It was the end of a long afternoon of talking about women's health.  Cancer was a part of the conversation, but so was aging, memory loss, heart issues, and all things women have to think about as they march through life.

So it was down the elevator and into the cancer center and eventually out to my car.

I've come to the conclusion that nearly everyone who steps into that elevator is looking to connect with someone, anyone, who has a smile and a short conversation available and for just that moment, it's enough of an escape from cancer world.

The woman standing next to me had all the signs of going through treatment.  Her hair was very thin, her skin did not have a healthy glow and her eyes still carried the glaze of harsh drugs pumping through her veins.

Another couple stepped in and the doors closed.  Three of us wanted to go down to the lobby floor and that's where this elevator was going.  The woman realized too late that she was going in the wrong direction....again.  She sighed and said, "Not again."

She'd been going up when she wanted to go down, and down when she wanted to go up.

I asked if I could help and she just smiled and shook her head no.  She whispered something about chemo and this feeling of being in a fog.  Her eyes looked so sad.

When the doors opened to the lobby, we made sure she had directions to where she needed to go, and hit the up button.

The doors slowly closed, but her image stayed with me all the way home.

I can still see those sad eyes.

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“Refresh”

The other day a friend of mine who is even more challenged by computers, than I am, was complaining about how slow his computer was running.  I asked him if he'd hit the "refresh" button and he gave me a look of total befuddlement.

"The what button?" he asked.

I explained that to refresh his computer: allow it to reset itself was sometimes all that was needed to fix that kind of a problem.

"Did you ever do that when you were caring for Leroy?" he said.

How I wish I would have thought of that possibility during those years of care giving.

Care givers need a "refresh" button on those long, hard days when cancer is in the drivers seat.

How hard all of us worked to keep it from getting to that place, but some days it just was not possible.

Remember the "bad news" days when the tears poured over the smiles?

Remember the days when the clock never stopped and the mornings ran into the afternoons and the afternoons faded into the nights and there was no rest, no breaks, no breaths?

OH, for a refresh button.

Just a moment or two, to find our resilience once a crisis had come and gone.

To all who are caring for a life, remember this post.

Refresh often.

 

 

 

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Well, I finally bowed to the thermometer this morning (43 degrees) and wore a sweatshirt on my walk.  It makes me crazy to think it's not even October and I'm already wearing something other than a T-shirt and shorts.  To get to that sweatshirt, I dove into a closest that holds the clothes for those cooler months of the year.  It's not a place I go to willingly because Winter is long enough as it is and in my mind, it shouldn't start until we're well into November.

Something tells me this is going to be a Winter to remember!

There's a shelf in that closet that holds other things, besides bulky, warm cold weather gear.  My Hawaii stuff is in there.  A bright green folded inflatable raft.  My big beach bag I carry to the pool and to the beach in Kaanapali.  A wonderful retro purse my Mom used to carry on special nights out.  Good stuff in a good place, so when I need it, I know where to find it.

And there it was: not something I need, or have ever used, but it has probably traveled more miles and been in more places than most of us combined.  Leroy never traveled without it.  It carried thousands and thousands of dollars to places of conflict and hardship.  It was with him in Somalia and Iraq and Iran.  It held the dollars that bailed him out of a tight situation in the jungles of Thailand.  It's been in every country of Central America and quite a few in South America too.

This weathered, gray leather money envelope with an industrial strength zipper was a world traveler.  It was the key to getting Leroy and his crew home safe and sound from places, where, how do I say this, sometimes a hundred dollar bill did more good than diplomacy!

I pulled it off the shelf, just because I hadn't seen it in years.  Once it was in my hands, I had to open it, not because I thought there might be a couple of left over bills inside: no, but it wasn't completely empty.

Better than money, inside was Leroy's business card from ABC News AND a handwritten note from me to him.  "I LOVE YOU--COME HOME SOON."

An old gray money pouch found: worthless...An old love note recovered: Priceless!!!

 

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It’s Fall….

