Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Return to Richard

Richard Bach, that is!
Tonight's page opened itself to:
You gave your life to become the person you are right now. Was it worth it?

As I learned of another friend dealing with cancer, I decided to reread some of my blog posts. I must admit that a few tears were shed. What a painful time it that I hope NEVER repeats itself.

Cancer changed me.
A little more grounding.
A little less stressed (although some things can still push my buttons).
A little better at breathing through things.

Life is different.
Just different.
And good.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy Anniversary!!!

September 18th was a big day for me. A year had passed since "the C Bomb" had been dropped and I did the Moab Century Ride. I had planned to do the ride last year but after getting the news, decided I wasn't about to sit in a car for 7 hours one way with CANCER on my mind.

This year was different. I had a year of blur behind me and my first century ride ahead of me. I had heard about this ride and some of its challenges; namely "The Big Nasty" which is a hill that gains 3000 feet in 7 the middle of a 28 mile uphill to the top of a pass. Not that big of a deal. I already dealt with 'The Biggest Nasty' of all last year.

In celebration, I added a purple ribbon to my bike. For some reason, purple has been my color throughout this whole cancer ordeal. I added over 100 names to my purple ribbon....a dedication of each mile I rode to the people who had a part in holding my hand throughout the past year. As I rode....and as I struggled up some of the big hills, I looked at my ribbon and sent heartfelt thanks to those people who helped carry me through cancer.

That ribbon still has a place on my bike...and I thank the angels who have a place on my ribbon for having a part in my year.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Can Smile Again!

A summer after 9 months of blur.
I remember the EXACT moment in a spinning class when I had the tiniest hint of a piece of joy. It was a millisecond of a reminder of that feeling, and I remember feeling choked up and saying to myself, "I want that feeling back!" I truly am feeling some happiness again. There were many times I wondered if it would EVER return.

I still think back on some of my 'cancer anniversaries' and probably will for awhile. I still can get teary. BUT I can SMILE again!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jungles and Canals

I suppose this would be considered an 'unplanned adventure'....although a different type than the one I've been on for the past many months. Last night I sat on the deck of an old radio tower built by the Americans and turned into a hotel. I watched a sloth (with baby attached) climb up a tree, listened to the distant ghostlike groans of howler monkeys, and smiled along with the antics of flitting toucans. False Vampire Bats visit during the night. I look over the treetops in the jungle and watch ships passing through the Panama Canal.

Monday, June 1, 2009


This little family of 4 has claimed residence in the wreath outside my front door! When "Momma" heads off for worms in the morning, it presents the perfect opportunity for photos. I climb up on the railing and see what the new day brings for the babes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Catching the Next Train

I was dropped off the 'radiation train' about a month ago and will be catching the 'hormone therapy' train tomorrow. This train will take me on the next 'ride' that will last 5 years. This daily pill blocks any estrogen that may want to catch a ride in my cells and grow more cancer.

With that being said, I reflect on the the memorable trains I've ridden in my life.

*The train rides in India. Dusty, crowded, lock your bags to the rail so you have it if you just happen to snooze for a few minutes. Men ask "Where is your husband?" and I answer, "I am meeting him in the next town." Eunuchs enter demanding money. The best people watching in the world. The biggest employer in India!

*A train ride to Zaire that didn't happen....luckily... as the train I wanted to take derailed.

*Speedy European trains that leave exactly on time.

*Hopping the freight train from Minneapolis to Glacier National Park. 18 hours of bread and raisins.

*Trains in Thailand that serve some of the spiciest food I've had. Tasted like chicken, yet I'll never know.

*Vietnamese trains. I could ride my bike faster than these! Again, the food tasted like chicken.......

*The train that runs through the Copper Canyon in Mexico....what a feat of engineering!

As I prepare to hear that lonesome whistle blow, I also look forward to the day I wave goodbye to the man waving to me from the caboose....cancer-free, of course!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Worth Checking Out!

Depressing. Then uplifting. Then WOW!

Climbing Compared to Cancer

Andre and I went climbing at Shelf Road yesterday. It was a beautiful day. We walked in on a snowy road and were VERY warm at the crag. It felt great to get out and focus on something ELSE! At one point on a bit of a difficult climb (for me), my thought was, "This is easier than cancer"!
That thought got me through some grunty, groany moves!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Thought

Wherever there is a 'last', there is also a 'first.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Astronomy and 'Bachism'

This is what Richard Bach had to say tonight....on the eve of the 'Grand Finale'

Any different spacetime is a dream
for a good sane Earthling,
which you are going to be
for a little while yet.

