I was reading one of my very favorite bloggers, The Pioneer Woman, and she was lamenting about how much she had to do in the frantic month of April.
I always figured that after I raised my child and when she moved out on her own, I’d be home free.
My life has actually never been busier.Between check-ups and medical appointments (and there are still far too many of those), I am still trying to have a life here folks.It ain’t easy, let me tell you.I read the list of things that the Pioneer Woman was dealing with and thought, I can match you girlfriend, project for project, deadline for deadline, mess for mess.
For example, I have to clean the backyard deck because my goofy and persistently clueless dog brings new meaning to the phrase, “poop deck” these days.I have to get my home office organized.Luckily my son-in-law has already put together my bookshelves and put up decorative shelving on my office walls.I have an entire garage to organize and all the holiday decorations to organize and divide between my daughter and myself.Hint, the kid is totally getting the lion’s share.I have a garden to tend because while I planted a few weeks back, everything has basically drowned on account of the recent rains so I need to get back there, clean up the watery mess and Start Over.I need to do laundry, unpack from my most recent trip, do yet another short run to CostCo, and officially close the post-season hockey playoff ritual of, “We Hate The Other Team” with my BFF.In Round One, the target of our hockey hatred was the St. Louis Blues.We haven’t hated on them before so this year was all very new and there was this huge learning curve regarding whom on the team we hated the most, how much, who will were going to scream at, who we would simply just scoff at, how badly we want their goalie to mess up, etc.It was lot of pressure, believe you me.We started in when our San Jose Sharks got into a double overtime situation but being that we won, the hate-on took a backseat to surprise, celebration and downright shock.We honestly didn’t expect to pull it out so deep into overtime. This put us behind schedule in our WHTOT project which, as devoted Sharks fans, we take entirely too seriously. Then we simply lost the series in Game Five and the hate-a-thon was suddenly over.
And we had just started warming up.
So, while the WHTOT team project is off the table (until next season), there is plenty to keep me busy. That’s the thing about surviving cancer, when you are done with treatments, you still have this decimated life to get back to.Dishes to wash, dogs to buy treats for, laundry to fold, kids to pick up from school, other hockey teams to plot against.The list never ends.
And as overwhelming as it gets at times, for those of us in the trenches of recovery, it’s a good thing, this busy at life. It keeps one’s mind off the ever lurking fear of cancer returning for one thing.And it gives daily purpose when we can get so wrapped up in the impact recovery has on the quality of our daily lives.
Those who love us can forget, you see, because we look normal or close enough.After the hair grows back and the right bras are bought and we put our heels back on, our loved ones can forget.They don’t see the scars and the pain and the symptoms the meds cause.They just see the person they love and focus on being grateful that they are still counted among the living. For them, its enough.But for us survivors, well, we pull out the list and keep going because that’s what we do, we simply keep going.
There is nothing like the sheer drudgery of a task to bring a big, fat slice of humble pie into one’s life.While waiting for Broom Hilda, a.k.a., my new dishwasher, I am forced to wash all my own dishes, cooking vessels and cutlery. This has been an eye opening experience the least of it being that I now know that I use WAY too many dishes, cooking vessels and cutlery.
Still, there is something Zen about filling the sink with hot, soapy water and carefully washing each and every item.I think there is something in Buddhism about doing the most humble of tasks well and if there isn’t, there should be.It’s a discipline that I’ve long laid aside in my world of convenience and busy time saving appliances.
You get time to think when you are doing mindless drudgery, so much so that I marvel that I didn’t cure world hunger or find a way to stop global warming by now.
When I had cancer and was fighting for my life, I was too afraid to let my mind wander, to relax into a blissful nothingness, to free my mind and let absolutely nothing push my brain into fast forward/panic/overdrive.I somehow thought I always had to be in the moment, like a soldier in the trenches, I was poised, 24/7/365.I was never off, even when knocked off my feet by chemo.
There is no off button when you are fighting cancer, no down time, no days off.No checking out, no mental health days, no ‘me’ time at the spa.Fighting cancer is a battle that doesn’t end even after they send you home with a metaphorical happy ‘cured’ stamp on your forehead.You are always on the precipice, ready to jump back into the abyss of terror where every day is a blur of treatments and counter-treatments and managing the fall out of treatments and simply just trying not to throw up from treatments.After you fight cancer, there is some heretofore undiscovered switch that flips on in your head that means you are mentally ‘on’, ready to fight for your life at a moment’s notice.Soldiers battling post traumatic stress syndrome are suddenly kindred spirits and you get them, you totally get them.You get why the car that backfires sends them into fight mode because it happens to you every time you go to the doctor or get a medical test or find something on your body that wasn’t there (or you think wasn’t there) five minutes ago.Instantly, it’s BATTLE READY for us cancer survivors.
