Unstoppable Memories

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I don’t know if it’s true that your life flashes before you right before you die, but I know that my life, my entire life, has certainly been on my mind lately.  I surround myself with quiet several hours each day. In these hours, I think a lot and I pray, too. So many thoughts race through my mind, powered by the knowledge that death is invading my body and attempting to take over….

I remember being 7 or 8 years old and walking almost 2 miles home every day after school on a narrow and lonely road in Speegleville, Texas. When I got home, I would push a step stool next to the stove, open a can of Chef Boyardee and heat it up in a pot; this was my after-school snack. I don’t remember ever being lonely or sad during these times. I was always happy to be alone as a child. When I got a little older, I would scrape together a few coins and run to the new candy store that opened on that lonely road. It was the only business between my home and school. On my walk home, I would often stop in just to look at the colorful candy even if I had no money to buy anything. Other times, I would stop and look over the small bridge at the creek and see boys fishing for crawfish. I don’t remember talking to them, just watching them with great interest before continuing my journey home. I loved living in the country; so many things to get into and see for the first time as a child. I had an untamable imagination that made boredom an impossibility even in the dry, dirt and weed covered backyard that was my playground. My brother would create mazes in the pasture next to our house with the riding lawnmower and I would chase him as he slowly made twists and turns. When we played together, it always involved inventing things in the barn. He built a go-cart while I watched and handed him tools. One time we took a bike frame and put two different sized tires on it and tried to ride it around. Laughter was the result of many things we attempted to do together.

Some of my best memories are with my friends from church and high school:  riding around in any one of our clunker cars with the radio at max volume and our singing, too.  Laughing until it hurt, our faces red with tears.  Dancing in the most hilariously unattractive way in the security of our close circle of friends, just acting goofy and enjoying life.  While I have many happy memories of my childhood, I also have many sad ones, too. But, I dare not write about the sad times because happiness is what I need to get through my days now.

To the friends I’ve known since kindergarten, junior high and high school:  It speaks volumes to your character and your capacity to love someone you’ve not been close to for many years; that you are standing so near me now in the echoes of our past friendship that once bound us so tightly together. Our mutual love for another was never lost, but simply pushed aside for the inevitable changes in life that everyone experiences. That love is now back in focus and I’m so thankful you never truly left me for I, too, never left you.

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Living with Cancer: Part III

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The storybook ending for my cancer wasn’t meant to be. My mid-treatment scans showed great improvement and gave my family and I great hope which, too easily, had us believing that I would have surgery soon and wrap up loose ends with additional chemo after, if necessary. We believed I would be free of the nightmare I call cancer.  Instead, I have been labeled “platinum resistant” which means my disease is no longer responding to the first and best line of chemotherapy treatment (Taxol and Carboplatin) available for my type of cancer. My latest CT report showed some tumors increased in size; one of these tumors on my liver is most significant because the cancer in my liver is what prevented me from being eligible for the surgery that would have removed all my female organs and the remaining tumors in my pelvis, abdomen and lymph node. The surgeon said that based on his experience, I will never be eligible.

Now, my oncologist is changing my chemotherapy drugs to Avastin and Doxil, which are typically less effective for my cancer, but apparently is the next step for me. I will have two full treatments and then have another CT scan to see if they’re working. If I don’t get good results, there is possibly one last treatment I may be able to get—clinical trial of a drug(s) that has never been used to treat cancer patients before. If nothing can reduce the size of my tumors or at the very least stop them from increasing in size, then I will be facing the beginning of the end of my life. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that my life will likely end much sooner than I ever imagined.

I won’t stop fighting this just yet. I’m starting a natural anti-cancer diet and supplements this week to enhance the new treatment and I, of course, have prayer. Even with hope, I must accept the very real possibility that I will be living with cancer until it takes my life. This development is so new that I’m struggling more than ever with depression. No one ever thinks their life will end in a year or two, but this is my reality now.

1982

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In 1982, when I was 9 years old, my mom told me she was going to take me to see the movie Annie on a Sunday afternoon. I remember the feeling of utter joy at the prospect. I don’t remember if I knew about Annie, the movie, prior to this but I do remember Annie in the Sunday comics. My dad had showed me how to transfer the comic strips onto silly putty; something we did often.

Mom planned our afternoon at the movie. She put outfits in the car the night before so we could change into more comfortable clothes after Sunday school and church. Back then we wore dresses, pantyhose, dress shoes…dressing for Sunday morning was serious business in Waco, Texas. After church my mom hurried me to the car and we rushed to the theatre where my mom parked away from other cars in the lot. We changed clothes in the car and then sprinted to the ticket booth. Once we were inside the dark theatre, we found seats easily as I don’t remember there being many people there. The movie started and right away I was hooked. It was a short trip from being excited to see the movie to wanting to be just like Annie. I loved her voice and I wanted to sing just like her. The music held my attention. When Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) appeared on screen, I was a little scared until I saw that she was also a little funny at the same time. Every moment captured my full attention and admiration of this movie experience. It was incredible to me. When it was over we walked outside into the blinding sunlight to the car and I was singing and dancing the rest of the day. This is one of the best times of my life and I’ll carry this memory with me forever.

