Road trip

Wednesday, November 13, 2019. I took a road trip a couple weeks ago. It was on a whim, really.

It was a Tuesday, and I’d been emailing back and forth with my cousin in Wyoming. I mentioned I was hoping to drive to Mesquite to visit her folks in the spring. She said to let her know when and she would meet me there.

It got me to thinking, why wait until spring? The weather forecast was clear. I had no appointments. No obligations. I was feeling good. I hadn’t been on a road trip in over a year. I had the itch, and I decided to scratch it.

I emailed my cousin, and said I was thinking about leaving on Thursday and to mull over meeting me there. In record time she emailed me back to say there was nothing to mull over. She would leave the next day.

So, at 530 on Thursday morning I hit the road for Mesquite. I decided not to go the faster, more straightforward route that would take me through San Francisco, Bakersfield, Henderson and Las Vegas. Instead I chose to go through Reno on I-80 then venture south on NV-439 which took me through towns like Yerington, Coaldale, Tonopah and Coyote Springs.

On the way there, I drove straight through. There were lots of twists and turns, and what seemed like endless straight stretches through open range where you had to keep a watchful eye for grazing cattle. There were areas where the speed limit was 45 mph in deference to the wild horses of which I saw many. Still another had flashing signs warning of a major sheep crossing.

I also drove past Area 51 with its warning signs and giant alien statue towering above and in front of the souvenir shop.

area51When I got to Mesquite, 14 hours later, my aunt and uncle and cousin were waiting outside in the dark, welcoming me with shouts and laughter and crazy love. As exhausted as I was I jumped out of my car, gave massive hugs and kisses all around, and then jumped up and down in unbridled glee.

It was an amazing journey, and in retrospect a metaphor for the wild and crazy ride I have been on the last 14 months with all the twists and turns and deadly warning signs. It wasn’t an easy route. The long straight stretches were reminiscent of all my waiting and wondering and introspection. Area 51…well no explanation is necessary for that. The incredibly warm and love-filled welcome and shouts of genuine affection and relief that prevailed when I finally arrived, reminded me of all of you who have supported me and loved me and encouraged me and told me with genuine, unbridled affection I would make it.

And I did. I’m still here.

Just where you are—that’s the place to start. —Pema Chödrön


My new normal

Wednesday, October 16, 2019. I know it’s been quite a spell since my last post. I guess I’ve been trying to figure out, “what is my new normal?”

Going out in public and trying not to be self-conscious about my appearance is still a bit of a struggle. I’ve finally got enough hair that folks who don’t know what I’ve been through think I had it cut this way. The truth is that I don’t think I’d ever be that brave.

It’s good to be back in the company of friends and having a more social life rather than keeping myself isolated so as not to get exposed to any viruses. It feels like I’m back in the world of the living. For most of 2019 I’ve been content to be on my own little planet navigating through the trials of this disease, an active citizen in that corner of the universe that battles cancer on a daily basis. Another one of the patients of all those souls who choose a life serving those of us who are cancer’s victims. I miss my friends in the medical community, but I don’t miss the weekly journey or the poking, prodding and poisoning.

I got on the scales today and I finally weight 95 pounds! A goal I’ve strived to achieve for nearly 10 months.

So, I’m doing good. I’m happy. I’m “healthy.” People say I have my spark back. It’s good to sparkle.

Do I think that ultimately cancer will be my demise? Yes, it’s likely. Unless, of course, there truly is a cure (new cancer vaccine shows promise).

The truth is that cancer is always lingering in the back of my mind. It is my constant companion. When I wake up in the middle of the night that’s what I think about. They aren’t fear-based thoughts. They are mostly about how I want to live my life now that the worst of it is behind me. I’ve decided I’m going to do the things that give me joy…big and small. If I want to have a peanut butter cookie or two, then I’m going to have them. I’m not going to martyr myself in what seems to be a futile attempt to keep cancer at bay. After facing this disease two times in my life, and being in good health both times, I know that cancer doesn’t care. Life was meant to be lived, and that’s what I’m going to do as best I can, under my own terms.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides. —Barbara Kingsolver – Animal Dreams



Eight weeks out

thumbnail_zForestBaFantacySaturday, September 1, 2019. Tomorrow marks 8 weeks since my last chemo treatment and 4 weeks since my last post. This has been a time of healing and recovery for me. As a matter of fact, it occurred to me as I was drifting off to sleep the other night that I’ve been unconsciously trying to distance myself from cancer. To not have it fill every moment of every day. To just be me in the moment enjoying my retirement and my improving health. In reality, not an hour goes by that the cancer isn’t fully present. All I have to do is glance in a mirror and it is jarringly apparent.

I don’t know when the day will come that cancer won’t be a part of my ongoing inner conversation. I’m guessing that until I reach that magical five-year milestone, it will be the enemy I am continually on the lookout for. Even after that, there will always be the war wounds of this experience to remind me of my vulnerability to this disease—the 5-inch long scar under my arm and the one-inch scar on my chest marking where my port was located. This journey has permanently changed me, as I knew it would.

My hair is just now starting to grow back after the Adriamycin…much slower than it did when I finished the carboplatin/taxol. My concentration is improving. I actually read a book from beginning to end, my first since treatments began last January. My strength and stamina are improving, but I still poop out pretty quickly. Food tastes good again, and the last I checked I was only 2 pounds away from my 95-pound goal.

I’m self-conscious when I go out in public, because I still look like a cancer patient. It is even harder for me to face groups of acquaintances and friends at art show openings or other events, mainly because it’s exhausting to even think about answering everyone’s questions and concerns about my health knowing the first topic of conversation will be about my cancer. How can it not be? If the shoe were on the other foot, I’d do the same.

In the big picture, I’m better than I’ve been in nearly a year. I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic. I’ve had and continue to enjoy incredible support and love—a gift I’m more grateful for than anyone can ever know. So thank you.

I did see Dr. Rugo on August 21 for my 6-week follow-up. She was very happy with my progress but disappointed I had opted out of radiation. However, she understood how hard the chemo was on me and that I desperately need recovery time. She asked me to not dismiss the idea completely, but to keep the topic open for discussion at our next meeting in late November.

I’m not sure when I’ll post again. Like I said, I’m trying to keep some distance from cancer, so it’s harder for me to write about it. And, right now, life is pretty uneventful. I like it that way.

Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy. —Anne Frank