Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 29

Do you see these shoes?


Do you SEE them? ... I wore them last night.

That's right. I'm 5'10" and I am the proud owner of more than one pair of four inch heels. Few things thrill me more than being one of the tallest people in a crowded room. (What does thrill me more than being one of the tallest people in a crowded room, you ask? When a man who is still a good 2-3 inches taller than me, even when I'm in heels, comes over to introduce himself. ... It doesn't happen very often, but it is thrilling when it does. Every time.)

The bank opened another branch while I was out for surgery, and last night was the Grand Opening Event. (Read: Fancy dress-up party with pretty little finger foods and hand-dipped chocolates.) Thus, the occasion for breaking out the high heels was born. *Gulp*

While I am a dress-wearing kind of girl, I have been rocking the ballet flats with my skirts for the last three+ months. One of the many things you don't know you use stomach muscles for - until you don't have them - is wearing heels. Or any shoe with an elevation, actually. There's an incredible balancing act that takes place when your feet aren't directly parallel with the ground. One of the many things I've learned in the last two years is, if you don't have the ab control  to keep yourself upright, it's best to keep your feet in flips or other flats.

But it's been over three months since surgery. Last night was special. It was a fancy party. I wore a dress that fit. I pinned my hair up (even its thinned state, it still takes almost 20 bobby pins to hold my hair up, fyi). I. Wore. Heels.

I walked into the courtyard and was met by two friends whose eyebrows shot right up as their eyes went directly to my feet. "You're wearing HEELS!", they said. They asked if I was gonna be okay. I assured them  that I was.

And then I promptly walked into the bank and found a wall to lean up against. When I had to move (in an effort to mingle), I found a table with a high-backed chair that I could keep one hand on (for balance, and to take some of the hit off my stomach) while I chatted it up. After an hour of standing, I called it quits, broke all social etiquette and plopped down in a chair in the lobby.

Read: While I did wear heels last night, for approximately three hours, I didn't actually move around in them all that much. In fact, I leaned against a wall, a chair, a friend ... anything I could find ... for much of the time, until my body literally caved and I had to sit down. But I wore them. And I rocked them, all 6'2" of me.

And then I woke up this morning and tried to roll over to get out of bed. Uhhhhh... Not happening. Holy MOLY, was wearing/standing/leaning in heels a core workout and a half!

I mean, I knew that wearing the heels would work my stomach. And work me, they did. I could feel it last night, but I had thought that finding something - anything - to lean against would help. (The sick thing is, it probably did help. A lot. And I'm still this sore.)

Don't get me wrong. They are beautiful, glorious shoes and they were worth it. ... But I'll tell you right now that I am NOT wearing heels to church tomorrow. For sure.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September 27

Last week, I ran some tallies on the Cancer Girl donations: dollar amounts, who and where the funds had come from, etc., and I found the most interesting thing.

People are good.

I mean, I already knew that people are good. ... But what I found is that people are AMAZING. I have been humbled and inspired, not just by the generosity of my own circle of friends, but by the kindness of strangers. Read: My mind has been officially blown.

Get this. The PayPal donations were split almost down the middle, with funds coming from friends/family v. people I had never heard of prior to June 2012. The Wells Fargo check deposits were an even split: 33.3% friends/family, 33.3% friends of my parents (people I don't know, but who know my folks) and 33.3% total and complete strangers. The cash, I can't track, but the numbers and percentages that I can see tell the tale: People are good. And kind. And generous.

When I was running the percentages, I couldn't help but think back to my last appointment with Dr. G. We'd had a rather lengthy discussion about my blog, and I thought he would find the percentages interesting (also, I had a point to make), so I shot him an email to give him a report on the current state of affairs. For fun, and to create a permanent record of his response, I've copied and pasted the email chain below.

Subject: People are good

Dr. G

I wanted to let you know that I thought of you tonight as I was researching and tallying up my PayPal/donation totals. At my last visit, you'd asked about my blog and we talked a little about the traffic (current readership varies from 75-200, depending on what day of the week I post) and the fact that I'd thrown myself a fundraiser - by pointblank asking my friends and family (oh, and anyone else who wanted to pitch in) to donate to a benefit account and/or through PayPal - came up. You asked how much had been donated. At the time, it was *$X,XXX. I remember you sitting back on your stool, and with a dazed look, saying "I think you may have disproved my theory". I asked what your theory was, and your answer was "People suck!"


I'm here to tell you, Dr. G, people are good.

I ran the numbers again tonight. The donated amount has more than doubled since we talked about it at that office visit. The goodness and generosity of people is astonishing to me. ... And the real kicker is, a good portion of the people who've donated are people who have never met me. I've had 47 PayPal donations in the last twelve weeks. Twenty-one of those donations came from names that I had never heard/seen before they showed up in my account history. The cash donations at Wells Fargo are untraceable, but I would assume that the same trend (strangers, or maybe friends of friends, giving to someone in need) would hold true there.

Isn't that amazing?

When I ran the numbers, saw the total and realized that almost half of the traceable donations were from names I didn't know, I couldn't help but think of you and your theory. I'm very sorry to have to disprove your, I'm very sure, well-thought-out and researched theory, but I think you'll have to agree with me here. Not all people suck. Some of them (a lot of them, really) are totally awesome.


~ Laurie Evans


PS - Thank you. For having saved my life by cutting me open and taking cancer out of my body. ... Here's hoping we never have to do that again! ... But really, thank you. For saving my life. I owe you one. ;-)

PPS - Just in case you'd be interested, I'll give you the link to the post that started it all. I'm sure you'll find it very compelling reading. I mean... a heck of a lot of other people did! (Just don't tell Dr. H that almost 2,500 people have read this and know that I have a crush on him. I wouldn't want the celebrity status to go to his head.)
http://razzzberries.blogspot.com/2012/06/june-16.html

His response:

OK...some people are good!

