Sunday, July 21, 2013
I'm in the midst of migrating the blog posts from Along the Way to this new site, and will be using only this site going forward. I apologize to anyone who was kind enough to follow me here blog and take the time to comment as I will not be able to bring your thoughtful comments to this new home. I hope you'll journey forward with me.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
I have found myself counting my blessings even more than usual since 2013 began. Even when times are tough, I try to pay particular to all of the good things I do have in my life and be sure that I am expressing gratitude and thankfulness for those things. There’s been a lot of heaviness in the new year – the loss of my brother-in-law, who had been an enormous influence in my life as well as many deaths throughout the small community I live in, serious illnesses and more – and although the majority had very little close connection to me personally, they affected many people I know and care about in significant ways and I have had a hard time shaking the weight of that sorrow. Too many good people were having too much struggle in their lives, too many awful things were happening and it nagged at me as I tried for months to make sense of it all.
A week or so ago, I learned by chance of yet another death, that of the younger sister of one of my best friends growing up. She was someone I had not seen in more years than I can recall, but still I was stunned. I entered into my workday with imminent tears and as the day progressed, it clung to me. Then that afternoon, tragedy struck at the Boston Marathon in a setting that felt so familiar to me because of earlier experiences in my life.
Like every other online spectator, I was horror-struck, grieving for the casualties and hopeful for all those that had been hurt, hoping against hope that healing would be able to come. We would all soon learn that some injuries were so intense that recovery would be a long journey and so many lives would never be the same again. The sadness of the situation, the disbelief that something so awful could happen at an event so filled with joy and intentionally so, too, was more than I could fathom. Coupled with all that had been weighing so heavily on me to start, I wondered how to move forward from what I was feeling.
It’s almost embarrassing to write this. Nothing terrible had happened to me, yet I felt like I was taking on so much sorrow as a result of what was happening around me and I wasn’t sure what to do with all that I was feeling. The news that night held so many tragic updates and I went to bed with a leaden heart as so many others did.
When I awoke the next morning, the sun was shining. I thought about the sadness I had been feeling and once again considered all of the blessings in my life. I thought about the loss so many were dealing with that morning. More thankful than ever, I thought about what any of us can do in the face of tragedy, when the world is spinning out of control and leaving mayhem in its wake. I realized I could let this weight drag me down or I could show courage and choose to be happy in spite of it all. I could choose to focus on what I could do to provide comfort, to lend aid, to give of myself more and show those I love how much they mean to me, each and every day. I had to let the heaviness go, which is not to say I was choosing not to grieve or feel compassion for those suffering anguish and loss.
There is so much I don’t understand. So much I cannot resolve. I can only do the best I can to be kind, to give what I can to as many as I can, to be appreciative of those around me and to be thankful for the blessings in my life every single day. I choose to be happy.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
I used to write a lot of poetry, but I really don’t all that often anymore. Occasionally something comes to me and I feel the need to write it down, but more often it remains nothing more than scraps of paper littered with words, some interconnected, some just random thoughts, and that’s okay. While the poetry I wrote was not half-bad at times, I never harbored illusions of where it might go beyond satisfying my own needs in getting the words out and occasionally reaching someone else as well with those words. While I don’t much miss the writing, I do miss the connectedness at times of those days with other writers also exploring the craft.
For a few years, I was active on several poetry boards, mostly commenting and sometimes submitting or posting on one or two and becoming quite active on some others -- writing a lot, serving as an admin and eventually helping to create a new site and play a role in its management for a while before it eventually crashed and burned with its creator’s intent. It’s still something I’ve never quite understood the reasoning for, but there are people who believe in the worst in others, somehow seem to revel when that type of behavior is revealed and then encourage it on its way. It’s not my thing and the experience served as a real disappointment for me that I think hastened my departure from writing in that form and somehow, I’ve never really returned.
What I do take away from that time though is the memory of daily immersion in words, simply for pleasure. Long discussions and ongoing dialogue on moving semi-colons, trimming words, adding some at times and so often, gentle nurturing of a poem into fruition – not necessarily my own work either. In fact, most times it was not my work but someone else’s and at no other time in my life have I given so much thought to form, to word definitions, to reflection on what poems might mean and it enriched me in so many ways. The writing, my own and others, connected me to many writers throughout the world, quite a few who I still consider friends and good friends at that although we’ve never met.
