Surviving

I Am . . .

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Five years . . .

Five years ago today, I woke up early and headed off for my final chemo treatment.

I've celebrated February 4 every year since . . . as the day I truly began to think of myself as a "cancer survivor."  (My oncologist marks the day-of-diagnosis as the anniversary date of "survivorship."  I note that day, too, but I tend to consider my finished-with-treatment day as the more significant anniversary.)

I've been doing a lot (a LOT. . .) of thinking over the days leading up to today . . . about how to mark this day, how to honor it, and how to celebrate.  It's a bit overwhelming, actually, to think about . . .

Five years.

And then Carole sent out this week's Ten on Tuesday topic.  And I knew just what to do!  Celebrate with me, on this incredibly special day, as I reflect on what . . .

I AM!

1.  I am a SURVIVOR.  I actually despise that term.  But I'll accept it and use it, because it means something to other people.  And because I can't think of a better term (and I have tried).  What it means, to me, is that I went through something pretty awful, and I became stronger  - and different - because of it.  I try to take that strength and apply it to the world around me.

2.  I am GROUNDED.  I have figured out what is important to me - and what is not.  I tend to be less bothered now by things I can't control.  That's not to say that I don't get my panties in a bunch over stupid things.  Because, trust me, I do.  But I tend to be able to get my perspective back pretty quickly, and I tend to roll with situations a little better than I used to.

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3.  I am TUNED IN to my body and my health.  I was active before my cancer diagnosis, true.  But chemo knocked me on my butt in a pretty intense way.  By my final chemo treatment, I found it a challenge to walk around the block.  I got winded going upstairs in my house.  I was hyper-concerned about my white-cell count.  Now, I celebrate my fitness every day.  Running, spinning, jumping, dancing.  I love moving.  Moving . . . is living.

4.  I am HUMBLE.  Once you lose your hair, well. . . you find out what a minor part of yourself that REALLY is!  Yes, I used to spend a fortune on my hair.  Covering the grey.  Highlights.  Lowlights.  Standing appointments.  Thousands of dollars.  What a waste of time and money!  Now . . . grey hair.  Au natural.  Easy and cheap.  I am comfortable leaving the house without makeup.  I wear hats in the winter -- even if they mess up my hair.  It doesn't mean I don't like dressing up and making up -- it just means I've learned that I am fine As Is!

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"Graduating" from Chemo

5.  I am GRATEFUL.  I couldn't have made it through chemo without the angels in my life.  (And, believe me, the slog of chemo really reveals the angels!)  Five years out, I need to acknowledge those folks who slogged through it all with me every day:  the friends who didn't get "creeped out" (because many do. . .) and helped keep it "normal" (Cheri and Sue, especially); the friends who were in the same boat and became my "cancer posse" (Florence and Joel and Lissa and Ted); Dr. Liepman, my oncologist, with her no-nonsense approach to the whole experience; my kids (all THREE of them that year -- Erin and Brian and Dominik) who didn't freak out and just let me keep being be a mom; my sister (where do I even BEGIN with that one!) who sent me flowers after every.single.chemo treatment (and that was only the beginning); my mom and dad who cared for me, Tom, my kids, my dog, whatever I needed and whenever I needed it (and especially that One Day); and Tom.  Oh, Tom.  Beside me at every appointment.  Every treatment.  With his little laptop, researching treatments and drugs and taking notes and oh . . . I just can't begin to express my gratitude.  But I think you begin to get my drift.

6.  I am OPEN.  My cancer experience made me hyper-aware that time is limited.  For all of us.  Every day.  Don't wait.  If you want to do something . . . or go someplace . . . or say something . . . DO IT.  Go for it.  Just make it happen.

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7.  I am AWARE.  I am far less private than I was before my cancer diagnosis.  I used to hold back.  I didn't reach out.  I didn't say what I wanted to say.  But that's not true anymore.  Now I know that connections matter.  And I try to make them whenever I can.

8.  I am REFLECTIVE.  You could say that I've always been one to follow an inward journey, but I am even MORE that way now.  I think about who I am and how I want to interact with the world.  I want to figure out how to make the most out of my life.  I am sort of obsessed with self-reflection.

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9.  I am IMPATIENT.  I know that life is fleeting; that "normal" isn't forever; that the clock is ticking for all of us.  I have little tolerance for bullshit, subterfuge, waste, and manipulation.  Life is just too short.