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Book Review: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

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The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain is a solid read. From the first page, I wanted more. Every chapter is well written and keeps the wheels of interest turning steadily as the mystery unfolds. The main character, Riley MacPherson, has just lost her father and is tasked with managing his estate and reconnecting with her troubled brother; the last member of her family still alive. Riley discovers shocking secrets about her family as she deals with overwhelming loneliness and loss. Each discovery she makes sinks her deeper into an obsession to get to the bottom of her sister’s mysterious suicide twenty years earlier, when Riley was only two years old; the suicide that her brother, Danny, blames for ruining their family. Danny harbors hate for his dead sister while Riley longs to know who she was. I doubt you’ll be able to put this book down—recommended.

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A Walk to Remember (!)

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We decided to enjoy our last night in Chur, Switzerland eating a nice dinner at the highly recommended Hotel Rosenhugel. The view above the sleepy town was magnificent and the service and food was amazing. We dined on authentic wienerschnitzel and spatzle accompanied by a fine bottle of wine overlooking breathtaking mountain views. After dinner is when things got sketchy. We were about to take the return route back to our hotel on foot —about a 15 minute walk— when my husband says he believes the road next to the restaurant will take us back much quicker. I disagree with him, but when it comes to re-routing us for a possibly quicker trip, he always wins. And so we began. This road, as opposed to the sidewalk on our original route, has moving vehicles sharing our space. It’s getting dark and I’m increasingly nervous about taking this route and I voice my complaints concerns regularly as we walk down the windy road. At times, the shoulder of the road is so narrow that I’m forced to step on the asphalt where the cars are whizzing by. It gets even darker and there are no lights behind us or in front of us so I get out my cell phone and turn on a flashlight app and start swinging it wildly in front of me to let oncoming cars see us. At this point, I’m terrified and my husband is somewhat aggravated that I’m still not on board with his “quicker trip” agenda. A little more than 20 minutes (quicker trip, right?) of the most frightening walk of my life we finally emerge into the lights of the gas station near our hotel. Needless to say, we made it. Later, my husband apologized for putting us in such an unsafe situation and I forgave him, of course. But let this be a lesson to you travelers out there. Even if it seems like a short cut, stay on the sidewalks and in the lights please wherever you walk!

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Book Review: Firebrand by Sarah MacTavish

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This debut novel by Sarah MacTavish is not to be missed. In the current climate of our America, this novel takes us back to when the strife over whose life matters or not began. It’s a fascinating story of the heartache over the injustice of slavery and the broken minds that protected it. One side coming from the South and another parallel story coming from the North eventually converge in a gripping tale that kept me on the edge of my seat for the last 100 pages. This story will make you angry, sad, furious and heartbroken and you will be standing right there in the middle with the characters you will fall in love with. The last page states “to be continued” and I want to see the movie version. It’s what we need at this time in our country. We need to get back to our roots, clear the chalkboard and draw up new, compassionate plans for dealing with all of our heartache over the past. Again, do not miss this fast read.

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Accidental Tourists in Vatican City

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It was our first visit to Vatican City when we discovered that the Vatican was closed because the Pope was having a special Mass that day to honor Roman police officers. There must have been at least 3,000 people crowding to see the Pope. My husband, Erik, led me around the swarms of sweaty bodies as it was a scorcher that day. I followed him as we walked around trying to get a better view of the little tent that would soon shade the Pope. Everyone was waiting in excitement to see the Pope. We’re not Catholic, so we were just there to see the event and the famous man. We continued to walk around barriers and squeeze through the crowd until suddenly we were stopped by a uniformed officer. Holding his hand up at us he asked, in English, (we must have looked like Americans) if we had passes for the area we were in. We, of course, did not. As we turned around to go back, I noticed we must have been no more than 100 feet from that tent where the Pope now stood! We were so close and in a secured area without passes. I also noticed the metal detectors we somehow bypassed when we accidentally wandered into the forbidden area. I’m so glad we didn’t see the inside of a Roman jail that day. But I’m so glad we did see the Pope up close or else I wouldn’t have this little story to tell, even if it was too close for the Pope’s comfort….misadventures with Erik and Karen.

