Living for the Weekend

Friday they disconnected my chemo fanny pack for the weekend. I haven’t been that excited about a weekend since I was a teenager.
Even though I do have some side effects kicking in,
ie: nausea (under control if I stay on top of nausea medicine), low appetite, diarrhea started this weekend and mouth sores, I felt good enough to crank up the tunes, dance around my room and get some cleaning done.

To add to the excitement, at my Monday appointment to check everything; platelets, blood count, etc, I learned that I don’t have chemo for two weeks, only the daily radiation. I was dehydrated, so I sat for an hour relaxing receiving hydrating fluids. All that happens through the port. Hence, don’t have to get poked all the time.

Some of you have asked for clarification on the port and fanny pack of chemo. Below is a pic of me with the pack. I wear it over my shoulder. The tubing from the fanny pack is pretty long, runs under my shirt and into the port that’s in my chest. It’s with me 24/7 during the weeks I have it. I drive with it, sleep with, bath with it, occasionaly dance with it. Robert, the 83 year old owner of the building I live in, and I often greet each other with a jig when we meet in the hallway each morning. His positive attitude inspired me throughout his health issues during this past year. Now he is cheering me on, telling me, “well, you certainly are a trooper.”

My fellow housemates have been so sweet, offering to bring me anything, making extra mashed potatoes for me, the gift of a journal titled – 52 Lists for Calm. They didn’t even know I have a “list” writing group. My new room as of late spring is decorated, cleaned and organized. It took me all summer since I was pet sitting so much. Happy I bought the tv from the previous tenant, haven’t had a tv in years. Making good use of it now. There hasn’t been much energy to read or write. The adult coloring book that has been on my shelf for ten years is getting used for the first time and I’m cutting from magazines for collaging while watching tv. Back to the basics in the creativity department. They are comforting yet mindless activities.

That’s the update for Tuesday, October 4th.
Thanks for reading.

Appreciated the prayer posted in the hospital elevator today.

Me with chemo pack
Prayer on hospital elevator wall
Secret garden adult coloring book

Keep a look out for love

Port has been implanted. It is a miracle that medicine has come this far, that I will not have to go get poked on regularly for chemo. For some reason, I was really nervous about the procedure. I’ve had a few surgeries: appendicitis, c-section, hysterectomy, knee surgery. For all those, I was out, under anesthesia.

I was awake for the port, given valium and numbed at the site (near right collarbone). The “cocktail” nurse was right by my side offering up any cocktail that might be needed. Another attending nurse, asked if I wanted music, “sure” I said. I was smiling, rocking my feet back and forth, taken back to good times with my high school/college sweetheart as Earth, Wind and Fire sang September. No telling how many times we danced to Earth, Wind and Fire even seeing them live in Memphis. My sweetheart is no longer alive. Maybe it was the valium, but I sensed he was with me, letting me know it would all be OK. I trust him, it was all fine.
Cancer has made me hyper aware of when love is present. Friends from as far back as elementary school have reached out offering support, my community of local friends check in regularly offering any help I may need, house mates take me out for a high protein meal before the pet scan. Packages of goodies show up from an out of town friend. Our house cat who prefers to sleep at the end of my bed (no snuggling) has been making a habit of laying right next to my bum.

Yesterday, a sunny fall day, I walked a few blocks to pick up my car at the hospital. From the middle of the crosswalk, I heard my name blaring out of a car. The boys I occasionally watch were waving arms, yelling, excited to see me in this random place, sharing they had been in the homecoming parade earlier. A couple of more blocks, I ran into a dear friend’s son. We hugged while he announced he would be bringing me houseplants to purify the air.

It’s another clear fall day. I think I’ll take a stroll, watch for love, feed a cat and head to Fact & Fiction at 5:00 for Second Wind reading with Chris LaTray and Mark Schoenfeld.

Chemo/radiation begin tomorrow. I’ve been told side effects may not take effect for a week. Maybe they won’t be too bad.
I have some low key cat sitting gigs lined up. They will be a welcomed distraction.

Thank you all for reading. Watch out for love out there.



