Tag Archives: cancer

G.W.T.F. and Celebrate Life

Sunday morning, at an hour far too early, I drove to meet the chartered bus which would be taking a bunch of runners to a race in Rock Hill, N.Y. I had the radio on to a Rick Steve’s broadcast. The topic was women and solo travel, a subject that felt really timely in light of last month’s trip to Rome and a recent DelSo post. The female guests shared their experiences and advice and it was pretty interesting. I especially loved the new abbreviation I picked up – Go With The Flow. It was a good way to start the day.

This was my second time doing this particular race and the fact that I opted to run it again, after the subzero temperatures from last year, is a real testament to how beautiful the course is. The hills are mostly rolling, the homes are beautiful, and there seem to be lakes in every direction. The scenery compelled us to pause repeatedly for photos, while the challenge of running 13.1 miles forced us to stay hydrated with frequent water stops. We weren’t in a rush. Lunar B*tches are all about the journey, friends!

This race is a fundraiser to help support people battling cancer, a fact which made my own state of exhaustion from lack of sleep and adequate fueling seem pretty damn minor. Signs line the course, honoring the people who have lost their battles with cancer and naming runners participating on their behalf. I remembered this from last year, but there was something about it on Sunday that just wrecked me. One sign in particular hit me hard. It listed a woman’s name and a simple sentence: She lived every second.

I’m so not ready to depart this life yet, but if I did, I would want to be remembered just like that. Until my time comes I’ll continue to go with the flow and celebrate life every second. How about you?

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Filed under beauty, cancer, Events, Exercise, favorites, friends, musings, Recommendations, road trips, running, sunday, Uncategorized, upstate New York, winter

The burgermeister

They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family, however that hasn’t been my experience. When you don’t meet your first relative (other than your mother and brother) until you’re 22 years-old, having family is very much a choice. With complete honesty, I can say that finding and getting to know my family has been without exception the most personally gratifying and fulfilling decision I have ever made. I think that’s why I’m so devastated by the loss of my uncle, the man I’ll always think of as the burgermeister

From the very first time we met, me an undergraduate student and the daughter of one of his oldest sisters kicking around Europe, he, in his midthirties and a father to two young children, he always made me know I was family. There was never an instant that wasn’t apparent in the subsequent years and the times we shared.
Between that initial introduction and his recent death we probably were together on a dozen different occasions. He and his wife visited Albany, we met in NYC on the very day my own cancer was determined to require additional treatment, we traveled together in Europe. Three of my last four trips to Europe involved spending time with him and those are some memories that I’ll take out and shine until they gleam gold.

We stayed in the town where he lived twice in recent years and it was truly wonderful to witness the affection with which he was greeted everywhere we went. It was so obvious that he was a beloved member of his community – from the bakery to the Italian restaurant where he still occasionally worked when they needed a hand, he was met with humor and warmth and I was honored to claim him as my uncle. I always felt safe with him and I’m convinced there was nothing in this world with which he couldn’t contend. Except cancer.

As I was proud of him, he was proud of the life he had created. He had been a competitive athlete representing his country in the biathlon. Since learning that part of his history, I’ve loved cross country skiing even more, like it’s our family’s sport. During our visit in April he shared the medals he had won and his unabating love for winter sports was apparent. His home actually overlooks a ski jump used in international competitions, (which he helped with, of course) and we toured a local museum dedicated to the history of Nordic skiing.

My uncle, the unofficial burgermeister, was a great man and the loss of him, despite the thousands of miles between us, feels almost unbearable. How incredibly lucky was I to have seen him so recently? How kind of the universe to have cooperated by putting so much of my family in one place to celebrate Easter just two months ago. I know the ache in my heart will dull and the tears will dry but I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing him. As the marker on his final resting place states, he was a gift from Heaven.

Hug your dads, uncles, husbands and sons and know how fortunate you are.

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Filed under aging, cancer, Europe, family, Germany, love, Uncategorized, x-country skiing

Are your ducks all in a row?

IMG_2019Have you ever chaperoned a field trip? At this point in my life, I’ve accompanied quite a few bus loads of students to destinations like NYC, Montreal and, as of today, Boston. I take the responsibility pretty seriously and spend an inordinate amount of time counting my charges, hoping to consistently arrive at the same number. Today my magic number was four.

