Carcinoid tumor, on purpose, self image, space, wellness

On Purpose.

Yesterday, I went to an appointment that was actually scheduled for today.

I have misplaced my favorite glasses.

And I probably forgot your birthday last summer.

This has been my new normal over the last seventeen months. I hardly recognize myself or this tendency to lose stuff. I have been pulling the blankets around me, physically and emotionally, at the expense of the every day. Closing my eyes, overwhelmed by the after-effect of three rounds of surgery, the fluctuating test results, the pains that wake me in the night, the deadlines and word counts I can’t measure up to, the waistbands that cut over my incision areas and the bottomed-out exhaustion of lying awake all night while this movie reel spins ’round and ’round and ’round.

And then, I had enough of letting things happen to me and nothing being done on purpose.

I got up and began a purge, inside and out.

First, at the Seattle Nest; I threw away any paper I had not touched, filed or looked at twice in the last year. That freed up three baskets. Then I gave two of those baskets to Goodwill. I gave most of my clothes away. I kept only the shoes that made me smile. There is now a 1000 piece puzzle on a table in the middle of my living room space replacing books on writing. There is so much yarn. Fiction waits by my bed. I forgave myself the preferred diet of dairy, toast and fruit and went to the store for more cheese.

Then, inside: I had not been following my own cardinal rule — information is power — instead, I had been cringing away from the real time of my diagnosis, wrapping myself up in fear, lying awake to be sandy-eyed and worn out by daybreak, cowed by every pain and the bottomless fatigue. And pissed at myself, fully aware of this self-defeating cycle of fear=exhaustion=anxiety=more fears.

So last week I opened the hospital app, put in the passwords and read my medical reports online out loud for the first time. Did not wait for someone to tell me the results. I read them over and over, letting the now be all mine. Here is what I owned, here is what I said out loud,

I had a carcinoid tumor in my appendix, colon re-sectioning then a sick gall bladder over a twelve month period of time. That is a lot of surgery.

I may have more cancer.

But today? I  feel just fine. 

And remarkably, I felt better. I wrote 758 words that rocked. After a good cry, I slept my first solid sleep in a very, very long time and woke up to a magnificent morning.

Shelf space=heart space=real space.

In less than ten days I will kick the 50’s out the door and welcome in my next decade with open arms. I say bring it on, whatever I need to know and do, make me safe — whatever it takes — so I can stick around a little longer to stomp my footprint a bit deeper into the earth.

I am not sorry about the birthdays, the glasses or the appointments. People that care about me will not care about my failings and stick around. Appointments can be rebooked. I have ordered a stretchy skirt. And I have been longing for a pair of cherry red glasses, anyways.

This morning the September sun beats down on me, the crow with a white feather chortles to me from the railing, begging shamelessly for more dog treats. The sky is brilliant. I feel on purpose today.

I am still here.

 

IMG_3508

Standard
#trending, Coping, flowers, Friendship, Healing, writing

#Trending: It’s personal.

[tren-ding]: emerging as a popular trend.

What is #trending for you personally this July, 2018? Because that is all that really matters. I was thinking about this as the birds sprayed all the fresh water out of my birdbath this morning, exuberantly enjoying their morning spa. Note that nothing about my list is trendy #trending — you would have to  jump over to twitter for that — instead, a short list of what I realize has unfolded as my compass this last month.

  1. #goodfriendsareshastadaisies:  Leucanthemum superbum are the most trustworthy summer perennial I know — standing tall despite heat or thunderstorms or neglect,  They stretch to the sky and tip their faces up to the sun and grow in the poorest patches of earth. I have friends that stand up to life this way, the same friends who continuously cultivate our friendship despite our differences or geography or challenges.  They are my #trending anchors, my soul soothers, I channel you daily. You know who you are. I am grateful.
  2. #WritingReadingThinking: If I can’t write, I read. If I can’t read, I think. Do not underestimate the power of sitting with morning tea and listening to what is happening around you and just thinking. Some of my best lines float into my brain this way. Some of the best answers come to me watching birds hop in and out of the birdbath. It has taken six decades to allow sitting into my life and to reap the benefits. One silver lining of health challenges I try to pay forward daily.
  3. #Family: As we grow up and old we change. I am all for this. For all of us. What is  #trending for me is the filament that holds us together, though my family grows and expands —  a tie so gossamer it seems invisible but so strong, like the single thread of a spider web. I am thankful.
  4. #Sadsacksofflesh: So I lost a couple of sad sacks of flesh last year and I am about to lose another. #trending for me is understanding what I can live without and remembering how I have healed, over and over. I am writing a to-do list for 2019 and checking it twice. Watch me go after this next surgery. Catch me if you can.
  5. #LettingStuffGo: The Nest, in Seattle, is three rooms and a bath. Enough said. We don’t need anything, really, but the essentials. And chocolate. What are yours?

