Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dolce Far Niente

The first time I heard the phrase, "Dolce far niente," was years ago when I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love. I sat mesmerized as Julia Roberts sat on a chair in the corner of a men's barbershop eating fruit. One of the patrons shared his disdain at Americans and their lack of understanding the Italian way of life. He used the example of our ignorance of rest and did his best to explain the concept to Ms. Roberts. Shortly thereafter, another patron chimed in and said, "Dolce far niente is the sweetness of doing nothing." Powerful words for a simple task, you'd think. But for some, that simple task is next to impossible.

I am one of those who find it difficult to rest. A typical type A personality, I've always been an overachiever. I work hard. I play hard. And, if I don't have something to keep me busy, I find something to do. My husband, on the other hand, knows the value of rest. He has no problem fitting it into his daily schedule. For years, He's encouraged me to practice the art of resting and although I've tried, I haven't been successful.

Since my diagnosis with breast cancer, I've lived with a sense of urgency. There's an underlying feeling that time is of the essence and that feeling has pushed me into a tizzy. From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, I am making the most of my 24 hour day. Rest never crosses my mind except on those rare occasions when my back screams out in pain and forces me to stop for a short respite.

Practicing the art of dolce far niente has been a challenge and one task I'm determined to master. Even the Bible emphasizes the importance of rest - "Be Still, and know that I am God." That verse has become a constant reminder that I need to take time to stop and that it's okay. And as I've begun to learn how to master my constant busyness, I've developed a new found respect for the art of doing nothing. I've also found my days stretch a little further as I make room for periods of nothingness.

Sitting with a steaming latte or lying across a bed looking out an open window as the sun beams across freshly mown grass are not only pleasurable intervals, they're also small examples of the larger joy that awaits.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bend over

Getting a flu shot shouldn’t be a complicated thing, right? Roll up the sleeve, brace for impact, insertion, completion, and leave. That’s the way it should go down but for someone with lymphedema, it’s not that easy.

After a recent annual physical, the doctor reminded Phil and I that we needed to have the flu vaccine. We’d become familiar with this routine and were ready to receive the shots at his office when our doctor sadly shook his head and informed us his office hadn’t received their allotment of inoculations yet. “Not to worry,” he said, “You can stop by any local pharmacy and have your shots today. Many pharmacies are participating in the annual inoculation program and won’t charge anything as long as you have insurance that covers the dose.”

On the way home from the physician’s office, we noticed a large sign outside our local CVS pharmacy indicating their participation in the program. Get your flu shot now, the sign said in big red letters.

Pulling into the parking lot, we were thankful to see only a few cars. Thinking we'd be in and out quick, we meandered inside.

Walking through the store, we made our way down the aisles to the back of the store where the pharmacy was located. Going up to the counter, we indicated our desire for the flu vaccine.

After we filled out necessary paperwork regarding the shot, we read the warnings about potential side effects and other pertinent information. We signed on the dotted line and returned our forms, then were instructed to sit and wait.

Before being seated, I asked to speak to the pharmacist. I told the pharmacy assistant I had important information regarding my health that I needed to share. The assistant asked me to divulge the information to her and she’d pass the news on to the doctor. Reluctantly, I leaned over the counter and whispered, “I’m a breast cancer patient and have lymphedema in both arms. I am not allowed to have the flu vaccine in my either arm. I need to have the shot in my hip.”

I watched as the assistant’s face changed to that of surprise. It was evident, by her reaction, my request was not a common one. As she turned to walk over to the pharmacist, I continued to watch. She whispered into the doctor’s ear and the pharmacist’s eyes widened.

Within a few months of surgery, I’d noticed an abnormal swelling in my upper arms. After seeing the oncologist, I was diagnosed with lymphedema, a painful condition often occurring after the removal of lymph nodes or breast cancer surgery. With the removal of nodes from both arms, the lymphatic system’s proper flow of lymphatic fluid through the body had been disrupted. This disruption caused a buildup of fluid in the extremities causing swelling and discomfort.

“With lymphatic limbs,” my doctor advised, “Any injection, tight pressure, or injury could exacerbate the condition and might possibly lead to a more serious condition called cellulitis.” I was told it was up to me to guard my arms since I was the one who would be affected adversely should injury take place, but doing so often invoked odd reactions from medical staff.

As I waited, I couldn’t help wondering why getting an immunization in the hip was such a big deal. The only reason I could think of, at this pharmacy, was the fact that there was no private area. Immunizations were given in an open area, in front of other customers. And, while I didn’t relish the thoughts of dropping my drawers in front of inquiring eyes, I’d already made up my mind that if that was what it took, that was exactly what I would do. Modesty had left me long ago after my diagnosis with breast cancer.