Brenda healing my bum

Update: Pet scan results

Good news – the pet scan showed no spread of cancer, only stage 2 anal cancer.

I was to get chemo port implanted tomorrow but it is now on Thursday, September 22nd (some problem with the room they use, my chemo doctor was not happy about that). Chemo and radiation will begin Monday the 26th. Treatment should be for six weeks if all goes well. Radiation is daily Monday-Friday, only for about 15 minutes. It’s a 10 minute walk from where I live, which will make for a nice stroll.

Meantime, I often feel tired, dealing with some pain and digestive issues. Today, a doctor’s appointment and lots of phone calls with doctor’s office to reschedule everything. That takes it out of me.
Self care is resting, drinking lots of water, eating healthy, soaking in the bathtub, reading and streaming series and movies.

A couple of friends from Eugene came through Missoula this week. Our few hours together were filled with hugs, laughter and tears – good medicine. They took snapshots as I gave them a tour of the colorful, funky, one of a kind, historic community building I live in.

I am so thankful for my supportive community, friends and excellent team of medical care.

For ease of communication, I will continue to share updates here.

I’ll leave you with a link to Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals newsletter including writing prompts from guest writers. She is an inspiration as she continues to create through her journey with leukemia.
Isolation Journals

Prompt from Sophie Blackall:

Make a list of things to look forward to. Include big things if you’d like, but also the small everyday things that buoy your spirits, make you laugh, make you feel alive.

She also suggest,

If you have an egg in your house, you can draw a face on it. No one will stop you. Then you will look forward to opening the fridge. 

“Hello, Egg!” you’ll say.

You will amuse yourself no end. Trust me.

Thanks as always for reading.
Frances




Diagnosis

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered I have something in common with Farah Fawcett and Marcia Cross (red head from Desperate Housewives) – anal cancer.
Marcia Cross has become a spokesperson for this becoming more common cancer. It stems from the HPV virus which 80% of us are walking around with. She speaks openly, encouraging others to do the same after learning that many hide their true diagnosis due to embarrassment.
I knew something wasn’t right for a few months. Thought it was hemorrhoids but the pain kept getting worse. My primary care doctor sent me to a surgeon after attempting to do an exam but I almost flew off the table. She did feel a little something. I almost flew off the surgeon’s table too. He scheduled to put me under in order to do the exam.
After the procedure, the person who phoned my friend, who was picking me up, told her the doctor would be talking to me saying, “he did a biopsy and it could be cancer.” Whoever he was needs to read up on his HIPAA – yes I will let the doctor know this happened. The doctor did not speak to me before I left. My friend felt terrible after telling me this. The results I received via email one evening confirmed it. Dr. Acher, the surgeon, phoned the next morning. In his compassionate doctor voice he let me know the treatment is a combo of radiation and chemo. No surgery since it sits right on the sphincter. “The oncologist will be calling to set up your appointment. I will see you for your follow up mid September.”
I’ve met with the chemo doctor, I had her for my iron infusions a year ago. Love her. Later the same day met with my radiation doctor. Love her too. In her southern accent, we discussed dogs, the complexities of the South and photography as much as we talked of treatment.
This Wednesday I have a pet scan with results on Thursday to assure the cancer is contained.
Radiation begins the next Monday, every weekday for about 25 treatments. A port for chemo will be implanted in my chest receiving continuous chemo. (not sure for how long)
There is great success with this combination. Since learning my diagnosis I am learning of others who had this and came out the other side. Though, they all say the process is brutal: digestive issues, fatigue, maybe mouth sores and loss of hair.
I’m getting my ducks in a row in order to rest when needed.

Before my diagnosis, I had registered to hear Mark Nepo speak on his new book, Surviving Storms this past Sunday online. Almost everything he said I needed to hear.
Conversation with Mark Nepo, Surviving Storms

Mind as a Keyhole by Mark Nepo

Beneath the cloud,
everything is grey.

Above the cloud,
everything is light.

Calling the cloud unfair
is being a victim.

Trying to conquer the cloud
is being a hero.

Calling the cloud a cloud
is the beginning of peace.

