Nothing important enough to take up your time except this.
Poet Mary Oliver died this week on January 17th. She was important enough in my life to acknowledge her passing here. The comfort and introspection I derived from her writing while I was going through cancer treatment was lifesaving.
I don’t read a lot of poetry (and honestly don’t understand most of it), but I did Mary Oliver because she spoke to my soul, if that makes sense, about living a life paying attention and being astonished every day. She spoke of grief and I understood. Her writing reflected my values about nature and animals and said what I am wordless to say when watching a hawk sail overhead or sitting in silence under the moon like she did with Percy.
Unless you have or have had cancer, you won’t appreciate the significance of the title of this post.
Cancer anniversaries, regrettably nicknamed “cancerversaries” (see “anywho,” “guestimate”), are measured not from diagnosis, but from end of treatment. I don’t know about all protocols, but mine consisted of six weeks of radiation (5 days per week, about 20 minutes per session) interspersed with five rounds of chemotherapy.
The first three chemo sessions were low-dose support to the radiation, the last two were full-blown, as in the kind where the nurse stands in the doorway and watches you for a couple of minutes after the IV starts to make sure you don’t spontaneously combust. (Maybe that’s why she/he stands in the doorway and not right next to you in the bed or chair.)
On Friday September 25, 2015 I had my last chemo session. My localized, non-met tumor shrunk to nothing, I survived a clinical trial, the chemo and its concomitant hell, 10 days in the hospital for pneumonia, unrelenting fatigue and the infamous “chemobrain.” Three years later my status continues to be NED (no evidence of disease).
What’s important about this anniversary is that I’m more than halfway to the 5-year survival milestone. Each year I stay NED there’s a greater chance the cancer won’t come back. My oncologist says now there’s roughly a 20% chance of that. Of course, that could change in the time it takes to divide a cell, and I never forget that. No one with cancer ever forgets that. But for now I appreciate how incredibly lucky I am to have had these three years. And, that’s all it is – pure luck. And, maybe the good sense and geographic fortune to seek treatment at M.D. Anderson.
Three years in I never expected I would have. Three years to watch my grandchildren grow taller and stronger and be amazed at things they didn’t know the day before. Three years of imagination and Watch me! swimming and holding hands on the way to the park. Three years of birthdays and books and bedtime nuzzles. Three years of the people I love. Three years of ice cream and summers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Three years of school days and fall carnivals and Halloween costumes. Three years of Christmas anticipation and magic. Three years of moons and rainstorms and spaghetti with Rao’s marinara. Three years of dog smiles and soft cat paws and animals rescued and loved. Three years of cupcakes and birds and winter wind in the trees, the first smell of fall, summer night breezes and stars. Three years of life in this lousy, trump-infected world.
When you have a lethal form of cancer, your mortality eclipses your view of the future. And that’s something that no one who doesn’t have cancer can understand. It’s the first realm of separation.
“The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present.”
When you’re older, the ladder of goals is pretty much worn down to a slightly elevated ramp, but even then your consciousness dwells where future is inherent. There’s always tomorrow. A cancer diagnosis dispels that notion. Your world shrinks and flattens out while the larger one goes on without you. You recede, but you learn to find your place, your serenity, your joy in small present moments and you hold onto those for dear life. (Some of mine are here.)
So, three damn years. Yeah. Here’s to those ahead of me, behind me and, especially, to those we remember.
I have two pressing questions today. The first most of you will relate to; the second, maybe not everyone.
Question One: I’d rather take a bloody beating, but I have to buy a new washer. I wash a lot of human and animal bedding, so large capacity, at least 4.7 cu.ft. Got that part.
Why do I wash a lot of bedding? Because I made the huge mistake earlier in my life of accumulating a working zoo of animals in my house, all of whom appear to be immortal and all with varied hair lengths. While I’m happy to have them sleep on the bed, I don’t want to share their hair and the unidentified schmutz they pick up when they go outside 50 times a day to see what that noise was, and then deposit on the day quilt and comforter. Also cat butts.
So I need your help. Maytag? Whirlpool? Another brand? Not too high end. (Remember, the chances of me being around another 3 to 5 are slim to none.)
Agitator? Impeller (aka HE)?
I need an answer from some smart people because there are apparently none who work at the one local, independent appliance store in my town. We have a Lowe’s and a Home Depot, but I prefer to support local businesses when I can. I may have to rethink that commitment.
Unfortunately, this store’s primary sales strategy for selling washing machines seems to be blaming (alternately) the Democrats/Obama and the government for tromping on our god-given rights by regulating how much water we can use. Oh, absolutely. Because we all know we can trust millions of other people to be as responsible as we are – if the government would just leave us all alone.
Question Two: Probably not kosher blog etiquette to ask this, but having cancer makes you not care what you say anymore, so here goes: Anybody know what happened to Victo Dolore of Behind the White Coat? She just stopped blogging and her WordPress account is now private. Also, Grandma Lin at Breathing Space? No posts since December. I know she follows this blog, so just wondering if everything’s okay.
Geez. Two months since my last post? I know, hard to believe, and me such a prolific poster.
No health-related reason for my absence other than, apparently, my mind has descended to the point where I am no longer able to multi-task, or even find the words to complete a coherent sentence. Hey! Who does that remind you of?
Other reasons could be . . .
— Ennui, perhaps? In medical record notes they sometimes call this “anhedonia,” though the two aren’t really the same. Smartasses. Always gotta have some word they think nobody else knows. Well, I took Latin, bub. I know what anhedonia means.
