Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Calendar Needs Therapy

I hear it's just natural to go all introspective after one gets past the fighting to survive cancer stage to the putting of the proverbial gloves down and just being a survivor stage. That's where I am. I've been reading leaves to try and figure a few things out. Not tea leaves, but the leaves of my calendar.

January has been crazy. For one, I didn't see my oncologist once. Now, Dr. Lower is the best oncologist in the world if you ask me, but I'm not going to lie and say I missed chemo. I can't tell you how my calendar feels now that it is not in chemo's orbit. Honestly I think it's in shock with all those wide open spaces. Now what?

First it's just trying to resume its orbit around our family, and especially my redhead peeps who still flutter about and have not quite fled our nest.

On the 14th, a friend of ours, Jenn Silver, was performing at a UC pub and my Redheads surprised me by getting up on stage and singing the "Cancer is a Bitch" song they wrote for me.

On the 20th my baby girl turned 19. Here is our traditional "how old is the birthday kid" picture. Get it? The boys are holding up 20 and Amanda is minus-ing the 1 to = 19.
And here is their personal favorite traditional "kiss the birthday kid" photo.
My Amanda is following in my footsteps these days, having switched her major to Journalism. Recently she had her very first article published in the University of Cincinnati Newspaper. An opinion piece no less! Check it out here. She has also been quite a prolific little poetess lately. I have her blog listed under my blogspring at the bottom left of my blog. Or you can check it out, follow it, and most importantly, comment on it, here. She LOVES comments.

On the 22nd, my boys performed in concert with their friend, Logan Sand, as part of his Band.

Matt was stage right and played the acoustic guitar.
Mikey was stage left, on the Djembe.
The concert was at one of the coolest venues in Cincy, The 20th Century Theater. It was packed and it was a great show. Logan was releasing his sophomore CD, "New Day" and raising awareness and funds for their upcoming tour this summer. Yes, we are not just "letting" our boys go on tour, but are so excited for them. I might even be a roadie if they "let" me. You can check out and follow Logan Sand and the Band here. They are really good and I'm not just being biased. Even if I am a wee tiny bit.

On the 25th, the boys and I started back up for our final semester of co-op and homeschool. This is probably the part of my calendar that I have to make spaces for, because boy do we all have senioritis. Not to mention, spring fever. And I really do want to finish well. I think this has been weighing heavy on me because it feels like there is so much to do between now and our, I mean, the boys' graduation on May 15. Besides all the homeschool stuff, there is the spending time with part before they really learn to fly, like Amanda has, off to college.

With all this crazy fun with my calendar, I have been feeling the words Jesus said to his disciples when they kept falling asleep while he was praying in the Gethsemene: "The spirit is willing but the body is weak."

And honestly, my spirit is a little discouraged that my body isn't keeping up. I don't know if it is just the let down after being in fight mode for a year-and-a-half, but I seem to have hit some kind of wall and my blood pressure has taken a jolt. It has been spiking crazy like the January leaves of my calendar. My oncologist and general doc both think it's just aftershocks from chemo and that it will settle down and find it's new normal. I'm having to take Ativan twice a day to help the process. Which makes me not as productive as I feel like being. Which stresses me out a bit. Which doesn't help things. It's a vicious cycle.

Anyway, that leads me to the introspective part. What pressure I feel to fill the white spaces on my calendar in right. I don't want to waste a space. Who has the time to waste, really? But the words that seem to be percolating in me, are life after cancer and before death. Feels heavy, I know, but they are true. And I don't mean them morbidly, because the focus is on LIFE in between those two stages, the state I am in.

Besides calendar leaves, I have been reading some other leaves that have been helpful. I am glad my chemo brain is starting to let up and let me get back to reading like I used to, even if ever so slowly. But a book I have been working my way through, ever, so, slowly, through, despite and because of my chemo brain, is Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright. I dig his theology, but the title might have well had my name as its subtitle, because I just had to have it. I was really in the mood to be surprised by hope.

Hope in God, even in the middle of cancer, and come what may after cancer and before death, it is what I hold onto. It is what I hope to stay true to. It is what I hope to dive off and into the rest of my days. I hope I always leave it in my wake. I hope it's spoken with my last breath.

