Monday, May 7, 2018

Oh energy, where are you?

I used to have a lot of energy back in my BBC days (before breast cancer) but now, not so much. I'm finding my energy wanes around 4 p.m. each day and some days, before that. It's been a challenge to learn to adjust my schedule so I can accomplish the things I need or want to do before the energy runs out. Sometimes, I wish I had a gauge on my forehead. That way, I could look in the mirror and see how much fuel I had left. But if I did, I'd probably spend a good deal of my time running back and forth to check the meter and that would take precious time away from my doing.

Speaking of doing, I've come to the realization that I might be doing too much. Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I've felt an urgency to do all the things I ever wanted to do. I have accomplished many of those things but there are still many items on my list to check off.

I was looking over my bucket list the other day and this year, I'll have checked off some of my major events. That's exciting but as I reviewed the minor events, I felt God whispering to my spirit, "You need to slow down, it's okay to rest."

Why do I struggle so with resting? Most people probably never have that problem, but I do. For some reason, I've always felt it a sin not to be busy but is being too busy a sin? I'm beginning to think it is.

I'm so thankful for my sweet husband. He enjoys the art of resting and has mastered it quite well! He helps me see sometimes that I'm doing too much and he'll gently point it out to me, telling me to stop for a while and just take it easy.

For a long time, I let what he said go in one ear and out the other thinking I'd complete my project and rest when I was done but as my body has grown physically more tired, I've started to listen more carefully to what he's been saying and I've started heeding his warnings.

I don't feel quite as bad about resting when I'm tired now. Jesus rested. In fact, Jesus even slept when he was tired. Remember when the disciples were in the boat on the stormy sea and Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat? I figure if he felt it was okay to rest when he was tired, then I need to be able to follow his example. If I don't do it, then I'm pushing my body beyond its physical capacity and that's not a good thing because I'll suffer for it later.

Most days, my back dictates what I can or can't do. I have degenerative disk disease, several bulging disks and a hemangioma on L5. I also have osteoporosis (thanks, Mom) and a few other residual issues from breast cancer surgery that contribute to my daily struggles with pain. In spite of all the physical issues, I try to keep moving, keep doing, and just keep being alive. I'm so grateful to still be here but the older I get, the more I long for home. I can't wait to get to heaven! At least there I'll be pain-free and I'm sure Jesus will make sure I rest when I need to.

Although it's only a few minutes before 2, I have accomplished a lot today already. My back is really bothering me so I'm probably going to lie on the floor a little (it seems to help to be on a very hard surface).

Truth be told, the back pain has started to increase lately and I'm a little worried. Cancer seems to choose to metastasize in the brain, lungs, spine, or blood. I'm hoping that's not the case for me. I don't ever want to go another round with cancer because I'm not so sure I'd win, but I won't go there right now. I'm just thankful to be alive.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tar Babies

It's been a while since I've written in my blog again...I apologize to my faithful readers. My intentions are good but my life is busy.

Four years ago, I wouldn't have thought I'd be as busy as I've become. Back then, I was at the beginning of my breast cancer battle. Today, I'm doing well and my busyness has increased exponentially. Of course, if I'm honest, I'll have to admit most of the busyness if of my own doing. I'm currently writing my book, writing for a cancer magazine, working on a zillion different art projects, and I've just started a Facebook group for women! I don't know why I always feel the need to stay busy but I do. Some days there just aren't enough hours in the day for all I want to do, and that, my dear friends, is why I haven't been on here.

On top of all my physical busyness, I'm been in the midst of emotional busyness. Most of that stems from burdens many of my family and friends are facing. I spend an awful lot of time on my face before the Lord. There's just so much to pray about...

Today, as I was praying, I was reminded of one of my favorite childhood stories, B'rer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. This is part of the Uncle Remus series written by Joel Chandler Harris. In today's world, even discussing the story of the Uncle Remus books would probably be unacceptable because of racism and hatred but I happen to love the stories! They were a vital part of my childhood back in the early 60's. Back then, things were easier, especially when you grew up in a home where people weren't focused on the color of someone else's skin.

If you've never read the story of B'rer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, let me give you a brief synopsis: B'rer Fox and B'rer Rabbit are arch enemies and are always looking for ways to get back at each other. Well, in this story, B'rer  Fox, still smarting over being fooled again by Brer Rabbit, mixes tar and turpentine to make a tar-baby. He sets his creation, which indeed looks like a little black figure wearing a hat, beside the road and hides himself in the bushes not far away. Soon Brer Rabbit comes walking down the road and stops in his tracks when he sees the tar-baby. He speaks to it, asks it questions, accuses it of being hard-of-hearing and impolite, and finally yells at it. The tar-baby, of course, says nothing, and Brer Fox stays hidden in the bushes, chuckling quietly to himself. Losing his temper, Brer Rabbit hits the tar-baby, first with one fist, then the other. With both hands stuck in the tar, he kicks it with both feet, getting them stuck as well. In desperation, he butts it with his head, which also sticks firmly in the soft tar. Now Brer Fox emerges from the bushes, laughing so hard at Brer Rabbit’s plight that he rolls on the ground.

