Cake-A-Palooza

Friend: My dad’s disappointed that you didn’t show up for karaoke.
You’re in the bad books now. Sucker.

Me: I thought it was THIS Saturday?!
I’ll bake him a cake and all will be forgiven.

Friend: Correcto mundo all will be forgiven with cake.

Me: ON IT!!

It was a friendly, innocent text exchange solving a life blip like I normally do; with something baked and drenched in sugar.  I raced home, ransacked my baking cupboard, and discovered I only had enough ingredients for one chocolate or two vanilla cakes and would have to make a random coloured buttercream icing instead of the fudgy chocolate one I’ve worked so hard to perfect.  No problem, as long as the cake was at least chocolate, I could receive partial absolution. 

I live in a building that enjoys social gatherings such as; euchre, darts, the occasional rowdy BBQ and in this case, I was after forgiveness for missing a karaoke night.  To be honest, I take the sport of singing popular songs over pre-recorded backing tracks a little too seriously.  Having a history in music, I put a bizarre pressure on myself to be the dark horse who performs, like Susan Boyle who caused a wave of shock around the world when she uttered her first notes.  I don’t like to perform unless I’ve practiced at my piano, in the shower, to my dust bunnies and in the grand stage of my car. So honestly, the fact that I mixed up the dates (thank you chemo fog) had me a bit relieved.

The cake baked perfectly and all I needed to do was shave a little off the top to make sure the layers sat even, wait for it to cool, then zip it upstairs to beg forgiveness.  Now, shaving a cake is a little like choosing to cut your own bangs, you need to proceed with much caution and plan for only one precise cut, any more than one always ends in disaster.  To my delight, the cut was another feat of perfection.  As I set the cake on the cooling racks feeling quite proud of myself, I couldn’t help but pop a bit of the shavings into my mouth as a reward… wait… that doesn’t taste right. Where’s the usual mouthwatering chocolaty goodness? What is this?  Double checking that my taste buds weren’t playing a cruel trick on me I inhaled the last bit of shaving and confirmed…all I could taste was baking powder. 

So much for the perfect cake.

Anxiously glancing at the clock, I still had time to bake another and get it up to the karaoke-disappointed-neighbours on the eighth floor without having to wake them up to deliver it. The cake would now have to be vanilla, but I figured by combining copious amounts of sprinkles on top of the cake with my shameless grovelling they would easily be distracted from the lack of chocolate excellence. 

I tossed the pathetic excuse for a chocolate cake into the trash and began whipping out what I needed for cake numero deux.  Chucking all of the ingredients into the silver bowl, I whisked and blended, but as I was heading over to my electric mixer I stopped dead, “well that isn’t right.” Looking at the batter I realized I made a fateful error with the eggs and now my mixture was crazy wet.  I knew I could probably manipulate the recipe and make it work, but after the first cake fiasco, I wasn’t going to take any chances.  I would have to make a third cake.

I put a plastic bag over the mouth of the bowl full of useless cake batter and turned it upside down to speed up the process of emptying it, but of course, the pesky bag decided to jump out of the way and I found myself looking at my counter covered in the thick ruined vanilla batter.  Yup… about right.

After I rescued my kitchen from the free range batter, the measuring, mixing, and planning all started for the third and what would be the last time since I was down to the final bits of my ingredients.  Then with dismay, I realized I was officially out of eggs.  With determination fueling me, I put on a bra, grabbed my wallet and hot-tailed it to the corner store to buy the needed shelled ingredient. I wondered how a day that was going so well could take such a drastic turn, but refused to be bested by a baked good.

The final cake appeared to be fine.  Although one half was thicker than the other, I decided the bright blue icing would easily mask that silliness.  With the ticks of my loud mantel clock filling my condo I feverishly began icing.  I can do this!

Then… there was a knock on my door.

Halting mid-icing swipe, I rushed to the front door while wielding a Tiffany blue icing covered knife to see my neighbours standing there giddy with delight at my insanity.  All evening, I’d been keeping their son abreast of my cake-a-palozza and they seemed to enjoy my foible filled evening more than the anticipation of actually getting the cake.  While I put the final icing touches onto the third cake, I repeated the story of my evenings wacky antics and with a final flair (and much relief), I handed over the cake and crossed my fingers that it was actually cooked properly. My fabulous neighbours left my home, cake and amusement in hand, and I just laughed.

Knowing point A & point B has never been a problem for me, but, the journey between the two points tends to be full of surprises, sidetrack and where the real adventure lies. This is why I will always be a journey girl instead of a destination one, because that’s where all the fun happens.

The Paperwork Hoedown

I stood dumbfounded in the frozen food isle of Costco with my jaw sitting on the less than sanitized floor and my eyes preparing for the Bellagio water show-esque waterworks;  “What do you mean you didn’t receive the paperwork again?” At this point I had lost track of how many times I had been spun around by the paperwork jig;

And a…1….but you need this,

And a…2…but you are missing that,

And a 3… but we didn’t receive this,

And a 4… but we already sent that.

It’s been a confusingly muddled and endless dance to get papers from one person to another and just when I think things are solved and all hunky dory, I find out that once again the head of this beast has no idea what the tail is doing.  This paperwork hoedown has turned out to be a full time job in itself, and the cardio isn’t nearly as rewarding as the hootenanny’s with my line dancing peeps.

I hung up the phone from being told that once again the paperwork I worked so hard to get transferred to them had been misplaced, and I was feeling like a parent pitted between her two children as I listen to one blaming the other for breaking this, and loosing that. All that was left for me to do was stop.

It struck me that all of this anxiety and stress was coming from deadlines that belonged to someone else and other peoples inability to organize all while preying on my type ‘A’ personality to do everything in the right and proper way. Enough. I was officially letting go of pushing, unnecessary problem solving and using deadlines of others to dictate the levels of my panic mode.  To be honest, the more I was attempting to smooth out each and every little bump, the more tangled it all became.  It was time to stop kicking in the quicksand. 

Wanting to fix things and do things ‘right’, is a lifelong habit of mine and it seems to always involve me attempting to stuff very hexagonal pegs in extremely round holes.  It’s exhausting!

It’s exhausting,

  • assuming I always know what is best in a situation.

  • limiting my perspective because I’m fixated on an outcome.

  • fighting with a reality that isn’t changeable because… it’s reality.   

One of my mantras with cancer involves treating the journey like eating an elephant, only focusing on the bite I’m on at any given time. And it amazes me how by approaching it in this ‘staying present kind of way’, that phone calls come at the right time and coincidences happen when they are most needed; it’s like the more I surrender to the reality around me, the smoother it all goes.  Time to take my elephant biting philosophy into everyday life.

I’m done forcing things to happen.  It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden I’m going to become complacent and irresponsible; I will always do what I need to do, and follow up when necessary, I’m just done thinking things should be one way when they are really another.  So the new dance will be more of a fluid foxtrot,

And a 1… no more fighting with reality, and taking life as it comes. Why fight with life when I can dance with it?

And a 2… if I can do something about it, then I do it, and if I can’t do anything, I let it go!

