Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's been awhile!

So for the longest time, I was just blocked, didn't have much to say. Be careful of what you pray for. Oh yeah, I have plenty of inspiration to draw from now, all hard earned. Today may be a little light, but I'll do my best to catch you up in the following posts. Read on:

The Pin Cushion

One of my earliest childhood memories is spending time with my Mom in her sewing room. Amongst bolts of fabric and boxes of trim, one of the curiosities was her pin cushion. Round and blood red it had a small little man sitting on top. He wore yellow pajamas and a blue straw hat. It never made much sense to me then or now, but I thought about it alot over the past three weeks while in the hospital for a blood clot that had traveled to my lungs, pretty much wiping me out. No hospital stay is pleasant and as the three weeks rolled on it became almost unbearable. They give you a sedative to help you sleep, but then wake you up ever couple of hours to take vitals. Chest xrays all times of the night, and the worst, the constant giving of blood. Your veins become thick and unresponsive quickly, leading them to find blood in smaller and smaller vessels. As this happens the pain becomes more and more intense. I finally developed a two stick rule. You can't get blood in two sticks, send in the next person who can. Finally, I just started meditating on the pin cushion. I would be like the man on top of the pin cushion. Never complain about the pain, just be an observer to the fact that I was being stuck yet again. This seemed to do more for my attitude than yelling at nurses or complaining or feeling sorry for myself. Just take a step back, knowing that things are difficult, but I am strong, and have God only knows how many people praying on my behalf for my recovery. I am home now, with Ken and the dogs. It's still tough going and the recovery will take some time, but at least, for now I'm not a pin cushion.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What a difference a day makes (well actually a year...)

I can't believe that a year has gone by since I heard those three little words, "you have cancer". It happened just prior to the holidays last year and here we are again in the thick of things. I can't say I feel like my old self again, actually I feel in many ways better. Gone is the doubt and fear that I carried around with me before. Looking back, I think that I was in the beginning of a mid-life crisis prior to my diagnosis. Nothing like a little cancer scare to get you out of that!

The fear is gone from my partner Ken's eyes as we both look to the future. He even joked a couple of nights ago that the world was supposed to end in one year on December 21st (if you believe in the Mayan Calender myth). He quickly stated that that wasn't going to happen though. He was pretty sure God saved me for a reason and a year didn't seem long enough for that reason to reveal itself. I like his way of looking at things! I wonder about how the people that have bought into this myth will react when they wake up to the world on December 22nd 2012. Will we be brave enough to face the future and make this a better planet? Will it feel, at least for some, like a second chance? I hope so!

I am already living my second chance today. Cleaning, decorating and cooking for the Christmas meal that will be shared with family and friends. Looking forward to the new year. Planning on going back to work and discovering my purpose. When you have faced with feels like death, life become so much more intense and pleasurable. My dog tripped me in the kitchen this morning and I ruined a cheesecake. The funny part was as I was leaning up against the cabinets covered in cake my dog was gleefully cleaning the floor! I couldn't help but laugh. So I have to make another cheesecake, I'll never have another moment like that one.

If there is one thing I have learned this year it is to appreciate the moment. There is very little bad, when we really think about it and if you just change your perspective, you will see that there is an amazing amount of good!

Merry Christmas to all and warm wishes for a wonderful New Years!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

everything is great and then...

Almost every cancer survivor knows about this one. You are doing great and then suddenly your not. I'm not speaking just of one's own health, it could be anything. In reality it is just life, but after the scare of the big "C", everything can seem a little fragile.

For me it was numerous things, a family member had a cancer scare, one of my dogs had a cancer scare, the EDD messed up my disability payments and I started getting back to back chest colds. That's a lot for a six week period! The reality is though is that is just life. Somewhere there is always someone going through a cancer scare, even if you don't know them it is happening. Somewhere there is a sick dog, it may not be yours, but they are out there and of course the government is going to mess things up so I don't know why I'm in shock over my disability. And of course, we all get sick from time to time. The events just came in such close proximity of each other it felt overwhelming!