Tar babies are sticky! Could you imagine that poor rabbit stuck slap dab in the middle of all that icky tar? I'm sure he learned a valuable lesson and that is, if you lose your temper and get angry, sometimes you get into a jam. But I think there's another story here, one even more important.

Do you know any tar babies? I mean those people around you who seem to be so weighed down with burdens and problems that you just seem to avoid them? Oh, sure! You might listen to them as they tell you what's going on in their lives and you might even offer to shoot up a quick prayer for them but other than that, you can walk away unscathed. No tar on YOUR hands! But have you ever thought that sometimes, God puts people with problems in your path because there's a lesson you need to learn? Just like B'rer Rabbit, there just might be something there you need to take away?

Right now, I have several friends who are dealing with an awful lot in their lives. They're struggling with sons or daughters who have big problems and they don't know quite how to help them handle those sticky issues. I also have some family members who are struggling. Their pride has put up some big walls and they don't want anyone to interfere, even those well-intentioned folks who just might want to do anything they could to help. So what do we do in situations like that?

The tar babies might not be visibly covered in thick, black material but if you look closely enough, you can see sticky problems all around them. If you get too close, you just might get a little dirt on you. Most of those people are broken. They want someone to come and help bear some of their burden and if we're doing the Christ-like thing, that's exactly what we'll do. We'll stick our hands right into their sticky mess and get dirty...we'll get really dirty! In Galatians 6, we're told that we are to not only get dirty, but we're to pick up that sticky mess and carry it! We're to bear each other's burdens and in doing so, we fulfill the law of Christ.

If we walk away from those tar babies in our lives, we're committing spiritual snobbery! We all have problems and "dirt." One day, that tar baby's shoe might just be on our foot.

If there's someone in your life that's weighed down with sticky problems and burdens, you may not be able to physically help them but you can certainly pray. In so doing, you're helping to carry the load just a little. And if you get a little dirty, won't it be worth it?

Thank you, Uncle Remus, for teaching us so many lessons through your stories. Thank you, Joel Chandler Harris, for having the imagination to write those stories! And thank you, Lord, that you've give  us all the ability to bear one another's burdens if we'll just be on the lookout for people who might be covered in a little tar.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

It's difficult to keep up

It's been a while since my last post. I don't mean to have such large gaps between writings but sometimes, life just happens. We all get busy. We all get distracted. And some of us, the ones of us who have a little touch of adult ADD or adult ADHD, can't seem to stay focused. Whatever the case may be, I've been sidetracked.

For the past month or so, I've shifted my focus from writing to painting. It's been wonderful therapy and the art has given me such a lovely distraction that I haven't been able to stop. Can you be addicted to painting? Perhaps. I like to imagine Van Gogh or Picasso were addicted to their craft. I am by no means in their league. I'm far from it, but I have found a medium that lends itself to rapid results and a confident satisfaction.

It's hard to have so many hobbies. I enjoy every single one. That's a good thing because when I tire of one, I can easily pick up another. I tired of things quickly. That's one of my flaws. Today I'm going to try to regain some semblance of normalcy and shift myself from the world of painting back into the world of writing.
One of my paintings

Sometimes it feels like I have a smoldering fire within me. It's a burning desire to write. Often, when I don't let the words spill out, they bottle up inside me and I feel like I'm about to explode. This is when I can understand the madness some famous authors experienced. And it seems rather odd that people with such creative minds could fall into the trap of madness, doesn't it? Unless you've felt the overwhelming power of need, there's no way to understand this concept. It is real. And sometimes, I feel quite mad.

My book has been calling. I've put it on the back burner for some time now. For some reason, I just couldn't get past chapter 4. Hopefully, I'll make some progress today as I pick it back up and re-read it.

On another note, I've been invited to attend a Relay for Life celebration for breast cancer survivors. Reluctantly, I accepted the invitation. I'm not too keen on big to-dos like that but felt it my obligation to participate. This year marks my fourth of being cancer free so there's definitely reason to celebrate.

Breast cancer has finally been relegated to the back seat of my life. It no longer dictates everything I do and I'm thankful. It seems I'm finally being able to just focus on living. And speaking of living, I'm so excited about an upcoming trip. It's been in the works for many, many years. Lord willing, this October I'll be out of the country. More details to come! 

Monday, March 12, 2018

A day in the life (Fair warning, you might get tired reading this!)

Waking up to complete darkness is unusual. The time change has certainly affected my sleep patterns. I'm used to waking up with filtered sunlight and singing birds, but this morning was different.

Wide awake, I remove my earplugs, grab my little bedside flashlight, and beam toward the clock. Surely it can't be time to get up. I'm surprised to see it's already 6:30 a.m. I guess that makes sense considering I usually wake about 5:30 each morning.

