Thursday, April 27, 2023

When can I quit cancer?

When can I quit cancer? I ask myself that question several times a day. I'm tired of it. For over 9 years I've been dealing with cancer and cancer related items. To say I'm over it would be an understatement. 

Yesterday, I spent 4 hours at the cancer treatment center. I'd gone for a "check up." They had me come in for lab work and then I'd had to wait around for an hour so the results could be review by the doctor. Then, I had to wait even longer to see the doc. 

When she finally came into the room, I thought, she's going to spend extra time with me since she was over an hour late for my appointment. I don't know where I came up with that idea because it certainly wasn't reality. I don't even think she was in the room with me for 5 minutes! 

After looking at my labs and telling me my sodium was low, she quickly looked back at the ultrasound report from my last visit and asked about the enlarged lymph node in my neck they'd scanned. I told her it was still there. 

She came over and began to mash around on my neck then went back to her desk and said, "We'll get a CT on that area." When she said it, my mind naturally went to a bad place - did she think the cancer had returned? I didn't get a chance to ask her because she was already heading out the door. Apparently, she'd been overbooked that day and had many more patients to see. I left feeling frustrated and angry. 

I snuck this photo in the waiting room

I realize the importance of continual screening and annual oncology appointments are the best way of staying on top of any possible issues, but it sure is getting old.

When the doctor was looking over my labs, I did ask what my tumor marker numbers were. In the past, with my other oncologists, they've always told me my numbers. Dr. S, my new onco, looked at my funny and said, "Oh, we don't normally do those when you've had surgery to remove the cancer." WHAT??? I must have looked at her quizzically because she repeated the statement. That's when I told her, with my family history of all sorts of nasty cancers - lung cancer, esophageal cancer, brain cancer, etc. that I needed to know what my tumor markers were and I expected to have that test run regularly. Thankfully, she heard me because she turned to her scribe and said, "We'll make a note to run the tumor markers at your next visit." Dang. 

I toyed with the idea of going back to my other oncologist. At least he gave me the time of day and seemed to be truly interested in my health. This new onco seems overworked and uninterested. It's not a good way to do business, especially in the medical field. 

There are many things I liked about the cancer treatment center and many things I do not. I like that everything is contained in one location - all the imaging, chemotherapy, radiation, labs, etc. are in the same huge building. I don't like the fact that this hospital is a regional one and since it is one of 5 facilities nationwide, there are a LOT of patients. 

Cancer is a lucrative business, that's for sure, but when the patients suffer because of the business side of it, change needs to happen. 

Maybe patients need to start filling out those after visit questionnaires a little more truthfully. I sure do. If they ask how pleased I was with the service I received, I tell them like it is. When they ask how long I had to wait before seeing the doctor, I'm not sugar coating it and when they ask if I'd recommend others to the facility, I don't hem and haw. I state my reasons, both pro and con. I feel like they asked for it, so they're gonna get it. 

Rant over. In a nutshell, cancer sucks and I want out.


 

Monday, April 24, 2023

A little hand can hold a heart

 Yesterday, we went to visit my daughter's church. She'd invited us because she and her husband would be singing a duet and she knew I'd want to hear it. As soon as we arrived, we made our way into the sanctuary. A few minutes later, my youngest granddaughter came bounding in and squeezed into our pew slipping between my youngest daughter and I. She pulled out her little pouch with drawing materials and sat quietly waiting for the service to begin. 

As her Mommy and Daddy made their way to the stage to sing, she sidled up closer to me. I was thankful for our relationship. 

After the song was done and the preaching started, she began to quietly draw. I leaned over and whispered in her ear giving her an idea of something to draw. Immediately, she smile and began working on the project. When she'd completed it, she ripped the page out of her little notebook and slipped it to me. 

I keep all her drawings. I've framed them since she was old enough to scribble with crayons. Over the years, her artistic abilities have improved and I can see, that one day, she may find art an important creative outlet, as have I. 