Thankfully, the pharmacist took me into an employee breakroom to administer the vaccine. I was glad to have the privacy the room offered but hoped no employees would come into have lunch while my cheek was exposed.

Just before the pharmacist injected the needle, she confided in me. “I’ve never had to give a shot in the hip before, in fact, I had to call my fiancĂ©, who is a physician, and ask him exactly how to do it.” Her confession didn’t offer peace of mind.

The pharmacist was unsuccessful on her first attempt and apologized profusely. Standing there with my buttock exposed, I tried to remain calm and patient. Since she was behind me, I couldn’t see what she was doing, but I assumed she was reloading the vaccine and steadying her aim.

Within just a few seconds, I felt the quick jab of the needle and the burn of the medication entering my body. I almost laughed when the doctor breathed a sigh of relief. To lighten the mood, I looked over my shoulder and spoke to her saying, “I bet you’re glad you don’t have to do this every day, aren’t you?” She smiled and shook her head in the affirmative.

As we walked out of the breakroom, I thanked her for understanding. She accepted my gratitude and went back to work.

Rejoining my husband, I noticed the stare of other customers waiting for their shots. I'm sure they were thinking, "Where did she go and why did she get preferential treatment?" But I wasn't in the mood to explain.

Lymphedema has been a challenging side effect of breast cancer surgery and affects every aspect of daily living. Protecting limbs may seem like overkill to someone without knowledge of the condition, but the cautionary efforts are for my benefit.

Educating others about lymphedema is often shouldered by the person with the condition and while I don’t always enjoy doing it, I do it because I must. If I keep quiet, I’ll suffer the consequences and I’m not willing to risk bodily harm because of pride.

Getting a flu shot shouldn’t be a big deal, but sometimes it is, and that’s okay. Laughter and making light of the situation can help make others a little less uncomfortable.

For those with lymphedema, it’s important to speak up. Not all medical staff are familiar with lymphedema, its side effects, or precautions to prevent exacerbation of the condition. It's so important to be your own best advocate.

Monday, September 16, 2019

For those with breast cancer, mundane tasks like grocery shopping can be a challenge.

Before cancer, grocery shopping was a pleasurable experience. Up and down the rows, I'd search out new and interesting products now matter how long it took, now it's a challenging task. Lymphedema and back pain make my trips to the store short and fast, or at least that has been the case for the past year or so, but now that I've discovered online shopping and free pickup, things have become much easier.

This weekend, I ordered groceries through Kroger's online service. The process was quick and easy only taking about fifteen minutes. After I'd loaded my card, I inserted my credit card information and voila! I was done. My order, the site said, would be ready at my specified time the next day. I was grateful I hadn't had to go through the process of driving to the store, wandering the aisles, choosing my food items, loading them into the cart, unloading them onto the conveyor belt and then, reloading them into the car. That would have taken more than an hour and I didn't have that precious time to waste.

The following day, I received a text alert reminding me to pickup my order at the specified time. Happily, I drove to the store to retrieve the order. Sitting in the parking lot, I read through some emails as the store employee loaded everything carefully into my car. Within minutes, the employee was closing the tailgate on my vehicle and I was off. Smiling all the way home, I was grateful.

After bringing all the groceries inside and putting them away, it hit me. There had been a team of people who'd put my order together. Looking at the receipt, I saw about 8 names listed with a big smiley face and a hope you have a great day written beneath it. My "pullers" as they called themselves, had each been assigned separate sections. As they worked together, they made the task of assembling my order an easy one.

Sitting down at the table, I decided those workers needed to understand how vital they were to people like me, people with physical limitations like breast cancer, lymphedema, chronic fatigue, and back pain. Taking out a piece of stationary, I began to compile my thoughts and drafted a note of gratitude.

My husband agreed to drop of the note the next day on his way home from work. I hoped it would be received by the manager of the online ordering department and that it might possibly be shared with other staff.

The following day, I got a call from Kroger. The manager of the online shopping crew called to tell me they'd received my note. She thanked me profusely and said it was rare for them to receive any type of thanks much less a handwritten note. She commented on the fact that I was a breast cancer survivor. I'd shared that information in hopes of helping her understand the importance of their online service, especially when I was having one of my bad days. The manager understood and responded that she had a dear friend with breast cancer who had just started chemotherapy. We talked a few more minutes about the devastating effects of breast cancer before ending our conversation.

I couldn't help wondering if every woman knows someone touched by breast cancer. Perhaps not a close friend or relative, but surely, if every woman thought hard enough, even a distant acquaintance  would come to mind. Would it even be possible to find one women unfamiliar with the disease? I doubted it.

Breast cancer is so prevalent in our world today and it's sad to say so many have been touched by it.