Lying in bed for a few more minutes, I offer up some quick prayers for my family. These arrow prayers, as I call, them, I shoot up to heaven during the wee hours of the morning. I know they leave my lips and go straight into the heart of God where they'll be answered in His timing and according to His will.

I jump out of bed and flip on the light. The comforter and sheets are askew. It looks like there was a lot of movement last night. My mountain of pillows has shifted and are scattered across my husband's side of the bed. Poor thing! Since the lymphedema has gotten worse, I sleep with my arms elevated at night. That means two pillows underneath each arm and then, there are the two under my head. Six, no! Seven pillows. I forgot the one I tuck between my legs. Staying comfortable after cancer is a challenge.

Flinging the pillows back over to my side of the bed, I work to remake the bed. I start on his side and work my way around to my side. Back and forth until the huge bed is neatly arranged and everything is in order. As I tidy up, I flip on the morning news. It's the only time of day I listen as I work. It's important for me to keep abreast of what's going on in the world.

After the bed is made, I slip into the kitchen to make myself some breakfast. I read somewhere that you should eat within an hour of waking to keep your metabolism in high gear. I scramble some egg whites with a little cheese and olives while the Keurig is heating up for my green tea. When the eggs are done, I sit at the bar and enjoy the silence.

Next, I don some leggings, wool socks, sneakers, and a long sleeve shirt. I grab my Bose speaker and cell phone and head toward the treadmill. It's cold this morning! As I reach the garage, I can't help but shiver.

I pull up a podcast of Adrian Rogers, one of my favorite preachers, and fire up the treadmill. After warming up a few minutes, I'm in my groove and am walking at a brisk pace while listening to a sermon on the importance of numbers in the Bible. I love learning, especially where the Bible is concerned and Adrian Rogers was a sound man of God. I'm sad he's no longer living but I'm thankful for his archive of podcasts and sermons.

In the middle of my workout, my youngest calls. She's at the breast specialist and about to have an ultrasound. She's been having some problems and we've been concerned. I pray as I listen to her talk. She tries not to worry me but I know she's nervous and rightly so. With my history of breast cancer, how could she not be? I ask God to give her a good report and keep walking as she talks. When it's her appointment time, she tells me she'll call back later. I tell her I love her and hang up not realizing I'm holding my breath.

The Bluetooth speaker begins again and I pick up the sermon where it left off before the interruption of the call. I become engrossed in the lesson and am amazed that 45 minutes have already passed along with 5822 steps. Time's up! I have things to do, so I jump off the treadmill and hop on the rebounder. I only spend about ten minutes there. Rebounding helps distribute the lymphatic fluid and lessen the swelling in my arms.

After the rebounding, I grab some chicken from the freezer and head into the kitchen. Popping it in the microwave, I'll prepare dinner shortly.

As the meat is defrosting, I walk across the house to my closet to change clothes, then head back into the kitchen. My hair is a wreck since I didn't get a shower this morning. I decide to do a quick wash in the sink. Thankfully, my hair is short enough I can do this.

Just as I finish washing my hair, the microwave timer dings. I wrap my head in a towel and begin making chicken parmesan packets. I layer a bed of zucchini on a sheet of foil, salt, and pepper it, pour on some marinara sauce, add the chicken breast, top with some mozzarella cheese and wrap it all up into a neat little foil packet. It reminds me of my Girl Scout days when we'd make foil packet dinners to cook over the campfire. I make two more packets so my husband can have one for lunch tomorrow and stick them in the refrigerator.

I'm getting a draft on the back of my neck as my cold hair drips. I head to the bathroom to dry my hair. After that's done, I remember I have a load of clothes in the dryer. I stop to take them out, fold and put them away.

Heading back toward the kitchen, I feed the fish. As I do so, I remember the title for a children's book I intend to write soon. Turning toward the dining room table, I see my wet canvas drying on the sheet of plastic I'd spread out a few days ago and it reminds me I have a cousin coming over this weekend. She wants to learn to paint and I've agreed to teach her a new technique I've been enjoying.

I pull out some canvases and begin to gesso them. That way, I'll be prepared when she comes and won't have to wait for them to dry while she's here.

On the bar, there's a shopping circular. I pick it up and browse through it quickly thinking I need to order a new comforter set for the guest bedroom. There's a really good sale, according to the ads, I may just have to do that today.

While the canvases are gessoed and drying, I load the dishwasher and turn it on. Now all that's left to do in that part of the house is to vacuum. I'll get to that shortly.

Grabbing my water bottle, I glance at the clock. It's 12:30. Almost time for lunch. I grab a handful of almonds and head to my office. I've got some writing to do today.

I turn on my computer and my cell phone dings. I've got an alert from Twitter. Someone tried to log into my account. I haven't used Twitter in a very long time. It's odd someone would be trying to use an unused account. I ignore the notification.