My dog Ginger had had surgery on her leg just 3 weeks prior, I was feeling a little guilty for giving her all the attention so I made a point of spending time with each of my three dogs (and thank God I did). I was rubbing our Pug, Basil's chest when I felt a lump. It felt fatty and pebbly all at the same time, That can't be good, I thought. As it turned out it wasn't, almost at the same time, I was informed that a family member (I am being vague here intentionally, don't ask, I won't say who) had found a lump. I prayed, went to mass and light candles (which is sort of funny as I am not Catholic, but it sure makes me feel better) and spent some serious time on my knees talking to God! Both biopsies were due back the same day. I got the first news from my vet, Basil had a benign tumor but they wanted to remove it at once. Thank you God! She was scheduled for surgery the following day. I waited hours to hear back from family. The call never came, so I finally picked up the phone and was delighted to hear that it was more good news. No surgery involved there. God had indeed answered my prayers. The weird thing though, was that after hearing that Basil's tumor was benign, I began to fret. Would only half of my prayers be answered? Would God randomly pick and choose like that? After it was all over and the fear and shock had worn off, I realized that I was being a dumb ass. God's love is infinite! All things are possible. God doesn't give with one hand and take with the other. Even if the news wouldn't have been so great it wouldn't be because God is not wonderful, kind and loving. It would be because there are health issues in the world. Period.

Also, God didn't screw with the computer system at the EDD because I failed to thank him for giving me disability. Sometimes things don't work the way they are supposed to. And no God was not giving me a six pack of chest colds because he had healed me of cancer (with the help of my surgeon, radiation and chemotherapy). My chest colds as it turned out were a symptom of my immune system being down as a result of radiation and chemotherapy. The answer was starting an antibiotic three days a week. Already things are much better.

Ginger's scar is practically invisible and she is starting to put pressure onto the leg that was operated on. Basil's stomach is healing even though it looks like frankentummy (they found an extra mass that was removed) so she is on the mend. Somewhere in the world is a special family member who is probably even happier than I am at the good news and hopefully within our local government someone is correcting the problem with my pay. My glass is once again full and I have learned an important lesson. Life never stops just because I had cancer. It goes on and on because that is the nature of life. We are so fortunate to be granted life in the first place and have to remember to take the bad with the good and somehow learn to be grateful for both. Every moment can be exquisite when we are grateful for them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

...Poked you.

I've been dealing with my dog Ginger's health a lot recently. Actually she is in great health, but has a congenital problem with her knee which requires surgery. Before surgery she was given a pain patch to minimize the pain for 72 hours post op. Being my dog and therefore prone to being high maintenance, she of course reacted to the fentanyl and her body temperature dropped to a very dangerous 93. She spent the better part of the day at the vets on an drip in the hot room, instead of having her surgery. I spent the better part of the day freaking out, terrified that we would loose her. She finally got to come home that night, but I had to stay up all night taking her temperature and praying. Of course she is tough and made a full recovery, Thank God! Now we just have to get through the actual surgery next week.

The interesting thing about dealing with dogs is that it is completely non verbal. Are they sick, are the ok? A dog can throw up and be just fine seconds later. It is the little cues however that we have to watch for. It made me really start thinking about the small cues we receive in life that we don't pay attention to. The small gestures from our friends, partners and families. If you are on Facebook then you know what a "poke" is. Just a quick click and you can let someone know that they are in your thoughts. I used to hate poking! Mainly because a certain someone, seemed to poke me every half hour. I used to wonder "don't you have anything better to do"? Until, that is, that I realized that they were thinking about me a lot and letting me know. Maybe they were too busy for a phone call or note, but a quick poke let me know that I was cared for. I learned to love it.

