Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Eager Anticipation of Christmas

I've finished my teaching for 2012 and I am on holidays.  I can now totally focus on Christmas.  My students always help launch me into the last minute Christmas rush and spirit with their performances of the various Christmas songs and spiritual carols.  This year was no different except in the vast contrast of my thoughts and personal feelings.  Last year I was scared, distracted and wondering if I would ever make the next Christmas season or hear my students play again.  On Thursday, I often had to blink the moisture of joy from my eyes as I listened to the students perform and they filled my heart with warmth.

I am full of thankfulness, love and appreciation of my faith.  God carried me through the last year as in a very quick fashion, I underwent diagnostic tests, received a diagnosis and then immediately started and completed the chemotherapy.  The first six months of 2012 flew by and are a blur as well as hazy with memory.  I have randomly read previous posts of my blog and cannot read it very much as it brings back all the fear, anxiety and ill feelings I experienced.  I mention all this because it helps explain my extra special feelings of joy and love this Christmas season.

As I've rushed to get my Christmas shopping completed throughout the last week, I've felt the joy and happiness at the anticipated giving of the gifts.  I've always had more fun giving and watching my friends' and family's reactions in opening the presents.  Gift giving, for me, is an extension of my love and symbolizes the giving of the gift of Jesus in the manger to humanity.  I love the manger scenes that I've seen in the stores or in front of people's private homes.  As I've mentioned before, I find I am filled with peace and tranquility when I take time to look at and contemplate my own nativity scene in my home.  The stable was made many years ago by a very good friend.  He installed a yellow light bulb in it which bathes the animals, kings, Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus in his manger in a soft light.  It helps me imagine the muted light and darkness that would have been in the original stable in Bethlehem.

As I prepare for Christmas Day in the next few days, I am filled with the HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE of the Advent season.  Today, I hope to bake my great-grandmother's sugar cookies.  Christmas just doesn't feel the same without them.  I've had them every year since I can remember.  My grandmother used to make them, my mother (who didn't bake often) made them every year and I have continued the tradition of making them every year.  My children have always had them available to them throughout Advent and Christmas.  I did get them made last year before I found out there was anything wrong with me.  This year, I'm late making them because of the recognition of having less energy than other years...or maybe just taking care of myself and not pushing myself to the utmost limits.  So baking the sugar cookies is on my list.  I'm also hoping to make batches of peanut brittle which is another tradition in my immediate family for the last number of years.  Then I will be baking my grandmother's cinnamon rolls.  As a child growing up, this was not a staple of Christmas time.  My grandmother made them throughout the year.  But many, many years ago, I made a batch of cinnamon rolls for a family which we lived near and we became good friends.  This is the same friends where the father/husband made my stable for me.  Anyway, the baking of cinnamon rolls became associated with Christmas, although I and my daughter still make them throughout the year.  I will make them again this year for Christmas so that we can have cinnamon rolls as part of our Christmas morning when we wake up.  If I don't get the cinnamon rolls made today, they will be made either tomorrow or Monday.

I do not enjoy the rush of the last minute shopping crowds.  I find that people are too rushed and busy.  They become irritable, impatient and rude.  So I finished my Christmas shopping and grocery shopping yesterday.  I'm ready for Christmas!  I have that excited feeling I used to get as a child.  My favourite Christmas album is  playing in the background as I write this post.  I have listened to Anne Murray's Christmas Wishes album every year multiple times since I was a teenager.  I originally had it as a cassette tape and I wore it out from playing it so much.  A few years ago, my husband found the same album on CD and that was his Christmas present to me that year.  I love the song/carol selections and the harmonies.  I have always played it with the volume up and adding my own harmonies as I sang along.  This year, I'm not singing along with the music but I'm very settled with that.  I love hearing her beautiful rich voice singing the music that I cannot sing this year.

Back to the excited anticipation I'm feeling this year.  It is almost a childlike, magical feeling.  It would be that exact feeling except that I do find my emotions are close to surface and as a result tears are often close to the surface as well.  Something very tender is apparent in me this year.  I daresay it is the renewal of life and love.  The recognition of how fleeting a life can be and how precious these special times are.  This year I have enjoyed seeing the "real" Santa Claus at the local mall.  He is so warm and caring with the children and the adults.  He has the real beard and his eyes twinkle.  He remembers me from when our own children used to come to visit him.  I remember we saw him in the mall one year and he was in ordinary street clothes.  My children recognized him and excitedly told me "There's Santa!!"  He looked at us as he walked by in his jeans, boots, ordinary jacket and ball cap on his head.  He winked at all of us and gave us a full smile along with his twinkling eyes.  Jumping ahead to current days, I was at the mall one night this past week and Santa looked up and waved at my husband and I.  He's the real Santa Claus.  The magical and especially spiritual season of Christmas is in full swing.  So as I finish up my baking, it helps me to focus on past, present and future Christmases.  As I bake the traditional cookies of my family, I feel my great-grandmother and my grandmother standing beside me.  As I prepare for my daughter's birthday on Christmas Day, I hope that I'm able to create wonderful, warm memories for my children to carry in their hearts for many, many years to come.  People often ask me how do we keep my daughter's birthday separate from Christmas when she was born on December 25.  We typically wake up on Christmas morning and have coffee, chocolate milk, cinnamon rolls and a Swedish coffee ring as we sit near the Christmas tree and open up our various Christmas presents.  At lunch, we have a finger food luncheon involving all my daughter's favourite finger foods.  I also make her favourite punch which is then out for the rest of the afternoon.  After lunch which includes my daughter's birthday cake, she opens her birthday cards and presents up in our living room away from the Christmas tree.  We have our Christmas turkey dinner later in the day.

I'm looking forward to the church service tomorrow morning which celebrates the last week of Advent with the lighting of the candle of LOVE.  I'm also looking forward to the quiet, serene and tranquil Christmas Eve late evening communion service where the traditional carols will be sung.  I love the eager anticipation of Christmas just as much as the special events of Christmas Day!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Check Ups and Comparisons

I'm feeling very well and seem to have all my energy back.  The busy activities of the Christmas season is in full swing.  I've been spending the last number of weeks preparing my students for their annual Christmas Recital.  This is not a formal recital but is an opportunity for the students to perform Christmas music in front of their peers and family in a very informal setting.  As I was teaching on Tuesday I realized that it was one year ago that I also taught but with a much different weight and cloud hanging over my head.

This year the weight is the rush of Christmas shopping, baking and planning that I still need to do.  Last year the weight was teaching regular piano lessons just one day after having my surgical biopsy on my throat.  As I remember, I can still feel the remembered pain and strain as I prepared my students for their Christmas recital last year.  I remember I wore turtle necks for the whole week so that no one would see the incision or the tape that covered it.  I remember my voice was so tired and weak as the tumour was wrapped around the larynx nerve.  As I was awake for the surgery with only local anesthetic, I can remember the feeling of a tug as the doctor tried to remove a good sample of the tumour for it to be tested.  At that point, we knew I had lymphoma, we just didn't know what kind and that was the reason for the surgical biopsy.  The lab needed more cells from the tumour in order to discover the kind of lymphoma we were dealing with.  Now I jump to  one year later and I'm teaching with the enjoyment of the Christmas season.  My students have been working hard to prepare for their recital today.  I will be able to speak loud enough with proper projection at the recital as I introduce each student and the Christmas song they will play.  Last year, I needed the principal to do all the introductions as I didn't have much of a voice.  It was very hoarse and weak.

I remember it was December 5, 2011 that I had my last annual physical with my family doctor.  That appointment had been hi-jacked and  it was used to discuss what lymphoma is.  My husband had been told to attend the appointment with me.  So this year, I knew it was time for my annual physical again.  I've had my appointment last week and I was not worried about it because I've been feeling physically great.  I received a call from the receptionist on Monday telling me that the doctor would like to see me to discuss the results from my lab work.  I felt my stomach flip flop and then there was a sinking feeling inside.  I'd like to think that I'm a pretty cool customer and I don't panic and get anxious easily about physical ailments.  However, after the year that I've had, I am a little more sensitive and anxious about test results.  My first thought was that the doctor just wants to talk to me about my cholesterol levels in my blood tests.  But then the anxious thoughts started to invade my head space.  Those terrible "what ifs" that I've battled with all year long!  That figurative closet door in my mind that is labelled "What Ifs" creaked open just a crack but enough for the "What If" thoughts and fears to trickle out.  What if there is a raised level in the creatinine test?  What if the raised protein in my blood that shows the lymphoma has returned is apparent?  What if my pap smear results showed that cancer has made a visit to another part of my body?  As these fears made themselves known to me on Monday and Tuesday, I imagined shoving all of those questions and fears back into the closet in my mind and slamming the door!  I told myself that it most likely was to discuss my cholesterol levels.

