What happens on February 3rd?

Reposted from The Patient Path February 3, 2015


It's always February 2nd - ThisIsAuthentic.com

If, like me, you are a fan of redemption movies—and of Bill Murray—then yesterday you tuned into AMC and watched Groundhog Day . . . again . . . and again . . . and again.


My favorite part of the movie is near the end, when Phil (also the groundhog’s name) Connors finally gets it and starts living—and giving—in the ever-present moment. He hasn’t yet escaped the time warp he’s found himself in; but he has accepted his fate and lives a perfect day that only infinite re-dos and learning the ultimate lesson could make possible. And yet . . .

What is a “perfect” day? The message of the film is that this Scrooge-like guy learns about becoming his best self through genuine interest in and compassion for others—all with a comic and romantic twist (not unlike Bill’s other redemption movie, Scrooged). His reward for a lesson well learned on February 2nd? February 3rd.

But on the other side of the screen, we don’t get infinite re-dos. We need to learn as we go through time, not when we’re stuck in an endless loop. So how do we learn to live a “perfect” day on February 3rd after learning the lessons of our own February 2nd?

My personal February 2nd, so to speak, was in 2014. At this time last year, I was in the middle of my vaginal radiation treatments (brachytherapy) following a total hysterectomy for uterine cancer on December 13, 2013. And I was still in the “glow” of having survived a brush with fatality and having learned my lesson that all moments of life—even my life, which I have not always valued—are precious, if not eternal.

Or are they? This is a topic for another day, but perhaps all moments of time exist somewhere, in some treasure vault that we can revisit . . . and revisit . . . and revisit—if we learn the combination or find the key.

George's Secret Key

But what if we can’t unlock all of the secrets of the universe? (Who knows—maybe it’s only one secret.) These thoughts took me back to part of the lyrics of the 1967 song by the Youngbloods, “Get Together,” which I always thought held the deepest human secret:

You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at you command

20150203_103012 (2)In an awesome and happy coincidence, a quick search for the lyrics took me to the February 3, 2015, post on the Huffington Post blog, “The Third Metric,” where the song is featured today: Daily Meditation: Get Together.” Such coincidences seem to point to a cosmic connection, one that I don’t understand. Yet these occurrences whisper to me that perhaps we do hold a key that unlocks the secrets to at least our private universe.

In the afterglow of that “Whew! Narrow escape” feeling post-op and post-radiation last year, I am still figuring out how to incorporate the lessons of my February 2nd into February 3rd—my reward for having survived. Learning how to do this will require me to be awake, aware, and appreciative in all the days that follow until I run out of them.

On this February 3rd, as I see welcome sunlight turning ice into crystals on the bare limbs outside my window, I guess it is enough for me to realize that aftermaths and interims are just as important as great events. Or maybe they are the great events. Life is still happening in an amazing way even when we can’t quite feel the miracle of it after the emergency or major event has melted into the rest of our experience.

Life transitions often feel shallow, muddy, confusing, unfocused, unimportant. But without the respite from urgency that we experience during exciting or traumatic times, we wouldn’t have the chance to dive deeper into our own being. These times spent in semi-mist may actually be mystical. Change is creative. So transition isn’t really a dark place to be feared or avoided, but a space offering a chance to learn and become your own next great thing. As earth transits around the sun, transition is how we experience time . . . and all the times of our lives.

Alone in my personal space, I will celebrate February 3rd, knowing that the ice crystals will become leaf buds . . . in time. I hope you will have a quietly wonderful February 3rd, too.

20150203_112402


Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters
Featured Image: Movie poster, Groundhog Day, 1993.

P.S. to Yesterday’s Post: Life on the Infinite Walkway

Reposted from The Patient Path November 4, 2014

Infinite Walkway

Yesterday I wrote about my one-year “to the day” anniversary of being diagnosed with uterine (endometrial) cancer. Today is my one-year “to the date” marker. And I am lucky.