Thankfully, there are companies, like Kroger, who make our lives a little easier by offering their online services. And next month, the shelves are going to be filled with pink ribboned products, but I think I'll pass on those when placing my order. I don't need a constant reminder of breast cancer. All I have to do is look down, there's a permanent reminder just under my nose.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Survivorship, really?

Yesterday, I attended a survivorship appointment at the cancer treatment center. I had mixed emotions as I drove to the center. Part of me was excited to finally be reaching this point and another part of me was scared to death. What was going to happen next? Would the constant cancer care rug be pulled out from under me? I had no idea. All I could do was wait and see.

Traveling up to the third floor, I signed in at the receptionist's desk. This floor was unfamiliar to me. Most of my appointments had been on the first floor where the sickest of the sick usually were. That's where the port room was located. That's where the halls were lined with recliners to help make patients more comfortable as they waited to have blood drawn, scans done, or poison dripped into their bodies. I was well acquainted with that floor. I'd been there many, many times but thankfully, I'd never had to endure the trauma of having a port inserted into my body since I'd refused chemotherapy.

The second floor was also familiar. There, I met with the naturopath, the pain management doctor, and other medical staff. It was on this floor that I found a place of solace in the chapel, found a multitude of books in the library to take my mind off of troubles, and received physical therapy.

But the third floor was different. Instead of seeing evidence of cancer everywhere, it felt like a regular doctor's office. In the waiting room were magazines and normal looking people. I assumed this was the floor for cancer graduates.

When my name was called, a jovial nurse escorted me back to the exam room where she took my weight, and recorded my vital statistics. She sat on the stool and asked some general questions about how I was feeling and if there were any problems I was experiencing. Of course, I mentioned the insomnia, a constant problem for the past 5 years. After making notes, the nurse left the room and I waited.

Watching the clock, the hands moved slowly as I counted down the minutes until the doctor arrived. When she entered, I was surprised by her youth. From my calculations, she was mid 40's. After the initial introduction and chit chat, she got down to business.

The doctor asked many of the same questions the nurse had asked but as she did, she made sure to offer solutions. For the insomnia, she could prescribe medication. For the anxiety, she recommended I try herbal teas or talk to the staff psychologist. On and on we went covering every aspect of my health. Finally, we'd reached the end of the appointment.

The look on my face must have indicated my fear because the doctor looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Don't worry, we won't leave you unattended. If you ever need anything, we're only a phone call away and of course, we'll see you annually to make sure you're doing okay." That made me feel a whole lot better.

One last thing, the physical examination. She asked if I could remove my blouse and my bra. I told her I'd need help with the bra. There were no hooks to loosen it. Either she'd have to help me pull it over my head or I'd have to slip it down. The weight of the prostheses made the decision for me. As they weighed down the bra and pulled it toward my navel. Slowly, I slipped out of the bra and allowed the doctor to view my chest. In the past, I'd have been extremely embarrassed to bare my chest in front of a stranger, but that wasn't the case any longer. After 5 years, I would have gladly stripped in front of anyone to allow them a glimpse of my battle scars.

I thought it funny that the doctor seemed to focus on one of my radiation tattoos. She'd thought it was a melanoma, a small black, cancerous mole. As she leaned in for a closer look, I laughed and told her it was one of my markings from radiation. I explained I had 5 more just like it. She seemed relieved and told me I could redress.

After bringing me a prescription for medication to help me sleep, I asked when I would see her again. She asked if it would be okay if we met on the same day as my next oncology appointment. I agreed and told her it was in February.

It seems odd not to be going to the cancer treatment center every month or so like I have for the past 5 years but it also feels wonderful! I'm glad I am still under the watchful eye of my doctors but I'm so glad to be out of the active phase of treatment for breast cancer.

Though it seems like it was only a blip on the radar, I have to remember that recurrence can happen any time after diagnosis. With that in mind, I will be vigilant to keep an eye on myself but, I have faith in the Great Physician and I am trusting that this phase of my life is completely over. Solo Deo Gloria! All praises to God!

Cancer, if you were on Facebook I would unfriend you right about now and I wouldn't feel one bit guilty about doing so.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

There goes another one

I had no idea she'd die so soon. We'd only been friends for a little over a year, but during that year, we'd shared so much. We shared the same diagnosis, the same stage of cancer, the same grade tumor. Our lives were parallel. It just didn't make sense.

Both she and I had chosen to forego traditional treatment routes. We'd opted for natural treatments. We'd shared each and every possibility in hopes of finding things that worked for one another. At times, it felt like it was a game. "Have you tried this?" Or, "No I haven't tried that, but have you tried this?" And in those moments, we developed a comradery like no other. We were sisters, even though we didn't share any familial ties.
My sweet friend, Lori and her daughter

"Why not me?" I asked myself. Why was I allowed to live and she had not been?