Touched By A Blessing

This was sent to me by a woman I met at the Y. She has been free of cancer for 9 years. What a gift it has been to have her enter my life.

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness

Now is the time of dark invitation beyond a frontier you did not expect
Abruptly, your old life seems distant
You barely noticed how each day opened a path through fields never questioned
Yet expected deep down to hold treasure
Now your time on earth becomes full of thresh
Before your eyes your future shrinks
You lived absorbed in the day to day so continuous with everything around you that you could forget that you were separate
Now this dark companion has come between you
Distances have opened in your eyes
You feel it against your will
A stranger has married your heart
Nothing has made you feel so isolated and lost
When the reverberations of shock subside in you
May grace come to restore you to balance
May it shape a new space in your heart to embrace this illness as a teacher who has come to open your life to new worlds
May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality towards what is difficult, painful and unknown
May you learn to use this illness as a lantern to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you
May the fragile harvesting of this slow light help to release whatever has become false in you
May you trust this light to clear a path through all the fog of old unease and anxiety until you feel a rising within you, tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness
Ask it why it came
~ John O'Donahue

Gracias Is Not Enough!

Only the 'tip of the iceberg' of the people I have to thank for the incredible support through this part of the journey!

Good Riddance Radiation

Tomorrow is the supposed 'Grand Finale'.
The last walk to the 'linear accelerator'.
The final burn.
The discharge from radiation treatment.

No more cheesy gown and robe.
No more nestling into the customized headrest.
No more dressing and undressing 8 times before 8 a.m.

Shouldn't I be ecstatic?
Shouldn't I be jumping for joy?
Shouldn't I be ready to look back and say "ADIOS" to shedding tears?

I know I shouldn't "should" on myself but to tell you the truth, I'm a bit scared.

Now what?
Is my cancer gone?
Am I free?
Will my spirit quickly return?
What about this exhaustion?
And what about my dear old friend 'Normal'?

In the words of my wise friend Sally, this 'piece' of the journey will soon be behind me...and to that I can say GOOD RIDDANCE! May I NEVER meet this storm again!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


The 'Boost' has begun. The 'linear accelerator' is now directing electrons instead of photons into the area where the cancer was removed. IF this cancer is to return, it is likely to come back to the same place so the 'boost' gives that specific area a "superzap". The radiated area has shrunk which means the sunburn that has been sneaking in on my upper chest can now mellow out and turn to a permatan. The sunburn where the "superzap" is happening will intensify.

TODAY was my LAST MONDAY of radiation FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (hopefully)

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Little Secret Revealed

It was my first day back at work today. No students. Just a few teachers in the building. After being sucked into the blackhole of grouping my students for a field trip taking place in three weeks, I took a short break and walked to the copy machine. I was halfway to the lounge when it dawned on me.....CANCER HADN'T CROSSED MY MIND FOR AN ENTIRE WAKING HOUR!!!!!!!!!!! I was SO excited and broke my wonderful news to the first teacher friend I saw (at the copy machine of course, since that is where much of teacher socializing takes place).

Winter break is every teacher's DREAM (next to summer vacation and spring break)! Despite having many chats with myself and trying to talk myself into the wonderfulness of winter break, I hesitantly admit that it has been difficult for me.
Every day (except weekends and the 2 holidays) began with a radiation treatment.
There it is.
First thing in the morning.
In my face.
Then what? Go for a hike? Go for lunch? Go to the YMCA?
True. The day can only improve after starting with treatment, but it was sometimes difficult to pull myself out of that big dark radiation cloud.

As my teacher friends hunch over, expel a little groan and say, "I'm not ready to go back", I have secretly been thinking, "I'm kind of excited to go back." I'll still have cancer in my face every morning (for 14 more days), but I will then have a destination. A distraction. Seventh grade minds to mold.
There you have it. I fessed up. Hopefully the teachers I see at the copy machine tomorrow won't roll their eyes at me.
However, I must admit, I will probably be ready for summer vacation when the time rolls around.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy Snow

I'm HAPPY to say that I am recovering from a wonderfully snowy ski day at Monarch on Saturday and a wonderfully gentle snowy day ski touring near St. Elmo today!
A quiet gentle snow is such a peaceful thing!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Radiation Aliens