My computer is up and I can't help thinking about that new comforter. I pull up the company's website and log in. I find a beautiful 4 piece set but it seems kind of expensive. I don't need top of the line, just something decent for out of town guests when we have them come visit. I put the set in my shopping cart and then peruse the flyer for coupons. I find an online coupon and a store coupon that save me more than half the cost of the set! I'm happy and don't feel bad when I click to order.

Next, I pull up my blog and begin writing this post. I've fallen down on the job of keeping my readers up to date but really, there hasn't been much going on with my cancer journey since I'm in maintenance mode.

Tomorrow I'll go in for rehab. I'm receiving treatment for lymphedema. I'll also see the chiropractor. The cancer treatment houses all of these under one roof which makes it convenient for me. Later in the week, I'll see an acupuncturist for the spinal pain. I'm nervous about that. I've never seen an acupuncturist before and I'm not keen on having needles inserted into my body. The oncologist felt like it might help so I'm willing to try it.

As soon as I finish this post, I'll be working on some articles for the cancer magazine unless I decide to have lunch first. I love writing for them and never have a problem finding topics to share.

The clock on my computer says it's 1:19 p.m. now. I've accomplished a good deal and the days not over yet. I think I'll pause for a lunch break and see if I have anything DVR'd so I can watch while I eat. I love doing more than one thing at a time.

After lunch, I'll vacuum the carpets, unload the dishwasher, and then work on my articles. By the time I finish, hubby will be coming in the door and it will be time to slide supper into the oven.

We'll enjoy a nice dinner, I'll clean up, then we'll watch some of our favorite shows and talk. That will be the first time all day I'll really relax and do nothing productive. Hubby has had to teach me to rest. I try really hard to listen to him but it's so hard for me to sit idle and do nothing. He assures me it's good for me. I wonder.

When he's ready to retire for the evening, I'll go unmake the bed. I'll sit and read a while until I'm ready to join him. I love winding down the day by reading my Bible or a good book.

As I lay my head on the pillow, I'll smile knowing I did my best to stay active today. Since my diagnosis, I don't take a single minute for granted any longer. I try to pack as much as I can into every day.

I won't realize until I'm almost drifting off to sleep, that my body is tired. But being tired, is evidence I'm still here and that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The test results are in and I'm happy to report I'm currently cancer free! That's fantastic news! I am so grateful and so very blessed.

Doctors found a suspicious place on my fourth rib and another on L5 of my spine. After an ultrasound and an MRI, they determined the spot on my ribs is costochondritis and the place on my spine is due to degenerative disc disease. I also have several herniated discs and those little buggers, along with osteoarthritis, are the reason for my chronic back pain. So...I'm being sent for treatment which will include physical therapy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture.

I'm thankful for a cancer treatment center that believes in integrative health care. It's so nice to have everything under one roof. Instead of having to travel from one city to the next to receive treatment, I go to one place. It's kind of like one-stop shopping for healthcare, lol.

In July, I'll be celebrating my fourth cancerversary. Isn't that amazing??? 4 years of being cancer free! What a milestone! God is so good and I can't thank Him enough for allowing me to continue to live.

This year, I'll be focusing more on finding joy. God has impressed upon me that I need to see His goodness and the best way I can do that is to find joy in the midst of my gratitude.

There are so many things to look forward to this year! Hubby and I have already planned our calendar year and several mini-vacations are on the slate.

So life is good and we are blessed. I never want to meet up with cancer again. Hopefully, God will see fit to keep it far away from us. We trust He will!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Patting myself on the back

It feels so good to know you've made a good decision. When I fired my last oncologist, I wasn't sure I was making the right decision. It's scary to walk away from a doctor's care, but it was absolutely necessary in this case to do just that.

Today, I met my new oncologist. What a gem! He was so pleasant and nice. His eyes twinkled as he spoke to me. I knew it was a good fit when he sat down and asked me what he could do for me. He wanted to know how he could help make me more comfortable. What a first! I've never had a doctor ask me that before.

I was impressed that he took time to pull up my chart on his computer and as he did, he asked me to correct anything that was incorrect. He read through all of my records and after he'd done that, He came over to examine me. Before he began, he took time to warm his hands. What a gentleman!

His nurse sat in the corner jotting down notes as he went over my body. As he worked, he asked me if there were specific areas that were bothering me. I mentioned the tenderness underneath my scar, a spot to the right of one of my chest radiation tattoos, my spinal pain and of course, the lymphedema. After thinking for a few minutes, I also added the insomnia.

Dr. H addressed each area of concern. He ordered an ultrasound, an MRI with contrast, and he's sending me to a lymphedema specialist.

After 45 minutes, he was ready to move on to his next patient. Before he left, he turned to me, smiled a huge smile and thanked me for trusting him to be my doctor. He gave me his business card and told me to contact him if I needed anything.