As the service was winding up, the pastor asked the congregation to bow their heads and pray. All of a sudden, I felt a tiny hand slip into mine. My heart sang as I realized she valued me so much she wanted to hold my hand. 

She held it throughout the entire prayer and then, as quickly as she'd placed it there, she withdrew it. I couldn't help but smile, knowing she'd always find ways to hold my heart. 

She was just a few months old here.

When she was just a babe, I fell in love. Not only was this my granddaughter, she also carried part of my precious daughter in her. 

I was so grateful I'd been allowed to be at her birth. What a special day that was! To date, I've been able to attend 4 of my 9 grandchildren's births. 

I had the honor and privilege of babysitting this sweet one shortly after her birth to this day. Over time, I've held her little hand and have marveled at how much I love her. 

It's interesting to me, how perceptive children are. Whenever she's felt I needed it, she'll give me a big hug or grab my hand as she talks to me. When she does, it's as if our hearts and souls connect. 

I got a sticker for going potty back then, too.

As she's grown older, her little hand has gotten bigger. Her fingers are long and slender and I told her she'd make a great piano player. 

When she was potty training, her Mommy started a sticker reward program and would place a sticker on the back of my little granddaughter's hand when she made a successful trip to the potty. The program worked so well, that on a visit to my house, little bug told me I needed to go potty so I could have a sticker, too. I thought it was so cute that she wanted to share her pride and joy with me. 

I can't wait to see what those little hands grow up to do. 

She's now almost 10 and I don't have a recent photo of her holding my hand, but I'll try to get one soon. 

I hope she'll never stop wanting to hold my hand. Though my hand has grown old and wrinkly, she doesn't seem to mind.I don't think she knows how powerful her touch is and how she has and always will hold my heart.



Saturday, April 22, 2023

Broken

 

A brilliant Yellow Swallowtail landed on my leg today as we sat outside on our back patio. It was such a special moment and I was extremely still for fear of interrupting its landing. At first glance, I thought it was a perfect butterfly but as I looked closer, I noticed one of its wings was broken and that made me extremely sad. 

I wondered how the wing had been compromised. Had the butterfly brushed against something rough that had caught and torn the wing or had a pair of eager little hands tried to catch it and in desperation of keeping its freedom, the butterfly had sacrificed part of its wing as it got away. 

The butterfly stay for several minutes before lifting off and gently soaring on the breeze. As it left, I felt my wounded heart cry out, "You're still broken, too."Though I didn't want to admit it, I knew it was true. 

I'd been broken for almost 9 years, since the diagnosis of my breast cancer. Though I'd had months of deep despair, I'd also experienced moments of sheer joy at still being alive and being able to do the things I wanted to do, but I wasn't ever going to be the same again. That realization wounded me deeply.

Today, without realizing he'd done it, my husband said something very hurtful to me. He'd meant it in teasing but the words pierced my heart and made me feel less than. Those words reminded me of my brokenness and I began to sob. When he realized he'd hurt me, he instantly came to my side asking for forgiveness but the words had already accomplished their goal. It was my choice whether or not I would hold on to them or release them. 

I wanted to instantly release them but something deep inside cried out. I thought, by now, I was completely over the trauma of breast cancer, but apparently I wasn't. I wondered if I'd ever feel normal again or at least feel worthy of love again. 

That butterfly, though it had a broken wing, chose to continue to fly. If it hadn't continued on, it would have died without sustenance. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to choose to continue on, too. 

I've been trying to learn to thrive for several years now, but it's been hard. The dictionary defines the word thrive in this way: "to prosper, to flourish." I wasn't doing that. I was merely existing. I went from one mundane day to the next trying to fill my time with things to occupy my mind like art projects or writing. When I wasn't doing one of those things, I was cleaning. My house was always immaculate. Though those things kept me busy, they didn't fill my heart with joy. I needed joy. 

