Category Archives: philosophy

the sky is empty

“I talk to God but the sky is empty.”
~ Sylvia Plath

Ge’ez, Sylvia Plath is sure a downer!

When I was little, I thought my grandparents lived in heaven, not because they were dead, but because they lived in Arizona (a stretch to see how I got here, I can imagine, but bear with me)….

I came to visit them with this kind of sky:

From this kind of sky:

So, when we went to visit (usually in early summer) our plane went up above the clouds, but never came back down through them… so, they must have lived in heaven, right? Please, also note that this was also around the time I was very saddened that Zeus and the pantheon of gods was not “real” and that my mother found me once, kneeling in the front yard praying to the moon-god. I was a wildly spiritual child.

Considering my family did not practice any real form of faith as I was growing up, they were Protestant in Roman Catholic countries after all – and any Protestants that lived where we were tended to be evangelical missionaries and not the most fun to be around – add in that we were considered to be “converted” and there were all those heathen Roman Catholics and indigenous cultures that needed to be saved. 

Many people tell you to lean in to your faith in trying times like this. It is amazing how much you seek something out, something that requires faith. But looking for something that is comfortable, that does not mean I must have a rebirth in any fashion, that means I don’t have to believe fossils were put on earth by satan to lure us to his evil ends,  something other than the spiritual connection to the cancer I got is because I have mommy issues, something other than I am not godly and got cancer because I am being punished… 

fuck – fuck – fuck – fuck

FUCK

How do you find faith in the midst of such fucking insanity.

Notice that is not a question, though it probably should be.

Anyway.

I learned that I had a sizable chunk of muscle removed with my last surgery. Granted, it was not the breast surgery removal of days of yore when women begged for a radical (nay, they wanted uber radical) mastectomy – the kind that took out muscle and bone (think ribs and clavicles). I’m missing 2 inches of chest wall muscle… and I’m still in disbelief… faith.

The way humans think is sometimes shocking to me. BUT, and it is a YUUUUUGE “but”, I get it. While my head understands that if treated correctly a lumpectomy has the same results as a mastectomy and you heal faster – but WTF does treating something correctly mean? My tumor was muscle adjacent, so does that mean that one of those a$$hole cancer monsters escaped and is it hiding somewhere? Somewhere that chemo and radiation can’t find?  Faith.

This is where finding faith again is crucial – but it is so freaking different this go around, faith that is.

If you are prone to that which is beyond the physical and don’t judge, I can share how I am re-learning how to lean in to faith again.  The thing is, I will most likely appear a heretic to you.

The one thing I know, is that I don’t think faith is about re-birth (that concept is what caused me to abandon faith before)… if it is for you, that is awesome – but I don’t buy it one effin’ iota.

I, beautifully enough, am finding this process of rediscovering faith kinda cool. and a bit painful.

It is especially nice since there is a disquiet in this process, of being a person diagnosed with cancer. It was present the first time and it is present again this time.  The subtleties of it that I experienced the first time is magnified, but both of my cancer experiences, so far, are incredibly similar… at least internally.

Because my first round was stage 1 and caught super early and only required surgery it was subtle. I felt like a fraud of a cancer patient because phht, it just needed surgery. People (most of them), aside from the time during the surgery put me at the bottom or low-end of a cancer continuum (that was practically equated with being cancer free).

In this round, where I am currently listed as stage 2B (and probably only because they did not take out more nodes and we will see if that changes after the next battery of test results come in), it is still sufficiently low on that continuum that I still feel like a fraud (though only less so because, after all, it looks like I am getting chemo and radiation this time) and the news about the cancer itself has just gotten progressively worse. Many of those same folks from my first experience are still like “well, you aren’t dying”.

I am adding silently  in my head; “that I know of” because I am still waiting for more tests and results of tests.

No, I am not dying (well, at least I don’t think so, but as I said… I will have a more definitive answer after I see the results of the next test). Trust me I celebrate that!  I am not healthy, I have a chronic disease that gives me (according to my radiation oncologist) an 81% 5 year survival rate (though this varies depending on the sites with such data). Yes, 81% is super awesome, but before this all went down I was with most others and had the general average population of a smidgen over 98% . A 17% drop in my life expectancy is still a crappy thing to have as a part of my life.

Trying to balance a good attitude with crippling doubts is a strange place to be.