So, those moments of Zen-like, mindless bliss are not just few and far between, they are rare indeed.
They say that Einstein came up with his most brilliant theories when he was toiling away as a lowly patent clerk.I hope mine come tonight when I am elbow deep in suds and endeavoring to scrub away the residue of whatever culinary nonsense I have been up to.
I should listen to my boyfriend the fire captain, at least about a couple of things.Mostly, that one should never leave major appliances running while out of the house.I have told him and told him and told him that The Laundry of America won’t get done if I embrace this tactic but he thinks that the house not burning down is more than fair compensation for a few late nights of folding and putting away towels.
I actually don’t leave the dryer on any longer when I’m out of the house but that has far more to do with the fact that the house around the corner burnt to a blackened shell a few years back because of a fire in an old dryer the owners had left on and I was a witness first hand to flames shooting all the way across the street.It was a site to behold and that single, acrid visual did for me what Bob could not; I stopped leaving my dryer on when I left the house that very day.
And then there is my dishwasher.I think it should have lasted 25 to 30 years but it is only about 15 years old and in the throes of Dishwasher Death.The other day it would not empty water completely without me hitting the rinse button a couple of times.Clearly, my dishwasher wanted to drown its sorrows.I didn’t think much of it and so I left it on to run again after baking up a storm of dirty dishes.I went to my daughter’s house for Easter Sunday, returning home late that same day.
I entered my house and smelled burning…stuff.Unsure where this was, my inept nose finally led me to the kitchen. I touched the dishwasher, it was very hot (on the outside and to the touch).I jumped back in alarm but opened it anyway.Somehow it had gotten stuck on the dry cycle with no water.Even the dishwasher detergent packet was still intact.The plastic containers had mostly melted, the dishes were burning hot. Even I knew that the water pump had sung the major appliance equivalent of a Swan Song. I turned everything off and waited for the smell to disperse and for everything to cool down. As I gingerly touched the scalding hot cutlery and dishes, it became blazingly clear that the dishwasher had burned everything clean, not a drop of water in sight.
The dishwasher had been ready to ignite my dishes.Like a protesting Tibetan monk, my dishwasher had progressed from hoping to drown to trying to light itself on fire.I used pot holders to put everything in the sink and to wash and cool off everything, even the now dead, melted plastic.
The very next morning, I ordered a new dishwasher. I am not telling anyone in my family or circle of friends about this because my friends and family give me such grief about my attitude toward major appliances.I firmly believe that they should all last 30 years, not three.Because of this strongly held belief, I actually continue to stand in front of my very pricy washing machine and push the start button eight times to start (the start button defaults over and over because of a badly designed motherboard) and then again three times at precisely at the 20 minute mark. This drives my boyfriend crazy. He keeps telling me to buy a new washing machine for goodness sake.I have thus far refrained from reminding him that it was HIS insistence and choice in brand and make of said faulty washing machine that put me in this predicament in the first place. I know, I am the model of girlfriend restraint.
When the service repairman told me that my washing machine had but a few weeks to live and that I’d have to replace it because the make was simply such a lemon with an impossibly high repair rate, I decided to run it into the ground.To use it until it truly died. He gave it three weeks.
That was nearly three long years ago and with the exception of having to push the button a couple of million times, the washer does a decent job of cleaning clothes.The dishwasher, however, has caused me no end of grief what with first not draining and then trying to light my dishes on fire.
I think my dishwasher is suicidal whereas the washing machine is simply being petulant and downright rebellious.
I bought one of the most inexpensive dishwashers and I did so on the advice on the washing machine repairman who had advised me to buy the simplest, least computer-loaded major appliances possible.
“They last much longer,” he explained.Duh.
So, fewest buttons and features, minimum computer circuitry, least complex machinery and I am good to go.And happily enough, the simplest appliances are most often the cheapest. This works for me as a cancer survivor because less is more, simple is better and the least amount of effort, always welcome in my ever-complicated world.