I won't lie, I was a little disappointed that Dr. H didn't email me, too, if only to thank me for making him an international symbol of cancer-curing love. But alas, it seems that Dr. G really didn't tell Dr. H about my email and/or the blog in which I tell the world - on a semi-regular basis - how dreamy my oncologist is. Go figure.

I'm not sure which is the stronger emotion, the gratitude towards those who have helped me in my time of need, or the pride that I was able to talk Dr. G around to my way of seeing the world. (At least a little bit. I think it's a lot more than "some" people who are good, but I'll take whatever concession I can get from him on the matter. He did, after all, used to have a theory about all people that I simply cannot support - even if it did make me laugh out loud when he said it.)

*$X,XXX is not a real number. Many of you, I am sure, recognized this fact. For privacy and security reasons, I don't feel like I should disclose the actual dollar amount that was donated. (I did, however, give Dr. G the real number. Mostly because I find it amazing. Also, it was part of disproving his theory. I figured he needed to know, but the rest of the world does not.) Just know that you all impress and amaze me. I will ALWAYS be grateful for the life lesson this summer - this fundraiser - has been. Thank you, to all of you out there in the www, for having shown love and compassion in whatsoever way that you could. I am deeply beholden.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September 26

For those of you who may have thought I was exaggerating about the hair loss, I give you my most recent haul:


That's six brush-fulls of hair, kids. SIX.

Last time I washed my hair and then brushed it, that's what came out. (Good thing I only do that twice a week, eh?)

Please allow me to draw your attention to the fact that this hairball is filling my hand. FILLING my giant, man-sized hand.

Also, for any of who who have exclaimed, "Really? You have gray in your hair?! I've never noticed" when I have complained to you about my old lady hair, all I can say back is, "LIAR!" ... There's all manner of gray in my hair, as is evidenced by the contrast of silver against chocolate in this cantaloupe-sized hairball. (It filled half of my bathroom trash bin, people. Literally HALF of the garbage in my bathroom is hair.)

INSANE!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 22

Okay, kids... It's that time again.

That's right. IT'S FUNDRAISER TIME!

My friend Christian is hosting a Scentsy Fundraiser for me. It will be open through the end of the month, so you have a week or so to peruse the Fall/Winter catalogue to your satisfaction before you need to make a decision. And don't you worry your pretty little head about how something will get to you. Christian and I may live in Arizona, but if you're reading this from the comfort of your cozy couch in the heart of Nebraskan farm country, you can go to her site and put in your address with your order, and in just a few days, you'll receive a little (or big) Scentsy box right there on your own sweet wrap-around porch.

Ahhhh... the joys of shopping online and then getting packages in the mail.

And shopping for a good cause (because we all know that I like to consider myself a good cause)? You just can't beat the feeling of having done something that will help someone else! (Also, it's just fun to get something seasonal and new in the mail!) Come on... You know you want to!

Click here to go right to her site.

You'll see that there are two parties open right now. Be sure to click the FBO - Laurie link so the credit for the orders will go to the fundraiser party.


Oh, gosh. There are SO MANY fun Fall/Halloween and Christmas things coming out right now!


And if you're not sure what you want, or if you're one of those weirdos who just can't stand to buy anything for yourself (I, clearly, don't understand this kind of selfless behavior), I'll give you an itemized wish list and you can make a purchase and put my address in the "deliver to" box.

You know me... Always doing what I can to make it easy for people to give me stuff I want.

How fun are these Halloweeny things? I love them!

The All Hallows Wrap:



Pumpkin:


Fright Night Plug-In:


Here's a fun sort of Fall-ish one...

Linden Silhouette



And then there are the Christmasy things...

Blizzard Plug-In:

How darling is that? I know that I have a special place in my heart for anything Snowflake-related, but still... You have to admit that's pretty darn adorable!

Bluster Plug-In

How sweet are those rosy little cheeks? I want to pinch them!

And then, there is....

Be still, my beating heart.

 Behold:



I am IN LOVE with this Joy to the World Silhouette!

I mean it. I love this one!

Seasonal scents I enjoy: Cinnamon Bear, Clove & Cinnamon, Central Park Pralines, Cozy Fireside, Honey Pear Cider, French Toast, Pumpkin Roll.

"Favorite" scents that I actually like (you'll notice that I have a definite preference for the spiced seasonal scents over the plain jane stuff that you can get all year round): Clean Breeze, Perfectly Pomegranate.

And there you have it. The link to Christian's page. A glowing endorsement for the cause that the fundraiser supports. (Just cracked myself up.) And a personalized guide through my favorite pieces listed in the Holiday Collection.

Buy up, folks. Buy. Up. ... The party will close on September 30th.

Ready... Set... SHOP!

Friday, September 21, 2012

September 21

Do you know what I love to get in the mail?

An itemized hospital bill.

I'm not kidding. It's pretty much the Holy Grail of lists, with all those details and dollar amounts (and we all know how I do love me a good list).

Here are some fun numbers for you:

Anesthesia: $24,577.00
Pulmonary Func: $3,960.00
Sterile Supply: $11,360.70
Intermediate Care: $3,925.00
OR Services: $47,057.00
Pharmacy: $5,197.80
Urology: $220.00
Blood/Stor-Proc: $770.00

Anesthesia was worth every penny. (And would have been worth even more, I am sure, had the epidural worked!)

I'm not sure what that second charge was, but I'm pretty sure "pulmonary" means lungs and breathing is worth $4,000 to me, easy.

Sterile supply? To me, that means bandages. I have to think that means something slightly different to the hospital, because I can't imagine that it cost that much to staple, sew and bandage me back together. (And I while I will be the first to brag to the world that I came out of this last surgery with four - count them, four! - new binders, I'm quite confident that the street price for Doctor Ordered Spanx is nowhere near $4,000 apiece.)

Intermediate Care = ICU. I thought that number would be fun to include, for any of you who've ever wondered how much it cost to spend one night in the ICU.

