Chemo should be a four-letter word

To watch someone you love go through the horror that is chemo is a torment all it’s own. It is like watching from a distance while the person you love is mercilessly tortured, and you can’t do a thing to stop it.

Suddenly you realize why people wear ‘fuck cancer’ t-shirts to drop their children off at school and smile as they go.  Because you know what, fuck cancer.

I did all I could to brace myself for what was coming, I knew it was going to knock her down and everyone she loves with her.

It did.

But there’s not enough preparation in the world to ready someone for this.  You’re never ready to watch your mom cry by the toilet as she dry-heaves for hours.  Never strong enough to keep your heart from breaking when she says it’s so painful she just wishes she could let go and not go through this.  There’s nothing to prepare you to watch her age 20 years overnight or wait for her hair to fall off while she tries to smile.

The truth is, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t have been.

Mom has always been physically strong.  I could count on my right hand the number of times I’ve actually seen her sick in the past 30 years.  She’s a tough cookie, and not much knocks her down…..but this has.  And I don’t know what to do with that.

I don’t know how to do this….how does anyone?  I’ve cried myself to sleep,  begged God to offer relief and keep her safe.  I’ve taken her every good thing I can think of for comfort, and any food that she thinks she might keep down.  Since yesterday I have been running a high fever myself, which has kept me from having any contact with her for fear of giving her whatever I have.

This morning I left what I could on her front porch, and watched from behind my car window as her frail body slowly picked it up and waved back at me. I couldn’t hug her or tell it was going to be ok.  We were only 30 yards apart from each-other, but it felt so much farther. I never want to have to do that again. Ever.

If you’ve been through this, my friend, God bless you and the one you love.  May you find comfort down the road.  I hope to find it there too.

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Behind the Red Herring

I’ve always had this sixth sense, ever since I can remember.  It’s allowed me to see through people in ways I can’t explain and often don’t really try. The good, the bad, and all the in-between in people has often been clearer to me than what my eyes can tell me.  True intentions, ulterior motives, kindness of spirit, sadness, joy, suffering, peace, strength, danger, false fronts, deep souls, and even those about to leave this earth.  I see them.

I learned to trust it a long time ago, and trust it deeply.    Most of the time I am grateful for this part of me, it has served me well and armed me with deep understanding of people.

But there are days like today when I wish I didn’t know the things I know.  That sort of knowledge can bring such sadness when you see truth in someone you wish you hadn’t.  When you know things you can’t explain but fully understand inside yourself.  Things that make you just want to shut your eyes, but when you do you see it all even clearer.

There are times I know something is going to happen before it does.  I can’t explain how, I just know it’s often played out that way.  It’s beyond being an empath to seeing an entirely different realm of life occurring all around you simultaneously in people.  When I go out I don’t notice the type of shoes someone is wearing or their hairstyle, I see souls and whatever they are made of staring right back at me.

Today my heart is tired and I want to hide from the world.  I am struggling, and am fighting what I’ve always fought- the urge to run away from the world and the things I see in it.  I am fighting to not drown in the ghost of souls hiding beyond the shells of faces and smiles and distortion.

I rarely speak of any of this, as so few understand it.  But today, today I just can’t.

Friends that know me well have often joked that I must have been a dog or some similar type creature in another life, so easy it is for me to communicate with animals and understand them.  I guess there is something to that,  I do see the world around me much like a dog does.  I sense things before I see them, and I trust that instinct much more than what I am told to see.  You cannot fool a dog into believing a man is good when he is evil. The dog knows, no matter how you dress him up, or how the man may smile and charm those around him.

But it’s the days you see what you would have rather been blind to that are hard.  It’s the times you pass by a suffering soul and feel like your heart just dropped as their spirit of grief washes over you. It’s those moments when you know someone is close to the other side and their soul peers into your’s with questions you cannot answer.  And it’s those days when you see something about someone you love that you cannot ignore and that you wish you hadn’t ever witnessed. It all makes life so much more complicated, and today my soul is weary.

Most days I would not complain.  It’s made my life richer, my soul deeper, and my heart larger.  It is a significant part of me that most of the time I am glad to have. But it can be isolating and heavy,  a burden I don’t aways want to carry.  Sometimes understanding is harder than they say it is, and sometimes I’d rather just see the smile and not what lies behind it.

 

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Angels in the shadows

Life is a strange thing. Sometimes it happens in ways we can’t explain, but something inside tells us there is someone who could, if we could only get them to talk.  Maybe none of this makes any sense to you, but I think of it often, most especially on days like this….strange days.

