Monday, February 24, 2014

nothing but blue skies and mountain lions

well, i'm logged in, i'm not in radiation (that ended last monday), i'm not back in school (that starts tomorrow), so i might as well post.  it's been awhile hasn't it?  are you still there?  i'm here.  tired most days still.

i think because it took so much physical effort to get myself to radiation and back each day, i imagined myself finishing up cancer treatment at a steady run.  easy enough for me to say.  i don't run in real life, but i like to imagine my little life's challenges as races.  law school was a marathon.  child birth was something of an ultra-marathon in a desert.  cancer treatment was maybe like a 20K.  cancer... maybe like being stalked by a mountain lion... on a mountain... in the dead of winter and you've never climbed a mountain before, and you didn't bring the proper clothes and the lion is hungry and he's got his sights on only you and you know he's a lot more clever than you are.

anyway, back to the race.  the 20K.  maybe it was longer, but i've just forgotten.  maybe the radiation was 20 and the surgery was an uphill 5 where you tripped and have a permanent injury with a permanent scar and the chemo a bunch of 10's.  if only i actually ran these kinds of races in real life, i'd be able to make an accurate comparison, but it felt like what i imagine those runners feel like who run to the end and then sort of collapse right at the finish line, or not so much collapse as stop abruptly and hands on knees proclaim as they huff and puff to catch their breath that they're not going to get up off the couch for the next week.  though maybe you don't say that after a mere 20K, but maybe i'm just a really bad runner... which is true.

so i spent most of last week on the couch or in bed napping while the boys were in school, and dealing with this most awful of sunburns, though in reality not a sunburn at all, and hoping that this breathing problem of mine is just pneumonitis, or inflammation of the lungs caused by radiation, and not something worse (i.e. cancer).  sounds doomy and gloomy and i guess cancer is like that in a way.  but if i could separate cancer into the mental and the physical, well, this is going to sound contradictory, because of course that ever present lung issue of mine revolves mostly in the mental sphere (at least, i hope), but if i could separate cancer into two parts... what it's done to me physically and what it's done for me mentally, then it's not all doom and gloom, because being stalked by a mountain lion really does sharpen your focus, puts your goals into nice, simple form.  physically of course, there's no question.  cancer sucks.  treatment sucks.  you're no better off for having had cancer or going through treatment physically speaking, except that treatment might keep you alive longer to see your children grow up, which is one of those goals that the mountain lion helped clarify for you.

two weeks ago a fellow cancer mama i met through a homebirth listserve died.  she was unfairly on cancer's fast track.  its crash course.  i never met her in person.  we were similar in that we didn't have a lot of cancer peers.  when you're 'fighting' cancer in your thirties, you're usually the youngest person in the room and usually the healthiest cancer patient in the room by default that everyone else is already on the inevitable downhill slope of time.  doesn't matter that they might be statistically better off than you, because your cancer is more aggressive, often by virtue of the fact that you're younger and younger people have more aggressive cancers and also that you have so much longer to try to live cancer-free if you want to live into old age and statistically it's a lot easier to live into old age if you're already basically there and your cancer's not putting as much effort into you, as say, Ginny's put into her.  anyway, maybe when cancer (or other dangerous activities... drugs, war) defines the membership of your club, it's better to have a smaller group, i don't know.  i just know that it felt horrible to learn that Ginny was in hospice all of a sudden.  that her cancer could be that ruthless.  that her own sense of things, that her own fighting spirit within, all of her perseverance was not enough to sustain her body infinitely.  that she, because she was young, could go to school, raise her children, be on treatment, even dance and make a music video at christmastime and still... cancer pounced and two children lost their mother in february.

seems better somehow not to give cancer so much thought.  let it take up so much space and so many words, but when it becomes a part of you, well, if you're like me, it just becomes impossible not to.  i don't know how long cancer lingers in one's mind after it's been poisoned, cut out, and burned.