That was the longest - and most expensive - surgery I hope to ever have. Amen.

I. Heart. Drugs. (Interestingly enough, there's a separate charge titled drugs/detail code. I'm happy to pay for pain pills any and every way they want to charge me. Not a problem.)

Yup. Urology. ... I can only assume this is the infamous pregnancy test that I am required to take each and every time I'm admitted. They can never take my word for it when I say, "Seriously. There is NO WAY that I am pregnant." Oh, well. At least it was cheaper than processing/storing blood, whatever that means. (I literally just gagged, thinking about it.)

And would you like to know what else I love?

Insurance.

As much as I may murmur and mumble under my breath about how "the out-of-pocket maximum is so NOT the literal maximum you'll ever pay out of your own pocket", I am grateful for insurance. So, so, soooooo grateful for insurance, because there is no way I could have ever paid the full bill on my own.

Especially when this is what I'm bringing home these days:



Yup. That is my most recent paycheck. Hilarious, no? I literally laughed - OUT LOUD - when I saw that paystub.

In defense of my piddly check, that pay period included Labor Day weekend (read: the Utah excursion), so I was out for the five day weekend. Between working reduced hours and not working for three of ten days in a pay period, that check was pretty pathetic.

The one (and I do mean one) upside of going back to work full time will be bringing home a full 80 hour check again. In the meanwhile, I'm just gonna focus on being grateful that I have insurance that cut a very (VERY!) considerable chunk of that hospital bill for me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19 - Evening

I came home from the grocery store tonight and saw this as I turned the corner and came around to the stairs leading up to my apartment:


That's right. It's a bouquet of flowers. (What you can't see is that they were standing up against my door, in a water bottle that had been cut in half. That's my bad for having poor photography skillz.)

As I walked up the stairs, I noticed that there were little pink spots all over my door:




How sweet are my brother Spencer and his wife, Brea? I love them!

Here, I'll show you a smattering of the notes up close:






 




I love them.

Honestly, I have the most incredible family. And the most incredible friends. ... And have come into contact with the most incredible strangers over the past few months.

I am surrounded by good and kind and loving people.

I am amazed.

In semi-related news, I put another batch of Thank You notes in the mail again today. (There goes another book of stamps!)

Speaking of being surrounded by the most incredible family, friend and (former) strangers, I sent cards out in to world to:

Utah
Rhode Island
Arkansas
Maryland
Nevada
Pennsylvania
Idaho
Colorado
Georgia
California
And, again, my own hometown and the greater Phoenix area

That was the end of my PayPal Thank You cards. (Yeah, I've categorized my Thank You's. I had to, otherwise it was too overwhelming.)

I thought it would be interesting to note that, among the PayPal donations I've received in the last three months, almost half of them came from people who've never met me. Twenty-one of forty-seven donations came from names I had never heard before I sent a plea for help out into the Universe on June 16th. As I have told many of you, I always knew that my friends were incredible, generous, kind and loving people. It turns out that the friends of my friends are no less awesome than my friends are.

It has been such an overwhelming exercise in gratitude and humility, to see and feel such an outpouring of love over the past few months. I have sent mail out to three foreign countries, and I'm gonna guess half of the 50 states. 

People are good, and I love them.

September 19

It was the crack heard around the world, I am pretty sure.

I've been wearing my binder (again) since last week when PT advised that I get a really wide Ace bandage to wrap my lower back with, lest I hurt myself any more while I was sleeping. (I figured, why buy a 10 inch Ace bandage when I am the proud owner of six - count them, six - abdominal binders from prior surgeries?)

So, I've been wearing my binder to bed. On Saturday, I did something to my stomach that has had me hoping against hope that it's just a pulled muscle or overcompensation against my back not working. (Read: The right side of my stomach has felt like I am coming apart at the seams - literally. And what I do NOT want/need in my life is another hernia, thanks.) The abdominal pain led me to wear my binder pretty much all day Sunday. Monday, I took it off to go to work for five hours and almost died from the pain. I came home and put it right back on. Yesterday morning, I got up, got dressed, strapped it on and went to work. I came home, hotter than you can imagine. (Five layers, people. One of them being a 10 inch wide band of elastic pressed right up against my body. All day long.) But it was worth it, because not once yesterday did I feel like my insides were trying to push through my outsides. I didn't take it off for even a minute yesterday. All day and night long, I kept myself wrapped up like a little sausage.

This morning, I got out of bed, happy not to have any immediate abdominal pain on first movement. Headed for the shower, I ripped off the velcro keeping myself held together and that's when I heard (and felt it)...

CRACK!

And... there went my back.

Last week, it was a musculature issue. Now, it's a bone issue.

Fan-freaking-tastic. (By which I mean: Craptastic!)

My birthday is next month. Do you think someone might get me a new body?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 18

This afternoon at work, I was at Christian's desk, going over files, when she reached across the counter and swiped something onto the ground. Startled, I asked, "Did you just swipe a hair onto the floor? Am I shedding on your desk now?!" ... She responded, "Well, yes. But it was only one hair."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

I was standing a foot away from her desk. I was not making wild arm gestures. There was no wind to blow my hair about. I am just losing so flipping much hair that it is literally falling out of my head and off of my body.

As we were talking about my hair loss, I ran my hands across the bottom of my hair and got enough to roll into a ball about the size of a golf ball. This was not the first time I'd done the pull-the-loose-hairs-from-the-bottom-of-my-hair routine this morning, folks. It was the third time. (And this is just pulling at the tips of my hair to get what has already fallen out. Heaven forbid I run my hand through my hair and finger-comb it out. Who knows how much hair I'd get if I were to do that?! ... Not to mention, I seem to take some kind of moral issue with excessive hair brushing. For such a girly girl, I am not one who is wont to take a brush to her hair.)