While I’ve been a writer most of my life and have had the good fortune to be paid for my words for many, many years, I believe it wasn’t until I got that involved in poetry that I really learned to let go of my own words. Who taught me? Other writers. They taught me that no one will ever love your words as much as you do – yet, once those words hit the page, roll off the tongue, are viewed on the screen, you have no control over their interpretation regardless of your intent. And everyone has a different interpretation of what your words mean. For me, that’s the beauty of writing, the beauty of reading poetry. The multi-layered meaning of a single word or phrase, the evocative images, the experiences conveyed from wondrous to excruciating painful in a simple series of words.
Those poetry boards were also where I saw some of the worst writing imagined – by people who chose not to take the time to spellcheck, had no respect or care for proofreading and editing, or to learn about punctuation – their ‘art’ didn’t require those constraints or care – most likely they are still deluding themselves that their message is more important than taking the time to convey it properly so they might be taken seriously as writers.
I encountered some of the most illustrious blowhards and bullies, egos the size of small countries and ignorance beyond compare. Not everyone was there to share and learn, and like many online communities and discussion boards, these could bring out the best and worst in humanity and a little bit of everything in between. But mostly, I’ve forgotten that part.
What I remember is the kindness and support of other writers. By kindness I don’t mean they patted my back and said only, “Nice work!” No, their kindness often involved tearing my writing apart, telling me what worked and what didn’t, giving me suggestions on minor tweaks or major edits or casting it aside and telling me it was utter crap. No one likes to hear that, but I wasn’t there to be applauded. I was there to share and to learn. I appreciated it more than they can know.
I remember sometimes sitting for hours at the end of a long day, going online for a quick look at a poem or two and finding myself commenting, critiquing, reading and sometimes being astonished by the sheer beauty of someone’s words. I recall cautiously posting a poem on a site I greatly admired, knowing I was out of my league talent-wise, yet being graciously accepted and critiqued; having a poem pulled out of the rejection pile on that same site, from slush back to the main site because an editor saw some worth in it. The absolute joy in the first time a piece of mine was chosen as an editor’s pick, amazed how much that meant to me.
And now, I mostly read other writers’ poems. While I have no formal education and training in poetry, I have such love and respect for the words I read. There was a time when I took a deep dive into that world – and it nourished my spirit in ways I never imagined, the ripples in motion still.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Thirteen years ago today, I found out I had cancer.
Here’s the surprising thing—I had no idea what the exact date was until a little while ago. I knew it sometime in late February, but it is only today when I came across a copy of the email sent to my surgeon and a print out the doctor gave me to give me some background on this disease I was diagnosed with that I realized the date. And even more surprising, it’s today’s date.
What’s interesting to me is that this paperwork just showed up out of seemingly nowhere. I was doing some laundry and inventorying supplies for an upcoming community fundraiser when I noticed part of a shelf in my basement sagging. Figuring the box on that portion of the shelf was most likely too heavy, I laid down the inventory sheet and Sharpie, lifted the box off the shelf and carried it over to the dryer where I started to look through it. After finding a new place to store the box, I went back to where I had placed the things I had been working with previously. Looking down at what I thought was the inventory sheet, instead I was holding the beat-up copy of the email stapled to the non-Hodgkins lymphoma paperwork. I went back and found my other paper, and brought both upstairs with me. I wondered if the cancer-related stuff somehow had been stuck to the bottom of the storage box—other than that, I’m not sure where it came from, particularly after all this time.
Back in 2000, I had been waiting for about two weeks for my diagnosis after having a tumor removed. Although the hope had been that this lump was benign, I think the surgeon and I both knew it wasn’t. I just wanted to know what it was. Always in the case of bad news, I just want to know. As soon as I know, I can start thinking about what’s next, making a plan, starting to deal. It’s that period of limbo that drives me crazy. I tell other people not to stress, that what will be, will be and a solution will be found. Intellectually I know that to be true; emotionally, not so much.
So, on February 23, 2000, my surgeon received an email, which read in part:
The follow-up immunostains are diagnostic, and unfortunately shift the diagnosis towards the malignant. The patient’s immunoblasts express the ALK1 protein, a kinase normally expressed only by neural cells, but, in a malignant setting, is expressed by T cell immunoblasts which have undergone an upregulating translocation of a portion of chromosome 2 bearing the ALK1 gene, 2p23, to another chromosome, usually 5q35. The result is a type of large T cell lymphoma called an anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Anaplastic large cell lymphoma. ALCL to those in the know, a rare version of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The doctor writing to my surgeon said that before contacting him with my biopsy results, he checked the most recent literature to ensure that there no reports of ALK1 expression in any benign lymphoid reactions and there were none, sadly, to report.
