Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Relief, Rest, & Resilience

Earlier this week, I had my first post-surgical mammogram. I tried very hard to just not think about it ahead of time, but it kept sneaking back into my head. After all, this would be the first definitive proof that all the bad cells had been eradicated through the surgery in December and the radiation earlier this year. I'm delighted beyond belief to report that everything was clean and I'm considered to be well on my way to recovery!

Now, any woman who's being honest will tell you that mammograms aren't exactly a whirligig of fun. They're distinctly uncomfortable but they provide crucial information - the entire reason my outcome has been so positive stems from having regular exams. Catching things at Stage Zero (where, technically, it's "just" junior auxiliary cancer since the disease is so encapsulated) is SO MUCH BETTER than catching it later. So - ladies, make that phone call today. Gentlemen, encourage the women in your life to make that phone call today. No kidding. Call. If insurance and funds are an issue, look into alternative low-cost programs. There are many that take mammogram equipment on the road - a "Breastmobile," if you will.

I'm continuing with my 30 Day Challenge to treat myself like company. It's been a good thing, so far, although I'm noticing how often my "treats" involve sweets and I'm trying to find other rewards. In this, I think the French in particular and Europeans in general are way ahead of us. America still holds tightly on to our puritanical roots - if we're not working, sweating, and exerting, well - we're just shameless lollygaggers. We view pleasure with suspicion. Think about it - how often have you heard a woman order dessert and then say that she's being "bad"? Or that she'll "work it off" at the gym the next day?

There's nothing but guilt in that approach.

As the wise and wry Tasha Tudor would remind us, life is meant to be enjoyed, not saddled with.

So treat yourself well! Eat food that will keep you humming along, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, spend time with friends, delight in your family and quit putting your own needs so low on the list that you have to turn the list over to find your name! Pet a cat, walk around your block, pick up a book, take the time to brew a real cup of tea. Use the good crystal, wear your pearl earrings on a Monday, spend your lunch hour testing perfumes to find your "signature scent."

Frivolous? Not a bit! Who knows? Maybe if we all treated ourselves a bit more kindly, we'd be quicker to extend that kindness to others. So smile at the cashier, let a car merge in front of you, wave at the garbage truck driver who's there to pick up your trash.

To quote Bluto in Animal House, "Don't cost nothin'." Sure, he's talking about something else, but still . . .

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Company's Coming!

Coloring - not just for kids!
I have to say that I like the results of my "French experiment" so far. It's been nice to start culling my closet (much, MUCH work to do there - I'd like to eventually get to a "capsule wardrobe," but that's likely to take a while) and I've enjoyed taking better care of myself through what - and when! - I eat. I'm going to continue on this road, with the ultimate goal being happier and more comfortable in my own skin (which, I have learned, is "bien dans sa peau" in French. Lovely, but with my North Cackalacky accent, I'm sticking with the English) .

So my next step is to spread the love of this idea. I've started the "30 Day 'Treat Yourself Like Company' Challenge" - every day, you are to do two nice things for yourself, the sort of thing that you'd do for company without a second thought, but don't often take the time to do for yourself. Let me explain - the idea here is not that you're running off to Bora Bora and abandoning your responsibilities. Instead, by taking care of yourself in multiple small ways throughout every day, you're actually setting yourself up to be better able to take care of others. This isn't about you becoming a diva and demanding that the world stop spinning to acknowledge your gloriousness; but it IS about you taking a few extra minutes to reset and value yourself. Examples might involve the indulgences you do on vacation, such as having ice cream for lunch or taking a good long soak in the tub. Or they might include using the "good stuff" on an ordinary day - the fancy guest soaps, the wedding china, or your best perfume. Maybe it's food - taking the time to make a perfect summer tomato sandwich or making soup from scratch and letting it simmer all day. Maybe it's skin care or makeup or jewelry or taking time to color or to just read for fun. It can be all of these things, some of these things, or none of these things. But for 30 days, go a little easy on yourself. Plan two treats per day - and no days off!