And a 3… always remembering that even if I’m not happy about something, things always seem to work out and I end up being exactly where I need to be.

And a 4… no matter what is going on in my life, I always have only one job… to be happy.

Let’s dance!

Me Too!

“Can I ask you about that?”

I barely had that chance to comprehend the question before the strangers peter pointer was hovering over the protruding port in my chest that had been surgically implanted in order to receive my cancer treatments like a bionic woman.  She eagerly waited for me to reply while standing in my personal space bubble with questions dancing in her eyes. I hadn’t even realized that the dress I was wearing had me ‘showing port’ and flashing my radiation tattoos like a proud biker, but looking down I saw them both waving to the world and now being examined by a keen stranger.

Knowing today was going to be one hot tamale, I decided to hit the street early and walk around the quaint wee village of Jordan before my heart slapped me with fatigue forcing me back indoors to my couch in order to bask in the glories that is air conditioning.  Heat has always made me a bit loopy, but with a heart not firing on all cylinders, my fatigue has a very special ‘100 year old woman needing an asthma inhaler and walker’ quality about it.

Being the open book that I am, I swiftly switched into story teller mode prepared to give a well-practiced speech about the past 20 months of my life, but the moment I said the opening words, “I’ve been in treatment for cancer…” she cut me off with recognition flashing across her face and announced quite gleefully, “me too” like she had just won the lottery and found a kindred spirit.  What followed was a lengthy conversation in an empty store between two cancer patients exchanging battle scars with her adorable 88 year old friend listening with fascination because she herself had never experienced any kind of physical bump during her many years.

As the tennis match of a conversation bounced back and forth, each statement was met with an enthusiastic “me too” discovering our treatments and bodily reactions to the highly drugged circus were twins.  I found this wildly bizarre since one of the very uniquely annoying things about cancer treatment is that it’s as individual as a finger print for everyone who experiences it.  But as it turns out, we shared the type of cancer, how it was treated, how our bodies reacted to each step of the process, heart failure and the same doctors in the cardiology ward. The only real difference, outside of our ages and the fact she’s married with children and I’m flying solo, is that she could keep her faculties about her when talking with Dr. Delicious. I still drool, pray my legs are hairless and “humina humina” my way through our conversations! 

It was our own version of a ME TOO movement and I loved that although I knew nothing about this 65 year old woman, we just ‘got’ each other.  That has been one of the most amazing things about this experience, the strangers I connect with instantly, the random gab sessions in the most obscure of places and the wonderful powerful realization that I am never alone. No matter what I experience in this surprising life, it is comforting knowing there is always a ‘me too’ out there I connect with.

Her 88 year old friend continued listening with amusement claiming that she’d never be able to get herself through such an ordeal.  But that’s the funny thing about the human spirit, we don’t’ know what we are capable of until it is licking us on the nose and we have to deal with it. Strength, support and joy are always there for the taking. The impressively healthy friend then announced that she was tremendously grateful for her life, and now connecting with her, I energetically replied, “ME TOO!”

Ashton Kutcher?

I sat surrounded by members of the Juravinski Cancer Centre at a retreat waiting for someone to pop up, point at me and tell me I was being punked. 

I assumed twenty years in education being on committees, participating in countless professional development days and escapes out of the school to the board of education would have prepared me for a retreat in the healthcare world. But as I sat listening to one of the thoughtful speakers I realized that I had stepped into an alternate universe.

The most obvious difference was that the attendees included an equal number of surgeons, assistants, nurses, family practitioners, patients & specialized doctors and I had no idea who did what.  Our name tags only announced our names, and nobody was asking the cocktail question, “so, what do you do” in order to label each other... well, except for me who was wildly fascinated by it all.  Egos had been left at the door, and the 60 of us were like members of King Arthur’s court sitting at the round table, equal.

Everyone was engaged, we all laughed together, and the space created allowed everyone to feel comfortable being vulnerable with their experiences or questions. Coming from a profession where title is king, people get exercise by rolling their eyes throughout meetings, thrive on negativity and watch the clocks as they text who they are meeting afterwards, this was amazing and I was enamored by my view. 

Then just when I didn’t think the day could get any better, something happened that still has my head spinning.  Although we were scheduled to be there until 3:30, at 3 the grand Poobah stood up, thanked us profusely for our time, recognized the challenge it is to take a day away from whatever job that had been left behind, and announced the day was done.  He recognized that we were saturated, and there was no benefit to pushing though another 30 minutes. I frantically searched the room for Ashton Kutcher to jump out to announce the grand joke, but as I watched people filter out of the room, I realized that this was for real.  We weren’t being held captive, weren’t told that we owed them time, and I wasn’t given what we didn’t cover to take home to do for homework.  We were just done. 

I sat in my car after a powerful day of information, conversation, building relationships and a little kibitzing knowing that this is the kind of job I want; a job that puts equal value on all positions, a job that creates an open and safe space and a job that values my time, energy and contributions.  It felt revolutionary and shattered any assumptions I had about our healthcare system. 

I then realized that it doesn’t matter what job I return to, because I am the one who gets to decide what it feels like.  I’m the one doing the job, I’m the one who decides how I do it, and I’m the one who has to live with me at the end of the day. Joy isn’t something I’m working towards achieving, it’s the biggest asset I bring to the table. So it doesn’t matter what job I do, I will do it with joy, or I won’t do it at all.  And frankly, if I could make happiness a priority during a cancer journey, I sure shooting can bring joy back to education!

Trust Me

It was a simple question; one that I thought was worth dropping to my oncologist because of how many other people had asked it of me:

When I’m done this fourth treatment, how do we test whether I’m cancer free?

I mean, there would be testing right? They must have some super high tech thing-a-ma-bob that does a violating scan of my body to tell me that, “yup, we got the rascals.” After all, at this point I’ve experienced some brilliant wack-a-do machines doing some bizarre things to me in order to help conveyor belt me though this experience, so I was expecting the final machine to be Steven Spielberg impressive. 

But, the answer I received was as simple as the question I posed:

“We just assume we got it all.”

Wait… what?  Assume?  As a kid I was always taught that ‘assuming’ had implications that would make me look as bad as the person I was having them towards; well, that and it gave me the rare accepted opportunity to swear while rhyming off how it made an “ass of you and me.”  So when the Oncologist looked at me and used ‘that’ word, I immediately felt myself morphing into Donkey from Shrek, “is this another one of those onion things” you know, a final cancer puzzle to challenge my chemo addled brain?

My oncologist gave me a highly amused look that she uses with me often and explained their assumption is based on my four months of ugly chemo, two months of radiation, twelve months of Herceptin, remaining in hormone treatment for 5-10 years and their countless years of research.

Although it made perfect sense, it still broke my heart a wee bit to discover that being considered cancer free was being pinned on the fact that she was following a formula from some dusty old textbook from her fourth year in med school. Like Hermione concocting a spell from her Book of Spells; simply follow the steps, add some personal flair, release a dramatic abracadabra and voila, cancer free. 