Watching the evening news last night, November 3, I saw three stories about people who have lived lives that were, yes, challenged by cancer, but more importantly were full of significance, influence, and inspiration. Today I wish to pay homage to them with a brief acknowledgment here:

It is easy to toss around words such as grace, dignity, and courage. It is not so easy to live them. At this writing, Lauren is still with us. No matter what you believe, don’t believe, or don’t know that (or what or whether) you believe, please hold them in your heart and send loving thoughts their way, whether you call them prayers, meditations, or good wishes.

This summer, I honored other people whose lives had been intricately bound with mine (Life Giveth, Life Taketh Away . . . and It Giveth Again).

Yesterday, I spoke of both turning back and standing still in time (My Current Story, Anniversary: Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer – Turning Back the Clock and Looking at “The Fault in Our Stars”), ending with a quotation from John Green’s powerful, moving, and very real story of young people defying cancer with the fierceness and sheer power of love: “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

Toward the end of the book, one of the characters is eulogizing another, talking about the infinite numbers (carried to many decimal points) that reside between the bigger numbers we recognize in everyday life. The final words of the tribute speak to the unknown worlds and existences that transcend the boundaries of our circumscribed lives as creatures of earth:

. . . I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. . . . You gave me a forever within the numbered days.

Here’s to you, Brittany, Oscar, and Lauren. I hope to meet you all on the infinite walkway that takes us through and beyond our numbered days that we do not know how to count. Thank you for walking among us during our time-bound existence on earth.

Godspeed as you continue on your journeys, wherever infinity takes you.

Infinities 2

“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

Turning Back the Clock and Looking at “The Fault in Our Stars”

Reposted from The Patient Path  November 3, 2014

 Time & Stars  On the Monday after we turned back our clocks in 2013 (November 4), I received a phone call at 9:17 AM, about the time I am writing this post the Monday after we turned back our clocks in 2014. You tend to store certain moments as if they’re in an ice-cube tray in your freezer. But time cubes don’t melt. They remain sparkling and whole for us to either love or learn from—and maybe both.


A year ago at this time, I wasn’t projecting into the future to imagine how I would feel on my one-year anniversary. What I recall is having an intensity of focus on the problem just presented to me as if everything I’d ever learned or accomplished needed to be mustered to the front lines to do battle with my microscopic enemy. Attacking my attacker—uterine cancer—became my job. Actually, I had two microscopic enemies: the one in my womb, and the one on my scalp, which were diagnosed—and treated—in the same months.* So now, with a cancer-free dent in my scalp, I am gearing up to repeat my colposcopy and my mammogram, both of which have thus far been negative. So I hope I am cancer free all over. I don’t have a lot more to say that I haven’t already said in these blog pages except that I never did feel like a cancer patient. Ironically, considering my lack of paid employment these days, I have felt like somebody going to work—on a repair job. But what I will say is that the fear of having a repeat problem hovers in a thought balloon that travels around with me. Others have told me the same thing. But perhaps no one has dealt so eloquently with the progression and recurrence of cancer as John Green. So rather than explore my interior world of spiraling thoughts, I refer you to his wildly popular young-adult bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars.

The Fault in Our Stars

The youngest member of our reading group recommended this January 2012 book, and I’ve just finished reading it. Our local library also showed the film version from June 2014 last week. What I’ve come to realize is that “young adult” refers to the age of the characters a whole lot more than it does to the themes explored in their stories. The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak is another good example of this. This is not a book review, but it is a citation of excellence. Green’s protagonist Augustus, opening his heart to Hazel, the story’s narrator, managed to capture what for me was the message and the meaning of the book:

I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.

Cancer be damned, he seems to be saying. I’m alive and I’m in love. Nothing else matters. A bit later, he explains a bit more about his take on “oblivion”:

Sure, I fear earthly oblivion. But, I mean . . . I believe humans have souls. . . . The oblivion fear is something else . . . that I won’t be able to give anything in exchange for my life. If you don’t live a life in service of a greater good, you’ve gotta at least die a death in service of a greater good. . . .