Tonight, I ran a couple loads of laundry. As I pulled my whites out of the dryer, I remembered that I needed to clean the lint screen. Check it I did, and the filter came out more brown than white. Very little lint. Tons o' hair brown, curly hair.

Good heavens!

I wasn't kidding when I said that I am helping birds build nests. Honestly.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16

I had appointments with three different doctors this past week, for three very different conditions, and yet, they all had very much the same thing to say in regards to treating me.

Out of the mouths of three or more witnesses, folks: My body is in stress.

No. Freaking. Kidding.

I pulled a muscle in my back last week. I wasn't doing anything extraordinary, just bending over, when I felt everything in the right side of my lower back tighten and constrict. I straighted myself out as quickly as I could, in hopes that standing up would undo the knots, but the damage was done.

As a result, I have been limping around for a week now, leaning on the counter or against a wall for support whenever I can. I can't stand in one place for more than five minutes, or the left side of my back starts to spasm. With muscles in my back having been pulled, the muscles in my stomach have been compensating. (This is particularly painful, because as you may recall, I don't have a whole lot of muscle in my stomach these days.)

I'm moving so slowly and so carefully that I feel more than a little like I've stepped into a time machine and gone back ten weeks.

Further proof that my body is in stress:

* Hair loss. I mean, hair loss. I am losing four brush-fulls of hair on the days I wash it, and an easy tennis-ball sized bunch of it two or three times a day on the other days of the week. I walked home from church this morning, pulling the trailing hairs out and leaving them behind me. ... The birds are gonna love me for helping them build their nests! ... I'm just glad that it seems to be an even hair loss (read: not any one part of my head seems to be balding), and that I have so much hair (and it's curly, to boot!) that I'm not particularly worried that anyone else will be able to see how much it has thinned.

* Acne. I mean, like, teen acne. It's vile.

* My teeth hurt. I've had the most bizarre pressure behind my bottom wisdom teeth, causing my throat to swell and my ears to hurt.

* I can't get enough sleep. I've fallen asleep on the couch every afternoon that I've been home this week, and have still been tired enough to be in bed by 9:00 six of the last seven nights.

So, my back hurts. (Which means my stomach hurts - more than it has been/should be.) I'm losing hair. I'm breaking out. My teeth are making my whole head hurt, and I am spending almost as many hours a day sleeping as I do waking. Like I (and the good doctors said), my body is in stress.

The good news is that I don't feel particularly stressed.

Don't get me wrong, I would just about KILL for some Ibuprofen right now... But at least I'm not feeling the stress emotionally. For that, I am grateful.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

September 15

I spent two hours at Changing Hands this morning.


I felt very much like my old self, perusing the Memoir and Cooking sections of the store, crouching down in Fiction, sitting very nearly on the floor, reading titles, synopsese (I'm pretending that's the plural of synopsis), and employee suggestions for various books.

And the angels sang.

Until my body hurt, which made the angels stop singing (and me start muttering things under my breath that I shouldn't say in public - or anywhere, really), which led me to an aisle that had a bench smack in the middle of it that I could sit on whilst reading random pages (sometimes chapters) out of unknown books.

This is what I do in a bookstore; I sit, and I read. I read whole sections out of the middle of books, so I can decide whether or not I like how an author writes. (I usually read the first page, too. But the first page is, almost without fail, excellent. Anyone can craft an opening line/paragraph/dialogue that can kill. But an author who can keep it together at page 261? That's an author I want to read.)

I went in, looking for a particular book for a friend. ... It was the second book I picked up.

At the back of my head, I had thought I would see if they had a copy of Dandelion Wine. (I'd started reading my mom's while I was home last week and the beauty of the language completely sucker punched me.)

Dandelion Wine was the fifth book in my stack.

That's right. I went in to buy one book (to give away). I walked out with five.


I needed four new books like I needed a hole in my head.

Behold:


This is one of three full-to-overflowing bookshelves in my apartment. (And when I say "overflowing", I mean it. I have books stacked two deep filling both the bottom and top shelves. Obviously, I also have books stacked two deep on top of the shelves, towering a good two and a half feet over the book case.)  I have two other bookshelves in similar straights, not to mention books stashed at the left side of my couch, by my recliner, on both sides of my bed and on the kitchen counter.

And yet, I bought four more books today.

I. Can't. Help. Myself.

I love them.

I came home from the bookstore, made myself a snack of bread and crackers and goat cheese and set about reading Dandelion Wine.


Three hours, two catnaps and 180-odd thrilling, beautifully written and glorious pages later, it was finished.

The book, the day and me. We were all finished.

This book. It is a thing of beauty. It is lyrical. It is mesmerizing. It is... Summer.

Spending a Saturday morning in a bookstore was magical for me. I love to get lost in a bookstore. And this morning, I was able to do just that.

And I bought a book (okay, I bought five, but right now I'm talking about this book) about a boy who realized, in the summer of 1928, that he was alive. I can relate.

This book is about living. And loving. And seeing the world and people around you for what they really are: beautiful, wondrous, enchanting. This book is Summer Magic.

This day was a gift. A marvelous, wonderful, incredible gift. To be able to do something I love to do, even for a short while, before pain brought me home, was glorious. To be able to lie down with a new book and read it in an afternoon, with the end of Summer's sun streaming in on me, was heavenly.

I am so grateful. For well-strung words, and for life experience that has taught me, even more, how to appreciate and cherish them. For this book. For this day. For my life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 12

So, here's a fun story for you...

As a preface to this story, I must disclose that this week is Go To The Doctor Week. (Seriously. Monday was the dermatologist. Today was PT. Friday is the oral surgeon.) Good times. I heart co-pays.

This story comes to you from the examination room at the dermatologist's office.

A little more of a back story... I'd noticed some new moles on my face (delightful) in the last few months. I freckle really easily, and have several moles that are flesh colored, so I didn't think of much of it when the first one popped up on the point of my chin in the spring. A few weeks before surgery, I noticed another one cropping up in the middle of my chin. About the time I went back to work, I realized that I had another bump coming in just under my left eyebrow.