oh, but it can't take up each and every line of this post.  i will put up some pictures so you believe me when i tell you that it really, truly isn't all doom and gloom in these parts.  it's a lot of happiness, and for you in the cold areas back home, it's warm weather too, so even a little something for you to be jealous of... not that i want you to be jealous of me... there's just so little about my situation that would provoke such feelings in a person that i feel the need to point them out... i might be standing on a mountain in the middle of winter figuratively, but in reality, there's green grass and blue skies right outside my window, and silly faces like this to greet me...



henry turning three...

radiation town... famous for things other than giving me radiation i realized...


there's that face again...

at the geologisk museum in copenhagen...


and this little face...


shielding his ears from the circular saw as it sawed into rocks...


waiting for his turn to see what his rock looks like on the inside...

all agate... 

the husband and me.  you might note the hair.  it's scruffy but there.


and now perhaps to enjoy the weather while the blue skies last.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

wednesday

so i am in, i think, week three of radiation.  perhaps day 12 out of 25.  i was keeping good track for awhile, in my brain.  (i still have it all written out on the calendar one room over.) i thought it would just naturally count itself down, each and everyday, but it has already become such a routine that i hardly think of it anymore.  i do a lot of reading.  i'm on book number three.  (first was the valley of amazement.  second was the foremost good fortune.  and third is the brain-dead megaphone.)  i read on the train ride into radiation town.  i read in the waiting room of radiation hospital.  and i read on the train ride home.  occasionally i write, but mostly i read.  sometimes i listen to music, but mostly to the sounds of the train and the noises in the waiting room.  and i know the machine by heart.  not the big, back of the machine, that sits behind me and moves the whole operation to my left and directly above me and down to the right, out of my line of vision, but that 'whole operation'... that's the part i know.  the part that sends out the invisible sunburn rays to me.  and i also know the lights on the ceiling.  and the clock.  and, of course, that little computer screen with the blue and yellow-turned-green line when i breath in, hold, and breath out (which i do nine times, unless the x-ray machine fails to take the x-ray, as it did yesterday and today, so then i do it ten times).  (i get two x-rays everyday so they can line me up just right so i don't get any unnecessary radiation where i don't need it.  i guess two x-rays per day is a lot better than unnecessary radiation in the wrong place.)

i have found the quickest path between the train station and the hospital.  and that is to walk through the bus parking lot.  on one of the first days i got spooked when a bus started its engine just as i was passing behind it.  there's nothing quite like going in for your cancer treatments and thinking that you might actually really get hit by a bus instead.

many days i go straight to the boys' school and pick them up on my way home.  and by the time supper is over i am somewhere on the scale of wiped out. this is not so different than the way it's been since my last round of chemo, and they say that radiation can be tiring, but i have happily tricked myself into not knowing if it's the biking/walking i'm doing or the cumulative effects of treatment that have me feeling tired by the end of the day.  of course, it's probably a combination.  i'm just really not keen on the idea that cancer treatment can get me down (at least not for more than a few days at a time), so i'll gladly take the exercise excuse and concede to just a bit of the treatment because i also don't like the idea that i'm operating at 100%.  this surely cannot be me at 100%.  after dinner last night i could not make myself do anything more than climb into bed with my book, even though that meant leaving greg with a house full of scattered toys and dishes and also a crying two year old.  i'm gearing up to be a more active participant tonight.  i'm thankful that i have someone who will pick up my slack.

there's a light snow right now.  there's snow covering the ground.  it's one of the colder days we've had here this winter. and the sun?  well... let's just say i have to get my tan artificially.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

watch the blue line

today i had my first round of radiation.  it started forty five minutes late, but that was okay because i had my book.  first one woman came out and told me they were running late and they would get me in fifteen minutes and then twenty minutes later another woman came out and told me they were running late and they would get me in fifteen minutes and twenty minutes or so later, they did.  and then it was a lot of instructions that for some reason felt more complicated to me than they should have for the very basic tasks that they were... take this bag here, go to the room labeled one or two and put this on and do you know what this is for and that's okay if you don't and this is what we see on the screens while you are lying there and you can put your shoes over here and don't move, let us move you, and breath in and watch the screen and the blue line moving up to the yellow line so the blue line turns green and hold it there and breath out and breath in and breath out and breath in and breath out and find a number for your bag on your way out and don't forget to put the little blanket back inside of it.  