I had the appointment yesterday and it was a relief to know that my "what if" fears were just anxious thoughts.  The doctor wanted to discuss my cholesterol levels with me.  We had a short chat and I know exactly why my levels are up.  I decided to treat myself throughout the summer by eating whatever I wanted and not worrying about my cholesterol.  Unfortunately, that celebration with the wrong sorts of food has continued throughout this Fall.  My doctor understood as I admitted to him that I have not been following my healthy lifestyle of eating.  I told him that I had just returned to health from going through the chemo and that I ate anything and everything.  My doctor called this "quality of life".  I've had my party but it is time to return to the healthy low-fat diet that I normally eat.  My doctor did say that I can enjoy the Christmas season but then return to healthy eating as the norm.  I will see him in 3 months to determine if I've managed to get my cholesterol levels back down to the normal range.

Much as I don't like being given the cholesterol "talk", I am happy to know that obviously there wasn't anything more serious to cancel out that discussion.  Cancer and lymphoma have not made an apparent return to my body.  Whoo Hoo!!!  I can celebrate Christmas this year knowing that I'm healthy and able to partake of all the festivities.  I've been late in getting my Christmas shopping done and my Christmas baking finished.  I've spent the last several days and evenings picking up Christmas gifts here and there in my spare time.  Today I'll finish my Christmas shopping and hopefully get my grocery shopping done for our Christmas dinner on Tuesday.  I'll pick the turkey up on Monday.  I hope that I might also get my sugar cookies made tomorrow.  My daughter's birthday is on Christmas Day and I also need to get the groceries bought for her Birthday Luncheon on Tuesday.  Tonight, I hope that I can get all the Christmas presents wrapped and under the tree.  I'll also wrap my daughter's birthday present but it will be hidden away until after we have her birthday lunch and she will open her birthday presents in the afternoon on Tuesday.

In the season of Advent, this is the week to celebrate JOY.  I am definitely feeling JOY at being alive and healthy enough to enjoy the preparations for Christmas this year.  Now on with my day which will include a Christmas Recital, Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, and gift wrapping!

Monday, 17 December 2012


After my last post, I truly did intend to start posting daily again to help promote peace within me.  The time of year as made it difficult to get back into the habit of daily posting.  My time has been stretched to the limit with preparing students for their Christmas recital, baking, cleaning, shopping and preparing for Christmas.  Amongst all the busyness though, I was able to feel some peace within as I've lit my advent candles every day and contemplated HOPE and PEACE.  It is difficult to feel peace all the time when conflict surrounds us.  With the shooting of the children and teacher in Conneticut, it was difficult to find PEACE this past weekend.

Yesterday was the start of the third week of Advent and so I lit the candle which symbolizes JOY.  To tell you the truth, it is difficult to find JOY amongst shootings and dealing with parenting teenagers.  I think I have to remember that JOY does not mean happiness.  JOY is found buried deep within us and can sit there quietly during the chaos, waiting for that moment of warmth that each of us has at some point.  Sometimes I have to really search hard for the kernel of JOY that is still within my soul.  JOY becomes apparent to me when I'm baking and I find myself reminiscing about my grandma who I miss dearly.  JOY is there when I look at my manger scene with the tiny baby surrounded by animals in a smelly stable and I realize that the baby signifies JOY in the freedom from oppression.

I feel the JOY of the Advent season and Christmas festivities when I hear Christmas carols and the songs of the season.  I resonate with that JOY of Christmas when I play the music on the piano.  My JOY is a little dulled when I dwell on not being able to sing the songs or play my flute.  However, when I play the piano it truly is a full outpouring of HOPE, PEACE and JOY of the Advent season.

I must be honest though.  At other times, as the negativity of the world around me becomes stifling, I do think "Oh Joy" and that is not in an uplifting tone.  It is precisely at these times that I need to take time to reflect and contemplate on the true JOY of Christmas.  Although 2012 has been a difficult year and looks like it is going to continue to be difficult, I must remember to cling to the JOY of having supportive friends, caring family from afar and the continued remission of my lymphoma.  To continue to focus on JOY this week, I may need the extra reserves and self-discipline to physically, emotionally and mentally remove myself from the negativity so I may find the strong warmth of JOY that I know resides within my soul.

The trappings and trimmings of Christmas are fleeting but for me, the true JOY of this season is found at the birth of Jesus in the crowded stable.  A stable, where a manger or trough with hay for the animals is used to give a soft place for the new baby that was born.  The warmth of the animals, and the warmth of a mother's arms keeps this baby wrapped and comfortable.  I can just imagine the smell of the straw bedding and the hay in the stable.  The smells of the animals as they rest in the stable.  The sounds of the animals chewing the hay.  The cries of a newborn baby as it lays surrounded by a mother and father who are relegated to spending the night in a stable.  This descriptive scene is what brings HOPE, PEACE and JOY to my heart even while life's storms continues to batter away at me.  I may think "Oh Joy" in that sneering tone and then when I look at my manger scene that thought becomes a firm and happier "OH JOY!!!!  Christmas is coming!!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Peace - Where Is It?

Last night as I lit the second candle of Advent which signifies PEACE, I was struggling with where is there peace.  The world news is full of conflict and certainly not peace.  With journeying through the teenage angst wilderness, PEACE is a rare commodity and difficult to find.  I wish I could say that I can easily find PEACE within my soul and being but even that is elusive at the moment.

Last year at this time, I think I was feeling more at peace within as I was receiving results from the diagnostic tests and we were eliminating the most serious types of cancers.  This year, I am struggling with wanting change to take place within me and my home.  In my experience as we travel through the process of change, it does not include a peaceful time until the changes are in effect and we are settled with them for some time.  It is much like moving into a new house.  There is the chaos of packing all the belongings which includes wrapping all the fragile items in paper, filling the boxes and padding the fragile items with more paper, cleaning out drawers and purging as well as packing.  Then there is the moving which includes loading the truck and other vehicles for the trip to the new house and then the weeks of unpacking.  But there is still not a sense of a home until you've lived in the new house for awhile and are settled.  Not that I'm moving but making changes to oneself is very much like moving.  So PEACE is a little elusive this year.

I'm also struggling to keep the "cancer bug" off my shoulder.  I always have it sitting on my shoulder saying "I'm just waiting and biding my time, then I'm coming for you again."  This does not promote peace within.  I have started a Worry Journal to help with coping with some of my anxieties and worries.  The return of cancer is at the top of the list.  I write my worries in the Worry Journal and it helps to relieve them and remind me to hand them over to God to look after.  My oncologist is still confident that the lymphoma will not return.  You would think that it would help to give me PEACE but so far it is not.  I've also had a sore and achy shoulder since June.  I'm finally going to the doctor about it because it is affecting the nerves down into my right hand.  It is making it difficult to write with a pen, to stir and mix food in a bowl and to clean my house.  Vacuuming is affected and the ability to press and scrub with my right hand.  So far it is not affecting my piano playing.  I worry about is it cancer in the bones?  What is causing this?  These worries are interfering with my ability to be at PEACE within.

This week, I'm trying to continue my journey through Advent by maintaining HOPE and searching inwardly for PEACE.  As I've gone out into the stores to do Christmas shopping, I do find I'm less bothered by the commercialism this year.  I don't notice it as much because I am happy to be alive to enjoy this Christmas.  So that is the starting place for me for my PEACE.  I love the Christmas music.  I still have HOPE for positive change within myself and my family.  Maybe I can use that HOPE to help bring me PEACE.  I know that blogging today has helped me to feel a little more calm.  That is the starting point for feeling PEACE.  How can we wish "Peace on earth" if we do not feel PEACE ourselves?  At church yesterday, we were encouraged to go out into the world and "live a life of joy".  I think this week, my challenge to myself is to go out into the world and attempt to live a life of PEACE.

How will I live a life of peace you ask?  I will try to stop my thoughts in their tracks when I start to think of what I have not done, or what someone else has not done.  I will try to get back into the habit of daily meditation and reading such as I was doing when I was in treatment for the lymphoma.  I don't want to have to do chemo again but that process did force me to STOP, PONDER and RELAX.  I have been forgetting to do these things and as a result there is chaos around me and inside me.  So when I asked myself "Peace -where is it?", I think I may have found the answer for my personal inner PEACE.  The challenge now is to make the time to stop, ponder and relax in a quiet setting as well as to ignore the physical chaos around me.

When I started writing this post this morning, I truly was at a loss for PEACE.  In the process of writing this entry and contemplating PEACE, I have perhaps found one way of  promoting PEACE within.  Perhaps another way of gaining my inner peace would be to return to the habit of posting daily to my blog.  I've been having difficulty posting daily since September.  So off I go now to try to live a day of PEACE.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hope....In All Things and People

For me this is a very special Sunday.  It is the first Sunday of Advent which leads me through the month of December to Christmas Day.  Every year, the meaning and weekly themes of Advent really help me navigate the increasing materialism that bombards me as Christmas gets closer.  The marketing of the retailers who cash in on the "Christmas Rush" overwhelms me and I know of other people that just want to do away with Christmas and the expensive demands of it.  Advent is my antidote to this crush of commercialism.  So this week is the week of HOPE.

