Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Problem With Radiation

One of the trickier things for me during the radiation process was navigating the radiation waiting room. The room (hallway might be a more accurate term, since it was open on both ends) was probably 12-14 feet long and maybe 8 or 9 feet across. There were chairs lined up all in a row on both sides with small tables located somewhat in the middle of the row that held books and magazines. One of the tables had an unplugged CD/radio combo sitting on it. Thankfully (for me, at least) there was no television.  There were a few inspirational things hanging on the wall and a bulletin board with all kinds of notes and messages for the staff, a collection of thank yous that I assume were built up over the years and had to be stuck somewhere.

There was a clock on the wall that I nearly tore off the wall and stomped to pieces one day when I was the only one waiting. The ticking was so loud and rudely intruded upon my thoughts. But most of the time there were other women around, waiting their turn with the Machine.

The tricky thing was that I never really knew how to behave, always had to wonder, "is it going to be an introvert day or an extrovert day?" I'm not good at initiating conversations so if the tone was left up to me it was always an introvert day. I'd come in, maybe the other woman (women) would look up and we'd make eye contact and maybe utter a small greeting, then we'd each disappear back into our own heads, or old magazines, silently waiting to be called.

Other days, I'd arrive and there would be hearty greetings and talk about the traffic coming in to the hospital, or about home and when we would return, or how many treatments we had left. In the beginning I heard a couple of women talking about the "red devil" chemo treatment. Inside I was horrified and grateful I didn't have to deal with that. Many times, I also felt slightly guilty over still having my hair.

I joked with a friend that on the days the waiting area was crowded my space was going to be invaded by someone sitting in the chair next to me. She laughed and said they were just friends I hadn't yet met.
Maybe true but the time was so fleeting.

I had a brief encounter a couple of days with this woman who seemed to be a little bit older than me. She usually wore all black and had a lithe body. When she told me she did Zumba 6 days a week, I told her I'd have a tough time with Zumba because I have no rhythm and can't dance. She answered that people say that but it's just like painting or other art, anyone can do it. They just have to practice and let go of...and then she was called back for her appointment. Dang it. After that, the story I built in my head about her was that maybe she was a dancer before, an eccentric artsy-fartsy type of woman who was very secure in herself and her body. I think I would have liked to have gotten to know her better.

There were others too. But only small snippets of conversation and a shared threat hold me to them. We never even exchanged names.

Still, I wonder sometimes how they are all doing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

After The Rain (Haiku)

I played tennis last night. 
I was grateful the rain came and went before it was time to play. 
I'm also grateful to be healthy enough to play again.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Grieving a Friend I'd Never Met

Dear Jim,

I hate when my voice inside my head tells me to do something and I do. not. listen. For months now, I'd intended to email you and see how you were doing. This past week I got the idea to check your Facebook page and I found your obituary saying you had died in April.

Upon hearing you were gone, and not having followed my gut and contacted you, I did the next best thing I could do. I perused all my emails and comments you made on my blog over the years. You were an encouragement to me, Jim. You often pointed back to my spiritual roots and the strength that could be garnered in them. So many times I was grateful for the reminder. Our friend Cheryl remembered the way you always spoke to us with grace. I felt that too, and needed it.

Among my notes I found a place where you quoted from "A River Runs Through It,"

"Each of us here today will look upon a loved one in need and ask ourself the same question: We are willing to help, Lord; but what, if anything, is needed? If the Word is true, we can seldom help those who are closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourself to give, or that which we have to give is not wanted...And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them. We can love them completely, without completely understanding." Norman Maclean
I've come to understand this quote so much more than I did in 2005 when you first mentioned it. This was another of the things I enjoyed about you, your ability to pull references from other works and to present them at just the right time. I've checked "A River Runs Through It" out from the library at work. I think I've probably mentioned to you at some time that one of the perks of working at a university is that I get to keep library books for a full semester. It's a short book but I won't be pressured to read it too quickly. You'd probably be pleased to know that one of my work friends just "happened" to have mentioned the book and movie last week, before I knew you were gone, before I was reminded of your reference to the book (in that dark and learning time in my life that taught me so much about the power of love, and what love could and could not do), so I'm sure there is some wisdom there that I can use for this present time in my life.

I've also had the copy of Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim on Tinker Creek" on my bedside at the country. We wrote during the years of how you enjoyed her work and I started reading the book years ago but never finished it. I'll be picking that book up again as I remember you and grieve your loss.

I often dreamed that one day we'd get up that way, or you and your wife would come somewhere close to us, and I would get to meet and visit with you in person. It never worked out, but I'll keep you in my heart for a very long time. Your presence in my life was a blessing and it feels way too soon for you to have had to leave. I'll remember your wife and daughters and grandchildren in my prayers. And I'll pray for the others who will carry on your work in the rescue mission and in the juvenile detention center.

Oh, Jim, now I'm reading about how you were the dance king of the high school where you worked, for jitterbugging around the cafeteria! Why am I not surprised? How I would have loved to have seen that! 