Uhhhhh... Time to call the dermatologist.

I mean, I get new freckles all the time, but moles are a little different and these were all coming up really quickly in a relatively short period of time. So, almost a month ago, I called the skin doctor. The soonest he could get me in was this week. (Who would have thought that dermatologists would be so busy, to be booked a month in advance?! Must be that Arizona sun that's so damaging to our skin. Note to self: possibly look into finding a dermatologist to love and marry. They may be in even higher demand than cancer doctors.)

Monday, I went in, filled out all the new patient paperwork and was seated in an exam room within ten minutes. (Holy fastest waiting-room-to-exam-room turn time ever, Batman!)

A sweet little old man doctor came in and asked me why I'd come in. He was a little entranced... or maybe concerned is a more apt word... with how many moles I have. Seriously, he could not keep his hands off my face and my arms. (It was more than a little reminiscent of my little cousin, Megan, and her fascination with my "beautiful" moles.) He asked if it was a family trait, and which parent's line it came through. (I am sorry to report that BOTH of my parents have moles. In other words, I was doomed.)

When I explained that the reason I'd come in was the new growth on my face, he got all intrigued and started pushing on each of them, individually, feeling around to see exactly what was going on.

His first thought (I know this, because he said it out loud) was that they might be warts caused by the Human Papillomavirus. (My first thought? "HPV? Maybe I should look into getting vaccinated..." I crack myself up.) Seriously, who knew that HPV could cause wart-like growths on a person's FACE?! ... Not me, that's for darn sure!

But he kept pushing around on my chin, and corrected himself, saying that it wasn't HPV. Rather, it looked like something else. Something really unusual. Something he hardly ever saw...

My thoughts? "Welcome to my life, Doctor. I have six wisdom teeth. My right ear is noticably higher than my left. (Getting new glasses to sit right is always a treat.) I can bend my thumbs to touch my wrists. I went almost eight years without having a period - until I got cancer, and now I'm as regular as clockwork. I'm missing more than one internal organ. I have a double digit scar running down my abdomen and, unaccountably, the only lasting effect of my most recent surgery is that I am unable to lift my right arm over my head. My body specializes in the unusual." ... He would so not be the first doctor to (literally) call me a freak.

And then he proceeded to tell me that what he thought he was seeing was a virus that's common in children, but really rare in adults. It doesn't happen very often, but it seems that severe stress can bring back a virus that has lain dormant for, oh... thirty years.

Apparently, my body has been in stress (childhood-wart-causing-virus-recurrent stress, no less) over the last six months. ... Who'd have thunk?

Guess who had a wart on her chin when she was in first grade?


That's right. Me.

And it was a stubborn, ugly little thing that would not go away. They tried to burn it off. It turned black, but after a few weeks, was back to flesh-colored and wouldn't go away. They tried acid. (Literally. Acid. I have very vivid memories of my dad telling me to lie still while he dripped acid onto my face in hopes of getting rid of it that way.) Nothing. ... Eventually, they had to cut it out. I mean, cut a hole around it, through my skin under my lower lip and pull it out, cut it out. Grody.

Here's hoping these new little guys aren't as stubborn as that first demon was. (Because who can't handle the thought of having multiple scars on her face? This girl.)

The treatment plan: he froze/burned them with liquid nitrogen. Per the good doctor, I should be good as new in a week or so. (I'm sort of doubting the "week" time frame, as it's been three days and I'm just now firmly in the blistering/peeling stage ... yeah, on my face, which is ever so pretty ... that he had indicated would happen overnight.) ... I'm just hoping that these three little bumps are as bad as my "recurrent childhood virus" will get.

Honestly. My body. Its weirdness never ceases to amaze me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11

I stopped by the Tempe Healing Field on my way home from work this afternoon.


I love it there.

I mean, I love it! I always love Tempe Town Lake, but there's something about the Healing Field that speaks to my very soul. The flags, alphabetized and organized by building and/or occupation both break my heart and bring me immeasurable peace. The haunting sound of Taps floating over a quiet, still group of people as they pause to pay respect to those for whom it is being played is something that I hope I never forget.

        
The Pentagon section had boots placed at the foot of several of the flags.


Upon closer inspection, the boots were donated by servicemen and women.


(I wonder if the man who wore these boots knew Hawkeye Pierce? ... You know I can't think about the Korean war without thinking about M*A*S*H. And I can't think about M*A*S*H without sighing a deep sigh over my favorite military doctor of all time. ... And yes, before anyone calls the authorities, I do know that Hawkeye is a fictional character. But a girl can dream.)

My favorite moment of the afternoon came as I was walking out of the WTC1 area. There was a group of volunteers, helping someone look for a specific flag/bio. I had overheard them talking, saying "It's W-E-I, not W-I-E..." as they meandered through the W's, looking for a specific flag. I walked right up to a flag on the outside of the field and picked up the bio. Weingard. I held it out, and called, "Are you looking for Scott Jeffrey Weingard? Because, if you are, I've found him." A sweet old man turned and smiled and made his way across the field to the flag representing his friend. The group thanked me. I smiled and said that I was happy to help. As I turned to leave the field, I heard the older gentleman say, under his breath, "I used to babysit him." ... Cue the tears.


May we never forget that day. May we never forget them. ... Ever.

Monday, September 10, 2012

September 10 - Late

I just realized what today is. (Today, meaning September 10th.)

It's the two year anniversary of my last day of radiation treatments. Happy Anniversary to me!

It has been exactly two years since I had to go into a room marked with biohazard warnings, and pull my shirt up (and my pants down) so they could get laser-on-skin for the full treatment area. It has been two years since I've had the tattoos on my stomach lined up with red lights coming from every corner of the room. It has been two years since I've felt the vibrations of the radiation machine moving around me while I concentrated on being completely and utterly still for 10-15 minutes while they shot poison into my body, lest I breathe wrong and they hit me somewhere that they shouldn't have.

