I only have to go every three months to get checked for awhile.
At the beginning of the year, the New York Times Well section created a 7-day happiness challenge. “For over 80 years researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life. They found one surefire scientifically proven predictor of happiness: developing warmer relationships.” To sum it up, each day suggested an opportunity to nurture new and existing relationships: make the phone call, talk to strangers, share a living eulogy by writing to someone who has meant a lot to you, make friends at work, keep social engagements, identify areas in your life where you’d like to be more connected and keep going. Another source of inspiration has been the How to Build a Happy Life podcast from The Atlantic.
I’m convinced community is what got me through cancer treatment and recovery. Friends came out of the woodwork from as far back as elementary school, ex co-workers, and pet sitting clients who are now dear friends. Honestly, I’m missing the daily interactions of friends calling, bringing food and staying for a visit. I even miss the gang who administered radiation (not the radiation!) each day, hearing about their kids, telling jokes and what they did over the weekend. No doubt I am a people person. Although I do like my alone time the older I get. I need it to refuel. Partnership is not what I’m looking for, I love my autonomy. “That party’s over” as a friend once said. Community and purpose are what I’m looking for. A friend texted me the other day, “what is bringing you joy these days?” “Good question” I replied. That has been on my mind and now it’s time to get back to joy. It’s time to play with friends, help others. I’m actively looking into volunteer opportunities with children, really I want to hold babies. Someone has connected me with a new mother who would like me to come do just that. I’m lucky to have several pet sitting gigs on the calendar and a trip to Santa Monica in February to stay with a long time friend from high school. Today I feel lucky, thankful for my health and warm friendships.
True to form, I tried to pretend Christmas was just another day. After getting the dog I was caring for out for a walk, I streamed the newest season (all ten episodes) of Emily in Paris on Netflix. It’s mindless, actually kinda silly, the clothes are outrageous but it was perfect for the situation. I’m happy to be pet sitting regularly again, a sign of healing progress. A client has already booked me for December, 2023! I still don’t have an appetite and have to make myself eat something. In talking with a friend who went through chemo/radiation she had the same experience. She lost weight after treatment. She assured me it will get better. My energy has improved, maybe a result of acupuncture. Acupuncturist continues to work on digestive issues. We are on the heels of 2023. I’m not one to make resolutions. However, I am contemplating where I will place my attention in the coming year. This past year I was derailed by the legal process in an attempt to see my grandchildren again, then anal cancer. Certainly the two go hand in hand. 2021 I almost finished my memoir. 2022 I had no energy for it. My hope for 2023 is to complete the last few chapters. I’ve signed up for my first in person writing class since Covid, Big Truths in Small Spaces through the Missoula Writing Collaborative taught by Barry Maxwell. I’m mainly nervous that is a 6:00 in the evening class. I’ve been falling asleep at 7:30 most nights since treatment. So wish me luck. New Year’s Day I’ll be at the hotel (no pet sitting) cooking black-eyed peas for good luck and collard greens for prosperity. House mates will gather to share a meal and start the year off on a good note.
It’s -15 degrees with a wind chill of -30. I’m going nowhere today. Thankful to be in between pet sits for a couple of days at home, snuggling with Brenda the cat. A house mate came home with lots of food from his work (a grocery store) ground beef and spaghetti included. I volunteered to make a pot of spaghetti today. It’s my kind of day; cooking, reading and not going out in the cold. Tomorrow, temps will start to warm up considerably and I’ll be with a great dog in a great house for the weekend, sharing a meal with a friend on Christmas Eve.
I mainly wanted to share with you, my essay that came out in Insider yesterday.
The news of tWitch’s suicide this week was surprising. I thought he had it all, a career, beautiful wife and three children. I was an Ellen DeGeneres show watcher. At 4:00 I was ready to sit down for a bit, maybe have some popcorn. It always made me happy, all the things she did to help others. tWitch was Ellen’s side kick on the show, an amazing dancer, always, smiling. I remember his wife coming on the show, dancing with him. I remember the birth of their last child. But what we never know is what is going on inside someone’s head, which is where most of us live. This morning I came across a CNN Opinion piece by Mel Robbins about tWitch and our views of suicide. She hit the nail on the head. I hope you read it. People who commit suicide aren’t selfish. They may not want to end their life but they want the pain to end, whatever the source of that pain: mental illness or situational. I know this as someone who has attempted suicide and lost my daddy to suicide. After I attempted suicide, I went to a therapist, the late Jon Garlinghouse, who specialized in suicide. I asked him, “Why did I go to this place.” “It was an option that provided relief” he wisely told me. It was true, I was so tired of the pain resulting from the end of relationship, I wanted relief, I wanted the pain to end. I remember in a writing class, I once wrote and shared about my daddy’s suicide. A classmate spoke up, declaring I should be mad at my father for doing this to me. What she said pissed me off. I had watched my father struggle all his life with his mental illness and alcoholism. He was tired damn it and I understood that. I was mostly sad that my daddy had suffered so much pain, that it got bad enough he wanted it to end. As Mel states, “This is why I feel so adamant that we change the way we think and talk about suicide. Saying this is selfish or the fault of the victim is simply ignorant and tremendously hurtful to family members who loved someone who lost their battle.”
Learning to become aware of our story at a cellular level
By Charlotte Wilkins
It’s old but flawlessly restored, glinting metallic new-penny paint, a color that didn’t exist “back then.” A Chevy pickup, the 1940’s shape unmistakable. I’ll have to wait till it passes to pull into the street.