greg came with, for this first round.  afterwards, we ate lunch and imagined our future plans.  on the train we talked about his short-term goals for work and i thought that i too needed a goal and we decided maybe a children's book so i wrote down some thoughts on the back of my radiation schedule and outside all day, or at least in the morning, it looked like this...
froggy.

now it is time to get the boys and we'll have potato and leek soup, because for reasons of some bakery bread we need to eat and the potatoes looking like they'd rather not wait, that meal is cutting in line ahead of the lentils, which i'd always had a hunch it might do.

Monday, January 13, 2014

winter

it is officially winter in denmark.  we've finally had our first snow.  i think in the end, it will not have left a huge layer on the ground, but driving into it on my bike, it did not feel insubstantial.  putting my hand up and telling it to stop getting into my eyes didn't seem to make a difference.  lesson learned... snow is sort of like a two year old child in how much it listens to what i say.

one of the burley tires has a hole in it, but we've been getting by for the past few days by simply pumping it up anytime we go to use it.  this afternoon of course, as i went to pump it up after both boys were strapped in (because i forgot about it until that point), i realized there was just no point (after being crouched down mittenless for three minutes trying to give it life).  so i drove it back home, through the snow, on one good tire... well three if you add my bike tires... trying to blow warm air onto my fingers through my gloves.

oh winter in denmark.  welcome back.

and somehow we did not sit down to dinner until six thirty, despite the fact that i spent all of yesterday prepping multiple meals to make dinnertime easier this week.  (i start radiation tomorrow so it seemed like a wise thing to stay ahead of the game, so to speak.) regardless of tonight's late start (it is hard to keep two little boys from over snacking before dinner when you do dinner anytime later than the five o'clock hour), i think yesterday's prep work did have some benefit.  we had three good dishes, rather than three mediocre ones... a white bean salad, a cabbage and celery root cole slaw (because we really did (and still do) have celery root sitting in our fridge waiting to be used), and baked jerusalem artichokes with tomato sauce and parmesan (because it's true, we really can't seem to get rid of the jerusalem artichokes for good and are actually starting to like them alright... well... not the kids... they will say, "i do not like these potatoes").

tomorrow we do lentils, the next day leek and potato soup (with maybe the rest of the bean salad thrown in), then black bean chili, then leftovers (assuming there's plenty leftover because none of these will be huge hits with the boys... i suppose that begs the question about the leftovers).

after dinner, as bribery to get them into their pajamas, we warmed up some apple cider and cinnamon sticks on the fireplace and drank it by candlelight.

william took pictures...






i love the dreamy look on his face.  





and then turned the camera over to us...




 that's a cinnamon stick. not a cigar.


and that's how the first winter day in denmark played out.  you never know what a day will bring. driving snow, flat tires, late dinner... and yet... just about perfect all around.




Wednesday, January 8, 2014

potato chips and windsurfers

so my new 'fear less' experiment is working out rather well.  true i haven't had any big scares to really take it for a good test run (the CT scan seems to have gone fine... i only have 25 rounds of radiation coming to me, as opposed to the 35 i would have had if they had seen something they didn't like), but i've surely had some minor little aches and pains and of course there's always my breathing issues to practice with.  my oncologist seems to only be confirming that what i'm mostly dealing with now is paranoia, as i asked her at an appointment on monday on the way out the door whether i should call her if a little pain in my side that had been coming and going since that weekend didn't go away soon.  'no,' she said matter-of-factly.  and it has hardly shown up since.  but even she cannot help but give me one more test, just to check everything out, once the radiation is over.  so sometime in april i'll go through another PET/CT and be believing that whatever little activity that showed up near my lung (that the doctors thought was probably because of sickness or some kind of infection) back in may is now completely gone... if it isn't, we have to figure out what it is.  so it seems there is always going to be another test to look forward to, always questions to be answered.  so of course it seems completely good timing to change how i look at this cancer thing.

