Summer...Did you ever think it would get here?

The Memorial Day weekend is the big marker although summer doesn't officially get here until June, it's still the big weekend to get away.  Have you noticed that so many people begin their long holiday weekend on Thursday now to beat the traffic?  So instead of suffering in back-ups on Friday, we sit in the same traffic on Thursday.  I guess if you're heading to the beach, it's better to get a day up on the rest of the folks who still leave on Friday.

I always think about the people who don't change their routine on these festive holiday weekends.  They might not have chemo scheduled on Monday this coming week, because the doctors and nurses try to reschedule treatments around the holidays, but they'll get to it eventually.  Chemo doesn't take a holiday.  Cancer in the summer is like cancer in the winter.  Families are worrying about their loved ones on these holidays, just like they are on any given day in any given month.

I'm wishing you all a good, safe Memorial Day weekend.

After we've remembered those who gave their lives for this country, let's remember those who are fighting for their lives too...in cancer world.

They are warriors of a different stripe.

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"The art of living lies in both letting go and holding on."

This is a version of the quote by Henry Havelock Ellis, a British physician and social reformer.

It is gospel if you've lived and lost in cancer world and I found it written on a card today that I scooped it up to send to a friend.  She lost her husband to cancer a few years ago and like many of us, has tried to "let go" a little but has "held on" a lot.

It's a powerful dilemma most of us face.  We don't want to get "stuck" in our sadness and missing stages of grief, but at the same time it's hard to let go of so many memories with some one so important to us in our lives.  These were loved ones who helped shape our "forever and ever" spaces in our life puzzles.  Those pieces can't easily be replaced.

It's hard reaching that balance.

So maybe she reads this on her birthday and decides it's the perfect day to 'begin' again.  A new year ahead.  A little bit more independent with permission to let go of some things, while holding on to others.

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She was walking around the cancer center holding her head up, high.  She had a smile on her face that stretched from ear to ear and she was in a non-stop conversation with a woman who could have been her Mom.  They looked so much alike.

There was no telling what the conversation was about, except to say it had to have been good news because they were both laughing and smiling.

I knew the younger of the two was the patient because she still had the chemo calling card: a bald head.  But it was what was on top of that beautiful bald head that caught my eye.

Flowers.  Big wonderful blue silk flowers.  I'm not sure how they were fastened to her scalp.  There must have been a ribbon or a band of some sort holding those flowers in place, because they weren't moving.  Instead they framed her face and covered most of her head. This young woman wasn't going to be content wearing a wig, or a scarf.

She was wearing a blue bouquet that sent a message to her cancer.  SHE was in control here, not her disease.

Those flowers gave her power and a new meaning of "flower power."

Whatever works!

 

 

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A college coed is home for the summer after experiencing her first year of college.  She's grown in so many ways.  She's learned to make decisions on her own, life has thrown a few obstacles her way and she's maneuvered around the tough spots.  But being home means being separated from her new friends and her independence and that makes for a bumpy settling-in around the old homestead.  It's not a crisis, but it's shaping up to be a challenge.

Speaking of challenges, I had one this morning myself.  Walking up the driveway and onto my side steps heading for the door and paying no attention to my surroundings, I encountered a black snake out for a morning slither.  When he saw me, however, the slithering stopped.  I stopped in mid-step too.  Years ago, at those same steps, I was planting some flowers on a day much like this one and turning around to get some more plants, there was a black snake staring at me from about the same distance as the one I met today.  THAT was a crisis, then, not a challenge.  What did I do? I called Leroy.  He quickly reminded me he was at work, about 45 minutes from home and could not do one thing to help me.  At his suggestion, I called animal control and the woman on the phone wasted no time informing me that the snake was in his habitat and if it was a black snake, not to bother it because they are considered "good" snakes to have in your yard.  I finally called my neighbor who came over and moved the snake with a shovel to the front yard and the crisis was averted.  Today, as I reminded myself, there's no calling Leroy this time so, I got a rake, struggled to move the snake to the backyard, while informing him he needed to stay among the trees for the rest of the summer.

And then the real challenge of the day came my way via email.  My friend who is facing  advanced esophageal cancer got word today that she will begin her treatment this week.  A combination of drugs targeted for her cancer that was recently approved for use in this country.  These are serious drugs that will no doubt be hard on her body.  They come with warnings so scary, it's better not to read the fine print.

In the world of challenges and crisis, the buck stops here.  This is a life changing day for her.

Transitions back to home and two foot black snakes dissolve into thin air compared to this.  Powerful chemo, multiple sessions of treatment ahead, fighting to live....how much harder can it get?

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It's an annual gathering.

The ceremonial lobby of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins overflows with memories and tears and caregivers from all walks of life.

We come to remember a loved one lost to cancer.

Most have suffered their loss in the past year, but others come year after year because it brings them closer to peace of mind.  I say that, because so many of those who attend tell me they are still struggling with words left unsaid, or hugs that weren't given or a feeling of "If I'd just done this instead of that, they'd still be here."

All of us wish we could have given THEM just one more day.

So we gather together as one, in thought and in prayer to whom ever we pray too and we remember.  We have permission to go back in time and remember the smiles, the laughter, the healthy years when cancer was not a part of our lives.  We try not to remember all the days when that lobby was a place we walked into and out of on the way to treatment or to see a doctor.

We gather as one, as we stand and call out the names of our loved ones.  It becomes so personal, so painful,  to hear our own voices sharing our loss.

