cancer

I truly chose a general practitioner with no common sense. It didn’t matter to me that she wasn’t proactive. I mean, what would that matter? She would be there to fill prescriptions, fill out camp forms and take my blood pressure. I never realized that having a GP would be an asset when you want things expedited. Researched. Or you simply want to be referred to a secondary physician who is qualified and one of your choosing.

This all came into play as I tried to run up the steps to some sort of diagnosis. I had to call to get my results. And then they were only half my results. And then came the final call. On a day she would be unavailable to speak further.  How do you drop a bomb like this and then erase your compassion? I don’t know. I couldn’t do it.

It was 6:12 AM on Friday, April, 25th. I thought the alarm went off three minutes early. It actually took my mind a moment for the ring to register. And then I said to Gary, “Answer it. I think it’s the phone.” I had been waiting for the phone to ring. I had called the radiology center every day but Thursday. I had called her office twice a day. I had hoped of all hopes that it was good news simply because the pathology had taken so long.

“It’s cancer.”  That was the first word my mind grasped.  “You can expect a cascade of events.”  I wasn’t sure but I thought I heard the word surgeon.

I just sat in utter shock. It really is shock and then immediate and utter terror.  The processing of such a cataclysmic diagnosis had begun.

It was a workday and I slowly got dressed, decided not to wear any mascara and head into the office.  This felt the like the end of the waiting. So scared was I. Now a new kind of scared came into view. The truth that life isn’t forever. That this might be my first entry, not unlike my father’s, into the horrible world of cancer treatment.

In that moment, my life changed forever.

learn this from me

I remember being given one of those self examination cards before. And I’d been proactive about it. I never was overly attached to my breasts – having been a very small and thin young girl. They were a sore spot for me in my middle school years. There was never a bra small enough to fit. There was one boy, in particular, who was merciless about it. He made it his mission to see to it that I be reminded of how desperately I needed kleenex. Boxes, tissues, small packages – they appeared everywhere. In my book bag, my locker, in my instrument case. So I knew from an early age that not having breasts was a clear sign that something was wrong with me. Aside from the popularity that breasts naturally brought you, I personally couldn’t see the value of them. To me – they were extra globes of weight that made it harder for you to run. And at that time, I just wanted to be the fastest 50 yard dash runner in the city.

 

I remember getting fitted for my first wedding dress and being told by a lovely european tailor that the cups would have to be “filled” with something to provide shape. I was all of 100 pounds and very tiny. But I wanted the sleeveless dress and that is what I got. And to be honest, I don’t remember it being stuffed with anything. It made me feel like a princess. I was beautiful that day.

As I continued to age – truly – I remained relatively flat chested.  They weren’t one of my better features, or rather non-features. And that was fine. My style was designer chic – moving from a femininely – masculine suit with a crisply pressd cotton shirt and funky tie (with men’s oxfords to match) to the more flowly and silly Madonna-ish style of big hair with a scarf wrapped in a bow, cool pants and flowing shirts. The 80’s was a time of great fun where I could copy my idols and their clothing. Lingerie was of little interest to me. Fashion was giddy and silly. My body was really a tiny tubular shape – where my dimensions equaled the same from top to bottom. I remember – all 28″.  I just dressed in ways that flattered it in the most joyful of ways. It was a happy time.

When I became a mother, things began to change. I began to dress more like a mother and often less like myself. And with the panic and anxiety that came from moving to the United States came medication that seemed to alter my metabolism. Slowly – very slowly, the weight began to climb. Let me tell you – try to enjoy shopping when the clothes available for your size simply suck. It is getting better, but then I am hoping to be thinner once again some day.

With the weight came the magical breasts. Something I had never thought of as a requirement. But I must admit that my first trip to Victoria Secret was mildly exciting for me! All those pretty bras. The lace, the color. Amazing. And I covet those beautiful ones that I have. There are three special ones. And they are glorious.

Sounds like an ode to the bra. And so it goes. Until this day.

