My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet. - Gandhi

Living Art

We are living art, created to hang on, stand up, forbear, continue, and encourage others.
- Maya Angelou

So many times when I look in the mirror and see the changes my body, hair, and face have undergone I struggle to reconcile the marred and tattered canvas with the fact that each of the contours on this road map are battle scars of victory.

Eventually, slowly, I will learn to embrace the new colors and textures and lines as necessary parts of the ever-changing whole and the silent stories they tell about a long and winding journey.

Another year older

and 85 posts later, the story continues.

Thirty seven years behind me... who knows how many more ahead of me.

I have this magnetic poetry calendar on my wall here at work and before I left on Friday, I put the following words together:

I dream to live and grow through another birthday.

And, so I have. It was a nice weekend. A weekend of music and wine and sushi and indulgence. A weekend of friends and laughing and phone calls bearing birthday wishes. A weekend of one more year - of feeling a bit older but, as every year, surprised at the number of my age. I had always been sort of ambivalent about birthdays - or should I say, I never really wanted to hope for too much because when I was younger, since it was during the summer and school was out - more often than not, either I was away or people simply forgot. I think after time I learned not to hope for much so that I was always pleasantly surprised. As I got older - particularly for the past four birthdays, I began to like them more. The realization that it was perfectly OK to be the center of attention for a day began to make sense to me. The fact that someone was carefully selecting gifts that he knew I'd like or knew I wanted was pretty special to me. Now, I roll with it - wherever my birthday-type celebrations take me. Next year we'll be at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon again.

I tend to reminisce at times. I know that it doesn't really matter where I've been and that where I'm going is what makes all the difference - but sometimes I can't help but to look back and observe the path that got me here. I suppose that birthdays and anniversaries of diagnoses or events of that nature tend to bring that out in me. It's not that I get nostalgic, I think sometimes I like to realize how far I've come. And sometimes that realization makes me very emotional. I haven't decided whether or not that's OK, so I choose to believe that as long as I continue living and thriving and not looking back, it's acceptable.

This year for my birthday, my gift to myself (and to those around me, indirectly) was to not mention cancer or treatment the entire day. It got hard at one point when Esther asked me how I'd been feeling and such, but I quickly turned the conversation to other topics. I know she meant well - I hadn't seen her in a few weeks - and I had to make the quick decision whether to be perceived rude and say, "you know, I just don't want to talk about this today" or simply respond. I chose the latter - because it was just easier. But that was it. I think.

There are times that it crept into my mind. The fact that last year at this time we were ready to embark on the roller coaster ride of chemo and treatments and aftermath. Then again, we were also looking ahead at Mt. Whitney. I can't believe it's nearly been a year - but still, conquering Whitney keeps me going sometimes. The feeling of utter accomplishment - of faith in myself, in the world, in the people around me. Faith in my strength, in my ability to overcome, and in my relationship. I found God, for certain, on that trail. I found hope and love and life and invincibility.

I hope that one day I can put into words what I experienced on that trail. The experience of rising before the sun and quietly making coffee in a dark campsite. Of heading up the trail as the sun began to slowly rise and watching the terrain change with every step we took. Of realizing that we were above the tree line and that I wasn't experiencing altitude sickness. Of that last excruciating mile to the summit and the wave of tears that accompanied our success. I was overcome again on the way down - I think it was on the way down the 99 switchbacks. I looked up and realized what I had just done, what I had overcome, what I had to look forward to, and the person beside me. I knew that no matter how uncertain I had been about various things in the past that right there, on our way down Mt. Whitney - I had no doubts in the world. Every now and then it helps to go back to Whitney in my mind.

Next, Kilimanjaro.

Meanwhile it's the start of another year. The first of many that I will be succeeding on this journey. I wondered, in the days leading up to this weekend, if I would always be somewhat nostalgic and weepy around the time of my birthday, because if that was the case, it would really suck. After some serious thought I realized that no, it wouldn't always be this way, but only this year. The first year. The first of many years to come. With that realization, I also knew I had to give myself a minute or so to reflect and to grieve - to acknowledge the road behind me and to digest that it was just that, at this point - before willing myself to nod knowingly and turn my back and continue to walk into the future with my head held high and my conviction strong.

Last year at this time we did a lot of crying and praying and laughing and living and holding on very, very tightly.

And dreaming and hoping to be exactly where we are. Right now.

What a difference a week makes...

I went for my follow up visit with Dr. Eye yesterday, and as I was walking through her offices, I had vague recollections of being there the week before. It wasn't after I was ushered out of the first exam room and into the second that I remembered being in two separate exam rooms last week. I do remember nearly walking out without my purse though...