I struggle. The struggle is real. Not because I have a Christian need for an after-life – but because I want to be more than just a life form – I want something divine to be a part of this experience, I want to lean in to something when I am so riddled and consumed with anxiety. A set of rituals that I can be a part of, a community where I feel like I belong. IN my head I often say to myself, I just want to be loved through this.

I read about Sherman Alexie today, something that I struggled with, but which spoke to the spiritual little girl in me that the unseen world is there for those that listen.  (the story is here).

I have found great comfort in so many people in my life, women and men – willing to be a part of this process with me.  I hate to lean on them, how do you answer the unanswerable to someone like me desperately seeking?

 

 

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Messages from my mirror

The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.
~St. Jerome  

Today I scheduled a follow up eye appointment for October.

As I opened up my calendar I realized that the four months would land on the day before I had my surgery, which was when my eye problems started.

In the eight months since my life was spared and my body was torn apart in order to do that… a lot has happened.

One of the things that I find most striking is that my eyes have changed. And I have been trying to figure out what it is that I have noticed.

I am not sure when I started to think my eyes looked different to me, but I recall wondering if somehow my irises had become lighter or cloudier in color. Cataracts at my age?

The crux is that they don’t look happy to me, they looked pained, tired, and perhaps even scared.

I don’t know that I am any of those things, but I am a very different person than I was in 2014 B.D.

That B.D. is Before Diagnosis.

This process has been hard, but the hardest part was learning to stand up for myself. Standing up to a mother and aunt that I know love me, but who felt that age gave them some sort of prize that included tearing me down… I am sure that is (was) not their intent… but as they threw things at me that I would have previously have bowed my head to and ignored but in the middle of my fight to feel whole again seemed unduly cruel coming from them. As I said, I am sure they did not mean it, but they still hurt me very deeply on a level that a doctor could not touch.

I think, perhaps, that is part of the cloudiness that I see in my eyes.

It is also navigating my health after a pretty invasive surgery, the unwanted weight gain, the change in shape, the pain, the aches… the health of my eyes included.

They are better now though, the scars left on them through repeated injury and a misdiagnosis are healing, almost gone. The burden of the change of lifestyle for them is permanent… eye drops for life, they said. Keep them moist, they said. I will, I reply.

But when I got home from my appointment today, I looked in the mirror and still saw that certain kind of cloudiness, and I hoped it was not permanent.

Then there is this.

“Behind these eyes there is a girl trapped within her pain – a girl feeling all the emotions of anger and sadness. She’s fighting for a way out.”
~ Chimnese Davids

TEDx yzpdqbil*

I have to admit, I am currently a little obsessed with TED talks.




It all started with this one talk – I think I saw it sometime in the fall of 2008;

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html


I was floored, and moved, and thought “what a great way to put things out there”.

And since this was new I kind of waited to see what it would bring. I made my mother watch it. I sent it to my friends, and have fondly referred to the talk and my reaction to it ever since.

I was not a Ted-aholic, though. I would only reach out to Ted videos when I referred to them.

But something changed.

As I was preparing to host a movie screening with panel discussion, and I could not find anyone willing to serve as master of ceremonies, I realized that the job would fall to me.

So, I began watching them to see what makes for a good speaker, what are things that are compelling, what things did I like.

I even made Squink watch them while he would take a bath, the bio-luminescence ones are super cool!

I think I am a mediocre speaker. I have some strengths, but plenty of weaknesses.

But after the event, I had the idea of a themed series of talks, something like the Ted talks I had been watching for cues.

It is possible:  https://www.ted.com/participate/organize-a-local-tedx-event

But I think the one for Phoenix is taken.

And they frown upon “themed” events.

And when I thought about it some more, I saw so many possibilities and had to chuckle at the notion that each one had at least one “rule violation”.

I thought about one dealing with the many faces of cancer; from the physicians that find it, the pathologists that decipher it, the oncologists that treat it, the people who have endured it, the families of those who suffered it, the nurses who care for them, the scientists researching it.

It would be good, but it is a theme and violates the programming rules.

Then I thought about what it was like growing up as a third culture kid, and how cool it would be to get other people who grew up that way. I think my friend Doralice would have some wonderful insights, as would my friend Sparrow, and my friends Jeff and Erica. I think it would be interesting to give voice to that kind of experience. It is a bit unusual.

I have met so many interesting people, I would love to have an event to hear them talk… the Jivaro indian that had to flee his tribe because he wouldn’t convert, the people who started putumayo, the circus people, the rodeo folks, singers, entrepreneurs of the ridiculous, those off grid (the hardest to organize), photographers, movie stars, cartoonists in the golden era, explorers, survivors, hedonists, narcissists, and so on.