In order to give myself a chance to process this grand assumption, I sat down in the cancer center atrium and took a mental inventory:

4 Major treatments with all their glamorous side-effects,

Countless pills, needles, and invasive poking,

1 Heart being put into failure

And 10% of a lung now nuked and now useless, shattering any dreams of being the next American Idol,

Trusting that all of the above worked… priceless.

I dropped the word ‘assume’ and replaced it with ‘trust’.  Trust in the experience of my healthcare team, trust in the know-how of the hospital staff and trust that when I said at the beginning of this journey a happy ending was my one non-negotiable during this unpredictable experience, that that is exactly what I am getting. 

It’s natural to desire a guarantees in life, but it’s when I rely on non-existent absolutes that I become inflexible and things tend to go wonky.  Life is fluid, ever changing, and choosing to role with it instead of resisting it, makes the ride so much more enjoyable.

So, looks like you are all stuck with me… because I am cancer free.  Trust me.

 
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My Dust Kickers

I’m surrounded.  Seriously, surrounded. 

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After a night of celebrating being finished with the BIG chair, one of my favorite people said she was reminded about a story she read on Facebook. It’s about female elephants in the wild and how when one is giving birth her female peeps gather around her so she can’t be seen in the middle. The circle of rowdy friends then stomp and kick up dirt to throw off any possible attackers or predators from the scent so she can give birth in peace.  They are a wall of thunderous protective Mama’s and the message is clear, if a threat wants to get at the vulnerable child-bearer they will have to somehow Kool-Aid man through the wall of raging friends first. 

This is how exactly how I’ve felt over the past 19 months; surrounded by people who have been seething on my behalf and fighting for me when I don’t have the energy to do so myself. But unlike the elephants, I don’t have a single posse to kick up the dust, I have multiple herds to protect me. Whether it’s my biological family, my chick crew, my dance family, my chosen family, each one of them have been protecting and supporting me in their own special way. 

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My herds banned together to make that protective circle around me, daring cancer to attempt to break through their fierce protection. And cancer took that dare by becoming aggressive, spreading, and attacking my heart, but in the end, it didn’t stand a chance against the crazy protective tantrum of my dust kickers. These people love me for who I am (crazy shoe fetish and all), support my wacky antics and there was no way they were going to let cancer get the best of me. They’ve kept me safe so I can concentrate on my treatments, protecting me from ignorance, sheltering me from emotions that have no part being on this journey, and always ready and excited to jump in when needed.

I am blessed.

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I can never say enough about the wonderful people that surround me.  These wild wonderful folks have my back, proving over and over again that there is power in community.

Keeping with the ‘shoe’ theme of this journey, I’ve been saying that the people in my life have been my shoehorn throughout; there to support me when I need it, guide me through the crazy, and force me into places I don’t think I fit!  

I am over flowing with gratitude for every hug, message, call, cup of tea, dinner, flower, thoughtful gift, and specifically for each and everyone of my dust kickers.  

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Gratitude Tsunami

I stood and just looked at it, the big beautiful shiny bell, attempting to comprehend its significance before collapsing in half from the weight of the past 19 months and allowing a tsunami of emotions to wash over me. 

There was never a doubt in my mind that the outcome to this journey would a happy one, the tricky part was getting from point A to point B.  And now, here I was at point B and it was a lot to take in.

I remained bent in half attempting to breathe, overcome with gratitude.  Grateful for,

  • being done having my chest continually punctured and sitting in the big, albeit comfortable, chair

  • the nurses that dropped what they were doing to rush out to be part of this moment with me

  • my family and friends who have shared this burden with me

all the while experiencing a movie playing in my head of all the decisions I’d made that were detrimental in keeping me here, alive in this moment and I was gracefully humbled.

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Finally pulling myself together, through tears of absolute relief and joy, I gave that bell all I had. 

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The next morning I stood looking out of my kitchen window feeling an expansive freedom that I could only assume is how a convict feels after they’ve been released from prison.  Total and absolute freedom.  No decisions to be made, no scrambling to be done, no rush to feel better only to be knocked down again, no pushing though or sucking it up, just a feeling of unlimited openness and space.  I felt more ‘me’ than ever before, and it was clear that this is a beautiful fresh beginning.

I felt peacefully aware and saw everything around me for the first time; I marveled at the ease of making a cup of tea, admired the colours in my counter-tops and almost hugged every decorative towel hanging in my bathroom, basking in the newness and just being thankful. 

I was struck with a profound ‘a-ha’ when I realized that how I’ve lived my life through cancer treatments should be how I always live: fully present, only focusing on the elephant bite at hand and making it my one and only job to be happy.  I thought they were survival techniques, but turns out, they are how I want to live my life.  Appreciating the moment I am in, leaving the past behind me, knowing these is nothing I can to about the future until it unfolds, and remember in any situation I have the power to be happy. Toss in a little, don’t take things personally, avoid making assumptions and always do your best, and this is how I always want to live my life.

Smiling to myself I realized, I had cancer, but… I survived.  And if I can survive this, then I’m going to be unstoppable.

Family party at the bell!

Family party at the bell!

Lori’s Angels

Lori’s Angels

Sweet Paradoxical Emotions

In a way, today is a musing-less day.  Not that I didn’t have my fair share of head scratching debacles this past week;

  • Someone pulled the every so cowardly hit and run to my beautiful car.

  • I had a Pheobe Buffay moment as I battled with the non-stop chirping of the fire alarm in my condo.

  • I practically blinded Gracie Rae with sun screen because I felt keeping her skin burn free was worth losing her sight over.

  • My computer decided to go on strike… so today truly almost was musing-less!

Yet, even with life giving me plenty of material to work with, my focus hasn’t been deterred from the fact that… today is my last official sit in the big chemo chair.

I’ve spent the past six weeks writing copious amounts of thank you letters for hospital staff and baking gratitude cupcakes, delivering them all bit by bit because as it turns out, each and every thank you and good-bye has been a powerful healing moment steeped in emotion that is overwhelming.  There’s a unique bond that is formed when you are cared for and I have a profound appreciation for this staff who understands exactly what I’m going through without even having to articulate it; this journey has been far more intimate than I anticipated.  Since this is clearly a mountain I’ve needed to climb, I couldn’t have been given better Sherpa’s than the staff in the chemo suite at the Juravinski Cancer Centre. 

Oncology and Cardiology remain stuck with me for another leg of the journey, but there’ll be no more bags of medication being pumped into my bionic chest, no more kibitzing with the ladies who painstakingly make the schedules, volunteers, orderly’s, or nurses and shoes that never made the cut to visit the chemo suite will be given other adventures to walk me through.  These visits have been my full time job and my life for 19 months. And today it is… done.  

This journey is a paradox of emotions because for every feeling I’ve experience I feel the complete opposite at the same time.  Simultaneously I’ve felt broken and strong, cowardly and brave, grief and delight, dejected and joyous, alone and loved, and now I feel excited and panicked.  Knowing this is celebration worthy on one hand, but on the other, anxious about no longer having the security of lethal medication being pumped into me to keep the cancer at bay, or relishing the sense of community being surrounded by my fellow cancer slayers.