I've gotten a few friends to agree to do this with me and we'd love to have more - it doesn't matter where you start - just go ahead and jump in wherever. I'd love to hear what you're doing! Leave a comment here or use the hashtag #companycoming on Twitter.

Now go do something nice for yourself!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Becoming French

My ongoing quest to continue downshifting both hit a few bumps in the road and found new urgency since last we spoke. A few days after we left for vacation, I received word that my father had been taken to the hospital. Several days of tests and much worry later, it was determined that my dad needed some serious heart surgery. Serious to my mind, but practically routine these days - serious, though. Dad came through surgery like a champ (I had a screaming fit in a parking lot, but at least I didn't scare horses or children) and is back home now. According to his doctors, he's recovering nicely and should be just fine - even better than that, since now his heart is working without three blockages.

Let me tell you - something like that will snap you into focus pretty darned quick. Maybe even more so than my own diagnosis. There, I was concentrating on myself and what I could do; in this situation there wasn't anything I could do, other than burn up the road between my "now home" and my childhood home, which I did. I'm no good at sitting still, so I came up with the hare-brained idea to build Dad an elevated summer garden so he'd have something to look at from his bedroom/study while he recovers. It's good to stay busy and the final result was something that Dad seems to like quite a bit. Maybe this gardening thing is going to stick, after all.

It's a crazy time - this weekend is the second Joss in June conference and I have the privilege of delivering the keynote at that conference. My topic (dealing with Pinocchio and the new Age of Ultron movie) is one that I selected before the film came out, so I haven't had the time I'd have preferred to have had, but I dug this hole myself, so it's up to me to shovel my way out. I think I like where the presentation goes, but I'm a little too close to tell.

On top of that, my two summer classes begin for me next week, so I had to get those set up before we leave for the conference. Yeah, it's not exactly been a time of gentle musing and contemplation.

So - becoming French. I picked up a book when we last visited one of our favorite used book stores in Tennessee that was all about "finding your inner French girl." Sounds silly and fluffy, but it had some good advice about slowing down, taking care of yourself, eating real food (not at your desk, where I eat far too often), and there were some recommendations for movies to watch to soak in domestic details. I started trying to do some of these things - not drink my morning coffee standing over the sink, actually use the good stuff (we used the good china tonight, for example), take a few extra minutes to consider things before leaping off into something I don't really want to do and have fewer things, but of excellent quality. I even went through my closet to pare things down and finally got rid of clothes that simply don't fit any longer. Nope, I'm not hanging onto them until I lose the 20 pounds I've put on this year from stress eating. (My sweet tooth is my downfall and it must be reined in.) I'm not buying stuff just because it's on sale, either. To get in my closet from now on, a thing has to be something I need, something I can wear often, something beautiful, and something of high quality at a good price. Taking this attitude has already paid off, as I found an item I'd been looking for off and on for years in a consignment shop that has become a sort of haven for me. (And that's all I'll say about that, lest you think I've turned totally materialistic.)

While I haven't turned into a beret-wearing, baguette-chomping clotheshorse, already I see some progress in achieving my own level of je ne sais quoi. I'm taking the extra few minutes to take care of my skin, instead of just slapping on soap and scrubbing like a deckhand; I take time to relax in the evening (including taking the time to actually make tea instead of just heating a random mug in the microwave), I'm working to remember that family is more important that work, and I'm also trying to enjoy my work more instead of feeling constantly behind.

The French just may be on to something.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Taking the Phone Off the Hook

A long, long time ago, I heard a song by Billy Joel that was never one of his hits, but one that deeply resonated with me - "Vienna" from The Stranger album. It's a song in which an older person is giving some hard-won advice to a younger person (maybe they're even the same person), and you just know that Youngster isn't listening, being in far too much a hurry to get going to Somewhere. And you also know that Oldster knows that Youngster isn't listening, but Oldster's going to try anyway.

I like it. A lot.

