Today, during what was originally supposed to be a quick glance through my Facebook feed I read the words “IN WOMEN WITH PERSISTENT CERVICAL CANCER”.
It was in all caps too. PERSISTENT CERVICAL CANCER.
the urge to cry from worry
I stared at my screen thinking; Is this a thing? Can women get cervical cancer… on repeat…
My joints started to ache, my skin flushed with needle pricks, my face got hot, I held my breath.
Is this really a thing?
How did I miss this… I mean, I am a medical school dropout for chrissake… one who has worked or volunteered in breast and cervical cancer issues for most of her adult life…
In my head, in that stunned moment after reading that, I had the idea that some women just kept getting cervical cancer… like one gets a cold… they are both viruses, after all.
So, I (somewhat reluctantly, yet with incredible haste) went to my very trusted medical internet sites to see if there was such a thing (complete with a search for an applicable ICD9 code) as Persistent Cervical Cancer.
the urge to cry from relief
Turns out, it is another way of saying metastatic cervical cancer, and just as I had thought before I had read that post cervical cancer recurrence rates (really, it is 5 year survivor rates) are linked to stage of initial diagnosis.
I wonder if my conversation with a person (a woman who had also had a cancer diagnosis, though of a different variety) just minutes before seeing this, where we talked about how certain things just tend to have an initial thought that you have a recurrence, played into how I reacted (what a sentence this is?!).
Word of advice; do not, for the love of well made chicken soup and all other things holy, ever ever ever Google the words and look at the images for “The brutal art of being”.
“There is brutality and there is honesty. There is no such thing as brutal honesty.”
~ Robert Anthony.
That said, living is brutal. It is hard on our bodies, what with that getting old crap… then there are certain aspects of how we treat one another. Why the fuck are we so stupidly cruel to each other?
There is another part of me that kind of finds this sentiment above a bit ridiculous. I mean, we are animals after all, it’s not like opposable thumbs and the ability to breast feed instantly granted us some sort of “nice card”. As a matter of fuck fact, I learned at an early age that life had this brutal part to it. Between friends with bodyguards, sleeping in the same room as my brother so one of us would have the chance to scream for help in case we were kidnapped, watching my dad routinely killing bulls through his grand love-affair with bullfighting… this were in my face demonstrations that life could have a nasty bitter after-taste. It is super interesting to note that the same place that gave me all this… hmmm….. brutality, if you will…. also gave me magic. Beautiful, glorious magic.
I, at this very moment, am wondering if I lost the ability to see this magic? A temporary (I would hope) blindness? Or maybe I am seeing another side to the magic, and I need to learn to recognize it. Perhaps it left when my faith in the divine disappeared in a puff of smoke? When I used to feel this kind of angst (for the lack of a better work and to a much lesser degree) I used to think it was a part of my search for grace. Maybe it is an extension of searching for grace? A more fevered search.
When I left my life behind and moved to Ecuador to attend medical school, one of the more incredible things that happened was that a boy followed me there. I had no idea that he loved me, but he did. My Ecua-mami (my mother figure in Ecuador) and I talked about how this made me feel… I was nervous and apprehensive, I had never even considered even an attraction to him, yet here I was planning a vacation with him. We talked about assumptions and implications. She told me that I would make my own decisions, but that life would, in a way, make them for me. That is exactly what happened.
I never was able to love him the way I think he wanted me to. I learned recently, that he just earned a significant year chip in the Bill and Bob club. This dramatically coincides with when he realized I was not going to spend the rest of my life with him. While I can’t confirm that his experience with me served as some catalyst, my gut tells me it plays into that. Life is brutal. I took so much for granted with him, though not in a shameful way. I still think about that experience traveling around Ecuador with him with a certain fondness. It was, however, rather brutal… thankfully it was imbued with a certain magic that the landscape provided and in some ways became one of those significant romantic moment of ones in my life.
So, fondness… there is a gentle art to fondness. I used to be a master of it… it being genuine fondness. Maybe this is where I should explore next. That area is a place in my experience, my life, where some hard truths about self are to be acknowledged (like the story of the boy above, for example). The nice thing is that fondness is gentle, and even the hardest of these truths are tempered with a certain gentleness.
This past year and some has been a weird process. I have been angrier than I have ever been before. I have been meaner than I was ever before. I have been sadder and more confused. Those are only part of the whole experience…
I have also been lifted higher, I have had moments of intensity that I cannot compare to any prior experience, I have been deeply humbled by people who I never thought cared…
It was super intense… It is intense.
I am in one of those places today, high off of my birthday (yesterday) greetings, feeling peaceful and loved… in a place where the dark tinge hasn’t invaded my space. I am reflective, and trying to pull myself together in this moment.
Navigating these crazy mix of emotions has been exhausting. I am sure it has also been exhausting for those who are close to me and can see how much they torment me.