Love and the greater good are fiercer and more powerful than the threat or even the reality of death. That’s what I hear him (Augustus/Green) saying. Beliefs are personal . . . and much too complex to discuss here. Read the book for more clues about John Green’s own belief system (he evidently intended to become an Episcopal priest at one time). The point here is that these young people, traveling down a dark road without any high beams, were not their disease. They were themselves, their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual selves. That’s the lesson of illness: that endangered life is still life. And it’s all we have and all we really know from within our own experience. Certainly, we all travel through time as packages of individual existence. But something—life—is better than nothing (at least in the absence of extremely suffering or cruelty). And perhaps the best we can do as captives of the clock is to give ourselves the gift of untying somebody else’s ribbons and seeing a little bit of what is inside their package. That act alone defies the notion of meaninglessness.


John Green took his title from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2; Cassius): “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves. . . .” But he certainly didn’t take the meaning. By flipping it, he celebrated the blamelessness, the wisdom, and the divine spark of his young star-crossed lovers. And for me, he succeeded in stopping the clock. He enabled me to return to the young place inside myself that was also blameless and wise, a place where the divine spark of my life, and every life, exists beyond tears, beyond stars, and beyond time. A place where cancer fears to tread.

Infinities 2

“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”


* Also see related posts on The Patient Path: 

Illness Is Not Identity: Butterflies Are Free

Reposted from The Patient Path March 31, 2014

Butterflies

“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to [me] what it concedes to the butterflies!” – from Bleak HouseCharles Dickens.

If you’re not familiar with Bleak House, one of the most complex—and one of the most rewarding—of Dickens’ novels, perhaps you’ve heard this quotation in Butterflies Are Freea 1972 film (based on a play by Leonard Gershe) about a young blind man, Don (Edward Albert), who rents his own apartment to become less dependent on his overprotective mother (Eileen Heckart). As she still struggles for control, he meets his neighbor, Jill (Goldie Hawn), a “free spirit” who inspires him to become his own person. After she tells him that the Dickens’ line is her favorite quotation, he writes a song about his spirit learning to fly.

For several years, long before I was diagnosed with and treated for uterine (endometrial) cancer, I have thought of the butterfly as a personal spiritual symbol. Many cultures and traditions turn to this beautiful winged creature to symbolize the soul and other essential aspects of life, such as metamorphosis. Few things top the list of shattering changes more than potentially life-threatening illness. Yet, even when it is serious, illness is only part of our life experience. True, it sometimes commands center stage. But in the next act—or even in the next scene—some other, deeper aspect of who we are takes its star turn.

butterfly-totem-temp-300

By no means do I intend to diminish the supreme challenges faced by those who are debilitated by illness or injury or to dismiss uncaringly the anguish of those who have lost loved ones to terminal disease or early death. But the message of the butterfly is available to all, even to those who suffer. Because even if we sprout wings that don’t have the strength to free us from the pain and limitation of earthly life, they can still help our spirits to soar. If we don’t have the strength even for that, our spiritual wings can at least help us float gently on the soft winds of the universe as it continues on its infinite course, reminding us that we are part of all that is, ever was, or ever will be.

Having passed through the metamorphosis of serious illness, I think back to decisions I’ve made that both hurt me and helped me arrive at the place I now find myself. And I’ve had to face that many of the external markers of identity are now lost to time—reproductive status (first in menopause and now in the absence of organs), the joys and responsibilities of young motherhood (my only child is now a man), marriage and name change (one divorce behind me and a total of three last names), the comradeship of friends and colleagues (many losses and gains over the years), the pride and sustenance of career and income (gone and none at present), and so on. These things have shifted so significantly that at times I feel adrift in the cosmos, unanchored to earth or to anything that feels comfortable or familiar.

But these moments pass. And I realize that what remains after pseudo-identity is irrevocably altered is the emergence of what lies beneath and within, which can be surprising. Having lost so much, and having spent so much time alone confronting my very existence, I nevertheless have experienced an integration of the essential aspects of myself with how I navigate external life. I discussed some of these things in the March 14, 2014 post, “Reading & Writing as Therapy.” The message was simply this: Find, or rediscover, what you love. This tells you who you are.

It is my hope for all who face grave or passing illness, permanent or temporary loss, and terrible loneliness or even somber solitude that they can find their butterfly selves by turning inward to where they can see that the outward path is visible but ephemeral—and also by connecting with similarly affected, like-minded others, who can not only share their experience, but enter into it with them.

