left the house before 6 a.m. for my 8 a.m. appointment. I could not take it for granted that there would be a parking space at the hospital. This week I have taught five classes. I graded piles of papers. I reviewed resumes and spoke with students searching for jobs. I gave references for jobs and admission to the bar. I wrote recommendation letters. I spoke with attorneys for a prior client about an old matter. I was exhausted this morning, so exhausted that I climbed in the shower before I had bothered to turn on any lights.

I was lucky enough never to have acne, but this past week I have enough blemishes to warn passersby of impending doom. I am red! My joints ache. My blood pressure crept up. My tinnitus has been distracting when I want to empty my mind and concentrate on slow and steady breathing.

I got in the car and drove before I could focus on anything other than the need to get going. When I arrived at the hospital I was in time to get one of the last spaces. It was light out by then and I had to slouch in my seat because everyone who saw me tapped his or her horn to see if I was leaving.

There was no sense in getting out before 7 a.m. That’s when the elevators on the first floor open. I was afraid I would fall asleep so tried reading John Grisham’s The Racketeer, but it has been difficult for me to read fiction lately. I am going through a stage when the only things I feel are real.

When I entered the building it was like going back to your hometown after a long trip. I found everything old felt new. A police officer arriving late nearly mowed me over in the hall. The elevator lobby was under construction and I felt like the place was foreign rather than familiar. I rode the elevator to the second floor in the company of a red-dressed bird. This woman wore the tightest, brightest red blouse and capri pants. Over this she wore a pristinely white jacket. Atop her head she wore a curly black wig that cascaded in all directions. Wrapped around her head and across her forehead was a black and white polka-dotted scarf. The ends trailed down one side like she was singing back-up for the Jackson Five way back when. Beside her was a woman in a maxi dress with alternating horizontal stripes of orange and tan. The pumps matched. I kept wondering why I did not receive the memo because the colors were even more eye-popping than the women’s physical attributes. They were attention-getters, too.

In my navy blue shirt, navy blue pants, and navy blue slip-on shoes I felt invisible. I wanted to be invisible. I longed to be someplace else and to have more important things to do, but nothing was more pressing than this appointment.

Of course, I was the first patient present. The receptionist called me to the desk then told me to sit and wait because I was more than an hour early. It was after 7 a.m. and my appointment was at 8 a.m., but there was no point in arguing. She called me five minutes later when there was still no one there.

A nurse came out and brought me back to be weighed and have my blood pressure checked. One was down and the other was up. I explained that I was suffering from some “white jacket syndrome.” I learned that the physician’s assistant who last examined me was the only person present. I knew what this meant and tried not to panic.

I was shown to a room and sat for almost another hour before the P.A. came in.

I was the one who had to do some recalculating today. The exam still hurt, but my anxiety level was much lower. For one thing, as she took notes I had my clothes on. Last time I was led naked through the hallways twice and felt very vulnerable even before the P.A. decided to take my history while I sat half naked (the half that sat on the table was covered).

There was less info to share. The time went by faster. The P.A. could not predict anything without test results, but she let me know that she saw nothing that raised her concern. I hope that this is progress and that some of my fears will be eased when I return to see the P.A. in October.

I ended up driving out to my mom’s place and we spent the afternoon together. We took a ride to the Queen of Heaven cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. Back in the early 1990’s there was a local man (Joseph) who claimed to see the Virgin Mary there after he first saw her in Megjugorje. http://www.medjugorjeusa.org/; http://www.medjugorje.org. He visited the cemetery because he was directed to a cross near a three-trunked tree. http://www.catholicrevelations.org/PR/joseph%20reinholtz.htm. When my dad was alive, he took me and my mom there to see what was happening. In those days, Joseph would come and pray and see and speak with Mary while others crowded around him saying the rosary. People took interesting photos and rosaries turned gold.

One of my mom’s friends had a plain rosary turn gold. I have visited the location a number of times, including after my dad died. On the Christmas after my dad died, I took some Polaroid pictures of the plain wooden cross. The dark wood cross glowed gold on an overcast day while rain fell on me. I took the photos while I kneeled at the foot of the cross. Was it the flash bulb? Why was the effect not repeated in each photo taken from the same place at the same day and time?