15 completed out of 30
These will be my radiation statistics starting this Friday. I'm half done. Radiation destroys any wandering "C Bomb Cells" that may be lurking in my breast tissue.
Monday through Friday I drive or bike to the cancer center, scan my 'radiation card', undress, robe up (sometimes I shed a tear in the dressing room) and sit in the waiting room until I am called. Usually there are other women there. We both know what the other's robe means and we sometimes have a short chat.
"How far are you?"
"Any side effects?"
One of us is called out and the short conversation is over...I always send a silent blessing to them.
I walk down a short hallway past monitors labeled "Linear Accelerator" that measure and align before approaching a large alien machine that looms over a metal table. I nestle into my custom headrest and raise my arms over my head...and breathe. On the ceiling is a scene that looks like attempt at peacefulness with a myriad of tulips surrounding a quiet pond. Above that is a cross, (or perhaps a plus sign), with 2 green lights that come out of it. I am gently moved by the technician so the radiation beams will line up with my 4 tattoos (one on each of my sides, one at my incision and one in the middle of my sternum). The radiation tech leaves the room and the "alien arm" sends out a buzz for perhaps 30 seconds. The "alien" then moves around my body in order to zap the other side. I watch the reflection in the moving alien as sharp edged green lines move across my body. There is another buzz accompanied by a sound that is stronger and more intense like waves are being shoved out of the "alien". There is no physical pain, although I usually shed another tear during my stillness.
The tech returns from the safety of her room , lowers the table and I am able to leave...having been 'zapped' one more time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flying Time

I often tell my students, "Time flies, whether you're having fun or not". Today I realized it is my 3 month "C Bomb" anniversary.

These past 3 months have involved:
Almost losing my hair
Keeping my hair
Dealing with "The Randomizers"
Connecting with some amazing women
Reconnecting with old amazing friends
Realizing a great relationship is even BETTER!
Head spinning life decisions. Sleeping on them. Listening.
Navigating through unknown alleyways
Learning more sciencey stuff
Rediscovering Richard Bach
Even deeper appreciation for gifts of love and kindness
Taking trips down Memory Lane
Sweaty spinning classes
Shedding lots of tears
Learning WAY more than I ever wanted about cancer, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy
Amazing support from colleagues
Surgeries and scars
Lots of purple!
Giving up one of my favorite foods...tofu!, friends, feeling healthy, and gifts of love (I can't say this one enough!)

Three month BLUR is an understatement!

My greatest hope is that this 3 month blur quickly fades into a fuzzy memory.....with lots of learning and wisdom attached.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another 'Richard Bachism' to Sleep On

There's no disaster that can't become a blessing,
and no blessing that can't become a disaster.

This one has come up a few times.

Falling Back in Love

I have never colored my hair. Over the years, I have acquired some grey hair (this process may have sped up over the past couple months). Before school started this year, I considered giving myself a henna. I vacillated with this decision and didn't end up doing it. Of course the idea totally left my brain after the "C Bomb" was dropped...I had MANY more important things to worry about!

Almost losing my hair due to almost going through chemo was a huge deal for me. When I told my students, that was the moment I choked up. When I saw Sue after losing her hair, we had a very warm embrace and several tears. When I went to Zeezo's (the local magic shop), and tried on wigs, I shed some tears at that point as well.

When I recently got my hair trimmed and the stylist wanted to color it, my response to her was, "I'm just happy I get to keep my hair!"

I have fallen back in love with my hair. The grey doesn't bother me anymore. I love that it is several colors. It feels really good to KEEP it!

I am still noticing eyebrows. More on that later!

Quick Update

The grey has cleared. The doctor said I could try a different chemo drug. One of the potential, though not probable side effects of this drug is congestive heart failure. only happens in 5% of patients. Usually they are older. Often they have diabetes. They are sometimes overweight. After several days of thought, tears, sleepless nights and support, I decided that I have been in the minority with ENOUGH of this whole ordeal. I don't want to chance it. I'm not going to do the chemotherapy.
I think my body was telling me something when it rejected the chemo drug....that is what I have to believe, anyway.
I will be getting radiation starting tomorrow.
I get to keep my hair!!!!!!!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tonight's Reminder for the Advanced Soul

To bring anything into your life, Imagine that it's already there.

This is what appeared when I opened up Richard Bach's Messiah's Handbook tonight.
Sounds like a good thought for falling asleep.....and dreaming.....

Saturday, December 6, 2008

comment on comments

I have had several comments about comments and the difficulty posting them on this site. I agree! I try to comment on Sue's site and often end up being a bit frustrated. Just a little tidbit if you're interested. If you would like to comment, you can go to comments, click on the third dot which says name/URL....just type in your name and post. It actually works.....if you're interested.

grEy? Or is it grAy?

Grey-A balance of black and white representing magnitudes of good and bad.

