Thursday, May 4, 2017

Was It My Best Birthday Ever?

Absolutely not.  But I'm alive.  I've been sick with a horrible ear and sinus infection. BUT, thanks to antibiotics I am getting better (albeit slower than I'd like).  I'm not receiving chemotherapy as I was just four short years ago. So that's a good thing. And I remain in remission.

Still, though, it's been a bummer of a week.  I had to cancel massage on Monday.  I had to cancel a deluxe pedicure which was scheduled for today. My birthday present to myself.  I've had to resort back to using the shower chair and waiting for Jim to come home from work so he could walk the dogs.  I asked myself, "Am I moving backwards?"  I hope this is just a temporary set-back.  I can't remember the last time I felt this physically weak.

But ... it .... is .... my .... birthday. And I'm glad to be alive.  I have a supportive husband.  My son graduated from college and has a wonderful job -- complete with great Health Insurance. (Let's hope it stays that way -- re: the Health Insurance.)  My daughter is working on her degree and is doing well. She works part time as a nanny and is super good at it.  Tons of neighbors on that street keep her busy with babysitting outside of her Nanny-ing hours, because they are so impressed with her. In fact, sometimes they even over lap.

I used less tissues today. Yay for small victories. Or is that a big one?  My tussin came in the mail! That is awesome. Expectorant do your work. Making improvements in that direction. Gone is the dry, tickling cough.  Now I have productive coughs.

Too much information? I know. I'm just rambling.  Sometimes my best writing comes when I ramble.

So, was it my best birthday ever? Absolutely not. And that's ok.  I'll get over it.  I might sulk a little and that's ok too. It's no fun to be sick on your birthday.  May Mother's Day be better.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Fed a Hungry Man Today

I'm not sharing this information to receive accolades from folks.  Rather, I am sharing the inner turmoil that went on regarding this decision.

I rely on my intuition (inner voice) big time.  It has saved me many times or at the very least helped me to avert a difficult situation.  It has led me to a particular line in the grocery store where I found it obvious that the cashier needed a few minutes of pleasant conversation.  It happens a lot.  It also has helped me overcome my fears by "diving in" or "taking the next step."  This happened today.

I had gone to the vet to pick up more medicine for the dogs. (If you follow me on facebook, you know this is sort of becoming a routine that I wish would come to an end.)  I decided I wanted to get Wendy's for lunch.  As I turned off of Route One onto Gorman Rd. I saw an apparently "homeless" man sitting on the median strip.  Immediately it jumped into my head "buy him lunch."

Let me tell you, a thousand thoughts and self doubt popped into my head.  The old tapes began playing.  You don't really know if he is homeless.  He could be a con man.   He could be a drug addict looking for money to buy more drugs.  He could be an alcoholic wanting to buy more alcohol. What about the traffic?  What if the light isn't red when I get there? What if he is no longer there when I get there?  It's out of my way to go back to Route One.

Well, you get the idea.  No matter what this man's situation, he could use a hot meal. But what if lots of people had already bought him one today? 

I struggled with my inner turmoil.  Just do it. You really feel it is the right thing to do.  What's the worse that could happen? You end up with an extra meal. He can always put it in his back pack for later.  It's not that far out of your way.  Just do it.

I discovered something about myself.  I am a giver -- that's not new.  But .... I am also a "behind the scenes" type of individual.  I will collect food for the food bank.  I will pick a family (or students, or from a giving tree) to give during the Holiday season.  All that is good, but it is not interacting with the actual individuals.  It's practically anonymous.  And it's not really because I don't want people to know it was "me." It is because it removes me from the pain of DEEPLY accepting there is this kind of pain right in my own village.  I don't have to "deal with" the people that come to the food bank.  (By the way, I am thinking of doing that soon.)

Growing up we were fairly poor.  My father worked three jobs to put all six of us through Catholic school.  We were definitely taught to "give to the poor" and to "donate to the needy." Unfortunately we were also taught the messages that "We are better than them" and "They are not to be trusted."  "They probably use drugs."

As an adult I have learned that a lot of homeless people have some form of untreated mental illness. It could be bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia, alcoholism, drug addiction, or depression just to name a few.  They could also just be down on their luck.  Life is expensive.  Most of us are one medical emergency from landing in a heap of trouble.  I could go on and on about how or why someone is homeless, but the reason doesn't really matter.  Homeless people ARE people.  Some are dangerous. Some are friendly.  Some are despondent.  But they are all people.