Update: You Can’t Unbreak Glass…but the Fragments Can Be Contained

Reposted from The Patient Path March 19, 2014

Final lessons from a pretty, but fragile, aqua bulb lamp

   Aqua Bulb Lamp_Desk 1 #3 Aqua Bulb Lamp_Desk 2 #2

The Patient Path . . . Yields Illumination


Last weekend, I got the call from Pier 1 that my “new new” lamp was finally in. I had broken the “old new” lamp 10 days before while making the purchase and had felt so bad about it I had to do something with the experience. That something was the March 6, 2014 post. I had waited patiently for the new lamp so I could properly illuminate my office with this second lamp on my second desk.

I went to pick up the lamp and was helped by a different store clerk than the one who’d helped me previously. Thankfully, this lamp, unlike the other one, was in a box and not just bubble-wrapped. Then I looked at the top of the box, which, strangely, was printed with a different model name on it. The clerk called the manager over, a different one and not the one who had helped me during the initial purchase. The manager offered to unpack the lamp so I could make sure it was the correct one. On second glance, the correct model name was printed on the sides of the box. Odd. We opened it, and “my” lamp was inside despite the identity confusion on the outside. I quietly took my new lamp home, eager to set it up on my second desk.

While putting it together, I saw that the threaded top where the finial is screwed on to secure the lamp shade had been soldered on crooked, which meant the lampshade pitched forward. Hmmm.

Bent Lamp Harp_30%

So, I called the 800 customer service number, and the representative said I could swap out the lamp for a new one. I couldn’t bear to do this again, and she offered to call the Flemington store on my behalf to see what they could do. She did, and the store had another lamp in stock (in case I should need it?). I called the store and spoke with the manager, who had already dealt with me once that day, but she was agreeable and she said I could swap out either the harp or the entire lamp. I took the bent harp and went back to the store.

While the manager was unpacking the stock lamp, the first young woman who had sold me the one I’d broken 10 days before appeared. She didn’t recognize me, but I “confessed,” and the manager said with mock anger, “Oh, she’s the one.” They were good-natured, but I was uncomfortable and wanted to turn the experience around. So I thanked them for being so nice about the situation and told them about the story on the blog. The young woman looked it up on her smart phone and seemed eager to read it, especially after I said I’d complimented her and the store for their handling of my bungling. I swapped out the harps and left the store, feeling that all had ended well.

When I got home, I finished setting up the second lamp and stood back to admire how softly pretty and glowing my office looked. Then I took the box to the garage and thought about the two different model names on it, unsure of how such a thing could happen. But I decided to take it as a final message about the entire lamp experience. Whereas the first lesson was about the paradox between sturdiness and fragility, and then how vulnerability can become strength once again in the human heart, this lesson seemed to be about patience. But more than that.

This final lesson was also about identity. Just as sturdiness can mask vulnerability, external labels can create confusion about what’s inside. In this case, the true thing—my lamp—was inside a box with two names. Currently, I am working on a story about identity for my writing group, so the occurrence of labeling ambiguity has symbolic meaning that I will be exploring more deeply as I continue to write.

In the meantime, though, I am thankful that the “wrong” name was on the top of the box. Because that name was Sophia—Greek for “wisdom.”


Radiation-Related Posts on The Patient Path:

You Can’t Unbreak Glass…but the Fragments Can Be Contained

Aqua Glass Desk Lamp - 2_50%

Reposted from The Patient Path March 6, 2014

Lessons from a pretty, but fragile, aqua bulb lamp


Shattered Glass & Fragmented Spirits

Part of my personal treatment plan is to sort through all of my possessions—mounds of them, many of them paper records and memorabilia—and consolidate and clear out as much as possible. This is excruciatingly difficult. I am a collector of personal and business organization books and have poked my nose in most of them, but practical advice disintegrates in the face of emotional attachment to the things that give silent witness to your life. Coming face to face with the reality that our time here is finite has had the effect of making me yearn to locate, categorize, and memorialize “lost” mementos from a past that is quickly slipping away while simultaneously making me want to travel lighter and more open into my future. Most of my efforts thus far have been on the order of redistributing, rather than discarding, these things. But I feel the need to know what I have, and where I have it, before I can take bolder steps—I’m not quite ready for big leaps just yet.