The color of an approaching storm.
Mourning doves with their ghostlike "coo".
Pigeons flocked in the park-strutting for bread then retreating en masse as a toddler stumbles her way into the flock.
Strands of my hair.
The cold steel of building innards.
The mingled trusses of an intricately built bridge.
The grey of granite.....edging on sharp crystals.
The cold hard steel of an operating table in a cold room.
Dolphins that race just ahead of the ship as we ply grey Antarctic waters.....strength, speed and power as they surface and lead the way.
Inlaid mirrors surrounded by sequins, brilliant reds, oranges and yellows in Rajasthani clothing.
My cute house with the maroon trim.
The intermediate risk of the Oncotype test. The "grey" area. The questions doctors can't answer. The "I don't knows." The "Do what your gut tells you." The "Whatever you decide will be the right decision." The "Listen to your heart."

Not black. Not white. Or is it shades of black? Shades of white?

Is silver just a sparkley grey? The lining of a cloud?

El Cuarto de Cancer

Moments after the "C Bomb" was dropped, I received a white notebook filled with information about the "Unplanned Adventure" on which I was about to embark.
I carried this notebook in a large woven bag I bought in Kenya. It came to every appointment and I threw in multiple "Treatment and Consent" forms, brochures, booklets, business cards and my notebook in which many friends have taken copious notes during the countless Dr. appointments that this journey entails (I can't thank people ENOUGH for this!)
The "General Cancer Notebook" was then replaced with the "Chemo 101 Notebook" and more of the same found its way into the bag.
I remember using that bag as a carry on when I returned from Africa. It fit all my breakables....soapstone bookends with a 3 dimensional elephant, a couple of soapstone soapdishes with a line of several elephants on the back border, a soapstone plate (again with an elephant). I'm sure they were all wrapped in beautiful cloth and I remember the thing weighing a TON!
All of my cancer paraphernalia used to fit in that bag but my "Cancer Bag" has reached it's capacity. I had to tiptoe through my second bedroom yesterday so that I wouldn't step on any of these 'valuable sortables'. I realized my "Cancer Bag" is becoming a "Cancer Room" (Cuarto de Cancer in Spanish).
I wanted to share this room with you......of course I need to walk through it, but I spread it all out for you to see!
(If you double click on the picture, you will see more detail)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chemotherapy Flight

The airplane had been boarded. Flight attendants had given all the directions. Seatbelts were fastened. All electronic devices had been turned off. The plane was headed down the runway. All of a sudden the plane grinds to a halt. The passengers sit and wait. And wait. And wait. After 4 hours of sitting, the Captain gets on the intercom and announces that the flight will not be taking off. We have gone nowhere. The plane returns to the gate and we all disembark. We will have to rebook our flights for another time.

This is how I felt on Wednesday. It was my first chemo treatment. After questions, bloodwork, hookup and pre-steroid/benadryl infusion they flipped the valve for the Taxotere (the first of 2 drugs to be infused). The plane was headed down the runway and my throat began to close up a bit. They stopped the plane. Pumped me full of MORE Benadryl and steroids and flipped the valve again. Got flushed. Felt like my chest was being compressed. They stopped the plane and brought me back to the gate. I will have to rebook my flight.

I am feeling good physically this weekend.

I'm not 25% done with my chemo at this point.

What a mixed bag.

Thank you SO much again to all my friends and immediate thanks to those who were with me for my first flight!

Sally....Thanks for the cuddly purple blanket (way better than the regular airplane blankets), the laughs, the hugs and the right words at the right time.
Stacy....Thanks for keeping my toes on ice so my nails wouldn't fall out and for the wonderful support!
Karen....Thanks for the expertise and for holding my hand.
Renate.....Thanks for popping in for a 'Mom Hug'

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Big stacks of the zippiest peppers known to humankind! Mango shakes with fresh flowers! Beaches in Thailand! Som Tam, the fresh papaya salad with garlic and only a few chiles since the spicy index is from another planet!

Chemo School

Monday was chemo school. Andre met me there and the sweet nurse Brenda talked nonstop for 3 hours about side effects, drugs, support systems, wigs, nausea as well as other bodily functions, and I don't even remember what else. I think Andre took 8 pages of notes. It was quite overwhelming.

Yesterday I went to see the surgeon (thank you Renate) and the news was good. She removed 2 more CENTIMETERS of margin in my last surgery and there was no evidence of any cancer cells in the removed tissue. Way to get a good chunk of it, Dr. Paulishak-Thank YOU! When she removed this tissue, she really just needed to 'connect the dots' as she went into the same incision as before. It hasn't bothered me at all and there is no swelling, although when she told me how much she removed, it dawned on me that 'hmmmm......maybe there is swelling and it will really shrink up', but that's ok because I am reassured that it is OUTTA THERE! Amazing how perspective changes.