That got me to thinking about what would happened if I was told I had to give a Ted talk…  kind of talk could I give? what would it be about?

My ideas for Ted events is large…. but the list of things I feel I would be qualified to talk about is pretty non-existent.

I suppose I could talk about how being diagnosed with cancer was life changing in some spectacularly subtle ways… or what it was like being born to a bullfighter father and an explorer mother, though that is really their stories. About being a child of divorce (booooooring).  What it was like managing a high stress pregnancy, most of which was spent on bed rest (gag me).

At this point in my life, I think I would talk about why I think vaccines are important, from a theoretical view, and cultural view, and prevention view, a mothers view, a survivors view,

What would your Ted talk be about?









*stands for examine your zipper, pretty darn quick, before I look (a childhood phrase)

Day 1 – 40DOW – viewpoints on vaccines

This morning was a struggle. 

I am trying my damnedest to get this to happen:

If you can RSVP for a Phoenix event click here.


I struggle because I want it to be successful 

The team I am working with has been UNBELIEVABLY supportive… but it is so hard to get buy in from other folks.

I struggle with that.

But it, my sense of struggling, may have been that I had an unscheduled visit to my oncologist today. 


Bleeding.


Something I am not supposed to be doing at this point.

So I went in and saw my doctors nurse practitioner. Who performed a biopsy. 

I have had biopsies before, in that area…  it hurt like a motherf*&%#r. 

Even though she told me that it was my job to assume it was due to scar tissue, she also told me it was her job to rule out recurrence. She reassured me that it looked like granulation (BTW – don’t Google it).

What makes this situation even crazier is that the woman who did my biopsy is also a woman who will be on the panel for the movie screening.

Following up on the fact that I am helping to host a conversation about a preventable cancer
and that one of the panelists will have seen my girly-bits, I just got word who a second panelist will be and…. guess what??????

She has seen my girly bits too.

She was there when my son was born, as in the room… standing right between my husband and my mother.

So, I am trying to find the beauty of all of this. So, “this” being a weird place in my life (waiting for biopsy results) the week before I am helping host an event. The event which happens to be about something that most likely got me into the biopsy situation in the first place.

Anyway, the big shift for me has been to try and be kinder, gentler, more gracious… and yet stay my own person. Hard to do when you are in pain.

I lay there waiting for the biopsy, pretending to be under a fancy kitchen heat lamp


The biopsy was really painful, it still hurts as I type this some 12 hours later.
I still have so much to be grateful for, But it is kind of nerve wracking to be in my position, again… you know, waiting for results. Not the most fun place to be.
Anyway, after my ridiculously painful “procedure” I yelled out “fuck, that hurts” and immediately apologized and lay on the exam table, in tears, for a while. The nurse practitioner who took the biopsy was so very kind and seemed very distressed by my reaction.
I was pretty shocked by it too. It was, however, really painful. I have had biopsies of my girly bits before, without any numbing agent, and it was nothing like this.
At one point, during the second “grab” for tissue I screamed out “oh fuck that hurts”, and then immediately apologized. I am generally not one to curse much… I was embarrassed.
I lay on that exam table, tears streaming down my face, trying to get back to a normal breathing, staring at the bright light above me wishing there was something like a rainbow pooping unicorn to look at…
The nurse practitioner held my hand, asked me how I was feeling, helped me get some of my ibuprofen and drink it down. She seemed very concerned. All very kind considering that she had just learned she would be speaking at the HPV movie thing and that I was involved.
After my breathing got back to normal and the tears stopped falling down my face, she told me to lay there as long as I needed. She, and the other NP with her, quietly left the room. I lay on that exam table, and the tears came back.
It was a pity party I suppose. I lay there crying and trying to remember to be thankful that this was an experience in which I had had tremendous luck. No chemo. No radiation. a tumor the size of a grain of salt.
I lay there looking at the light above me. Trying to make it something more than just a light, making a distraction from the pain in my internal surgical site and the pain in my heart.
My heart did hurt, I had a vaccine preventable disease.
Let me say that again, I was diagnosed with a vaccine preventable disease.
One that would have prevented everything, a sub-total hysterectomy, worry, agony… and today’s darn biopsy.
It is a vaccine preventable disease.
Granted, I was born before this miracle vaccine was developed. But it is a vaccine preventable disease.
And as I ran through a list of people I do not particularly care for, not one of them and not one of their children were eligible for my wanting them to suffer what I had suffered through, I AM suffering through.
Vaccinate your children. In some cases yourself. Your boys. Your girls. This alternative is not fun. not fun at all. The HPV vaccine is good for kids aged 9 to adults aged 26.
It is a vaccine preventable disease.