I still have one of those photos and gave one to a former coworker who was quite devoutly religious. She also was dying at the time and said the photo gave her great comfort. I will try to find the photo album and scan a few of the remaining photos for this posting later. There are some others that make it appear that a door opened in the sky. I think the sun reflected off of the sides of the camera’s aperture. Nevertheless, they are cool to look at.

Photo taken June 14, 2013

Photo taken June 14, 2013

At any rate, the scene has changed since Joseph died. The cross was moved several years ago to an empty area of the cemetery. A parking lot was installed. The cross was set in the center of a blacktop area that people could not trample. No large group was gathered. A lone man walked the perimeter lost in prayer. Someone created a little shrine for a statue of Mary. The toes of Jesus’s feet have been touched so many times that the stain and sealer have worn away. Bare, white, and deteriorated wood is exposed. A couple people have left items. We said a prayer before leaving.

Photo taken June 14, 2013

Photo taken June 14, 2013

For my mom it was a let down. She was hoping to feel that energy that we last felt from the crowd when we visited there. It would have been a connection with my dad, whose birthday just passed and who we will remember this Sunday on Father’s Day.

But I had the opposite reaction. I put my hand on the cross and thanked God and Mary for helping me through the last two years of trials and treatments. I realize that others have experienced far worse than I have and want to keep this in perspective. But there were times when all I had to keep me going were faith, family, and friends. All I feel were gifts that helped me endure. And I felt as I touched that cross that a burden of fear and sorrow lifted from my shoulders.

I found myself recalculating.

Catastrophizing

Feeling snowed under.

Feeling snowed under.

Did I mention that next Friday I have an appointment for a gynecological exam and will likely see the “oh-so-very-NOT-nice” physician’s assistant whose examination of me left me upset for weeks? Did I mention that this has me feeling very anxious–as do all doctors’ appointments?

The best part of blogging has been reading the blogs of people whose situation has been worse than mine. I know how that sounds. But the other bloggers’ sharing has given me a perspective on my own experience that I could not have gotten from my own experience if I chewed on it until it was fully consumed and digested–a process that might have taken my whole life.

Until my diagnosis with cancer, I had never had an operation. I had never suffered a serious illness. The most serious medical procedure done on me was the inpatient removal of a mole that was chafed by a bra strap. The most serious pain I had ever experienced was passing a kidney stone at about the age of 20. That experience proved more humorous than serious.

While I was in the emergency room to determine the cause of my pain the doctor decided to perform an internal gynecological exam to rule out some gynecological problem. Following the exam, I continued lying on the table while I waited for results. Then a hospital administrator escorted a university student into my curtained “bay” so that the student could ask me questions about my use of contraceptives for some classroom statistical analysis. I agreed to answer the questions. The administrator helped me sit up. The nurse had not properly secured the end of the table when she took down the stirrups at the conclusion of my exam.

When I sat up, the end of the table fell down and I was catapulted to the floor. I landed on my hands and knees with the hospital gown open from neck to knees. I landed outside of the narrow confines of the curtained bay. There I was, naked and on all fours, in front of everyone, including someone with whom I went to school.

It goes without saying that there were apologies, and many hands reached down to help me rise, and no one laughed. Which seemed amazing to me at the time, because I could not stop laughing! Seriously, the pain from the kidney stone was the worst thing I had ever felt in my physical life. My hands and knees “smarted” in a way that had me thinking about that old adage, “Come over here and I’ll give you something to cry about.” I was blushing the color of a beet until it seemed every inch of my face might explode. And everyone was looking at each other like it might be the end of the world.

It wasn’t. The adage proved to have some relation to fact. There were worse things than the pain I experienced from passing a kidney stone. I could be in even worse pain, naked, on a germy ER floor, in a down facing dog position as others (one of them a fellow student holding a clipboard) tried to get hold of “something” naked, in an non-salacious manner . . . in an effort to help me stand up. Oh, the perspective this gave me helped me accept many of life’s indignities that have followed.

I still have not had a good cry about having uterine cancer. I am not sure I need to at this point. I was nonplussed when I received the diagnosis. In retrospect, it explained so many things that I had been experiencing such as heavy periods and a late end to menopause. I reacted by trying to put the entire puzzle together. I also had a very fatalistic idea about what it meant to have cancer. I just assumed that my life was over and was trying to figure out what I would need to get done before I died. Making checklists is a hobby. I never did make out that checklist.