Plus, I cannot wait to see how long it takes my friends and family to notice the new dishwasher whom I think I shall christen Broom Hilda.
As long as she’s not petulant of course.
Meanwhile, the burnt hand really does teach best and until delivery day, I’m taking no chances and washing everything by hand.
I’ve gotten a couple of funny emails from readers noting that my stories about my dog Sophia were hilarious.This would not be of concern save that the readers all thought that my stories were fiction.That I’d made up either the dog or the story or both.
Sometimes I wish this were the case.
However, I regret to inform my readership and the world that Sophia Eleanora is quite real, thank you very much.As are her considerable antics.Case in point, I was off work last Friday, Good Friday.My company, for some inexplicable reason, always has this holiday off.It was also the first time in years that I had not been traveling and was not out of town on Good Friday so I made the most of my day off.I made appointments for both Sophia and I.Me, to see my ophthalmologist and Sophie to see the vet.I also had plans to do a bit of shopping, start the defrosting of the garage freezer project (turns out that one took the entire weekend but I digress) and generally speaking, to enjoy myself.
Oh, innocent me.
Turns out Sophie had other ideas, bad doggy ideas.
I would like to interject at this point that her father, a.k.a., Boyfriend Bob, has ruined that dog.He comes to visit for one week and totally messes up everything.Case in point, Sophie now thinks that every time I leave the house, unless she is under the covers and busy napping, that she needs to go along.This is not practical but I am sure it is also Bob’s doing and fault.I had to squeeze out the front door, pushing Sophie back in as I backed out, a first.I promised to return home as quickly as the eye doctor would allow.
Unfortunately, I did not return home quickly enough.As I sauntered in the door and was chatting up the dog (something we live-alones are wont to do), I started up the stairs and gasped in horror.The dog had actually jumped up on a counter and taken my prescriptions out and chewed up at least one bottle.Vitamin D pills lay strewn all over the stairs.I speed-dialed the vet and started counting the strewn pills.I was fully aware that the vet would want to know how units of the Vitamin D mega-doses my beloved dog had ingested.I informed the dog she was likely going to get her puppy stomach pumped.As I frantically counted, I told Sophia that if the pills didn’t kill her this day, I just might. When I got to 22, I recounted, twice, and then, heaving a sigh of relief, I hung up the phone.I had 24 to start with and had already taken 2.That meant I should have had 22 and I did.As I sat on the stairs, 22 deep green pills in one hand and the chewed up ‘childproof bottle’ in the other, I contemplated Sophie’s near-demise.
What was that dog thinking?
I’d never had a dog, and I’ve had many pet dogs, do anything this remotely dangerous or destructive before.Sure, had I left, say, a defrosting steak on the counter, I would have taken the hit (and the mess) in my stride.But prescriptions?The other bottle, slightly chewed but still unopened, contained my new refill of tamoxafin.I sat on the stairs for a really long time, Sophie sat with me, tail wagging, clearly insanely pleased with herself. Finally, I put the scripts in my purse, placed the purse on top of my six foot tall armoire (a place only the cat can reach) and then I laid down.I felt a headache coming on.
After Sophie’s appointment; the vet pronounced her healthy and finally on the mend from a stubborn bout of mange, I called Bob. I needed to report, in lurid detail, the entire incident.
“And the vet said that it was not her liver that would have been harmed but she could have lost all kidney function!” I reported, breathless and oozing puppy drama from the near-escape.
There was a pregnant silence before the boyfriend informed me that the entire incident, of course, was entirely my fault.
Really.And how is that.
The boyfriend, with his Captain Fireman Bob hat on, informed me that I had not secured my medications properly hence, the fault was mine.
I told him I could not talk to him right now and politely hung up.
“I hope you are satisfied,” I informed a clueless Sophie and she stuck her nose out the moving car window. “Now daddy is in the dog house too.”
One of the perks of being a cancer survivor, aside from actually surviving of course, is the way we all share information.The second I found out I had really low Vitamin D levels, I emailed my friend Shirley in Hong Kong and asked her to talk to her doctor about the same topic.After I picked up my script, I mentioned it to another survivor (veteran of two bouts of lymphoma) and she said she also had to take Vitamin D so now I’m pondering the whole chicken versus the egg thing.Did I have low D first and get then get cancer or was low D a fallout of the chemo and radiation ─ after I got cancer?The physician’s assistant I got my script from said we’d never know for sure but she stressed we could fix it. Just a matter of taking mega-doses of the vitamin for the next eight weeks; retesting levels in the blood and then adjusting from there.
