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.