It was a beautiful day for a field trip to Boston. We left before the sun came up knowing we were in for a long day. After contending with typically hideous traffic as we approached the city, we arrived at our first destination, the Museum of Science. I’d never been there before and my small posse was a great group. We had fun exploring the hands on exhibits, checking out the dinosaurs and stumbling upon the lightning storm demonstration as a perfect finale to our visit. On to the next stop – the Duck Tour.

I herded my group, feeling like Mrs. Mallard from Make Way for Ducklings, to our meeting point and we boarded our amphibious vehicle to learn about Boston’s history and get into the river. I checked my email as we sat at yet another red light and gasped at what I read. There had been a very unexpected death in my family. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes. The day changed and memories washed over me in waves larger than any we would see on the Charles.

The uncle I lost was the relative, other than my brother, to whom I felt most connected. He was the first member of my German family that I met, years ago when he arrived at the Hauptbanhof to pick me up and bring me into the mountains where my family lived. He was the youngest of my mother’s brothers, closer in age to me than her, and from that very day he was never less than kind, generous and thoughtful to me and, eventually, my own family. Losing him has shocked me into sadness.

I have memories of him holding my babies, walking with us across the Brooklyn Bridge, sharing meals together in a half dozen countries, hosting us in his home…He and his wife had a marriage that never failed to make me smile. Their love for one another was evident and they enjoyed more adventures in their nearly 20 years as husband and wife than many couples will ever know. That’s the consolation, right? To have loved with passion, lived with spirit, taken advantage of the time given?

Our most recent trip together was less than two months ago. My youngest son and I spent nearly 10 days traveling around Germany with my uncle and aunt. We had what I’m convinced was the best Easter I’ll ever have, eating and drinking with five of my mother’s siblings and nearly a dozen cousins. I never imagined that he’d be gone just weeks later. Our last night together was in Berlin. We had dinner and then reconnected later in the night to have our final drink of vacation together in a little bar popular with the theater crowd. It was quiet and, as always, I felt a little sad to know that our time together was coming to a close, until next time, next year.

A day that began with counting my charges became an evening of gathering memories. I’m really going to miss being able to make more of those with him. Ensuring that all of my ducks are in a row may be something that will always require attention and work, but I’ll take some comfort in knowing that my efforts to know and spend time with my family have been the greatest use of my time, money and energy. Rest In Peace, WM.

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Filed under aging, cancer, family, Germany

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day – John David Anderson

Reading is the least expensive vacation I’ve ever had.  Sometimes I go to the future and other times to the past, but the destination isn’t the important part to me usually. It’s just getting away from now.  At a time when I sometimes feel physically assaulted by the daily news, a low budget escape is exactly what I’m looking for in a book, even when the book’s conclusion is not the one for which a reader would be hoping. Hey, after November 8, 2016, I’m kind of used to that anyway.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot of this YA title, but it’s essentially the story of 3 boys and the teacher who taught them far more than they ever expected.  It’s at times outrageously funny and heartbreakingly sad, but most of all it’s a book that reads as real. If you’re lucky, you once had a Ms. Bixby in your life. My favorite quotes are below.

Ms. Bixby sighs the Teacher Sigh. The one they must give you as you walk out the door with your teaching degree.  Equal parts exasperation, disappointment, and longing for summer vacation.

When I suggested she brush up on her astronomy, she seemed offended, saying that she probably knew things that I didn’t.  I told her that was highly unlikely. Then she asked me who the lead singer of Led Zeppelin was. I told her zeppelins could not be made of lead due to the obvious weight issues.  She said “Case closed.”

Change is the only constant.

Topher is a constant, like pi or radical two.

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.

You can’t always pinpoint the moment everything changes.  Most of the time it’s gradual, like grass growing or fog settling or your armpits starting to smell by midafternoon.

There’s a difference between the truth and the whole truth.  That’s why they give that big spiel in court, when they make you place your hand on the Bible and promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because they know if they don’t, people will try and sneak around it. They will leave out the details, skip over the incriminating stuff. Keep the worst parts to themselves.

You have to slay the dragon to be the hero. Not easy to do, but at least you know what you’re dealing with. Dragons are easy to spot…but there are no such things as dragons. It’s never that clearcut. Sometimes the thing you’re fighting against is hiding from you. It’s tucked away. Buried deep where you can’t see it. In fact, for a long time, you might not even know it’s there.