His nurse stayed in the room for a few minutes and another nurse joined us. Both of the ladies wanted to talk to me for a few minutes. They asked me if I was pleased with the doctor. I assured them I was. They told me Dr. H is one of the best on staff at the cancer treatment center and explained he is always happy go lucky. Neither of them has ever seen him upset, angry, or sad. He was good to his employees and wanted the very best for his patients. The ladies were very sincere in their comments about him and that made me feel like I'd made a good decision to change doctors.

When I left the exam room, I smiled. Finally, I was going to get the care I deserved. I felt confident in Dr. H and his team. 

What a difference. Dr. N had been brusk and inattentive. Dr. H had been open, approachable, and friendly. Dr. N hadn't given me 3 minutes of her time. Dr. H gave me 45 minutes. Dr. N didn't go over one of my lab tests or records. Dr. H went over every single one of them.

It's important to find a doctor who fits your needs and if that means going "Doc Shopping," then so be it.

On my way out of the treatment facility, I found a handpainted stone with the word, "Hope," on it. How appropriate and what perfect timing! Yes, I do have hope in a brighter tomorrow with no cancer!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Purpose In Suffering

Yesterday, I was reminded of something important. Late in the day, as I was checking my emails, I received notification that someone had left a comment on one of my blog posts. I have my account set up so I can moderate comments as they come in because, in the past, I've received some pretty racy spam comments that shocked me to my core when they were posted without my knowledge.

As I read the comment the reader left, I went back to that post I'd made in October of 2014. Re-reading the post brought back a flood of memories, some good, and some not so good.

In the post, I was reminded of a lesson God had taught me. It's been almost 4 years since that original post and He's still teaching me reasons for my suffering.

You'd think, by now, my suffering would have ended. You'd think, I'd be much stronger and more healthy than I was back in 2014 after surgery and treatment, but I'm not. Daily, I'm in pain. Some days are worse than others, but there's never a day without some discomfort.

I try hard not to mention it. My husband is really the only one who sees my constant struggles. I try hard to keep my physical pain from my children and grandchildren. There's nothing they can do to help me other than pray, so why bother them with it?

When my spine screams in agony, or when my arms are swollen so tight they feel like they'll burst, I have to remember, God has allowed this into my life. I have to trust that He knows what He's doing. I have to trust He's using this for my benefit. It isn't always easy, in fact, most days it's really hard. And, I do spend a lot of time on the floor of my closet in tears crying out to Him, but I know I'm not forgotten. When I do give Him my agony and pain, He gives me His peace. And that's enough.

Tomorrow, I'll see the new oncologist. I'd be lying if I didn't say I was nervous. Although I'm coming up on my four-year cancerversary (July 9, 2018), every visit to the cancer treatment center is scary. It's always concerning when the lab results come in. I can't help wonder if my tumor marker will be up and more tests will need to be done.

I canceled the MRI I was supposed to have done last week. I'll be talking with the new oncologist about this and get his feelings before rescheduling. If he feels it will be beneficial, then I'll do it. If not, I'll wait.

This morning, as I read my Bible, I was reminded that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. I always wondered why He had to qualify Himself to those to whom He was speaking. In the Greek language, the word good is translated, "Kalos." This word describes someone who is noble, wholesome, good, and beautiful. It signifies not only that which is good inwardly—character—but also that which is attractive outwardly. It is an innate goodness. Therefore, in using the phrase “the good shepherd,” Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, His righteousness, and His beauty. As shepherd of the sheep, He is the one who protects, guides, and nurtures His flock.

As I thought about my Shepherd, Jesus, I was reminded that I am a lowly sheep. Sheep need to be protected, guided, and cared for. That is exactly what Jesus is doing for me.

While I continue my journey through breast cancer, I can trust Him to lead me exactly where I need to go.

His purpose for my suffering is only completely known to Him but as I follow after Him, I know that every ache and pain will soon be erased one day, and that makes it bearable.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Doctors need to learn a thing or two

I've never been much of a fighter. I guess you'd say I'm one who doesn't rock the boat. I go with the flow. It's always easier that way and I don't like confrontation. But when I was treated unfairly at a recent medical appointment, I knew I needed to take action.

It had been six months since I'd seen the oncologist. During that time, I'd been doing fairly well. Sure, I'd experience the daily aches and pains that appeared shortly after surgery. Daily I've struggled with Lymphedema issues, but I've learned to deal with those inconveniences. They've seemed a small price to pay for the ability to continue living. But I was surprised, after months of unsupervised medical care, by my doctor's nonchalant attitude.

When she entered the exam room, she did not greet me. I noticed she didn't have my file in her hand either. Earlier in the day, I'd been sent for bloodwork and had waited two hours for the results. During that time, I'd been naturally nervous. It's always scary when you don't know your tumor marker number. I assumed the doctor would go over the lab results with me before asking how I'd been since the last visit, but she did not. In fact, she didn't say a word.

