Friday, August 30, 2013

Come Away With Me

This has been a pretty busy year of traveling so far. Typically the trips are only 2-4 hours from home, but multiple nights away. I don't even put my duffel back in the attic anymore after unpacking. Just simpler to leave it in my dressing room waiting for the next trip which is rarely more than two weeks in the waiting. This last weekend of August will be my only one here at home. And yet even within this weekend I'll be heading up to a concert in Grand Rapids tonight (Reverend Horton Heat!) and likely all day Sunday spent at an event just over an hour northeast. I certainly seem to be rather adept at keeping myself busy and the calendar filled.

Had a beautiful day in Saugatuck and at the beach last Wednesday. Temps were in the low 80's with sunshine all day and the Lake Michigan water was cold enough to startle the body. Armed with sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, it was a relaxing and lovely mini road trip. Left town the very next day with one of my best girlfriends to see Depeche Mode in concert on the east side of the state. So much fun, and also tremendously interesting to see such a large group of my peer age getting into the concert groove again. Spent the next day visiting some shops and the zoo. Perfectly warm, not-too-hot (at least for my taste), day again and the animals were being very cooperative and picture friendly. Got all dolled up first thing Saturday morning and made our way out to the Renaissance Faire in Holly. Yet another good weather day, especially for one spent corseted and in layers. Headed out that evening to Ypsilanti to stay with one of my favorite families. Spent Sunday prepping for a casual wedding shower garden party for two wonderful, beautiful people. Board games, great food, croquet, sangria, bocce - rather a delightful way to end the weekend.

Looking back on just this month, I realize that I've spent a lot of really good time in these 30 days with almost everyone that is important to me. And I recognize, once again, how very lucky and blessed I am to have so many beautiful souls willing to share their love, time, generosity, and goodness with me. It is quite an honour to have the opportunity to live such a life. I do not take it for granted. I try to notice and remark upon it within my mind and heart every day. If there was ever a reason to fight for years of life, or to stay in high spirits despite the difficulties - this is one excellent reason.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Won't Back Down

In the past week's time I've heard about two deaths from cancer among the family/friends of my friends. It feels like cancer is popping up everywhere, at an increasing rate with every month that goes by. I wonder how much of this is just confirmation bias, where I am simply seeing the world through the filter of cancer and therefore all connections to cancer seem to scream out at me as if in all caps and bold. Is there truly more cancer in the world now? Have we manipulated our world, our food, our environment, ourselves, into the perfect real estate for this biological mutation to take residence? Are we simply going to the doctor more, getting tested more, recognizing the disease before it (or something related) kills us? This isn't a new plague. It's been around for ages just like many other health issues that we never paid much attention to before. Is this a crisis of cancer or a crisis of diagnosis?

We are also curing more than ever before. So many people are living well, and long, in the wake of their treatment. I don't know the big numbers of cancer diagnoses versus cancer cures on a year-to-year or decade-to-decade basis. Probably not statistics that would make for a very fun day of exploring for me. But the logical side of my brain is curious to know if the big numbers are just getting bigger on a parallel, or if there is actual divergence. And if there is divergence, to which side of the coin does it weigh? But to most of my brain it doesn't really matter what the answer is. The fact is that I seem to see/find cancer everywhere; that it is becoming inescapable and encompassing in my world. And we can only approach the world through our personal perspective.

My newest metaphor (oh how I love a metaphor) for cancer survival is like having Nelson from The Simpsons sitting on a bench in my Id. You're going along just fine, strolling through the days of your life, when sporadically and out of nowhere you hear "Ha Ha!" and turn around to see the evil finger of cancer pointing at your very soul. Always disconcerting, impossible to ignore, certainly annoying, and difficult to just shake off. But shake it off I do. That is my modus operandi after all: optimism, enthusiasm, stubborn refusal to give in. "Smile and the world smiles with you." On a road trip several days ago I heard the Tom Petty song "I Won't Back Down" on the radio. I own several Petty albums, so it's not like the song was new to me. But something about hearing it on that day made me wish to take it up as a personal anthem. That is one of the great things about music. It really speaks to you sometimes, stands out in sharp relief and insists upon recognition. (Those of you musically inclined have likely noticed my preponderance toward using song names and lines as blog titles.)

So where is my mind this week? Certainly a bit better than last. I'm not past any fears, but they run on a mutable muzak track for now. I've started the research process for a November trip abroad. Looks like we're going to Japan, unless the cost begins to look too steep. I don't want to dig too deeply into the pocket of my retirement for the first trip. My plan is to spread that money out over a couple of years and multiple excursions. But it is pretty darn exciting to start the planning. And as beautiful as Michigan can be in the fall, I'm thinking that fall in Japan will knock its socks off.

Tomorrow is beach day! Summer has returned with some lovely warm days again and I'm taking full advantage of the sun with a trip to the sand. Wander the dunes, check out a beachside town, eat something indulgent, road trip with the windows down. Yes. Then it's a long weekend with one of my best girls in which we will rock out, dress up, see the sights, and hang with lots of friends. The world may be full of cancer, but my world is also full of fantastic and wonderful things.