The eyes seem to be healing up well, she says, and I've been cleared for any activities I was restricted from (whatever they may be). All in all, it was probably the least physically painful, yet most unnerving surgery I've experienced in the past year. Strange, isn't it? I still don't know if I just had a weird reaction to the anaesthesia, but I just didn't love the whole experience. Ah, well. It's over now.

I had a little flash this morning of feeling... I don't know... a bit off. I wouldn't call it feeling sorry for myself, because I really don't have time for that - just the "very small girl in a very big world" feeling, perhaps. It comes on suddenly, and it happens every few months. Thankfully, it typically dissipates quickly after the onset. I find myself lost in thought sometimes on the desert walks in the morning - composing thoughts or visions in my mind. By the time I usually get the time and the motivation to attempt to put thoughts into words, most of my vision has left the building.

I realize I think too much sometimes, and at this time of year, I typically have these bouts of wondering if there must be something more out there. Something I can love, yet make a living at while doing so. Not that I don't like the company I work for - they are incredible people, actually, and I realize how unusually fortunate I am to have found myself in a situation like this. Or should I say, to have made the choices that have resulted in this career path. Yet, the truth of the matter is, I'm not interested right now. That's not to say I won't still keep on keeping on, and doing what I have to do - but my general feeling right now about the line of work I'm in is a resounding "Meh." So it goes. I have a feeling it is directly related in certain ways to the Phoenix summers and the stifling heat that results in my mind searching for a way to head up north to cooler climes. It's oppressive at times, but as we observed this morning, the days are getting shorter - if only by minutes - and shorter days means that we are inching closer to the beautiful weather of the Arizona fall and winter. It kicks up this restless spirit in me though - the urge to go, see, do, plan... or at least dream. Dream of places to explore and experiences to have. Mountains to climb and life-list accomplishments to check off. Dreams that may never come to fruition. Then again... maybe they will.

When I opened up my email this morning, I noticed an interesting subject in the MedTrackAlert newsletter that shows up in my inbox periodically. Apparently, some researchers from Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston did a study showing that writing may ease cancer pain. Who knew? I've never been in much true "pain", per se, but this study found that "patients who were open about their emotions showed less pain and greater well-being over time than the rest of the study subjects." Guess I'd better stick around here a bit longer, or a least make more of an effort to continue writing.

I can't help but laugh about the fortuitous timing of this article - particularly when I happen to question myself this morning if the only way I could make an impact in the world was through something that had to do with cancer. Whether that is the case or not, and having the luxury of being in control of but a limited number of factors in relation to my general well-being, I think I had better continue avoiding meat and writing whenever possible. Easier said than done, at times.

Easier said than done when I'm feeling emotions that would be helpful to get out of my head and into words, but that usually encompass those emotions that I don't want others to know. The feelings of insecurity and of doubt. Of questioning and of not wanting to be a burden. Of looking at the world through foreign eyes, and realizing that cancer or no cancer - I can't change the world, and that I shouldn't want to because it's too heavy of a burden to bear, or a challenge to take on. About having faith in myself which will allow me to have faith in the world around me, in others, and in a spiritual entity.

But at the end of the day, if I close my eyes and empty myself of the silly things that I allow to filter in, I know that I must believe what I know in my heart to be true - on all fronts - and that I must continue to live and love and hope and dream as I have for the past year and live my dash for all it's worth.

We got into an interesting conversation about religion and God this past weekend with the most unlikely of people. Apparently, this is an underlying theme in my thoughts these days. During this conversation I, as always, stood by my belief that I simply can't comprehend the notion that there is but ONE single path to heaven, or whatever lies ahead of us after this earthly life has reached its end. One concept from that discussion stood out with regards to the fact that the underlying tenets involved are faith, hope, and love. Once we (individually) get to heaven, or whatever place comes next, we'll have no need faith or hope anymore - because those were practices and concepts that got us to the after-worldly place - and what remains, is love. With that, it is only if we learn how to love and be loved while on this earth that we will get to where we are going - after. It was an interesting concept to digest, and although there may or may not have been a different meaning behind the message, I feel that I chose to ponder this particular thought in my own context. I think it's something I've struggled to learn over time and at this point, have made some progress with. I also think it's something that will always be somewhat of a work in progress. Then again, maybe that's the point of it all - it's supposed to be.

It has been nearly a year since I laced up these gloves. They're still on tightly...

In lieu of eye drops...

For some reason, a handful of titles from my entries came crashing through my mind this morning. "In lieu of flowers, please send eye drops...", "All Things Considered", "So this experience has been fun and all..."

