Monthly Archives: January 2012

Not Exactly As Planned

I had my first cancer treatment yesterday. Not what I’d imagined I’d be doing when I returned to Minnesota after my season in Wyoming. As I wrote in November, I’d set other goals. What occurred in December got me off track. Wait. Did it?

The particulars
It’s a form of colorectal cancer. I’ll spare you the details. It’s not very common—there are no brown ribbons for it. But here in the Twin Cities, one of the colo-rectal capitals of the country (who knew?), it’s common enough to have successful protocols that lead to a cure. I have every reason to be optimistic. And so I am.

I knew when I came back to Minnesota I would have to have a polyp removed—one that the doctor said could wait when I was examined before I left for Wyoming. There were no additional symptoms that concerned me over the summer, none really, until early November.

As I became conscious in the recovery room of the hospital where I went to have the polyp snipped out, the surgeon appeared at my bed and informed me that it wasn’te as simple as a snip. Tumor. Cancer. Fixable. Six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy needed to kill the remains of the tumor. To remove it all surgically would have meant he’d have sent me home with a colostomy bag. That would have been quite the surprise. And I have a hard enough time finding shoes that fit, let alone match my accessories. Oh, and here’s a tip: always try and get bad news while under the remains of anesthesia—it’s a remarkable cushion.

Leading up to and through the holiday period, I recovered from my bottom surgery, saw medical and radiation oncologists, nurses, got my flu shot, had a chemo delivery port implanted, talked to social workers (remember, I’m self-insured, unemployed), went to Chemo Class, talked to legal folks about what to say to prospective employers, etc. The good news for me: my sisters and daughter were spending their Christmas vacations here. Accompanying me to appointments, they learned more about cancer, Minnesota-style, than I’m sure they ever wanted. Oh, and I attended a splendid New Year’s Eve dinner party with good friends. I was in position to have the cure begin on January 5.

The power of WE
Backing up a bit. After the doctor gave me the news and disappeared from my recovery bed, the nurse noticed the tear sliding down from the corner of my eye. She handed me a tissue from the box and plucked one for herself. I told her I was thinking about my daughter who was coming home from New York for Christmas. The nurse removed her glasses and dabbed her eyes. She said they were trying to phone my good friend Barb, who had offered to be my driver that day since I couldn’t drive myself home under anesthesia. They found her in the waiting room.

I’d mentioned to the nurse that I’d tell Barb about the diagnosis later—sometime, when I knew more. The nurse sternly said, “Tell her now. You must talk about this.” I did tell Barb in the dressing room. And when we got back to Barb’s house (where, thanks to her generosity, I’d been invited to live until I landed a job), she encouraged me to start informing those who should know.

I got on the phone to my sister in New York, who offered to call our siblings. I told my mother. I phoned each of my closest girlfriends. I wasn’t fully informed at that point, having to wait for days to get a sit-down with the surgeon who would start me along the path of fixing it.

“The girlfriends” came over to the house one night and I deputized my posse. We drank wine and called for “bottoms up” and the rear end humor just kept coming (“when it comes out the other end”). I stopped by my other friends’ home to deliver the news and to get their medical perspective; I sent emails and private Facebook messages. And thus, my support system began to flourish and spread. There was something so reassuring in receiving a hug and hearing my friend’s husband, who’d had his own cancer experience, say “we’ll get through this.” And so WE will.

Supported, comforted, and so busy running the cancer care racetrack, I began to notice that I never even had the big cry. Curious.

Wow. Oh Wow. It’s coming together.
I have spent the better part of two years living in Wyoming working at a seasonal job. I L-O-V-E-D it there. I believe I’ve made that point abundantly clear in previous posts. But returning home after a third season, I felt I’d gotten the clarity I was seeking. I was ready to start yet another phase of my life.

I’m opting for a full time, steady job over being self-employed. I crave the stability and structure and want to work more closely with people. I want a carefree apartment where I have my own bathroom and don’t have a 20-something roommate. That Wyoming lifestyle has run its course.

I was going to interviews and feeling confident about my value. Yoga was making my body strong and flexible. I was a week and a half into a 21-Day Meditation Challenge I was doing online (and loving it).

Then, cancer showed up. Seriously? Why now? What was at work here? My life hadn’t felt so peaceful and calm in so many years—and this happens?

So many aspects of my life seem to have curiously synchronized in the past three weeks—I’m looking for signs, a meaning.  Late last night in bed, as I squirmed with discomfort in my pelvis and winced at tweaks of pain from the needle in my chemo port, I believe I learned the answer.

Unable to sleep due to a dose of steroid that was part of my chemo treatment, I turned to a box that Barb, knowing how much I enjoyed my online meditation challenge, had lent to me. (Barb, coincidentally, is a Mindfulness Meditation teacher). This box was a kit containing a booklet and guided meditation CDs that she’d had in her library for years. So last night I popped a CD into my laptop and meditated. Boy, I needed that. But it was the accompanying book that cracked the code of mystery about this ordeal. It read:

“…there is an inner Wyoming—a potential for openness, peace, spaciousness, clarity and freedom that exists with each of us. …to make the journey to an inner Wyoming—to discover it, nurture it and be able to trust that it is there to return to even when we might have wandered away—we need to slow down…”                                                                                                                

Sharon Salzberg

After re-reading these passages, I opened iTunes, cranked up my most meaningful Wyoming road tune and the answer was revealed: without the experience of Wyoming, the healing Grand Teton mountains, I would not have gained my confidence, clarity and sense of community. I have all that now. I have the reserves to face anything with grace and ease. As much as I can muster over the next two months. I began to see how all of this was coming together.

And, with the Dizie Chicks singing through my earphones about wide open spaces, the tears began to flow. Finally. Big fat tears, full of love, support and possibility.

My soundtrack today: Grammy nominated “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” by Martina McBride (thanks Cindy C-D for making sure I heard this)

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