Monday, August 12, 2013

And So It Goes

Another busy week has passed. I'm looking forward to what should be a quiet week with some solid time spent in my own house. My nephew picked up a virus at daycare and was home bound all last week. I traveled up to help babysit on Thursday and Friday. Then spent an extra day just hanging out with the family. Always, always a good and relaxing time. My nephew is growing and becoming more and more a little guy each time I see him. I suspect he'll start having a small vocabulary very soon. It's a pretty amazing process to watch and I'm very glad that I have the opportunity to be such a part of his life. Then spent yesterday helping my mom clear out more of the house and my grandparent's things. We emptied out a file cabinet, a large hutch, got started on the box piles, and cleared most of one room. Still a lot more to be done to de-clutter the house. But progress is being made and it sounds like a garage sale is on the near horizon.

Been struggling in my head space since returning from holiday. Starting to deal with the niggling fears that crop up after a NED diagnosis. From what I've heard and read from other cancer survivors, this is how the process goes. Pains and problems that are probably just from everyday life (sleeping on an air mattress for two weeks, post-chemo side effects, being forty, etc.) make me worry that something might be wrong, that it might be new tumors causing the pain. Logically I know that I am in a fear phase, that I just need to accept the thoughts and let them go. But they are persistent little fuckers and fear is a strong emotion. Although I am hopeful that we have cured this forever, I still feel absolutely certain that it will come back. And I feel pinned in by the five year table. That horrible table that just says "negligible percentage" for the five-year survival rate of a stage four rectal cancer. It consumes me in certain moments and I am drowned by waves of regret and sadness.

It keeps me moving and keeps me filling my calendar with item after item. I want to take advantage of every opportunity to be with friends and family. To smile and love and make wonderful memories. I find it difficult to leave at the end of visits. Wishing that I could somehow break myself into many pieces and leave one piece with all the people I love so that I don't miss any moments. Even when I give myself the chance to slow down I feel compelled to do "all the things!" There are too many things that interest me and there will never be the time to get to it all because I keep adding wants to the interest list. And I used to be okay with that in the past. It felt encouraging to know that there were heaps of books, projects, films, music, encounters, places, and people waiting out there. Like grapes hanging heavy on a vine, just waiting for me to stroll by and pick from the plentitude. But now that abundance feels something like a burden. A Sisyphean venture. And I have to tune out the booming "tick-tock" of the countdown clock in my head.

We have this instinctual mental defense mechanism that disallows us from really thinking about our mortality on a regular basis. Perhaps the chemo dulled that mechanism along with the rest of my brain functions. Though I know, with crushing reality, that this is just part of the cancer process. My girl Lori even talked about this in her most recent blog post (Breast Cancer is My Bitch). And she is almost two years clear. I may not have the physical struggles of cancer anymore, but the mental one is only hitting its stride. I have to get stronger, be more willful, stay mindful. I hesitate to be so open about my mind state here. I don't want to worry anyone or bring them down. But this is the place for it. This is where I decided to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly. And I won't shy away from the truth of this journey.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Long time coming...

Been quite the span of time since my last post. And with only two posts in all of July, it looks like I've been slacking. I had fully intended on writing up a blog while on vacation, even took my Kindle Fire with that express intent. But clearly that did not happen. Spent all my vacation time enjoying the vacation in various ways. Although, I've wondered if you can call it vacation when you're retired? Perhaps I should start using the British term "holiday" instead. I've always liked that.

So... on my holiday to the great Pennsic War, there was lots to do and I only got to a small portion of it, as always. I've been attending for fourteen years and am far from bored with it yet. This year we got to camp in one of the best campsites, with electricity and sewer lines for a fantastic new shower system with on demand water heaters. Taking a hot shower under the open sky and morning sun, with a little chill still in the air - absolutely amazing. The first week was pretty mellow, and I spent a lot of my time embroidering while listening to audiobooks or chatting with friends. Late afternoon would find me looking for dinner and making a pitcher of sangria or chilling several beers for folks to share. A few nights of wandering and people watching, but mostly sitting in camp by lamplight or firelight hanging out with my wonderful camp mates. First night after set up our camp had a scotch night and I think we all hurt ourselves a little with an overabundance of great scotches. Tempered our indulgence for a few days.

By Friday the War started to truly fill up (9900 people in attendance this year), and with the Royals arriving the days' schedules got busy. It was terrific watching two of my closest friends have a great time being the King and Queen. They looked fantastic, and were full of smiles most of the time. Everything went very smoothly with only the smallest bumps in the road that were quickly remedied. I got to spend one night in the dance tent and dragged some newer gentlemen through a couple of dances. Also attended a hafla that evening with the best musicians at Pennsic. A few more nights out rambling the parties and visiting with more far-flung friends. A couple of mornings on the battlefield watching, recording and taking pictures. Spent one day cooking and preparing for an amazing Roman dinner for all the attending royals. And quite a bit of time throughout the week running back and forth on various royal errands. Overall, a busy but very fun time.

I am also extremely happy to report that the cancer conversation never came up. There were a couple of comments here and there, but otherwise it was also a vacation from that topic. And I would like to thank all of my friends that were there for that. Life has moved on. And although I am taking all of the cancer lessons with me, I am doing my best to live without it.

Still a lot of things coming this summer, places to be, people to see and memories to make. But I'll leave those for later posts. Must give myself good reasons to come here and chat at you all. See you in a few days. Ciao!