I would see a therapist, but geez.. the one time I tried it took a really bizarre accident to find the most perfect psychiatrist for me to talk to, and any after just were a joke in comparison. I know this is temporary, and I don’t want to put myself on a course of medication (though I recognize its value, and think they should be used… it is not for me… not at this time). My previous experience with fighting off things like this was similar in that it came after a serious illness. What I learned then, that I believe applies now, is that I need to live this craziness and work through it and I am using the strategies I learned then to help, and they are. The one caveat this time is that I, at a time, was rather dependent on others to take care of my basic needs… and most really let me down. I think it is that as I prepared myself for surgery, I let go… I promised myself that I would let others take care of me. So I did, and frankly, I still ended up having to take care of myself. Please know that I am talking basic needs, like food… some of the people taking care of me couldn’t even do that to help. So, I suppose I am mad at them, and definitely mad at myself. I was trained from an early age to take care of things, now this does not mean I keep a clean house, far from that… but I am the type that will carry all the groceries, even if I am shopping with others, mainly because they walk away from the car and leave them all there for someone else and I am like “hell if I am walking up and down my porch stairs more than once, I am taking all these fuckers (bags of groceries) in right now”. Fuck, am I stubborn or what?
Anyway, lots of thinking about all this crap and how to get myself back in to a happy place is going on. I try not to let it get me down, but it is really in my face at times. I amble through my daily life, trying to make sense of it all, trying to make sense of a world that has changed for me. Repeating tiny mantras about how “lucky I am”, or how “this world has so much wonderful for me” flutter through my head as my body tries to grasp them and hold them close to my heart. I was a much happier person 18 months ago, when I embarked on this path, and I have learned that grief, this kind of grief (the one for loss of self, rather than loss of others) is pretty fucking intense. I have changed, I cuss more… a lot more. I didn’t use to, I saved them for occasions that seemed to benefit from a well placed expletive.
There is so much complexity to this. It involves being disappointed by members of my own family and in tun trying to figure out if I had unrealistic expectations for them… because if I didn’t have the unrealistic expectations, and they really did disappoint me, that kind of makes me kind of stupid. So, there have been a lot of questions I have been asking myself, and I am not the type that is afraid of hard questions… so that has been easy. Learning how human I am has been a mix of easy and hard. Working through stupid things people thoughtlessly said to me and which, for some stupid reason, are ringing bells and demanding my attention has been strange. There is this strange mix of braggadocio and humility in my self reflections that is a little tough to manage. I think though, that I am starting to tell myself that I like myself again, and that is a good thing.
So the first thing you see is a happy young Paul Newman. Which is fine, but for me it was really about his nipples.
Have I written about the weird fascination I have developed about men’s nipples since I had the cancer cut out of me? No? Maybe? I dunno, but it is this bizarre thing that I noticed shortly after coming home from the hospital and watching Netflix… It is one of those feelings like one might get when they become fascinated by a car accident, rubbernecking their way past it all attention focused on the crash and not on the road in front of them.
So, my first thought was Nipples are a “non-spiritual” thing that makes for daily happiness? I don’t think so?
But I read on, and decided I had to try it out and here are my observations:
1. Touch water. Which feel good type thinks telling a fire sign that they should play with water to feel better is obviously a narrow minded water sign… I played with fire, sat with the family in front of it while drinking warm turmeric hot chocolate.
2. Sweat once a day. I did, enjoyed it too! 😉
3. Eat real food. I ate a small piece of my fudge pecan pie, because it is that good.
4. Support, subscribe, read a good magazine (print or online) that’s better than you are—with a hot drink of coffee or tea and a little sunshine and quiet. I don’t believe that anything is better than anything else, it is not even a matter of degrees – shit just is so this one pissed me off because who or what the fuck is better than I am and to its contrary, what the fuck am I better than? So, in lieu of this better than shite, I picked up a favorite book.
5. Keep our clothes off the floor. PASS
6. Community. OK, so some of my friends (many who took care of me while I recovered) and I adopted a single mom with stage 3 breast cancer this Christmas… knowing how fucktastic cancer makes the holidays I do feel good about this one! Most of us went shopping together the other day and it was all kinds of awesome!
7. Don’t be afraid to be a fool. I am not really afraid to go here, I do it often… BUT, and it happens to be a big huge BUT… I have to do it, if someone else does this to me, I crumple like a dead witch that had water poured over her! Working on letting others tease me with cruelty.
8. Work in an office, or live with, a dog. I have “Flash aaaahhhh ahhh Savior of the Universe Gordon Boba Fett [redacted last name to protect the unborn].
9. Breathe in and out, slowly, once a day. Thankfully, I have to do this or I can’t get out of bed.
10. Never eat while standing up, or driving. I rarely eat in these situations, though I might want to consider no longer eating at my desk because that is how I consume massive jars of peanut butter.