The truck reels past, the shutter freezing on a single frame in my windshield. Sound, movement, thought, breath all suspended, my fingers clamp round the steering wheel, foot jams harder on the brake. Bodily reactions leaving brain cells to catch up or ‘fess up. In The Body Keeps the Score, noted trauma specialist Bessel Van der Kolk, MD writes, “trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.”
Now there’s a catch in my mind like a crochet hook reaching, turning, dipping…
Did it again, used the easy, no fuss turkey recipe. For the 3rd time it did not let us down. I wonder if I’ll ever try another turkey recipe, would there be a reason to? Maybe just for the adventure of it. We will find out in the years to come.
Thanksgiving at the hotel continues to be my favorite day for all of us who live here. It’s a humble holiday, no fan fare required. The only structure is that the turkey will be ready around 4:00 so others plan their cooking around that. Black kitty, Brenda, got about ten meals throughout the day, turkey, turkey innards, and her regular kitty food. She still tried to tell me she was hungry before we snuggled up for bed!
Once we fill our plates with all the fixings, sat down to stuff our faces, any little irks (believe me they come up when you have fifteen people living under one roof, sharing bathrooms and kitchens) are long forgotten and we are thankful to be under the same roof, happy and mostly healthy. They even made a community toast to our group effort in beating f—ing anal cancer. They all have been so sweet, always checking in to see if I needed anything, hanging in my room for a cup of tea and a visit.
Honestly, it was the first day in a few weeks that I had energy and an appetite. At one point in the afternoon, I thought I was down for the count, but after a short rest, some food and hydration I made it for dinner time, dessert, followed by nerf gun wars in the hallways. Maybe I’ve turned a corner. For the past two weeks I have hardly gotten out of bed, felt like I had lead in my legs and no food sounded good. It was a bit depressing. They, the nurses, had warned though, saying it will get worse before it gets better. It’s still not comfortable to sit directly on my bottom, but that’s getting better too.
The sun is shining today in Missoula and I’m thankful not to be going to any Black Friday sales. I’ve got a project or two to keep my busy and a bit of clean up from yesterday.
It’s helping my spirits, knowing I’m getting back to my pet sitting gigs. I got even better news when I went by to get last minute instructions for my dog sit starting Monday. Rafa, the dog, has the same routine as me. In the mornings, he gets up for breakfast then demands everyone get back in bed for a bit. We will get along beautifully.
One more piece of good news, I revised an essay I wrote last year, submitted it to Insider and it was accepted, my first paid piece of writing. Once it’s live, you will be the first to know.
It’s official. I have a certificate to prove it. I’ve completed the required chemo/radiation to burn this butt of a tumor. My appointment with the surgeon is December 15th to confirm we beat it.
Meantime, I plan to rest. After they handed me my “diploma” on Friday. the radiation techs, who feel like family now, followed up with a warning, “the side effects will get worse before they get better.” This morning I woke up at 8:30, late for me. I feel exhausted. Today, I’m staying put in my pajamas and going no where. I’m getting used to sitting on my side (always been a side sleeper) since the radiation burn makes it hard to sit flat and upright.
It has been my urge to nap each time I had to get myself together and out the door for 2:00 radiation. Now I will be able to rest.
My first dog sit is scheduled the week after Thanksgiving for a couple of weeks. It will be welcomed. My clients, fully aware I’m just coming out of treatment have graciously offered alternatives for days I may not feeling like getting their sweet dog out for a walk. Their home offers opportunity to rest, complete with big screen TV, streaming channels, gas fireplace and a dog who is allowed on the couch for cuddling. I’m so lucky. I will miss our house kitty, Brenda. We’ve become quite attached to each other even more so the past six weeks.
That’s the latest. I am tired and won’t write anymore for now.
The brain-gut connection is real. I can attest to that. My 5th day of nausea took me to a sad, lonely place.
With a new nausea med, I can see the light again. Food still doesn’t sound good. It’s a fact that chemo/radiation changes your taste buds. Things I used to crave and eat regularly, my favorite chocolate/peanut butter bar, salads, popcorn do not appeal.
This article from the MD Anderson Cancer Center gives some suggestions on how to manage nausea. ie: eat small through out the day, ginger candies (thanks to a dear friend), and staying hydrated. I’ve always been a water drinker and have continued with that. The doctors have been impressed that my electrolytes have remained good throughout treatment.
With the nausea somewhat resolved, I can acknowledge what I am thankful for:
I am grateful to still be enjoying my morning coffee. That taste bud has remained intact. It’s a ritual for me, a cup of coffee while either reading or writing gets my day off to a better start.
Thankful for my high school friend who sent me taffy from the Mississippi state fair, the best taffy ever.
Thankful for the constant companionship of our house kitty, Brenda, even when she sneaks a bite of whatever I’m eating!
Grateful for the friend and his eight year daughter who brought me plants yesterday and stayed for most of the afternoon.
Thank you to the friend and ex co-worker who encouraged me to set up a Mealtrain during treatment.
Thank you to the friend who recommended Anderson Cooper’s podcast, All There Is. Cooper begins a series of emotional and moving conversations about the people we lose, the things they leave behind, and how to live on – with loss, with laughter, and with love.
And most thankful next Friday will be my last day of radiation. Chemo ended last week. Woohoo!
We had our first snowfall of the season in Missoula last night. It was beautiful and peaceful.