As I look out the window while I sit at the computer,  I am amazed at how the leaves and the calendar are in sync.  At 10:29 tonight, Eastern Daylight time, the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere arrives.  And just like clockwork, the leaves are beginning to fall.  I filled six bags for pick up today and that barely scratches the surface of what's ahead.  I live in the woods and I'm surrounded by the most beautiful trees, but by the time mid-December rolls around, I've just about had it and I'm beyond ready to hang-up the rake and leaf blower.  You see, just about every leaf on every tree will find it's way down to the ground and that means cleaning up and picking up before the Winter Solstice on December 21st.

But what a glorious time of year we're about to behold.

For a kid who grew up in Southern California where Fall meant the ocean got cold and the sand was damp from the marine layer that would roll in during the evening hours, I admit, I look forward to Fall.  The changing leaves are part of earth's rich kaleidoscope of colors.

I walked the C&O Canal this weekend.  The fog was hanging over the water and as the heat from the sun burned off the haze, I noticed the trees there were starting to change color too.

This was a Leroy and Laurie favorite time of year to walk there because every weekend we watched another shade of orange or yellow or gold wash over the canal.    We both loved to inhale the cooler, less humid air and take notice of another season passing under our footsteps.

Leroy could never make up his mind if he liked Fall better than Spring.  He used to say the Fall signaled an ending of sorts, with all the leaves falling and the trees getting ready for their Winter nap.  I would dread the gray of Winter after all that wonderful color.  The gray was endless.

When his cancer made its final charge and the scans revealed so much disease in so many places, he thought about the last year of his life and among those thoughts, were our walks on the canal and how therapeutic they were for so many reasons.  And he remembered those crisp, Fall days, when nothing felt better than to zip-up a heavy cotton sweatshirt and put on a favorite pair of jeans and walk among the brilliance of all those colors.

The canal would wrap it's arms around us and we'd leave  private conversations and footprints behind for the wind to disseminate later.

So, make the most of it, this Fall of 2014.  If I've learned anything about the seasons, they change more than leaves, they change lives.

 

 

 

 

 

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SURVIVOR

There's a saying among cancer patients, "You become a cancer survivor the day of your diagnosis."

Some patients take that thought and use it every day they go for treatment, every day they go for scans, every day they are living with cancer.

It's one of those phrases that empowers a patient.

Some patients don't like the word "survivor."  They don't like the word "fighter" or "warrior" or any word that denotes a battle.  They don't want anything to describe them as being different now that cancer has come into their world.

Leroy always said his cancer did not define him.  He was a journalist.  He loved rock and roll.  He was a terrific writer.  He never met a hot fudge sundae he didn't become one with and family and friends were his constant life line.  He just happened to have cancer.

Did he put himself in that survivor box?  Probably not.

Did I, as the caregiver think of him as a survivor?  I don't think I did because I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I always hoped it wouldn't, or if it did, it would be in 30 years or more, but "surviving" the cancer wasn't a concept I used to keep my hope alive.

I would look at Leroy and know that he was one of the strongest men I'd ever know in my life and he would do what ever it took to live.

Maybe that's the definition of a survivor, after all.

 

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When you're 2, you're supposed to be discovering your world.

I have a little neighbor who's about to turn 2 in a couple of months.  He brings me pieces of branches from his driveway.   He hands them to me with a smile that melts my heart.  Each stick handed -off is like a special treasure, a gift he is sharing with me that is more precious than gold.

This little guy has only one gear and that's forward and fast.  There's no time to look down, it's full speed ahead, so when we walk down his driveway I ask him to hold my hand, so together we can pace ourselves.  It works most of the time. This tiny little hand, holding on so tightly, every once in a while looking up at me with this unspoken bond.

I share this with you because that's what Wilson, the little guy Mully wrote about today should be doing.  He should be inhaling the beauty of his new life.  He shouldn't be poked and scanned and stuck with IV's.  He's 2.

If ever there has been huge strides in actually curing cancer, it's pediatric cancers, but that doesn't help when these little people are forced to go through the hell of treatment to get to the "cured" side.

