Posts Tagged With: Cancer

I Missed Celebrating an Important Birthday

Photo by Joey Gannon from Pittsburgh, PA (Candles) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Joey Gannon from Pittsburgh, PA (Candles) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I missed celebrating an Important Birthday!

Actually, I didn’t really miss it. I thought about it all that day.

I just avoided acknowledging it out loud.

Today I spent time with the birthday girl’s daughter-in-law. We talked about life with Kathy. It felt good and more than okay to say her name; the twinge I usually get when I talk about her out loud didn’t pinch quite so much. Not sure why.

Anyway, that bit of conversation knocked open a closed door. Which makes it possible to share this song that gut-punched me a year ago.

By that I mean the song spoke right to my heart, my head, my spirit.

Yeah, I’ve kept it to myself for a while now. Well, I did share it with MSH, cuz he already gets it. If no one else gets it, that’s okay.

I had decided long before birthday time that I’d share this on her day. And then I couldn’t. Didn’t. Refused to. Which, looking back, seems selfish. So I’ve included this gem by Sarah McLachlan from Toy Story 2. Listen with your ears and with your heart and you’ll get a glimpse of friendship at its most real.

The relationship Kathy and I had changed me. What a gift she was and continues to be for me. She taught me to love myself, to embrace the weird wonderfulness of me. It doesn’t get much better than what we had. What a blessing!

Happy Belated Birthday Kathy, my friend. No regrets! Love ya!

“How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.” ~ Shel Silverstein

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

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Categories: Friendship | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

That Fuzzy-Eyed, Staring at Nothing Buzz That Happens

You know that fuzzy-eyed, staring at nothing buzz you feel when you’re running about a week behind on your sleep?

Yeah, that one.

I’ve felt that for a few days now. Seems like a less than stellar way to begin a year. I’m betting I could sleep for three days in a row and still not feel rested. Not that there’s a snowball’s chance in Hades of putting that idea to the test.

wonder woman

To the invisible jet!…Dang it!

I’d be thrilled to get eight or nine hours of sleep at this point. Two nights in a row of eight hours worth of shut-eye and I’d be a new woman. Heck, I’d be Wonder Woman.

It’s not post-holiday letdown, or shopping burnout. Hardly. This year I experienced exactly the opposite of what normally occurs at Christmas, which turned out weirdly good. And, no, I didn’t overindulge with New Year revelry nonsense.

I think, more than likely, I owe this numb brain sensation to more than sleep deprivation. I’m pretty certain I’m in denial about a few things.

Saturday marks one year since my best friend Kathy passed away. All through December she’s hovered in the background of each day. It was a month of “lasts.” Of course, at the time I didn’t really  know they were all lasts. The last time we had a normal day together, the last time I had a conversation with her, her last words to me, last texts exchanged, last soda run, my last “see ya’ later,” her last month of life.

Add in that I did this lousy job at grieving during the year. I did a way better job at denial. I was always in denial, even when we talked about her funeral plans over the years. It was always something in the future. Now it’s all something in the past.

Have I mentioned how much I hate that?

I think I’ve expected some sense of closure by now and it hasn’t happened. But then, I haven’t really done any “work” to make that happen. It’s been a year of life happening to me, not me actively living life.

Abnormally normal, actually. That’s how the year’s gone. Have I mentioned that Kathy used to tell me that she’d keep her battles against an incurable cancer over the weird life I live? Yeah. She said things like that to, what, make me feel better about my life. Or maybe to feel better about hers.

dart boardIt’s been a helluva year in a couple of other ways as well. Which I won’t bore you with or share publicly. Just take my word for it. Crap hit the fan and has stunk up the place. Still digging out. Not sure the smell will ever go away. Sorry for the vagueness. Imagine some things you’d never want to deal with that doesn’t involve death and you’d probably hit the dart close to center.

It’s been an amazing year in some phenomenally great ways, too. Ways that seem to prove that the universe works on some sort of cosmic yin and yang, balancing between good and evil, positive and negative, ridiculous and, yes, sublime. Take my word for it, imagine some of the best stuff ever that could happen that doesn’t involve money and you’d maybe come close to how wonderful life felt at times this year.

Odd, huh?

Throw in a side trip, too.

Throw in a side trip, too.

A yo-yo on a string. That’s me. Spinning, spinning, spinning, hard bounce at the bottom, more spinning, spinning, spinning, abrupt halt at the top. Repeat.

Maybe it’s like that for everyone.

Or maybe, I’m just lucky that way. (Sleep-deprived, brain fuzz, and off-kilter, remember?)

Happy.

New.

