Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stories We Tell Ourselves

This is a photo of my son's memorial tree we planted on the first anniversary of his death (or we might have planted it on his birthday, I forget). The tree has proven itself difficult to keep on a straight growth trajectory. I keep having to adjust the tension on the green rope you can see in the picture. Such adjustments are not uncommon in my life--on trees, on my son, on myself. It's all part of holding the tension on the various threads of my life.

One of the threads I need to adjust in my life is in the stories I carry, the things I tell myself. We all do this (I think). Many of the stories are helpful and true (for example, I am tenacious). But some of the stories we repeat to ourselves are bald-faced lies (example, I am an annoyance to my friends). The lies are the ones that weigh the most, and they are the ones that do us the most damage on our journey.

It is part of a healthy growth journey to recognize the false stories we carry, and to ditch those things before they become so deeply embedded in our souls that they may as well be true (because we are living as though they are). I can't speak for anyone else but I know I sure don't need any extra (toxic) weight to carry. "Do not believe everything you think."

Sometimes other people tell you stories. And you must discern how meaningful or valuable those stories might be to you. This past week at MD Anderson, I heard many stories. My doctors and their assistants explained much to me about how my surgery and treatment for breast cancer is going to go. They spoke in calm tones with authority and assurance about some hard things. I came out of the day with a peace about how things were going to go, and with a feeling that I was going to be all right. I'm a sucker for that kind of calm talk (I never think about how easy it is for someone to sound calm and confident when they aren't the ones going through the stuff)!

(I'll be having a lumpectomy, probably followed by radiation, with hormone therapy possibly thrown in for good measure. That's the bare bones of the plan for now.)

But now that I am home, and away from the doctors and their reassurances, and as night is creeping in, doubt and her stories also tries to creep in. Yet, underneath the doubt, and the occasional fear, I feel good about it all, that I'm getting the best treatment available and I'm doing the best I can do for myself.

I have a few healthy, growth oriented friends who affirm my "good self-talk." I like to remind them that I have learned a thing or two through my trials. And also, that my good self-talk is a bit like my tennis playing, that is to say it is often inconsistent. And at times like those, when I sound like I am thinking I will one day have these tasks mastered, I have friends who remind me that I will never "arrive," that I am progressing!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Passion Vine: Trust Your Roots

We planted a few things last weekend, or rather, my aunt planted things while I watched and did something else that seemed important at the time, though I can't remember now what it was! One thing she planted was this Passion Vine. I've been trying wanting something to vine on the old gate and haven't had much luck. We will see how this effort goes.

I was sitting on the porch, drinking coffee and thinking. The vine looks rather pitiful here, almost like it's ready to give up and quit. I watered it real good but it still looks wilted. I couldn't help but compare it my own self, after this news about the breast cancer. I have had bouts of feeling pitiful, not quite ready to give up and quit, but feeling like maybe I'm not up to the struggle.

What I thought about the Passion Vine was that it just needed to get firmly rooted in the soil and accustomed to the new spot it's now in. That was Saturday.

It wasn't until Sunday, when I was sitting in the swing with my prayer flags behind me that I remembered a sermon I'd heard preached by a tiny little Texas preacher woman that resonated with me when I first heard it and now surfaced again to reassure me. She was talking about things to do when we're faced with problems. I can't remember all the details of the sermon but I distilled it down in my head to the two things she said that day that spoke the loudest to me. She was talking about the strength of trees. She said, when times of trouble come (and they always do), "trust your roots," and then, "feel the weight of your trunk."

The Passion Vine will never be a huge oak, but once those roots settle in and the vines grab hold and start shooting their tendrils out to grasp the wire of the gate, it should be all right. I've had my moments of being a bit shaken by this new spot I find myself in, but I've got some deep roots I know I can trust. And I've got a strong trunk that will help carry me through. I'm grateful for these two things, and for friends who encourage me in this spot.

(And I remembered I have two blank prayer flags that I wanted to use for the reminder to trust my roots, and feel the weight of my trunk. Maybe I'll write these words on them the next time I am up there.)

It was a beautiful day. I picked these flowers (they may actually be considered weeds) and got out in the sun to take their picture. It felt good. I felt very much alive. Life goes on. One of the harder parts of dealing with stuff like this is the waiting to find more information after being first informed of the problem. The temptation, for me, is to shut everything down, until I can hear "the rest of the story." But, yes, life goes on. And I really can't be wasting time shutting down every time something like this happens. So I'm trying to do better with the whole breathe while waiting thing!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Meet Nick, the Stick

There is a store in Houston where they have an indoor court and you can actually hit with almost any racket they have. I went there this past weekend to shop for a racket. I'd researched options in advance to narrow down my field of possible choices. Too many choices overwhelm me. I know this about myself. I ended up trying out four different rackets and made my final selection without too much drama or fanfare.