Last year, I was focused on HOPE as the hope for a diagnosis that was not cancer.  I had to readjust my hope to the hope of it being a cancer that was curable and not terminal.  Through the grace of God, my prayers were answered and I continue to be in remission and "cured".  This year my HOPE is that of a mother who traverses the journey of children growing into their own beings and hopes that everyone's identity and relationships remain intact and healthy.  The other day I came across some treasures that my children have given to me over the years.  There was a small hand of a 4 years old imprinted in plaster and painted.  There were various cards of appreciation and humour which were made with guidance of teachers but still carry the whisps of my children's personalities.  There was a hand-crafted wooden lovebird which was coloured with crayons and had feathers of various colours glued to it.  My heart overflowed with tender, loving feelings while tears flowed freely.  These little treasures helped ease my current emotional aches by providing me with good memories and hope of things to come.  The HOPE of advent really is applying to my hope that my children will successfully become well-adjusted teenagers.  Then my hope is that they will become young adults that are ready to step over the threshold of our home and embark on their own exciting journey into careers and their own lives.

This Fall has been a little difficult as I have struggled with grief.  With this week's theme of HOPE, I'm looking forward to the lessening of the grief that I've been feeling.  Grief has been on my doorstep through the loss of friends due to cancer, the sense of not being able to be as supportive as I  would like with friends that are struggling with their own health concerns and the pain of losing a child to the teenage wilderness where they do not need me as much and don't want me around them as much.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across this quote from Mark Nepo "To dwell on our reward while performing a kindness, splits our authenticity."  This message made me realize that I need to fully offer my sincerity and love without any expectations of a return or "reward".  It is helping me navigate these tumultous times where I grieve the loss of my children's need of me.  But.....I truly believe my children will need both my husband and I again.  I just have to look at our own lives from teenagers to young adults to full adulthood.  We both did return to needing the advice and friendship of our parents as we became parents and they became grandparents.  So in this season of Advent, I am embracing HOPE for healthy familial relationships.

Mark Nepo's quote from above also reminded me that we really need to block out the distractions around us as we communicate with teenagers.  I have always believed that when you have a conversaton with someone, you look into their eyes.  A friend of mine always says "The eyes are the mirror to the soul".  I once saw Dr. Phil (on television) perform therapy with couples and he had them form "diads" where the two people sat facing each other and focused on the eyes of the person with whom they were communicating.  They were forced to truly see each other.  They were focused only on each other.  To tie into the quote from Mark Nepo, the two people were so focused that they were not distracted by what they would gain or by what they were going to say next.  My HOPE is that I will continue to learn to stay focused on the end result and not distracted by the current behaviours and "small" things.  HOPE.....what a wonderful gift to have.

I have HOPE for a successful longterm recovery from lymphoma.  I am filled with HOPE when I compare now to where I was a year ago.  I have glimpses of relationships that will return to being healthy and this gives me tremendous HOPE for not just this Advent season but for the next number of years.  I have true HOPE that my grief will ease.  I have HOPE that this Christmas season will revolve around who is gathered around my Christmas dinner table and Christmas tree rather than what is under the Christmas tree.  I have HOPE as the birth of Christ approaches.

I am currently feeling that little flutter of excitement as I do some of my Christmas baking.  Today my husband and I will be putting up the tree.  Our tree is never decorated in a chic way with all the ornaments and ribbons in matching colours.  Our Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments that all have sentimental value.  So as we take each and every ornament out, we reflect on who gave us the ornament and we recall the precious memories associated with each ornament.  Some of the ornaments are hand-crafted by our children when they were young.  As a result, some these ornaments are starting to look a little battered and worn.  But they still hold sentimental value and belong on our Christmas tree.  Some of the ornaments are my grandmother's (who has been gone for a long time) which she passed along to me when I moved into my own apartment.  There are ornaments that my students have given to me over the years as appreciation for teaching them the joy of music.

So today is the first Sunday of Advent and my heart is overflowing with warmth and HOPE.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Season of "Firsts"

Today is Grey Cup Sunday!  Every year I have always made a big pot of chili which my family and I enjoy while watching the CFL Grey Cup Championship game.  It was one year ago today that I was also serving coffee hour at church in the morning and providing snack at my daughter's curling league in the afternoon.  Last year, I was too tired to make the chili and my husband stepped in to do it.  This year, I made chili for the first time in over a year!  I made it yesterday so that it could sit overnight and let all the flavours blend together.

Coincidentally, I was also scheduled to help out at coffee hour again this morning just like last year.  So on Thursday, I made my old-fashioned ginger snap cookies for the first time in a year  in preparation for serving them today at church.  I press-ganged my husband into coming along with me in case I didn't have the energy to go through the whole church service and subsequent coffee hour.  This was a first since being in remission and I just wasn't sure of my stamina.  I was very pleased with myself that I was able to help set up, serve and clean up the coffee hour.  It brought back memories of last year when I was struggling with my emotions as friends were curious about why I wasn't singing in the choir.  Today my same friends were so pleased to see me looking well and helping to serve the coffee.  I still find it hard to attend church and not be able to sing even a hymn all the way through.  It is very emotional and disappointing to sit and concentrate on the words instead of singing.  However, I'm still holding out hope that my voice will return at some point.  I have to continue to be patient.

Despite the voice, I'm very pleased that I was able to make the chili yesterday.  It did tire me out though and I needed to have a short nap before we went out to our friends' place last night.  Then after I returned home today after the coffee hour, I also needed to lay down for a nap.  I'm tired tonight as I write this but it is a good tired.  I even managed to start putting up some of the our Christmas decorations late this afternoon.  So my energy is pretty much back to normal but I do require naps to keep my stamina up and able to keep going.

Throughout the last couple of days, I've again had some anxieties regarding symptoms of either a cold or the lymphoma.  I've been having a little more acid reflux and gas which frightens me because I never used to have these kinds of problems.  Logically I can tell myself that it is because of the chemotherapy and the resultant weakness in the stomach lining as those cells were affected by the chemo.  I've also been struggling with my speaking voice for the last 2 weeks.  The teaching seems to be making it weak and then my throat is scratchy and sore.  It brings back the vivid memories of last year at this time as I struggled to continue to teach while the throat was affected by the lymphoma.  Logically, it could be that the air is colder again and my throat may just be a little dry.  I do drink a lot of water while I'm teaching so that my voice and throat do not dry out.  Perhaps I need to drink more water on my "down" time when I'm not teaching.  I'm continuing to struggle with some more weight gain.  Then I start to worry about whether there are tumours growing in my abdomen like last year when I couldn't feel them.  Then, logically, I tell myself that I've been eating out and eating some of the wrong foods.  Logically, I really need to get back to limiting my portions and exercising daily in order to reduce my size.  On top of all of these worries that are in the back of my mind, today my husband noticed that I was out of breath after coming down the stairs and sitting down beside him.  Again, it brought back memories of a year ago when my cousin mentioned the same thing to me.  Logically (just like last year), I can tell myself that I've put on the extra weight and it is what is causing me to be out of breath.

I guess the concern is that all the symptoms from a year ago can be confused with some regular symptoms of a cold or weight gain or just plain aging.  I just need to remind myself that my oncologist assured me that I'm in remission.  I'll be seeing him again in January and he assured me at my last visit that this why they follow up with check-up appointments every 3 months.  I was never an overly anxious person and certainly I was not a hypochondriac.  I am afraid I am becoming one now though.  I need to hang onto my oncologist's assurances like a life ring.  Just like I hung onto his knowledge and experience while I underwent the chemotherapy in the first half of 2012.

On a happier note, today as I was opening up the storage bins of Christmas decorations, I came across a note that my husband had put in with them last year.  It was very touching and humerous.  I'm glad I'm here this year and that I was able to find the note as I prepare for Christmas.  I'm hoping to get my Christmas baking started this week.  I'm also hoping to get started on some of my Christmas shopping.  I also need to finish the Christmas Note that we send out in our Christmas cards every year.  I'll push my anxieties and fears aside for now (and hopefully they will stay away during the week) so that I can concentrate and enjoy the preparations for Christmas.

I really enjoyed the warmth and friendship from my church family this morning, from our friends last night and from my family today.  It is great to be alive and to be healthy.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

One Year Ago!

It is exactly one year ago that I found a small lump at the base of my neck.  It was accompanied with a scratchy, sore throat, shortness of breath, night sweats and the loss of my singing voice along with an achy neck which was acutely aggravated by my flute playing.  What a year it has been!!  I am so fortunate to have survived the lymphoma and to be in remission!  I haven't had a cold or the flu so far this season.  How coincidental it is that this week my voice is struggling to stay strong while I teach.  Little things like that can cause anxiety but I just have to remind myself that there is a nasty cold virus going through the student population at the moment.  I'm still not singing and playing the flute still causes discomfort in my neck.  I'm patiently (impatiently?!) waiting for this all to heal.  I am looking forward to being able to sing again.

One year ago, I was scared and uncertain of my future.  It was one year ago today that my family doctor saw me and informed me that it was cancer.  We just didn't know what kind.  In talking to various people, nurses included, I realize just how extraordinary my diagnostic journey and experience with the health care system was!  As I reflect on the whole process, it was only 7 weeks from the time I found the lump to when I had my first appointment with my oncologist.  I started chemotherapy one week later!  When I talk to other cancer patients and their families along with nurses that I know personally, mine was a whirlwind experience.  I can only thank God for the speed of my process because my lymphoma was aggressive and was growing quickly.