11. Never cell phone while talking, or walking. I hate it when people do this to me, seems only fair.
12. Hike. I walk, on occasion.
13. Stop obsessing about one’s own happiness. I don’t think I obsess about this, though it would be nice to feel less of the angry ennui.
14. Put on a favorite song and sing it out, like we mean it. Yes, during most commutes home.
15. Pick up trash in the street. I try to do this every day, try – don’t always – but never saw this as a way to feel less grumpy.
16. Watch a movie and eat a little too much ice cream/pop corn/vegan ice cream/edamame/nuts. With peanut butter!
17. Put a few photos of loved ones around. I do this, in many ways.
18. Be honest. an important value I hold dear.
19. Sleep more. My fit bit helps me keep tabs on this. Interestingly enough I find that on the night I have time to drink turmeric milk (with or without hot chocolate) I tend to sleep really well.
20. Write. this. here. meh.
21. Meditate. Ever since I became inspired to teach my son to meditate I have had to do this every night. He loves it, we usually play some you-tube videos for this, but I stay with him for a bit and play along.
And… just because I love to self torture, here are my reflections on how I tried to fight being grumpy the “elephant journal way” with the suggestions not listed above (regurgitate much elephant journal?):
4. Friends – phew, this is hard – I have two days worth of texts from friends that I have to reply to because they want to do something for my birthday.
5. Sunshine. Arizona.
7. Flirt – I work in a school who would be my main contacts, that is just creepy.
8. Dress well. I have played dress up all week. It helps.
Sometimes it helps to list shiny, happy things out especially when I am feeling dark and curmudgeonly…. as a clue as to how dark and curmudgeonly I am feeling I am fighting the instinct to start out this paragraph with “Some people have told me that this is a stupid thing to do but sometimes it helps…”
It seems like I am one angry mother fucker as of late. Just ask my mother, she would agree.
1. My son, when I feel all dark and evil inside, I look at my son in the eyes and there is so much goodness in there that he saves me from myself (at least in terms of letting the dark win), I also feel really guilty that I do this, seems like a lot of pressure to put on him though he has no idea what goes on inside my head, So, my son, he makes me happy.
2. Giving – giving of my time mostly, since I don’t have a lot of money. My husband hates this part of me, told me the other night “I wish I were a charity so you would be with me”
OMG – I am two in and already they are deeply tempered with crotchety…. how do I fix this?
3. The color orange. It makes me happy. This is in spite of the fact that I was told by an “wu-wu” artist that orange is the low color on the totem pole and that only real cool people love purple – what a douche! I still love the color orange, purple reminds me of mean old ladies that hit you with their umbrellas.
4. Stupid games on my phone; Yahtzee anyone? How about Draw Free (I play this with my son, which is actually awesome), Cascade, Smurfs 2, Criminal Case, Words Streak, Words with Friends, or Trivia Crack. It is treasured mindlessness.
5. My Fitbit – love it for its reminders of how crappy I sleep when I am in a uptown funk!
6. Meat. I love meat. It is something dead.
7. Boots, I love boots. It is cold out now, they help keep my feet warm.
8. Friends, they always manage to come out when I need them most. I can’t imagine that I am an easy friend to have.
9. Coffee. I have brought myself to the point where I only take one cup a day, and I take it with cream only. But it is a glorious 12 minutes of so of my every morning!
10. My husband. Paragon of patience with me. He reminds me to be happy, even when he is his grumpiest self!
I was sitting on a short wall that was facing a Japanese pagoda house set upon a pond on the campus of my University in Ecuador. The waft of acrid smoke from the Belmont cigarette curling around my head. I was horribly homesick, and slightly uncomfortable with my leg stretched out in front of me heavy with my hiking boots. My leg was sore from falling off of a moving bus, and I was thinking I was grateful I had access to healthcare through my schooling, which was to say my fellow medical students.
In the midst of this pity party this sweet perky girl sat down next to me and in halted spanish, asked for a cigarette. I handed her one and my lighter and we struck up a conversation. She eventually asked me if I was Brazilian… and I started laughing. I was delighted to finally be considered to be from somewhere closer to the country in which I was born. I turned to her and began the long explanation that usually accompanies this kind of question.
I had met a dear, dear friend. We spent quite a bit of time together, laughing about our respective “viejo verdes” and other assorted scholastic adventures. We would sit in our college cafeteria eating french fries dipped in a sweet mix of mayo and ketchup telling stories about our lives. I was in medical school and she was doing a research project on homosexuality in Ecuador and we had access to a plethora of surveys given to our fellow alumni about their sexual attitudes, beliefs and practices as a part of her project. Analyzing that data was fun and a part of our shared love of things anthropological. We traveled together and developed a sound track to our friendship. I loved hearing about her friends and family back east.