10.  I am STEPPING AWAY FROM THE EDGE.  Every day.  Finishing cancer treatment is both exhilirating -- and terrifying.  That terrifying part is tough for family and friends to understand.  Chemo, terrible as it was, was my lifeline.  It made me better (by making me worse); it, ultimately, gave me my life back.  So. . . what happens when it's . . . done????  Will the cancer come back?  Will "normal" ever return?  Family and friends want the treatment to be the End of It.  Time to celebrate.  Time to get back to normal.  And . . . it is.  It surely is.  But.  It's also never going to be same again.  Because . . . now you know about The Edge.  You've come right up against it.  You've danced on it.  Maybe you've even teetered right there.  About to go over.  But you step away.  A little farther every day.  Until, after 5 years, you feel pretty safe.  (But it's there.  And you know it.)

So.  That's how I AM today.  Happy to be here.  Happy to be five years out.  And happy to share this post with all of you.

 


Can't Stop

Today . . . I need a soundtrack. **

 

Five years ago right now, I was in the midst of being diagnosed with cancer.  Although I don't think about it quite as obsessively as I once did, I still think about it every day.  And, in many ways, that whole experience - from concern to worry to diagnosis  and right on through treatment and into  "survivorship" - has defined who I AM now.

This life is more than ordinary. 

If there's one thing that my cancer experience has shown me, it's that life really IS more than ordinary. 

So, reach out.

Grab it.

Wring as much out of it as you can.

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Go write your message on the pavement.

Figure out what you really want to do.  And then do it.

Travel the world.

Learn new stuff.

Move.  Jump.  Stretch.  Run.

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Can't stop, addicted to the shindig.

So, go do something big.

Something you never thought you could do.

Because . . . you can!  And, in fact, you ought.

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This life is more than just a read-through.

CAN'T STOP!

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**  This weekend, I ran a 5K.  Not that big a deal, really.  But, for me, it was a Big Deal.  My personal 5-year "thing."  I need to acknowledge the Couch-to-5K app for getting me going . . . and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for providing the soundtrack that worked best for getting me through the actual running part.  Their songs, in my ears, kept me moving.  (Can't Stop: Definitely my running mantra.)  But, mostly, I need to thank Tom . . . who never laughed and only supported my running efforts

 


A Sort Of Metaphor

Over the weekend, I sat on my patio and looked across my yard, and I saw this. . .

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My pergola.

A cool and private oasis in my landscape. 

Green. 

Shady. 

Comfortable.

And it got me thinking. . .

because . . . well . . . it wasn't always like that.

Four years ago it looked like this. . .

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Nothing.  Just dead-ish lawn and a clear view to my neighbors' house.

I had always, always dreamed of having a pergola . . . or an arbor. . . or a gazebo.  With a swing.  And wisteria.  But I never really thought I'd actually have one.  Not in that spot, certainly.  Not anywhere.

But then I got cancer.

And needed to occupy myself during the four months of chemo treatments.

So I dreamed.  With landscape design books and gardening magazines open all around me.

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I decided I wanted to change my view.

I decided I wanted to create the spaces I'd always only dreamed of having.

I decided to make my dreams . . . happen.

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And I had help.

My friend, Sandie.  Who encouraged.

And Tom.  And Brian.  And my Dad.

They dug in.

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They plowed under.

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They raised up.

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They set down.

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They hammered in.

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My pergola.

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Because they love me.

And there it was. . .

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Raw.

Naked.

Stark.

In need of planting.

No one would see the pergola and not know it was . . . new.  Raised from what used to be there.

Kind of like . . . I was. 

But now . . . 

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Why, it looks like it's been there forever.

And always.

The structure is sound. 

The roots are deep. 

The edges are smoothed out.

Kind of like . . . me!

 


The Pull of September

I have always loved September.

When I was a little girl, I loved school.  In fact, the first day of school was right up there with Christmas Day for me.  (That -  and my family's annual trip to the Kiddie Land amusement park.)  Big excitement!  It was all so fresh . . . and new! 

I loved summertime, too. . . don't get me wrong.  But by the time the end of August rolled around, I was ready for the NEW and the CHANGE that September represented.  I was ready for structure.  I was ready for school.  I was ready to get to work!