Trying to make sense of the situation was ridiculous. Cancer has no rhyme or reason. It takes whom it will, when it will.

But the feelings of guilt and remorse overwhelmed me. I was extremely sad that she had passed away but at the same time, I was so very grateful to be living. It was a double edged sword, one I didn't want to wield.

After talking with another breast cancer friend, I realized what I was experiencing was called Survivor's guilt. My feelings were valid and I needed to give myself permission to not only feel what I was feeling, but to come to terms with my grief.

Trying to find words of comfort to offer my friend's daughter, I found myself speechless, but at that moment, there was no real need for words. Her daughter took comfort in just knowing my thoughts and prayers were with her.

Since my diagnosis in 2014, I've lost more friends than I care to name. Each and every time, I've wondered why I survived and they did not. In each instance, I've struggled to make sense of it all and I've been unable to do so.

One thing I know for a fact, cancer will continue to take the lives of people I love and every time it does, I'll wonder why it wasn't me. The only thing I cling to is hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a world without cancer. And, hope that one day, I won't feel survivor's guilt any more.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

5 years post cancer

It is so hard to believe I'm currently 5 years post cancer diagnosis! I am officially N.E.D. - no evidence of disease and that completely blows my mind. 

Life has been good and I've been busy living it, hence, the lack of posts on my blog. 

I do still struggle daily with the residual effects of breast cancer surgery- lymphedema, fibromyalgia, and spinal degeneration. Along with a host of other issues like post cancer PTSD, cording, and insomnia, but I won't bore you. To sum things up, it I were a horse, I'd tell you to take me out and shoot me, but I'm not so I'll suck it up and keep being thankful that I'm still living.

Currently, I'm feverishly working on my book, the story of my cancer journey. In 2014, I felt God prompting me to write about this trial but things have gotten in the way. I haven't been able to sit down and spend time focusing on a book but He keeps reminding me, it's His project not mine, so I'd better get busy. And that's what I've tried to do this week. 

To date, I have over 135 thousand words written on my manuscript. I think that's a pretty good start! Whoever said writing a book was like having a baby had it about right. It's a painful process, especially remembering the past. 

I'm thankful I took the time to blog my cancer journey from day one. That will help make writing the book a lot less difficult but there will still be a lot of detail to add. And, for a novice, there are so many things to learn. 

My hope is to have a publisher pick up the book but if that doesn't happen, I'll self publish. Time will tell. 

So please forgive the lack of posts and keep your fingers crossed that I am able to complete this book by year's end. My goal is to have it ready to submit to a publisher by then and Lord willing, it will happen. All things happen in His perfect timing so I'm trusting Him to lead and guide me on that. 

In the meantime, I'll try to post as often as possible, so stay tuned. Life is good!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Stop Talking!

Ever have a conversation with your brain? I have. I do almost every single day. In fact, that's part of the problem. I can never get my brain to stop working. Day in and day out, my brain is always working. Random thoughts bombard my mind continually. It's getting to the point that it's interrupting my sleep. Either I don't sleep until the wee hours of the morning, or I find myself waking after only a few hours of sleep. Both scenarios suck.

This morning, as it was pitch black outside I found myself awake. Not knowing what time it was, I crept out of bed to keep from waking my husband. Feeling my way into the dining room, I sat at the table and fumbled around to find my Bible. When I can't sleep, I read and my Bible is my book of choice.

Using my flashlight, I opened my Bible. It fell open to the book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 5. As I read the chapter, I stopped on verse 21: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That verse is powerful and has always been a good reminder of how much God loves us and wanted us to be reconciled to Him.

I sat and read my Bible for a couple of hours, taking notes and cross referencing scriptures. After I prayed, I heard stirring. My husband was waking up. Sleepy eyed, he came into the living room and stared at me. "What are you doing up at this hour?," he said. I told him I had no idea. He urged me to go back to sleep but I explained I was wide awake.

After he went to bed, I went into my office to make notes. So many thoughts were coming in, I figured if I wrote them down and got them out of my head, I might be able to rest, but that didn't work. I'd download a few thoughts thinking I was clearing my head when twice as many as I'd written pushed their way in. Finally, I gave up and started my day with household chores. Doing laundry at that ungodly hour was insane and I'm beginning to wonder if I might have some sort of health issue. Do others struggle with getting their brains to rest?

This can't continue or I'll be a walking zombie. I must find a solution. Please keep me in your prayers as I work to figure this out.

Dolce Far Niente

The first time I heard the phrase, "Dolce far niente," was years ago when I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love. I sat mesmerized ...