I've been away from the blog for longer than I really mean to - at first, it was "well, I'll write after "X" happens" and then I missed writing after "X," so I figured I might as well wait until "Y" happened, and so on and so on and now I find myself here. Lots has happened - FryDaddy and I celebrated our 5th anniversary to much loving and little fanfare; the semester finally ended (seriously - too many medical appointments and too much self-inflicted pressure on this one); Mother's Day and my mother's birthday; and also our slightly-delayed anniversary trip that we'd saved up for so FryDaddy and I could go hog-wild in a used bookstore. (Look, I don't judge your relationship, do I? And we revel in the printed page.)

Clearly, that's too much to try to cover here, so I won't. Suffice it to say that I'm working hard on not working hard. The silver lining to the last seven months has been discovering that I really need to ease up - that not everything's a forest fire in need of my immediate and undivided attention every second. And that it's okay to not get everything done. Yes, the house has "hot spots" that need some attention (you know "hot spots" - those places where stuff just gets dumped and never sorted through. I'd been doing really well about keeping those under control; now I need to start over), and that'll happen. I'm also ready to start pushing myself with jobbling again. But I'm also ready to spend some time reading for fun (how is it I never read Little Women? Well, I didn't and I'm fixing that now). I'm also conducting experiments in testing the best spot in the backyard for the hammock and watching the herb garden take root.

Yes, I've got the beginnings of a lovely garden thanks to generous friends and a willingness to work the business end of a shovel. Gardens take time, so even if everything takes hold (unlikely; I'm working in Carolina red clay here and my technique tends to be a bit - well, let's say enthusiasm wins out over skill most days), it'll be a year before you can really tell. That's okay - good things take time and I've had some hard-won lessons in the futility of rushing things. Speaking of which, I've got a keynote to write for a conference I'm thrilled to be invited to. The research is done (mostly) and I've finally reached that time where I'm itching to get words on paper. 

Plus, I've had three days away with my love where we had nothing to do at any particular time and slept so late that we missed housekeeping making up the room one day. We came home to pets who had missed us and a cozy house that takes care of those under her roof.

And our "long vacation" - our first one since our honeymoon - is coming up in a couple of weeks. There's some serious work to get done between here and there, but when we pull out of the driveway, I expect it to be with the "phone off the hook."

Yes, I've been to Vienna. But I know that there are other places that wait for me.

This is from Joel's performance in November 2014 at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. He was honored at the 2014 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Music. The arrangement is a tad different from the album, and Joel's voice has changed a bit from the 1970s, but it works so very well.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

So Now What?

After being brought to the realization that yes, I'm through with radiation treatments but also yes, I'm sick from them, things have (oddly enough) gotten much easier. It has to do with not fighting so hard to be better when I'm not and instead just accepting that I'm not quite there yet. I know - elementary, dear Watson, but I'm a hard-headed mule sometimes.

So over the last two weeks, I've been trying very hard to just listen to my body instead of my head (that thing has proven that it just Can't Be Trusted sometimes). As a result, I'm getting stronger more quickly. My days aren't back to "normal" just yet - basically, I'm good in the mornings and I work until I get tired, which I recognize by my loss of concentration, then I go home. I nap, then usually I can finish what I left unfinished earlier in the day. I had a check-up with my regular doctor (as opposed to my oncologist and radiation doc; those are scheduled for later) who reassured me that this is my new normal; at least for now. It won't stay here forever - I will get stronger and have more stamina - but this is where I am for now and that's to be expected.

I was strangely buoyed by this news.

And what I'm seeing now is that I can have one really strong day, but it's usually followed by a day of being pretty wiped out. Therefore, it was with great nervousness that I approached yesterday's Gold Rush 5K, which was held as part of my college's 50th anniversary celebration. FryDaddy had made it clear that I was to take it easy and I reassured him that I would, but that I really wanted to do this event. It would be my first post-radiation timed jobble and it was important to me to see that I could finish it. I've canceled two events already - and those decisions were the right ones for me to make at the time. But this race was super-close to home and non-competitive. (Oh, there are the serious-minded ones, but they're so far out in front of me that I don't have to fret about that.)