I waited a few minutes before speaking. I wondered if she was about to ask questions and I wanted to give her time to compose her thoughts. There was an awkward silence and when I realized she wasn't going to start talking, I spoke up.

It was important to mention the back pain I'd been experiencing. It wasn't normal and had increased over the past few months. This was very concerning especially since cancer can metastasize into the bones. While I was speaking, my oncologist seemed to be elsewhere. Her eyes were not focused on me and it was evident she was half listening. Wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt, I waited for a compassionate response after I'd shared my health concern. A few minutes passed and then the doctor said, "We could schedule an MRI but you should probably just follow up with your primary care physician."

I was dumbfounded when she turned to exit the room. She'd only been in with me a few minutes if that. Taking a deep breath, I bit my tongue. I could barely believe it.

On the way home from the appointment, I replayed the events in my mind. Trying to give the doctor the benefit of the doubt, I thought perhaps she'd had a bad day or her caseload had been heavy. But then, I started thinking. It had been six months since I'd seen her last. A lot had transpired since my last visit. The back pain was excruciating, the swelling from lymphedema in my arms had increased, my energy level was greatly diminished, and I hadn't been sleeping. Since the doctor was in and out like a flash, I hadn't been able to talk to her about all of my concerns. I'd only had time to mention the back pain.

Part of the blame was mine. I realized, after the fact, I could have asked her to wait as she put her hand on the doorknob to exit the room or I could have spoken with the nurse before leaving the facility and demanded more of the doctor's time, but I did not. It wasn't my place to push, or was it?

When I arrived home, I spoke to my husband about the day's events. He was as discouraged as I about the way I'd been treated. He asked what I'd like to see happen and that's when I realized I needed to make a change. It was time to find another doctor.

Where did I begin? As I flipped through my cancer care book, I remembered, when I'd entered the treatment facility, I'd been given the name of a patient advocate and had been told if I ever needed anything, she was the person to call. Great, a starting point.

Making the call was difficult. I tried my best to compose my words so as not to point fingers or place the blame entirely on the doctor. My intention was to give the facts and present my wishes.

The patient advocate was kind and caring. As I gave my viewpoint, she listened without interrupting. As I neared the end of my story, I said, "I guess we just aren't a good fit." The advocate asked if I could have any type doctor I wanted, what type I'd choose. I told her my choice would just be someone who was willing to listen, keep tabs on my health, and make sure I received the best care possible.

After giving her my "perfect doctor" requirements, I heard her smile over the phone. With excitement, she exclaimed, "I have the perfect doctor for you!" I listened as she described a new doctor who'd recently joined the cancer treatment facility. She assured me he had a wonderful bedside manner and would be sure to allow plenty of time for me during our initial consultation.

I'm thankful I had the guts to speak up and fight for my rights. It wasn't easy, but if I hadn't, no one else would have fought that battle for me. I feel confident I'll receive more personalized care with this new oncologist.

Sharing this story wasn't easy for me. I felt embarrassed and know some who read this may think I overreacted, but when a doctor fails to treat a patient with dignity and respect, they're doing a disservice to their patients.

Cancer isn't something you just "get over." Even after treatment ends, there's a lifetime of healing and recovery. Periodic medical attention is necessary to watch for signs of recurrence. Any doctor who doesn't understand this should not be practicing medicine in the field of oncology. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rainy days don't necessarily have to get you down

It's a rainy Wednesday here in my neck of the woods and it's been pouring all morning. Tornado warnings were issued in several nearby counties as well as my own. When these come, it's always a nerve-wracking time but since I've lived in Georgia all my life, I know inevitably that this type weather will come each year. We usually have tornadic activity mid Spring, so today's warning was a little early.

Whenever it rains, I can't help but think of idioms like, "It's raining cats and dogs," or "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down." I don't often feel down on rainy days, in fact, I rather enjoy them. They give me time to stay indoors and do the things I enjoy doing like binge-watching TV series or reading a good book.  But today, I think I'll use this dreary day to focus on being creative.

I've started a new art process called acrylic pouring. It involves acrylic paints, pouring mediums, and silicone. It's quite fun and I've quickly become addicted to it. Art has been extremely helpful to me in my breast cancer recovery. As I'm working on an art project, no matter what the medium, I find myself getting lost in the project. I don't think about anything other than what I'm doing at the time. It doesn't matter if my back is screaming out in excruciating pain or if my arms are swollen with lymphedema, I just keep on working.

The cancer treatment center nearby offers art courses for breast cancer patients and survivors at no cost. It's a great opportunity for those affected by cancer to connect. Sometimes I visit and participate in a class but most times, I prefer to work alone at home. When I'm home, I can wear comfortable clothes, crank up my stereo and work freely. It's nice to allow myself time to be uninhibited and while the creative juices flow, I am overcome by a wonderful healing power. As I create, I can channel my pain into the art.