My first day of chemo is today. I will head in to the hospital at 1:30 and sit there for 3-4 hours with a needle connected to my port as it goes on to kill any rapidly dividing cells. Even though my 1/2 dose of Ambien (to help me sleep) only lasted until 4am, I am feeling surprisingly calm. I stayed super busy last night and it kept my mind off of what's to come. I am going to a Kundalini yoga class at the Y at noon. I am really excited for this pre-chemo activity as it should be a wonderful meditative focus and hopefully I can go into the next day's activity with a clear calm mind.

Several friends have volunteered to come visit and for that I am very grateful. You ALL give me strength and it is appreciated more than I can express.

A Variety Package of Tears, Kids and Lessons From Leeches

25 September 2008

In my world right now, tears and cancer go hand in hand. Sometimes the tears lasts only a which it may literally only be 'a' tear. There are shower at the Y tears, meditation tears, reiki induced tears (these are cleansing and brought on by connection and looking deep within, as well as my reiki friend), tears in the middle of the night, wig shopping tears, hat shopping tears, tears from thoughtful cards, tears brought on by the right words at the right time, tears from a thoughtful gift from a friend, tears from a thoughtful card or gift from a student, tears brought on through a shared journey with someone else going through cancer, tears at the dr, tears for fears, tears of frustration, tears of "Why?, tears of joy, tears of thankfulness, tears of love
All of these tears are good for me, whether they are sad or happy. They help me with acceptance and connection to others.

There have been situations when I have been shocked at how strength can wade through the thick mud of tears and I can breathe through them. I told my students about my cancer last Thursday. I was honest, open,showed them my port and was able to get through it with only one mini-moment of catching a tear that began to well (as my teammate quietly slipped his handkerchief into my hand...thank you, Gordon). They asked great questions, honest questions, and were wonderful through it all. They had a few tears, but mostly what I felt was a lot of love. One student came to me later that day and looked me in the eye and said, "Ms. Sommers. So. It's official. You're losing your hair." He asked it twice and my reply was, "Yes I will, but I'll still be the same person inside." I guess it was his way of accepting it and after my answer, he just said, "Ok." and went on to his usual 7th grade antics. I chuckled and shook my head in a situation that might normally bring on a tear or two. He came to me yesterday and said, "Maybe I'll shave my head." Another chuckle and shake of the head.

Another student was very upset that others were focusing so much on 'the hair thing'. His sister has an immune deficiency disease and doesn't have any hair. He told me that despite his sister's hair loss, he is so glad she is still around and he loves her very much. I let him know how he had a wonderful perspective of the whole thing and he would be SUCH a great help to me as well as to the rest of the class for his insights. (He informed me yesterday that he is moving, dangit!)

Incredible thoughtfulness in all forms lands in my lap every day. Teachers I don't know very well, parents who don't know me but volunteer to come clean my bathroom or come make me laugh, coworkers who have battled or are battling this as well, students who approach me with incredible words...they are sometimes uncomfortable, but always encouraged because I don't want secrets or unanswered questions. One of my teammates came to school on Monday with his head shaved. His wife reluctantly said 'ok' (thanks, Kelly) and he was so funny as he lifted his chin, raised his bald head, puffed out his chest and acted like he will be listened to more by his students (who listen to him anyway partially due to 1st quarter lunch detentions). Combine that with his sweet giggle and "Oh, geez" and he makes me smile a LOT! Another person I work with (who needs to remain anonymous) came to a meeting one day with burned copies of the movie Crazy, Sexy, Cancer and the Sex in the City episodes where Samantha has cancer. Thoughtfulness hits me in so many ways! And then there is my student teacher John who has been wonderful about covering classes while I am come in late and leave early for Dr. appointments. I am so appreciative of that! I also can't say enough about the "humanness" of my principal and assistant principals. Their understanding, support, and willingness to help is overwhelming!