So what is #trending for me personally? I am picking daisies and talking to friends far and near and staying in touch with my grown-up offspring and getting through another hospital gig and booking tickets and writing workshops and retreats and outlining my new manuscript and stripping the basement of stuff. I can’t wait for the year to come. And in the near future, I will be sitting down, watching the birds and thinking while my body catches up.

How about you? Whatever it is, make it yours, make it good.

IMG_2982

 

 

 

Standard
At The Fault Line, Bravery, Memoir, Read, Support, writing

At The Fault Line

Today, Friday June 8, I am reading one of my recent essays at a ticketed event in Seattle. Eleven writers in my memoir group have crafted, honed and polished their words with grace and guts for the last few months. Writing a personal trauma story is a naked enough feeling. To read it in public takes exposure to a whole new level.

Last year, after my diagnosis and series of surgeries, three years of writing a manuscript went up in smoke. The questions came fast and hard, especially at night: do I bury my mother’s story, interweave mine, move on from past to present or take the story present to past? Do I even have the skills to do any or all of this? Do I want to?

When I finally wrote down the words which became my essay, “We Don’t Know Everything,” I felt there had been a nuclear explosion in my head; the collision of my story, my mother’s story, cancer information and understanding illness, all locking together in believable — and unbelievable — ways. All the pieces will be sharing, for lack of a better word, the radioactive fissure — the cracking of the fault lines —  that comes from speaking out on trauma. Eleven times over.

This is the second year of this event At The Fault Line. I hope we do this forever. The experience of professional coaching — by our mentor Tara Hardy —  speaking our words aloud into a microphone, into the atmosphere, into the ears of friends and strangers, validates our writing. And our existence. And our purpose.

Last year we sold tickets at the door. This year we have been sold out for almost two weeks. I am watching the seedling of a mighty tree of storytelling grow and grow and grow.

The stories will crack open hearts, from the mundane to the profound, from folding laundry to holding an Alzheimer patient. I am so proud of all of us.

Buddha

Standard
flowers, gratitude, Spring, Women

Hi, Lovely.

This weekend, if you are of a certain age, you have permission to wear white. This edict has been debunked by fashionistas recently; white has become the new black. Hurrah — it is fresh and clean. Only white is not-so-flattering on my butt. So I strategically wear this bright, happy color with layers and smile at my shocked grandmother in the mirror.

I am also of the age where May brings up a flood of memories and gratitude.

Every scent and sound throws me back to the women who cultivated my love of the dirt. I remember you all — both grandmothers with their carefully chosen long-stemmed rose bushes, my mother with the wild willful planters of fiery red geraniums and mint. I wish they could see that I plant herbs close together and crush lavender as I walk by.

This spring in Seattle I have the privilege to see the season of roses, peonies and Mock Orange bushes. My morning walks with Olive, in my white linen and wool sweater (Seattle sports a “marine layer” until noon) are sumptuous and breathtaking. I snap masses of photos and inhale Abraham Darby up my nose, all while leaning dangerously into the gardens of strangers.

I have to talk on the phone away from the window, the birdsong is so loud.

I put up the Silver Palate Minted Spinach and Snap Pea soup recipe, fragrant and bright green, to drink cold out of a jar. I simmer down pot-fulls of strawberries. I plant another round of sorrel, tarragon and basil in foraged containers.

And like the women who showed me how to cultivate, I, too, go down to the beds in the morning and greet my garden. For these women not only taught me to plant deep and water well, they showed me that our gardens, as all things that bring me joy, need to be thanked.

So I am the pajama-clad, bed-haired and graying lady speaking to my little garden at six in the morning. “Hello, Lovely,” I usually begin, then bury my nose in a blossom. I swear they nod at me.

Standard
care giving, May

May Day.

This morning I looped through town on my bike to pick up coffee and some air. The pup has an ulcerated paw and we have been cooped up together for weeks. Today, May 1 brings warmth and magnolia blossoms and a hint of green in the twiggy privet hedges. I stashed my helmet in my basket for a few blocks and let the sea air and bird song ruffle my ears. Everything is on hold until she heals — travel, reading events and the nest. But this is an old, familiar feeling, that kick of adrenaline, the unraveling of time and claustrophobia. Caregiving at it’s finest.

I have a lifetime resume of taking care of others: family, parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. As I write my manuscript about the years my mother was ill, when I was just out of college, the pages started to reveal something I had never been able to put into words before —  that my mother’s illness was my first internship and I tackled it head on. While my peers were buried in offices, medical school or graduate school, my four year immersion was in cancer, hospital rooms, treatment facilities. My mother’s death and dying was an experience that essentially drove the blueprint for the rest of my life. I discovered at twenty-one that I was really, really good at forgoing myself for the needs of others.

Mayday, Mayday. Person at risk.

Last year, at fifty-eight, I needed others to do this for me. I was under the sheets not sitting on the edge of the bed for the first time, ever. Enter the learning curve, the invaluable — if late —  lesson of letting others help me. It was uncomfortable and it was amazing.