I was being proactive, as I always have been. Finding the lump. Making an immediate appointment. And checking it out. I suppose the one thing that upsets me the most is all of the money I’ve invested in heart disease being the illness that eventually takes my life. Twenty years of Lipitor. I was heavily banking on genetics. My birth families history. You see, there is absolutely no cancer evidenced there. Only heart attacks and strokes. So I feel I am owed a refund. A BIG REFUND.

So much for the self examination cards when despite seeking assistance you are deferred. If there is a lesson out there for any woman, it is not to trust any medical professional with your body and your keen sense of intuition. If you know something is wrong, speak up. Speak up loud. Make them do what YOU deem necessary. And make them do it immediately.

Learn this from me.

hey cancer, fuck off!

“I mean, how many times am I going to have to keep coming back every six months? Nothing has changed since the beginning. I just woke up and found a lump and went to the doctor right away. I don’t understand why we keep looking at it. Shouldn’t it be biopsied? I’ve been here three times for the same tests and I don’t want to keep coming back every six months.”

The young ultrasound tech kept on task but then said, “Do you want a biopsy?” I responded with, “Well isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Isn’t that the only way we’ll know?” To which she said, “Well I know I would want to know.”

So then just do it. She wasn’t sure whether she could schedule an immediate ultrasound. But in the moment, I knew it had to happen. I reminded me of a conversation I had had with Mary. My nipple was pointed down and had been for the entire year. I had pointed that out the last time I went in for my ultrasound six months earlier. But I was told this was common. I knew it wasn’t common for Mary and in fact, it was cancer. It wasn’t right for me either.

And so the action I have fervently sought over a year ago was finally going to happen.

In the moment, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What took you so long?”

Let me tell you, that biopsy wasn’t at all pleasant. I did not want to hear about or discuss the logistics of it. I told Tracey, the nurse, that I needed my headphones so I could listen to the loudest music possible. I stumbled around and found Billy Squire’s, “In the Dark.” And it played almost 7 times.  The core needle biopsy sounds like a gun going off; feeling not unlike a large needle, ejecting itself into the underside of my nipple. Only six or so times did this gun go off. And there was blood mixed with iodine everywhere.

I left the clinic feeling as though I had been violated on some level. Raped in a strange way. So incredibly vulnerable. I stood outside the car and felt the warmth of my tears flow down my cheeks. Light snow was falling. It was peaceful and quiet. And then it occurred to me that there was no way I was going to my mother’s for dinner. Even my choir practice seemed like more effort than I had as I drove away from the imaging center.

At least it was over with. Now I could get on with it. Someone would agree to take the damn lump out. I’d only been waiting for over a year.

loss of mind, loss of self

Every year, as dependable as my every breath, another loved one of mine that I encountered in my rewarding work with NAMI can no longer handle the pain of their illness and makes the choice to end their suffering. Always by way of suicide but it is the mental illness that kills them. So there is really no stigma. Because the pain of the illness, while not outwardly visual, is felt to the center of your core. It is like end stage cancer – only it looks so normal. But the brain is riddled with disease.

That’s the bastard that mental illness is. It takes every piece of spirit away from you. Your joy of life, your will to live, your instinct to press forward. It wears you out. You become a shadow of your former self. And while your physical body remains intact and can often look unscathed, inside you ache. Your heart breaks. You feel blood curse through your veins but you no longer feel alive. You look up to the heavens and you see the stars. You can feel the breeze and be aware of your surroundings. But you are dull. You are confused. Your spirit has left you and for whatever odd reason, you feel something you have never felt before. You have no hope. And that doesn’t make you sad. It just makes you numb to the point where your senses are convoluted.

You can’t ever know such pain and fortunately, many will bypass the highway to hell of severe depression. It is most certainly chemically induced and our brains haven’t been studied enough for us to know where to turn except to the rudimentary treatments available in pharmaceutical land. It is like shopping at a market where the selection is limited, unappealing and often creates worse side effects. There are no good choices but you are forced to put all of your fear and faith into the one basket a physician thinks is your best chance.

Can you imagine trying every possible drug combination, finding that none of them work. That your suicidal thoughts persist. You cry endlessly but you don’t know why. You are paralyzed in bed or laying on a sofa. You envision thoughts of how to best end

no, not her

“I don’t understand. I have everything I could ever want or need. My life is great. How come I feel sad? I should be so happy shouldn’t I?”