The doctors were much more optimistic and they were being extraordinarily negative. Their entire focus at the time seemed to be on my inability to survive surgery because of my blood loss (I needed 8 packs of blood to reach a minimum state of readiness for surgery) and my seemingly poor general health. But one doctor, the head of the internal medicine department, kept coming back to report that I had passed another of his department’s tests. It appeared that I might only have anemia and cancer.

I counted my blessings day and night. I am serious about this. I did not have a book to read. There was nothing I cared to watch on TV, and I had no idea if I was being charged for using it and had no medical insurance. When my sister Kathy flew in from DC she brought me two magazines, a pen, and some paper. I loaned a magazine to my roommate and covered the paper with my scribbled lists of blessings. If my luck had run out, then I wanted to recall that it had been a good run. If the Law of Attraction was at play, then I wanted to be in a positive place to attract good health.

I did not sleep for nearly a week (other than during surgery). The closest I got to it was that micro sleep you sometimes feel happening during a long drive. One minute you are on the turnpike in Indiana and the next minute you are seeing signs for exits to Cleveland and are wondering, “What the hell happened to most of Ohio?” You have been functioning, but not optimally.

I have shed plenty of tears since October 2011. I was devastated to learn that the law school terminated me. Radiation was a nightmare. The week after treatment ended was horrific. To this day I feel like I might have died but for my sister and mom “springing” me from the county hospital. I have never been so afraid or helpless. Recovery from treatment was marginally worse than what I felt while going through six weeks of radiation and chemo. Radiation cystitis had me crying twenty-something times a day in the bathroom until that became such old hat that I just gritted my teeth and endured.

But others’ blogs were like speed markers on the road that let me know I should pace myself on my tendency to manage fear by imagining myself handling the worst case scenario. No one ever knows what will happen next or how she will handle it. And the saddest truth about cancer is that others have handled/are handling much worse than I can imagine on my own. They do manage. Sometimes angrily. Sometimes with frightening resignation. Often with grace, humility, and even humor.

I am covering my mouth with both hands and trying not to cry as I think of what some have shared about their experiences. I know that my odds are good for long-term survival. It was stage one with complicating factors, not the stage three cancer the surgeon first described it to be. It was a slow-growing cancer. There appears to be no evidence that cancer spread or remains. My surgery went very well. I am no longer in daily pain. My other side-effects can be handled.

When I agreed to adjuvant radiation and chemotherapy I did not know that they could one day lead me to another cancer. I was awake, but still in that stage of micro sleep. I just kept driving until I saw signs for Cleveland, one of which is an exit marked Strongsville. I took that exit and have put down some roots. I could spend my days catastrophizing, but that might only make this tougher.

Source unconfirmed

Source unconfirmed

The bloggers who have shared their struggles and victories are daily reminders that I should live in the “now” and not get ahead of myself. Whatever is ahead of me will be handled–ready or not–and handled better if I focus on the present and do not let anxiety rule me.

There was a time when I could laugh at the experience of landing naked and in pain on the ER floor while answering questions about condoms and diaphragms. It’s harder to do that when you’re dealing with cancer. But I still have a sense of humor. And I have been shown by some wonderful people that there are worse situations and that I can face them if I must. Life is worth it until it isn’t. And, even then, there will be hope that life’s ending can be endured.

So, I am every day grateful for the community of bloggers who have so bravely shared their challenges and fears. Without your courage and generosity, I could be wasting my life catastrophizing.

If you have never seen Loretta LaRoche, you should. She is the source of the word “catastrophizing.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggGoe_y5WqA. In that video she talks about how we can sometimes take our tough challenges and magnify them until we become hopeless. Here is a link to a video of her discussing the Joy of Stress: Party Pants, in which she reminds us to embrace life’s adventures rather than always putting joy off. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5tOFdSJZJk. Here’s her video on Pessimism vs. Optimism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=kqE9cuWxdqo&feature=endscreen. She uses humor to help people handle stress. Her message is resilience. I think she may also be reading many of the blogs that I read about living after a cancer diagnosis. She seems to understand that we can keep smiling–sometimes for a moment, sometimes for a day, sometimes longer.

Did I mention that next Friday I have an appointment for a gynecological exam and will likely see the “oh-so-very-NOT-nice” physician’s assistant whose examination of me left me upset for weeks? Did I mention that this has me feeling very anxious–as do all doctors’ appointments? Maybe I’m already feeling better because of the messages of hope in so many other people’s blogs.

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