 Jim Filer
10/13/41 - 04/21/16

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Artful Play

This is a potato vine I have growing in a glass of water in the window. It has strong healthy roots. It's time to take it out and plant it in the ground.
I've been playing more with watercolors. The tree is a poorly rendered sketch of the rain tree we planted in our son's memory. The lettering was added via an app on my phone.

For several reasons, I'm toying with the idea of taking a Facebook sabbatical during the month of August. One thing I'd hope is that I'd devote more time to posting here on the blog. The other thing I'd hope is that I'd finally get brave enough to share my blog on Facebook. It's beginning to seem silly not to.

Life continues on. I'm recovering from the side effects of the radiation. I played tennis one night this week, the first time in over two months. I've started the new medicine that I will be taking for 5-10 years, added vitamin D and calcium to my pill regime, and I'm still trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing now that this latest chapter is behind me. :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Time to Go Home

I brought a limited number of art supplies with me to have things to do while I waited to be radiated again. I did a few things, one of them being that I played around with watercolor. I started out trying to do this from a silk flower and then things got out of control so I quit looking at the flower and went on and finished it up as best I could! I'm not great at any painting/sketching/drawing stuff but I do like to play around with it. It seems to relax me.

I am in the control group of a relaxation study at MD Anderson. The control group gets no input on relaxing. We just supply data in the form of questionnaires and sleep logs filled out. Today I had to do an EKG while trying to think neutral thoughts. They always have you keep your eyes open and you look at a picture on the wall. Today I was analyzing in my head how I would go about painting the picture which happened to be a watercolor print. I suppose that was neutral thinking!

Today I played around and painted this girl/woman. I'm beginning to think watercolor is about being willing to be loose and to lose a little bit of control. I'm having fun with it. She looked like she might have something to say and I tried to listen hard to what she might be saying. I really couldn't come up with anything other than "She was never alone." But I didn't really like that.

I remembered a "quick poem" my friend Connie had written and thought that might be what the girl/woman might be wanting me to remember.

So I added the poem and I like it. It seems a fitting reminder for me as I finish my last radiation treatment tomorrow and head back home to my more normal routine. My aunt has taken real good care of me and I've enjoyed being here with her. I've also gotten to spend time visiting with my sister who is recovering from own nightmare cancer surgery (she is doing much better now, but it was rough for a while). But I'm ready to be done and will be heading home tomorrow.

This was a note that was tucked into the corner of a picture frame that was in one of the radiation dressing rooms. It was an encouraging thing to read and to remember on the days I saw it. I'm grateful for all the hands that held me and encouraged me through this time.

Friday, July 08, 2016


I am lying on my back, nestled in my custom made cradle. My eyes are mostly covered by a standard hospital washcloth. I am a strange and complex planet. The Starship Enterprise is poised above me. I understand the ship is on a mission of benevolence and mercy. 

The noises and movement can be intimidating. I lie perfectly still, listening as the big ship shoots healing harmful beams into my body.

I have learned to relax, and not to wonder what might happen if the ship suddenly lost its way and came slowly down and down until it crushed my body. I have learned to lie still, and breathe peacefully, to trust the huge disc that is the Starship Enterprise.

Some days, I am so relaxed that I am nearly asleep. And I am sad that my almost nap is being interrupted. 

The techs come in (turns out the Starship Enterprise is a remotely controlled vessel). They tell me I can lower my arm. I remove the washcloth and I am welcomed back to the real world.

I rise up off the table. I thank my people.

I walk out with gratitude.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Life Continues

Life continues to roll on. While I'm waiting for radiation, I think of things I want to write and when I get back to my aunt's house I forget what it was I wanted to say!

I saw my colon cancer oncologist today. All is well on that front (or end, as the case may be). I'll still be checking in with them several times a year. Everyone is going to try and coordinate the schedule so that I can see as many doctors as possible in one trip. Isn't that special? :)

There are days when I wonder if I will ever get back to the point where my health is not my first and biggest area of concern. There are days when I wonder if I well ever get to the point where I stay well, if I will make it to my five year marks with no more cancer occurring. There are days when I wonder what in heck I am supposed to be doing with my life, especially now, with being so aware of my mortality.

And then there are days (sometimes several all in a row) where I wonder all these things and more. It can be paralyzing for me. I don't know that I know what life is all about. I thought I did, at one point in my life.

I have six more radiation treatments to go and then I will return to my "normal" life.

Sometimes I don't know what to do with myself, or how to be a cancer patient. People call me brave, or intrepid, or courageous. They don't see how nerve-wracked I am while navigating Houston traffic, or when there is a change in the normal schedule and I have to park in a different garage. Maybe all I've really learned is I can only live by continuing to put one foot in front of the other and just keep on trudging the path, one step at a time. And also to share whatever light I can with others I meet along the way. That's no small job if you think about it.

There is a poem a dear friend posted on Facebook recently. I am not the woman I'd thought I'd be. And yes, I am softer from all my storms.

She is not the girl she used to be,
nor the woman that she had thought
she would grow up to become.

She was something different entirely.

Certainly not as together as she expected, 
but somehow more complete
than she ever would have imagined.

She was softer from all the storms
and not nearly as reckless with her heart
and, finally, she was completely unapologetic
in all of her tarnished glory. 
Becca Lee