There are so many small signs that we take for granted. We, for example, duck in from the rain like we are going to melt, but then once it has stopped marvel at the rainbow! The reality is that the rain is the real blessing in the first place, that we take for granted (unless you are living in Texas!). We take a lot of Gods gifts for granted the sunrise and sunset,a light breeze, the smell of jasmine on the wind. God "pokes" us all of the time and we forget to poke back! Just a simple thank you God for anything that you notice will suffice.

So God, I admit that I was so relieved when Ginger recovered that I forgot to poke you back, so I am doing it now.

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's all around us

Death is all around us. We are reminded daily that the circle of life completes itself in death. We see leaves turning amber and falling from the tree. Occasionally find the baby chick that had fallen from the nest lifeless on the ground. All of the wonders of life and death playing out before us daily yet we don't seem to really pay attention to it unless it comes too close. I confess that I've been living that way for my entire life. I can't say that I fear death. I am comfortable with my beliefs and believe that in some sense of the word we all go on, I don't see death as an end, but that being said, I am in no rush to experience physical death. I'm one of the odd ones that wants to live to be 100 or so. The thought that I might make it was challenged by cancer, but I knew that I would heal. And I did, I continue to be stronger and better daily. At this point I am preparing to return to work.

So why all of the examination of the end of life? In the past two months, I have had three deaths that profoundly shook me. Two of the members of my support group and the death of Steve Jobs. Oddly enough it was the death of Mr Jobs that shook me the most. No, I'm not a crazed Mac user and morning the loss of potential new products from Apple in the future, It was how he handled his cancer. When diagnosed, he opted to take a completely natural path, believing that he would cure himself. This sounded all to familiar to me. It was in my own head for awhile with one difference. When diagnosed, I was ok with the surgery to remove to tumor. I wanted it to be gone. I was not, however, willing to follow it up with chemotherapy and radiation. It took my partner, Ken and my whole family to basically tell me that I was being crazy to finally convince me to do the therapy. I finally made peace with it and went on to use natural healing, herbs, juices and acupuncture to restore my body from the surgery, chemo and radiation.

Had Steve Jobs had family and friends like mine to convince him that he was nuts, he may still be here today. I am grateful to have survived and am saddened by seeing a like minded individual, especially one with such an extraordinary mind, perish. The two members of my group hit hard as well. One gentleman, who had cancer of the esophagus (the most closely related cancer to my own) died not from the cancer itself, but from a blood clot in his brain. The shock of his death knocked me down for awhile. Here was a big healthy man, with a great attitude and love of life just...gone. I had missed a few group sessions and found out when I returned. The group had had time to process it and I remember just sitting there in shock all night. It made no sense. I found myself getting angry on the way home. This is not how it is supposed to happen. He was supposed to be a success, like the rest of the group. We are survivors and winners. We are the heroes of the cancer community. We don't die! But as I found out that night, we do. Just a few weeks later I found myself attending the funeral of another one of my group. I woke up just this morning with the mariachi band playing it's mournful tune that was played when they brought her casket into the sanctuary. The entire service was in Spanish, but as I discovered, grief knows no language. It was clear in the tears and the shock of loss on the faces of the mourners in attendance. After the funeral, I practically ran from the church to my truck. I ended up at Target shopping for nothing. I just wanted to be around people not dealing with death. I didn't want to be dealing with death, but here I am. This isn't the first time. The eighties, were an entire decade of loss for me. Starting with my first partner Tim, and ravaging my community. I still remember living in shock, wondering why I was still here. I made stupid decisions like not paying taxes because I believed that I was next. I had attended over fifty funerals before I decided not to attend another one. It would take the loss of my Grandfather ten years later to get me to attend another one.