The "Service of Remembrance" achieves it's purpose in words and song and meaning.

But most of all, we remember THEM.

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Berra

She's a beach girl.  She loves to take walks along the beach boardwalk and inhale the salt air.

She's a big, beautiful blonde beach girl and everyone who visits that section of beach knows her by the big welcome of a wagging tail and now her pronounced limp.  Her name is Berra.

The doctor who has examined Berra thinks there may be a bad tumor lurking in her shoulder and that's what is causing her to take the weight off that leg. He's advised Berra's mom to go easy on the beach walks.  She went one step further and bought her favorite girl a stroller of sorts; one that fits a 70 pound yellow lab with a smile as wide as the ocean to perfection.  There's a soft pillow added for comfort.

Berra has taken to her "walker" very well, and she sits and watches her four-legged friends trot by without much fanfare except when it's one of her old running buddies.  She gets so excited that she finds a way with all her strength to push herself out of that carrier for a quick "hello."

Berra's mom is so worried about her girl.  She brought Berra into her life after losing her husband to a long battle with cancer.  Berra, as she puts it, "saved my life."

There is no question that a dog can bring so much joy into a life.

They are quite a team, Berra and her mom, and now there's the worry that this tumor might be a cancer too.  What to do?

Live life every day and that means coming to the beach, seeing friends, eating doggie treats and being pushed down the boardwalk in the sweet salt air.

Go Berra, Go....

 

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Friends

I've lost two friends to cancer in a very short time recently.

It's made me very sad to think I won't hear their voices, or sit across the room from them and discuss "stuff" because they both were smart, energized men who had lived full, interesting lives and talking to them was always a challenge.

They were both in their 80's so you might say, they had full lives.  It's true, they lived large.  I still think they left this world too soon, because they still had so much to give.

They both had loving families who are missing them with wounded hearts that ache in their absence.

These families were awesome care givers.  They did everything and anything in their power to give these men the love and comfort they deserved in the last few months of life.

Each time I would visit my friends, I would see the cancer in their eyes.  I could see the toll it was taking on their bodies too.

But neither man allowed it to invade their sharp minds.  Those are the memories I will carry with me.  The last conversations, the final smiles and hugs we shared together.

They made my life fuller.

Friends.

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I send this out to a special friend tonight who made a call to hospice this afternoon.  The man who has been at her side for a life time is slipping away.

The cancer is moving, touching vital organs that can not survive this final assault.

This is the time when HOPE shifts, as it does throughout the battle with cancer.  HOPE is fluid in this world.

Tonight, the HOPE is that this man is at peace.  The HOPE is that he is not in pain.

I know he is loved.  I know his loved ones are with him.

I know how lucky I am to call him a friend.  I hope he knows I'm sending my prayers too.

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What is it about eating and cancer?

As long as Leroy had an appetite I figured he was in a good place with his cancer.   Dinner was a fun time around our house.  We both cooked, although once his cancer returned, he didn't do much in the kitchen, but that didn't mean he stopped looking forward to dinnertime.

We ate a lot of salmon, halibut and sea bass during his chemo time because it agreed with him, gave him a lot of protein and I could sneak in a few veggies if I carefully announced we would be having a salmon Caesar salad for dinner.  And he'd always go for or a side dish of brown rice as long as he could add a little butter on top.  I figured the fish outweighed any of the bad stuff.

He was a long standing member of the 'clean plate club' and I could gage how he felt by how quickly the food on the plate disappeared.

A friend who has a spouse in a serious battle with cancer right now, is measuring her status the exact same way.  His main job as 'care giver' at the moment is getting as many calories as possible into her.  His reports are not filled with many details of her activities, except to say what and how much she is eating.  It's his barometer; how he calculates her progress against this very tough cancer.  He's delighted to report the results of her 'intake.'

Eating equals' living' in cancer world.

Breakfast was a non-starter for Leroy, except for his venti-mocha-non-fat iced latte. It was a daily order, so much so, that when I walked through the door at our local Starbucks, my order was called out automatically.  I can't tell you how many stained T-shirts I still have from failing to notice the extra drops of coffee on the lid of those daily drinks.

Cancer has so many 'markers' as we move through its different phases, especially when our loved ones are fighting a metastatic diagnosis.  Eating is a big marker.

I will always remember the morning when I told Leroy I was off to get his daily coffee fix and he looked up and he said "Not today, thanks."

That was the beginning of a very hard next phase.

 

 

 

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Full Plate

It's only a full plate if you pile on the antioxidants, the fiber, and the super foods like blueberries and broccoli.

Forget the high calories, fat, sugar and salt.

That was the message today at an event I attended where some super doc's spoke to a room full of mostly women about super foods, staying healthy in body and mind; yes what goes into your stomach feeds your brain too, and pushes back on things like cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

This was a no nonsense morning on healthy living.

I think most of us, these days, try to eat better.  No one wants to invite cancer or hearth trouble into their body on purpose.  But that's what we do when we consume big amounts of sugar and salt in our diets.  Studies have shown we flirt with these issues if we don't watch what we eat and there's this little thing called exercise and proper rest that factor into our health status too.

If it grows from a plant, it's probably good for you, but if it comes from a plant, it probably isn't....Fresh healthy foods versus processed food from a package...In a nut shell, that's the way the dietician summed up healthy eating vs.  not so healthy eating and that translates in a healthy body.

Of course genetics factor into this equation too.  We can only do so much where that's concerned.

So pile on the kale, berries, salmon and broccoli and do it with a smile on your face!

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