 With all that in mind, I donned my "let's not take this too seriously" race tutu, posed for pictures in the Very Fetching Hat (which was swapped out for my trusty ballcap for the actual race) and positioned myself at the back of the pack. I'm still not completely sure of my exact time - it was somewhere around 40 minutes, which is slowslowslow, but thrilled me. Plus - get this! - I somehow managed to win second place in my age group! I wore that medal most of the day! I had a number of friends in the race - some doing their first 5K, some old hands, and one - let's call her PiMaster - came in first among all the women competing. It was a wonderful morning and I was surrounded by support and was able to give a little support as well.

So it seems that I'm getting closer to being back. I've got goals over the next month - get some plants in (both flowers and food), get the house back closer to order, and so on - and I'm so very pleased to announce that I'm much, much closer to learning to not overdo. One of the greatest tools in that? So easy a child can do it, but we forget as we get taller.

Ask. Just ask. (This is in no way to be confused with whining. Asking is more "Can I have?" and whining is more "But I want.")

Ask for what you need, be that encouragement, coffee, an afternoon off, the name of a good therapist, grace to just get through the day until you can throw the covers over your head. Ask. People want to help and the Universe is really not out to get you; no matter how it seems some days. And for the love of heaven, help someone else out! Let someone cut ahead of you in the grocery line, hold the door for someone whose hands are full, smile at someone. Because - no kidding - we all have it rough and we're all in this together.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Truce & Realization

The title isn't as quite as zippy as "truth & reconciliation," but it'll do, it'll do. Which is, in large part, what this post is all about. Ever since the tour through the suburbs of Cancer Town started about five months ago, I've tried my best to look for the good parts; the lessons of kindness and grace that could be learned. In large part, I've had success with that - friends have been unfailingly kind, my medical team has made me feel that we're actually a team instead of me being Chart #17, my family has been just incredible, and even acquaintances and near-strangers have been beacons of support for me and for FryDaddy through all of this.

I can say with honesty that I wish I hadn't had to learn any of it, or at least I wish I hadn't been put into this class. But I can also say that I'm glad I have learned some things along the way. What follows are personal lessons; actual mileage may vary and heaven knows, the contents may have settled during shipping.

My stint of radiation treatment has concluded and I didn't expect/prepare for the aftermath. Even though I'd been told what to expect, I didn't listen. I truly thought that I was different and that while it might take other people a month or more to get back to about 80% energy-wise, well - that wasn't going to be me. Fewmets, I say. I've been out of treatment for a touch over a week and I get tired very easily. It took me about a week to recognize the obvious. (Speaking of which, I passed on Saturday's Color Vibe run - a decision I'm convinced was the right one due to my physical state and the weather that day [clear but quite cold], but a decision I agonized over far more than a sane person would have.) It also helped that FryDaddy said something that actually got through the butcher's block of my head. Yes, he said, it's true that I'm not vomiting or feverish, but I'm recovering from a super-mild case of radiation sickness. Somehow, that term made an impact that nothing else (including his [joking?] threat to go to the vet and get a tranq gun) had made. From that epiphany, a number of others have sprouted, all of which can be summed up with this:

I'm not what I was before the diagnosis but I have the ability to be magnificent in this new skin.

To me, this is completely eye-opening. As I've gotten older, I've struggled with - well, with getting older. I spent much of my growing-up years being the youngest in my crowd - I'm the baby of the family (both immediate and extended) and was the last of my friends to get my license and pass the other markers of teenhood. Also, I read the roles of my family as the pretty one, the athletic one, then me. (Don't bother telling me anything about that isn't accurate; I know it's screwy, but there it is.) Mind you, I never thought I needed plastic surgery to avoid scaring the livestock, but I always saw myself as plain, clumsy, and bookish. (Funny, though. I always thought I was funny.) Over the years, I made peace with that and even modified my opinions a bit, but there's my baseline; that's the skin I lived in.

And now my skin is different. The texture is different and the color is different - the treated area is both burned and peeling at the moment. My overall body is different - due in part to aging and due in part to dramatic changes (read: not the good kind) in the last few months in my diet and exercise habits. Things aren't tight and jiggle-free. My clothes are larger, which I spent a good deal of time hating, feeling that I was "letting myself go." (God, what an awful phrase, as if I need to be tightly controlled at all times instead of inhabiting my own body.) The fact of the matter is that yes, I'm different physically than I was twenty, ten, or even five years ago. I'm not willowy or waifish. I like a good, dense cheesecake and I long for the day when I can tie on my shoes and slowly jobble to the end of my road again, huffing and covered in the honest sweat that comes with exertion.