Wilson, with all our hearts here in this OUR Cancer community, we are sending big thoughts of healing and health to you.

We can't wait to hear good news and stories about how you are barreling down your driveway with a smile on your face.

Cancer and kids...it's just not a fair fight.

Mully, same big thoughts go out to your husband too.

We're all lifting.

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I saw an article that broke down the bio-tech companies around the country.  We've all heard of the big companies like Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson, but there appears to be an explosion of smaller, boutique bio-techs out there , concentrating on specific diseases.

So of course I was interested in the cancer based groups and there a lot of them.  In some cases, they've even narrowed their work to specific kinds of cancers too.

From my corner, there can't be enough new, young investigators out there reaching for the scientific stars.  Give them a lab. Give them all the tools they need to fix this cancer epidemic.  I'm no longer gullible enough to believe there will be one discovery that will cure cancer, but I do believe there will be multiple discoveries that will some day lead to the treatment of cancer as a chronic disease.  That means it can be contained or repressed.  I want to be there when cancer raises the white flag of surrender.

So I'm going to start paying more attention to these small little specialized labs that have focused their fluorescent lights and microscopes on colon cancer, or lung cancer, or breast cancer: any cancer.

I wish someone with a bigger brain than mine would organize a cancer lab stock market, like the NYSE, so we could all watch who's winning the race to find these small victories that will some day lead to bigger achievements.   Maybe that would put more pressure on them and force the process to move a little faster.  When the eyes of investors are watching for discovery of successful new treatments, the urgency to produce is stronger.  Those that don't have the goods would close their doors.  Those who can change cancer world into "chronic cancer treatment world" would thrive.

Those of us who've lived in cancer world would like to see some good come out of what we've already invested in.....and it's been a substantial investment for sure.

 

 

 

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AWKWARD!!

We had a gathering at my house yesterday; six women, all widows and we all got to that place because of cancer.

I looked around the table at one point and I thought about how much each of us has been through in our lives.

Each of our husbands had different types of cancer, so our journeys were different just because the care and the dying was different, but the care giving and the love we felt for each of them was intense.  And there we sat, all connected by this strangling disease, not to mention the way it changed who we were BECAUSE OF  cancer.

We've met many times before and sometimes our conversations gravitate toward our memories.  We talk about trips to the doctor or the highs and lows of the treatment process and how as caregivers we were the advocates for our loved ones.  Some in the group have kids and some do not and that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to healing and grieving and getting through the death and re-inventing of ones life.

What I noticed yesterday is that we didn't talk about "them" this time.  It was more about us and the future.  One of us says she's ready to take the plunge and will try Internet dating. She's done a ton of research, probably too much, but she thinks she's found the website that suits her needs.  We talked about how "dating" is so different now and meeting someone when you've been out of that game for so long, is so awkward.

So there we were, six cancer widows trying to push forward.  We've been through all the stages of care giving, grief, redefining life and now it appears there's another stage some of us are about to enter: the try to meet someone phase.

Did I say "awkward" earlier?  I mean, really, the idea of it just seems so AWKWARD.

Guess I'm not there.....yet!

 

 

 

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It doesn't get easier.  It doesn't get less stressful.  An annual mammogram is always a heartbeat away from being a life changer.

I have a few friends who went for their annual check-up never to imagine they would walk away with a report that would change the course of their lives.

They exercised, ate a healthy diet, did  all the things that the guide lines to a healthy life suggest and yet, when that imagining machine revealed a breast cancer,

their lifestyle took a back seat.

That's why I always get a little queasy walking through the door for my annual appointment.

Nothing in medicine is routine in my book.  I guess I'm forever changed after Leroy's "routine" colonoscopy 13 years ago.  Those results were anything but routine.

That's not to say I skip the yearly visit:I re-up every year.

Today the report was good and the anxiety thermometer is back to normal just like the results.

I'm a lucky girl, today.

 

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Remembering 9/11

On this day...13 years later, we remember and salute them...May they rest in PEACE

The Pentagon

The Twin Towers, NYC

Flight 93, Shanksville, PA

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