Having worked in mental health, immediately I go into listening mode. I am fully focused. Analyzing her every word. It is true, her life is good. She does not go without on any level. She has the freedom to explore the world. A truthful and kind hearted person, she was taught that the world was a safe place to be. That love abounds and you can find solidarity in other’s hearts if you genuinely look for it. Always with a smile – most of her life. Not many tears shed. I only notice as of late, her deep desire to be listened to. To be heard. Don’t all of us desire to sincerely be heard?

I am confused. Love circles this girl. She has many friends and is much like a magnet that draws the positive to her energy flow. There is the missing of what once was, but there is eagerness and excitement in opportunities anew. Change is hard, especially when you have felt safety and security in everything that surrounds you.

Is the sadness depression? Am I over reacting? I know I am seeing the signs of melancholy – not much laughter and more of a flat affect. Is this new? Is it hormonal? It feels normal to me considering there is much she wishes to change that she is powerless over. She dislikes formal education yet yearns for social interaction. She wants to be older and working but she will get there in time enough. It is as though the joy of youth has been stripped away and some form of negative reality has set in.

I cannot hold her enough. I cannot caress her enough. I cannot listen enough. I cannot suggest enough. Whatever I do is not enough. And I am beginning to worry about what is going on inside that even she cannot define.

Is this depression? Or is this normal teenage angst? If it is depression, she needs to be treated. But I don’t want her to feel the stigma over her head is this is genuinely a reaction to changes in her body’s endocrine system. But I know how bad it can get and if she is in a space where she is unable to properly communication the level of her sorrow, that if I do not seek help, I have failed her.

I cannot fail her. To fail her is to fail myself in every way.

This is the most precious person in my life. And I must fight for her to have wellness no matter what it takes. I am there with her.

the journey

The holiday excursion is a long one. It seems yearly, our vacation consists of jaunts back and forth to one or the other family. Not that that is so bad, but when you consider all the complaining our family does about never taking that much needed vacation, all I have to do is remind them that this is it, baby! And it isn’t cheap to do. Is it obligatory? Well – I think in some way it can be. Is the pilgrimage out of love? Well – certainly we feel the love or we wouldn’t start the engine. Whether the feeling is mutual, well, I guess we can only hope. However, at this very moment, after almost 7 hours in the car, I am wishing for a rather soft king size bed, a bit of TV, a window open to the ocean or mountains, with a soft warm breeze coming in. And the promise of warm weather when the sun comes up. I guess I can always dream.

It is abysmal – dark and damp outside for the 26th of December in BC. And when I say dark, I mean pitch black outside and it’s only 6:39 PM – prairie time. Meaning – it’s really an hour earlier where we’ll eventually end up.

Elvis, or rather, Elvis lives on ions after his death, is playing on the satellite radio. God bless XM. My husband would be lost without it. I have my headphones jammed down my ear canals listening to Thievery Corp and miss Mary is watching Zombie something. A comedy with a lot of bad language in the back seat of our Supercab. We have fresh Starbucks coffee at our fingertips and are just 45 minutes from the line the separates our past life from our current one.

Holidays. I do love Christmas. But where did it go this year? And what happened that it flew past me so quickly I know I didn’t feel it coming. Nor did I expect the day to pass so quickly. I always send out cards and a yearly letter that pokes fun at our very normal Norbom family life. But this year, it just didn’t happen. In fact, I love to creatively wrap everything that leaves my home. But this year? Just a lot of not so great wrap jobs and those tacky bow-in-a-bag ribbons. I was rather ashamed of myself. Everyone received lovely gifts so at the very least, my thoughtfulness in choosing the right present for each recipient hasn’t left me.

I am noticing the smell of southern BC. One of my favorite smells – wood burning fireplaces warming the homes of those fortunate enough to live in the woods out here. You can see homes lining the local lake in the darkness and the odd Christmas light. Did you know that the tradition of Christmas Lights all stems from the birth of Jesus? Many lights lit the pathway to the manger and to celebrate, early Christians lit candles to celebrate the birth of their Savior. The trivia of this season, in particular, always fascinates me.