..

A year in my life

A year ago, I had sent my son off to Europe and missed him terribly.

I think it was the Starbucks app of the week that was a picture a day app. I downloaded it, because;
1) it was free
2) I was thinking about documenting how much I missed my son

So, I took the selfie… and time flowed and I stuck to it and yesterday I got a notice that I had taken 365 photos.

One year, one insane year.

A son sent abroad at a very young age and being diagnosed with cancer. Not really sure which was hardest at the inception.

I missed my son terribly and was so happy when I reunited with him.

And hearing you have cancer sucks, sucks, sucks… and somehow it infiltrates everything.

But I missed my son and that was the hardest thing ever, and yes.. in a way, it was harder than being told one has cancer.

But the cancer things has its own craziness, craziness that makes everything outside the norm seem so much scarier.

So here is that one year of selfies, and as I sit here trying to figure out what all to tell my oncologist when I call him tomorrow, I think I look so much happier now than I did when I missed my son so much!

https://www.flickr.com/apps/video/stewart.swf

A seasonal urge

I grew up in the land of eternal spring… some even called it eternal fall.

I never have experienced four strong seasonal changes… usually it was two… but it could even be argued that there was one season unless one counts “more rain” as another season.

Ecuador had that… rain and more rain, it was eternal spring, or something akin to the glorious autumn season of the southwestern US.

Yes, it is confusing, but the big seasonal denominator for me has been the presence or absence of rain.

Today was that kind of day here in my beloved American Southwest… overcast and lightly rainy. A huge high pressure system that seemed unexpected causing tension headaches and achy bones. The release when the rain managed to push past. The smell of creosote wafting in the air.

I always feel a different kind of contentment in the rain, no matter in what part of the world I am in. If there is rain, I get this feeling. It isn’t particularly productive, but is a certain kind of peace or contentment. Though I do tend to write more when I can hear water droplets hitting the windows or the cadence of rain on the tin roof of my back porch. I feel the magic that my favorite authors are able to convey about this world, the kind that feeds the stories of Borges, Allende, Esquivel, and Garcia Marquez. While I do not claim that there is a Latin Exclusivity to the genre, as a daughter of its lands, I can understand the origins every so deeply.

When it rains, the world feels magical.

Rain in the magical jungle city of Tena in Ecuador


“The seasonal urge is strong in poets. Milton wrote chiefly in winter. Keats looked for spring to wake him up (as it did in the miraculous months of April and May, 1819). Burns chose autumn. Longfellow liked the month of September. Shelley flourished in the hot months.” Helen Bevington 

It was smaller than a mustard seed (or “How ya doin’?”)

“How are you doing?”

I get asked this a lot. I mean a lot more than usual, a lot, a lot. I imagine it is the result of their knowing I was diagnosed with cancer, and with a subsequent surgery.
It is an even more complex question to answer now.
The nuances of recovery from my surgery are interesting.
On one level, I am so incredibly lucky that it is a true cause of celebration. I wonder how rare it is to get a cancer when it is under 1 mm.
In one study that I read about cervical cancer, the data regarding the tumor sizes (not direct to the study, but the data was presented) said the mean size was 2cm and the median was 1.8 cm (of the tumors in the study).
I was at 0.8 MILLIMETERS
a grain of salt.
       a grain of salt, on a pinhead.

Smaller than a mustard seed.
The average size (from that one study) is like a marble, or a quarter, or a stamp.
A stamp, rather enlarged
I am so insanely lucky. However, my cells had made the crossover from being atypical to being cancer. The cells in question had moved from being In Situ to being nefarious (micro-invasive was the word) things…. So I said get it out.
It was aggressive in terms of the treatment I chose. I didn’t, however, want to revisit this conversation of “You have cancer” again. At least not for this.
So, the surgery for a grain of salt included my  the removal of entire uterus, through a long abdominal incision. It included the removal of my Fallopian tubes, sixteen lymph nodes, and some tissue that surrounded my uterus.
For something the size of a grain of salt.
The surgery was traumatic. My body does not feel normal, though it feels like it should feel normal. No visible parts are missing, but there is the scar that travels along my lower abdomen.
My girly bits and stomach are numb. My scar itches. There is a heaviness where I image the lymph nodes were. Cold causes a strange ache. I get exhausted easily and try to balance everything.  There is something I will refer to as exudate. My stitches have yet to dissolve. I don’t feel good in the sense that I feel limber and mobile. My abdomen feels  tight and yet wobbly.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Johnston
This post originally appeared elsewhere.