I suppose pieces of each of them apply today. I remember back in October when the tearing and twitching started, and how incredibly annoying it was. Little did I know it was only the beginning. The twitching finally stopped with the end of Taxotere, but the tearing, not so much. Hopefully this past Monday's procedure will have taken care of that. Yes, it's over. Just another thing behind me. It was a weird experience this time though, although I'm not quite certain why.

This past weekend's camping trip got unfortunately rained out, but that resourceful man of mine somehow found a dog-friendly place at the last minute in Bisbee where we spent a much-needed relaxing weekend in the mile-high city of southern Arizona - looking out over the Mule Mountains with at the sunrise, walking up and down and up and down most of the Bisbee 1000, breakfast outside with the pups where everyone seemed to have a pocket full of treats for them, spending the afternoon sitting on the covered patio watching the pouring rain while drinking wine, playing scrabble, and looking out over the city below us, enjoying a decadently delicious meal at Cafe Roka, and a few days of the lack of cell phones, computers, and television.

And then, Sunday night came, and with it, my last minute bout of the 'what-ifs'. The irreverent, nonsensical what ifs about everything from anesthesia to eyeballs, followed by the much needed reassurance that this surgery was the easy one. This was one that we didn't have to wait for results after. This one is the slam dunk. But still.

And then it was over, and before I knew it, they were pushing me out of the surgery center before I was even lucid enough to speak coherently. One eye patched, one eye swollen, and I was sent on my way. The good news was that the left eye went very smoothly. The right eye, not quite as much. The good news on that side though, is that she didn't need to use Jones tube, even though it was necessary to create a new tear duct. The whole things was a strange experience though. I can't quite put the words to it. I felt sort of 'out-of-body'. I was surprised that they had rushed me out of there so quickly... I never even got my ice chips...

The rest of Monday was a bit of a blur. I know I spent quite a bit of time in and out of sleep on the couch and I have a feeling I tried to do too much at one point or another. I felt very unbalanced, almost paranoid - perhaps I had a weird reaction to the anesthesia, but something just didn't feel right to me. I had strange dreams that night - I just wanted to cry - but there was no reason to. Tuesday brought the follow up visit with the surgeon, and a blood draw. I just felt an absolute mess. I looked in the mirror and I saw this hideous looking creature looking back at me and everything just felt so damn heavy. It was enough already. Simply enough. But the thing is, this was the easy one...

Wednesday I awoke to my right eye nearly swollen shut, followed by treatment day. By Thursday, thankfully, much of the swelling had subsided, and I think I had finally slept off or shaken off much of the rest of the funk I was mired in. Deep breath, battle on.

So, here I am - all things considered - sitting at my desk at work, eye makeup-less (the HORROR) and ready for the weekend. Already.

All things considered, not too much worse for the wear.

Tony Snow died. Tony Snow wasn't supposed to die. Greg told me about it this weekend, and it just hit me really hard for some reason. I didn't even follow him that closely, but I remember so clearly, back when I was first diagnosed, hearing his determination to beat it again.

“If cancer is merely a nuisance for a long period of time, that’s fine with me.”

And his statements about advancements in medicine - the fact that changes are happening every day, and if you get another two years it will buy you another ten. Tony Snow simply wasn't supposed to die. Then again, cancer isn't supposed to claim any one's life. We saw Stan and Darlene at chemo on Wednesday, and that's one of the first things he mentioned. Stan said that he had taken it pretty hard, surprisingly, and thought how fortunate he felt to still be here and fighting. Ironic, coming from a man who is going on his third five-years of battling off and on, but it made perfect sense. This morning I was talking to Tina, from my office, who is halfway through her treatments for breast cancer, and she mentioned Tony Snow, too. It seems a universal theme that his passing had a unique impact on cancer patients. Godspeed, Tony Snow.

With that, I'm also coming up on a year since the re-diagnosis. I've bought myself a year, and I'm just NOT freakin' ready to go anywhere yet. I can't believe it's been a year already. Waiting, at this time, to find out what the results of the liver biopsy would be. Hoping, hanging onto that slim scrap of unknown that maybe, just maybe...but we knew. We just didn't know what, or how much.

Maybe the devil we knew was better than the devil we didn't.
Now, the devil is at bay.

I look back on that time - I was so healthy, so invincible, so on top of the world, and so ready to put this speed bump behind us and commence with living the rest of our lives. Since then I've been through, seen, done, and experienced so much. Yet, I'm the same person. But in some ways, I'm looking at the world through slightly different eyes. Maybe we all do.

I've already been through one round of my worst fears coming to realization, and I know that there's no guarantees that it won't happen again. It's been four months since NED came to be a part of our lives, and I'm not ready, nor will we ever be - to let him go. It's also time for another scan in another month. Again, as I breathe, I need to remember that not every ache and pain means bone mets and each time I am tired does not mean that it's back. It's not my time for that yet. Not that it will ever be - but not now. Especially not now.