(I'll tell you right now that I had some pretty excellent Nathan Fillion fantasies play out in my head while I was lying there. Listen, a girl has to have something to think about when she's been abandoned and left for near-dead in a biohazard contaminate room...)

In about 10 weeks, it will have been two years since I would lie on my couch and think that I would rather die than try to take a deep breath. 'Round about the first week in November, it will be two years since I involuntarily screamed, due to the insane amount of residual pain associated with the radiation burns.

In the two years since I finished six weeks of radiation treatments, I've had three surgeries, one to remove cysts that formed on my tailbone, associated with the first abdominal surgery, and two more open, abdominal, surgeries to remove three more malignant tumors. My little (okay, not so little...) body has been through the ringer and back again.

On days like this, when I have a slight cramp in my side where my left kidney used to be (scar tissue, it's a delight and a pleasure), I think back to the days/weeks/months when all I could eat was either 4 Ritz crackers or 5 saltines at a time, and I am grateful for how far I've come. (Yes, that was an either/or diet situation. My stomach could not handle more food than that at a time, for months. ... When people joke about what a great weight loss plan cancer is, I want to punch them in the face.)

I may be a little sore and achy, but I'm not fighting nausea 24 hours a day anymore. I may have a cramp in my side, but I don't have the constant, shooting pains that I was living with two years ago.

I hated radiation. Hated it. ... I did it, because I had been told that it would give me 25% less chance at a recurrence. But I hated it. I hated the daily drive to the treatment center. I hated lying on the table, waiting for what was coming, knowing that the techs who positioned me on the table would have to leave the room to give the treatment, because the laser beams that flew through my body were toxic, and they couldn't risk getting caught in the line of fire. I hated the sudden surge in (what was already constant) nausea that would hit 40 minutes after treatment every day. I hated the weekly weigh-ins, and the lecture I would get for losing between 4 and 8 pounds every week. I hated having to defend how my body was reacting to a doctor who hadn't expected the side effects to be that extreme. Radiation was horrible. I hated it. ... Even now, I can't let myself think about it for too long, because my body starts to remember what all of that felt like, and I can't help but cry.

Radiation was hard. It may have given me a 25% leg-up, it may not have. I'll never know for sure. What I do know is that it was so hard and so painful that it's put so many other things into perspective, and for that, I am grateful.

And today, it has been two years since it was over, which merits a celebratory piece of Nothing Bundt. (I told you back in June that I was freezing that dang cake, because I knew I'd want/need it later. Today is that day.)

Happy Anniversary, Body! (The good news is, you'll never have to do THAT form of radiation again. Ever!) Now, I'm off to have a little chocolate-chocolate-chip-with-cream-cheese-icing nightcap... Because that's how I roll.

September 10

I went home for the weekend. I hadn't been home since New Year's. See, I found out the first week in January that the cancer was back. (This kind of news doesn't do much for a girl's ability to sleep, and when I'm not sleeping well in my own bed, I am not wont to travel and sleep in someone else's house. Not even my mother's.) Also, it snows a lot in January. And February. And March.

And I detest driving in the snow.

By the time the weather started to clear up and I knew that I'd be able to get over the rim without having to worry about snow/ice, I was way past how tired I had been in January. I had barely enough energy to get myself to work and home, and some days that felt like I was pushing it. (As we now know, I had a new little tumor friend crowding my organs during the spring. ... No wonder I'd been tired. Growing tumors is exhausting business. Don't ever let anyone tell you different.)

On the heels of learning I was now carrying two tumors around, I was told that surgery was scheduled in less than two week's time. ... I'm sure you can imagine that I had a few things I needed to get done in that time. (Stuff like laundry, clearing out my closet, vacuuming and eating at every single restaurant I could think of, before I lost the ability to eat more than a scrambled egg.) Sadly, a trip home prior to surgery wasn't an option. And it sure as heck wasn't an option in the several weeks that followed. But now? Now, it is an option.

So, I went home for the weekend. And it was a blessed, sweet weekend, full of the best things in life: family, Eva's tacos, Taylor sweet corn and Trapper's pie.

This is my favorite time of year. Taylor sports more shades of green than you can shake a stick at, in the weeks during and after Monsoon season. It's green as far as you can see. Well, green and yellow. The summer storms water the wild sunflowers that line the highway. There are yellow and purple wildflowers that grow at the edges (and in the middle) of every field in town. Between the blue sky, the green grass and the wildflowers, it's practically heaven. (My only regret is that I didn't think to snap a picture of the corn fields across from the church. I. Heart. The. Corn. Fields.)

This was taken on the road into town. Do you love that tall grass? I do. How about the field dotted with yellow flowers behind it? I love that even more than I love the grass (which is a lot of love). What you can't know, if you've never been there, is that this yellow field goes on for miles. Miles and miles and miles. Literally, as far as you can see.

It's beautiful to me.


I'd mentioned, over the weekend, that there were sunflowers as tall as my car lining the highway.

Behold:


Isn't that ridiculous? ... And awesome?! There are bushes of sunflowers like this literally crowding the side of the road. Many of them are over six feet tall. It is glorious.

These two pictures are very similar, but they're actually different angles of the view to the right as you drive "into town". (To the grocery store, where they'll give you a GIANT scoop of ice cream - in a waffle cone - for $1. I kid you not.)

Again, the acreage here is hard to imagine, if you haven't been there, but I'm telling you, these fields go on forever. Literally, they reach as far as the eye can see. And beyond.

 



Here's a fun little discovery that I made, quite on accident.