We had some tree work done over the last few weeks. Now that it's completed, the yard looks different. Messy in some places where leaves weren't raked due to the brush and also sort of raw where the trees and brush are cleared out. I'm looking forward to figuring out what to do with the space, determining what will best grow there and preparing the ground.

You know what? I feel the same way about my body. It's different than it was. In a way, brush has been cleared out and that's left changes on the landscape. And - it's true - I'll never, ever look like I did 20 years ago.

I'm so much better. 

Even on the days when I feel frumpy or tired or overwhelmed or like an impostor. I worked hard to look like this - to be upright and breathing and of at least a reasonable amount of usefulness to others and whether I do that with shiny hair and mascara-ed lashes or mismatched socks and a well-used ballcap jammed over pink hair - well, as Billie Holiday would saucily remind me, ain't nobody's business if I do.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


As in, "How many radiation treatments are left?" That's right - today is Day 3 post-radiation of my DCIS journey. On the final day, FryDaddy came with me to meet my treatment team (who really were just fabulous throughout the entire process) and see me ring the bell that they have for folks on their final day of active treatment. My techs gave me a glowstick necklace to simulate the superpowers that (sadly) never manifested - turns out that comic books lie about that part - and drew a funny picture on me that made the (ahem) affected area look an awful lot like Jeff Dunham's puppet Peanut. And there was, of course, cake and celebration.

So yes - 33 treatments over six-and-a-half weeks have come to an end. (Yay! Cheers! And the crowd goes wild!) I'm not done yet - I have frequent follow-ups and five years of tamoxifen ahead of me, but this endeth the active stage of treatment. It'll take a little while for me to heal from it all - I'm burned and the healing involves itching, peeling and overcoming the fatigue that comes with 33 doses of radiation dangerous enough to the healthy to be delivered in a room that could withstand a nuclear attack - seriously, the door to the treatment room is a good foot-and-a-half thick. Therefore, I'm not planning on doing much beyond my day job for at least the next two weeks (and I hope to do large chunks of that from home). I'm using Easter as my marker. It seems appropriate to use that day of joy and resurrection as my new starting point.

Back before I realized that I was like everybody else, and would therefore have side effects from radiation treatment (seriously, I'm not always the brightest bulb in the chandelier), I signed up for a 5K Color Vibe run with a friend who's never done a 5K before. That seemed like a great thing to do. The Color Run was my first 5K a year ago, it's untimed and tremendous fun, and it was the official "coming out" of my jobbling persona, the Dancing Sloth - I was eager to share that experience. But the event is next weekend and I'm not in any kind of shape for running. Well, that's okay. There will be very little running from this Sloth, but I expect to walk the route and get doused with color and cheer on my friend. No doubt about it, I'm starting my training over pretty much from scratch (and I'm not really starting anything until Easter), but that's okay. I understand things differently now and part of what I understand is that I'm still a runner, even if I haven't run in a while. You have to take time off to heal from injuries, whether those injuries are running-related or not, and by my calculation, cancer treatment counts.

Other changes are also indicated, especially in diet and stress reduction, and these are areas FryDaddy and I plan to work on together. Much work remains to be done but wow! am I glad to be moving forward! Let me once again give a shout-out to everyone, everywhere who's been part of this with us. Whether it was your willingness to wear a colander on your head, whip up dinner for us, tend to the Spookinator, rake the yard, pray, meet for coffee, send cards - the list of kindnesses that let us know that it wasn't just us against the world goes on and on and on and on. And I don't know that I can adequately express how much it all matters. It really, really did - and does! I've learned so much about kindness, compassion, and (weird as it sounds) joy over the last few months and I'm grateful for the lessons, although I still dislike the teacher.

Be kind. Everybody needs it - especially the ones you don't think deserve it.