Prior to today, I never really spent any time talking to anyone I suspected was homeless.  I used to keep granola bars in the van for our trips into Baltimore.  I cannot kick one teaching I have heard over and over again.  DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY because you don't know what they will buy with it (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes).  So I would give them granola bars and once a pair of gloves.  But it was all done as a drive by.

Jumping around a bit, here is a story about one trip into Baltimore.  I was taking Eric to see his audiologist.  It had snowed recently and the sidewalks and streets were a little icy.  I made the decision to have Eric sit in the front seat so he could get out curbside when we got there. He has cerebral palsy and uses forearm crutches.  As it turns out all of the sidewalks had mounds of snow up against them from the snowplows clearing the streets.  I couldn't figure out how to get Eric out.  I opened the door and took his crutches from him.  I then proceeded to help him get over the snow mound.  Lots of people walked by.  Suddenly there was an older gentleman who grabbed hold of Eric's left arm.  I had his right arm.  Between the three of us we were able to get him over the mound of snow and safely on the sidewalk.  We thanked him, of course.  By time we got ourselves together and had locked the van, the man had moved on.  We considered the fact that perhaps he was an angel to have disappeared so quickly.  He appeared homeless and Eric really wanted to give him money for a hot cup of coffee or a hot meal. He was nowhere to be found.

Maybe today was my chance to pay it forward.  Maybe it was just time to overcome my fear of interacting with the homeless. (No worries, I don't plan on walking down any dark alleys alone.)  Today, I pulled up and the light was red.  I rolled down my window and held out the Wendy's bag.  "I bought you lunch," I said.  Then I handed him the drink.  He responded, "Oh what have you done.  You didn't have to do that.  The drink is really appreciated."  The light remained red.  I told him I really liked his red guitar. It was laying face down on the ground.  He picked it up to show me and said he had gotten it at the pawn shop down the street.  It only had TWO strings, but it made him happy.  He played me a little diddy.  The light was still red.  The woman behind me honked her horn.  He quickly apologized and said, "I don't want to hold you up." I glanced at the light and said, "It's still red, I'm not sure why she is beeping." I looked in my rearview mirror and realized she was holding out a dollar for him.  I said, "Look, she has money for you. You don't want to miss that."

Then I realized, once again, kindness is contagious.  It doesn't have to cost much, or really anything at all.  A simple, "Have a good day," goes far.  I am NOT better than the homeless man ... but I do have it better.  The first time is the hardest. I hope I am brave enough to do this again. Maybe many more "agains."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Have Come to the Conclusion That ....

I must accept my chronic condition -- I am an ovarian cancer survivor -- like I do the weather.  My health is somewhat predictable, but not guaranteed. Much like experiencing weather in Maryland, my health can change in a heart beat.  This is particular true when it comes to my stamina.

(Please note, this is MY personal experience. Each persons will be different. I just find it therapeutic to write using "You." It makes me an observer and allows me a little more control.)

You see, once you have undergone the surgery for ovarian cancer, leaving you with a rather long vertical scar on your abdomen, your insides are never the same again.  Now, if you were one of the "lucky" ones who happened to receive intraperitoneal (IP-directly into the abdomen) chemotherapy, as I did, your survival rate increases.  Along with that, so does your chances of growing scar tissue which will trap your intestines so you will experience partial bowel blockages.  These will land you in the hospital for several days.  They may even try to stick a tube down your nose to control the vomiting and not have any luck in getting it down.

Now, if you happen to have THREE bowel blockages within a six month period your surgeon may decide "enough is enough" and will set you up for exploratory surgery to remove all the scar tissue. He may just cut you and give you an even longer vertical incision that now runs from top to bottom of your abdomen.  You may be discharged in two days only to discover you now have an ileus and your colon is now somewhat paralyzed.  You most likely will end up back in the hospital with uncontrolled vomiting.  You might even have to stay for FOURTEEN days.