but i'm afraid that more than one person is concerned that what i am doing is bottling up those 'bad' thoughts, not 'being myself', living in denial maybe, or at least not fully exploring all the dark corners of my brain, and i would have thought the same thing just a couple of weeks ago.  but i realized that i needed to do everything possible to ensure that cancer isn't going to kill me... at least not until i'm 91... and if positive thinking and being optimistic has any effect on that at all, well, sign me up.  when i first got diagnosed and was complaining to someone that i can't seem to get over my fear that i might keel over from this, she pointed out that it is completely against all instincts to just lie down and accept death, so of course it's not going to be easy trying to 'come to terms' with the idea of dying in my thirties with young children to leave behind.

so why did i let that fear just move in and take up entire rooms in my brain and stress me out with its doomsday soundtrack playing on repeat all the time?  and despite all my best efforts at trying to get the doctors here to confirm that there was a good reason for it, that i was valid in sheltering that fear, they just never have been willing to do it.  so... why shouldn't i kick it out?  why shouldn't i close the door on it whenever it comes around?  why shouldn't i rent out the space to some nice old 91 year old instead?  thoughts must be like anything else you put into your body.  they're either going to be good for you or they're not.  the way i was thinking was like sitting around eating potato chips all day and wondering why i couldn't seem to make myself feel good doing it.  and as out of the habit as i may be or as unnatural as it might feel to me to think uncynically and unpessimistically, as hard as it might be to be a "positive thinker", it must surely be like eating healthy or exercising or doing anything else differently than one normally does.  why should thoughts get a pass?

okay, enough of that.  pictures now and news that i just bought plane tickets to travel to the u.s. this spring for 2 weeks!  ahh!  i will have to get that PET scan rescheduled, but that's okay. i will not miss this trip!  post cancerland vacation.

pictures... four of them...

of henry setting up tracks in his brown house, despite the fact that william and i made him a crazy cool track on the floor...

and of the little man henry on a night walk with his parents last night...

and of last night's moon...

and today's fjord...

it is so warm that a windsurfer was out on the water... and when we had our window open last night for sleeping, it hardly made a dip in the room temperature.  and i'm sure none of you midwesterners or north easterners want to hear that, but those are the facts.  it is warm and snowless here in denmark in january.


Friday, January 3, 2014

happy 2071!

on new year's eve we went to the zoo, because it, like the frederiksborg castle, i learned, is also open 365 days a year.  i will show you pictures of it in a minute after they finish downloading (or is it uploading) to my computer, along with about a hundred other photos (this time from my phone), except now as i type this i realize that the zoo pictures are probably on greg's phone and so you won't actually get to see pictures of lions and tigers and hippos (oh my), at least not this time.  well, we'll see what other adventures we can give you in the hundred or so photos i've failed to do anything about until now.

while that's happening, i can tell you about something.  i found a lump an inch or two above my mastectomy scar, on the same side as my original tumor, pulling my skin inward so that it's created a dimple in my skin.  i am going to spoil it for you right now and tell you that it is only scar tissue (apparently the tissue is attaching itself to the muscle in the process of healing itself... something like that).  i learned this yesterday through an ultrasound, but for five days i wrestled with my fear that the cancer had returned.  and i realized something... that i have been living with fear, and in living with fear, i've never allowed myself to fully believe that i'm not going to die of cancer.  i've hoped, of course, i've hoped and hoped and hoped and prayed and prayed and prayed that i'll be healed and go on to live a long and healthy life.  but i haven't believed it.  and before now, i haven't figured out a way to get rid of that fear.  i've hardly understood what a big role it's been playing... it's been with me since the beginning of this cancer diagnosis... i'd say it's been there since before the diagnosis... when i'd say to greg that i was worried that one of us was sick... this ambiguous fear that finally got to unmask itself upon my diagnosis...