How do we balance taking care of ourselves and taking care of others in need? We have to do both on a daily basis. The balance is essential for your health, and in turn, let’s us take better care of others. This is tricky, take it from me. Turns out taking care of myself is not selfish. Then I am in better shape to help you.

I didn’t put the bike away. Later I will go ’round the point one more time before sunset, her injured paw bandaged and the collar on snugly so she doesn’t chew the dressing. When Olive heals, I will go back to my work, time in Seattle, my essentials. A little for me, a little for her.

Go smell the grass and listen to the cardinals. Spring, and renewal, is in the air.

Version 2

Marblehead Harbor, early morning mist.

Standard
Choices, Knitting, Read, writing

Essentials.

What I am reading: The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison —  The Tao of Raven: An Alaska  Native Memoir, Ernestine Hayes —  Dancing Bears, Witold Szablowski.

What I just finished : The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister — Devotions, Mary Oliver — Songs of Willow Frost, Jamie Ford.

What I am knitting: A vest out of maize-colored Rowan Felted Tweed. A Churchmouse Yarn cowl pattern, wildly adapted to what I had in my yarn bag. An orchid-colored Alexandra’s Airplane scarf out of Rowan Kid Silk Haze and beaded with pink iridescent micro-beads.

What I am writing: Draft #20 of a personal essay piece, about to be submitted.

You get the picture: books, yarn, needles, paper. Last weekend my cousin and I went to an estate sale, early in the morning while the dew was still shivering on the cherry blossoms. We parked by a stone archway and stepped into a long room anchored by a walk-in fireplace, fully ablaze. I wandered this old farmhouse, stripped bare and crackling with story. When I returned to the front room the owner was saying “It just got away from us.” I fingered a chipped bowl full of scissors. My heart broke around the edges.

There is letting go and there is not keeping up. I want to be the former, smart and brave and realistic when the time comes. Recently the time has come for certain things: clothes I will never wear, shoes I cannot walk in anymore. And books. And furniture.

I sense I am in a race with myself, a new look at the future —  to not be caught short of sense and burdened by stuff. Last year’s health scares just simply brought home that  there is not an endless stretch ahead. So what do I really need each day?

Books, yarn, needles, paper works every corner of my brain, now that I have it back inside my head. Everything is portable and can be pulled from the same bag. Perhaps a toothbrush would be good.

And the people that love me, that are on this journey with me? I will have toothbrushes for all of you, too.

Ten months and counting from that double-whammy last year. I am learning to pack a bag of the essential ingredients and let the rest go.

 

Bainbridge Island, March 18th, 2018 Camelia

Bainbridge Island, March 18, 2018. Camellia blossom: essential spring.

Standard
#NEDAweek2018, fat girl, NEDA, self image, Women

Yo. Fat Girl.

 

How appropriate that this is NEDA week — National Eating Disorder Awareness week.  February in Seattle has me brushing hail off the jonquils and bundled in sweaters, prevented from long walks and sunshine infusions by an unrelenting steel gray and dripping sky. Premier weather for writing. And being depressed. And therefore, eating.

I crave mac&cheese and chocolates for breakfast and bread, bread, bread. So a few gal cousins and I began a sugar and alcohol cleanse the day after Valentine’s day (trust me, this weather has called for a lot of Bourbon). The headaches we endured the first week reminded us that sugar begets the craving for more sugar. This has been a good idea, though painful. But it also reminded me of the old days, the extreme dieting, the endless carb-starves and calorie counting.

I have made references along the way in my writing and on this blog that my body weight and self image took a hit for most of my life. I believe that my degree of eating disorder was instilled in me very early on because of how others thought I should look. And even when I initially shed some of the weight in eighth grade by growing five inches, the person in the mirror will always be fat. That is what happens when family, friends and peers — not to mention the media — sets standards that the average young girl cannot meet.

Every time I think I have gotten beyond this self-image issue the fat girl stands up: I had a series of abdominal surgeries ten months ago, right before my oldest daughter’s wedding. The dress I had purchased barely zipped on her wedding day. Spanx (never actually wear them) were out of the question due to my incision areas. I felt sick for days in anticipation of what those pictures would look like. The fat girl wanted to hide in the bathroom when the dress went over my head. She never leaves me, logically or illogically.

Today I seek transparency, like the warrior survivor #positively.kate who writes the most amazing truth every day on her blog and instagram. The NEDA website is an incredible resource for support or information: I took the quiz, and learned I could use some help. I know. I always will. But I also know after fifty-nine years that I am spectacular in many ways and eating disorders do not define me anymore. Hey, I was tumor-free for the wedding and I WAS THERE, saggy stomach and all.

Once that girl lives in you, you just have to call her out. I looked in the bathroom mirror, my daughter waiting on the other side of the door in her wedding dress and said,

“Yo, Fat Girl. I love you.”

Olive2:18Seattle

Olive, February, 2018. Seattle, WA.

 

Standard