— Summer and grandkids make for stuff to do besides blogging, or even reading other blogs. You don’t dare try to sneak a little blog reading time on your computer. When you sit down they descend on you like locusts wanting to play some game.
— Whatever I might have thought to blog about couldn’t have been too important, or somebody else blogged about it better and I didn’t see a need to repeat it.
— Kidding aside, it’s been a time of struggle and sadness for a few family and friends. My heart just hasn’t been into blogging lately.
So, in case you were wondering, no health scares. Still NED. Just the minor lifelong litany of ills chemo and radiation bestow on various body parts that can result in a periodic good day-bad day thing.
In September, I’ll be two years out from treatment. That’s when my chances for survival are supposed to increase “markedly!” “dramatically!” “exponentially!” Though I’m not sure about that last one, at least in a true mathematical sense.
Then again, I heard an oncologist say the other day that 28 months is the window for recurrence, so who knows. I’m just glad for every extra day I get so that I can claw my way out of . . .
The Department of Sh*t I Don’t Understand . . .
Like everyone else I suppose, I’m just trying to survive whatever sick game your president* is playing with North Korea, though my gut feeling is it’s just his way of distracting us from Mueller’s investigation. Also, enduring the stench of raw sewage he calls his Administration.
If I had to bet on what would kill me first, today I’d say it won’t be my cancer.
It is beyond my comprehension that this overbooked ship of fools is still docked. Rather than evoke the 25th Amendment, Republicans in Congress are willing to risk the lives of millions of people — Republican people, I might add — to keep this psycho teed up.
For what end?
And back to first world . . .
Our AC went out at 5am.
High today here in Hell: 100 degrees.
Pulled out the floor fans, closed the shutters and drapes and blinds, cranked up the ceiling fans to High, turned off any device that emits even a joule of unnecessary heat and now trying to convince my dogs to breathe through their noses and not their mouths. Do you realize how much heat two big, hairy dogs and one medium-sized dog panting produces? Why aren’t they following my instructions?
I forbid all doors in my house to the outside to be opened and even a microgram of diminishing cool air to escape. “In or out, we’re not air-conditioning the neighborhood!”
Yes, I suppose I could leave and go to an air-conditioned movie or bookstore or the library, but then my animals would be left to suffer while I’m enjoying myself in icy cold comfort. What kind of person would do that? Hey! I bet I know someone who would.
So, I’ll stay here with them l until the AC guy comes this afternoon; hence, the term shut-in.
One summer, when I was 10 or 11, my older brother and I “borrowed” our father’s golf cart from the cart shed at the country club1. It was my brother’s idea. I was just along for the ride. Or not, as it turned out. (My father was playing golf at the time. He played golf so much I thought that’s what he did for a living.)
I wanted to drive the cart so I kept trying to grab the steering wheel away from my brother. We fought, the cart swerved, — lookout! lookout! — my brother lost control and I went flying off the side, hit my head on the concrete in the parking lot and blacked out. I don’t remember anything after that. I’m sure I got in trouble, but I’m also pretty sure I milked it the whole way.
Aside from the dementia I will surely suffer as a result of this wholly avoidable accident and ensuing brain damage, it might also explain my overall quirkiness, which includes a fun talent for making shit up — book titles, colors, songs, character names — that I’m sure will come in handy later on when the dementia hits and my mind is cooked cabbage. (If cancer doesn’t get me first. What a fun future: dementia or cancer.)
As an example, these are book titles I wrote down on the notebook beside my bed. Tell me you wouldn’t be dying to read these:
Any Number Less Than One
Twilight’s Blessing of Carnage
Vuk Proleo: The March Backward for Hungary
Zan Coco Sayer: My Years as a Feather Girl
Don’t ask me what any of them mean. Have no idea, I just make them up.
I’m guessing they are trapped in that space that was damaged when I blacked out, and they seep into my consciousness periodically, in a pathetic attempt to escape the curcoil of my mind. Maybe. Curcoil, another word I just made up.
Also. Don’t even challenge me to a game of Balderdash because you’ll end up on the pavement. I mean it. Champeen.
1 Yeah, I spent my childhood as a country club brat. Until my father left us. With nothing. Thankfully, I had a resilient mother and some straight up kick-ass grandparents who together saw to it that we had fine childhood.
I’m trying to decide if I want to keep this blog, but that’s a post for another day. For now I’m playing with how the site looks. It’s called the theme in Web parlance. I used to be a Web developer when I was a real person with a job and a life, so I know these very complicated things.
This is WordPress’s Twenty Seventeen theme. I like it because it’s simple and clean. Also versatile. And FREE.
I can change the font (typeface) without having to revise the stylesheet code manually. I like that. That used to be part of my job as a Web developer. Now everything is so automated. No wonder we have so much free time!
I’m not crazy about the size of the header image (see, again, technical Web talk you wouldn’t understand) and having to scroll down to actually read something, but I like the picture of that plant on a coffee table so I’ll leave it for now.
The picture looks inviting. Homey, clean, like you’d want to sit down, relax and have coffee with whomever lived there. (Or is it whoever? I don’t think so because it’s the object of a preposition, isn’t it?)
If I put that plant on my coffee table it would be on the floor, dragged and spread throughout the house, eaten and vomited up before I could get the vacuum cleaner. Animals. Filthy buggers.
So, what do you think of the theme? Don’t everybody answer at once because, you know, there are so many of you and it would take me days to read all the comments.