I thought the most challenging life transition I’d been given happened when I received the cancer call, but as it turns out, moving forward past treatment is the most daunting. Even if my life appears to be heading back to some form of normal, I’m a completely different person doing it, and getting to know the new me is a whole new journey.

This has been the most challenging, excruciating, yet rewarding experience of my life and I look forward to discovering the lessons I am sure will pour out of this adventure. I’m overflowing with gratitude. Bring on the final chair sit.

So much for this being musing-less!

 
Chair Sit #4

Chair Sit #4

Chair Sit #10

Chair Sit #10

Chair Sit #19

Chair Sit #19

Litter Bandits

It was a perfect sunny day that was sandwiched between two rainy gray ones and I was cravin’ me some baby love.  Knowing my brother and sister-in-law were anxious to do some work on the outside of their house, I showed up to take Gracie off their hands making it sound like I was doing them a favor and not the other way around. 

With her baby doll in hand, I strapped Gracie into her handy dandy trike and just as we were about to take on the hood by foot, I noticed an envelope in the middle of the road.  I’m sad to admit my first thought was '“wahoo, Gracie has received early admissions to Hogwarts!” Followed by the humbling admission that although I think she is brilliant, it would be a number of years before an owl would be arriving on her doorstep.

Pulling myself out of my wizarding fantasy, a combination of curiosity and distaste for litterbugs had me meandering into the middle of the street to pick it up.  There wasn’t an address on the outside of the envelope, but I found one on the inside between a bold heading yelling “personal and confidential” and the cheerful sentence “congratulations you got the job”. 

The ‘inner mom’ in me automatically began picturing some poor individual missing their first big day at work, losing the job, not being able to pay for their mortgage and having to move back in with their parents all due to this one letter that went undelivered.  This could be a big deal for someone. My over-dramatic concern put me into super mail-woman mode and with my trusty side-kick already strapped into her baby-mobile, we set off to deliver the precious letter feeling good about being the secret saints in the matter. 

Walking away from our good deed and basking in its glory we started down the street.  Moments later a mini-van drove by and tossed some papers out the window and kept on driving.  Although they were obviously tossed out on purpose, there was a little part of me desperate to believe the good in people so I snatched them up and began waving them around hoping they would see me in their rear-view mirror, turn around and be crazy grateful that I flagged them down. But alas, the vehicle stayed its course leaving me dancing around in the middle of the road in a way that even embarrassed the one year old.

The situation continued to get more bizarre when upon closer inspection I noticed these papers had the same address on them as the envelope we had just graciously delivered. Does this neighbourhood have litter bandits? Mail mafia? Or just some really board teenagers skipping school to reek havoc with Canada post?

 Baffled, I did the only rational thing I do… I delivered it to their mailbox. 

Although part of me wanted to get passive aggressive and stick a note on top of the mail that said “thank you for not littering”, another part of me realized that I had no idea what just happened and my assumptions and judgments wouldn’t help anyone. All I could do was ask myself,

what is the kind thing to do?

Not everything in life makes sense, and when I attempt to understand the actions of someone else, I’m left with a futile action of chasing my own tail. I’m grateful that it isn’t my job to understand anyone’s actions but my own.

So, either Gracie and I made someones day or confused the daylights out of them… frankly, I’m good with either.

Ah Namaste

It amazes me how many of my realizations happen on a yoga mat! But here I am again…

Back on my yoga mat at my usual shavasana stomping ground I was breathing my way through a natrajasana twist when to no surprise my head began to wander; this time replaying my arrival to the studio that morning.  I had calmly arrived early, was giddy about getting the perfect parking spot just outside the studio which left my car facing the right direction to make an easy get-away, then slinging my overly colourful yoga bag over my shoulder and skipping across the street anxious to claim ‘my’ coveted spot on the studio floor.  A flawless arrival…except wait, go back, I missed a step… I didn’t put money in the metre?!  I was so drunk with joy over the great parking spot and eager to get ‘my place’ on the floor that I forgot it wasn’t a weekend and meters indeed need to be paid. 

How is this possible?  The first thought I had when I decided to attend a class was yahoo, I actually stock piled change so that I could avoid having to frantically run into a random store, purchase something I really didn’t want in order to make change to avoid a ticket.  Today, my pennies were all set and just waiting to be used.

But the really odd thing about this realization was that, I felt… nothing. 

Wait. Hold on.  I just realized that once again my foggy head has let me down but  it didn’t send me into a total frenzy?  My heart didn’t drop like the Tower of Terror and I wasn’t mentally smacking my forehead with the palm of my hand?  Nope.  Nothing.

The only thing I was feeling was sweat trickling in odd places from staying in a pose too long and total bafflement that I wasn’t over reacting.  I did a mental comparison:

OLD SELF… would have bolted out of the class the second I realized the oversight, running to the change room, desperately fishing in my purse for my keys, having to unlock the front door breaking a cardinal rule of the studio, zipping to my car across the street dodging the traffic like frogger, digging the change out from my cars console, running back to the studio keeping my fingers crossed someone hadn’t locked me out, and tiptoe myself nonchalantly back in back to my mat.  Of course along the way I would have had to stop a few times in the flurry to appease the light headedness my heart likes to create, would have been panting like I’d run a marathon when I got back into warrior one, and all sense of calm would have fled the scene

NEW SELF… I realized that the peace I was feeling, the workout I was getting and the energy I was enjoying from the sense of community was worth the price of any ticket.   I wasn’t going to let a simple blip harsh this yoga buzz.

Could it be I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff?  Honestly, if getting a ticket was the worst thing to happen to me today, I was still in the running for a great day. 

Feeling blessed doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be snags along the way,
being grateful is most authentic when it’s felt for the unwanted,
and joy is experienced best when it remains the focus during the crazy.

Joy has become what holds the string to my balloon being tossed around in the wind kind of life… because no matter where the wind blows me, as long as joy is my core, I’m a blessed and grateful girl. 

Not only did I relish the rest of the body bending class, I took my time packing up and even stopped to have a wonderful chat with my yogini. I was the last one to leave the studio.  I smiled as I approached my fire engine red car seeing the ticket-less windshield looking back at me and genuinely appreciating the extra proof that someone really is looking out for me.

Mini Musing

Have you ever caught yourself making the same mistake over and over?

I sniffed the air smelling something plasticy burning and wondering why I was being surrounded by a cloud of smoke.  What were my neighbours up to now?  Then it hit me… right, I’m cooking a frozen meat pie.  Normally I like mine fresh and while I’m sitting in a pub in England, but this one’s from a local butcher, chunky and if I close my eyes I can hear the hustle and bustle of London streets; so it’s an acceptable substitute.