Come September, I had a new teacher and a new grade and a new classroom.  I got new shoes and a new lunchbox and some new dresses.  Best of all . . . I got new school supplies.  I loved buying - and then organizing - my new school supplies.  Crayons.  Big Chief pads.  Pencils.  A big eraser.  A ruler.  A new pencil box.

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The academic calendar -- September through May with a restorative break for the summer - has resonated with me since first grade.  Even when I was out of school (finally. . .) and working (before I had kids on their own academic calendar), I felt that Pull of September!  For me, September seems to be the most appropriate time to launch new goals and plans and resolutions.  I understand the whole New Year's thing. . . the turning over of the annual calendar and the fresh January feeling that comes with it.  But. . . it's still the middle of winter.  Nothing is changing, really.  Except the number of the year.

So. . . for me, September = Fresh Start.

Or. . . it DID.

Until 2008.

In 2008, September started to represent something altogether different for me.  It was in September 2008 that my cancer nightmare grabbed hold and wouldn't let go.  It was in September 2008 that I entered the horrible period when I knew that something was terribly wrong with me.  But I didn't know what . . . yet.  But words like. . .biopsy . . .  and malignant . . . and lymphoma . . .  were in the air.

September 2008 . . . offered no diagnosis.  No idea of possible treatment options.  No doctor.  No notion of extent or prognosis.  (That all came in October.)  Just the awful. . .

freefall

bottom-of-the-world-dropping-out

clawing at the air for answers

kind of agony.  Through all of September.  It didn't feel like a Fresh Start.  It felt like a nightmare.

In the Septembers that have followed . . . 2009, 2010, 2011 . . . I've slowly come back around.  Those first couple of Septembers were pretty tough.  I went to The Edge.  I plunged over.

Last year, I was much better.

And this year?  2012?  Four years later?

I'm feeling the Pull of September in a very strong way.  A good way.  This year, I feel like dancing at The Edge.

So I bought myself a new box of crayons. 

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Just to open them up and see their colorful, fresh points . . . all lined up in the box.  

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My new crayons . . . are a symbol of . . .

new beginnings

a time to set goals

an opportunity to re-group and prepare myself for the next nine months

life . . . moving forward

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For the first time in a few years . . . September = Fresh Start!

Again!


Just Three

It's Thursday.  Time for a 3-fer!

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1.  Having your adult kids at home for a visit is GREAT.  But, wow!  There never seem to be any clean glasses available. . .  And there are shoes and books and keys and empty snack bags EVERYwhere!  (Feels like old times.)

2.  Two weeks from today, I'll be in Sweden with my sister!  Between work and home and garden, I have a million things to wrap up before I leave.  (Biggest concern on my mind. . . what to pack???)

3.  I have my 6-month check-up appointment with my oncologist this afternoon.  The amazing thing. . . is that I FORGOT about the appointment until I got a reminder call from her office yesterday! (I never thought that would be the case.)

Have a great Thursday!


On Everyday-Ness

When I was young, it seems I was always waiting for . . . something.  The Next Big Event or Special Day or Turning Point that would mark my life and make it "special."  I was totally bored by the ho-hum, everyday cadence of my life.  I wanted Big Things. 

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As I grew older, I started to get it.  I began to get a glimpse of what was actually behind all those "life-is-a-journey-not-a-destination" quotes and inspirational posters.  That Special Days . . . were special, sure.  But they weren't . . . everything.

And then I got cancer.

All I wanted, then, was Everyday-ness.

I craved the ordinary, "normal" pace and cadence of life.  I wanted to feel a breeze and drink some wine on my patio and pet my dog and see movies with my husband.  I wanted to talk to my mom on the phone and send cards to my sister and hug my kids and cook a plain, old, ordinary dinner.  I wanted to meet my friends for coffee and sit through committee meetings and sort the mail and pull weeds.  I wanted to put gas in my car and run errands and vacuum my floor and watch tv. 

Yes.  That kind of excitement. 

Sometimes, you have to have the absolute wonder of Everyday-ness threatened. . . to completely appreciate its value and loveliness.  Or . . . that's how it worked for me.

Back in January, in that flurry of goal-making so common to a fresh, new year, I stated that I wanted to "Celebrate the Ordinary" as one of my annual goals.  I try to do this every day.  I really do!  But I was looking for a way to do this with more intention.  Then, a while ago, I saw a new online class being offered by Big Picture Classes called  31 Things. 