When you get home you will be so happy to finally take a hot shower in your own home.  But .... when you are drying off the bottom four inches of your incision open up. Of course, YOU can't panic because then your loved ones will.  Of course, you stay calm and call the surgeon.  It's now 10PM and you are texting him pictures of the incision.  You find a friend who will take you to his office the next day. Following his instructions, you have your husband pack that wound every night and wait for it to heal.  After six weeks, you will give up and go to the Wound Center. (Man do I wish I did that straight away, ignoring their requirements on the web site of "your wound must not have healed for at least six weeks".)

Your wound WILL heal. You will be able to eat again. ....... But oddly, now one half of your abdomen hangs down a few inches lower than the other side.  Apparently you weren't put back together evenly.  You will think, "that's okay, I am healthy now." And slowly, very slowly, you will regain some strength.  You will regain hope. "Finally, finally it is over."

You will experience an entire MONTH of feeling good and even begin the long awaited decluttering project. You will be happy. You will be proud. You will enjoy life. You will sweat once again and be tickled that you can now work to that level.  And then ... and then ....

One day you will get dizzy and fall and really scrape your chest up. You see, the neurologist has diagnosed you with neuropathy of the veins.  That means that your blood doesn't return back through the veins as easily as it should. In my case it means, if I dare put my head lower than my heart, I will definitely pass out. What's the treatment? B12.  Sometimes they will give you medication to increase your blood pressure, but I am not a candidate for that because I am being treated for high blood pressure.  I NEED high blood pressure medication to stay safe.  So, I live my life, trying as best I can, not to put myself in those situations.  I have learned many tricks.

One day you might find yourself in the bathtub taking an epsom salt soak trying to relieve your body of abdominal pain. You might just decide to wash your hair while in the tub rather than standing in the shower. You might put your head forward and lean it down so you can rinse the shampoo out. And .... then you might find yourself with that familiar dizzy feeling. There will be a split second chance to raise your head and recompose yourself.  You might just picture your husband coming home from work and finding your drowned in the bathtub. You quickly make a mental note of yet ANOTHER thing you can no longer do.

Speaking of "mental notes" ... chemo-brain is real. Don't even try to say it isn't real. My psychiatrist and neurologist say it is. The treatment? Well, there isn't any.  But you just have to learn how to work with it.  If I'm tired or sick .... I don't make important decisions.  If something is important .... I write it down.  I am very high functioning, but when my bottom falls out, it's over. It used to take me days to recover when I grew exhausted, now I usually can recover in one day.

Now jump ahead to eight months after your magical scar tissue removal surgery.  You might find yourself getting "that feeling" again. You dread another blockage. But, hey, you are experienced. You know what to do. You consume only liquids and wait for it to pass. In the hospital they use an IV, but you know it is safe to stay home and treat it as long as you can get your liquids down. You will listen to your body and know when it is safe to add yogurt.  You will break down and finally buy Ensure. You will joke about adding Kahlua or Bailey's to it. Only, maybe you aren't joking.  Past blockages resolved in three days. You hope for the best. You count your blessing in that you aren't vomiting. But the pain when you swallow is almost unbearable. That's new. But, like all things, it will pass with time.  Time - a very long seven days this time.  That entire week you can barely do anything. You take the dogs on short walks. You make your family simple dinners or they order carry out. And .... you ... drink .... your .... broth.

And just like that, you are eating a taco salad to celebrate your daughter's 23rd birthday.

I am moving toward acceptance of the unpredictability of my future. I can still plan to do the grocery shopping on Wednesday, but I must accept if suddenly I am unable to do so.  Instead of growing frustrated when I find myself having a week where I am physically unable to do things, I must feel that frustration, but then move on and just give my body the rest it requires. I am blessed that my family is so understanding and accepting.  They accept that from day-to-day they cannot assume I will be able to do what I did the day before.  And I .... I must learn to seize the "good" days, the strong days and say, "today I can declutter," "today I can walk the dogs longer."

But I must always listen to my body carefully. A dangerous storm can show up at any time that will require me to lay low until is passes.  Frustrating? Yes. Seize the day must be my mantra. Seize the day ... whenever I am able.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What I Remember

I decided to write this paper to describe what I remember about my surgery day.  But I’d actually like to go back further – back to when ovarian cancer was only a “possibility.”  First, we must go back to 1995. That’s the year by sister discovered she had ovarian cancer (Stave IV). Sadly, she died in March 1996.  My gynecologist began testing my CA-125 level every six months.  This is NOT a screening tool for ovarian cancer, but it is all we had.  This is a blood test usually used AFTER ovarian cancer is detected. Most times that is after surgery. Sometimes it can be detected on a C/T or an MRI, but even then, the doctors aren’t sure until they obtain a biopsy and test it.  Even though it wasn’t standard protocol, my gynecologist checked my levels for SEVENTEEN years.  I was always between a 7-9.  Then that fateful day it happened.  I went in for my six month check-up (being closely followed for breast cancer) and got the paper work for my lab work.  I went to the lab right from the office like I always did.