Year.

 

 

 

Categories: Death, Family, Friendship | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Good Grief and other Nonsense

My internal weather.

My internal weather.

“The only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course. Until Caroline had died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence, and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenching realm of sadness and longing that gradually receded. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity.” ~Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

I read this book by Gail Caldwell a while back. Before I’d met my best friend. It was an interesting read back then. I even quoted it several times in this blog post last year.

Now I’m rereading the book as a roadmap, trying to find my way out of this jungle I’m lost in.

I had no idea I’d feel this way. I thought I’d feel sad, of course, after Kathy’s Myeloma wrenched her from life. But this isn’t anything like any sadness or depression I’ve ever felt.

There’s real, tangible physical pain. No one ever told me about that. People don’t discuss grief actually, so when would I have learned this?

And I have only one channel in my head that comes in clear enough to see or hear, the Kathy Channel. Twenty-four hours a day it plays. That bluish light that a TV screen throws out haunting the recesses of my head day and night. Oh sure, I hear and see other things. I go about my day at one-quarter speed, doing dishes, moving laundry about, showing up at places I said I’d be at.

But the background buzz, hum, light, music and weather consists of Kathy. She’d find that funny and pathetic at the same time. Glad I could humor her, sorry if I’m letting her down.

I can’t find a remote to change the emotional channel I’m stuck on.  And it takes more energy than I have to look for it and figure out the buttons if I stumbled onto it.

Insert exhaustion photo here. Picture whatever fits for you, I can’t think that hard today.

I feel successful when I get dressed. When I eat. When I carry on a conversation without saying her name or referring to her somehow.

Please don’t ask me to go to the grocery store. It takes hundreds of steps to get to the dairy section, and more energy than I have to lift the gallon of milk into the cart. And then seeming miles away the produce section waits, the logic of its order lost on me. And the loudspeaker blaring, do loudspeakers do anything else but blare? Obviously the overnight restocking crew cranks the music up and no one ever turns it down. How am I supposed to think through this grocery list with so many bad songs from the eighties and nineties blasting away at my every thought? And heaven forbid I should see someone I know. I dig up my cheerful face, drag out my pretend untired voice, pull my shoulders back to give the illusion of standing up.

I attempt all the right responses.

“Fine. Great. Tough. Getting through. Life. Goes On. Thanks. Sure. Uh huh. See ya around.”

Then I cave in on myself. I want to curl up in the shopping cart and sleep, right there beside the salad dressings and croutons and bacon bits. Pull some cereal boxes over my head like a bad blanket.

But that would indicate some kind of madness or lack of sanity or a grip slipped. So instead, I stare at the grocery list and find something on it that tells me what I should do next, if I can go home yet.

All this from a mere five-year friendship.

I can’t begin to fathom a twenty-five year marriage with half of the duo gone. It’d be like a body with no skin, all raw, exposed nerves and internal parts on fire with rage, salt encrusted, oozing.

Someone should do something to fix this. This can’t be right. Aren’t there rules or laws that make this kind of pain illegal or impossible?

Categories: Cancer, Death, Mental Health, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Missing Words and Missing People

It’s Gratituesday. Today I feel profound gratitude for the five years I enjoyed with my best friend Kathy. She passed away early on Friday.

A Lincoln rose, Kathy's favorite.

A Lincoln rose, Kathy’s favorite.

She was ready for it.  For her, death arrived with relief and peace and hope.

We had talked openly and frequently about death during her war years with cancer. Turns out that theory and talk didn’t prepare me for this reality.

I’ve never seen anyone with such a capacity for honesty and directness. Never one to beat around a bush, Kathy simply says what she thinks. And somehow, through charm or charisma, or that cutesy high-pitched teenage voice, she gets away with it. In fact, I’ve found myself emulating her straightforward ways and am all the better for it.

Spunky, gutsy, and get ‘er done doesn’t quite do her justice. If she set her mind to something you’d better get out of the way or pick up a hammer and get to work beside her. Determination resonates as her middle name.

Hand in hand with such spunk is her fearlessness which still dazzles me. My breath catches when I think of the countless number of times she faced a new chemo treatment, another experimental drug, another bone biopsy. Courage of astounding proportions resided in that heart of hers.

She wrapped her all around her children and her husband. Family first, family always. We talked more about her family than any other topics combined. She loves that bunch of people with every bit of herself. Literally and figuratively.

Her fierce capacity for love, listening, acceptance and caring radiated and warmed so many.

Whatever I come up with to express gratitude for her sounds so inadequate. The right words seem caught on the jagged edges of this crater left in my heart by her passing.