I realized, along with feeling broken, I was lonely. I had no friends here and all of my family lived at least an hour away. Rarely did I see anyone other than medical staff or my husband. I needed more. 

Social media helped a little. As I perused my account, I enjoyed learning what my "long distance" friends were up to. It felt like I had a connection although it wasn't really true. 

I'm not the type of person to get down in the dumps often but for the past couple of years I think I've struggled with depression. Oh, it's been mild but it's been there and I haven't liked it one bit. 

If I'd been smart, I would have taken my oncologist up on meeting with a cognitive behavioral specialist, but I was too embarrassed to admit my need. I was also afraid of admitting I was struggling with feelings of unworthiness. 

My faith in God has been my saving grace. Whenever I've felt smothered in my feelings, He's always  been there to remind me who I am and whose I am. Without him, I'm sure I would have already given up. Thankfully, His Word speaks to my heart daily. 

I've had to remind myself over and over again that feelings aren't fact. Though I feel broken and less than, I'm still His precious child. And He chose the trial of breast cancer for me. Knowing that gives me peace, not because I was made to suffer through the trauma of having my body maimed, but knowing no matter what, He'd promised never to leave or forsake me. 

The butterfly with the broken wing was a special gift. I think God allowed it to land on my leg for a reason- to remind me life is still possible even with a broken body. 

I still have a lot of internal healing to do and I'm working on myself daily. I've learned to use positive self talk to help remind me I matter, but more than that, as I've struggled, I've looked for Scriptures that get me back on track. 

I doubt if all women who go through breast cancer struggle with body image like I have but many do. It's hard to explain how damaging losing body parts can be to a person's self worth, especially when those body parts are the essence of their femininity. 

One day, I'm hoping to see myself healed and whole. Until then, I'll keep on working through things one day at a time. And one day, perhaps I'll fly.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

We need a vacation do over!

The week of Easter, we went on vacation. We'd planned it carefully in order to avoid all the Spring breakers who usually flock to the coast. I'm a long range planner and had reserved our beach house almost a year ago, as I do every year. Since that time, I'd been praying for good weather and a safe, relaxing trip. 

The boo boo beach house

The day before we were to leave, I got a call from the rental company. The house we'd reserved was going to be having a pool installed. The rental company told us there would be many workmen coming and going. There would be lots of noise. They wanted to know if we would be okay with that or if we'd prefer to be moved to another beach house. I got off the phone and was a little miffed. We'd planned this trip for a long time and now, at the very last minute, we get word that things are going to be turned upside down. 

I talked with my hubby and we decided to move to another house. Several years ago, when we'd stayed on Mexico Beach, contractors had come to repair brick steps to our rental. We'd received no notification and it was a major inconvenience. We didn't want to go through that kind of scenario again. 

I reached out to the rental company and asked what our options were. I was told there were 2 other beach  front homes available for our week, all others were beach view. Since we always rent beach front, I asked for details on those 2 homes. The agent said she'd have to check with the owners and see if they'd be willing to honor the original price we'd paid to reserve our home. Prices had gone up significantly since we'd locked in our price and she wasn't sure they'd do it. 

After contacting the two owners, the agent said only one would agree to rent to us for the initial price. We didn't want to have to pay an increased rate, so we took the one available. 

It's hard to take a beach rental when you don't really know what you're getting. Of course, they always post photos on the online websites, but renters never know if those photos are recent or not. 

We looked at the online photos as well as the location of the "new" beach house. Everything looked great and we felt okay with the change, until the day we arrived. 


It was a long, rainy drive to the beach. The weather forecast for the week was gloomy and although we know Florida weather can rapidly change from hour to hour, we weren't too optimistic. 

One sunny day at the beach
We unloaded our car and started to take things in. It was evident this was a well used, well loved home in much need of updating. Doing our best not to complain or be too picky, we unpacked and settled in. That evening, as I got ready to make our dinner, I found only one eye on the stove worked, the seal on the refrigerator wouldn't hold, and all the pots, pans, and utensils were in a state of disrepair. To say I was upset would have been a huge understatement. 