May we all love each other forward as Mark suggest.
Thanks for reading, Frances

For the Love Books and Writing

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. I don’t remember any children’s books around our house. Ask me my favorite book as a child, I don’t know. I do remember a few books stacked on tables for decoration and Mama sometimes reading a mass paperback book.

The first experience I remember with a book was in 3rd grade. Our teacher, Miss Aden, read aloud each day from the Secret Garden. I was transported into the mysterious world of the sick child, the discovery of the neglected garden and the miracle of transformation.

During high school, my older sisters read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove and passed them down to me. They called them crotch burners, as when the character, Heather Simmons, seeks refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

It took me leaving my Southern home and culture to discover my love of books. My first couple of years at the University of Mississippi had been a social endeavor. I was to join a sorority and assure I would have a husband. I don’t remember my parents discussing what I’d like to major in, but I do remember that my mama didn’t speak to me for weeks when I dropped out of sorority rush.

My brother, eleven years older, became a professor at the University of Montana. After a visit, and falling in love with the rivers he took me on and the mountains we hiked, I decided to finish at U of M in 1981. I studied, became interested in books and learning. I discovered writers such as Tom McGuane, Richard Hugo, Ivan Doig and started reading Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered pleasure.

No wonder when reading Welty’s One Writer’s Beginning, I wished I had grown up in her house:
“I learned from age two or three that any room in the house, at any time of day, was there to read in or to be read to. My mother read to me. She’d read to me in the big bedroom in the mornings, when we were in her rocker together, which ticked in rhythm as we rocked, as though we had a cricket accompanying the story. She’d read to me in the dining room on winter afternoons in front of the coal fire, with our cuckoo clock ending the story with “Cuckoo,” and at night when I’d go in my own bed.” Eudora Welty

Welty lived in the same town I grew up in, Jackson, MS. My parents never spoke of her. They were more concerned with our appearances and place in society. Once I had discovered Eudora Welty I remember though getting chills of excitement when Ms Welty and I were both buying underwear at McRaes department store.

In the 90’s, I moved back to Mississippi after a divorce, to be close to family. As fate would have it, Tom McGuane came to Lemuria Bookstore for a reading of Keep the Change. A little piece of Montana in Mississippi. After the signing, I said my hello’s to John, the bookstore owner. We knew each other from earlier years. Our reconnection landed me a job at his beautiful bookstore. John had recently moved his tiny bookstore into a brand new space with room for each genre, a children’s section that felt like its own store and a first editions room where John kept his office. He ran a smooth operation for author signings, promoting them, assuring we had plenty of their books and a special booth for them to sit, converse with readers and sign their books.

I was in heaven, surrounded by books, talking to customers about books, buying and reading so many books. (For the first time, I had to get prescription eye glasses) Meeting the personalities behind the writing was also a treat. I was struck by the kindness of writers I met such as Kaye Gibbons, Lori Moore, John Grisham, Mark Childress, Ellen Gilchrist, Rick Bass, Tim O’Brien, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Morris (I loved Willie, what a character) to name a few. If I were working there today, I’d be meeting Jesymn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Angie Thomas, Natasha Trethewey and Ralph Eubanks.

Books are what I spend my “extra” money on. Often buying more than I have time to read. I’m not a fast reader nor do I devour several books every few weeks, but I read consistently. I find delight in the craft of writing and the talent, along with hard work of writers.

I don’t know about God, but what about the miracle of making strokes on paper that become letters, then words, then paragraphs, an entire page, then a book, a story.

A writer has crafted the words and sentences in a way that makes a reader cry, laugh, empathize, feel connected and understood. Or one is taken on a journey, can feel the air, smell the scents, see the sky and all the surroundings described. They are educated about things they would have never know of before reading the book. Their eyes are opened. They see things differently now.

It is nothing short of a miracle.

As always, thanks for reading.