Here’s what he said next: So that’s the bad news. The “good” news is that this type of lymphoma appears to be very responsive to therapy, with cure rates approaching 90% in some series.
A handwritten note on the email copy from my surgeon, who was kind enough to make these very copies for me only moments after telling me I had cancer, marks my upcoming CAT scan five days from then on February 28, 2000. This would be the first of the tests that would help stage my cancer. I already knew it must be fairly advanced and fast moving simply because of the rapid emergence in the week prior of new tumors across my chest. The note also reminds that I’ll have an upcoming appointment with an oncologist, whose office will be calling me to confirm. The handwriting is a bit blurry, as if this paper has gotten damp or wet at some point and wherever it’s been over the past thirteen years, it seems to have weathered some moisture and other elements as well. And yet, it appears today, exactly thirteen years after I initially had it handed to me.
So I can’t help think of that day, because it was about the same time of day actually when I discovered it downstairs and about the same time when I actually sat in my living room a couple of hours later and read it thoroughly, not even sure what the hell any of it might mean for me. I had no staging. I had no oncologist in place yet. I had no idea what type of treatment I would incur. I had no idea if I would die. I only knew that I had a husband with Parkinson’s disease and four children, the oldest who had just turned 18 and the youngest who was seven. I sat on my crouch crying, my husband walking around the house most likely in his own cloud of disbelief, going through the motions of his day, not sure what to do or say next. I emailed my work, called my parents and got ready to talk with each of my children who arrived home at various times from school each afternoon. It was, quite simply, one of the hardest days of my life, probably the most devastating thus far I had experienced and yet only one of the first of hard days still to come. But I remember that day, although I certainly don’t dwell on it, and remember how it all felt. While it was a surprise to come across this paperwork today, it was not a surprise to learn what I did that day –I had already figured it out. The surgeon had called me moments after receiving that email, knowing that I had been calling everyday to see if he had gotten my results yet.
It would be a couple of weeks before I got the lowdown on the staging of my cancer and the plan of treatment. I had done a lot of online research, so when my lymphoma assessed at stage three, it was pretty much what I thought it would be. Many months of treatment would ensue, with side effects I wouldn’t have been able to imagine or believe I would get through. But I did. And today I can only marvel that it’s already been thirteen years, thinking about all that has happened since that time. My experience allowed me to believe that I am strong and I am capable, and even while I was in the midst of it, I grew to understand that it would only be one component of my life—it would not define me then, nor does it now.
So here I am thirteen years later, very grateful have been able to move past that illness, yet able to remember much of that time, especially the love and support that helped me get well again—and my own belief that I would be strong and healthy and learn from what I had gone through.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
I have a good friend who is 30 years sober today. Given that she’s only in her 50s, this means that she recognized at an early age that alcohol was not her friend and made the decision to do something about it. I know it couldn’t have been easy and that life gave her, like all of us, many struggles to overcome. But here she is, 30 years later – celebrating this milestone – and her friends and loved ones are celebrating with her, while few would believe that there is anything she couldn’t tackle.
This is a friend that I have known for fewer years than many of my closest friends, yet I believe we are kindred spirits in so many ways that made it possible to forge a deep friendship in a very short time. She and I have had such important conversations, focusing on subject matter so far from small talk. We are fellow travelers on a journey, a bit road-weary at times but both eager to explore what’s ahead.
Although I don’t think she’s always believed it, she is mighty in so many ways. I have seen her growth and increased strength, marveling at the discoveries she has uncovered these past few years, excited by what she is shooting for. This is a woman who feels deeply, laughs with utter delight when something tickles her, display tears easily when moved and doesn’t hide her feelings. I once told her that I could see why alcohol became a problem when she was young because she seems to feel things more than most people and perhaps drinking anesthetized what was hard to absorb or overcome.
At an age where many I know are narrowing their options, lessening the choices, she is looking toward new adventures, finding out just what she really is made of and making plans to move ahead. For her, life is a constant exploration, and she isn’t afraid to take a path not particularly well-lit or often traveled, trekking ahead ready to make it her own.