A few days later, I was shopping at Joanne’s and my phone rang.  I saw it was Dr. Ginsburg’s office. I immediately answered it.  He said my CA-125 was a 28.  Normal is below 35.  Since it was a huge jump for me he suggested I go back to the lab for another test.  He sent me to get an internal sonogram. This was only two to three days later.  I asked him what he would suggest if it was a true reading.  He said he would refer me to Dr. Grumbine where he has sent his family members.  I immediately drove to his office to get a new lab slip and went right to the lab.

Something to keep in mind, Dr. Ginsburg had been my doctor since before I got married.  He followed me during my pregnancy with Elizabeth and delivered her still-born body.  He had just reviewed my 30 week sonogram for Eric, which appeared normal, only to find out Eric was born just a few days later with a hole in his diaphragm.  He followed me through my pregnancy with Jessica and knew of her difficult delivery.  He always said the difficult times in a marriage either broke it or made it strong. He believed Jim and I would never divorce. He was right.

Continuing on, I got a phone call from Dr. Ginsburg  the next day.  My CA-125 was now 32.  That’s still below ‘normal’ but for me it was a big jump and climbing.  He referred me to Dr. Grumbine at GBMC and told me to call him back if they couldn’t fit me in for awhile.  I was blessed that they had a cancellation that Friday.  Dr. Grumbine examined me and discussed the possibilities.  He believed that if I had ovarian cancer it was probably contained to one ovary since my numbers were low.  We scheduled surgery for March 28, 2013.

This is where I originally thought this story would start.  I get to the hospital at some freakishly early hour.  We were told the surgery would take about ninety minutes.  Jim had an important appointment with a neurologist that afternoon. He wanted to cancel it but I convinced him I would be fine. We needed to find out what was wrong with HIM.  I assured him that my sister and a friend or two would come and stay with me after he left.  Little did we know that I would be in surgery for FIVE hours.  I’ve been told that the doctor had come out and talked to Jim and informed him of my diagnosis.  He said Jim could come back and see me soon.  However, that didn’t happen. Jim had to leave for his appointment.  I was very worried about his condition and had told him, no matter what, to get to that appointment  so I could rest easy knowing he was okay OR we would begin developing a plan on how we were going to manage to get care for both of us. (By the way, he was fine. Well, not fine, but not critical.)

Here’s what I actually remember.  I wake up in the recovery room and I am having muscle spasms near my diaphragm.  The pain was excruciating.  The nurse got me a binder and I asked her to put it up high on me.  The next thing I remember is my sister, Joyce standing over me saying something like, “it’s bad, but we are going to get through this.”  Before I know it, I’m up in my room. It seemed dark and small.  I don’t know how many chairs were there and some people must have been sitting on the window ledge.  My sister Joyce and my friend Sharron were sitting to the right of me.  My brother-in-law, Jim was sitting at my feet.  My friend, Kathy was there during surgery and I have no recollection of when she left.

Most of the time I was drifting in and out.  The next thing I remember is my surgeon coming in and asking how I was.  He was surprised I had the binder up so high, but I told him that is where I need it.  He pulled back the covers, lifted my gown, and, without warning, he pulled off my over 12-inch long bandage.  I didn’t have any underwear on and I remember thinking, “I just flashed my brother-in-law.”

At one point I woke up in a panic. “What about Eric? Somebody needs to be with Eric.” Eric was away at school at Towson University. Joyce assured me that Jim had called Eric and had given him the news. I cried, because I didn’t want Eric to be alone after receiving this news. Jim had called and asked if I wanted him to come back up.  I told him to stay with Jessica and take care of her. “I would be fine.”  Really I knew I was just going to sleep.  I had company with me and they wouldn’t leave unless they thought I was settled.