In talking about this fix with a fellow cancer survivor, we sort had a moment to sit back, smile and reflect.If taking vitamins is what it takes to get our bones and health back on track then, compared to what we’ve been through, we’ve got this.
We cancer survivors have perspective in droves.Mountains and mountains; heaps and heaps of big, fat luscious perspective.Cancer survivors are like the mountain of whipped cream atop the sundae of perspective.This means that we tend to handle drama with more ease and far less tolerance post cancer.And we see the big picture like no one else. Every time someone freaks out or goes ballistic over something, we tend to sit back, reflect and have a more moderate reaction and perspective.I know for myself, this is nearly always true.
I don’t get upset over things the way I used to.I only have my ‘wig out moments’ over very few things: bad turbulence when flying and basically anything that threatens or upsets my child or precious grandbaby.That’s the short list and I intend to keep it that way.
Not much else ruffles my feathers these days. I mean, I don’t fancy the notion of the dog bringing me a dead critter or anything (not that she gets out of bed to indulge in such nonsense anyway) but be that as it may, I’m pretty mellow these days, at least compared to how tightly wound I used to be. Given how thin my skin used to be and how tightly wrapped I truly was, that’s progress ─ however dearly bought.
This pretty much covers the whole ‘lemons from lemonade’ approach we cancer survivors espouse.
I have said it a million times, things can turn on a dime for cancer survivors. I say this for everyone else but I don’t think it actually applies to me.
Until it does.
Imagine my surprise, a few days clear of a clean check up with my oncologist, I get a call from my OB/GYNs office.These people never leave me alone.They are responsible for the discovery of Fred The Fibroid who has taken up residence in my pelvic region.This is like finding life on another planet only nobody but me and my doctors care about it.
So, the OB’s office calls me and I don’t even flinch, they are too busy telling me that my other blood work came out great except…for one thing.
I suddenly snap to attention and listen REALLY CAREFULLY to what the nurse on the phone was telling me.I wake up fast, real fast.
Turns out, my Vitamin D levels are significantly lower than average.So much so that I needed to come in that following Monday and get a prescription and maybe a shot to jump start my D levels.
I was on Google before I hung up, trying to sort out what this all meant and in the process, I stumbled on another piece of the Breast Cancer puzzle.
Low Vitamin D has been linked to an increased incidence of…and here it comes: Breast Cancer.Oh.My.God.
When you get cancer, after seemingly doing everything right, you continue to question how this could possibly happen to you.You question everything you did, everything you ate and didn’t eat, why didn’t you exercise more, or do something different….the list goes on and on.Finding out I had low Vitamin D was another piece of my WHY ME breast cancer puzzle.
My oncologist would be quick to remind me that there are any number of contributing factors to non-genetic breast cancer.For me, very high estrogen levels, enormous personal stress and dense breast tissue were the factors I knew of.Now I had another factor, low Vitamin D.
I called my BFF whose medical knowledge never ceases to impress me.
“This,” she observed calmly.“Explains a lot.”
She has been taking supplements, including Vitamin D, for ages.“You know this is linked to breast cancer,” she added, helpfully, calmly.
Who outside of the medical profession actually knows stuff like this off hand?My BFF does.I know, she’s amazing.
She was so also the one who urged me to not wait until Monday, to go down to the local pharmacy and get myself some Vitamin D.“They have supplements in VA, right?” she asked drily.
Yeah, I think so.And yes, a local drug store was well stocked. The boyfriend ran me straight down there, ever the helpful person that he is.
After having produced nearly text book perfect blood panels (even during chemo), I was suddenly a little off my game.How did this happen?How long had it been going on? I had no answers save that I spend as little time possible in direct sun which makes it hard to produce the big D naturally.Still, this is likely a wise decision given that I’d already had one cancerous lesion cut out of my skin with a few more pre-cancerous burned off.The dermatologist thinks I am slightly paranoid but I prefer to think of myself as proactively paranoid thank you very much.