I am so proud of her on this special anniversary and know it’s just a matter of time before she announces her success in the next 30 years to come.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
We’re an introspective lot – women my age – and perhaps it’s because we finally have the time to stop and think about a thing or two. While we’ve all had our own experiences, varying as they may be, one commonality seems to be that we were all incredibly busy; some of us raising a family, others running a business, working very hard to move forward in a challenging career or perhaps even all three. In my own group, everyone’s kids are basically out of the house now and we can finally exhale or at least schedule a bit of time to. Life isn’t any less busy, but it’s busier with things that we have in place for ourselves for a change – organizations we wanted to join earlier in our lives, lessons or courses or maybe just longer hours at work. But it feels different somehow because much of it involves just us for a change.
I see my kids moving on to things that sometimes seem like I just went through although it’s many, many years ago now. Marriages, consideration of starting a family, buying cars, buying a house – those grown-up things that I remember feeling very adult while doing and yet I look back now and see what a baby I really was when I went through them. I had no clue for the most part and that’s probably a good thing given what the years would bring. Sometimes I have that same sense that I had when my kids were little and embarking on something new. I want to still stand on the corner and watch them on their way, warn them of potential obstacles and pitfalls and hold my breath until I see them cross the street safely or negotiate the highest bar on the jungle gym. I couldn’t keep them completely safe back then any more than I can now. Mostly, I have to believe that they have what it takes to see it through to the other side and rely on the care they have for each other to do the right thing and get past any tough times.
I see them think about things that I never considered at their age or even realized might be possible. In so many ways, they are smarter, more conscientious and more on the ball than I ever was. I plowed forward with enthusiasm and the belief that everything would be just fine. No matter what the challenge, I felt undaunted and so sure that I could make it right or make the impossible happen. That faith often led me blindly to embrace situations that were far bigger than I imagined they could be. Most times, I came out okay and learned something, too, but an extended period of larger-than-life situations certainly left me battle-weary and wondering if I had been crazy all along to believe as much as I did that I could overcome anything sent my way. It was a real crisis of faith, of belief in myself really and my own value and ability to make my life work. When I once sought to identify what defined me, I felt that it was a strong sense of positive energy. I’m not sure that’s still true and it saddens me to even think that. Perhaps it’s just lying dormant or re-charging. I hope so.
I’m not writing as much these days, or at least not in a personal way. The majority of my work involves writing and is deadline-driven. Away from work, I start a lot of new things but find myself with a lack of focus. I start writing, get a few paragraphs in and stop. I think I might come back and most times, I don’t. I haven’t been blogging with any regularity or keeping up with correspondence in the way I usually do. I thought it might have been the simple fact that I had a whole new schedule to get used to once I started earlier this year at a new job away from my home office and I’m sure that has contributed to it. But months and months have gone by and I’ve managed to fit all kinds of things in and juggle school work, full-time work, consulting work and volunteer obligations. I’ve struggled with whether or not I need to give something up but in the end, there’s nothing I would feel comfortable stopping. Perhaps I’m just too busy living my life to write about it, but I certainly am thinking a lot about any number of things; just about everything really. But as I said, we’re an introspective lot, we women of a certain age.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
For quite some time now, it seems like most weekends have demanded an early rise; not quite as early as a normal workday, but early nevertheless. This weekend promised to be the first in a long time that I had no definite morning plans – no reason I had to get up early and I was psyched. Chances were I wouldn’t sleep all that late but it was nice knowing that I had nowhere I had to be.
Last night, however, I was out until fairly late and as a pet owner, that meant my dogs had been kenneled off and on a good chunk of the day and evening. In addition, one of my sons had asked me to watch his dog for the weekend, too. I arrived home and took the first shift of dogs out (mine) and got them settled before visiting briefly with our ever-growing kitten that would not be welcome upstairs once my son’s dog entered the equation. His dog would like nothing more than to ferociously chase the kitten around, barking like crazy, terrifying the kitten to no end. I have a feeling that the dog would simply stand there looking silly if the cat stood its ground, but I’m not going to take that chance. Next up, it was dog #3 out of his kennel and outside for his walk.