This year I will dedicate myself to becoming a healthier me. Slow and with baby steps. I am sad at how arthritis has affected my ability to be quick and agile. It isn’t like me to drag along. I am a quick stepped, highly motivated lady and I certainly do not feel my age mentally. But my body aches. My knees ache. My shoulder spasms and my neck and back are arthritic along with the all important knee joints. I have swimming and cycling in my immediate future. Gotta lubricate these joints. Not to mention better eating habits and a hopeful 40 pound weight loss. I am determined and hopeful that getting the weight in check will not only improve my joint function but my overall attitude towards myself. My daughter teaches me many lessons in self-esteem and I am pretty solid in the fact that I am a decent person with a caring heart. I also know that my job as her mother is the most important task I will every undertake. So it is important for me to smarten up and model better behavior. Apathy has been the word of late and I am getting sick of viewing myself that way. Especially when it is in my control to change. Few things really are.

Oh, there is that blessed smell again. Love it.

You know, I have never been one to value or even enjoy any form of exercise. I actually hate it. I am not sure quite why because I admire athleticism in others. I celebrate it. And I often wish it could be me achieving such levels of personal greatness. But whenever I attempt to find that greatness in me, it is a sure set up for failure. I simply wasn’t built to be a uber athlete. It is just not my talent. But I do have secret ambitions of being a long distance runner, expert skier or even an  awesome endurance cyclist. I think the last wish is the most achievable at this point in my life. So I am going to give this over 50 body a good old college try. And I will have to remember that I will fail many times before I succeed. I can do this. I know I can.

As the year rounds out to a close, I must say that the years of dedication to my child have paid off in spades. She is an amazing young woman. I certainly am proud of her. There are things I don’t understand that I attribute to those years of teenage bliss. You know – the ones where everything teenager is more important than life itself. But she is an achiever. She has a good head on her shoulders. When she thinks I’m not listening, I catch her talking about being a good person and loving all things bright and beautiful. She has a deep appreciate for the love we share and I am beginning to believe (and at the very least hopeful) that our relationship will endure the natural separation that happens when your child flies free to live their own life. I think she will stay close in the ways that matter until she feels safe and secure in herself. Perhaps that magic career after college, or an amazing opportunity to be the person she always dreamt she’d be. It’s my job to get her there and I try. But it’s bittersweet because as every mother knows, you just never really want them to leave. Having her close is such a gift. So I don’t ever want her too far away.

I am a good mother that way. Many hold their children too close. They have expectations of their children that are their own. And they push to be close. They don’t guide, they teach. There is a vast difference. I am a believer in character and integrity over high grades. That a person who displays compassion and goodness, with balanced thinking, is invaluable to the world in whatever profession they choose. I do model all of that well. I pray she embraces it fully when she leaves her teenage years. At the very least remembers most of it.

She is loving and sweet. She is my heart. And I am incredibly proud of her. She’s awesome.

Every time I look up to the road I see the mirage of wandering animals. I search for the reflection of their eyes in the headlights. It is far better for me to keep my head down. Harming animals, no matter the fault, is sad to me.

So what do I wish for next year? Happiness and laughter in my home. I lot of laughter! Good health for all of my family. A husband that finally realizes that in throwing things out, prosperity comes in.  A child who continues to thrive and find happiness in everything she does. A love that endures in our family. Security in our financial endeavors. Continued enjoyment of my chosen work. For me – the most important change will come with better health through my taking personal responsibility on every level. I didn’t get here overnight and some things I cannot control. But I really must do what I can.

We back across the line. And it feels good to be home again.

exhale inhale

It’s strange but this blah feeling came over me a couple of weeks ago and I can’t tell you what it’s about. I don’t feel depressed. I really don’t feel anything at the moment. Just vacant. And I find that an odd way to feel at any time. 

It is coming around to the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death – November 8th at 2:00 PM. And my mind is replaying every single moment of that time that’s etched permanently in my heart. I think this is where my mood lies. I went to have my own private remembrance day with my father on the weekend, sat in the cool grass, tossed the long since dead leaves about and watched my breath go in an out, as I sat remembering that time so vividly. On went my headphones as I listened to David Foster play the songs that felt heavenly to me then. Something to help carry my father’s mind to the place I believed he was venturing towards. And then the heaving of my chest as the tears came and I sobbed.