Unlike Kathy, I find myself woefully unprepared for her death.

This surprising onslaught of grief seems equally weighted against the laughter, joy and beauty she brought into my life for which I will be forever grateful.

Categories: Cancer, Death, Gratitude, Gratituesday | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Laughing Even When it Seems Wrong or Impossible

Kathy loves to laugh. She can see humor in some of the most surprising places. I’ve even heard her chuckle a couple of times this week, in spite of the rapid changes happening to her.

She, more than anyone I know, appreciates a bit of morbid laughter and jokes about dying. Like I’ve said before, there isn’t a topic she’s afraid of. Death certainly wasn’t taboo. Joking about it made it all the more approachable. So here are a few chuckles to lift the mood in the room.

20131228-113206.jpgOn more than one occasion we’ve discussed the movie “Patch Adams” and that wonderful scene between Patch and Bill, but we could never remember all the euphemisms for death that they came up with. So, I finally looked it up.

Patch Adams for real, not the movie version.

Patch Adams for real, not the movie version.

“Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, Demised, departed And defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, “Slow down.” To check out. 
 To shuffle off this mortal coil. 
 To head for the happy hunting ground. 
: To blink for an exceptionally long period of time. 
 To find oneself without breath.  To be the incredible decaying man.  Worm buffet.  Kick the bucket.  Buy the farm. Take the cab. Cash in your chips.” – Patch Adams

Kathy likes being the center of attention. So this one in particular seems appropriate to share.

20131228-094814.jpgWe’ve taken turns over the past few years being one fish or the other. She, admittedly, was usually the glass half full fish.

20131228-113252.jpgThat thin line between humor and truth can bring out some startling and deep thinking. Calvin and Hobbes  seem wise beyond their years in this one.

20131228-113219.jpg

Categories: Cancer, Death, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taking One Day at a Time

It’s Gratituesday! I’m grateful for time with my best friend today. It felt like a “normal” day, not a month or so away from dying kind of day. We talked like it was any old kind of day, well, except for everything we talked about that isn’t like any other kind of conversation most friends get to have.

good day sunshine

good day sunshine (Photo credit: eye of einstein)

But really, it felt wonderful. It felt almost normal. She had more energy than usual. We were in sync, the world’s machinery ran smoothly for us, we laughed, we dodged crying, we felt like a couple of teenagers getting away with something.

We snuck out of the house and got some early lunch before the germ filled crowds showed up. We went to a matinée movie, sitting in a theater completely empty except for the two of us. The place as bacteria free as a person can get out in public. Her immune system appreciated it. We even talked out loud during the movie which made the day even better. No shushing involved.

I think we must have looked like two old sisters spending time together toddling about town leaning on each other, holding each other up.

I often wonder who is helping who in this relationship. Actually, there’s no wonder involved. I’m pretty certain I’m the one getting helped, being served, feeling loved and learning how to be real.

Yup, today felt great.

I’m thankful for every day I can get in with my bestie.

Categories: Cancer, Fun, Gratitude, Gratituesday | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Not my “A” Game

Do I have to show up with my A game?

Or can I just show up?

How about if I show up in my pajamas?

My A game is definitely down today. Might be best not to show up at all, even in pajamas.  Does anyone have the number for calling in sick to life?

Open bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol and Ext...

Sore throat, earache, head ache, me ache. Sleep remains elusive and fickle. The doctor and I get to chat today. With any luck I’ll leave with a prescription or two or five that will a.) help me sleep; b.) take away some of this dumb pain; and c.) cure whatever this is that’s ailing me. Maybe he can even write one up for d.) an attitude adjustment that minimizes whininess and self-pity.

It’s probably a virus. That’s why I’ve waited this long to visit with the doc. When I go to the doctor only a few days into an illness, I’m told it’s a virus, or it’s what’s going around, and I should drink lots of fluids, get rest and (ha) take it easy.

Somehow my body isn’t getting the message that this is “just” anything and that it should heal itself.

I feel so whiny and wimpy when I think of how my best buddy has suffered through five flipping years of pain, chemo and crap. And she’s done it with less whining in five years than I’ve produced in the past week. You’d think I’d have learned something from her amazing example of perseverance and perkihood and optimism.

I have.

I’ve learned that she’s exceptional and strong and gutsy. I’ve learned that she’s kept her focus on her family. Her priorities have been on three things: 1.) doing what’s essential for her own spiritual well-being; 2.) doing what she can that’s necessary in caring for her family; and with any remaining energy 3.) she does some nice stuff that brings variety and beauty and enjoyment into her life.