One year later and I am back to normal.  I have energy.  I'm teaching again.  I'm enjoying life with my extended family as much as possible with them all being out of town but I'm also enjoying life with my immediate family and my circle of friends.  I get choked up when I think of my friends with cancer that have died within the last year because without my chemo, I would be part of those statistics.  Life is very fragile and I must admit that I find it difficult to be patient as other people continue to develop and grow.  Sometimes change cannot happen fast enough.  I'm also impatient with myself.  My new lease on life has me looking inward and working on ways to improve myself.  It is similar to looking at a mature flower garden and deciding which plants are worth keeping and which ones don't perform quite the way you want.  Or another way of looking at it is I am pulling out those stubborn weeds with the really long tap root or the established weeds with the thick, far-reaching tuberous roots.  We all have ways of acting and reacting in the world.  Some of our habits are very functional and a positive contribution to those around us.  These are the plants that I want to keep and maintain.  I want to leave positive memories with people whose lives have touched mine in some way during my journey on this earth.  But like all of us, I'm not perfect and I do have faults and long, ingrained habits that need to be pruned or pulled out completely.

Last night, I was at a wake at a local funeral home and the family had a desk set up with blank lined pages set out along with a number of pens.  Printed along the side of the pages was "Memories of (insert peron's name)".  What a wonderful idea!!  At the end of this process, once all the memories have been jotted down, the pages will be put into a binder for the family to have and cherish. I write about this now because I have an outline of my funeral all written down.  I will add this feature because I think it is a wonderful tribute and may provide the family with tidbits of information that they may never have known about.  I truly believe our life journeys are all about how our lives touch and intersect with others if even for a small moment.  Sometimes we don't even know what kind of impact our connection has made on the other person.

So here I am a year later.  I continue to try to improve myself so that I may leave more positive memories with other people rather than negative ones.  I am perhaps a little more selfish with my time and how I spend it.  Family and friends are very important and I intend to try to spend as much time with them as possible.  I'm currently in a phase of feeling "so little time".  There is not enough days and times in the week to get together with everyone that I want to see.  Schedules get in the way.  Personalities get in the way.  Work gets in the way.  I've already heard some of my favourite christmas carols and they are already resonating within my sensitive core.  Some of this music has already had my eyes fill with tears and my heart fill with love and emotion.

As Christmas is the next big holiday but more importantly for me a spiritual celebration, I am starting to write my Christmas Greetings that I include with the cards that I mail to family and friends.  I didn't get my cards sent out last year because I didn't know what to write.  It was one of those activities that I couldn't bring myself to perform last year as I went through the diagnostic testing, needle biopsy and surgical biopsy.  So the cards will be sent out this year with joy.  Joy for the season but also a joy of living.  I am behind on my baking this year so far but it will also be completed as I love the memories that it creates.  I also love the baking as it always brings my grandma's memory to my kitchen.  It is often her recipes that I use to make my christmas cookies.  When I bake them, it is like a visit with grandma.  I love how the kitchen becomes warm and smells so good as the various batches of cookies come out of the oven.  Baking at any time of the year provides me with an opportunity to feel thewisps of memories of my grandma's arms wrapped around me just as the warmth of the oven and the smell of the cookies wrap around me.

So one year later and life, in general, is very good indeed.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Growth and Improvement

This past year has been like a hot molten chamber which is used to melt steel and then reshape it.  I have recognized (again...sigh) parts of me that I have wanted and needed to change.  This includes areas of my life.

I'm still discouraged in the fact that my voice is not coming along like I had hoped.  I can sing a very little bit but not much and then I pay for days with a scratchy and sore throat.  So I must not push it and stop trying to sing for now.  I have been missing my music and to play the flute still hurts my neck.  So this leaves me my piano.  I had forgotten how much I love to play for my own enjoyment.  It is like a balm to my soul to play.  An hour can fly by before I realize that my fingers, wrists and forearms are tiring.  I've been absolutely enjoying making time to play for myself when the house is quiet and nobody is home.

One day this past week, I was reading my "The Friendship Book 2012" as well as "The Book of Awakening" by Mark Nepo and I was amazed that both entries for the day dealt with growing and the improvement of ourselves.  Specifically, one of the books described a water beetle which skims along the surface of water.  I know I've seen these when I've been out canoeing or walking along the shoreline where the water is calm and still.  I always wondered about these beetles existence because they didn't seem to have any purpose that I could see.  Well.....I guess the beetles climb out of the water onto rocks, boats, canoes, paddles, etc. where they dry up and get brittle.  If I was to see one of these, I would think that it had died because it got lodged out of the water.  In actual fact, the beetle dries up.  The shell becomes brittle and then breaks open to allow a dragonfly to emerge.  As I pondered this wondrous transformation, I imagine that the beetle would feel some discomfort and pain as it dries up and the shell becomes brittle.  What a glorious transformation occurs through the pain to see a dragonfly emerge!!

If I look back to when my children grew from infants to toddlers, they would take temper tantrums if I kept their "boundaries" too small.  I had to allow them to transform from infants into moving toddlers that could have distance between me and them.  Again, there was pain/worry involved as I remember how anxious and scared I would get if I couldn't see them.  Even on the part of the toddler there was fear as they would lose sight of me and then return to an area far enough away but where they could still see me.  This was the pain of the shell of infancy drying up and a toddler emerging.  Then there was the pain of separation (more for me than my children) when they started school.  But again, growth and improvement took place through that pain of separation and my children became well adjusted children who left positive footprints in their various classrooms and activities.

Because I'm at the stage in life where I'm the mother of 2 teenagers, I can definitely relate to the concept of pain and transformation again.  If I look back over my own life, I can see the pain of bullying when I was a child allowed me to emerge and be more compassionate and empathetic towards other people in society who are teased and treated with condescension and who are patronized.  The pain of going through adolescence transformed me into a responsible and caring adult (although I do have my moments being a Gemini, when my evil twin appears). The pain of my own adolescence does allow me to recognize when my teenagers are trying to discover who they are and push the boundaries to become responsible, young adults.  My teenagers are just like the water beetle where their shell of childhood is drying up and becoming brittle so that they can "bust" out of it and be transformed into caring, compassionate and responsible adults.

To return to my metaphor at the beginning of this post regarding the melting of steel and reshaping it, I truly see the correlation between my "steel" will which allowed me to fight cancer and beat it, but it also needs to be melted down and reshaped.  This doesn't necessarily weaken my resolve, but it just reshapes it.  Unfortunately, some of this change is like the water beetle's shell in that it really is painful to break out of the shell and emerge as something much more beautiful.  Having said that, to not change and to stay in the shell (which is comfortable), the shell will become confining and will smother any changes that may take place.  So as I continue to work on improving (transforming?) myself, I just have to remember that to break out of the old shell will be painful but once the shell is broken, I will be free to fly just like the newborn dragonfly.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day.  Today I was thinking and trying to recall my earliest memories of Remembrance Day and the importance of this day.  My earliest memories involve being at home with my mom before I was old enough to be in school.  She would gather my sister and I together and we would all sit in the living room to watch the national coverage on CBC of the Remembrance Day Ceremonies in downtown Ottawa on the black and white television.  I can remember us standing up in our living room while the national anthem was played and sung on television.  Through the observance of these ceremonies, my mother helped instill the importance of remembering the soldiers who died in WWI, WWII and the Korean War.

As a child, I also remember my mother and my grandmother making Remembrance Day come alive for me personally.  You see, my grandmother's youngest brother died on September 26, 1944 in Operation Market Garden during WWII.  My grandma didn't talk about Uncle Russell very often but when she did it was with a deep love and a sorrowful loss.  My mom always talked about how much fun he was.  He would play with her and he laughed a lot.  He apparently had a great sense of humour.  I can believe this because my other great uncles also were very witty and I did get to know them as I grew from a young child through to my adult years.  I always wondered what Uncle Russell would have been like.

Once I started school, I would always stand quietly during the moments of silence during the school Remembrance Day assemblies.  During those moments while other children shuffled their feet and fidgeted waiting for the absolute silence to end, I would try to imagine Uncle Russell.  I have always had a vivid imagination and I would imagine him in his uniform being soaked to the bone by the rain and dampness.  I would imagine him being on a boat and seeing it and him explode from whatever caused the boat to blow up and kill him.  During these moments of silence, I would then struggle to keep tears from my eyes.  I can remember asking my grandma about how she found out Uncle Russell had been killed.  She explained that my great-grandmother received notice that Uncle Russell was missing in action.  I can remember Grandma saying that was the hardest of times as the family waited and hoped that he would be found, perhaps dreadfully injured but alive and able to be sent home.  I can remember Grandma telling me that they waited and waited until one day, they received word that he had been killed in action.  Grandma didn't like to talk about those times very much because it brought back painful memories.  I am so thankful that the stories of Uncle Russell were passed down.  It allowed me to connect with the importance of Remembrance Day from the time I was a young child.  I don't come from a military family and the concept of war was foreign to me.

