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2 time ovarian cancer Survivor, Advocate for ovarian cancer awareness & research, Teacher of Zen Method Tai Chi, Blogger, sharing the wonderment and power of essential oils, proud fan of Cathe Friedrich's workouts, Reiki practitoner, A Course in Miracles student, paper crafter

Friday, February 11, 2011

Icy Texas

Last weekend my mom and I semi-spontaneously decided to drive to Texas to visit my sister and her family. I checked the the traffic on Google maps (click on Traffic on the upper right side after page loads) obsessively all day Friday as we planned on leaving in mid-afternoon. There were a lot of red lines around Dallas, but by the time we left it was improving. We figured that since the Superbowl (Yay Packers!!) was in Dallas that they would be working their tookasies off clearing the road after the latest winter storm for the fans. We figured wrong. WAY wrong. We sat on a frozen over interstate for over 3 hours behind a back wreck. When we finally starting moving forward again the fastest anyone could go was 20mpg or less because the entire interstate was a thick layer of solid ice. It was very tense and very scary. We found out the next morning that Texas State Troopers closed the interstate behind us. =O 

Mom was driving, thank you God!! She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and knows how to drive in winter conditions. (Congrats, Packers!!) Still, her hands are probably still sore from gripping the wheel so tightly for such a long time. We made it to the first small town, got off the interstate to get gas and take a very overdue bathroom break. The hotels at that exit were full. My sister had called ahead for us and found a motel at the next exit, so we creeped our way down the interstate again. I called that motel and found out that it was about 6 miles away from the exit, and that just seemed ridiculously far to go into a town that we didn't know and that was frozen over. So, we took at chance and pulled into a Quality Inn. We scored the very last room. Relief!! The caveat was that we had to park into their overflow lot which was up a hill. One more burst of white knuckled hold-your-breath driving, but thankfully the hill was snow not ice and we had no problem parking. It was almost 3am and were completely fried and exhausted. We crashed hard....

...for about 5 hours. Then we were up for the free breakfast (they had waffles in the shape of Texas, too funny!). We chatted with other people who had been trapped on the frozen interstate and met a sweet couple from Green Bay headed to Austin to watch their Packers play. We ran into them again at our next stop, neat! We headed out around 9am. The roads were still icy, but the far side of one of the shoulders was usually clear so we drove on that so we had some traction. The roads were icy until we almost reached Dallas, then it turned slushy since the temperature was above freezing. We had to drive on 3 big fly-overs in Dallas, but everyone drove slowly and cautiously. We were south of Dallas before the roads were partially dry. 

Thanks to Mom's excellent driving skills and prayer we made it to my sister's new beautiful home perfectly safe. Thanks to smartphones I was able to keep in touch with my family and friends via texting and Facebook, so lots of people would pray and send their positive and protective energy to us. 

We had a fabulous, although too short, visit with my sister and our Texas Peeps.  We put a whole weekend of shopping, eating and playing into 1 looong day and one loooong evening. I fell in love with Ikea, and got some cool stuff too! And I fell in love with my nieces and nephews all over again. Texas is pretty awesome, except in the winter. Despite what some Texans may tell you, Texas DOES have a winter. And it isn't pretty.

I wish I could say that I despite the stress and the travelling that I ate healthy and cleanly. I didn't, but I did control my portion sizes and drank lots of water. I did burn some calories playing and running at the park with the Peeps. And we did lots of shopping paced walking which has got to count for something. Amazingly I maintained my weight!! Yeee-haw for not re-gaining on vacation!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Re-Establishing Normal

It's been a long whirlwind weekend with some very tense and icy Texas (yeah, that's right- Texas) interstate miles. I need a day or two to get my head back on straight and otherwise organized and then I'll tell you about my weekend. Meanwhile, I wanted to share this article that I just read on CureToday.com about how hard it is to get back to 'normal' after cancer treatment. It really struck a chord with me, although my life is very different than Terry's. It felt right to share it in my blog today.

Coming Back Out of the Closet from Cure Today.