I threw open my oven frantically waving my arms about attempting to save my eyes from the billowing smoke all the while wondering what had gone wrong?  I did an instant replay in my head commentator style:

What a perfect day for a hearty meat pie!  With a confident ‘ding’ from the oven indicating that it has reached the perfect temperature, Lori is on it! She skillfully tears off the perfect length of wax paper to cover her bold choice of cookie sheet, unwraps the perfectly frozen pie and with an experienced hand, perfectly centres the pie in the middle of the oven rack.  Oven closed, timer on and the crowd goes wild!

Wait.  Did he just say WAX PAPER?  As the palm of my hand meets my forehead all I can think is, “not again!”  Why is it every time I want parchment paper I end up picking up and using the wax paper?  This is the third time I’ve done this over the past couple of months. I’m not sure how I did it, after all, they serve completely different functions, feel dramatically different and the word wax is in big bold letters on the box! 

Grateful I had a sister to the ruined pie in my freezer, I started over laughing at myself and paying much closer attention to what I was doing.

This is my life… when I don’t pay attention the first time a lesson is bound to repeat itself.  There used to be a time when I would fixate on my mistakes, and focus on my imperfections, but now, instead of being frustrated and beating myself up that sometimes I have to learn the same lesson repeatedly, I count myself lucky that life never has a problem giving me a do-over.   And that is what each morning is, a wonderful new chance to give it all another try.

Warning: Contents Explosive

I stood waiting anxiously for the cashier to get off the phone and ring up my purchase while she gave me an apologizing look accompanied by rolling her eyes indicating that the person on the other end of the phone was wasting both of our time.  Normally waiting is never a problem, I was raised to be polite, courteous and wait my turn with patience, but there was a situation brewing and I just didn’t have the time to give her.   

I’ve never been one for potty humour, and don’t actually like the word fart (it just isn’t lady like), but there was no denying it, very soon people who wanted to shop in this store would need to do so wearing hazmat suits!  Accompanying the cancer medication has been a whole new level of toxicity I never fathomed possible, its to the point that I believe I shouldn’t be allowed leave the house without wearing a shirt flashing WHIMS warning symbols: Hazardous, Compressed Gas, Flammable Material, Bio-hazardous!

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This wasn’t the first flatulent disaster I’d experienced that was medically induced and am mortified to admit the colon blowin’ stories from the past year and a half are endless;

  • from hot boxing my bestie in her car,

  • to having to suppress butt tubas with towels in friend’s bathrooms and emptying cans of air freshener,

  • to getting them trapped in my tights and attempting to walk normally all while discretely shaking my leg in order to work them out of the bottom of my pant leg desperate to escape the evidence.

It just isn’t right!!

Even if I try to suppress them Elena, my niece, likes to announce “Auntie toots” so that we are all clear who the culprit is. Once she announced that “Gracie stinks” which put my sister-in-law into instant ninja diaper change mode, forcing me to have to admit, “no dear, that was just your Auntie.” It’s been one embarrassing sulfur cloud after another.

Because of all the experience I’d already had accosting the noses of those around me, when I felt the thunder down under in that line, I knew the inevitable disgraceful outcome. Then I realized that joy of all joys, I was the only person in the store (besides the poor unsuspecting cashier).  Sensing that pinching and praying were losing their ability to suppress the evil any longer I knew the only option at this point was to ensure that if it was going to be deadly, I needed to make myself a cliché and at least make it silent. I’ve learned that if it’s silent I can pretend I have no idea what it is or where it came from and join those around me as we all desperately cover our noses, wipe tears from our eyes and assume we are just standing over a leaking sewage bed. 

The love puff slowly crept out of me and instantly announced its arrival with an insufferable aroma that took over the store; it was extra special. Normally something this vile would have me quickly, yet nonchalantly, leaving so I can make space for air to move in and escape the torture myself.  But just as I turned to go AWOL abandoning my purchase, I found myself looking into the eyes of a mother standing beside her teenage daughter right behind me.  Where in tarnation did they come from?  I was trapped.

I stood frozen in the haze of my own witches brew knowing full well that it was accosting the ladies behind me as I watched their noses twitch and desperately trying not to retch.  Then the cashier painfully smiled and invited me forward taking what felt like an eternity to ring me through.  I desperately dug through my wallet for cash to make the transaction go faster, but alas, it was the slow dial-up Interac for me.  All of my power went into not gagging as the fragrance danced freely around me and I could see pity on the cashiers face as she wondered if anyone had ever had the grade 9 talk with me about the proper way to bathe. 

With my package in hand I fled the scene of the crime smiling as I remembered a Robert Munch book I was once given in University as a joke from a friend who thought it amazing that the ‘F’ word growing up in my family was ‘fart’.  In Good Families Don’t, a little girl discovers that sometimes, good girls have farts after all.

There was no real lesson for me with this one, but there is a great one for those who are friends of a cancer patient… if we flee in the middle of a conversation, run, don’t walk in the complete opposite direction.

Dr. Seussing Disney

I’m going to Disney World!

Is the way I SHOULD have responded while throwing my hands up over my head hooting and hollering when my brother proposed we go to the happiest place on earth this summer to celebrate cancer treatments behind us and the fact that he and his wife just paid off their mortgage (a fact that kind of makes me want to throat punch him a little). 

How I ACTUALLY responded, was to burst into tears in front of my trusted travel agent and announce to her blank expression, “I just can’t do this!”   

I frantically fixated on the ticker tape of questions flying through my head in a Dr. Seuss like fashion.

Can I, should I on a plane?
Can I, should I with heart under strain?
Will they have to carry me here or there?
Will they have to carry me everywhere?

Seriously, I’m still in heart failure!  What about insurance? What about my medications, my blood clotting issues, my lack of energy, zip and physical strength? Visions of my family members taking turns between pushing my wheelchair and Gracie’s stroller went through my head, to which I gave myself a mental Cher Moonstuck slap to the head and told myself to “snap out of it!”

It was clear that I needed to go on a safari through my feelings in an attempt to explain why the idea of a ‘lovely fun in the sun much needed vacation’ didn’t instantly tickle me to my core.  What surprised me was that the answer wasn’t a grand profound realization accompanied by celebratory fireworks, it was simply the fact that this was the first official plan being made that fell after the last sit in the chemo chair.

Up until this point, my plans have revolved around each chemo-suite visit and deciding what shoes to wear to each appointment (there’s no surprise, that this is no small decision for me!)  Yes, I’m excited about starting a new life, inviting change into my world with a big sloppy wet kiss, but it wasn’t a reality until that moment.

I just needed to let go and write myself some good old fashioned permission slips. I needed to give myself permission to:

  • Let someone else do the planning.

  • To take it as it comes.

  • Look beyond that final chair sitting.

  • To feel how I needed to feel as I was feeling it.

  • To just be.

Although I’m always grateful for the lessons I get from my outlandish experiences, this time I’m thankful for being given a heads up  that the last day in the chair may be an emotional one and for once I can be prepare for it.  Because although I will be glad to be done, I will still experience the loss of the amazing person in that ward who I have grown quite fond of and will be moving forward into yet another unknown. A welcome unknown, but an unfamiliar one none-the-less.