I've passed along the stories of Uncle Russell to my own children.  It has allowed them to also have a personal connection and realize the importance of remembering.  Once we moved to our current city, we found memorial plaques with my great-uncle's name on them.  He had lived here and this was his place of residence when enlisted.  I have made a point of showing my children Uncle Russell's name on the various plaques that I've seen.  In this way, I hope I have triggered my own children's interest in Remembrance Day.

Tomorrow, for the first time, I'll be attending the church that Uncle Russell attended in our city.  Apparently there is a stained glass window with his name on it.  It will be interesting to be there.  There will be a Remembrance Day ceremony during the service and apparently they try to make personal connections with each member of that church that died in action.  In the last number of years, my husband has taken an interest in Uncle Russell and done some research.  We have an address of where he used to live.  I like to drive by and dream of being able to own that home someday.  Perhaps because it would help forge another connection to the echoes of the man that used to wander and reside within those walls.

War is a terrible thing.  Remembrance Day ceremonies give us the opportunity to try to connect with what it was like during the various wars and to reflect on those who died in armed conflicts.

Lest We Forget.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Woodpecker or the Finch

Over my lifetime, I am very aware that I have a very strong and healthy stubborn streak which is also known as a will of steel.  It may even be interpreted as a thick or dense head.  It has been very helpful and healthy to have this trait when I've been faced with traumatic situations and, most recently, my bout with lymphoma and the subsequent chemotherapy.

I was reading the entry in "The Friendship Book 2012" this morning and it was very appropriate.  It talked about a woodpecker and a finch.  The woodpecker was sitting on a bird feeder which was a long plastic tube with the wooden perches under each hole which gave the birds access to the bird seed.  The woodpecker decided to repeatedly peck the plastic tube in an effort to reach the seed behind the plastic.  A finch arrived and showed the woodpecker the easy way to get his food.  This story really spoke to me as I identified with the the woodpecker.  I often want to make changes in how I react in certain situations, but I revert back to the "banging my head against the problem" sort of response.  I don't know if this the stubborn streak or a thick head.  Maybe it's both.  I know if you spoke to my family, it would definitely be a topic for discussion.  When I take time to think logically I can see that my habitual and ingrained response is not working but when I am emotionally charged and emotionally invested in the moment, I revert back to the old responses.

I think we are all like this in some way or another.  I think we, as human beings, are always striving to improve ourselves and how we live and react in the world.  I don't want to totally throw away my strong will and stubborn streak because it proved to be an asset when I've been ill and going through some rough recovery times in my life.  This trait also allows me to be an individual and not a follower of our materialistic society.  However, I do need to learn to take a step back when I get emotional and try to think logically before "banging my head against the problem".  I can recognize this but it is something completely different to put it into practice.

I spent my weekend visiting with extended family again and it was absolutely refreshing to spend the weekend full of laughter and joy.  It has renewed my desire to make changes and not accept the status quo.  Unfortunately, I seem to not know how to make changes without confrontation.  I think my frustration comes from having told myself while I was sick that change had to take place.  I saw change taking place while I was too ill to assist in the home chores.  I assumed that the changes I saw were permanent and much to my chagrin, I am back to where I was before I was diagnosed.  This past weekend was like a clearing in the middle of a dark forest where the sun is shining brightly on an open space.  I want to capture that warm, healthy sunshine and bring it into my own home. 

I want the smiles and the laughter that I saw on my own family's faces over the weekend.  I want the spirit of cooperation that was apparent while we were away to continue.  Life is all about making improvements and I plan to try to become a little more like the finch than the woodpecker.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Value of Friends and Family

It's hard to believe we are already in the month of November!  This has been a challenging year and 2012 has gone by quickly in some ways.  I seem to have lost about 6 months and I can't believe we are already heading towards Remembrance Day.  As of next week, it will be one year ago that I started having some symptoms with my voice, throat and breathing which made me decide to go to my family doctor.  At that time, I honestly thought I had strep throat.

It has been a year of trauma.  It has also been a year of learning to cope with various types of challenges and still try to maintain a positive outlook.  I haven't always been successful in keeping that positive outlook and the last month proves that I am fallible with my own faults and failings.  Throughout 2012, I have relied on family and friends to help me through the rough seas.  Friends and family have been good to listen to me rant and vent my frustration with being ill and then with the slow recovery of my stamina.  My friends and family have stood by me and offered advice and support.  Support has come in the form of cards indicating how much friends and family care.  Support has come in the form of visits over a cup of tea or coffee, going for walks to help me get stronger and support through music.  I have had to accept using the piano only for my musical outlet.  My voice is still not up to singing.  The voice is very tired and scratchy by the end of my teaching week and on my off days, my voice is not able to sing without getting scratchy and sore.  So I have to rest it and wait for it to get stronger.  I also am finding that I need to wait before I return to playing the flute.  The effort to be patient with myself as I slowly regain my stamina, drains my patience for other areas of my life.

My last entry in the blog indicated that I was going away for the weekend.  My doctor's appointment confirmed that the lymphoma is still in remission.  I went on a solo visit to see my brother.  I desperately felt in need of a break away.  It was the best thing I could have done for myself.  I was able to relax and enjoy visiting with family.  In some ways, I was chastising myself for running away from my problems and anxieties but on the other hand, it was an opportunity for me to look after myself and help me to regroup and try again.  I returned home feeling slightly better than before I left.

I travelled by train and it was peaceful and serene to watch the scenery fly by the window.  On my way to my weekend away, I read the entire train trip.  On the return trip home, I didn't have any books to read and so I looked out the train window the whole trip home.  When I first climbed aboard the train to return home, it was bitterly cold, windy and rainy.  The day was grey and dull.  The weather was very similar to what my mood has been for the last number of weeks.  As the train travelled along the tracks, I noticed  the wind was picking up and some brilliantly coloured leaves were flying by the window every once in a while.  The leaves were not a steady stream of blowing leaves but more like sporadic individual leaves. These leaves caught my attention as they were brilliant orange and yellow spots blowing along with a grey background.  It reminded me of coming up out of the dark sadness of grief and noticing brief bright colours to give you hope.  The brilliance of the leaves on the trees as well as the leaves on the ground around the trees helped lift my spirits and give me a sense of peace.  At one point in the journey, the train was travelling alongside the lake.  The water looked very cold and a dark grey as it reflected the hue of the sky.  I realized that I could dwell in the darkness of the colour or I could see the water and imagine the waves rolling into the shoreline in a soothing rhythmic dance.  I could again feel myself being lifted out of the doldrums that I had been struggling to avoid being sucked into during the last number of weeks.  The ride home was very therapeutic and I was grateful that I had pampered myself with the trip away.

Over the years, I've often heard the saying "God will not give you more than you can handle."  2012 has been a little more than I can handle on my own and with the help of my faith, family and friends, my family and I have been able to cope.  There are still times of anxiety and stress but it is at those times that we need to learn to reach out and lean on our extended family as well as our friends.  I'm finding that the teaching is getting easier to do each week but I still have difficulty juggling and multi-tasking other responsbilities at the same time.  I need to continue to schedule some "quiet" time into my day so I can nurture my spiritual side of me and appreciate the quiet stillness of nature.  Whenever I make time to enjoy and commune in nature, my whole being feels much better.  Those moments rejuvenate me and help me to return to facing the challenges that life seems to throw at me.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tools for Coping with Life

Since I've returned to work, I have less time to myself.  I realize that I've not been keeping up with my daily reading and guided meditation from "The Book of Awakening" by Mark Nepo.  I have replaced my "The Friendship Book 2012" and I find that I need to get myself back into the habit of reading it every morning.  These two readings were very helpful to me while I was going through my treatments.  They helped me psychologically and emotionally.  I also used to pray every morning while I was in treatment.  I would include prayers for other people and their circumstances but I also prayed for myself and my home using The Encircling Prayer.  It goes like this:

Encircling Prayer

The Sacred Three my fortress be
Encircling me.
Come and be round
My hearth and my home

During my prayer time, I would also hand over my worries and anxieties into God's hands.  Again, I haven't been keeping up with this daily practice.  Perhaps this is why I've been feeling down in the dumps again.  I've been allowing my work and demands of family to push aside my "quiet" time. 

Many, many years ago, I used to rely on and nurture my faith daily.  This helped me survive a traumatic time in my life.  As life improved, I still had my very strong faith but I didn't nurture it in quite the same way.  In my experience, if I don't nurture the spiritual part of me daily, I begin to grow away from God.  I begin to rely strictly upon myself.  Being human, I end up making mistakes and paying the consequences.  Sometimes those consequences take an emotional toll on me.  I've always said it is harder to stay close to God when life is going along smoothly than when there are problems.  I need to learn to continue to walk closely with God during the good times as well.  My bout with lymphoma last winter reinforced to me the importance of making time for my daily readings, meditations and prayers.  Prayer, for me, doesn't necessarily mean a formal prayer but it may involve going for a brisk walk and contemplating problems and worries.  Prayer may be in the form of recognizing what is causing me anxiety and then mentally handing it over to God to carry for me.

