I’ve been writing this blog in my head all week. I just can’t seem to find a theme I can stick with for more than a paragraph or two. Or, if I’m honest with myself, a sentence or two.
Regular readers will know a friend of mine passed away and her memorial service was this last weekend. I’m in the second or third tier of mourners. Tier one – the decision makers and those truly being overwhelmed with waves of grief. Tier two – the organizers. The ones asking the decision makers what they want and striving to make it happen. The people whose grief makes them prickly, rude, short-tempered, unclear and perfectly sure they have everything in line because keeping things in line is how they cope. Tier three – the support system for the first two tiers. The listeners. The worker bees. The one’s who are distant enough to put off their mourning until it’s convenient (at least a little more effectively).
Having the memorial made it real. That’s part of the point of course. Being gifted some mementos makes it real and personal (which it has always been, but denial is so convenient). Having nothing left to “get done” means there is no longer an excuse to put off the emotional response.
I’m sure the death certificate doesn’t say my friend died of cancer. But it is certainly the undiagnosed and untreated cancer that caused the heart failure.
I’m grateful my friend didn’t die alone at home, but had people around her who cared about her.
I’m grateful my friend went quickly, all at once, rather than having to slowly and painfully waste away.
I’m grateful her very elderly mother dared to get on a plane and put herself in the hands of a community of her daughter’s friends whom she had never met.
I’m grateful for the presence of people who spoke about areas of my friend’s life that I wasn’t privy to.
I’m angry that a cancer that large and impactful goes undiagnosed for so long. I’m angry that the complaints of a large woman (both exceptionally tall and not willowy) are dismissed by our medical community as always being about weight. I’m upset that no matter how good the insurance you’ve got, unless you know what to ask for medicine is practiced according to the insurance company guidelines rather than actual medical need.
I had breakfast today at Gilda’s Club. It’s a sort of monthly social event. At Gilda’s I am surrounded by people living with cancer, many of whom know they have no hope of a cure. I am always buoyed up by the spirit of care and acceptance. I am reminded that there is pain and sorrow, but also hope and joy.
I’m putting one foot in front of the other. Step by step.
Many of you know that I do regular volunteer work for Gilda’s Club Twin Cities. Gilda’s is a place where support, education, classes in healthy living, social support and community resources are made available to anyone impacted by cancer – for free. That’s not just people with a cancer diagnosis, but their families and support systems. It’s an incredible organization and a beautiful and healing environment.
Because Gilda’s does not demand anything of its members, it is supported entirely by community donations. Our clubhouse is a gift of time, talent, and resources of many volunteers, community members and business organizations. The position I occupy, Gilda Greeter, is a volunteer position that many of the group of Gilda greeters have been doing for years. There is a lot of love at Gilda’s.
Last week was our big annual fundraiser. The “Imagine a Place” Breakfast started to raise funds to create a clubhouse in our area. Imagine a Place, our founders said, where people could go to get help and support. We continue to imagine and to grow. That takes a lot of time, a lot of hands, and honestly a lot of money. I put in some extra hours last week to help out.
The Aliveness Project has been around in the Twin Cities for a lot longer. They are an organization that supports people who are living with HIV and AIDs. They were one of the first groups that offered free testing. They also provide education and support to their members.
I’ve not been as active with the Aliveness Project, although many of my friends have. One of the best fundraisers they do is called Dining Out for Life. Essentially, restaurants who participate donate a percentage of the days take to the Project. It’s fun to make a date for a night out and know that because of the timing you are also supporting a good cause.
In all honesty, we didn’t plan our night out to happen along with Dining Out for Life. (In spite of the fact that we were all aware it’s a thing.) We didn’t pick the restaurant Northbound Smokehouse because it was one of the biggest supporters of the event (a platinum level participant). We just got lucky.
We ordered big, ate really well, tipped generously and all threw a little something extra in the envelope the Dining Out volunteers provided. We were happy, and grateful, to be enthusiastic participants. It was fun, it was easy, and most especially it was a good cause.
Minnesota has one of the most active non-profit communities in the nation. We have a council that reviews non-profits and provides information about how their money is distributed. We have community events, generous business owners and an understanding that if those in need do better, we all do better.
How do you support your community?
It seems the more I start to feel like myself again, the more I am bombarded with emotions. I shouldn’t be surprised. It is typical for me to dig in and deal with crisis. As long as there’s something that needs doing I’ll be okay. It’s when things settle down that all that backlog comes rushing forward demanding to be heard. I have time to “feel the feelings” and I don’t like it.
I have so much to be grateful for. I got an early diagnosis. I have good doctors. I got to have laparoscopic surgery. Hell, I’ve beaten cancer twice! I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and the kindness of my friends.
I also feel like I’ve been put through the ringer, again. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I feel like I’m fraying at the edges. Some of that is simply age. I’m not as resilient as I was in my 20’s. I don’t bounce back as fast, or as far, and it’s frustrating. Some of it is that, although I’ve had all the help that I need, I haven’t had the support of a partner cheering me along. When my spirits sag, I have to bring them back up on my own.
What really challenges me, though, is the lack of security. I don’t have sick leave. I don’t have vacation time. I don’t have a nest egg. I am trying to build a new career. I’m looking into moving Orion out. I’m not sure, even healthy, that I can continue to live in my home. The cancer diagnosis just underlines that there are no guarantees in life.