I will have all my permission slips in hand when I ring that bell on June 11 and as the paparazzi shove their microphones in front of me begging the question, “Lori, you’ve beaten cancer, now what?” I will respond with a triumphant , “I’m going to Disney World!”

Energetic at the beginning of the trip in 2014…

Energetic at the beginning of the trip in 2014…

…exhausted at the end of the trip 2014!

…exhausted at the end of the trip 2014!

Commando All The Way

I rooted around the drawer with some desperate vigor, there had to be a hidden pair of underwear lurking that’d escaped my uptight drawer organization in here somewhere.  I purposely own enough underwear to supply an entire cheer-leading team to avoid this kind of situation, yet here I am, not a single undie in sight and a laundry basket bursting with my skivvies. As I boldly hunted through my collection of wild print push-up bras, sensible bandos and other unmentionables I mentally searched through my gym bag, purses, even knitting bags determined to uncover a back-up up pair of at least granny panties somewhere.  Then the gitch fairy smiled down on me and I burst out with a triumphant ‘a-ha’ yanking out a rogue pair hidden amongst my pantyhose and socks.

But my excitement quickly turned into dread as I realized that although the pair was brand new, adorably covered in coral and purple flowers, they had been part of a gift from my Nana over 12 birthday’s ago.  Yup, these puppies were going to take a lot of wiggling, stretching and determination to avoid instantly being converted into a thong.  Dreading the long day ahead wearing my panties of yore, I tried to convince myself that small underwear was better than no underwear at all.

Luckily enough they stayed out of my tushie, but that was only because they were securely lodged in the indents they were creating that I knew would leave red marks for days to follow.  I smiled as I accepted the metaphor, it was official; after cancer there will be no forcing myself into a former life, it just doesn’t fit anymore.

Even if I tired, when my life is no longer consumed with treatments, needles, and appointments I couldn’t go back to ‘normal’.  I can return to the same job, dance on the same floors, wear the same shoes, but I’ve changed therefore so has my life.  Normal is wonderfully no longer.

One of the many blessings for me in all of this is becoming friends with change.  I like that I will get to experience life with fresh perspectives, a different kind of bravery and more light heartedness than I ever have before.  I have a history of kicking and screaming or forcing myself to be a square peg in a round hole just to keep the status quo, which has only ever limited me. And limiting is no longer an option.

Now, all I can see is the freedom and ultimately fun that change will be.  I don’t have to have all the answers all the time, I don’t have to have it all figured out, and the less I try to control the more I see options I never knew were available to me. It was exhausting living my life digging my claws into the familiar when change was going to happen whether I dug in or not. 

For me, trying to find a normal after cancer would be like like trying to shove a 44 year old tushie into the underwear of a 30 year old, they may get up, but they would be confining, hold me back and make life unnecessarily uncomfortable.  I can’t wait to see how different life will be and what new adventures are waiting. Next time I find myself without a single pair of knickers to get in a twist, it will be commando all the way.

44 and 28

As we were getting suited up to spend a luxurious day bouncing from hot tub to hot tub, vegging in different saunas, relaxing at fire pits and sitting in lounge chairs in a toasty room overlooking ponds and trees I turned to my friend and said, “see, even in my bathing suit on you can tell the difference!”  She took a step back to get a better angle in which to see my chest, and as her eyes darted back and forth trying to make sense of it all she burst out laughing, “totally!”  It was impossible to stifle our girlish giggles in the calm quiet change room and we were grateful that the in house ‘shh-er’ wasn’t wandering through.

The night before, when stepping out of the shower, I caught a glimpse of myself naked in the mirror and instead of my eyes doing the usual scar, polka dot tattoos, port inspection, I was struck by something I’d never noticed before.  I stood up straighter, squaring my shoulders and tilting my head sideways as I attempted to get a better look.  Interesting…

I raised one hand to cover my left breast so I could just concentrate on the right one, then switched hands to cover my right breast so I could see the left one clearer.  After a number of hand switches inspecting my ladies in isolation I stopped to see them as a pair once again and declared it official; my ladies are different ages. Although the left side looks like its proper 44 year old self having just begun making friends with gravity, the right side, the side that has endured surgery, and direct blasts radiation is looking like a breast of a 28 year old, all firm, perky and ready to take on the world. 

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I wondered if my radiologist would mind firing up the old radiation machine for some cosmetic radiation for my left side to make them a matching pair.   Seriously, is that too much to ask?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish my thighs wouldn’t rub together, or that my nose wasn’t permanently broken, but the truth is, even with adding lopsided breasts to my list of attributes, I’ve no reason not to just love my body exactly the way it is. Each scar, bump, birthmark, roll and wrinkle I’ve accumulated are uniquely mine, well earned, and I’m proud of each and every one of them.   Beauty has nothing to do with perfection, it’s knowing I’m beautiful because I’m perfectly one of a kind.

 
Arriving at the Scandinave Spa, lopsided breasts and all!

Arriving at the Scandinave Spa, lopsided breasts and all!

 

Exposed!

It might just be the teacher in me that tingles at the mere thought of a committee, but when it was suggested I interview for the Patient and Family Advisory Council at the Juravinski hospital I was all over it. A way to give back and feel supported all at the same time? Sign me up!

Turns out this group is made up of incredible people and with the hospital launching its new website, the Cancer Centre was eager to show off what we do. It was decided that a veteran of the group would be interviewed and then they would film the rest of us during a meeting to splice through the original interview.

Dressed up in polka dots, streetwalker red lipstick and a sparkly headband, I arrived the day of filming feelin’ fancy and good to go. All that was really expected of us, was to be ourselves as we addressed everything on our agenda and ignored the person with a camera roaming around room catching different angles and facial expressions.

Still basking in the after math of another great meeting when I got home, I began to get a feeling that something just wasn’t right. I reached up to the back of my neck in order to undo the little button holding my top together when my heart sunk. It wasn’t done up. Could it have been open the entire day?

The slit of my shirt extends half way down my back and without long hair as a distraction, this was truly alarming. I paused in wonderment, “did I forget to fasten my top closed?” I then laughed, “noooo, it must have come undone on my way home.” If my top was spread eagle wide open, someone one would have told me… right? After all, I’ve stopped strangers in public to tuck in tags, fixed hems caught in coats, picked off wandering lint and pointed out things that I would expect someone to graciously point out to me. So no, there was no way this was undone during the entire meeting. Crisis averted.

The big day finally arrived, time for the grand reveal of hours of interviewing, touching up and editing. We all watched with eager anticipation as the masterpiece was projected on two large screens simultaneously. Smiles were lighting up the room as we showed off our pride for how well they had captured the essence of our mighty little group.

And then I froze. Ice ran through my veins as the screen cut to a shot that showed off my back side; I mean, literally, half of my back was exposed.

If the flaps of the shirt had both folded outwards I could see why someone would think it was the style, as inappropriate as it was for a board meeting, a style none-the-less. But one flap was up, and the other dramatically wide open, showing off my haven’t seen the sun in years skin. Really? A full hour of filming, only minutes used and they chose footage that showed my chemo braininess at its finest?