When he died, I was almost euphoric with the joy you’d expect, to know someone you love is no longer suffering. I realized it meant a huge ending in my life. But for whatever reason, none of that mattered because watching him unable to eat, move or be mobile was painful for me. He had shriveled into a small little man but my vision of his strength – his muscular body and washboard abs – stayed a clear picture in my mind. He was seeing people who had died (who I believed had come to him for comfort) and he was making bargains with me. Hopeful God would hear him. But that was not what the universe had planned for him. He was remorseful and afraid. And I sat and waited, speaking softly and clearly. Sharing stories of my memories. Being honest about my feelings. Telling him I would hold him for always in my heart and that his father was waiting for him.

It was the hardest, yet most amazing two weeks of my life. A gift really. But now, twenty years later, I hurt. Because I did need more. I wanted more time. Where it was just him and I. In a place where he was vulnerable and able to be honest and clear with me as a peer, rather than his daughter or child.

There is no celebration in loss. There is nothing that makes you feel better really. It is a dull ache that never leaves you. It wraps itself around who you think you are and alters it forever. The one man I knew I could always count on was gone. And now there would never be another. And I believed that. Because I had lived it.

So – Dad – I wish I could wish you back for a day. The grief club is a big one. But I will have to wait. I will have to believe you are out there somewhere. Waiting in a place where time no longer exists. And the comfort I take in that is knowing and hoping we will be able to embrace on a level that is equal in compassion, love and understanding. It was wrong of me to judge you; more that I should be judging myself. I have made my own series of mistakes that in many ways have hurt those I love dearly. So no one is perfect. But I know you see that. And as I have forgiven and moved on, so have you. 

I miss you daddy.

the softest of landings

So I have been thinking a lot about where I’ve landed. And there’s a comfort about it that I haven’t felt in quite some time. The people that surround me have hearts of goodness, kindness and love. And honestly, it leaves me wondering how this came into my life. 

I never would have guessed that the people I work with would all care about me so much. It’s almost strange because all I am being is myself. Usually in my work related positions, I have had to dance in circles to feel appreciated and cared for. Given all I can of myself and truthfully, almost felt resentful for the lack of appreciation that comes back my way. What is strange in this situation is that I began just fulfilling the role I was hired to complete. They were happy with that. And as time passed, they “loved my energy” and the “joyful, caring heart” and “laughter” I brought to the office. I was described by one as a light bulb of happiness that made people want to be there. Simple, sweet and sincere compliments that I didn’t take too seriously.

Then, it felt like a brief moment in time, the owner swept through with personnel changes and brought me downstairs where he was. He brought in a younger woman to work with me and asked me to work full time. There was no doubt I needed the money so I accepted (reluctantly – I must admit). And there I was.

And then I heard, “I haven’t loved coming to work this much in such a long time. Thank you.” I still did not understand what made my presence worthy of these comments. It was all kindness. I continued to learn everything there was to be taught. Because it became important to me to see the people who seemed to care for me do well. And I knew I had the skills to improve things in my small way in the office. Things are getting better and better and better for them. And I am, in a small way, responsible for it.

They have given me cash to treat my family to dinner. They have given me gift cards to take my family to dinner. They are paying for extra health care so my family has dental, prescriptions, holistic health care – and it is all a gift. And I haven’t asked for a raise, because I do the books and I know we aren’t quite there yet for me to ask. The owners are not rolling in wealth. They are hard working and trying to get this business operating securely and for the long haul. So we are at the early stage and they see I have invested myself in their vision and understand it.

I have never laughed so heartily – like a true ab workout – as I do when we all are laughing. I am treated as a partner, not an employee. And today, I was told that I am loved. When I looked back at them, they said, “Now don’t go home and think we are weird and all for saying this. It isn’t the way some may think it is. What it is is that we do love you Wendy. We just do.” And that was from no where. It was just because I am there, working hard for them and wishing from inside my heart that they will do well.