31 Things . . . is a class designed to to celebrate the everyday-ness, right now, right here . . . through 31 daily writing and photography prompts.  It's a class designed to help document, understand, and celebrate the routine, daily stuff of life. 

When I read about the class, it seemed like a perfect fit for me!  Not only did I find the content and the structure appealing, but the timing actually works perfectly -- tucked neatly between the end of a very busy work time and my upcoming travels.  I signed up right away!

Day One started yesterday.

So now. . . I'm immersed in 31 Things.  I'm still figuring out how I'll share the process on my blog.  I know I will.  I'm just not sure in what format*. 

Stay tuned!

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*There is also a scrapbooking component to the class.  One thing I know for sure . . . I am not a scrapbook kind of gal!  Although I'm often inspired by the scrapbook journals other people put together, I have found that the scrapbook format does not work for me.  Rather than becoming an extension of expression, scrapbooking becomes a barrier for me!  So, I will NOT be participating in the scrapbooking element of 31 Things.  Just sayin'.

 

 


Beats the Alternative!

So many times, I hear people . . . dispair. . .  that it's their birthday.

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Another year older.

No spring chicken.

Past their prime.

Beats the alternative.

Well.  Today, let me assure you . . . having a birthday . . . and turning a year older. . . is a privilege.  Not a problem.

 

It's my birthday, too, yeah!

I never used to like to celebrate my birthday.  I didn't want to draw attention to myself.  I still don't, really.  But I do like to acknowledge the day now -- more than ever.

We're gonna have a good time!

I'm going to fill my day with things I love doing.  My turbo-kick class.  Lunch with a friend.  A little knitting.  Maybe some gardening (a first for my birthday!).  Dinner with Tom.  And, tomorrow, a birthday dinner with my family -- where my Mom will make me the same birthday dinner I've requested since about age 8 (lasagne, "grass salad," and German chocolate birthday cake).

Take a cha-cha-cha-chance!

And I'm going to use this gift of another year . . . to try some new things, think big thoughts, move in new directions, live happy, and not waste a minute.

Because . . . getting older . . . really DOES beat the alternative!

 


Ordinary Stuff

Saturday was a day-of-note for me.  The anniversary of my final chemo treatment. 

Three years.

And what did I do to mark the occasion?  Well.  An intense spinning class.  A long walk with Jenny.  A letter to my oldest friend.  Pruning roses.  (Yeah.  It was that nice.)  Chocolate biscotti with my tea.  Vacuuming.  Some knitting.  And a glass of wine.

Ordinary stuff.

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The stuff of life.


Shine On

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When I finished chemo (nearly 3 years ago now!) and started . . . living my life. . . there was a certain sense of . . . Newness.  Freshness.  Shiny-ness. . . all around me.  It was like I had been polished; like whatever had been hidden beneath (from all those years of lliving. . . instead of LIVING) had been suddenly exposed.  A little raw, surely, but also fresh. . . and. . . new. . . and shiny!

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The colors seemed brighter; contrasts sharper.  My senses were heightened.  I was more aware.  Of everything.  And the world felt more . . . mine.  I didn't want to wast a minute!  I wanted to DO and GRAB and BE.  I wanted to SHINE.

I really liked that feeling. 

Having cancer sucked, no doubt about that.  Chemo is just plain creepy and unpleasant.  It is shattering to pull back the Veil of Illusion and know, deep in your bones, that your life really IS limited (maybe not now, but . . . eventually).  I came out of that experience, though, with a new attitude.  A sense of . . . Freedom.  Appreciation.  Newness.  Clarity.  Prioirty. 

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For a while, I really did live a shiny, new life.  Little things didn't bother me.  I was joy-filled and open to new things.  I felt free-er and happier than I had in a very long time. 

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And, in most ways, that is still the case.  But.  I can also tell that some of life's "tarnish" is building up on me again.  It's been long enough (and that's a gift in itself!) that I'm losing some of that . . . shine!

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So I think the word SHINE started coming to mind . . . as a way to remind me of what life felt like in that first year after chemo.  To encourage me to buff off the tarnish building up on my life.  To let that fresh, exposed me SHINE through.

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One little word.

SHINE