I'll close this lengthy post with a passage from Surprised by Hope that I have been trying to suck marrow out of and give myself a transfusion, so that my perspective will be in line as I fill in spaces on my calendar so they will be aligned to God:

"What you do in the present-by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself-will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making this present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day we leave it behind altogether....They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adios cancer, Gracias a Dios

Last Wednesday I got this undocked from my vena cava via the subclavian, and basically it has sailed away from my ecstatic right pec muscle. This put the emphatic closure on my chemo cocktail tab. Bartender, no mas por favor. Gracias a Dios.
I have to say that I did not enjoy being awake while the doc undocked Port Rapha. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, because they did give me quite a few shots to numb the area. But I prefer my conscious being numbed at times like that. I would rank it up there with having the stitches yanked out of my eyelid this past May. And childbirth. But not as bad as having the drains removed after the mastectomy. (Nods and no offense to Rita, said remover. Props to Dr. Runk, said undocker. Honorable mention to my kids.)

Dave and the kids really wanted to see what the "golf ball" that had been teed up on my massive right tennis pec looked like, so I came prepared for surgery with a nice bottle of true Portuguese Port, in hopes of a little bartering action.
We ended up bringing home Port Rapha. Not sure what to do with it. But right now it is hanging in a little shrine of a display on a picture window next to my kitchen table.
Last Friday we had an End of Chemo Cocktail Party/Port Rapha Bon Voyage at the Evanshire. Our happy little hobbit hole was graced with so many friends who have been the kind of friends you get by with a little help from your friends with. I have been so blessed; and I am so grateful. Can I just say that my not-a-chemo-cocktail-party was just about one of my fave nights ever. Thank you everyone, who shared the night with me. Whether in presence or in spirit, I was feeling the love, and digging it! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

One of the highlights of my evening was when my Redheads sang the song they had written for my last chemo cocktail. Before you click HERE to see the YouTube video, there are no bleeps in the video, so listening discretion may be advised, since the song is called, "Cancer is a B!TC#" ;) Just saying.
Pictured above, are a few of my fellow serenadees/survivors at the non-chemo cocktail party. Cathy Baker and I go to church together and are in the same homeschool co-op. She is about a year ahead of me in both the surviving and hair growth business. She lent me all her hats last winter when I was bald. I thought I might get a few curls by osmosis in the transaction, but not a wave. Shelly Emrick is my chemo cocktail buddy. We met on my birthday in the chemo lounge in September and instantly connected. She was like a birthday present to me. Sunshine in the chemo lounge. And boy did we turn the place upside down when we were doing chemo cocktails together! It always felt like a party instead of chemo. Because of Shelly. She is on the same cocktail flights I was on and is past the "bad" chemo and onto the Herceptin only, and thus, her own countdown to end of chemo, which will end in September and be my fave birthday present. Go Shelly! Amy Inkrot is a kindred spirit who works with high school students (including my kids who ADORE her) at our church. She is a spunky spry one, having just recently defeated thyroid cancer...not to mention a legit freefaller. After she heard the c-word, she decided not to take that sitting down; she flew. Very, very cool, in my book.

Monday I had my 6 month check up with my breast surgeon. Thankfully, there were "no peas in the pod" during the exam, so basically I passed with flying colors and don't have to go back for another 6 months.

I've happily been downgraded to "maintenance" in all departments cancer. I can't tell you how happy my calendar is to have no more chemo cocktails on it, and not even a single oncologist appointment in the whole month of January. After a year-and-a-half of from twice a week to once every three weeks. It's like a blizzard hit the January leaf of my calendar. Which is about as close to snow as I like to get.

I think my first maintenance check up with my oncologist is in February. I don't even know for sure because my appointment card is playing hide and seek. But the joke is on it, because I'm just sitting here lol-ing while it's thinking it's being all sneaky. I'm not even looking for it! Once February rolls around, I'm sure my phone will ring and there will be that friendly reminder. I think that's when she will schedule all the scans, that oughta look something like this:
Don't worry; I think it's perfectly normal for post chemo scans to read backwards. Chemo is some pretty funky stuff.

Anyway, all that to say, I think I am ready to retire my chemo card and revamp my blog's cancer status as well. I hope that's not going to be too boring for all my faithful readers?

Remember... cancer is a bitch, but God is good!

Cheers and love, everyone!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

End of Chemo Cocktail/Bon Voyage Port Rapha Party

(Friday night it is going to be a TGIF at the Evanshire!)