You know how, in movies, everything comes around full circle and you’re back where you started? Turns out life isn’t like the movies. Life doesn’t come all the way back around again. It’s not a straight line either. It angles and curves, shoots off a little, twists and turns, but it never gets right back to the place it started. Not that you would want it to. Then you wouldn’t feel like you had gotten anywhere.

Live every day as if it were your last. The truth is – the whole truth is – that it’s not your last day that matters most. It’s the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on…They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest.

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Filed under Books, Librarians, Recommendations, Uncategorized

The ultimate CT

Does anyone else remember that abbreviation meaning something else back in the day? I’m not talking about the state of Connecticut either. These days, however, CT is the short form of Computerized tomography aka a Cat Scan or the test I had yesterday afternoon.

If you’re (fortunately) not familiar with CT scans, allow me to share the experience. Following blood work to ascertain the functioning of one’s kidneys, the patient is positioned, injected with saline followed by dye, and then moved into the machine for a few minutes. When the technician has everything they need, one is released to await results from their physician.

The images are essentially immediately viewable and, if you’re lucky, you hear from your doctor quickly. For me, this is the hardest part of the test and the longer I wait, the more convinced I become that there is something seriously wrong. Something so terrible the doctor doesn’t even have words for the sheer awfulness of the results. Yep, that’s what happens, at least in my mind.

After 10 days of worry, 4 visits to medical facilities, and an inconclusive biopsy, I was a bit on the edge. When my surgeon finally called this afternoon to give me the (good!) news, I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to say…

She doesn’t feel the need to operate to remove this latest lump. She’s of the opinion that the lump is a “fried” salivary gland which shows no sign of malignancy. I’m to be closely monitored and the prognosis could change, but, for now, no surgery. I know there will be some disappointed folks out there – namely the friends who have sincerely offered to cook, drive and sponge bathe me, but I’m sure we can work something out.

Never has a good CT been so appreciated.

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Filed under cancer, medical

Not doing it myself

Inspired by this sunflower.

Inspired by this sunflower.

Since I’ve shared the part of my weekend when I did do things myself, I believe it is only fair to also share the days since then when I’ve been very much accompanied. Monday I went to see my ENT. I wasn’t alone. My doctor pretty much did what I expected – an in office fine needle biopsy, orders for some blood work and a CAT scan and the promise of a call to schedule surgery. Whatever it is, it’s coming out.

Because I had been so open prior to the appointment, I felt compelled to report back to my friends, both “real” and virtual, to share the news from my office visit. The warm wishes, promises of prayers, and offers for assistance have left a greater mark on me than that bruise, or any of the already existing scars, on my neck. Thank you, friends.

Two days post-appointment, blood work done, anticipated CAT scan tomorrow and surgery three weeks away, I am bolstered and protected by the people I love, people who have demonstrated that they return the feeling. Although I’ve been down this path before, in terms of medical intervention, this sense that my being taken care of is a concern to many, is new. And cherished.

So, pathology should be back in a matter of days and in just a few weeks this latest (and literal) bump in the road will be gone. Thanks for traveling this path with me, and to someone who has allowed me to ride shotgun for a change, thank you for taking the wheel. I so appreciate it.

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Filed under cancer, Flowers, friends, love, medical

The sweetest book – Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

This title arrived in a recent order and I immediately wanted to touch it, to pick it up and carry it.  It charmed with its cover alone and I borrowed it for the recent holiday break.  I carried it in my 48.5 lb luggage to New Orleans and back without cracking its spine, but yesterday, after finally finishing Allegiant (Roth), I opened this little gem as a reward.  I read the preface.  Twice.  Who does that?

The individual chapters, intensely small like a fine truffle, captivated me with their sincere and simple words – choose your hero, choose how to spend your time, choose to love.  The story Alice Hoffman shares with readers is her own, a story on the surface about her experience with cancer.  But that’s not really what it’s about – it’s about choosing.  One would never choose cancer, but I think what Hoffman is suggesting is that we choose how we handle an obstacle like cancer or war or heartbreak.  She is inspiring.

Survival Lessons is the kind of book word lovers, and those who celebrate beauty every day, should have on their bedside table.  Get an extra one for a friend.

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