Take care with thoughts, words and language

More and more, I am convinced we need more story. We need to slow down. We need to listen, listen to ourselves and others.
We move so fast, not listening, not knowing the full story, forming opinions in the fast lane, cutting others off, leaving them stunned and sometimes hurt. Labeling in a split second when a person pulls over in front of us, they are instantly an asshole or insane. Never mind that they may be a very nice person who has a blind spot or at that moment made a bad judgement call.
Aren’t labels for products and diagnosis for doctors.
We need to open our minds, get out of black and white thinking. There are always at least two sides to every story, no right or wrong. We need to understand.
We need to take care with our words and language.
Pat Benatar is setting an example by no longer singing her hit song, Hit Me with Your Best Shot.
These thoughts and call to pay attention came to me while listening to Ocean Vuong talk with Krista Tippett, On Being.
Highly recommend taking the time to listen to this tender, moving, mind opening episode: Ocean Vuong – A Life Worthy of Our Breath

Thanks for reading and listening.

In the footsteps of Norman Maclean

Sunday afternoon, I sat alone in a theater, surrounded by people and cried. There is a lot of sadness in the world. I was listening to writers speak of this sadness, expressing it so eloquently. The power of words and people who craft them perfectly is enough to bring me to tears.

The In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean festival, free to the public, brought Timothy Egan, Shane Morigeau, Debra Magpie Earling, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Doug Peacock and more to the stage.
Rick Bass, who I adore, introduced Terry Tempest Williams with humor and tenderness. They are long time friends.

Terry in turn, told a story of how Rick had been there for her when her brother committed suicide a couple of years ago. He rang, she said and started telling me a story. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss” nor try to say the right thing. He just told story until they hung up.

In keeping with the theme, public lands and sacred ground, Terry shared a story of Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Utah commissioner candidate who went to court to prove his residency. You can read more of his case in the Salt Lake Tribune. He did win. Terry asked Willie, “what do we do with our anger?”
“Terry, it can no longer be about anger. It has to be about healing.” Willie Grayeyes


I missed the speakers on Saturday. Heard it was excellent, with a tribute to the late William Kittredge. Terry shared a passage from Bill’s book, Hole in the Sky,
“We tell stories to talk out the troubles in our lives, trouble otherwise so often unspeakable. It is one of our main ways of making our lives sensible. Trying to live without stories can make us crazy. They help us to recognize what we believe to be the most valuable in the world, and help us identify what we hold demonic.” William Kittredge

Doug Peacock shared stories and read from his books. I confess I have not read them yet. Listening to him, I’m inclined to read them. Rick mentioned he requires his students to read, The Grizzly Years. That’s now on my “must read” list.

Another take away was a reminder of the work that needs to be done to save Yaak Valley Forest.
“In addition to being the stronghold of the last 25 grizzlies in the Yaak Valley, the northwest corner of Montana holds one of the great stalwarts for any successful plan for the western United States to successfully weather the rising tide of global warming.” Rick Bass, Black Ram Project.

As a high school friend of Rick’s ex-wife, I had the good fortune to visit and stay with them in the Yaak on several occasions. We’ve floated the river, passing moose, walked in the forest, watched the northern lights from a fire tower and sat atop a mountain ridge with the taste of Rick’s freshly baked pie in our mouths as shooting stars were the free of charge showing for the night.
It is, as many places are, a place worth saving.

“The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.” Richard Hugo “The Towns We Know and Leave Behind, The Rivers We Carry With Us”

As always, thanks for reading.

Salad

I giggle almost every time I tear pieces of lettuce for salad makings. It’s a memory that has stuck. As a young girl, I was proud to be given the task of making salads for family dinner. Mama told me, “make them bite size.” I did. As we all gathered at the table, she remarked, “why are the salads so small?” Of course she meant to tear the lettuce into bite size pieces!

That particular salad was a standard in our house:
In individual wooden bowls tear green leaf lettuce into bite size pieces, top with crumbled bacon and hard boiled eggs. Dress with vinegar and a dollop of my mama’s homemade mayonnaise.
I guess the lettuce made it a salad!
Her mayonnaise, with a strong lemon essence was another staple. First thing after school, my favorite snack was saltine crackers dipped in her mayo.
Instead of a salad, sometimes mama would serve half an avocado and fill the center with oil, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. It was yummy.