However, when I got back to my aunt's house with the racket, I noticed a nick in the paint job. I was annoyed at first. I'd broken one of my cardinal rules by letting the sales guy go get me the racket. Ordinarily I would have gone through the stack myself and chosen my racket. But, as a friend reminded me, it's going to get more dinged up in play and that just makes for an early start on a sense of character for my racket. Thus, the name "Nick the Stick" was born and selected for my racket.

Because of all the rain in our area I had the racket for over a week before I finally got to hit with it at drills. I think I like my racket! The instructor told me I was hitting well. I said thanks, but...wait for it...I also told him I got a new racket, as though that made all the difference in the world. I've seen this kind of thinking before, in photography, where newbies sometimes focus more on getting the Right Camera than on building their skills or training their eyes to see. It wasn't the new racket that was helping me hit well so much as it was the continuing instruction and working at getting the basics down by doing what some might call boring and repetitive drills.

I had my own problems in the beginning, because I'd played tennis, 25 years ago, and I knew the basics. It didn't work that way. I am now 25 years older. I'd forgotten a few basics things about grip and stance and other things I can't even think of at this moment. My game was stalled. Had I kept on insisting that I'd taken lessons and played twice a week (25 years ago), so I am good, thankyouverymuch, my game would still be stalled. 

If one is not willing to learn, the most expensive camera in the world is not going to improve one's photography skills. If one is not willing to admit she doesn't know everything there is to know about playing tennis and is unwilling to take instruction, then the 'Best Racket" in the world, whatever that might turn out to be, will not automatically make a better tennis player out of anyone.

Being teachable, and willing to take instruction, these things lead to learning. For me, learning indicates growth, one of my higher values. I'm happy with that.

And I'm the owner of a shiny red tennis racket that is German engineered to be easy on the arm. I'm happy about that. Being happy about stuff (both tangible and intangible) brings me joy. Finding joy, seeing joy, that's another of my values.

If I were the advising type, my advice would be to go learn something new, and in times of darkness, don't overlook the small places where joy might be hiding. In both of these things, I have found growth.

Monday, April 18, 2016

On A Different Threshold

This is a shortened version of one of my all time favorite quotes. The (manipulated) photo is of an artificial plant I took in one of the waiting rooms.

I've been in Houston for the last five days, for tests and follow ups and checkups. I got good news on my colon. All is well with it (or with what's left of it)-no polyps and no irritated spots.

Over the weekend, I bought a new tennis racket. Have I mentioned here that I've started playing tennis again? I have. AND, I finally actually laid my own eyes on my sister, after her harrowing ordeal with her colon cancer surgery. She had several complications and different issues than I had. She is home now, but is still in the process of trying to heal from the surgery. We had a good visit. I know she's had a very tough time.

Today I was supposed to see my surgeon for a checkup (and for the results of the colonoscopy). But Houston had a humongous flooding rain and we couldn't get to MD Anderson because of the flooding. The surgeon called, and confirmed the news I'd already heard from the doctor who did the colonoscopy, that all was well in that area.

I was also supposed to see the liver doctor for follow up on the fatty liver issue. I'd done the ultrasound Friday. I haven't heard from his office yet. I'm hoping all is well there. But it might be a few days before I know.

Let me just say right here that Thursday and Friday were taxing, full days, with lots of unpleasant things happening on a very tight schedule. 

I've said all that to say something else. And that is, that I have yet another health issue.

I don't know what's on the next horizon but I'm standing on a threshold that I don't really want to be standing on. I'm now facing breast cancer. I don't know much about it yet, only that I have a referral with a surgeon and he will have my options when I see him.

There's hope on this threshold, but it's going to involve more surgery, more testing, more waiting, more trips back and forth, more stress, more life interruption, and more expenses. Lord knows, it's not the threshold I'd hoped to step over, but it's the one I find myself on, and I will deal with it the best I can. And as I told my sister, sometimes it's okay to stop and say "dammit all," as long as we don't get stuck there! 

I'm grateful today for loving family support and for a good solid base of friends I know I can turn to when I am unsettled with this news, both now and as treatment progresses. I'm grateful for good health care and for good insurance.

I'm working hard on not mullygrubbing here. I had looked forward to shopping for that tennis racket for several weeks. When I got the news that the mammogram needed follow up, and when I had the biopsy on Friday, I almost let that dissuade me from buying the racket, at least temporarily. But I decided to go ahead and buy the thing, as an act of faith and as an act of affirmation for me. I like my symbols, and this tennis racket is one for me. I hope I live long enough to wear that sucker out.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Reminders (For the Dark Days)

I'm in a mood. And when I'm in this mood, I need reminders.
Reminders to be gentle with myself.