It started on Wednesday afternoon as I was coming home from work.  I had stopped at the corner grocery store, one I don’t often visit, but seemed the most convenient choice at the moment. After grabbing a few items, I made my way to one of the lines and put my things down on the cashier’s counter. Directly in front of me stood an older lady unloading her cart of groceries, immediately offering to let me go in front of her.

I thanked her for her kindness but declined the offer, as I was in no hurry and she’d already moved a good portion of her groceries out of her cart.  She looked a bit rough around the edges, worn out in a way that only comes from the inside, cultivated by life being less than kind.  There was a strength of spirit about her I couldn’t help but notice, and it made me smile.

As we stood there and she continued to unload her items, she began giving me brief commentaries on her grocery choices.

“Do you know, this is the best stuff ever?”

She held up a jar of what looked like peanut butter, but she told me it had honey added to it.  I smiled and told her PB was indeed one of the best things in this world. As she picked up a few bags of carrots and a small pineapple she continued on, explaining how she’d begun juicing and, though she hadn’t been able to the past few weeks, felt so much better when she did.

At this point her commentaries ceased and I turned my attention to a nearby magazine, and began to turn the pages looking for something interesting to read. Before too long I realized about 5 minutes had passed and the cashier was still scanning her rather small pile of food.  Suddenly, I couldn’t help but notice the cashier reporting her total amount to her every time he scanned an item. Sometimes she would nod and he’d place it in one of her worn down plastic bags she’d brought, and sometimes she’d shake her head sadly and ask him to put it aside.

It became very obvious to me at this point what was going on, that this dear sweet lady did not have enough money to pay for what she had.  Trying to determine what what to keep and what to leave, she looked tiredly down at her credit card, remarking that social security gave her a mere 67 dollars and this wasn’t going to make it.  She began telling the boy to put back the carrots and the pineapple and a number of other items.

My heart broke at this scene, I could not bear it any longer.  Not today, I thought, not today.

“Put it on my card”  I said, waving my hand at what was left to try my best to convey how small a gesture it was.

She looked over at me in disbelief, her big blue eyes filling with tears. She asked why I would do that.

“Why?  Well you have to get your juicing done, silly”  I grinned at her and pointed to her carrots.

She told me I was an angel, I told her I wasn’t and it was nothing (and honestly, it was nothing.)

“But if you only knew what I’ve been through the past year, if you only knew what you just did and how much it means to me. I lost my job, my husband died, I had a stroke, and now I am losing my home.  This is all the money I have in the world,  and it had to last me all month. How did you know to do that for me?” 

“I didn’t”  I told her, but someone didSomeone is watching over you my dear, and He just reminded you of that”

Tears streaming down her face, her tired smile radiated hope from within as she turned to leave.

I left that store knowing that something beyond this world had happened in that grocery line.  What I did cost me a mere 10 dollars. It was nothing- nothing at all, and it certainly wasn’t because I am a good person or I was looking to do something nice. I was tired and wanted to get home.  Something had drawn me towards her from the moment I had seen her and I have no doubt in my mind I was led there for her, to remind her that Someone far more beautiful than I was looking out for her.

Twenty-four hours later I got a call from my mom telling me she had been diagnosed with cancer.  She was to start radiation and chemotherapy almost immediately, as well as surgery to remove the tumor growing like poison inside her.  This call was entirely out of the blue, as most of them are I suppose, prefaced without warning or comfort.

Or was it?

As my mom cried on the phone, and I with her, the moment in the grocery line came rushing back to me.  He didn’t just do that for her, he did it for me.  He cared enough to give that sweet old lady 10 dollars to get her through the month and remind her she was loved.

He was going to take care of my mama too.

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Living on the sun and why we love the Fall

Whhhhaaat, where did summer go?  Yeah it’s gone. Except the sun. The sun is still here in full force, making us folks here in Southern California wonder if it would be that weird to start wearing ice packs in our pants.

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In fact, I think the sun has suddenly realized that summer is on it’s way out and has decided to have one last hurrah at our expense. You know, sorta like when kids find some deranged interest in watching bugs sizzle on the sidewalk under the heat of a magnifying glass.  That’s what we are now, sizzling bugs.  What is it outside, 194 degrees?

But fall will be here in no time, bringing it’s own mysterious sweetness with it.  And why do we all love Fall so much?   I think it might have something to do with the memories it evokes from childhood with the beginning of a new school year.  It’s sort of untouched in that way, a new day so to speak….yet simultaneously quite old.  It’s death in nature, a dying of leaves and life, which is rather morbid I suppose.  But also so natural we are drawn to it at our deepest core and probably aren’t even sure why.