When I was an 18 year old river guide at Dear Old Camp Icaghowan, I had 10 girls paddling down the Namekogan River in Wisconsin. Rules were pretty 'lax'. Jumping off bridges and cliffs were activities throughout the day. I would hear rapids coming up and say, "Hey guys, we better put our lifejackets back on." Small trees were downed and HUGE bonfires lit our campsites through the night. Bears were chased. One of the rules I did really stick to was shoes were ALWAYS on your feet (except when one of the kids had REALLY nasty blisters and we made a flip flop for her out of maxi pads and duct tape). I went down to the water one day to wash my feet. It was slow moving and all I wanted to do was take off those wet shoes I was forcing us all to wear. No kids were around, so I did just that. It felt so good to wiggle my toes in the mud. I got out of the water and 'SURPRISE!' My feet were FILLED with leeches. Of course it reminded me of the scene in the movie African Queen but I had to completely supress my first impulse which was to scream at the top of my lungs for my campers to come down to the river and 'GET THESE NASTY SUCKERS OFF ME!' I knew they would freak if I did. From the depths of my gut, I summoned the calmness to gently call up to them, "Hey you guys, could someone bring me the salt shaker?" Of course they came running down to see what was going on, proceeded to freak out (because that is often 12 year old girl group mentality), and handed me the salt shaker. I knew I had to be calm and spoke through their screeches, "It's ok. No big deal. Look...they come right off." And they did.

This experience really taught me a lot about leading and group mentality. When I'm at school, my students give me strength. When I tell students from previous years, the last thing I want to do is cry....oh, I may have a tear or two but that's ok. I explain things to them and answer questions. I focus on the cancer being out of my body and the chemo and radiation are precautions so it doesn't return. It is big ugly pothole between now and when my hair grows back. It scares the hell out of me. The strength and the deep breaths that I take in order to explain things to them are really good for me (kind of like the leeches.)

There it is. A plethora of tears, kids and crazy camp stories.
Thanks again for strength, support and love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Truly From the Depths of my Heart

One of the things I've always believed is that friends "DO" for each other. So many of you have done so much for me throughout this whole process. Sometimes my 'thank yous' are in person and sometimes I whisper a silent 'thanks', but ALWAYS I am appreciative of what you are giving me throughout this whole ordeal. My regret is that I can't send each of you a thank you note for everything you have done. These are just a few of the gracious acts that have been so unselfishly given and I thank you for:

somehow 'knowing' that you should call and then meeting me at the Dr on September 18th when the 'C Bomb' was dropped, cussing for me, holding my hand, crying with me and farting at just the right moment so we could have a much needed giggle, dropping a feather off with my newspaper, looking up information for me, bringing me amazing quiche with homegrown garden greens, crying with me, comforting me, doing reiki for me and helping me with visualizations, visiting me at school even though you could have had a sub job that day, emptying the dishwasher, doing the dishes, taking walks, giving me naturopathic advice, calling and being ok if I don't return the phone call for a few days, making me laugh, driving out to visit, offering to come to visit, spending the night, helping me with my blog, helping me with scarf fashion (I may need some more of that), being patient with my tears even though you are busy, fed exing my radiology reports, purple flowers, any flowers, scar massage oil, coconut oil, Messiah's Handbook, letting me comment on your eyebrows, allowing me to come in late and leave early from school for appointments so I don't have to use precious sick days, biking on the flats when you might want to bike on hills, encouraging me to join the Y, beautiful furniture to replace my 'college look' concrete and planks, a beautiful handmade twig table, books on diet, cancer and fun, going to the doctor with me, taking copious notes at the doctor, helping me think of questions to ask the doctor, calling to ask me about my Mountain Chalet schedule and being flexible because I don't know what the effects of the chemo will be, loaning me your favorite crystals, listening with love, wearing purple, bringing me tea that helped you when you were pregnant and feeling crummy, sharing your kids with me, being gentle in encouraging me not to read about chemo side effects at night, calling when I haven't heard from you in years, calling when I haven't heard from you in days, calling when I haven't heard from you in hours, e-mailing, slumber parties with popcorn and sorbet, taking me out for dinner, Peace of Mind relaxing therapy, being there when I wake up from surgery, answering my phone and taking messages, kind loving words, ordering my tv converter box, taking time off from work to be my second set of ears, painting my deck, hugging me when I walk into the office at school, letting other people know what is going on with me, embracing me with love, giving me phone numbers of other cancer survivors, sitting and holding my hand in the dark, flying here from Salt Lake to spend time with me, pomegranate juice, Allison's basketball jersey for 'Dig For the Cure', packages of thank you notes, sending prayer bars, sweet cards with thoughtful words, ordering a Livestrong Notebook, wearing a Livestrong bracelet for me, passing on your Livestrong bracelet when I happened to see you hiking, commenting on my blog, foot rub lotion, talking to me about your cancer, helping me breathe through my tears, the right words at the right time, all the positive thoughts you send.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It doesn't seem like enough but know it comes from the depths of my heart. Love to you all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Today's Surgery

I was at the hospital at 6am and surgery began at 7:30 (time does NOT fly when you are being poked and prodded). The surgery went fine. Dr. Paulishak went into the same excision from 6 weeks ago, "dug out" more margins (I did request that she get plenty) and they put in a port on my right side. (The port is basically a 'portal' to my superior vena cava...the main vein that goes to my heart and then the rest of my body. This is my 'poking site'. They will administer the chemo through this, take blood through this and it makes access to my insides much easier. It does stick out which grosses me out but apparently the pain will be less.) The surgery went well and I have a pretty cool x-ray of the port and the tube that goes into my vein (these look GREAT on an overhead projector).