We would dish on our favorite professors; the plastic surgeon turned medical anthropologist from Colombia, the Jewish philosophy professor that specialized in the German thinkers, the nutrition professor that shared our love for anthropology. She helped me manage a friend (acquaintance really) that came to visit me out of the blue. I helped her realize the hearts of palm farmer was a poor love interest. We both loved, we both cried, we both laughed.
It was the first time I had a girl friend that shared a similar intellectual curiosity. Sarah was also incredibly girly, and it was a welcome change for me… to have a girly friend that let me be me. She was about ten years younger than I was, so I was able to live vicariously through her. I am filled with fond memories of her.
Sarah and I stayed friends from that day she sat down next to me and I am ever so grateful for her presence in my life. When she died this past October, I was devastated. I wasn’t done being her friend yet, at least in the kind that involves voices and hugs and contact, I still am not. I miss her emails, I miss her phone calls, I miss her writing.
She was a wonderful writer, she had a clean way with words that was always a pleasure to read, even if the topic was outside the scope of my interests.
This day I brought in my fellow members of the Junior League of Phoenix to come help! They saved me, most of the other volunteers did not show up! I did, however, bring my son. He was actually a good volunteer!
My co-chair showed up in the afternoon and I told her to go watch traffic, she only had to do it for a couple of hours – but still. I am so relieved the experience is over, but I am still so proud of the event!
The next day was open tot he public, and again traffic needed to be managed. MY co-chair had left me in the dust and canceled her shift to help out for the day. One other volunteer helped with traffic, yay for awesome volunteers who will do even most unpleasant work!
This is my friend, she was adopted into the logistics team and was super valuable!
This woman is a heritage and preservation (and arts) human of awesomeness!
This is a picture of what we called our “chair” when we volunteered to manage traffic! Not pleasant to sit on!
I talked my husband and son to join me at the end of my shift!
and we got one of those fun picture things taken too!
I have been serving as logistics co-chair for the grand unveiling of a historic home in Tempe, AZ. Doing so has been a labor of love for me for several different reasons. It was a historic home, and since my family has ties to Arizona back into its territorial days, keep that alive is important to me. The other facet is that it is a water conservation project as well. With my maternal grandfather building and working on many of the dams (in his era) and helping to make sure that Arizona got its fair share by giving testimony to the American Congress as it tried to deal with water rights for the Colorado River, this project seemed like a perfect storm for me.
The day of that gala came, a wonderful party that showcased how beautiful the house was to those who attended. The idea being that it will be rented out to the community for events. The home is an adobe house built in the 30’s, and it looked stunning on a hilltop with lights.
One of our needs for the event was traffic management. Since I believe that one cannot take on a job without being willing to do it, and no one wanted to volunteer for it, I went down and was traffic controller. It was a quiet time, but I had fun! I was able to get a glass of wine to keep me warm and took a lot of selfies. I tried to photograph the house, but the phone did not really capture how beautiful it looked!
There were fun shadows and I played with those instead:
I went back tot eh party only to be told that all the water conservation toilets were stopped up. Actually what it was is that the buttons for the flow were stuck and thus no one was able to flush – still, it was gross. Of course, it took 4 people to fix this issue, me to clean it, two men to look like dorks and watch, and my co-chair Debby to photograph it!
In the period where I had to live the life of a citizen – a life where, like everybody else, I did tons of laundry and cleaned toilet bowls, changed hundreds of diapers and nursed children – I learned a lot.~ Patti Smith
I did have a wonderful time, the grand majority of the volunteers were awesome and I am proud of the event and my role in it!
I woke up this morning in a jolly mood, probably because I was able to get relatively uninterrupted sleep for over 7 hours… considering I was averaging 4 – 5 hours, it was a vast improvement.
I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
~Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights
When I woke up, I listened to the silence in the still dark house, then took inventory of my body… which is a silly way of saying I paid attention to all my parts to take a chance to notice anything… usually it is the things like “headache”, “sore feet”, “happy heart”… Today it was just jolly, not from or at a certain spot, but just jolly.
I love silence, I love it very much. When I can be in silence with people is when I know we are good friends. Now, it isn’t that I demand we not speak, but when those moments that are silent, which can be as awkward as they can be beautiful… those moments are like a big reveal.
I love having a house full of people and waking up that next morning and taking my moment of silence, and being able to hear the love from the previous day still resonating off my walls. I love those moments.
As I sit here writing about it, I realize that somehow I have forgotten this habit of mine this past year. How wonderful that it has returned.
A quiet moment
Let’s all sit, silently, and feel the magic in the room, the possibility of connection and the optimism we gain when we know we are in it together.
Another day without the dark tinge… sometimes, I imagine that the tinge looks like the gravelings in Dead like Me.