So am I lucky? I think so. I really do. Sometimes it isn’t about the money you make. It’s about the comfort you feel inside when you feel cared for and know that what you are doing means something to somebody. Yeah, I am really lucky.

aging and true beauty

My friend Diane once said to me that if you were revered for your physical beauty, then aging and the loss of your fine physical features will be devastating to you. Funny thing. I was never revered for my physical beauty. A very late bloomer, I never saw myself as pretty or cute. I just happened to find a time and space where my “look” came together. And during that time, the confidence and freedom that came with being single and making my decisions wholly for myself allowed me to present myself in a way that screamed strength and power. Some of it came from what I was doing at the time and the success I was having in my career. At that time I felt complete in many ways. I had come into myself. I was the Wendy I thought had made it. That total package, if there is such a thing.

Now – 22 years later, I have lost a great piece of that physical beauty. My eyes are starting to show their age. My weight has added a puffiness to my face, further closing my eyes and making my chin oversized. My skin is still flawless, my eyes green and bright and when I smile, my face lights up. I can’t seem to achieve the same sweet, crooked smile of my youth. So often I am disappointed by the photos that are taken of me. And I do hide behind my glasses and long hair. There is a great reluctance to cut my hair off. I want to stay young on some level and that is the only thing I have left that feels like it retains youthfulness. There is plenty of time to go uber-funky and cut the hair short, adopting a form of elder chic. Funky and fun. And that’s something I look forward to. I don’t want that old lady perm hair – or look – for that matter.

Getting back to where I started – I am beginning to understand clearly what Diane meant. And it is difficult to come to terms with. The attention I received in my youth is gone. Compliments are few and far between. And on some level, it feels like my sexy girliness of my youth is finally gone. I am blessed by my handsome husband but I can’t help but wonder, if I were single, who would ever take a second look? Am I pretty but in a different way? I know that the inside of me is lovelier, more compassionate and discerning. I am a much better woman and human being all around. However, the gradual loss of that “package”feels very frightening to me. Because looks seem to make up a big part of first impressions. They always have. And I know full well it’s wrong. But it’s still true.

So the questions become, “How do I handle these feelings?” “Will I let them define me or stop me from being the very best I can be?” 

finding me…

I miss my authentic self. I am feeling a bit melancholy – but I can’t pinpoint why. I have a marvelous life that surrounds me. A beautiful child and a loving husband. And yet sometimes I feel like I am missing a piece of myself. Giving away bits and pieces of my heart everyday takes wee pieces of my own soul. And it feels like everyone wants something from me. I say yes so that I don’t stay in this constant place of cash “poverty”, even when it is a detriment to my own time, space and well being. It puts me in a place where I must do for others when my time is limited by reality. And in the end, I am disappointed and disappointing. To myself, and most importantly, to others.I think about when life was once easier. Where money came to me because I worked incredibly hard and was paid what I truly deserved. You’d think I’d become a better student. Instead, I have peddled backwards to a place where I have to work harder and harder to feel safer and stable. And this means I must work more hours. Taking away the precious time from myself. When I think about that, it pains me.I love singing in my choir. It is one of the few joys that are my own. But even the time it takes to go to the practice and enliven my spirit feels like time taken away from work. Time where I should be fulfilling my commitments to others. Time where I could be making more and more money. When I look at that introspectively, I am saddened because it doesn’t even come close to expressing my core values and what truly matters to me.So in losing everything, there is a piece of me that has lost myself. Perhaps in time I can regain it.Lately I have had some serious health scares. Thankfully, my God is allowing me more time at this present moment to live day by day. But this, and my aging, has put my life in front of me in a way that feels expeditious. I have so much to do that I want to do. Will I ever have time to do it? Will there be time? Will I make the time? Can I afford the time? Will I ever feel safe once again? I am not sure. Being a parent is all about giving your life away willingly. And as you give each and every piece of your precious heart away, it is stored in the heart of your child. So they can be strong when they leave you. But what we all forget is how do we regain the completeness of self that we so freely let go? Are we ever whole again? Thinking about this makes me very tired and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep. It feels like the only refuge of my mind at this moment. So I will cut myself some slack and permit myself to lift my worries up and hand them to God. Until my busiest of busy minds can work things through.