I had just managed to clean up my home office to the point that I wanted to prettify it a bit and get it ready for whatever is next. The story of my career is difficult and painful and will wait for another time. At present, my work—my most important job—is to continue to heal and take care of myself while better managing my immediate environment, not only my physical home, but my personal world. So, despite not having an income, I decided to make a few small investments around the house to raise the level of order, calm, and attractiveness a little. Clearing out one small space or adding one fresh touch has powerful cleansing and lightening effects, and the more I do the better I feel. (That is, until I unearth yet more boxes of stuff—my things from my past and my grown son’s things from his past that he swears he doesn’t want—but I don’t quite believe him.)

A week or so ago, I wandered into Pier 1 and found the desk lamp pictured above, which has a white shade lined with the same aqua color as the pretty glass bulbs. I might not have chosen this lamp in isolation, but I knew it would look good in my existing office, which is painted in calming aquamarine colors. It looked so good in the office that I was then inspired to replace a utilitarian black pole lamp with one that matched the desk lamp. Then I looked at the “light naked” second desk in the office and thought I’d better buy a matching desk lamp while it was still available. So I ordered the second aqua desk lamp online and went to Pier 1 yesterday to pick it up, happy with my decision (a rarity).

Well, maybe because it was Ash Wednesday (although I’m not Catholic or a practicing Protestant), or maybe because I was overwhelmingly fatigued (although I’d slept OK), or maybe because I have a lifetime of careless habits (no “althoughs” here), I came home empty handed. I had expected the lamp to be boxed up, as the others were. But it was bubble-wrapped. The saleswoman gave me an explanation I didn’t quite follow, but assured me it wouldn’t have been wrapped if it weren’t in good condition. Nevertheless, she offered to unwrap it and let me inspect it (they don’t offer discounts for floor models). Everything looked good, and the sales clerk rewrapped it and handed it to me over the counter. I put it on the floor as she came around the counter carrying the shade, asking me whether I needed help getting the lamp to the car. As I was rapidly trying to figure out how to manage the lamp, the shade, and my purse, I turned toward the clerk, and the purse hanging from my left arm knocked the bubble-wrapped glass lamp to the floor, shattering those pretty aqua bulbs.

The clerk called her manager over, and they were very nice about it and ordered me a new lamp, returning this one to inventory as “damaged.” This could have gone another way, but I was grateful that these ladies were so gracious and professional about the situation. I apologized and told them I felt terrible, not because I was leaving empty-handed, but because I had “laid to waste” such a pretty lamp. It had felt so heavy and looked so sturdy with its solid metal square base; but in the end, it was quite fragile.

While thinking with sincere regret about being so impulsive and careless, I reflected on the paradox of sturdiness and fragility—this solid-based lamp had survived the handling of manufacture, transport, and store display for who knows how long and had remained upright and intact until circumstances (me) caused it to come crashing down, shattering its delicate heart. It was painful seeing those aqua shards inside the bubble wrap; but as the sales clerk said, at least the fragments were contained.

This seemed like a good analogy to human circumstances, but with a twist: as strong as life may have made us, and as sturdy as we may be on our own feet, some quirk of fate can knock us down at any time. The difference between a shattered lifeless object and a fractured living soul is what we do about it. The lamp had fallen and couldn’t get back up; it couldn’t be repaired—but I could order a new one. I, too, had fallen, but could get back up; I couldn’t order new body parts—but I could repair my spirit.

Maybe we all have a sort of spiritual bubble wrap around our own fragile parts–we may fall, we may crack; but the fragments can be contained, and our essential selves can remain intact. Our attitudes can shift. Our hearts can heal. Our spirits can revive.

Notes of Gratitude 

As I sort through my past, I feel keenly what I have lost. My physical losses are internal and invisible. My nonphysical losses are ephemeral and unseen. But I am thankful that all of these things have been a part of my life. Contentment may not be mine, but as spring approaches and I continue to mend, I realize that although I can’t restore what I once had, I can refresh my life. This is a solitary and mostly lonely process. The flood of support and attention I received at the beginning of my health crisis has become somewhat less as the situation has become the new normal and has been absorbed into my changed life—and other people’s perception of it. But as with the bereaved after a funeral, we are all left alone to cope with grief, loss, and an altered life after everyone goes home, back to their own lives and their own challenges.