Ostara, the spring equinox, is a time of balance and new beginnings. That seems like a good place to start. Finding the new normal, creating patterns and systems that are healthy, and hanging on to hope; that is the task at hand. As long as there’s something that needs doing, I’ll be okay.
As Burns said (after his language was updated) “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” According to Murphy, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” One way or the other, as the idiom goes, “someone has thrown a wrench in the works.”
I really wanted to spend last weekend in California at Pantheacon. I was scheduled as a presenter and I was really excited about the workshop I planned. It was about energy management, specifically in ritual settings, called “Sitting down or sitting out”. Maybe the universe thought I needed a refresher course first!
It has been a busy month with lots of medical appointments. My regular readers have heard me talk about dealing with a DVT (blood clot) and blood thinners and anemia. Every single appointment I’ve had since the beginning of the year has started with the statement, “You need to know I’m getting on a plane February 13th.”
I didn’t get on the plane. Instead I got scheduled for surgery. In fact, if you’re reading this on President’s Day Monday, I’m certainly at the hospital and may be “under the knife” even now. Scheduled publishing is one of those handy WordPress features.
The truth of the matter is that I’ve known for several weeks that surgery was the plan. I just insisted that I get the California trip out of the way first. In looking for ways to address the anemia I was referred to a Gynecologist who, as part of a standard exam, did a biopsy. It turns out that I have endometrial cancer.
It’s been 24 years (to the MONTH!) since the last time someone told me I had cancer. Back then it was colon cancer and I was relieved to get the news that being sick wasn’t just in my head. There was a little bit of relief this time as well. My first thought was that my PAP smear was off, and it was cervical cancer – which is really nasty. Endometrial cancer tends to stay localized. Most of the time it’s an easy fix. Have a hysterectomy and you’re good to go.
Even the idea of a hysterectomy is kind of a relief. I’ve been experiencing peri-menapausal symptoms for a very long time. I have ZERO interest in more children. I’m a lousy candidate, medically, for any kind of pregnancy. Happy to be done with all of that.
The concern is that it’s a second occurrence of cancer. The concern is that this cancer doesn’t explain the blood clot. The concern is that maybe I’m one of those people who is prone to getting clots and cancers. Unless you’re me, in which case the concern is missing the trip to Pantheacon.
I’m not a great candidate for surgery either. This will be my (count them) sixth abdominal surgery. The last one was the bariatric surgery less than a year ago. The nutritional complications from both the bariatric surgery and the cancer can impact recovery time. The scar tissue could prevent the procedure from being done laparoscopically – significantly impacting recovery. The blood thinners and anemia add additional complications.
So please send warm thoughts and prayers for an easy surgery and rapid recovery. I’ll add an update a little later in the week so you’ll know how I’m doing. I may take a bit of a blogging break while I process all of this and try and get a handle on another version of “my new life.”
And if you’re interested in what I’m missing, here are links to the blogs I’ve written about Pantheacon and flying to California in years past.
Home from the hospital. Everything went really well. They managed to do the surgery both laproscopically and robotically! Got everything and no surprises. Now it’s recovery. I hurt and I’m really tired, but I’m glad to have that part behind me. Thanks for the well wishes!
I’ve been trying to get out of my head all week. Not an easy task apparently. Missing the cat hasn’t helped. Rainy days (day after day after day) hasn’t helped. Not sleeping (the rain doesn’t help the background pain at all) doesn’t help. I know I did some things last week. I maybe even did some cool and important things last week. I just don’t remember much except the grey.
It occurred to me, in a flash of sunlight, how important the little things are. I watered the plants.
I fed the feral cat that took refuge from the rain in my garage. (No worries, he was gone as soon as the sun came out.) I took Orion to Trader Joe’s.
You have to understand that Friday afternoon our Trader Joe’s does wine tasting. Most of the time the wine tasting host is a lovely Italian man named Lorenzo. He teases Orion in Italian and Orion adores him (so of course I do too.) What’s not to like about that little excursion. I get groceries, wine, entertainment, a happy Orion and flirting with an Italian. Life starts looking up.
The other thing I know that gets me out of my own head is helping others. A Gilda’s Club just opened in Minneapolis (practically in my back yard.) Some of you will remember Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live. When she was dying of breast cancer she found a club for women like herself to just hang out and support each other. She left them a legacy and they became Gilda’s Clubs. They’re scattered across the united states and most of them are open and welcoming to anyone of any age who’s dealing with cancer, supporting someone with cancer, or survived having cancer.
I am a cancer survivor myself. I had colon cancer in my 20’s. My Mom is a breast cancer survivor. My cousin is just clear of throat cancer. There are members of the family who’ve dealt with prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer. My best friend from college died of Kaposi sarcoma, the skin cancer that is associated with HIV/Aids. (It’s what Tom Hanks character had in Philadelphia.) I easily qualify as a member of the club no one wants to belong to.
Since they had their grand opening a week ago I figured I’d stick my head in on my rounds and check it out. It’s a beautiful building, well designed and appointed. I sat in on a cooking/nutrition class that was very well done. I even got a recipe. I took a tour and saw all their group rooms, the yoga studio, the art room, the teen center and the children’s corner. They may be understaffed and marginally attended now, but they have the facility to really take off in a very short time. I put my name in the pool as a volunteer for the front desk. Hey, it’s walking distance from my house.
Maybe I’ve started a new adventure. Maybe I’ve come full circle. It’s not as extreme as Karina’s solution. I’ve become a doggie Grandma to Minnie Mouse. I’m not stuck in my head anymore.