When I look at the many pieces I've created this week, I can tell exactly how I felt at the time of the creation. There's a wonderful ocean scene, filled with beautiful shades of blues, seafoam green, and white - I was feeling very peaceful and relaxed that day. I was also thinking about planning an upcoming vacation, a time to get away and rest. Another piece is chaotic - filled with an array of bright colors but tainted with splashes of black. That day was one of feeling conflicted and confused. I'd been stressing about an upcoming checkup and couldn't help but wonder if test results might indicate cancer had returned. There are many others and each one has been cathartic for me.

My kitchen table is covered in puddles of wet paint. Thankfully, I thought to cover it in plastic first. This has been my hub of creativity. Each evening my husband comes home from work and takes a look. He marvels at my work and I smile. He knows, as well as I do, that staying busy has been a vital part of my healing process. Though it's been three and a half years since my initial diagnosis, I still feel myself in the midst of healing. I'm not sure I'll ever be completely whole again and that's okay. My life often feels like a masterpiece in progress. Some days beautiful colors meld together to create a sweet memory and other days, they're scraped away and repoured.

Life moves at such a swift pace and just like the liquid paint that pours from my container onto the canvas, it travels exactly where it chooses. Sometimes settling into deep crevices and sometimes sliding over the edge. We have no control, although we often think we do.

It would be nice if all medical doctors would recommend art therapy to their patients. I could just imagine, at the end of a visit, a doctor pulling out his prescription pad and telling the patient to wait just one more minute while he scribbled a note. Upon handing the prescription to the patient, the words on the script pad would read something like this - "Art therapy, dose TBD by patient. Medium TBD. PRN for optimal health."

Some doctors and hospitals are finding that art is beneficial for their patients. In fact, doctors in Sydney, Austrailia are prescribing this type therapy for their patients on a daily basis.

It's important to do whatever we can to stay as healthy as possible. Art therapy is an easy way to do that so I say, "Be creative!" Even if you've never had a single art lesson, you can make art. And after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Don't worry about what appeals to others, use art as a creative outlet to move from continually focusing on your health to focusing on joy. The one thing you have that nobody else has is your creative mind, your story, and your vision. So write, draw, paint, build, dance, and play. Live as only you can and enjoy doing it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Labor of love, Ha!

For the past few days, I've had good intentions but you know what they say about good intentions...the path to hell is paved with them. Anyway, it's already the first of February and I should have completed my book by now.

My goal was to have it completed by the end of December 2017. Did that happen? No! Life just got in the way and things happened that were out of my control so I changed my goal. My new goal is to finish by the end of 2018. Will that happen? It remains to be seen, but if I don't make a specific plan it won't.

So today, I committed to writing for a couple of hours each day. I went into my office this morning and thought, "Oh, great! I'm off to a good start. It's only 9:30 a.m. and I have the whole day to write. I turned on my computer, opened up my manuscript and went into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of green tea. The caffeine in the tea should give me an energy boost, right...well, it did. And then my adult ADHD brain kicked in and I ran outside to fill up the bird feeders, then I pruned some bushes. When I came back inside, I realized I hadn't completed my tea, so I gulped down a few sips and opened the dishwasher. After unloading it, I thought I needed to vacuum, so I did. I vacuumed the entire house and as I was doing that, I thought about dinner so I went to the freezer to pull out something to defrost. After doing all of those things, I passed by my paintings that I'd left to dry on the kitchen table. There were still a few damp spots so I decided to wait to put on the acrylic finish.

Heading back to my office, I sat down at my desk and thought, I really should get to writing. As I looked at the clock it was already 12:30! I popped on Facebook for just a few minutes to get caught up on the news and then my daughter started texting. As I read her texts about baby Garrett and his news, I lost track of time.

The file on my computer was still open. It was now 1:00 p.m. and my stomach was growling. Instead of fixing myself a nice lunch, I went into the kitchen and grabbed a protein shake. I could drink that while I worked on my manuscript.

Back at my desk, protein shake in hand, I opened my book manuscript. Instead of picking up where I left off, I thought it wise to reread my writing and make some edits. I scrolled all the way back to my book's introduction and began there. As I read, I was transported in time.

Reliving the past events of my cancer journey wasn't easy. Going through each process step by step was a challenge. I'd forgotten some of the emotions I'd felt back then, now they were fresh in my mind again.

After two hours of reading and editing, I decided to stop. I completed 4 chapters of work and I'm satisfied with that. Tomorrow, I'll try again. This time maybe I won't get sidetracked. Sometimes it's hard to have a creative mind. It seems it's always working, always thinking, always going in fifty million different directions. Now, where is that bungee cord?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Learning to accept my physical limitations

It's hard to accept the fact that my body doesn't always do what I want it to do. You'd think, 3 1/2 years post cancer, I'd have learned what my body can and can't do but I haven't. I'm still of the mindset that I'm able to do all the things I used to do. But today, I was reminded of several things. One, I'm not as young as I used to be. Two, my energy level has greatly decreased, and three my body doesn't work like it used to work.

