Category Archives: writing

the glint of light on broken glass

The other day I received an award for being positive in the face of adversity. I essentially got an award for getting cancer – though it is more specifically about how I chose to handle it.

Costumes, wearing costumes did it!

Having cancer three times in under five years is pretty messed up, but it is a part of my story.
Thank goodness it is just a part – but while living in it, it seems so all encompassing – like it has always been a part of my story.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/francescaromanacorreale/8662424109

 

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov

 

After I accepted the award a few people asked me how I could be so funny in such a dark time – my response is that I did not have a choice.

That is not to say that I don’t have dark moments, where I picture my son at my funeral not at some time in the distant future but rather now – in his early teens with a thin shadow of facial hair waiting to make it s entrance on his handsome face. Those are dark moments, they are filled with an internal scream so howling and loud that it hurts my body with a pure sense of pain. I hate those moments, but they happen, and they are hard to move away from – but I have to.

Usually I am able to stave off feelings about my  impending demise by imagining holding my grandchildren, touching their tiny little bodies with a wonder that only a grandmother could have. These thoughts power me, they give me something strong and important to keep my body and its insanities in a place of hope and wonder.

But every night when I take my chemotherapy pill, it all visits me again  as I wrap the pill up in a marshmallow (to prevent mouth-sores)  trying to make it swallowable… I am almost halfway through this process – so many long months are ahead of me with this. I see my oncologist monthly. Filling my head with questions I need to ask, symptoms I need to report.

I am looking forward to a time when I feel more compelled to write about watching my oncologist play the piano so beautifully that I was moved to tears while I surreptitiously recorded his playing. He played a collection of Russian composed songs – and Beethoven’s 5th. I feel an affinity to Beethoven, he lost his hearing – something so vital to what he loved to do. While I lost my breasts and my womb, and being a woman was something I love to do.

But the glint of light on my broken glass is that my breasts and my womb are not me – just like Ludwig Van was not his hearing. They are a reflection of our capabilities, one of the shards of broken glass – but never the whole.

 

 

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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

Queen of my cancer domain

There is a certain nervousness and apprehension as I approach my oncology follow up visits. 

I know to expect the following;  a vaginal exam, a pap smear, and my scar gets a review. 

I never really thought I would ever blog about these things, but here I am talking all about my girly bits.
My oncology center has a pretty new office, it is fancy schmanzy. I was able to see their previous office space several years ago. I helped a colleague through their own diagnosis. The space has different kinds of patient rooms and this visit I got a room that I call a throne room. They have these modern chair-that-turns-in-to-an-exam-table-complete-with-stirrups-that-miraculously-appear things.

After being ushered in to the room by the nurse  I proclaimed that I was glad I got to get a throne room. I  sat down with royal aplomb, gestured grandly,  and proclaimed myself as queen of my own cancer.

This is the chair, with me in it… and yes, you can see my butt poking from behind that silly paper drape if you look hard enough:



Anyway, turns out that my abdomen is not lit up by my disco ball ovaries. 

My oncologist is incredible, there is a gentleness to him that is unseen in so many other physicians. All the Ob-gyn’s I know consider him their go-to guy for their patients with oncology needs. I understand why.

When he examines me, there is a certain gentleness. A real look at his handiwork not in how they reflect on him, but on how they are for the patient. If you are open to the idea of therapeutic touch, I would say this doctor was born with it. 

So, as I lay on that table-formerly-a-chair, I asked him what he had done with my ovaries. He explained that he had tied them down to a ligament. He followed up by explaining that they are about 3 cm lower than where they used to be. he added that they should continue to function as long as they normally would. My ovaries were not left to roll around. Nor were they hung up on my ribs like a disco ball.  

I told him my story was better. He laughed and said he thought so too.

Cancer patients tend to develop a kind of crush on their oncologists. I can totally see that. It is not the kind of crush where you feel love. It is the kind that comes from feeling gratitude, It is pretty amazing.

I am still reflecting a lot on gratitude. It is hard to properly express gratitude to people  in this experience. Gratitude, it seems, is my lesson that is still being developed in this experience.

On The Facebook today, I came across an essay on suffering and gratitude. There was something intense to ponder  in the message. And the message was made moreso when the essay ended with this message:

I am grateful for your hair, the beauty of your eyes, your way with words, your heart that always is ready to give, your willingness to grow, your willingness to not know, the way you garden, naked, early in the morning, your love of family, your love of wine, your love of Scrabble, your glass-half-full ways, your love for your son, your belief in God, your belief in the power of poetry, your belief in the power of love, your Catholic ways, your love of your mother, your love of Mother Divine, your pale white skin, your lips, your smile, the way you love your friends, the way you love. (Source)


It appears that little piece was about a woman named Adele. I believe Adele is pictured at the bottom of the page in source link. That part, though, touched on some of the things that people comment about me or that I feel about me. In some divine sense, I want to believe that I was meant to see it. And to relish this sisterhood I share with this woman named Adele.

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.

The Language of Silence

I am almost always the first to wake up in the house.

Usually, I manage to open my eyes before the first of the two alarms I have.
I listen to my house. I listen to the street outside my window. I listen to the ping of my automatic coffee maker. I listen to my husband sleep beside me, and I listen to see if my son is waking up in the other room.
On rainy days, I listen to the drops of rain against the window.
I look for the signs of morning. Rays of sunshine streaming through the windows, the light on the carpet in the hall next to our room.
I sit up and reach to grab my robe from the foot of the bed and wrap it around me. I swing my legs to step onto our cold floor. I putter towards the kitchen, grab a mug and set it on the counter. I putter to the fridge and open it to get the half and half. I open the carton, as I swing around back to the mug and pour enough in to just cover the bottom of the mug. I put the creamer back and swing back to my mug, pick it up and carry it to the coffee maker, which has already started and is seconds away from giving me the refuge I seek. Once my mug is full, I cradle it between my hands, feeling the warmth. I hold it up to my face and inhale deeply. I love the smell of coffee and cream. I think about the farmers who raised my beans, who milked my cows and give them gratitude.
I putter back to my bed, stopping along the way to peek in on my son, and smile at how gentle his ten year old face looks in the early morning light, the light dusting of freckles on his nose and cheeks. I watch his chest rise and fall for a bit and continue my way back to bed. I set my mug on my bedside table and push my pillows up against my headboard and slip back under the covers sitting up. Once I am comfortable, I pick up my mug and take another breath to inhale its aroma. I take a sip.
I enjoy the silence, the brief respite from life in that moment.
I pick up my phone and check emails, both work and personal. I check the news and open up Facebook and Instagram to see what the previous day brought…. I wait until I hear the alarm in my sons room go off, when I will get up and help him with breakfast.

And as I do these the speed of life picks up and moves along at an ever increasing pace… and won’t slow down until the next morning when I wake up.

Originally published at https://medium.com/@blair_necessity/the-language-of-silence-531433a88d93 on January 12, 2015.