 

 

My First PET Scan

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I’m taken to a small room with a leather armchair that reclines. One technician asks me the necessary identification questions while the other pricks my finger to test my glucose level. A large machine is wheeled in shortly after an I.V. is put in my arm. A clear tube is connected to my I.V. and I feel a cool sensation from the radioactive material going into my arm. A couple of minutes later both technicians prepare to leave the tiny room. I’m given a call button in case I need something and the lights are dimmed as they close the door. All alone in a dark room with a faint orange glow from above, my emotions get the best of me and I start to cry softly. I’m exhausted from waking at 5:00am this morning and the high doses of Hydrocodone I take daily to keep the pain down make me weak. At this moment, I feel vulnerable and with little hope. The darkness surrounds me and I close my eyes; I focus on breathing and staying calm. I begin talking with God and I feel better for the remaining 45 minutes until they retrieve me.

I walk slowly next to the friendly technician, who will facilitate my PET scan, to a large room with the machine I will be subjected to for 30 minutes while it records images of cancer in my body. I’m asked to raise both arms above my head, relax and breathe naturally. I’m told I can keep my eyes open or close them. I choose to close them and for the next 30 minutes, my mind dives into memories of bike rides on my favorite trail in Michigan. I envision every detail along that trail, the countless chipmunks jumping in and out of holes in front of me causing near wrecks. I hear the tranquil stream that escorted me down the path and under the bridges I crossed; the pitch perfect sounds of birds in the trees as I ride along and listen for my favorite bird, the chickadee. I ride to the library on a warm day and I can smell the books as I enter through the large doors. Suddenly, a bright light shines through my eyelids and I hear a voice,”You can lower your arms now.”

A Laugh in Venice

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It was our first trip overseas when we visited Venice after more than a week in Rome, Florence and the Cinque Terre. Walking around Venice we expected to find the common pay toilets and businesses that only allow their patrons to use their facilities that we found in other cities in Italy. Strolling around Venice was wonderful. It’s so beautiful and romantic until you have to use the potty. We weren’t hungry and we already had drinks in our hands, so my husband decides he’s just going to go for it at a pub on a corner not far from the Piazza San Marco. He enters the double doors and heads straight for the toilet. The two ladies behind the bar start yelling at him in Italian, presumably they are telling him the toilets are for paying customers only. My husband simply turns to them, feet still moving toward his destination, and smiles widely while saying, “Unkenstein!” with a wave he enters the toilet room while the two ladies turn to each other with puzzled looks on their faces. He came outside where I was waiting and couldn’t stop laughing while he recounted what had just happened. Leave it to my hilarious husband to get away with such a caper using a foreign language he made up in a split second moment.

Living with Cancer Parts I & II

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Living with Cancer

Spoiler alert: this post is depressing before it lightens up.

When my adventure with cancer began, it was new and there was always something happening with which to deal. Now, 2 1/2 months into it, I have a routine; chemotherapy, recover for 5-6 days, then feel somewhat normal and try to do normal things until the next round. While having a routine has its merits for most people, for me, I’m totally depressed with it. I see no end in site and my life is all about cancer at this point. I’ve lost interest in most things I used to enjoy. Eating isn’t fun at all because my taste buds are messed up from chemo, so it’s difficult to find foods that taste the way they should. I get tired pretty easily, so when I go out shopping or something, I can only last a couple of hours before I need to head home for rest. I miss working. I have nothing to do that means anything anymore. I’m so depressed right now. I enjoy reading, but chemo has messed up my eyesight so at times it’s difficult to read at all.  I look forward to the times I do get out of the house, but there aren’t many reasons for me to even leave the house. It’s too hot to go for a walk at a park. I’m not wealthy, so shopping endlessly isn’t an option and I wouldn’t want to do that any way. I used to like to create things in my shop and while I did make a gift recently, it’s hard to be excited about stuff. I’m wallowing in self pity with this entire post when I know too many others have it so much worse than I do. I need to rejoice in the fact that I do have several good days, while not perfect, again, they are so much better than other people’s days. I just want to be normal again. I want to work again and start volunteering at a cancer center after I’m healed (praying for a miracle here) and do things that matter.

Living with Cancer Part II

It’s the next day and I’ve had a great night sleep. I am renewed. I’ve read some of a Beth Moore book that my friend, Amanda, gifted me. I have praised God in the kitchen this morning right before I started cleaning it – thankful I am able to clean it!  I am renewed. I no longer have the self pity of yesterday. I praise my God, my Creator, my Father in heaven for giving me life and giving it to me abundantly. When I struggle, I need only lean on Him and all is well again. Yesterday was just a blip on my timeline and I will likely have more blips as I go along, but there is always one thing that stays the same and that is my God. He doesn’t go anywhere, He’s always by my side, and He never changes. He keeps His promises and His word is everything. Thankful to be alive.