Salads have become an almost daily meal for me, now that I am dairy free and gluten free, they satisfy my hunger while replacing the go-to sandwiches I used to eat.
Green leaf lettuce, chopped carrots, celery, avocado and sesame seeds with homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Sometimes I cheat and put in a little grated cheddar cheese without any ill effects.
I have yet to find a bottled dressing that I love. Annie’s green goddess is pretty good.
Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a bit of honey, mustard and salt make a tasty dressing. My friend, Wendy, makes a good one, adding a little orange juice to it.

A favorite of mine and many of my friends since I have made it for them is feta salad:
In medium to large bowl, add olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. I never measure, just taste as I go. You can leave out the garlic if you don’t like it (Lola). Whisk or stir well, add green leaf lettuce, avocado and feta, and toss. Although I’m not a fan of the Athenos brand. Deli sections usually have a better selection of French or Greek fetas.

The dressing is what makes a good Caesar salad. My friend, Jane, who I met waitressing in a restaurant 40 years ago makes a mean one. She’s since been a baker, chef and worked as the family chef for three different Montana governors. She can cook for a crowd, make it look effortless and want you coming back for seconds. I texted her for her dressing recipe. Five minutes later the phone rang. After an hour of laughter and tears, she remembered to speak of her dressing before we had to hang up.

Caesar salad dressing:
1/3 white wine vinegar
1/3 oil (she likes to mix canola and olive)
garlic
anchovy paste
mustard
Worcestershire sauce
lemon

Salad:
Romaine lettuce
Homemade croutons
Parmesan cheese

Thanks for reading and happy salad making.

My Little Window Garden

Morning Prayer, Padraig O’Tuama

Good morning,

The dog and I are cuddled up, coffee in hand, listening to a conversation between Krista Tippett and Padraig O’Tuama, On Being.
It is aired from Ireland. The scenery around me at my week long pet sit, could be in Ireland.
Padraig gives hope for unimaginable repair. It’s worth a listen.

His morning prayer:

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder.
     
     “I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. 

     “I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.

     “I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. Hello.”

  

Podcast, gun laws, books and movies

Usually, I listen to an audible book or podcast while driving in the car. It especially helps while running errands in Missoula since traffic has gotten out of control with the influx of people moving here. That’s another story.

A few recent good ones worth noting:

-Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things, episode with Dr. Galit Atlas discusses Atlas’s new book, Emotional Inheritance, A Therapist, Her Patients and the Legacy of Trauma. Emotional Inheritance is about family secrets that keep us from living to our full potential, create gaps between what we want for ourselves and what we are able to have, and haunt us like ghosts. 

-Glennon Doyle also aired a podcast in response to the recent shooting in Texas. How We Will Save Our Kids from the Gun Lobby’s Greed with Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. It’s educational and shares some actions we can take to get common sense laws passed. It’s effortless to send a letter to Senators urging them to pass gun safety laws at, MDA, take action.

-Tin House podcast, Between the Covers, episode with Caren Beilin – Caren discusses her new novel, Revenge of the Scapegoat.
The main character is the scapegoat of the family. Just a day later I was in our local bookstore, Fact and Fiction, it was right there on the shelf so I bought it.

This was my introduction to Caren Beilin. I’ve put her memoir, Blackfishing the IUD on my “to read” list. As the title makes abundantly clear, the book is an argument that the copper IUD is sickening quite a lot of women — and that we listen first and foremost to women’s testimony to begin to resolve it. Some auto immune diseases stem from the IUD.
As a young woman, I got a terrible infection from an inserted IUD. My later ectopic pregnancy was a result of that infection. That was the demise of a five year relationship with the love of my life as we struggled to handle the ramifications of the pregnancy in our youthful hearts and minds. That’s another story.

I got my Montana ballot in. Dear God, I hope we can keep Zinke from being elected. Monica Tranel got my vote.

The dog I’m caring for, Jessa, and I are off to hike, probably will get wet. Late afternoon, a friend and I plan to see Downton Abbey: A New Era at the Roxy Theater and eat their delicious organic popcorn with organic butter for dinner! That’s my idea of a good way to spend Memorial Day.

Hope you are having an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.
Thanks for reading.