That order of priorities has kept her focused and hopeful and happy, in spite of the pain and loss and sickness.

So maybe I can’t bring my A game today. But maybe I can muster my B game and stop being whiny. I could do that.

Right after a nap and some Tylenol.

Categories: Family, People | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Riding the Killer Waves

In her book “The Year of PleasuresElizabeth Berg writes of a woman who loses her husband to cancer. The book focuses mainly on her life after his death. She touches tentatively on the time after his diagnosis, their brief months shared before she became a widow. This quote summed it up for me:

“It seemed to me that this was the way we all lived: full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next. Finding the balance between the two was the art and the salvation.”

English: Breaking Waves, Rocks of Garheugh

When I first read this book quite some time ago I found a much different message than the one I see with the eyes I have now. Now my best friend is battling Multiple Myeloma. You can read about attempting to Laugh at Death here.

Is there balance in a life approaching its expiration date too soon?

Can balance exist in a life with an unknown, far distance expiration date?

Ms. Berg is right. At least, it feels true. We all live this way. Well, maybe not all of us. Maybe just me. And anyone who has cancer or loves someone who has cancer. Particularly if that cancer can’t be cured.

Finding a balance between gratitude and wrecked? Between full to the brim and smashed to smithereens on the rocks of despair? It just seems impossible some days.

Maybe it isn’t finding the balance, but in trying to find the balance that something happens. After all, it’s “the art and the salvation.”

Do I even know what I’m talking about or am I just flailing about looking for answers?

You’re right.

Here’s additional advice from Ms. Berg’s beautiful novel. It’s from the dying husband to the wife who will try to go on living after he’s gone:

“Don’t get too hungry, too tired or too sad.”

That’s good advice for anyone in any situation. It’s particularly great advice if you’re in mourning, or anticipating the unknown yet certain pain of loss through death.

I’m not sure it’s possible to control being “too sad” or even “too tired” when death takes its scythe to someone we love. I wonder if there really is such a thing as “too sad”?

My life is currently incredibly blessed. I’m almost embarrassed by the richness of the plate set before me; “full to the brim with gratitude and joy” very aptly describes now.  Makes me a bit nervous, to tell you the truth.

English: Breaking waves at the beach of Cerca ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the same time I am riding the waves aimed for wretched rocks as I write. There is no getting off this particular wave. Cancer and death will take what they have battled long for. And I will be left empty in spite of all the brimming cups of joy and gratitude that lay in my path and swirl in the very air I breathe. And then what?

Then what?

I can’t imagine the next thing.

I suppose I will try to not get too hungry, too tired or too sad and I will try to find a new fulcrum from which to attempt a balance between wretched and grateful.

Until I have to try that particular new something I will revel in every moment given me.

Call me dramatic. Call me pessimistic. Call me Pollyanna. Call me anything.

I won’t hear you.

I’ll be busy trying.

Lonely Woman Watching Sea Waves on Beach

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full? You tell me. I’m in over my head.

(The Daily Post at WordPress.com: The Glass)

Categories: Death, Gratitude | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trying to Count Blessings in a World of Hurt

It’s Gratituesday. Today I’m thankful for the chance to drive my friend Kathy to her appointments at the Mayo Hospital and Mayo Clinic. There’s a mixed bag of blessings.

photo-11 copy 3

  • I’m grateful that I have a very flexible job and a generous boss who allows me time off to help Kathy out.
  • I’m grateful that two Mayo facilities are within a forty-five minute drive from our neighborhood. Some people fly from around the country or out of the country to get treated and then fly home again. Kathy and I can hop in the car an hour before her appointment, stop for a soda and get there right on time.
  •  I’m grateful for the extra time Mayo and all those horrific yet helpful poisons/drugs has given me with Kathy. Every single day I get to hear her cute voice saying hello is a blessing to me. I’m just selfish with that one.
  • I’m grateful that between the hospital and the clinic is a great place called Flo’s. It’s Kathy’s favorite place to get Chinese food this side of China. We’ve shared some great laughs there, buried a few tears, ignored reality momentarily and eaten like royalty.

photo-11 copy 4Winding through that gratitude, hovers this pain Kathy continues to feel as the cancer works its slow, wicked way around and through her life and body. I’m not grateful for that, let’s be honest here. If I could I would take away her suffering, cut this kind of cancer out, eradicate such misery from the world. But that is not in the cards, not part of the plan, not one of the options. Nope.

Damn it all.

So I accept and hang on to what I can, our friendship, her powerful example of bravery, moments of good amidst the profound sadness and misery.

Fire up the grill Flo, we’re on our way.

Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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