Andre brought me in this am, Renate spent the day with me and Sally and I are having a slumber party tonight. I didn't dare have more than 3 bites of my yummy lentil soup because it is a bit spicy and I don't want to throw up. I'm saving room for popcorn and mango or peach sorbet later. This surgery was much easier. We sat on the deck in the sun after we got home, I took a nap for a couple hours and I'll go to bed early tonight.

This part is behind me. Each one of these hurdles is that much closer to being DONE!

All Call for Ideas

17 November

"Chemo School" is this Monday. At this point, they will be dripping poison into my body the day before Thanksgiving. Not all types of chemo cause hair loss. The two I am receiving do. I'm realizing that I'm attached to my hair and that's just the way it is. I cry over the thought of losing my hair. I know it will grow back, but not until after I have lost it all. I thought of an idea, but could really use your help. I dug out a few hats and tried them on. I will be knitting my first hat. My friend Sue ( helped me with a little bit of scarf tying. She also had a very sexy wig; lots of body, beautiful flouncing curls at the bottom, looks like one of those conditioner commercials. If it were my real hair, it would take electric curlers, lots of mousse and about an hour....and it would last a maximum of 2 minutes before falling!

Here is my idea. I would like to get my hair cut before it falls out and attach it somehow to some type of hairband. I could wear the hairband and put a hat over it. That way I could keep my hair as a "souvenir" and at least feel comfortable in situations where I want a bit of hair. I'm calling on you, my incredible creative community, to help me with this.

My "All Call" to you is to help me come up with a way to attach it to a headband.
1. What type of headband should I use?
2. In order to attach the hair to the band, do I use superglue? Duct tape? Windex?

When I talked with Sue (my trailblazer, in that she has gone through 3 chemo treatments so far and is sharing info, laughs and tears), she stressed that if I want to do this, my hair needs to go before I get too far into chemo. Apparently hair gets all strawlike fairly early on with treatments.

Thank you SO much in advance for your creative wigging! Perhaps we can start a trend among chemo patients!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Life Is

14 November 2008

Life Is.  That's where you go for healing, comfort, energy, perspective.

This was my message tonight when I headed to 'Messiah's Handbook'.  

Now all I need to do is make sense of it all.  

Second opinions.  I was mostly interested in what the oncologist had to say (this is the Chemo Master.....or Devil.....depending on how you look at it).  He told me that I was in a grey zone as far as treatment options go.  In his very flat tone, he said, "It would probably be ok if you didn't get chemo and it would probably be ok if you did."  

He and the radiation oncologist suggested study after study that I could participate in, but once again, it puts me into the hands of "The Randomizers".  

So, what am I going to do?  After lots of tears (thank goodness for friend's shoulders), I have decided to go ahead and do the chemo.  This has been agonizing, although when I learned that my chances for recurrence would be lower if I did it, I think I knew in my heart what my decision would be. 

There are times when I can talk about this without crying, times that I have 30 second to 1 minute streams of tears, and times when it lasts longer.  I'm sleeping unassisted (no Ambien, yet), and have been doing a lot of working out.  I want to be strong when I get my surgery on Monday to put in the chemo port and get more margins "dug out" (my surgeon hates when I use that term).  I will then be going to "Chemo School" a week from Monday and am scheduled for my first treatment the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  

I don't know if I can make sense of it all at this point.  My hope is that when I move into the 'amateur' role, that I will be able to get perspective.  I guess for this moment I just have to keep telling myself "Life Is" and grasp the threads of healing, comfort and energy that are offered to me by so many of you.  Thank you for all your help, all your love and your shoulders.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reflections in Antarctica

Penguins always make me laugh.

Illusions and Magic

In the book Illusions by Richard Bach, there is a man named Donald Shimoda who carries a small book around called "Messiah's Handbook:  Reminders for the Advanced Soul".  The idea behind this book is to hold a question in your mind, close your eyes, open the handbook at random, pick the left or right side, open your eyes and read the answer.  