I was born in late October, and was often envious of my friends who had summertime birthdays.  But despite my resistance to it, fall always seemed to run true inside of me, resonating in a way I could never quite describe.  It still does, and I think it might have something to do with the knowledge of light, darkness and depth inside my own self and the world. The need to illuminate the reality that beneath the soles of my feet there is an unfinished-ness about this world, a rawness that cannot otherwise be felt or known, and that there is some strange beauty intertwined in it all.  It is mysterious and strange and naked. Whatever it is in those leaves, wind, or that damp and dying earth, something inside me understands.

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Or maybe it’s just the smell of new school supplies or those damn pumkin spice lattes that take over the world every second of September. You never know.

If he makes you laugh till you cry, keep him

It’s been a year since I got married.   I suppose I haven’t written on the topic all that often, as I seem to gravitate towards the more unusual or random areas of life.

But HELLO- marriage is an unusual area.  We are all a bunch of weirdos who have promised to live the rest of our lives with other weirdos, creating peculiar if not downright bizarre habits with one another, and then potentially creating new little weirdos together.

Weird.  And entertaining.

Like the other day when Mikey and I went on an evening run.  This has become a recent and regular habit of ours, mainly because it’s been ridiculously hot and we can run without burning our tootsies off if we wait for the sun to go to sleep first.

Anyhow, on this particular night we happened to pass by this little old asian lady on the side of the road.  As we get closer,  we see that she is  grinning at us from ear-to-ear and clasping her hands together in delight. Actually, she isn’t grinning at us, she is grinning at him and looking his body up and down before remarking,

“Ahhh, thats very, very nice…..yes.  Mmmmmhhmmm”

Foxy.

Needless to say it took me a while to stop grinning after that, but it certainly wasn’t the first time this has happened…..nor will it be the last.   The older ladies, they can’t get enough of him.  It’s a thing.  A weird thing.

M and I, we’ve learned a lot about each other in the past year.  Oh, like when he doesn’t get enough sleep and is working too much, he actually continues working in his sleep. The other night I awoke to find him telling his ‘patient’ to ‘pull his hand back until it popped’

For those who don’t know, M is a sports medicine chiropractor….so this instruction was a bit unsettling to hear.  I continued to watch in some kind of disturbed delight as he turned to me (with his eyes closed) and said,

“Alright, you’re good to go, and hurry before you get hurt again”

me: “huh? what are you talking about”

M: “you need to listen to what I’m saying” 

me: “Why…?”

M:  “Because you’re my patient.” (said very impatiently)

me: “Um…..no I’m  not, I’m your wife”

M. “What…oh.  Where am I?”  (flops back into bed and is suddenly dead asleep. )

Another time he jumps out of bed like a bullet and runs to the bathroom mumbling ‘oh shit’ under his breath.  He bounds back holding a tissue out to a very confused me.  Apparently my face was ‘covered in blood’ when he left, only to find me staring peacefully back at him when he returned.

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It’s been nothing if not amusing.  Hilarious actually, in every good way.   I think I’ve laughed more this year than I have in a long time.   I’ll take that as a good sign.

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Trader Joe’s summer picks

After work on Monday I had little debate with myself about whether or not I was going to stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home. It was bloody hot out, the kind of hot that you can feel through your shoes and makes you wonder what the boiling point of the body is.

But you’ll be happy to hear I won the debate with myself and ended up stopping.  I picked a few new ‘tries’ I wanted to share with you before they become more of my regular go-to’s and I forget all about them.

Mango & Cream Ice Cream

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Do not confuse this with TJ’s mango sorbet (which is also delish and one I’ve shared before) If you simply plopped fresh mango in some sweet cream, this is exactly what you would come up with.  Amazingly good.

And cold. Cold is gooooood.

 

Hashbrowns 

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These come frozen, only $1.99 for a package of ten I think.  Crispy and flavorful, easy to make and, lets be honest, good any day.  Hashbrowns warm my soul.

 

Soft Pretzel Stick 

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Never been a fan of regular pretzels, I have to say. I just really don’t get the appeal. But soft pretzels are a whole other thing…a beautiful thing, especially these. I’d never seen them at TJ’s before, so I just grabbed one seeing that it was only 99 cents.  It ended up being so good I actually ate it plain, although I’m sure you could put all sorts of things with it.  It’s difficult to tell from the picture, but it’s a good size too, probably around 6″.

Just close your eyes when you take a bite and you’ll think you’re at Disneyland.

Memoirs of another spontaneous pneumothorax

So, my lung collapsed again Monday.

After a month or so of feeling lousy (see last post)  I had a sneaking suspicion something in me was going to give, and give it did. Good old trusty lungs always there to take the fall for me.