When regaling this tale of embarrassment to a friend over tea in Starbucks, she laughed heartily as I emphatically emphasized that this video was going to be available for the world to see for many a year to come. I was officially the harlot of the Cancer Centre! Attempting to catch her breath mid-hysterics, she kindly stated that it was my duty to show the world the realities of chemo fog, and applauded me for once again giving 110% to what I do.

Laughing at myself has turned out to be a special kind of medicine over this past year and a half. I’m grateful for every seemingly embarrassing moment, from hairy legs with hot doctors, to wearing two bras to yoga, then the time I showed up for a funeral and the director thought I was there to set up my own funeral instead of attend one for someone else. The awkward, mortifying moments will always be my favorite and I heartily agree with Claire from Letters to Juliet, when she says “life is the messy bits.”

Cancer, you may force me to wear ugly, comfortable shoes because I can’t feel my feet, be the most painful bikini wax I’ve ever received, screw with my taste buds, zap me of all energy and forced me to make special friends with a porcelain bowl, but…you will never get my sense of humour.

T'ome on Auntie!

My first visit to the chemo suite was supposed to be a simple toodle around, get a sense of the vibe and leave feeling informed and raring to go.  What I actually felt like, was a dog being yanked by its owner to the car to go to the vet;  all four legs fiercely digging into the ground, body leaning back in complete panic and fully determined to avoid getting in that car at any cost. 

Now after 22 sittings in the chemo chair, being hooked up to bags of witches brew through a surgically implanted port in my chest with no complaint, and having 4 more visits to go, I’m back to feeling like that stubborn dog again. 

I’m done.

I’m like that marathon runner who has felt focused and optimistic throughout the race, but the second they can see the finish line their body stops making adrenaline and all of a sudden 600 metres feels like a bigger challenge than the 40 some odd kilometres they’ve just covered.

Knowing that stopping isn’t an option, I knew it was time to give myself some form of break.  I tried a day at the spa, laughing with friends, playing the piano, editing my book, indulging in chocolate and binge knitting, but nothing would help me relax against the invisible leash hauling me back to the hospital.

So I pulled out the big guns and asked myself ‘why’ I was doing all of this in the first place? 
What is that ‘thing’ driving my determination and positivity?

It’s never been enough for me to say that I’m doing this insanity because it’s what the doctor said needs to happen and I don’t have a bucket-list as motivation because I’ve always shamelessly said ‘yes’ to adventures no matter how wacky.  Not even the threats made by my family to toss me over their shoulders, shove me in the trunk of their cars, and hook me up personally to the IV drip if I attempted to skip out is enough motivation to get me back in that confounded chair. No, I needed something that truly emotionally motivates me to my core.  And as it turns out, I have three; Elena, Ethan and Gracie Rae.

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The reason why I chose to do as many treatments my oncologist is willing to give me, drag myself to the hospital when it’s the last thing I want to do, and endure this wild chemo fog is all because of my babies. No part of my cancer story involves me not being there with them as they grow, graduate schools, go on their first date, learn the joys of travel and become who they’re meant to be. I won’t miss a single piano recital, school dance, or cross-country meet and I fully intend to give them plenty an opportunity to roll their eyes at me. They are the reason for my non-negotiable happy ending to this craziness.

Asking the simple word ‘why’ has always helped me solider on, pepped me up with motivation or helped me realize that yes, it’s time to let something go. I know if I get frustrated there is a reason, and these three letters always seem to have the magical solution for me.

So, I’ve let go of that image of the dog  fighting against her leash and replaced it with a vision of three and a half year old Elena taking my finger as she often does and saying “t’ome on Auntie.”

Yup, I’ve got this.

 
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Write On!

I did it.

I cashed in on some bravery and read through all the notes, journals and scribbles of paper that I have been writing on ever since the great lump discovery. I had scribbles on the backs of cereal boxes penned while grocery shopping, jottings captured on different restaurant napkins, perspectives scrawled out on a rainbow of various post-it notes, and multiple journals full of stories, observations and frustrations. March became a month saturated in organizing and writing. And what was the result?

I wrote a book.

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She’s in its fullest roughest form right now, desperate for copious amounts of editing and really can’t be finished until I’m done with the chemo chair, but… I did it.  I’ve emptied my head of all the many wacky stories, and painful experiences, taking the time to be truly honest with myself about this adventure. Writing has acted like a form of therapy for me. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the job of cancer; the appointments, the treatments, the recovering just to get knocked down again, and the emotions hopping up and down like ignored children get shoved aside.  Although it’s natural after a trauma to be desperate to move forward, away from the painful memories, I knew I needed to give every hidden emotion that has been sitting patiently on the sidelines an opportunity to be acknowledged and released. And writing has been the best tool for me to do just that.

If you asked me in high school if I fancied myself a writer, I would have laughed.  After all, I had a sorted history with the written word:

  • in elementary school I received extra phonics help during the ‘hooked on phonics’ push,

  • in high school I kept a spelling calculator in my pencil case hoping to catch my pesky spelling errors before they revealed the truth about my backwards thinking,

  • I suffered through many a grammar lesson with my dad, King Grammarian, while he annihilated my essays with the flaming red pen,

  • I have avoided playing Scrabble my entire life, embarrassed at my creative spelling skills,

  • and I actually did a happy dance at the end of first year University when it was no longer mandatory to take English. I was finally free from the humiliation!

Nope, writing was the last thing I saw myself doing. 

It’s so easy to assume things I’ve always enjoyed or didn’t like at all in my past, remain true today. Hard not to wonder how many other things I claim I’m not good at, are really things I would enjoy exploring now?

Fast forward 21 years and as it turns out, I’m having a real hoot writing. I’m now the person who walks around with a blank journal in her purse and q-cards in her yoga bag to ensure to catch random ideas, whims, unique phrases or wonderings before they leave as quickly as they appear. 

Ultimately, the book is something I am doing for me.  It’s the book I wish existed at the beginning of this journey offering wise tidbits not shared by doctors and heads ups about things I never saw coming until they were right in front of me. 

Reliving this experience that 'I’m still knee deep in’ is allowing me to:

  • celebrate getting through the good, bad, and ugly…. not to mention the uglier.

  • laugh at things that happened that could really only happen to me.

  • forgive hurtful comments and moments I have been treated with ignorance.

  • see and appreciate my own strength.

  • swim in gratitude for the kindnesses that has been shown to me by so many people.

  • begin to see just the tip of mountain of lessons and blessings that are all part of this journey.

I’ve said from the beginning I was going to love cancer out of me, because when it’s finally gone, I would much rather be left with some good old fashioned love than victimized anger or resentment.  It hasn’t been easy to chose love, and I continue to navigate around rabbit holes, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth the work.

Getting to this point with my writing I’m certain of one thing, when I tell myself I can’t do something, I’m always right. Time to release old assumptions, and no longer use ‘what has always been’, as a reason to avoid trying something a first or even third time.

So for now, I will write on… to the editing table!