This weekend, we'd purchased some steel shelving units for our garage. I'd made a comment several months ago about how frustrating it was to see all the messiness of our stuff in the space our cars should be. Finally, after nagging and complaining for weeks, I managed to get my husband to agree to go to our local big box hardware store and look for ways to make our space a little neater.

Up and down the rows we went looking at various organizational options. There were cabinets, storage units, and many different types of shelving. We'd discussed our needs and had already determined we wanted this to be a once and done purchase so we opted for steel shelving. We found the perfect size and made our purchases.

We loaded three heavy shelving units into our van and went home. Hubby took the boxes inside and sat them neatly on the garage floor. I was puzzled. For some reason, I assumed he'd start putting them together as soon as we got home, but he didn't. When I asked when he planned to assemble them, he told me he'd do it the following weekend. He'd been working a good deal of overtime and he was tired, so I didn't push.

This morning, I had the brilliant idea to put the shelves together and surprise him when he came in from work. I had slept well and was feeling energetic. After breakfast, I got dressed and made my way into the garage. As I looked at the boxes, I didn't think it would take long to assemble the units. Boy was I wrong!

The boxes weighed just under fifty pounds each. I struggled to drag one box off the stack and fought to open it. After quite a struggle, I managed to slide the box so that one end was elevated and shook the contents out.

It took quite a bit of time to maneuver the steel pieces into place. One by one, I whacked the sidebars into place with a hammer and a piece of two by four. This was not a one person job but I was determined to have the shelves completed by the time he came home and I was going to figure out how to brace the shelves as I put first one end together and then the other.

The first unit took about an hour to complete since I was unfamiliar with the setup and the directions weren't very clear. As I put on the top shelf, I realized my arms had begun swelling. I'd forgotten to put on my compression sleeves before starting. Oh well, too late now. I kept working hoping the swelling wouldn't get worse.

As I began work on the second unit, I felt my energy level begin to dip. I'd been so full of energy only an hour ago. Why was I so tired now?

I made myself push through the fatigue and finally managed to get the second unit together. Now it was time to place all the items on the shelves and do some cleanup. I decided I'd save the third unit for another day. I just didn't have the strength to start on it today.

When I went into the house, after cleaning up the garage, I could barely walk. My back was killing me and my arms were really swollen. I knew I needed to slow down and take a rest. A hot bath with some Epsom salts should do the trick along with some arthritis strength Ibuprofen.

Downing the pills with a large glass of water, I realized I was more tired than I'd first thought. I wondered if I could make it into the tub and out of it again.

As I sat in the hot water soaking the pains from my exertion away, I had to face the facts. I'm not as young as I used to be but along with that reality came the fact that my body isn't the same as it once was a few years ago. My energy level has been greatly diminished since my bout with cancer. My body doesn't always want to do what I want it to do. It's hard to accept but I'm finding it necessary to listen to my body and heed the warning cues it gives me.

In the middle of a project, sometimes I find myself getting extremely tired. It's more of an exhausted feeling that I can't quite describe. When I start to feel that overwhelming tiredness coming on, I know it won't be long before I'll have to stop what I'm doing and rest. This is very frustrating to me. I've always been a doer. I like to stay busy. But now I attribute my body's slowing down to both age and post-cancer fatigue.

Learning to accept my current physical limitations has been difficult. I don't always stop when my body tells me to. When I don't, I suffer the consequences and sometimes, those consequences last for days.

It's challenging to understand and accept the trauma my body's experienced since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's even more difficult to realize this will be a lifelong challenge.

Change is never easy and accepting post-cancer fatigue makes me feel very sad and frustrated. I want to be able to do the things I was once able to do. When I physically don't have the strength to do the things I want to do, I have to admit my life will never be the same. My body isn't the same. It's been cut open and stitched back together again. Layers and layers of muscle and tissue have been severed. Body parts have been removed. On top of that, my poor torso has been treated with radiation and poisonous chemicals.

When I think about the traumatic experiences my body has suffered as a result of breast cancer, it's a little easier to understand why my body has had to slow down.

I'm glad I'm finally learning to listen to my body instead of pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. I used to feel guilty about my lack of energy and would find myself apologizing for my inability to accomplish tasks. Now I know it's just part of my "new normal."

Yes, I'm getting older, too, but the majority of my physical limitations are a direct result of breast cancer. That was something I never expected and never wanted.

I'm thankful I can make the decision to stop when I need to now. I have learned the hard way to take good care of my body. Loving it and respecting its limitations is extremely important. And for those who think I'm using cancer as an excuse, shame on you. There's an old Native American saying that speaks volumes in this circumstance, "Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins." But I have to change that saying a little bit if you don't mind - I say, "Never judge a breast cancer survivor, you never know when or if you may be diagnosed in the future."