I write about all this today because I've had another night of anxiety and worry.  I'm worrying about my family and some of our issues.  I'm worrying about my physical health as well as my emotional health.  I have a follow up appointment with my doctor this afternoon.  It is just to go over the MRI results which I've been told verbally are all fine.  My concern is now over a shoulder that has been causing me pain since the beginning of June.  Is it arthritis because it often happens during the night and improves as the day goes on?  Can this be another result of the chemo?  Could the pain be some cancer getting into the bones?  I've been struggling with my voice for the last couple of days while I was teaching.  This morning I awoke with a scratchy throat similar to what I awoke with last November and was a symptom of the lymphoma.  I'm still very tired and fatigued.  Is this because of the chemo I went through or is it because the lymphoma is returning and I feel the fatigue?

The good news is my memory seems to be getting better.  I'm not losing words as often anymore.  As for the other worries, I'll try to hand them over to God.  My worries and anxieties feel like heavy metal weights on my shoulders that I carry with me constantly as baggage.  I will be mentioning my worries to my doctor this afternoon.  I never was a hypochondriac before but I feel myself becoming one now.  I don't want to be worrying about every little ache or sore throat.  The scary thing is that the symptoms of the lymphoma were so "normal" and could be attributed to minor ailments like the common cold.

I'm looking forward to the next few days.  I'll be going on a solo visit via train to see my brother and sister-in-law.  I always like travelling by train because it gives me numerous hours to read and relax.  I like watching the countryside go by as the train travels through rural areas.  I'm hoping this break will rejuvenate me and help me rest.  I'm also looking forward to seeing some extended family members that I haven't seen in 16 years!  My fear is that I will return and be exhausted from the travelling.  I'll be returning just in time to start my next week of teaching.  I may blog once more before I leave but most likely won't be touching base until sometime next week after I return.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Another Chemotherapy Side Effect?

As I mentioned in the last post, it has been a struggle in the last few weeks.  I am battling fatigue due to returning to work.  People see me return to work and assume I am fully healed.  They do not realize the exhaustion that I face on a daily basis.  This is only one component of my life that drains my energy.  On top of this, I am still a mother who worries about her family.  This worry also tires and drains me.  Because I seem healthy enough to be able to work, the majority of the household chores are falling on my shoulders again.  All these aspects combined with lots of family activity contribute to my fatigue.  There have been some extenuating circumstances thrown into the mix.  To be honest, some of these aspects of life create a feeling of anger within me.  I believe the anger springs from other people's lack of understanding and expectations that I should just return to "normal" immediately.  It's as if a switch should just be turned on and I'm completely better because the summer is over and I've returned to teaching my full load of music students.

The fatigue and exhaustion that I've been feeling have been a hurdle to trying to build my physical strength and stamina.  I want to get back to walking daily and at a brisk walk.  Unfortunately, I just don't have the energy.  This adds to my frustration with my body.  I have been feeling unhappy and dissatisfied.  I decided to search the internet to see if there is any correlation between chemotherapy and the "blues".  I was surprised and heartened to find the following link.

It is important to read this article completely as it provides a full understanding of what happens after the treatments are finished.  Society, myself included, think that chemotherapy side effects are all physical.  The thought is that as soon as the chemo regimine is finished, then the body can get on with healing.  I found it interesting that the article indicated that anger and depression can show up even years later after the treatments are finished.  I also found it interesting to read the statistics of the number of people who suffer a form of mental side effects much later.

When I started writing this blog, I indicated that I would write the blog until I was cured.  I've been receiving some pressure from numerous people to shut the blog down because it is no longer relevant.  Yes, I'm a lymphoma survivor.  Everyone who knows me believes that I am "cured". The reality is I am in remission. The lymphoma could return at any time. I remember my oncologist telling me that the first 18 months are the most crucial.  The odds of the lymphoma recurring are higher during that time.  My last cycle of chemotherapy ended on May 19.  This means that I am 5 months removed from treatment.  I will not be deemed "cured" until 5 or 6 years from now.  This blog has been a wonderful vehicle for me to be able to release my concerns, fears, worries and anxieties.  This was the reason I started it and the reason that I am continuing it.  Figuratively, it is like a steam pressure release valve.  As the pressure within builds, I write in my blog and it acts like  when the release valve is loosened and the steam pours out.

I have tried to be very sensitive to my family members and respect their feelings and privacy.  However, as I've mentioned before, our lives all intersect and impact each other.  I decided from the very beginning of my blog that I would share my experiences, thoughts and feelings whether they be raw and ugly or good and affirming.  Unfortunately, being diagnosed, treated and surviving lymphoma along with coping with life struggles is a process which encompasses a wide range of emotions and reactions.  I will continue to blog about my journey to being fully cured in 5 or 6 years.  There most likely will continue to be both good and bad situations and emotions along the way.  My hope is that someone else may one day read my blog and recognize they are not alone in their physical and emotional reactions to having lymphoma and going through the treatments for it.

Friday, 19 October 2012

A Buoy In The Sea of Life

It's been some time since I've been able to write a post.  Life has been hectic due to the fact that I've had family visiting combined with the art of parenting teenagers and working.  It's been difficult to get time to myself and I've realized that I really enjoy sitting quietly with no television, radio or computer providing background noise.  The peace of silence is very precious to me.  It helps calm my soul.  I am reminded of the need to keep myself balanced by nurturing the physical, emotional and spiritual parts of me.  I've not been doing this in the last month.and I find myself full of anxiety, frustration and unhappiness.

As I sit quietly and think about the last month, I visualize myself as a buoy that is anchored with a strong chain while the huge waves of life crash over me, heave me sideways and toss me up and down.  My faith in God is that strong, iron link chain that holds me in place during the storms of life.  I have to cling to my faith that I will be fine after the tempest of these trials.  I pray that all my relationships will not just survive these tumultous times but also flourish over the long term.  As I ponder the thought of a strong chain made up of thick, iron links, I am realizing that each link may also symbolize my cherished activities and "alone" time.  One link in the chain may be my love of gardening.  I've denied myself this activity over the last month because I felt the need to be with the family member that was visiting.  I also wanted to avoid being told "You must slow down", and  "Don't do so much".  Another link in the chain may be my meditation time with "The Friendship Book" and "The Book of Awakening".  Again, due to lack of time to myself and my own delay in replacing my "The Friendship Book", I've not been as consistent in reading the daily readings and taking time to contemplate them.  I've not been tending my spiritual self.  Due to this and the various challenges and crises in the last month, I truly have felt like I've been adrift.  The chain is still attached to the buoy but the buoy has been bounced around much more because the links have not been checked and maintained.  My faith is just as strong but it needs to be nurtured which means it needs to be fed and cared for.

At one point last week, I thought of how the lives of each individual family member impacts each other.  When a member of the family is struggling with his/her own life issues, it affects everybody else in the home.  When a mother is anxious about juggling her various roles as well as the well-being of her family, it affects the children, husband and even the pets in the home.  As this week has unfolded, it has been very stressful for everyone in the home.  On Tuesday, I managed to read "The Book of Awakening" by Mark Nepo and it really spoke to me.  I'm going to quote the meditation exercise as I found it very illuminating and helpful.

"Sit quietly and bring to mind your disappointments of dream and love."

"Breathe gently, and try not to be brought too fully into your sadness."

"Instead, breathe deeply and try to see each, not as a failure, but as a shimmering bead on a necklace your life is making."

"Breath cleanly, and let these gems lead you to the next."

As I just re-read this, it has helped again.  I have been struggling with trying to stay out of the dark hole of depression.  It's been very difficult.  I love the line "try not to be brought too fully into your sadness".  It is healthy to acknowledge the sadness but not to dwell on it.  The quote, "try to see each, not as a failure, but as a shimmering bead on a necklace your life is making", is the moment of true illumination for me.  I see it like the sun beginning to peek out from behind the dark storm clouds.  Each crisis, failure or struggle is like a pearl.  It is dull and rough at the beginning but as it matures, it becomes a simple, glowing orb which is added to our appreciation of life.

My sadness at this time comes from how quickly my body still tires, my feelings of failure as a mother, my unhappiness with my body image, my concern about my relationship with my children and the underlying anxiety about a recurrence of my lymphoma.  My strategies for coping with sadness (before it transforms into depression) are walking, gardening, reading, singing, playing music on the piano or on my flute and visiting with close friends.  Unfortunately, I've been unable to do these things due to spending time with a visiting family member.  I'm also still unable to sing as my voice is very tired after teaching.  I haven't tried playing flute because there is still some pressure and sensitivity in the area of my neck where the tumour was.  I don't want to aggravate it and I want it to fully heal before I try playing again.  When I've tried to play the flute in the past few months, this area of the neck ends up with some swelling.  It was good to visit with a friend yesterday and enjoy a good brisk walk at the same time.  I was able to go for another brisk, long walk last night which seems to have helped my emotional well-being.

Monday, 8 October 2012


It's Thanksgiving Day today.  I have so much to be thankful this year.  First and foremost, I am alive and able to celebrate with my family.