This Wednesday, January 6, Port Authorities (ie., one of my breast surgeons) will undock Port Rapha from my Vena Cava and set him sailing. (Feel free to pray for my surgery at 3pm. I'm a wee bit nervous about it since they don't appear to have happy hour prior to removing ports under one's skin, nestled into the pec muscle, and jacked into one's vena cava.)

I thought it would be good form to give Port Rapha a proper Bon Voyage Party.

And since I also recently downed my last (#24) chemo cocktail, a NON-chemo Cocktail Party just seemed meant to be.
I have the loveliest circle of peeps around me, and I have definitely gotten by "with a little help from my friends". You have shared in my suffering in so many ways; it humbles me. I have been so blessed. Thank you. I hope you will also be able to join in the celebration. Please come and wave Bon Voyage to Rapha with me; let's cheers to a NON-chemo cocktail, and say Ciao to my cancer.

It will be a casual affair this Friday evening. An open house, from 7pm till midnight. Coincidentally, that is happy hour at the Evanshire, so Non-Chemo cocktails and assorted lounge food will be served.

For R.S.V.P.'s, our address so you can google your way here, or more info, comment here, shoot me an email, call my cell, or find me on Facebook.

Cheers and I hope you can come!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

We Found Marco (Island) Before He Said Polo

Normally I am a metaphorical kind of girl, but today I seem to find myself literally rolling in the New Year. On wheels. Somewhere (literally and metaphorically, you could even say, euphorically) still in the sunshine state. Somewhere along I-75, which, ironically, passes by Rome as it leads to home. We are heading home from the holidays.

The van is quite quiet right now. Everyone is off in their own little worlds. Dave is driving and trying to decongest. Mikey is navigating and playing football on his iPod touch. Amanda is playing Zelda on her Gameboy Advanced. Matt is watching a movie (I am Sam) on his MacBook Pro. I am digesting my Big Mac and 2009, lounging in the backseat.

There is a song playing in the soundtrack of my mind: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds.
It is based on one of my favorite passages in one of my favorite books of the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 4, which I will quote from, loosely paraphrase, and footnote, as my Happy New Year's Day Post(card) from the Road.

There is a time for everything. There is a time for everything that happens under heaven.

A time to be born
Today a new year is born. 2010, the year of my Lord, whose birth I just celebrated last week.
And a time to die
2009 was not my time; although between cancer and “the Vespa incident” I know I kept everyone worried, and even I wondered a couple of times. 2009 was the time for my Gramcracker and I really miss her but am so happy she got to hang out with Jesus on His birthday.
A time to plant
Amanda turned 18, entering into adulthood and her sophomore year as a journalism major at University of Cincinnati; we “planted” her in a cute little apartment on campus to eliminate the commute from her life and open the door for her on the college life. Also, we had already been blooming at the Cincy Vineyard, but we officially “planted” ourselves there by officially becoming members.
And a time to reap
In 2009, Dave’s company, 3dB Labs, turned 5 years old. Just like the "Life is Good" motto, God has provided Dave the opportunity to be able “do what you like and like what you do” in his “hunting and gathering” part of providing for our family. And this year, for the first time, he did actually get to “reap” a bit of the fruit of his labor, from whose hands we know all blessings flow, and to whom we are eternally grateful.

A time to kill
2009 was a year of killing cancer cells in me. Our calendar has literally revolved around my chemo cocktail schedule. 24 rounds over the past year and a half. I have felt like such a hobbit through it all. I had no idea I had it in me to do this adventure of slaying dragons and such, but I have had the best company a hobbit could hope for. And now that we have gone “there and back again”, being back again feels like a whole new adventure.
And a time to heal
I am looking forward to 2010, to the laying down weapons and to the turning over Aloe leaves...and a whole new set of leaves on a brand new calendar.
A time to break down
4 Rounds of The Red Devil and Cytoxin, a derivative of mustard gas. 4 Rounds of taxing Tax-ALL. 19 Rounds of Herceptin.
And a time to build up
A generous gift from The Tiffany Foundation of a membership to my Tennis Club to help me regain my fitness as I recover my health. A delightful group of women to play tennis with; they helped me get my game back, and we won play-offs to boot!