That decade also served to deepen my faith in God. If I was supposed to be here it must have a purpose. God must have some plan in store for me. I am supposed to do something with my life. This was the knowing that allowed me to survive cancer. It made no sense that I would survive the loss of practically every friend and associate that I had only to die of a tumor in my tongue some twenty years later. I believe that to this second. And while I can't really see what the plan is, I know there is one. I believe that my life has purpose.
All I can say about it now is wait and see.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Fear Can Do

In my mid twenties after leaving the Navy, I went to work for a government contractor running physical inventory processes. The work at first was sporadic, but my work ethic paid off with a full time position at the Naval base in San Diego. Working along side sailors (some of who I had known from my ship), I got along easily with everyone except for one young man from my company. He was shy and kept to himself. He brought his bible to work with him daily and could be found studying the scriptures during brakes and lunches As a result he earned the nickname "the preacher".  As for the rest of us we were all piled in the break room watching soap operas (men and women alike) yelling at the screen and making jokes about the crazy story lines.

One day, after work I was walking to my car and realized that the preacher seemed to be following me. I knew something was wrong but kept walking, eventually thinking that I had lost him. As I got into my Karmann Ghia that I was driving at the time, I saw him in my rear view mirror. He walked alongside of my car and tapped on the window. That is where the memory stops for me. The next thing I remembered was waking up in my car in a pool of blood with a raging headache and a rather nasty cut above my left eye, that I would discover the next day had been made by his ring. I drove home and cleaned myself up and shackingly called my boss. I was asked not to press charges and told to meet him at my job site the following morning. When I walked in he was there talking to the Senior Chief in charge and "the preacher". That's when I heard the preacher say, but he is a sinner and I try so hard, but everybody loves him. It makes me sick. He was told to apologise to me and then my boss escorted me to the side. If I promised not to say anything to anyone, I would be transferred to a prime location in Point Loma and get to travel to all of our inventory sites including Yuksuka, Japan.  Travel? sign me up! I wasn't much of a wave maker anyway. Oddly enough, it would be another five years to connect the dots and realize that I had been "Gay Bashed".

The point of telling this story isn't to point out that I was bashed or that I got to travel or that I was timid. The point is that fear can debilitate you completely! I don't know if I passed out even before the punch landed on my forehead or if fear erased the memory. But thanks to fear, I'm missing a few minutes of my life. Pretty amazing. I have come to understand that my response is something that would be consistent with victims of abuse (not the case) or bullying (defiantly the case). What ever the reason, I still find it fascinating that we can black out to avoid handling something too frightening.

Fast forward to December of 2010. Sitting in the doctors office, listening to the fact that I had cancer. I didn't pass out or fade out to some safe place in my mind. I've grown stronger over the years. Strong enough to face an internal danger that is far more frightening than an external one. Yes, I suppose that "the preacher" could have had a gun and shot me, but I would have been dead. The threat and the fear of cancer is one of living in ever increasing pain, of losing you body piece by piece until it finally and mercifully no longer functions Every survivor knows this all to well. Every care taker has taken that same journey with us and they know it all too well. Having lost my first life partner, Tim, to AIDS in 1985, I was no stranger to what cancer could do. Tim, was a beautiful and kind young man, who within a year was physically ravaged, going from a 215 lb gym build man to a 95 lb skeleton that I barely recognized. Yes I knew what cancer can do, and yet I knew something else. I could heal myself. Whether I did it using Western or Eastern medicine, was never the point. The point is that even facing our greatest fear we can heal ourselves. I firmly believe this. I believe that this is exactly the way God made us.

Fear can do much to us. It can freeze us, immobilize us, but we must remain strong in our faith and start to move one muscle at a time until the function returns. Until we can eventually smile and laugh and roll our eyes at how dramatic and ridiculous we can be. Until we can set ourselves and our spirit free.


The word poverty brings up many images for most of us, whether or not we have experienced it. Impoverished still more so. For many people the two words sum up vast regions of Africa or other 3rd world nations but for me those words, especially impoverished, brings up feelings of a period of my childhood that,  try as I may, still come to haunt me in the night. Tonight was one of those nights.