I spent the weekend in Michigan watching my son play more baseball.  The drive through Ontario and into Michigan was beautiful.  The trees are changing colours and the views all along the highway reminded me of a patchwork quilt.  The trees were a mix of greens, yellows, rust colours, dull oranges, bright oranges and briilliant reds.  It was a cold weekend but I had packed lots of warm clothes and as a result was quite comfortable sitting at the ball fields watching the team play Fall baseball.  The team had 3 losses and 1 win.  My son was the starting pitcher and winning pitcher in the winning game.  He pitched 4 innings and left the game with the score at 6-0.  My son always has to be at the field one hour before game time.  Yesterday we dropped him off at the field and went into the nearest town to get some gas and some grocery items.  We discovered that the road the ball field was located on showed up on the main road into the village (this was not the way we had travelled to get there).  So on our way back to the ball field, we turned onto this road.  It ended up being an absolutely gorgeous drive.  It was a narrow road that twisted and curved underneath mature maple trees.  As we drove along, the trees arched overtop of road just like a rural painting.  The colours were magnificent and it was a very peaceful setting.

The fall colours and the beautiful countryside brought up childhood memories of playing at my grandparents' farm during Thanksgiving weekends.  It would be crisp and cold just like this past weekend and then we would go into the farm kitchen where the turkey would be roasting and the various pies (apple, pumpkin, strawberry/rhubarb, etc) would be warming.  The memories of the warmth and the smell of the turkey, turnip, gravy and mashed potatoes are able to make my mouth water even today.   I am so glad to be alive to experience the crisp coldness this past weekend but more importantly to make more memories with my family.

So although there are still challenges, worries and anxieties in life, I can celebrate that I am alive and that the lymphoma is in remission.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

I Refuse To Be a Victim to "Chemo Brain!!

It's been an emotional week in many ways.  I've tried to be there for my daughter and comfort her as she has been in pain with a broken finger.  I've tried to "mother" her and then respect her wishes to leave her alone.  I've tried to keep her safe and provided a "walking partner" as she chose to walk through an industrial area in the dark in order to meet up with some friends.  I've put up with her teenage attitude and tried to understand what it was like to be 14 as I've extended myself physically to my own detriment.  I've been grieving in my own way the loss of a friend due to cancer.  I've been praying for and grieving for a friend and her family as they continue to deal with the loss of her mother.

Some hurtful things have been said in the last few days and a lot of this comes from lack of world experience.  My husband and I made a choice to try to limit the impact of the chemotherapy on our teenagers' lives.  In hindsight, this may have been a mistake.  I've been accused of wanting to make people feel sorry for me and playing the victim.  I'm going to try to explain what life is currently like as I'm moving forward and getting back to living a "normal" life.

As stated in the blog in the last few weeks, I've returned to teaching privately and juggling my normal responsibilities.  I'm enjoying this return to health and normalcy.  The drawbacks and reality are I still tire easily and I'm struggling with some cognitive issues due to the very real and documented "chemo fog" or "chemo brain".  I'm trying to live with this and move beyond this.  In private moments at home with my husband, we discuss the memory issues because I need his help in remembering to do tasks and to recall conversations that I do not remember having.  I've been accused of "playing up" the chemo brain just for sympathy.

The reality is that I have forgotten appointments but thank goodness someone else in the household has remembered them in time so that nobody has missed any appointments.  Sometimes, I need my husband's help in order to compose a letter or memo because my brain hits a "wall" and I go completely blank and cannot finish the thought or come up with the appropriate words. At that point, I end up with a headache as well.  I have conversations with people and I am often stopping in mid-sentence as I try to grasp the word that fits but I can't remember it.  Yesterday (Sunday) I was cooking some bacon.  When finished, I would normally leave the bacon grease to cool in the pan and then pour it into an old margarine container that I keep in the refrigerator then toss in the trash when it is full.  Yesterday, my mind was not working or thinking correctly and I poured the hot grease into the plastic container.  The thing is I know better!!  And then I did the most idiotic thing and I picked up the melting plastic container to put it in the sink.  The hot grease oozed out onto 2 of my fingers and I got burned.  My husband witnessed all this and even recognized that this is not normal brain function for me.

I write this, not because I want sympathy and the "poor Cathy" thoughts but, because I'm trying to document what life is currently like as I move forward and continue to heal.  Today, I taught a lesson and then had a break before the next onslaught of students.  I realized I hadn't done my month end financial records for September and I was having to start my October records today.  So I spent time working on my month end.  I totally forgot about making supper!  I used to tbe able to multi-task and juggle all these responsbilities in a timely and efficient manner.  I have found that as I have returned to work, I am not able to multi-task like I once did.  Is this because of "chemo brain" or "chemo fog" or is this because I'm tired and my brain is tired after concentrating on teaching.  I don't know the answer.  What I do know is that as I attempt to live life normally, I'm struggling with some cognitive changes.  I refuse to be a victim but it hurts and makes it more difficult to move forward when verbal barbs are levelled at me.

I could choose to be a victim and dwell on all the hurts.  I'm blogging about it tonight because it is helping me to process what's going on and my emotions to it all.   The reality is that words hurt.  I'm recognizing the pain I feel so that I can let go of it.  If I don't recognize the pain it will continue to fester and hurt more.  The words from the last few days have lingered and were interfering with my ability to rest and sleep.  So I've dealt with them now.  I'm putting them down to the fact that not everyone understands and when people don't understand, they make wrong assumptions and conclusions which then translate into hurtful words.

Perhaps this entry will help someone else who is suffering from "Chemo Fog" or "Chemo Brain" understand it is a real side effect.  It is not something that is made up for sympathy.  Hopefully the following link will also help people understand.

I will continue to move forward and live each day to the fullest.  I am very pleased that my ability to sing is slowly returning.  I was able to sing in the choir for one anthem at my friend's mother's Celebration of Life on Saturday.  I normally sing soprano but that is still currently out of my range.  I was able to sing tenor.  Unfortunately, it did tire my voice and I had to leave the reception afterwards because too many people wanted to talk with me and my voice was tiring very quickly.  The good news is that the voice is coming back.  It is still tired two days later but it is getting better.  Yayy!!!!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Juggling Life

Today was the funeral of my friend who passed away from cancer on Sunday.  I was looking forward to going and celebrating her magnificent existence in this world.  My plans were to attend the funeral and then go directly to teaching my students this afternoon.  As I was vigorously brushing my teeth and almost ready to leave my home for the day, the telephone rang.  With my mouth full of toothpaste, I answered the phone.  It was my daughter calling from her school and my thoughts raced ahead to "what book did she forget and I have to find to deliver to her", "I'll bring her lunch to her", etc.  All the thoughts that go with having a child in school.  I hadn't anticipated her real reason for calling.  "Mom, I was playing dodge ball in gym and the ball went off my finger.  Can you pick me up from school?"

So I loaded the van up with my teaching supplies and went to pick up my daughter.  The poor girl had tears running down her face when I got to the school.  We went directly to the hospital and I resigned myself to missing my friend's funeral.  She would totally understand as she cared so much for her children and then her grandchildren.

As we waited for my daughter to be looked at in Emergency, we were keeping an eye on the time because I also was expected to be at a local school to begin lessons in the afternoon.  Eventually, a young resident doctor took a look at my daughter's finger and then we waited some more for her turn to have an x-ray taken.  While waiting, the time slowly marched along and I had to make the call to cancel my lessons for the rest of the afternoon.  I used to always agonize over cancelling lessons.  If I didn't cancel lessons when my children were sick, I always felt my heart rending in two because I wanted to be with my children.  At the same time, I also didn't want to disappoint my students and their parents.  Today was the first time that I was totally secure in my decision.  This has been one of my "changes" that I've thought about throughout the past several months.  Life is too short and my children and family are too important for me to put other people ahead of them.

Finally my daughter had her x-ray taken and then we had to wait for it to be read by the doctor.  Eventually he came to us in the waiting area and confirmed that her finger was broken.  He allowed both my daughter and myself to see the x-ray and you could see that the finger was indeed broken.  They put a splint on it which is like a half cast which is held on by a tensor bandage.  She has been referred to a hand clinic just to make sure that she doesn't need a pin put in the finger to help it heal better.  By the time we left the hospital, it was past mid-afternoon and we still hadn't had lunch.  My daughter was still in pain but wanting a turkey sub for her late lunch.

So the day has been a "wash" as far as my plans and schedule were supposed to be today.  However, on the other hand, my daughter and I have spent some much needed time together.  I was able to comfort her and spoil her even though she was still a typical teenager.  This has been the first time ever that I've been able to juggle and drastically change my plans for the day without feeling a great deal of anxiety and stress.

At one point while we were at the hospital, I was sure that I saw my friend, whose funeral I missed, walking briskly down the hallway.  I know it wasn't her but it was someone who was the same height, had the same brisk walk, the same hair colour and the same hair style as my friend always wore before she had gone through chemotherapy.  It certainly made me take a second look.  I'm sad that I missed the funeral but I'm glad that I got into the palliative care hospital to visit her before she passed away.  I'll have my memories to give me comfort.