This also might explain some of the symptoms I had preciously blamed on the tamoxafin I take to keep the cancer from returning. I pretty much blamed everything, including global warming, on taking tamoxafin.Turns out the persistent fatigue, inability to sleep, even the extreme difficulty I was experiencing in trying to lose weight could also be linked to low Vitamin D levels.Wowza.Bingo.Jackpot.I might be able to lose weight after all.Suddenly, I was motivated.Big Time.I ceased missing taking my Vitamins.Seriously, I didn’t miss a single dose.Yes, motivated.I silently snickered, recalling an obese cousin who tried to prove that she had a slow metabolism only to discover that the only thing she was slow at was pushing away from the dinner table.She was furious when a doctor told her to stop chowing down.She claimed to only eat tiny morsels, hardly a mouthful at each meal, but I knew for a fact that she often, in secret, consumed at least two breakfasts and two large dinners.Her ever-expanding waist line only knows what went on at lunch.She and I don’t speak on account of her telling me that my cancer made her feel all ‘icky’ and to contact her after I got better. Oh and I could mail her all my hockey tickets (free of charge of course), she’d be happy to take them off my hands.
And she wonders why we don’t speak.Not even to tell her that I now have not one but two, medical situations that I can blame the lack of weight loss on. Continuing to keep this person out of my life is truly for the best however as my BFF could not stand her nor her habit of never paying her way and only showing up when she thought she could get something for free. You know, like another meal.My BFF occasionally points out how much calmer and downright happier I am after having jettisoned this particular person along with a sibling who blamed me for getting cancer.I have not spoken to either of them since I was diagnosed though both have tried to contact me.
Never going to happen and that’s one of the perks of having survived cancer.Many of us find out not only who loves us but who wishes us dead.If we survive, we kick the dirtbags and haters, the users and poisonous to the curb as we find that cancer gives us clarity:we have often lost our tolerance for abusive, toxic people, along with our hair.The hair grows back but often not the bad judgment.Bad choices often die, along with cancer cells.These bad choices are replaced with good choices, like taking your supplements every single day without fail. Who knows?Maybe I’ll lose a few pounds in the process.Lord knows, I’ve already gotten rid of some pretty heavy baggage.
Claudia The Baby is unique, I’ve always known that.From the second I held her tiny newborn self in my arms and she looked up at me, sleepy but in wonder at the world, I knew she was a force of nature unto her self.What I didn’t know was just how amazingly unique she truly is.This is because Claudia The Baby has done something that nobody in history of the known universe has ever done.
She stole my boyfriend’s heart.
Now before you go off thinking, “Of course, she stole his heart, she’s an adorable baby for goodness sake.” You don’t know Bob. To say he is not a baby person would be like saying there is no snow on the surface of the sun.Yeah, obvious.At Bob’s brother’s wedding, his own nephews refused to sit near him, instead they sidled next to me, complaining about him during the entire ceremony.Yeah, I know. He drove his niece to tears on the very same day, commenting that she needed to watch her weight or risk turning out ‘like her mother’.She retreated to the bathroom in tears until I barged in, sat on the sink and informed her that Bob was a total a-s and to ignore him, I’d make him pay for this thoughtlessness as only a long term partner could.She was 16 and thought me hilarious.
So, Bob doesn’t do babies and babies don’t like Bob, especially after they can start to talk which Claudia The Baby is on the brink of doing.
So, imagine our collective surprise when Claudia The Baby came for a day so I could watch her while my daughter worked.Before I could hold her up and let the two of them greet each other, she ran straight into Bob’s arms, forcing him to pick her up.He stood there, mildly astonished, while she sized him up.Poking at his three day old stubble with a tiny baby finger, she burst into gales of bubbly, baby laughter, her sapphire blue eyes sparkling.She did the very same thing right before leaving with her mother that day which caused Bob to remain rooted to where he stood as he pondered this new reality of his, replete with a baby in it.Claudia The Baby had sealed the deal with her indestructible, inscrutable baby charm.Bob was smitten, spending the next few days declaring Claudia a ‘great baby and a really good kid’.He talked about her coming out to visit in Virginia and how we could take her to the Washington zoo and Bush Gardens.He mentioned that we should definitely get over to the Carter’s baby clothing outlet in Williamsburg; she was growing so fast and would be requiring new sleepers any day now.
Oh yeah, smitten.
And while again, nobody but my family finds this absolutely astonishing, it truly is the talk of my inner circle.
What I take from this amazing turn of events is this: There really are miracles to be found. Cancer survivors take note, there really are miracles out there.After all, even Claudia The Baby knows that every time a baby laughs, an angel gets its wings.