This is an iron cut-out that Eddie Hancock had made to put on top of the signage for the new little park behind his house. (Big E is famous for the iron signs he has made for his friends and family. They typically have a pioneer/cowboy theme to them, with a picture very much like this above a hanging sign that has the family name displayed.) I happened to look up at the cut-out while Mom was reading the dedicatory sign at the park and I literally gasped when I saw the blue sky behind that covered wagon. I'm afraid that the picture is too small for you to be able to see the detail in the iron work, but I'm here to tell you that the dog behind the wagon has adorable little ears, and the reins and yokes have amazing detail, as do the spokes of the wagon wheels. So much work goes into these signs. I've always loved them, but I'd (literally) never seen them the way I saw this one, with the sky behind it, until Saturday afternoon. Gorgeous, isn't it?

And speaking of gorgeous... Behold, my beloved Silver Creek.

My goodness, I do love the creek.

These pictures are as the creek is seen from the bridge, headed up Center to my parents' house. The first picture is was taken looking to the right, the second is looking to the left.

I know this may seem like nothing more than a muddy little stream to most of you, but to me, the creek means Summer Magic. (Cue the music.) I have so many memories that revolve around the creek. It is one of my favorite spots in town. I love the willows and wild grasses that grow along the bed. I love the smell of the creek and the flowers that grow just outside its reach.

In every season, the Silver Creek is signal of home.



Speaking of flowers that grow just outside the reach of the creek... Look at this!






I'm not sure which I love more, the sunflower patch in a puddle of irrigation water, or the barbed wire running across the bottom of that last picture in the group. Be still, my beating heart!

And speaking of barbed wire...



I don't know how something that haunted me my entire childhood (I could not even tell you how many dresses/pants I ripped the seat open on, sneaking under, over or through barbed wire fences) could be so beautiful to me now, but it is. So beautiful.

It makes me laugh, how often, when people (by which I mean: single men who are asking me standard "get to know you" questions on a first date) ask me if I like to camp/hike/fish, etc., and get the answer that I do not, in fact, like to do any single one of those things, I get a response of, "Oh, you're a city girl". No. No, I am not a city girl. I am a country girl. (In fact, being a country girl, I happen to have a fair idea as to how many bugs live outside and there's NO WAY I'm sleeping out in the wild with them!)

I am a country girl with a deep, abiding love of her hometown. I love the color. I love the land. I love the smell of hay and horses. I love that, no matter where I go when I'm home, I'll see someone there whom I love.

I love the natural, untamed beauty of the sunflowers in the late summer.


I love the contrast of blacktop against gorgeous, verdant fields.


I love that all you can see, forever, is land and sky.


I love my hometown. I'm so grateful that I was able to grow up in such a lovely, delightful little place, surrounded by folk who loved me. I'm so glad that I was able to go home. Dorothy was right, "There's no place like home." ... No place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September 5 - Evening

I've had such an interesting afternoon.

Not that I've.... uh... done all that much, actually. Mostly, I've just been trolling through old emails, responding to people who wrote me several weeks ago (back when I couldn't actually read the emails I was receiving). And I've come across the most delightful things: family (and work friends) pictures, funny stories, beautiful sentiments and one of the most incredible articles I've ever read.

It's an article that dissects the subtle (and glaring) differences in happiness and joy. Now, don't get me wrong... I do looooove to be happy. But I have found that joy is what I live for, and I don't know that the process of finding/experiencing joy has ever been outlined so well, with such beautiful imagery. Please bear with me as I copy and paste some of my favorite excerpts. (Here is the link if you want to read the full thing.)

....................................................................................


On the first of July, as the minutes ticked toward midnight, I stood at the edge of the country. I faced east, gazing out over a dark and undulating Atlantic.


And I held my breath.

Because hundreds of miles northward a vast thundercloud throbbed with orange pulses of energy, and jagged bolts of lightning showered the horizon. From a distance, it was quiet, but violent and powerful and breath-taking.

And at the same time, the sky above me was star-scattered and, from the south, a full moon bathed the beach in a gentle glow.

In one direction—violence and destruction. In the other direction—tranquility and beauty. And me. Standing in the middle of it.

Alone.

The beach was empty. On the fluorescently-lit boardwalk several hundred yards away, throngs of tourists licked ice cream and ate funnel cake and pushed quarters into arcade games.

Distracted.

They were enjoying the classic American holiday weekend. Last week, Americans spent three billion dollars celebrating the holiday. Three billion dollars on gas, and burgers, and soda-pop, and sparklers. I contributed more than my fair share.

But I wonder if all of us were settling?

I wonder if we settle for happy things on the boardwalk of life.

You see, happiness is all about circumstance and situation. It’s all about orchestrating events so life is comfortable and pleasurable and fun. Happiness is what happens when all the tumblers fall into place and life just clicks.

It’s sitting on the front porch on a perfect June evening with plenty of money in the bank account. It’s the right job coming along at the right time. It’s your kid walking down the aisle in a cap and gown with a full-ride scholarship, or your daughter walking down the aisle in a completely different kind of gown to take the hand of a guy you actually like.

Happiness is winning lottery tickets, and good luck, and serendipity, and pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming.

Happiness is the perfect ice cream cone on the boardwalk, with fireworks on the way and a long beach week with cloudless skies ahead of you.

Happiness is sweet.

And we’re drawn to it like moths.

And why wouldn’t we be? Happiness goes down easy.


But happiness is always fleeting. Because circumstances change.

The furnace goes out and the roof springs a leak, and suddenly the financial margin evaporates. Or the new boss is a disaster. Or the kid comes home after a semester at college because the pressure got to him first and the amphetamines got to him next.

Happiness is an ice cream cone that melts, leaving you with sticky fingers and a constant hunger for more.

But Joy.

Joy is a place inside every circumstance. It’s a constant place, and it feels like peace, and it gives hope, and it looks like love, but it is more than all of these things, and words will always fail it.

And the place of joy is waiting for us.

But there’s a catch:

It only exists smack in the middle of the lightning and the moonlight. In fact, the place of joy in us cannot exist independent of the storms in life, because joy is the peace that comes from looking right into the storm and feeling freedom from it.