All three of these dogs lived together for about a year and a half and know each other pretty well. Given that my dogs are dachshunds and not particularly interested in being pals with other dogs at all, it was a bit of a one-sided friendship for the most part. Finn, my middle son’s dog, is a blue heeler cross, a herding dog with a lot of energy. He had the mindset early on that these little dogs would not only be his friends but that he could make them move around wherever he felt they should be. He struck out on both counts although they have a relationship that reminds me a bit of toddler play. No real conversation or engagement, but they hang out and do their own thing side by side. Now that Finn doesn’t live here, it can take him a little while to settle back in and for my dogs to acknowledge his existence once again and for all of them to just settle down together and chill the hell out – lovely to experience very late at night. Meanwhile, Mr. Fitz, the kitten was meowing furiously from the lower level clearly annoyed at not being included in the fun.
Given that I arrived home so late (my son had spent time with the dogs feeding and walking them in the late afternoon), it seemed only fair to stay up for a couple of hours and let the dogs stretch their legs, enjoy a rawhide chew or two and in one case, move from one sleeping position in a kennel to a new one on a papasan chair. I didn’t care. I knew I had nowhere to be in the morning and could sleep in. Finally, going to bed around 2 a.m., my pups went into their kennels where they sleep comfortably every night and Finn made his way into my room since he generally sleeps with my son.
I was tired enough not to really care what Finn was up to. He’s a good dog and doesn’t really get into things (other than the trash). I knew he’d roam my room a bit and either fall asleep on the floor or jump on my bed. Every now and then I’d make a little clicking noise, and he’d jump up and either lay next to me or across my feet (and he’s a heavy dog). He made me laugh, although I was half asleep and next thing I knew it was 6 a.m. I took Finn out for a brief walk and he seemed content to go back to his kennel, of course, chasing down the kitten on his way there.
Easing myself back into bed, delighted with the opportunity to bundle on the covers and curl up under them, I was ready for at least a couple of hours more of sleep. Then it started; first a little bark, then a whimper, then finally, the full-fledge barks of a dog who wanted out of its kennel. Part of it was that he knew another dog had been up and at ‘em already this morning and part was just a dog that wanted to go out. Up I got once again, bathrobe and slippers on, leashes in hand and two dogs in tow. We walked the yard for a while and when we got back in the house, I let both dogs get back in bed with me.
Once upon a time, they both slept in my bed, way down deep under the covers usually by my feet – or one at my feet and one curled behind my knees. My younger dog became a bit unreliable over time, feeling as if it was just fine to get up in the middle of the night, peeing on my carpet and slinking back in to her usual berth. After the second time, they started sleeping in a kennel at night. I always felt bad for my older dog that was usually fine through the night. They’ve grown to love their kennels though and my oldest one often goes in his to relax on his own.
So anytime they get to come in my bed feels like a real treat to them. They nestle in quickly and find their favorite spots. This morning, however, the little one didn’t seem to be able to relax. She is very sensitive to any changes in the house, whether it’s another animal in the house or someone staying over. When my mom stays here, my little Sophie sits outside the bedroom door waiting for my mom to wake up and come see her. She can’t seem to settle in and relax when something is amiss in the house. She went down by my feet, back up on my pillow, down next to my neck, up on the other pillow. Meanwhile, the other one, Gus, got a bit restless and started roaming as well. I started seeing that there would be no extra sleep this morning unless they went back to sleep somewhere else. However, with one mini dachshund peeking out from under the covers looking up at me in earnest and the other peering over my shoulder from under the other side of my blanket, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s just get up.” It took less than 5 seconds for two enthusiastic dogs to be on their way to the living room. A meow from somewhere else in the house urged me toward the lower level where one happy kitten greeted me and promptly ran up the stairs to join the dogs. These three are a bit comical together, given their relative proximity in size and casual demeanor with each other. The kitten ran in circles, exploring everywhere that Finn most likely had been before settling down on the couch on his favorite pillow. Gus joined me for toast and coffee, although his real interest was in the toast crust and left the coffee to me. Sophie? Curled up in the papasan chair within minutes and went to sleep.
A couple of hours later? Two dogs out cold in the papasan chair, and the older one has a bit of snoring going on. Mr. Fitz is sound asleep in deep, deep slumber on the couch still, content as can be. Finn is also asleep, not a noise coming from his direction at all. And me, in spite of the coffee, I’m still sleepy as can be but cozy on the couch for a little longer. I may not have slept in but at least there’s nowhere I have to be for a while.