cancer... and fear... if ever two things went together... you'd figure they were meant for each other, like there was no tearing them apart... but they are two separate things... i see that now finally... i thought i knew that before... i remember sitting outside this summer eating dinner and realizing that fear is a place i have to choose to go to... i wasn't living in it like i was in the very beginning, when i thought, but didn't know, that i had cancer... when i waited to learn if it had metastasized to my bones... when i waited for the chemo to begin... but even then, even when i realized i was no longer living with fear, i didn't know just how willing i was to go back to that space the moment i thought the cancer might be back.  like i had no choice in the matter.  the cancer is back and so i must be afraid.  i must give into the fear and all of my negative thoughts, letting myself imagine this cancer killing me and justifying myself giving room to those thoughts by saying that i'm just coming to terms with the idea of death so that i can be less afraid of it.  no... that's just me being a pessimist (dressed up as a realist).  but it's not the way to survive cancer.  not for me at least.  i realized that whatever the ultrasound might reveal, i had to believe that i was going to live, no matter what, until i'm 91.  (hey, i might as well think loftyish, right?)  so that's what i started to do.  i had to cut off the bad thoughts as soon as they started creeping in, and replace them with good thoughts.  wow... hard work for someone like me... (i'm sure it comes more naturally to others) and yet... simple enough instructions... i'm sort of embarrassed that it's taken a cancer diagnosis and a recurrence scare to finally learn that.  well... better late than never.  tomorrow i have my CT scan ahead of radiation, which starts on the 14th.  i was nervous about it, but i'm feeling much more confident about it now and i know that if it reveals bad news, i am much more prepared to handle it than i was a week ago.  because i'm going to live to be 91. so, happy 2014 and happy 2071!

and now some pictures.

well, it turns out the zoo pictures, though on greg's phone, are on my computer already, so here you go, though there aren't any lions, tigers, or hippos... but there's this guy...


of course he didn't spend the entire time sitting in the wagon like this.  my favorite is when he balanced on his knees on the back, on that red bar... i'm sure that's what that bar is for.

my favorite part of the zoo was the room with all of the frogs and bugs and snakes... finding the creatures that lived in each little aquarium...





this is the crocodile...

our boys... you can see that it's not nearly as cold here as it is where you live (unless you're reading this from arizona)...

the labyrinth maze they had at the playground.  i have this idea that they wouldn't put this in a playground in the u.s. because you very quickly lose your two year old child in it...


okay, now for some older pictures.

this guy, at the christmas tree farm where we cut down our christmas tree this year...

finding the 'perfect' one... the perfect one to coincide with our bus schedule...


we carried it back to the bus stop.  this was not so long after my surgery so i probably wasn't supposed to be helping to carry christmas trees to bus stops and home from bus stops and all that, but i think it's all worked out okay...

on the bus...

w.

this year's new-to-us advent calendar....

and our advent candle...

and back to vienna!

the city hall...

and the christmas market outside city hall...

and the cute little stations inside city hall for kids to bake and paint coffee mugs and other gifts...

i know these went up on facebook, but here they are again for the blog crowd...


and the palace we visited the next day... schoenbrunn... the summer palace...

and the airport...

and the airplane...

and making cookies...

and playing on the beach on new year's day...

finding a bone and taking it home for the museum in their room... i find it a bit disconcerting...

i didn't mention it was nearly four o'clock when we got to the beach, so the pictures quickly get dark...



you can barely see it, but henry wrote an H in the sand with that pole william found for him in the picture above.  i was so proud!

and they found a decoy duck and attached him to the pole...


and yesterday william wanted to go to the toy store to spend some of his money that he's been saving forever and forever... so we went.  henry got the umbrella... william got some legos...

and my walk today...


now onto dinner prep!  happy new year!