Back to Tony Snow - he said, “Anybody who does not believe that thoughts and prayers make a difference, they’re just wrong.” I'm proof positive of that. I remember, just over a year ago, when I learned that for the first time.

I've often been reminded of the adage, "We plan, God laughs." One never really does know where our paths will take us or what lies on the other side. I've had my struggles with organized religion and I think I always will, but I have come to believe that prayer, in whatever shape or form it takes, works. I think that was part of my challenge the other day - I felt some sort of disconnect with everything, including God. I had been finding him on the trails, in the drops of rain, in the smell of the wet desert and suddenly, I couldn't seem to grasp the connection with something higher. I struggled with this, with the fact that I wasn't sure I knew how to pray, and that I felt it was important that someone, something hear me. It's out there - whatever it is, it's out there. I hope that he, it, whatever hears when I say prayers of thanks, too.

I still like to picture the scene that Greg described from It's a Wonderful Life about God being bombarded with prayers. It worked once - bring on the noise again, and keep it coming...

It's HOT.

It's been a long time between blog-worthy thoughts and entries. It's been a long time between miscellaneous rambling musings or revelations. At least I have been enjoying this "nice lady" status. The unfortunate part is, if not for cancer, I apparently don't have much to say. But that's not true now, is it...

Last time I thought to write, I was SO ready for the long weekend. Ironic, since we just got back from 'vacation' early last week, but I think we needed a couple of days to recoup as the beginning part of it was planes, trains, and automobiles of sorts. All in all, it was very good though - even though I had a bit of day-after-Christmas feeling after I got back here after seeing a couple of my best friends for the first time in entirely too long. I just missed them - even more so after seeing them. We had a good time though - full of baseball and subways and food and walking and being tourists and checking out rooftop bars and seeing family. It was nice. Chaotic, but nice. And, nice to be back home in Phoenix in our house with those silly dogs, actually.

Except, it's hot. I know it's coming every year, but still, it's hot.

It was a great 4th of July weekend. A really, really nice weekend full of friends and relaxing and sushi and drinks and gelato and alone time and appreciating and living and... yeah. It was pretty great. Dare I say that I sometimes even 'forget' what I'm dealing with on a daily basis? I suppose I'm not dealing with it on a daily basis any longer though - at least not right now. For as long as it lasts.

I got into a conversation a couple of weeks ago in reaction to a question posed: "Does anyone really ever wake up completely happy?"

Every day? No way.

EVER? Yes.

Yeah, I can say with conviction that there are times when I have woken up completely happy. The argument might be made that as long as Stage IV cancer is on my rap sheet it might seem impossible. The thing is, I'm not sure whether I've been able to experience those moments of complete happiness in spite of the cancer, or because of it. Perhaps since I look at the world through these eyes, I am able to let things go more easily, or appreciate things more, or allow myself the opportunity to be completely happy, as it is. It's the strangest times that I get these feelings, too - most often in the quiet moments right after waking up - the mornings without the alarm, of course. It's always early, the sun is usually just starting to rise, and I find myself wrapped up in the arms of the person I am supposed to be with and it's a very overwhelming feeling. I know that one person's happiness is not contingent upon the other at their side, but it's such an enormous thing to come from a place wondering if there could possibly be anyone out there that one is simply 'supposed to meet' and having the courage and the faith not to let that opportunity pass me by when I had it. I get reflective at times, about the mistakes I've made and things I would have done differently. Every now and then I get disappointed in myself for wasting so much time now that I have found myself faced with the potential of mortality. Sliding doors is all it is, and anyone can Monday-morning quarterback - it's simply a waste of time. I tend to fall back on the belief that there is very little coincedence and that I have to be thankful about that leap of faith because as a whole the result is even greater than I had imagined it would be.

Next step? Eye surgery - thanks to chemo resulting in the lovely side effect of blocked tear ducts. The fun never seems to stop. I have kept my pre-surgery anxiety in check. The EKG is done, the clearance is signed, the bloodwork is done, and the prescriptions have been delivered to Walgreens. A few reminders of faith and reassurance, coupled with a weekend of camping on the Mogollon Rim and perhaps one of those completely happy mornings should get me through until next Monday breathing easily. By this time next week, hopefully my eyes won't be dripping any longer.

Another damn surgery. (Deep breath)

Today? I'm thankful for small favors like not having to spend this coming Sunday night on the crapper with the pre-surgery cleanse.

And that I look forward to coming home at the end of each day.

And for dogs with soft ears.
And baseball season.

And for him ----> most of all.