Yet support still comes, now in an occasional gentle wave. Any act of kindness or caring is balm to the spirit. My hope for us all is that we can journey through life knowing we have our fellow travelers’ hearts in our hands . . . and that they can be shattered like glass lamp bulbs when knocked off of their (apparently) sturdy base.

Pictured here are two symbols of gratitude:

In an eerie portent of things to come, for my 60th birthday in 2012, my sister, Vicki Sue, gave me a “Kohl’s Cares” package of coordinated pink-ribbon birthday gifts—Kohl’s donates 100% of the net profit to support breast cancer. By doing something caring for me, she was doing a kindness for unknown others. The strange thing was that this scarf wasn’t so “pink,” but more a peachy salmon, the ribbon color for uterine (endometrial) cancer—with which I was diagnosed a year later:

Peach Ribbon 1_50%

And last week, friend Kathryn and I had a lovely lunch in a local teashop, a very special place, at which she presented me with my first and only official uterine cancer ribbon pin:

Peach Ribbon 2

Finally, a special thanks to the ladies at Pier 1 for ordering me a new aqua glass lamp. I promise to treat it with care.

A Bit More about “The New York Way”

In my February 20, 2014 post, I described “The New York Way” of delivering radiation treatment post-hysterectomy for uterine (endometrial) cancer and also discussed some side effects of vaginal brachytherapy. My short-term side effects are now subsiding, but about a day after the last post and a week after my third and final brachytherapy treatment on Valentine’s Day, I developed full-blown cystitis (constant irritation and burning on urination) and increased bowel changes (gas, frequent BMs, and some leakage). Apparently, these effects were right on schedule according to some of the online patient information I’ve come across. (I’ll update the technical information in a future post.)

Back around the winter holidays, starting a week after my hysterectomy, I had a bout of lymphorrhea, as discussed in the January 10, 2014 post. To make sure I didn’t have a fistula between the bladder and vagina, my surgeon had prescribed a “dye test” using phenazopyridine (Pyridium), pills that turn urine orange—and are also used to soothe the urinary tract for patients with an infection. (I passed the test—no orange showed at the top of the test tampons, and the lymphatic leakage stopped soon after.) I don’t know why, but he had given me several refills of the pills, so (without calling anyone) I went to the pharmacy and got more Pyridium to treat my cystitis. Note that these pills do NOT kill the microorganisms that cause UTIs, but I didn’t have an infection, just burning from the radiation. I took the pills for a week, and they did indeed help. I no longer have burning. The bowel issues have also improved.

What hasn’t improved much is the fatigue, which is worse some days than others. Often, it is related to exertion as I become a bit more active, but not necessarily. I am also waiting for the longer-term side effects to set in and believe I am just starting to notice some of those effects now. But I will discuss these in detail after my first post-radiation checkup, which has been pushed back from March 17 to March 25, when I will also have my first three-month surgical checkup. At that time I’ll know more about radiation effects and how to manage them and will also discuss more of “The New York Way” with my doctors as I continue to read and learn more about different treatment models.

But what’s on my mind now are effects that aren’t physical and healing that isn’t allopathic.*


*A system of medical practice that aims to combat disease by use of remedies (as drugs or surgery).

Part 2, Update: March 19, 2014


Radiation-Related Posts on The Patient Path:

January 10, 2014 (“Orange Pee & Radioactive Tampons”)

January 16, 2014: Preparing for Radiation (“Looking Back & Forging Ahead to Radiation”)

January 24, 2014: 1st Treatment (“My First Encounter with a Radioactive ‘Pig’”)

February 5, 2014: 2nd Treatment (on 02/04/14–“The “Demon Seed”)

February 12, 2014: A Postponement (“A Glowing Valentine’s Day–02/14/2014”)

February 15, 2014: 3rd Treatment (on 02/14/14–“21 Shades of Gray for Valentine’s Day”)

February 20, 2014 (“Radiation ‘The New York Way’”)