Right after the "C Bomb" was dropped on me, a dear friend gave me that book as an early birthday present.  In one of my "breathe through your tears and try to deal with this" moments, I opened the book and read,
"You learn most when you play against an opponent who can beat you"

WOW!  It took my breath away.  It gave me strength and stopped my tears pretty quickly.  

Another evening, I opened the book and the magic stated,
You're master of what you've lived,
Artisan at what you're living,
Amateur at what's next to live.

I was completely WOWED once again!  

Last year on November 11 I returned home from another trip of a lifetime.  I had spent the last 10 days in Italy with my mom running around medieval cities, eating gelato, and floating within the magical cloud that wraps itself through Italy. 

I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams (and my dreams can get pretty wild), that this year on November 11, I would be getting a second opinion about treatment options for cancer. That is my plan for this Tuesday.  Andre and I are driving to Denver to meet with a team of surgeons, radiation oncologist, chemo oncologist and perhaps others to see if there is agreement with my doctors here.  

I  can't say I'm an artisan at this point, but I'm getting through with the help of so many of YOU. I breathe my way through tears, enjoy my family and friends, continue my biking and hiking, try to impart knowledge to 13 year olds and do some laughing along the way.

Amateur.  It's what's next.  May it be filled with learning and lessons.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pineapples in Colorado

Pineapples always remind me of Thailand.  The ladies on Khao San Road carve them with speed and dexterity and hand them over for 50 cents.  Young gals sell pineapple while sitting in the shade of some abstract limestone karst as tourists make their way to the beach.

It is an absolutely glorious day in Colorado today.  I'm glad to be here cutting up my own pineapple on the back deck this morning (although it didn't quite taste the same)!

Friday, October 31, 2008

More Thoughts

It is amazing how things change.  A month ago the thought of surgery sent shivers down my spine and sent me into midnight sobs.  I shuddered at the word "radiation" and I put up impenetrable walls between me and the 2nd worst "C word" (chemotherapy).  Over time, 'radiation' has become part of what will just happen and I now have to try and think through those walls and decide what I believe will be best for me.  

Thoughts of being on a drug for 5 years....incredible!  I will possibly be retired from teaching by then. 

What if I were traveling and got robbed and they got my anti-cancer drug?  Would I be ok for a month without it? 

Another Glitch

31 October 08

Another hard decision just plopped into my lap.  The amazing onco test came back and I was put into an 'Intermediate Risk' category.  This means there is a 13% chance that this specific cancer will recur....which also means there is an 87% chance that it will STAY OUT of my body!  Chemotherapy could increase that by about 5% to a 92% chance of keeping out. 

I can't put the decision into someone else's lap now.  If I were high risk, it would be horrid, but the decision would have been made.....chemo would be a given (along with radiation for 5-6 weeks and hormone therapy for 5 years).  If I had been low risk, I would have only needed radiation and hormone therapy....chemo wouldn't have been beneficial to me and the whooping and hollering could have begun.

There is a clinical trial available that randomizes me and puts me into either a chemo, radiation, hormone therapy group or a radiation, hormone therapy group.  It would be good info for future generations, but it puts the decision about my life into the hands of "The Randomizers". it is.....sitting in my lap......waiting.....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good News With a Glitch

Two days before my 48th birthday I had the first surgery of my life.  My breast was injected 5 times with a radioactive dye (THAT HURT), I waited for 2 hours with 3 wonderful friends while the dye made its way through my lymph system, they put me under, and then a geiger counter was used to find the path of the dye....kind of cool and 'sciency', although it would have been cooler had I just read about it!

The good news is that the cancer had not entered my lymph nodes!  
The glitch is that the margins were not as good as the surgeon wanted.  She wanted to see a rim of clean tissue surrounding the cancer that was 2 millimeters.  On one of the edges, it was only 1.5 millimeters.  Half a millimeter never seemed like that much before.

What does this mean?  
*Discuss more surgery.  One of my feelings is "Can't you just go in and dig more out?"
*Discuss chemotherapy.  The second worst "C" word!
*Radiation is a given.

A piece of Hope:
A sample of my tissue was sent off to a lab in San Francisco for an Oncotype test.  This is pretty amazing (and 'sciency' again...although my feelings about preferring to just read about it remain the same).  This test will tell me if chemotherapy will benefit my type of cancer.  If you are interested in reading more about it, you can go to

The test results should come back this week. 
Thanks for all the wonderful thoughts.
Thanks for wearing purple!


As I navigate through the alleys of 'cancer', I am approached and often overwhelmed by many emotions.  Tears of disbelief catch me as I round foreign corners.  Laughter also pulls me when I am in the midst of friends or my 7th graders.  The nights of lying awake have lessened....for now.