Reminders to be present. And to breathe.

Reminders that things can be better, hope that things will be better.

Reminders that I have ancestors, living family and friends who support me, who love and care about me.
(I have a photo I did with this quote on it, but I could not find it this morning. I have probably posted it here on the blog but I'm not taking the time now to look for it.)
Reminders that life is not a straight progression of easy things we live through well and get our little check mark saying that lesson is done and over with.

Reminders that, while joy can be slippery, there is light, and life is a sacred path (and walking that path is a privilege).

I've been thinking some this morning about how often the path does narrow, and how there are those times when we must walk ahead into darkness alone because the path has narrowed.
I'm grateful for the imagination to be able to picture those who are with me in spirit.
I will admit, I am a nervous person, afraid of many things, but I'm not afraid to be melodramatic! 
What does happen at the end, other than the path narrows,
and squeezes the life out of us? 

There is another photo I saw while looking through my files, and now can't find it. It is a photo of my hand, to which I've added a hugely important reminder: "I shall not hang myself today."

When I feel overwhelmed and bullied by life, I often have this childish reaction to want to decide to get mad and quit. Knowing that I can have that option somehow helps me not to want to choose that option. It helps me keep my values in proper order. Ultimately I am tenacious and persevering but for some odd reason, it just helps me very much to stop and consider that I could choose to allow myself to give up.

My strength is that I choose life. I know this now, with thanks in large part to having dealt with cancer. My first instinct was to fight. And to fight hard. I'm still willing to fight. And I'm doing it. Fighting. Even when I'm damned well sick and tired of it!
To turn inward, to be introspective, this is one of my ways of getting myself to "snap out of it" when I feel a bit overwhelmed by what I perceive to be the darkness in life. I'm smart enough to know the darkness will be with us always, as will the light. I'm an idealist at heart and I keep having to remind myself that life will not always serve me up the ideal days and times I think I desire (because if we always get the "ideal" in life, and never have to struggle, how will we learn and grow?)

Don't anybody worry about me.
"I shall not hang myself today."

It occurs to me, as I look through my files, that I have an enormous (and not well organized) body of work (excellent work, if I do say so myself). I also think I have more work in me. I have plenty left to do. I want to do that work.

I want to let my light shine.

(These are the things I needed to hear today. Sometimes you just gotta set yourself down and have a little talk with yourself. I feel sorry for folks who can't do this. I'm off to look for the sunshine and to work, again, at dispelling the darkness that seems always to hover at the edges of me.)

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Where Did the Month of March Go?

Good grief! How did all of March pass without me even posting once? I have legitimate excuses, I think.

I've been in a bit of a fog, to tell you the truth. And who can blame me? My husband had heart surgery. He's recovering relatively well, with no huge issues. He will probably be able to return to work on April 4th.

My sister, on the other hand, has been in and out of ICU, for various reasons, has had her hopes of going home dashed several times, and is still in the hospital. April 4th will mark six weeks of hospitalization. They are now telling her she might get to go home Monday or Tuesday. I hate this for her.

In spite of what has been going on in my family, spring has managed to show up, though it's been unseasonably cool the last week or so. I see beauty and bruises in this season.
And really, it's no different any other season. Always, always, it's life and death, steps forward, steps backwards, excitement, disappointment. I keep having to remind myself: this is the way it is on this road we know as life.
Still, I spent the entire month of March feeling very vulnerable, and as usual, I didn't really like it. Not one little bit.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Darkness and Light and Stuff

The blooming of my redbud tree is, for me, a personal harbinger of Spring. Always, when I see the blooms, I am reminded of better days to come, and the idea of moving into light and leaving darkness behind. It is a weak metaphor because we can't forever and completely leave the darkness behind. It is in the darkness that the seeds germinate. It is in the night that we rest and recover.
The tree was planted in between two strong and large live oaks. She has to fight not to be consumed by the darkness, and to grow toward the light. The heaviest concentration of blooms is above my head, where the branches have broken through the crowded darkness of the oak limbs.
The blossoms speak to me of tenacity, and courage, and persistence. They remind me to hang in there, to keep on growing.
It's often not easy to break through darkness, or the desire to give up and quit, but I choose to believe there is always hope, and light.

No big lesson here, just a gentle reminder for me.

My husband is doing relatively well with his recovery.

My sister will be needing chemo and possibly radiation.

My nephew is getting married next weekend. I will be acting as photographer. Gulp.

My second nephew and his wife are due to have a baby in March.

I played a singles tennis match today, my first ever, in league play. I'd missed last week and felt like I needed to be there this week. I lost both sets. Badly. But the other woman was a gracious opponent and I'm grateful for that. I plan to do better next weekend.

Good times, hard times, I'm grateful for the light. And occasionally, also for the dark.