Many things can be said about my mother, she was funny and had a great personality, outgoing, stylish in her own way, vain and proud. My sisters would both probably add cruel and thoughtless to that list, but I have to say that I didn't experience that in the way that they did. Looking back on our lives to the period following my parents divorce it was an impoverished existence. I would not realize that for some years to come, however. Immediately following the divorce we moved from a typical suburban home to a charming home in the mountain town of Paradise California. Had we of stayed there, I think that life would be quite different for my sisters and I but we did not. We moved to Texas so that my mother could be closer to her sister that always seemed to be her emotional anchor. Even with her anchor though my mothers spirit seemed to wither and die. I remember her saying to me once that children did not know if they were poor or not, but I knew that we were. We left a beautiful and comfortable home and moved to a dark country style house with a crazy land lady that lived the back rooms which she had converted into an  apartment.. I still remember the sound of rat traps going off in the attic and finding the evidence in the trash can the following morning. Still for awhile we were happy or let me say I was happy. Even tornadoes couldn't wipe away my optimism as one of my favorite memories of that time is my sisters and I being shoved in a bathtub during a tornado, foolishly believing that the house and everything might blow away but somehow being attached to the plumbing we would be safe. I didn't know enough about the world not to be happy at that point.

We would move yet again, this time to a small drab box of a house next door to my Aunt and her husband. Once again, I knew we were poor. Yet I would go and visit my father who was living in Ft Worth, Texas the time and know that at least a part of my was ok. Somehow, my life seemed to have a safety net. For my mother that was not the case. She dried and withered emotionally in the Texas heat. My sisters and I begged to return to California which finally, loaded into my mom's Chevy we did. Mom never recovered from the divorce. She would go on to re-marry a man that I believe she resented and looked down on, but who kept meals on the table. She would continue sewing and designing cloths that she would wear only in the drab little house. As she escaped farther and farther into dark red color of many bottles of wine, I escaped into books. My oldest sister escaped into the Army and my middle sister, I am still not sure if she found an escape. She still bears the emotional scars of those years. Looking back, I see how my mothers depression came to cloud or vision. What I knew them was simply that our existence was no longer one of beauty.

Impoverished is a word that describes not just the physical financial landscape. It cuts much deeper like a scythe removing the golden wheat from the ground. It removes the scenery and color and movement until there is nothing but dried nubs left in the ground. Impoverished is the word for losing hope which is what happened to my mother. Far to proud to take a handout or help or to admit her actual age (but that is yet another story about her). She created and accepted an impoverished existence and all that goes along with it, especially the lack of joy. Even the Sunday outings to church seemed to be filled with resentment and bitterness. Our trips to get ice cream after church became just fond memories. I can speak for no one but myself, that church became the place that I couldn't wait to leave so that I could get back to my pile of books that I was always reading. It was thanks to those printed words in paperback pages that I never lost the ability to dream or see or know beauty. They were my drug of choice. I was saved from a drab and impoverished existence by them. I was saved from bullying by them. I was saved from opinions of the outside world by them. In order to graduate from the sixth grade, we had to log and do book reports on two thousand pages. My pages numbered in excess of twenty thousand, and I actually won some sort of award for having done so.

It is clear to me that being impoverished is a state of mind. Having traveled much of the world, I have seen many people with no money but much joy. These people are not impoverished, in fact some of them are most likely the richest people in the world. Joy and love create a richness all of there own. Happiness is it's own reward. God is infinite and unlimited and tapping into spirit brings about the sense of being unlimited. I have experienced this first hand many many times. And much like the story about going to the river with an eye dropper and going thirsty, while envying the man who brought a cup, far to many of us cripple ourselves in our lives by our own behaviors. Rejecting joy is a choice. It is harder physically and mentally as well. It is much easier to be happy than it is sad. You don't seem to have to work at happy, where sadness takes constant work to remain in that state of mind, so why do we bother? I wish I had the answer to that but do not.

What I do know is that in spite of what my bank account says about me, I feel rich and privileged. I look around at the beauty that I easily create and see evidence to back this up daily. I am nurtured by family and friends who are rich in spirit. My mind is incapable of sustaining a dull and grey world, and thanks to the lessons of life I know that I will never be or feel impoverished.