Coming Back Out of the Closet

When healing comes from quiet corners, soft words and family moments. 
This week Alexandra, our 8-year-old, has been asked to create a diorama of Nim’s Island, one of her favorite books. On the dining room table, my child has already assembled the shoe box, construction paper, pipe cleaners, glue, markers, glitter, tape, wrapping paper and…a potato.
“A potato?” I ask her.
She squints at me. Duh. Now she only needs her mother. I am, apparently, unqualified although no one in the household has bothered to share the reasoning behind this decision. Was there a committee vote? Doesn’t anyone remember my creativity in installing the new kitchen disposal?
“Where is she?” Alex asks again.
It’s been a few weeks since Terry finished treatment for breast cancer. First there were the surgeries, and then the dosedense chemotherapy, and most recently, the radiation. Despite my having been through cancer myself, I am eager, lately, to not think about it. We are done! Blaze forward!
I remember being afraid of the world called “normal.” Like trying to cross a river by stepping on a lily pad. If I invested and believed too hard in normal, I might trust too much and drop beneath the surface.
Earlier, when I got home, Terry was wrapped in a blanket in front of the television watching re-runs. She just returned to work full-time, and I think re-entry has been a little challenging, but we haven’t talked about it. I saw her a little later emptying the dishwasher, and then she was folding laundry, and now she’s … I don’t know.
I check outside and the garage. She isn’t in our bedroom or the girls’. She isn’t with our second daughter, Abby, napping in the playroom. Nor is she with the dog, perched, as usual, on the hot-tub cover. The minivan is still in the garage. I’m making a circle back through our bedroom when I hear something in our walk-in closet. I open the door, and the crack of light finds a blue thigh.
She’s on her knees on the carpet, surrounded by hanging slacks and shoes. She wears only her blue sweatpants; her hands are over her face, and her elbows cover her naked torso.
“Please don’t turn on the light,” she asks. Her voice is taut and gasping.
“Mom?” Alex is suddenly behind me.
“Not now, honey. I’ll be out in a sec,” Terry says. She says it with a voice I have yet to master. It carries absolute maternal certainty, and Alex withdraws silently.
There’s a pause, and then Terry doubles over onto her knees and emits a wailing sob—it’s a pure silver tone, anguished and grating, and it slices away all the humor in the universe.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“Alex was looking for you. I think she wants help with her …”
“Nim’s Island,” Terry says.
“Funniest thing, she has this potato.”
There’s a pause, and then Terry doubles over onto her knees and emits a wailing sob—it’s a pure silver tone, anguished and grating, and it slices away all the humor in the universe.
She lets her hands drop to her sides and slowly comes up; her torso is in the light, and my eyes have adjusted.
“I just can’t do this,” she gasps.
I can feel heat radiating out of the top of my head. I’ve been trying so hard not to think about cancer, and rushing headlong into that celebratory “We’re done,” that I hadn’t noticed Terry wasn’t running alongside. But she has to! We have to be done!
She’s looking at me. “What do you mean you can’t do this? The project?” I ask.
“No. All the pretending that we’re normal. We’re not normal. I’m not normal!” she insists. “Look at me!” she orders, “This is who I am now.” She sits up, revealing her chest. Her remodeled torso is naked and still foreign to both of us. Her hair, once long and wavy, is cropped military short, and even her eyebrows and eyelashes are only a faint outline of their former selves. And her optimism— once fierce and unwavering—flickers.
I remembered this phase from my own cancer experience and those of my patients. The terrible fear that lived in my bones that, at any moment, the bolt of recurrence would flash into our lives again, bringing with it the weakness, difficulty concentrating, baldness and scars that served as ever-present reminders that I wasn’t the same person I’d been—and would maybe never be. I was also faster to anger; my post-cancer rage was a frothy river just beneath the winter ice.
I remember being afraid of the world called “normal.” Like trying to cross a river by stepping on a lily pad. If I invested and believed too hard in normal, I might trust too much and drop beneath the surface. It was psychologically easier when there was something to do to fight the cancer. How could I go back to worrying about school and grades and car tune-ups when a hunting enemy might be near? I remember the bravery it took to sit and study for a silly exam. 
This mess is what Terry is feeling, I realize.
But we need her to be the mom and wife we’ve had. We’ve been struggling through chemotherapy and radiation and all the fear—for what feels like eons—and now we just need her back. And to shove it behind us. 
“We love you, is all. It’s just going to take us time. You don’t have to be anything you’re not,” I tell her, because it’s the only thing I can think of. It rings hollow, like coins landing in an empty soda machine. And I’m still standing, and I sound more like a professor than a husband, so I drop and sit on my knees at her level. Now I’m more like a husband, and see, down here, that we’re in this together. Suddenly I remember looking at breasts on the Internet last night, and we haven’t had sex in forever, and why am I thinking about this now?  
But I launch into a reasoned and loving explanation that who she is hasn’t changed at her core, and I remember feeling vulnerable after cancer. Things got better with time, and then I wrap up with a few nicely chosen words about the children and our lives together and even Bisbee the dog. It’s a diatribe, but it’s not horrible. Is it?
One corner of her mouth is turned up. She’s studying me carefully and seems disappointed. She could have delivered this speech herself; it’s too canned. But I don’t know what else to say, so I just stand up, getting tougher now.
“Come on. You don’t have to be normal, but you do have to get up and put on a shirt. Nim’s Island is waiting, and apparently everyone in this house knows I can’t carve a potato into a magical creature.” This does strike a chord, if only a minor one, and now she wipes her face, rises to standing and yells, “I’m coming,” to Alex across the house. 
I know that this is the loneliest phase of the cancer experience for everyone. I need her to be normal, and she needs time to find the courage to put her toes into the waters of our future before plunging in. There is no normal here to be found yet, and the words that can bridge our separate worlds are evasive. Time, of course, will help eventually. But more, it will be the micro-life behaviors that will remind us of who we are that will serve as our gradual compass. One small act at a time will forge our new normal. Laughing with a friend. Putting on a comfortable sweatshirt. Making a favorite meal. Helping a child with a project.
Standing in the closet as she padded away up to the dining room where the potato artist awaited, I don’t know what I should have said. I waited a few moments and then came out to the dining room, where Alex and Terry huddled over the shoebox. Terry was carving the potato, and Alex was gluing with one hand and sprinkling something with the other. 
And there, on the top of the box, a glittery sky slowly emerged. 
Dan Shapiro, PhD, professor and chair of the humanities department at Penn State College of Medicine, is a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma.