Saturday, November 21, 2015

Moving Toward "Enough"

When I get to work of a morning (my grandparents used to say "of a morning" and I like the expression), I park in a large parking lot and then I have a short walk to get to the office. I have two paths I can choose to get to my office. Since I first started working there, my most favored path has been the outside path that follows a meandering brick walkway. There are huge oak trees stretching their branches above me and more often than not, squirrels are playing among the trees. Whether I am going in to work or leaving out from work, it is, for me, a time of grounding and centering, almost always the walk is a brief exercise in contemplation.

I could enter into the building and walk a couple of long hallways to get to our office. That too can be a grounding and centering experience. Any other job I've had, I've always been able to park very close to the entrance, so I've not had this experience of a slow walk into, or out of work. I'm kind of grateful for the longer path to get to work.

I'm still walking fairly regularly. I've even added short bursts of running (or jogging?) into my walk, mostly just because I can. I've never been a runner and I doubt I'll ever be much of one, ever (like never), but there's something freeing for me about the experience. As I do with so many important (and difficult) things, I "sneak up" on the run. I'll be walking along, enjoying myself and settling into a groove when the voices in my head start discussing whether or not now is the time to break into a run. I listen to the clamor for a bit and then I look around at my surroundings and find a marking spot to begin my run and very quickly, I decide on a spot where I will allow myself to stop running and resume walking. And then, suddenly, while the voices are still discussing the matter, my feet and I just take off running. Lately my feet and I have been marking our "stop running" spot just a little further out than either of us think I can go. Achieving that small stretch in going beyond what I think I can do feels so good.

Sometimes I feel almost like featherly when I break out into a run...

Almost. One picture I'm getting when I think of myself breaking out into a run (and imagine I am soaring into flight) is that of a chicken flapping its feathers to jump up on a fence. Not exactly graceful, not exactly flying, but still, extending an effort. And that is me, extending the effort. It's way better than just sitting on the ground saying "But I can't, I can't."

I read this recently, and I like it a lot...

"What is the fullest way that we can live our lives? If we tried to achieve that, then at the end, we'll have no regrets. Whatever the outcome, I tried. As one wise old leader suggested for his epitaph: He did what he could with what he had."

I have regrets. I don't think any of us get by without having regrets. But we can't let them beat us up or cripple us. And we can begin again, now, at this moment, again, to try and do the best we can.

This is a whole 'nother blog post, but what I'd add to the epitaph above, if I were to make it mine, would be "And it was enough."

Yes, mine would say this:

"She did what she could with what she had. And it was enough."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


These posts are what I am coming to consider my "after the storm posts." Sometimes I think none of this is any kind of deal, because we all have limited days and we all have storms in our lives. Things come up in my head and this is my place to record them.

When I was last at MD Anderson, a couple of weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t packed anything to bring with me to read while I drank the contrast material. They have paperbacks scattered out everywhere to pick up and read and you can keep them as long as you want. When you’re done with the book, you can leave it in any waiting room for someone else to read. I wanted to read something outside of my normal genre. I was looking for a mystery and would have settled for a romance, provided it wasn’t too cheesy.

But the first book that got my attention was one called “The Girl With All The Gifts,” by MR Carey. It was billed as “the most original thriller you will read this year.” I thought it was a mystery. Once I started reading it, I looked on the spine and saw that it was classified as science fiction, which is a genre I have not had much experience in reading. I got sucked in and it served its purpose which was to help the time pass while I waited. The story was good enough.

But I was reading an interview with the author in the back of the book and saw that they called it a post apocalyptic thriller, which, having come through a colon cancer ordeal, seemed oddly appropriate and appealing to me. Because, here's the thing—They asked him why he thought post apocalyptic thrillers are so popular. His answer was this, "...a lot of post apocalyptic fiction uses the sweeping away of the here-and-now to explore the question of what endures. What defines us. In a new world, born in flames or plague or zombie holocaust, what would we be and how would we change? Would we change at all, or would the same framework resurface and continue to control us?"

And now, nearly a year after my surgery, this is where I find myself, exploring the questions of what endures, and what will I be, and how will I change? And of all the books in the library and waiting rooms of MDA, how is it that I picked this one single book, something I'd probably never have read had I not been desperate for something to read, that has this one little nugget in the back that further affirms and defines my current life task?

After a storm, we assess the damage, and we clean up. That in itself is sometimes a messy task. So I'll extend grace and patience to myself as I work my way through the aftermath of the storm. As I work, I will remember, I will tell stories, I will gather up what can be gathered and I will let go of what has been damaged beyond repair.

This passage certainly has had its price, and it took its toll on me. But mostly, when I look back and consider the aftermath and what is left, I am grateful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Still Here...

One weekend not so long ago, I worked on cleaning my desk in my bedroom. I haven't used it in YEARS. I decided that since it looks like I'm going to live a little longer, I needed to clear out a few corners of my life. I found all manner of bittersweet stuff.

(Would any of you keep the now deflated Mylar sock monkey balloon given to you to celebrate your last chemo treatment? Ha! I didn't think so--it's in my "undecided" pile! UPDATE: I threw it away).

And then there were cryptic written directions to the place at the point of "where you can't go anymore." I wondered where it was that I was going and looked in the envelope. It was from when my son was in the Youth Challenge Program. 

(What does one do when one gets to the place where it seems one can't go anymore?)

I found a distinctly unflattering photo of myself from 2008, looking heavy and uncomfortable. I hardly recognize that woman. In the past I would have torn the photo to shreds, but I'm hanging onto it to remind myself of how far I have come.  

(That was "before," before the cancer the first time, before the death of my son, before the cancer the second time. Before, a whole other life. Yes, how far I have come.)

I've started back to walking, and tracking my food intake. Through a totally serendipitous set of circumstances I started playing tennis again after over 20 years of not picking up a racket. I'm loving that. Moving in my body feels so good. 

(And I'm not even tired!)

I showed up for my first three month cat scan and checkup. It was all good. And now I don't have to go back until January. 

I know I have plenty of people who could tell me exactly how I ought to live. But not a single one of those people have walked in my shoes. 

(Living life in three month increments is not so bad, after all. I have a few plans.) 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Awareness of, and Patience With, the Cost Factor of Choosing

This is old news now, but I went for my latest appointment with the liver doctor last week, where I received the most excellent news that I do not have fatty liver disease. There is one other thing he wants to check my blood for, but he doesn't think I have that. I will have to see him again in six months and get an ultrasound.

When I saw him, the doctor said my diet was very important in taking care of myself in this matter. He talked about awareness when eating, saying I needed to say to myself something like "I'm eating this cupcake or this piece of meat, I know I'm eating this cupcake or this piece of meat, I'm choosing to eat this cupcake or this piece of meat."

Everything, from the things we choose to eat, to the ways we spend our money and time, comes with a cost. This is one of my new ways of living in the world, to keep myself consciously aware of what my choices are costing me. To remember how often it is true, "if I choose this, I can't also choose that."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


 Today, he would have been 28.

While doing some cleaning and reorganizing
I found a couple of his long-sleeved t-shirts
and held them to my face,
searching for his scent.
It was not there.
And I came across a pair of plaid shorts,
plaid like a country kitchen table cloth.
I smiled and took them from the drawer
to hang in my closet,
a tangible reminder of my grief
and life too soon gone.

Today, I'd get myself to the store
and I'd buy the cheesecake and the Pepsi
(as I did on that day).

Today, I wear my invisible badge
of grief,
invisible in that
it's not a badge everyone can see-
it is a badge that some do not want to see.
But for all who do see,
for those who speak words of kindness over me,
and sit with me,
even after all this time,
I am ever grateful.