Immediately, I contacted the rental company's after hours line. Thankfully, they sent out an electrician the next day but when he left, after we thought he'd repaired the stove, it was worse than before! 

We had to prop a chair in front of the fridge door to keep it closed and keep our food from ruining and we had to run out and buy cooking utensils so we'd have what we needed. It was a huge fiasco and if I'd been in a really b---- mood, I would have raised a huge stink and had them move us out. But we'd waited so long to be at the beach and I was willing to overlook the bad things and focus more on the good things.  

Sunrise
We did get to enjoy three sunny days while on vacation. All the others were rainy and we even had a tornado warning while there!The sunny days were perfect and we made the most of them while we had them. We spent time at the beach, visited our old stomping grounds - Cape San Blas and Port St. Joe. We went to Ochlockonee State Park and St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge where we enjoyed beautiful scenery and wildlife. 

We managed to plan and meet up with my Aunt Jane and cousin Nancy, who drove an hour and half to meet us halfway for lunch, so the entire trip wasn't a bust.

We were able to finally see the memorial bricks we'd ordered to honor my brother, Jimmy, and the one we'd done for our 30th anniversary. We had them installed at St. George Lighthouse and when we saw them in person, they brought tears to our eyes. My brother would have loved his "spot" on the lighthouse pathway. It took almost a year for them to be installed. I ordered the one for my brother shortly after he passed away, July 22, 2021. I wanted him to have a permanent place of memorial since he was cremated and his wife hadn't installed one anywhere. Now, every time we visit the island, we'll stop by and remember all the good things about his life and how much we loved him!

St. George Light house

2nd row -my brother's memorial brick


 

Lighthouses have always had a special place in my heart and on this trip, we were able to see four of my favs - St. George, Cape San Blas, Crooked River (I didn't take a pic on this trip), and St. Mark's. They're all so different. 

Although we feel like we need a vacation do over, we were thankful for the days of sunshine we enjoyed. We made a note to ourselves not to plan next year's visit in April.. We normally go in early May or in October. Those months are usually good and there's not a high chance of hurricanes. Sometimes the bugs can be bad though and that's something we just have to prepare for in advance. I'd rather deal with bugs than drama like messed up beach houses and construction. 

I guess it's like Forest Gump says, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." That goes for weather, beach houses, and so much more. 

At least we made a lot of good memories and that's what counts. Hopefully our fall vacation will be much more pleasant.

Cape San Blas Light house

The Bald Eagle was so majestic!

On our way down to the beach, we saw a beautiful bald eagle up close. I was so thankful I'd taken my 35mm and was able to get a great shot! While at St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge, we got to see so many beautiful shore birds, marsh birds, alligators, and other creatures. Of course, Cape San Blas light house is one of our very favorites. We've been visiting it for almost 30 years. It used to be located along the shore line but they moved it many years ago to a more inland spot due to erosion of the beach. 

St. Mark's light house
We consider every trip to the beach a gift and we always love finding the peace and solitude God offers us there. Usually we bring home more in the way of memories than tangible souvenirs and that's exactly the way I want it. Of course, I do love when we find lots of sea shells. I have quite a collection from past trips and we were especially blessed a few years back when we hit the beach shortly after a Nor'easter had blown through. We found the most shells we'd ever found on one trip that year. 

One of my favorite books is, "A Gift From the Sea," by Anne Morrow Lindberg. It's a profound book and one I enjoy reading over and over again. 

Shark's eye shell
One of my favorite quotes from the book is - “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” 

And if you wait long enough, the sea always rewards.

Gifts from the sea

Hmm

Hmm. How can such a little "word" represent such deep thought? And yes, it is a word. Look it up if you don't believe me.  Lat...