Joy is the place we stumble upon when we look our deepest pain and greatest fear directly in the eyes, and we refuse to flinch. It’s the place we stumble upon when we decide pain and fear aren’t going to be the final word. It’s the place where we anchor ourselves in something more than the vicissitudes of our material existence. It’s the place of freedom inside every situation, where we realize the things that are happening to us are losing their power to control us and define us.

Joy is not the answer to hardship. Rather, it is the birth of an entirely new way to experience the pain and the fear and the sorrow itself. Joy is watching the lightning-violence and trusting there is moonlight-peace just over our shoulder.

Joy is lightning and moonlight, all at once.

Joy is not knowing where the next meal will come from, yet hearing the laughter of your children and allowing yourself to be fed by it. Joy is the chaos of a toddler and newborn twins and a husband who just left you, and a knock on the door from a friend. Joy is sitting in the doctor’s office while the cancer grows, and deciding to love the stranger next to you anyway, with a comforting word and a smile. Joy is walking alone and lonely down a crowded city street and suddenly feeling yourself surrounded and joined by the millions of stories being lived every day. Joy is standing in the middle of the street during a historic blizzard, and shouting at it in defiance.

If we’re going to live, really live, we have to choose to stand in the middle of the lightning and the moonlight, because that’s where joy is found. That’s where we find peace and freedom from the pain and fear, in the midst of the pain and fear.


And that kind of joy gives birth to meaning and beauty. It will be more terrifying than ice cream. But it will be vastly more joyful than funnel cake.

What ice-cream-cones-of-life are you licking?

Where is the dark beach of your life? Are you ready to step off the boardwalk and go there?

Because there will be lightning waiting, but there will also be moonlight.

And in the middle of it all?

Joy.

.....................................................................................

A big, fat thank you goes out to Dr. Kelly Flanagan, for having written such a poetic description (and definition) of the differences in happiness and joy. Another sincere and heartfelt thank you goes to my favorite Walnuts for having passed it along to me back in July, when I was very much in the place between the lightening and the moonlight.

I testify that there is nothing that can bring peace to your heart in the way that tribulation can. I know, from my own life experience, that true peace can only be felt in the place between staring down your darkest fear and knowing that, somehow, someway, you are still safe.

I repeat,

Joy is the place we stumble upon when we look our deepest pain and greatest fear directly in the eyes, and we refuse to flinch. It’s the place we stumble upon when we decide pain and fear aren’t going to be the final word. It’s the place where we anchor ourselves in something more than the vicissitudes of our material existence. It’s the place of freedom inside every situation, where we realize the things that are happening to us are losing their power to control us and define us.

Having had to live with (and fight) the cancer has been the hardest, most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my life. Six weeks of radiation put me down so low that I wondered, for months, when I would start to feel normal again. (It's been almost two years, and I'm still waiting, btw.) Three cancer-related surgeries in a 24 month span have wreaked havoc on my body. I ache and have scar tissue in places that were heretofore unimaginable.

It has been hard. Seriously hard.

And I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. (That's right, not even for the name of Mrs. Nathan Fillion.)

Having had to surrender my will to not have another surgery to the reality of "do it or die" has been good for my control-freak soul. Having had to come to terms with the dietary and physical limitations of my body has been difficult, but when I weigh these limitations against where I have been, I know that I am blessed to be where I am. Having had to rely on the kindness of my friends and family to fiscally and emotionally survive this last surgical round has changed me.

I have always been aware that I lead a charmed life. I have always known that I have been blessed. I have always been happy. I would even be so bold as to say that I have always had joy in my life.

But the cancer changed me. It redefined me. It gave me an opportunity to choose how I would act in the face of pain and fear. It shook my life up and moved my priorities around, and I will be eternally grateful for the experience.

I live in this weird space right now, smack between hating the cancer and loving it for the life experience that it gave me.

(That having been said, I'd be more than happy not to ever see its ugly face again. ... Also, I'd like to start signing Nathan's last name on my checks. Do you think either or both of those could be arranged?)

September 5

This morning, for the first time since Friday of last week, I woke up without pain.

And the angels sang.

Who did too much on vacation? This girl did. For the last several days, I've had aches and pains in places that haven't hurt since mid-July. But it appears that a steady schedule of sitting on my couch and watching TV for the last two days, combined with sleeping in my actual bed (and not lying on the floor/ground) have helped my body recoup.

I could not be more thrilled.

This is a red letter day. No pain, AND I have another round of Thank You notes going out today. (I tell you what, I feel so accomplished when I have a bundle of envelopes to drop in the mail box!)

Today, I am mailing cards to:

New Jersey
Wisconsin
Illinois
Texas
Idaho
Utah
My own hometown and the greater Phoenix area

Last week, I sent cards to:

Rhode Island
Texas
Pennsylvania
Utah
Idaho
England
Australia
Russia
Again, my own hometown and the greater Phoenix area (I heart my fellow Arizonans. A lot!)

I'm halfway through my fifth book of stamps (since mid-July), and I often feel like I'll never be able to say thank you enough, or to all the people I want to say it to. It is astonishing to me, when I think of the acts of service and love that have been shown me in the last three months, quantified by how many stamps it has taken to start to get a leg-up on thanking the world for having loved me. (And I can only send cards to the people who I know have contributed or helped me. So very many have stayed in the shadows, given cash that's untraceable and performed service behind closed doors.)

I am, once again, so far beyond grateful that I have to wonder how this happened to my life. Thank you, all of you, for doing whatever it was that you did. The last twelve weeks of my life have been tremulous at times, but they have also been filled with so much love that I cannot wrap my head around it.

Thank you, to all of you in the www... Thank you for having had enough love in your heart to help me in any way that you could; for remembering me, for praying for me and for taking the time to let me know that you were aware of what was happening in my life. I will never, ever be able to say it enough, but I'll say it one more time. Thank you. So much.