For you who do not have to wear
this badge,
who have not been thrown unwillingly and with no gentleness
into this rough club,
whose sons and daughters still walk this earth,
I exhort you to
savor their days.
Do not take lightly the privilege of witnessing the unfolding
 of their lives,
 for there are no guarantees,
even to the young.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Dear September

Okay, September, you know what you gotta do. Bring on the wow. Just don't let it be the kind of wow that has to say, "Wow, can you believe she fell flat on her face like that and skint the hide plumb off her nose, and then it got infected and now it looks like she's wearing a clown nose!" Not that kind of wow.

I bought a pair of (blah) Docker's khaki pants at the Goodwill store and this was printed on the waistband of the pants. Every time I went to potty I giggled at the message on the waistband of my pants! I'm not great at hand lettering but there is something very meditative about doing it and I wanted to remember this admonishment, so I played.

The pants were in great shape, and only cost fifty cents so that was a bit of "wow" right there. I always feel so smug when I can get a great bargain.

I'll be going back to see the liver specialist this month to check on my fatty liver situation (fatty liver is real, and can be serious, but I feel so guilty calling my liver fatty!). One "wow" I'd like to hear is my doctor saying, "Wow, your liver looks great, go on home and keep doing what you're doing!"

I have some more pictures I hope to post sometime soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

RIP, Charlie

I went yesterday to Houston to have my port flushed. I was a little annoyed that they were not able to set it up so I could have this done at home. It is, as you probably know, about a five minute procedure. But I determined to make the best of it and to treat it as an adventure. We had a good trip. Afterwards we met my aunt for lunch at Pappasito's. On the way home, we stopped at the new Buccee's in Baytown, where I had my picture taken with Buccee. Go me! Adults in costumes make me a tiny bit nervous. The thought occurs to me now how it makes some people more comfortable to be in costume, and suddenly I am thinking of all the masks we humans tend to wear. In looking at it that way, costumes don't make me as nervous. I am familiar with, and somewhat accustomed to, masks. Though I am working hard to strip most of mine away. But that is not at all what I came here to write about.

I had a friend years ago. We worked and lived together for two summers, part of a young staff at a church camp. We kept in touch a few years after the summers ended. I spent some weekends at her house in-between working at the camp but we eventually lost touch and didn't even send Christmas cards. This was before widespread internet. When we got a computer and internet, and I learned you could find people on the internet, I searched for her. But I couldn't remember her married name. Finally I found that out and looked again. After a few tries over a few years, what I found was her obituary. And I was saddened by the fact that I'd kind of just missed being in contact with her again. She was a good friend with a dry, sassy wit, a delight to know. Why do we allow ourselves to lose touch with people we love?

When I found her obituary, I was more savvy on the internet and I located her older brother. We'd met a few times when I was staying at her house and we'd talk a bit about poetry writing, as each of us was dabbling in that at the time. For a short while, we'd connected on that level and we shared our poetry with each other. I'd written my friend a letter after she died and I sent it on to him. He seemed to have enjoyed that and shared it with his family. We might have emailed a couple of times more after that. He was an intelligent guy with a lot of different interests and after the poetry discussions, I'd always wished I could have connected with him on a more consistent level but he was way older and I never had much opportunity for interaction with him.

So, yesterday, my husband showed me the picture of the sister I'd been looking for. She is a friend of a friend on Facebook and I was glad to find her. She was only a couple of years younger than my friend and I. Her brother must have been about fifteen years older than we were. Anyway, as I was looking on the sister's Facebook page, I saw that her brother had died last December. I hadn't actually seen him in years so it was a shock to me to realize he was 73 years old. In my mind, I saw him as young as he was when we first met. I was saddened again. 

My friend, her brother, her younger sister--these were people who occupied very short spaces in the time frame of my life, but they left warm memories and indelible marks on my heart. 

RIP, Charlie. Tell Ruth hello for me. . .