Invincible summers and calculated acts of kindness

“My dear,
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.

~ Albert Camus


It was late on December 20th, 2014 and I was still recovering from my surgery.   I read an email from my friend Gail in which she asked if the Junior League of Phoenix (JLP) would be interested in hosting a movie screening. Gail works at The Arizona Partnership for Immunization.


It was this movie screening:





I watched the trailer.

I called her to talk on the phone.

I pretty much told her that I didn’t know but I would find a way.  We talked about how I could manage this in my capacity as the member training committee chair and we came up with a plan. The next morning I sent out some emails to my Team Leader in the Junior League and my co-chair. Both were supportive.  Gail and I discussed venues and what options we had. We decided that my cousin, who is Lead pastor at Scottsdale First Church of the Nazarene, would be a good person to approach. So an email went to him. I received immediate replies and all were supportive. 

Here I am 2 months later. The JLP team lead I serve under, has allowed for this to become a bigger deal within the JLP.  More partnerships have developed and are included below.

Our goal is to provide one large movie screening with a panel that is targeting about 200 viewers. 

If you are local – please save the date:

Date:
Thursday, April 9th 2015

Location:
Scottsdale First Church of the Nazarene
2340 N Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

Time:
 5:30 – 9:00 pm / Movie starts at approx 6:30

Tentative Agenda:
Sign in opens with a meet and greet: 5:30
Movie and topic is introduced and screened 6:30 
(movie is 80 minutes long)
Panel discussion at end of film
closing meet and greet


Community Partners:


I am back – with some Calculated Acts Of Kindness (COAK)

Yes, I decided to  come back here. I figured out how to un-subcribe people and did so…

I did that because this chronicles my life for the last 10 years.. and a lot has happened.

But those ten yea

thank you deviantart

rs all had my Squink in them. And even when I did not mention him, it happened around him.

But it also feels like a new beginning and how wonderful that it coincides with the first day of Lent.

So, I am following after Kelli at AfricanKelli with a commitment to Calculated Acts of Kindness…

I will post updates on:

Flickr Pool

Instagram

Facebook

and of course HERE (and on my other site)!!!!

What a wonderful way to start

For the children’s sake

Today I went to a luncheon that was started by a family that lost their son/brother to the ravages of addiction.

As I listened to the mother and sisters make impassioned pleas for support, I thought about how I would feel if I lost my son… not just to addiction, but to anything. Considering that I was close enough to that when he was a new born, I felt the mothers anguish. Then as I thought about how the young man was only in his mid twenties, I wondered how that must feel if it happened now or ten years from now, or even twenty years from now… painful is what I could answer.

Following that, I began to consider what my parents must have felt when I called to give them my news.

I started to feel a little sick to my stomach. Just in anguish.

I thought about my mothers gasp when I called her, and my fathers silence when I called him.  I noticed them, but only slightly… I was so wrapped up in my own extremely feeble attempts to try and manage the news.

To call them and share the news that “I have cancer” was hard. And to now be able to put myself on their imaginary end of the phone line was pretty horrifying…

What would I do if Squink called me with such news… not a question… the mere thought brings me stomach pain, a heavy heart, my breath stuck in my throat.

Our children are not supposed to die, they are not supposed to get seriously ill, to suffer.

Life is pretty ridiculous, and I say that because in spite of everything,  it all results in death, and we humans become so attached to each other, that the death part becomes un-natural to us in a way.

And I am not trying to be-little it, I am more trying to wrap my head around it.

People we love get sick (be it cancer, addiction, heart disease, depression, leprosy…) and they die… and we have to deal with the mortality of the ones we love… and the pressure of things when it is your children who are going through the process, well it must be intense and I don’t think it ever gets any easier.

When we were asked if we wanted Squink to be given last rights, that was a tough moment. We understood that he was not a healthy baby, that he could die…. THAT was intense. Schatzy and I went home and prayed, we felt helpless and when that happens you turn those feelings over, they become outside of self.

So that is all I can say, getting that kind of news must be devastating, as devastating as it is to get and be aware of the news about yourself, but somehow I just know that no matter what his age, I would take the news from him far harder than I think I might if the news were about myself… and neither would be easy.