So tonight, I'll be contacting the parents of the students that had their lessons cancelled today in order to explain my sudden absence.  We'll work out the logistics and life will go on.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Life, Death and What Comes After

Yesterday morning I awoke feeling refreshed and full of vitality.  It has been a while since I've been to church so I decided that today was a good day to go.  I arrived and it was so nice to see my friends in the choir and in the congregation.  I'm able to sing a little now but not very much and so I still sit in the congregation even though I'd like to be up in the choir.  I enjoyed the service but was saddened to hear that an acquaintance is now in palliative care with another form of cancer.  This disease seems to be everywhere.  As a result, I just wanted to go home and be surrounded by my family.

As I was in the doorway of the sanctuary and ready to leave, the minister asked for everyone's attention and quiet.  She had just received a phone call informing her that my friend, who was in her last days, had passed away at 9:30 a.m.  My heart, already saddened and burdened, became very heavy and achy.  Tears came unbidden to my eyes as I tried to control them.  My friend had been in the twilight of her life but she was full of energy and vigour.  Up until last Fall, she had been leading exercise classes.  She had more energy than I did.  I remember a time when the church had a talent show.  Partway through the program, she got up and led everyone in some short, easy exercises just to keep us all from sitting too long watching the performances.  I will always remember her telling us all that when we watch television or movies on television, every time there is a commercial, get up and do some lunges or gentle stretches.  She always arrived at choir practice with her Timmies and if you got to church earlier enough on a Sunday morning, you would see her with her Timmies.  She was a caring woman who was interested in everything and everybody around her.  She cared for her daughter as she was diagnosed with ALS disease and she cared for her right through to the end.  This was such a sad time and I remember thinking what a strong woman my friend was.  She asked me to sing "On Eagles' Wings" at her daughter's funeral.  She became such a rock for her granddaughters after that.  My friend always was dressed so nicely with her hair just so.  She always had different hand bags that were always so nice.  I remember her having a bright purple one and then a bronze coloured one.  I will always remember her laugh.  She was always so interested in my children and how they were coping with growing up.  As they hit the teenage years, my friend was a source of wisdom, experience and guidance.  Even when I saw her last week (a week before she died!), she was asking about how my daughter and son were doing.  She always wondered about their well-being at school and socially.

Yesterday, I struggled with my grief.  Then tonight (as it is in the middle of the night here as I write this), I awoke thinking of a book I had read this summer called "Heaven Is For Real".  In it, a 3 year old boy has a near death experience while being operated on for a ruptured appendix.  He meets Jesus who is sitting at the right side of God.  He also gets to meet his grandfather for the first time.  This little boy also meets his big sister who was miscarried part way through the pregnancy.  I awoke and I envisioned my friend making her transition from the hospital to seeing God and Jesus face-to-face.  I also envisioned her seeing her husband and then being reunited with her daughter who she missed so much since she died.  This has brought me comfort.  She is/was the type of person that she would want us to grasp our lives fully and live them with interest and vigour.  I'll miss her vitality.  I'll miss her laugh.  I'll miss her brightness.  I'm praying for her best friend who is another friend of mine.  They were like sisters and did so much together.  At choir practice, I would hear them talking about shopping together, meeting for tea together, having meals together or just spending an evening together watching a movie.  It's so hard on those left behind when a life ends here.

As I see friends and acquaintances getting diagnosed with cancer and fighting valiantly to survive, I sometimes feel sad and confused.  Why did I get the one with the better cure rate?  Why did they get the diagnosis without much hope?  I don't know the answers to these but I'm starting to learn to feel thankful and a real sense of the grace of God.  I have been given a second chance at life and I will continue to live it to the fullest.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm also learning that living life to the fullest means experiencing the emotional highs and lows as well.  I will have a full week as I have my teaching in the first part of the week and I also have a Celebration of Life in memory of my very good friend's mother who died in August.  I am a firm believer that memories are a great comfort to us when our family and friends pass on.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Living and Enjoying Life

As a friend commented the other day, it is time to "get on with LIVING and enjoying life".  So last night, my father-in-law and I watched my husband play 3 Pitch in his season ending playoff tournament.  My son normally plays on this team as well, but last night he was working.  When we arrived the umpire that was working the current game saw me and gave a little wave.  After that game was finished, he came up to me sitting in the bleachers and mentioned that I'm looking so much more healthy and I didn't look tired at all.  The last time he saw me was in late June.

I enjoyed watching the game.  I was nice and toasty warm as I was dressed in warm layers and had a wool blanket wrapped around my knees.  We cheered them on but unfortunately, my husband's team lost.  I used to play for this team in the summer of 2011 and so I know a number of the players and really get into the game and cheering for them.  My husband even hit an over the fence home run.  I decided to get my exercise last night by retrieving the balls that were hit over the fences for home runs.  It felt good to be able to go for a brisk walk as well as to throw the ball back onto the field in the next stoppage in play.  I could tell that I haven't thrown a ball in over a year because my aim was off.  I miss playing.  We all returned home and while my husband enjoyed his after game beers, my father-in-law and I enjoyed a specialty coffee which included Bailey's Irish Cream, Glayva and Glenlivet scotch.

This morning I enjoyed some quiet time as I read "The Book of Awakening" and the newspaper before anyone else was awake and moving around.  Once everyone else was up, I managed to complete 3 loads of laundry before my husband and my son were playing ball at 1:30.  The tournament was slightly delayed due to the  heavy rains that pelted the region during the night and early morning.  However, the day cleared up and the games were able to be played.  In order to keep our seats dry from the wet bleachers, my father-in-law and I sat on 2 thick afghans and then wrapped our legs in the wool blanket again.  We settled in to watch the game. We brought our digital camera as this could be the last time my husband and son play ball together and we wanted to get some pictures of them both on the field.  The tournament was a double knock-out format.   I took some pictures and was very pleased with how they turned out.  In one picture, my son was pitching and my husband was standing on second base and ready to run to third base.  We saw my son make a diving catch in centre field.  It was spectacular as we saw him make a head first dive and all you saw was the spray of water as he slid through the puddle in the grass.  It reminded me of when he was little and used to play on the kids' toy "The Banana Water Slide".  As he slid through the grass and mud, he held his glove hand up to show the umpire that the ball was in his glove.  As my son got up off the ground, I could hear him say "That's slightly wet."  His whole right side was mud from his ankle up to his shoulder.  My son also hit a bomb of a home run.  The team won this game and then had to play again at 4:30.

We went home between games so that I could run the ball uniforms through a quick wash and get them dried.  At the same time, I was trying to dry out my son's running shoes with the hair dryer.  This was too slow a process so I came up with the bright idea of putting his shoes and my husband's shoes in old pillowcases and tying them shut.  I threw them into the dryer with the clean clothes in an effort to get the dirty shoes dry.  It didn't quite work as we ran out of time but at least the shoes weren't as soaking wet as they had been.  Back to the ball field we went and my father-in-law and I again got ourselves ensconced up on the bleachers with our afghans and blankets.  We settled in and watched the game.  Unfortunately, they lost this game which meant they were knocked out of the tournament.  Secretly and selfishly, I was glad because I was getting very tired and cold.  I didn't want to miss watching them play ball side by side, but I must admit that I need my weekends to be a little slower paced so that I can recuperate from teaching.  My stamina just doesn't seem to be ready to go full tilt.  This is too bad because my mind is wanting and willing to live every single moment to the absolute fullest.  I want to wring the most out of life that I can.  My body just isn't quite ready to cooperate.

I'm very tired tonight and struggling with a bit of a headache.  I have noticed that I struggled to do the sudoku puzzles this past week.  I used to be able to complete most of the ones that are in the daily newspaper.  Maybe I'm having less success with them lately because I've started teaching again.  Perhaps my mind is more tired than I think it is.  I also found out tonight that my friend, that I visited last week who is in palliative care, is in her last days.  I had hoped to get in to see her a couple of days ago, but our van had been in the shop getting the brakes fixed.  I didn't make it to the hospital.  I guess she really became much more frail in the last week.  As I've received this news, I am full of anger and sadness.  As I've said before in the blog, cancer is a horrible disease!  It isn't fair that there are "cures" for some and not others.  This is a disease that has been around for much too long!!!  I know that there are strides being made in research for some of the cancers.  I know that early detection is key in the cure rates.  It is very disheartening to know that while I am in remission and the probability of a full cure is high, my friend is not so fortunate.  My heart is aching for her.  I've been praying for her as I know others have been praying for her.  My understanding is that my friend has continued to be positive as she faces these last days.  As another friend said "What a wonderful woman!"  I guess I've been praying for a miracle that's not going to happen.  Maybe my prayers now need to shift to God keeping my friend cradled in His/Her hand and keeping my friend comfortable and at peace.

In a week's time, I have a Celebration of Life to attend.  The church choir I used to sing in (and will sing in again) is singing Psalm 23 at the service.  I'm going to try to sing in the choir.  I tried singing the soprano part (the part I normally sing) but my voice isn't ready to do this.  However, this morning I was able to sing the tenor part comfortably as long as I sang it softly.  I may not be a "leader" in the choir this time, but I will be a body and a soft voice.

As this post seems to indicate, living life to the fullest doesn't always mean having fun times and memories but it also means feeling life fully both the good and the sad.