Finger Foibles & Losing My Mind

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I sat there holding up my sad little index finger to show off its deep blood red colouring and impressive puss bubble that sat on the edge of the nail. The triage nurse at the emergency room looked at me and asked the obvious simple question, “what happened?”

My response? I burst into tears and blubbered out that I had no clue.  I remember jamming it at one point, it involved wicked pain and creative cussing, but I couldn’t tell her when, where, what, why, or how. And now I was sitting there with an oozing finger, and having to face a truth I’ve been trying to avoid admitting to myself; I think I may be losing my mind. 

For awhile now, I’ve found myself forgetting the simplest of words part way through a sentence, stopping mid-sentence to ask, “what am I talking about” and having pockets of complete blanks polka dotted throughout my memory.  It was much more than average absentmindedness I was experiencing. I told myself that if I just left this concern alone, and didn’t voice it out loud, it would take care of itself. A classic from my wheelhouse of denial tactics.  

But here I sat, unable to explain why my finger was growing a poltergeist realizing it was something I no longer could avoid addressing.

The nurse was kind and reassuring as I blubbered out my apologies, blamed cancer meds and admitted how foolish I felt being there puffed up with pus when I was dealing with the bigger issue of cancer. I had worked hard to keep myself out of the emergency ward ever since the beginning of treatment, only to end up being dragged in now by a finger that had developed its own heartbeat!

After reassuring me that I needed to be there because I have no immune system and that my family doctor was wise to send me directly to them, she asked me for a list of the medications I was on. I didn’t miss a beat jumping into my purse to grab the calendar that runs my world and then my heart dropped.  I’m never without my calendar, but this one time I had left it in my car when checking other appointments before arriving there.  My head fell into my hands as I once again had a mini melt down.  Could I do anything right?

I did my best to remember the medication I could, but lets be honest, if I couldn’t remember how I hurt myself I wasn’t going to be able to pick words like Bisoprolol or Candesartan Cilexetil out of the recesses of my mind. I started to play a kind of verbal charades with her telling her what the different meds do, hoping that she could guess the list of drugs from my dramatic portrayal. She cut me off mid-theatrics to tell me they would access all of my medications through my hospital records and once again tried to reassure me that I was normal.  Although I didn’t believe her, it was felt good to at least hear.

It took 4.5 hours,

  • two excruciatingly painful freezing needles into my finger joint,

  • listening to a doctor ‘man-splane’ to me that I didn’t understand my freezing abilities only for my body to confirm the warnings I gave him and contradict his pompous lecture,

  • a scalpel to slice me open so he could clean out all the gunk,

before I left with my finger wrapped up in a fancy bandage and having to forge my way to my car in an unexpected down pour.

Driving home I realized I needed to look at this with a logical lens; my brain is a muscle, and the best way to strengthen any muscle is to use it. And this would allow me to do one of my favorite things… study!

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First, I began making lists words I read that I loved, were new to me, or were oldies but goodies, being sure to include a definition and synonyms for each.

Next, I’ve become a connoisseur of the crossword puzzle. Not caring if I needed a dictionary, thesaurus or my cell phone to help me find the answers; after all, the point is to strengthen, not judge.

And finally, I’ve returned to my roots, music. I decided to take violin lessons, allowing me to learn something new in an extremely familiar world. It’s freeing learning for the sole purpose of learning and enjoying for enjoyments sake. 

Two weeks later I was back with my oncologist who with a confused partial laugh asked why her notes now included a visit to the emergency room.  I filled her in on the unexpected sidetrack and followed it with the real concerns that lay underneath.   She looked at me amused after I listed all I was doing to try to help myself as she informed me that the concern of having blackouts after chemotherapy has only ever been a concern pointed out by high functioning women.  She paused to let the label of ‘high functioning’ woman attach itself to me, then simply said, “you’re doing great”. 

And that’s all I needed to hear.

Avoid things only causes me stress; when I tackle something head on, no matter the outcome I always have the reassurance I did the best I could, and that is enough for me. 

 

Why Yes, I'll Have Fries With That!

I arrived at my cardiologists overly prepared like usual.  Ever since Dr. Delicious explored my legs for swelling through the great forest of hair, I’ve made sure to take extra care before leaving my house for a heart appointment.  It involves a full body scan for any rogue hair and remaining grateful that I can once again wear an underwire bra.

The door opened to the little waiting room and I lost part of my smile when it was explained to me that I wouldn’t be getting Dr. Delicious that day, or any other of the handsome doctors I’d seen before.  Although the female doctor I worked with was quite lovely, I’d grown fond of my cardiologists dates. They are, after all, the only dates I’m currently experiencing.

Left alone with the doctors assistant, we went through the usual checklist which involves making sure the meds are doing their job and being told to stop pushing myself; I get winded climbing up stairs, so doing laps in the pool to the point of almost drowning wasn’t helping me. She once again told me to simmer down and be kinder to myself.

Then she caught me by surprise by asking, “do you have salt in your diet?”

I was quick to defend my eating habits which have been continually altered because of chemo, then morphing again with radiation, then changing with the never ending surprise side effects and then finally modifying them again with heart failure.  Honestly, I take one look at a shaker of salt and I feel guilty, longing to be the type of girl that believes in cheating.  She was amused by my theatrics and eagerness to get a gold star but interrupted my defensive rambling by telling me she would like me to consciously add a little salt into my diet.  Well I’ll be jitterbugged.

Normally people with heart issues have high blood pressure so yes, they need to set aside the salt and eat more leafy greens.  But my blood pressure’s low, so eating salt would help my body retain some fluid and boost my blood pressure.  I happily quote her exact words, “so once in a while enjoy some chips or French Fries”. 

Finally, a medication and recommendation I could get into.  My ‘follow the rules come hell or high water’ personality was thrilled that for once, I didn’t have to second guess my instructions, or research for clarity, I just wanted to bolt out of that office and get my hands on some Swiss Chalet fries.  After all, it was the doctors orders. 

The moment the doctors assistant left the room I texted a bestie to tell her of my newest mandate.  We both agreed.  This was the best news I’d received since finding that lump of smutz in my chest.  And since she is a fellow connoisseur of the salty delicacy, appreciated my elation.  It was the first time I’ve left that hospital thrilled to follow orders.

Practically skipping away, I reflected back on what a colossal pain in the tuchus figuring out food has been since the very beginning and noticed how much stress I myself was adding to the mix. I was being a warden about food, judging myself if I ordered a donut to go with my green tea, or feeling like a failure if I had a larger than normal slice of cake at Sunday dinner. I was contributing to sucking the fun out of eating and I needed to let it go. So, along with being less less tyrannical over my salt consumption, I gave myself permission to enjoy the food I can actually eat. It doesn’t mean I’ll start having fries and lava cake with every meal (ah, cake for breakfast really does start a day off right), but when I decide to satisfy a craving, I’m removing shame from my plate along with the feeling that I’m destroying all the hard work I’m putting into fighting cancer just because I have a small package of M&M peanuts at a movie.

So with a tin of Pringles in hand and a smile on my face, I took my medicine like a every good patient should.

 
At the pharmacy.

At the pharmacy.