A time to cry
There have been sad tears :’’(
but there have been happy ones, too :’’)
And honestly, more of those sad ones have been from Amanda cutting my freaking apron strings than from the cancer. I have tasted my own salty tears through it all but I think God has been my “ever present help in time of need”, to wipe them away and to leave me with an aftertaste of that “peace that passes understanding”. The happy ones have mainly been the overflow of treasuring all things Redheads up in my heart. I have loved every stage of my kids, but I have to admit that I LOVE this present stage of their becoming and blooming. They are good and godly peeps, and the sweet hearts of my heart.
And a time to laugh
The Evanshire is a hobbit hole full of wise guys. Sometimes it feels like we are on a sit-com. But the thing is, we do love to laugh. And we do laugh a lot.
A time to have sorrow
I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen the cup of suffering I have been sipping from this past year and a half. But I do trust the One through whose hands I believe the cup was given to me, for His glory, and my good. I know there are some who would disagree with me on that statement, and I’m not trying to pick a theological debate here; it’s just that I find more comfort in believing He handed me the cup than that the devil handed it to me behind His back or against His will. I also believe that “joy comes in the mourning” and that my time of mourning will be turned into
A time to dance
We got the “Let’s Dance” for the Wii for Christmas, so we should be set.

A time to throw stones
I haven’t really been able to throw at all with Port Rapha sitting on my right pec muscle. It has really cramped my range of motion, not to mention, my tennis serve. I have totally had to improvise a new serve to be able to compete. It doesn’t have much pace on it, but I can consistently get it in the box. Still, I’m looking forward to having Port Rapha removed on Wednesday. Bon freaking voyage! Then, I will THROW a non-chemo cocktail party on Friday, January 8th, to really celebrate the end, God willing, of my cancer chapter!
And a time to gather stones
One of the coolest things that my boys did for me while I was sick, was to gather stones and make a path for me down to the tennis courts behind The Evanshire. I'm looking forward to wearing down that path with Mikey when Spring springs. We'll see if this is the year he leaves me in his tennis wake.
A time to kiss
Our 22nd anniversary. Another New Year’s Eve. Both of which we just celebrated while on holiday, which was the light at the end of the chemo tunnel for us all. Also, there are Hershey Kisses. And I just secretly wonder if we all gathered Hershey’s Kisses (especially the kind with peanut butter inside) instead of stones, and if we didn’t throw them, but give them to one another...well, that would be sweet.
And a time to turn from kissing
Morning breath is a good example of this refraining refrain. And here is where a Hershey's Kiss could really come in handy in the clutch.

A time to try to find
This past week we found Marco before he could say Polo. In other words, we took a much needed family holiday away from the cancer and the chemo of this past year and a half of our life.
And a time to lose
We have lost a lot over the past year and a half. A pound (give or take ;) of my flesh, Dave’s gall bladder, my Gramcracker, my tennis bud, Linda, my hair and tastebuds during chemo and even still some of the feeling in my feet and fingertips, my old computer, the clutch on my Mini, 3 cameras, and I definitely lost face in Rome not to mention my opportunity to put my hand in The Mouth of Truth when I crashed into a wall. Coincidentally, the wall was made of stones someone had gathered; either that, or the Vespa got confused and threw me. Anyway, we didn’t lose time in going on holiday the very next day after my very last chemo.
A time to keep precious. Can’t really keep it (don’t really have rhythm, either) but being in the moment and making memories are my kind of keepsakes.
And a time to throw away
When Port Rapha sails away on Wednesday, I won’t need the instruction manual anymore. I am giving it back to the surgeon. No, I didn’t read it; it was just TMI for me; but I think Dave read it.
A time to tear apart
God willing, Wednesday will be the last surgery I need for a very long time.
And a time to sew together
And I’m looking forward to being sewn back together, sans port, then piecing back together my serve. Maybe even throwing a few stones, and by throwing, I mean skipping stones that I have gathered. But never when there is a glass house in the background.
A time to be quiet
One time that immediately pops into to my mind was the surprise party my kids threw me for my one year anniversary of being cancer-free. I still don’t know how they pulled that off.
And a time to speak
Obviously I pulled this one off with this lengthy post. But the main thing I hope it says loud and clear is thank You, God. And may the rest of my life say the same thing. Also, I’d like to say thank you, again, to everyone for all the prayers and acts of kindness that have helped carry me “there and back again”. Truly I’ve gotten by “with a little help from my friends”.

A time to love
The rest of my time.
And a time to hate
Been there, done that. Hated it.
A time for war
Bought the tee shirt. Cancer sucks.
And a time for peace
The peace of Christ, the peace that passes understanding, be with you all, Joules
p.s. cheers!