The next thing I remember is my friend, Gemma showing up.  She had driven from Gettysburg , PA to Towson, MD to be with me.  She walked into the room and just stared at me, as if she was in shock.  I remember wanting to comfort her, but there was no way I could. My heart was breaking. Suddenly my friend, Sharron got up and went to Gemma. She took her out into the hall. I remember finding peace, knowing that they would comfort each other.  Joyce and Jim left and Gemma and Sharron stayed with me for a bit longer. I have no idea how long, since I was sleeping during most of it.  I remember having them go onto my FB account to tell my friends of my diagnosis.

They left and I went to sleep …. My cancer journey had begun.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Who Knew the Lab Could be so Uplifting ... OR Why I Love Living in Howard County

Who wants to go to the lab first thing in the morning?  Especially when you have to fast, which means no coffee (yikes).  Surprisingly I had a very pleasant experience.  ***The purpose for pointing out our DIFFERENCES is to show they really don't matter and how I enjoy the diversity of my area.

I got in the elevator and held the door for a Caucasian man.  When we arrived at the lab he held the door for me. "You held the elevator, I'll hold the door." [Yes, my community is courteous and friendly.]  I signed in on the new electric sign in devices and sat down.  A Caucasian man who might have had developmental delays rotely asked me, "How are you today?"  "I'm fine."  In walks an African American man.  The young man with developmental delays asks him, "How are you today?"  He responds and then asks, "What's your name? I'm Brian."  The young man answered.  I spoke out and said, "That is really nice to see people greeting each other.  Can you believe they are calling for snow tomorrow?" Brian then asked if we were from around here.  The light, cheerful conversation continued.

Now an older gentleman who appeared to be Asian walks into the lab.  He attempts to sign in on the electric pad but appears confused.  He looks around at the waiting room full of people with a confused look on his face.  I got up to help him. (Hey, I can mostly work my smart phone now. I can handle this.)  I point to the space and say "first name."  I quickly figured out he could speak and understand English fairly, but couldn't read it.  "Last name."  Him, "Where is the 'l'?  Now I have two h's."  We edited his input and I continued to read the prompts to him.  It really didn't take long and he was quite appreciative.

I get called back to the "in-person" sign in desk.  I say, "Good morning. I am a frequent flyer." The lab tech responds, "You are. You can probably do this yourself."  I get my blood drawn and as I leave, the two gentlemen are still waiting their turn (always best to make at appointment at Quest Diagnostics or you could be sitting there all day).  I tell them, "Have a great day, gentlemen." The both respond, "you too."

I take the elevator down to the first floor and there is an elderly African American woman with a walker who appears to be struggling.  I ask, "Do you need any help?"  She responds, "I'm ok."

I walk to my car thinking, "I live in such a nice place. Who would think going to the lab would lift my spirits."  Kindness is contagious.

Caveat:  I wish I could learn how to write about diversity without "labeling."  I can't claim "I don't see our differences," because I do.  But I rejoice in it.  I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Parable of the Ski Pole

The Parable of the Ski Pole 

 by: Teresa Chapple 

 A long time ago, a time of Kings and Paupers, a ski pole travelled back in time to be discovered. A meek man found the pole and saw the sharp points on the bottom. He cowered away in fear. "This could hurt me and my family. It should be avoided at all costs." A mighty man came upon the ski pole and examined the sharp points on the end. He pulled it to his chest and claimed ownership. "This could be a powerful weapon. I will use it to bring much harm to my enemies and rule the world." Now the man who was neither meek nor mighty stumbled upon the ski pole. He observed the points at the bottom and pondered if it could be useful to him. "I could use this to help me walk in the ice or the snow. Perhaps, if I am hungry I could use it to spear a salmon or trout swimming upstream for my dinner." 

The meek man made his choice based on Fear and chose to run away from the ski pole. The mighty man made his choice based on Power and Greed and chose to keep the pole for himself. Both of these men saw the ski pole as a weapon -- a thing that could hurt others. Notice the meek man "saw" the sharp points and cowered away. The mighty man "examined" the sharp points and almost drooled with excitement. The man who was neither meek nor mighty didn't view the ski pole as a weapon. He "observed" it to see if it could help him on his journey. He recognized it as the tool it was meant to be. He was at Peace.

Sunday, December 29, 2013



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