I have to say, for being so troublesome, my lungs have served me well over the years despite their spontaneous, mischievous behavior.  And I’ve gotten to know them quite well.

So well, in fact, that Monday morning I knew exactly what was happening….and then proceeded to plunge headlong into full-fledged denial.

After waking up to a strange and sharp pain in my side I knew all too well, I called M to tell him my right lung was on the fritz, but assured him that it would go back to it’s proper place without any outside involvement.

This has worked for me before in most cases though not all cases, which is the plight of the optimist I suppose. Being the stubborn little utopian heart that I am, I hardly had a choice really.  It was painful to a degree, but I just kept telling myself that it would resolve on it’s own like a good little lung should. I had plans that day for the salon and some relaxation away from the office, and I’ll be darned if some dysfunctional lung was going to stop me.

By mid-day I was walking around a shopping center in Huntington Beach clutching my side, feeling reasonably woozy and looking rather ridiculous.  I felt as if I let go, my lung might just flop right out of me onto the sidewalk.  The breathing wasn’t so good either, but I kept trudging along with a smile, coffee in one hand, lung in the other.

By the third store I knew I’d better call it quits and headed home to rest, hoping that would do the trick.

Nope.

After doing my best to make an appointment to get a chest x-ray at my regular GP but being told they were full for the afternoon, they transferred me to a nurse on call.

Nurse: “You need to go the ER.” 

Me: “Hmm. Ok, thanks for your recommendation

Nurse:  “Mrs Fanning, Are you going to the ER?”

Me: “Um…well, not right now. Have a nice day!”

 

I made it to the evening, at which point M took me to urgent care where they confirmed a spontaneous pneumothorax and promptly sent me to the ER.

 

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My request to avoid a chest tube surgery was met with a pat on the shoulder and a shake of the head by both surgeons.  I warned them that my body was resistant to medication, and to please ensure I was sent to la-la land before they got in there.  My last experience with this hadn’t gone so well, as I was no where near la-la land and felt every bit of that damned tube going through my chest.

They assured me that this time I would be far far away.

I was not. I was right there with them the whole time. The whole damned time.

But in all honesty I do not blame the doctors. After 16 mg of morphine and who knows how much versed, I felt like I’d not had a dose of children’s tylonel.  The doctors kept looking at me wide-eyed wondering how I was still alert and functional.

It was as  painful as I remember it, but the surgeons were as kind and gentle as one can be when probing a tube into one’s ribcage and pushing it down through your lung cavity. There were more tears than I wanted there to be, and since you have to be awake and restrained during the process, I did my best to hide my face under the blue sterile drape, as I detest crying in front of anyone and find that hiding is my best relief.

That and cursing. Poor doctors got an earful.

Mike could watch, but he couldn’t come near me, which was rather torturous for us both. At one point I looked up to see tears in his eyes as he watched me, and I could hardly stand it.  I think that broke me more than the physical pain.

Pain is a funny thing. The more you resist it, the more difficult it is to bear.  Once you let yourself acknowledge it’s there, your mind can go to another place and help you focus on something else.

And do you want to hear the really fun part?  When the doctors were finally done and I was just beginning to adjust to the pain, they took a chest x-ray only to find that the tube didn’t go where it was supposed to.  My lung was still down and they had to do it all over again.

I won’t tell you the word I used at this moment, but please use your imagination.

At this point it was three in the morning and I told Mike to go home to the dogs. The whole evening I was more concerned about them than I was about my lung, and I didn’t want him to watch any more of the nonsense I was going through.

The second time they didn’t bother to give me any more pain meds, as they weren’t making a difference and my heart rate had dropped too low.

When they moved me from the ER to admit me to the ICU upstairs, I saw the sun coming up from outside the window.

I don’t remember much after that, as they gave me Benadryl to help me sleep, and sleep I did.  I awoke to both M and sweet sister sometime later that day, doing their due diligence in making me laugh at just about everything.

I do recall feeling some relief when I realized it was my right lung and not my left, where they would have had to dig right through my side tattoo.  Thank God for the little things, perhaps that hummingbird is holding that side upright.

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My last collapse they went in through the front, upper chest, not from the side. I think the latter was far more painful, personally.

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A previous collapse, circa 2007

Anywho, good times.  They eventually discharged me with the chest tube, which they were able to remove several days later…to my delight and relief.  Doc says if one more lung goes down they will need to go in and do whats called a full VATS surgery where they basically glue your lungs up.

Glue. Do you hear that lungs, DO YOU? You stay put.

Here’s to breathing, good friends, and still believing your lungs can be good even when they’re unruly little bastards from time to time.

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