Change is in the Air

You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind – Joyce Meyer

After a hectic and less than Merry (for me anyway) Christmas, we were able to get away to Mansfield to visit my mother-in-law and celebrate the New Year with her (thanks Omi!). I managed to talk my partner in life to visit my hands down favorite restaurant ever – the Malabar Farm Restaurant. If you are ever in Perrysville or are able to visit Malabar Farm or Mohican State Park, make a reservation. It’s a localvore’s paradise. But I digress. We were able to have a New Year’s Eve lunch that allowed me to relax enough to finally unclench my teeth which have been perpetually clenched since September 5th.

I’m not sure what caused it, but I think it was the 2×4 along side the head from God that He frequently needs to administer to get my attention. I have been struggling with this new normal that cancer handed me. Everyone has their own mental image of struggle, so let me paint you a picture of my struggle. I am firmly bound in a straight jacket being carried by the men in white coats with my legs flailing in front of me. My hair resembles the bird’s nest that my mother called it when I failed to comb it as a child, my face is red and my eyes are practically popping out of their sockets. I am screaming at the top of my lungs “I AM NOT GOING THERE. PUT ME DOWN!!!!!” Yes, this me – on the inside. On the outside, I try desperately to prove to the world that cancer hasn’t changed me. Obviously, I have been in denial about this new normal.

However, at lunch I found myself somehow at peace. Three words slowly coalesced in my mind – simplify, de-clutter, joy. Those three words were like the lightening bolt I talk to the Ultimate Bengal Fan about (that would be the one that God sends down that says I’m supposed to let him play tackle football). While this one was more figurative than literal (in order to play tackle ball, it will need to be a literal one), it carried the same impact.

My new normal requires that I simplify my life – period. I will never be able to juggle multiple agendas in my mind. Chemo stole most of that ability and menopause took what little was left. I need to make lists – realistic lists – and follow them. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to getting anything done. I create these unrealistic expectations that I know I can’t fulfill on my best day, let alone the days I tend to have. Projects need to be broken down into manageable steps. This is why God gave me an engineer for a husband. He is great about helping me break things down and reining me in when needed.

It occurs to me that the best way to simplify is to get rid of stuff, thus my de-cluttering. Get rid of the clutter (and NOT replacing it), gives me simplicity. Less to clean, take care of, move around, decide who will get it 30 years from now (God willing) in my will, etc. It will make my life so much easier to not have so much stuff. Teaching the Ultimate Bengal Fan and the B-Man is another story, but let’s just tackle one mountain at a time.

I have also added what I call the “joy factor” to my life. The joy factor is basically asking myself a simple question, “Will this add joy to my life?” If the answer’s yes, it stays. If not, it goes. Whether this is actually feasible for the long run is debatable, but for now it’s okay. I realize there are some non-negotiable items that I will answer, “No,” to (like oncology follow-ups, mammograms, editing work for picky clients), but ultimately those things will bring joy. Nothing is more joyful that getting another gold star on your remission chart, a letter stating that your mammogram is unremarkable and getting a paycheck.

I know I’ve written before that ovarian cancer was a game changer for me. It still is. Life as a cancer survivor is one that evolves. The old saying that “Nothing in life is guaranteed,” carries even more truth for a cancer survivor. With few exceptions, no survivor is ever cured. The best we can hope for is a “lifetime remission.”

While I love dancing with NED (No Evidence of Disease), I realize there may be times when his name isn’t on my dance card. So be it. God also added this with the 2×4, you aren’t doing this alone. I have been blessed by an incredible family, an amazing group of friends, and the best medical care team around. Through it all, God is constant. So through the ups and downs of this “new normal,” life is incredible. It’s all in the attitude.

De-clutter. Simplify. Joy.

May 2015 be full of simple joys for you.

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If I Knew Then…

This week, my husband and I celebrate 11 years with our Ultimate Bengal Fan. It doesn’t seem like he’s been with us that long. I now have a much clearer understanding of the saying, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Those early days of mommyhood were so long and I spent much of my time wishing they would pass.

The seemingly endless days of early childhood were tough. Unlike the traditional route, where you have several months to prepare for your child, I had 3 weeks. While my husband and I had spent months jumping through hoops at the state and federal level in the US as well as the Russian government, it was all just paperwork. We had a crib and a few other things, but that was it. When you adopt, you don’t have a due date. It’s pretty much a hurry up and wait kind of thing, at least it was with us. One day you’re living your life and the next you’re scrambling to finish paperwork, buy airline tickets, gathering baby things and generally running like a chicken with your head cut off to take off for a foreign country where you can’t even read the alphabet.

I did learn that I love the people of my Fan’s home region in Siberia. It’s beautiful and the people are hard working and friendly. Our return to Moscow was a bit like being in New York City, only you couldn’t read the signs. It’s busy and crowded. I don’t like crowds. And it is a bit disconcerting to go to the grocery and be greeted by guards carrying weapons. Kroger doesn’t look so bad any longer. I learned that while I may not like a lot of things in the US, it’s still better than many other places and I literally knelt down and put my head to the floor after we landed in Boston (despite being tired, I drew the line at actually kissing the ground. I still had a bit of sense after being up for 26 hours straight). I was not only thankful for my home, but that there were changing tables in the bathrooms. It’s the little things, trust me.

It was that trip, and the subsequent one to Guatemala to bring home the B-man, that shaped me for my future challenges. Both my sons faced challenges stemming from being orphaned as infants, albeit different since one was in an orphanage and another in foster care. I learned I’m much more resilient than I give myself credit for. I learned to think on the fly and that life cannot be put into a nice box, allowing you to pick and choose what will happen. It just goes and you have the choice to go follow the current or try to swim upstream. There are times to be the water and times to be the spawning salmon. You just have to know which is which.

Cancer is like that. You have to know when to fight and when to let it go. I’m not talking about the “calling in the hospice” letting it go. I’m talking about taking a nap, letting the chemo do it’s thing and having a pity party kind of letting it go. It was a tough act two years ago and is still a tough act. I’m still fighting the incredibly taxing side effects of chemotherapy. I still fight neuropathy, bone pain, nausea, headaches and stomach issues. Anemia, which I had filed away as a past issue, has raised its ugly head again. The rain today is making me feel achy and just plain yucky. I am bummed because this is the first Saturday in I don’t know how long that I actually had time to attend a volunteer meeting for the Ovarian Cancer Alliance in my hometown. Instead, I’m sitting here hoping that my hands last longer than the words in my head.

I thank God every day for the gift of motherhood. He knew exactly which children we should have and when we needed them. It wasn’t on our timetable, but His. He knew that I would get cancer, but made sure my precious sons were old enough to understand and help me out, but that I would be around to make sure they would continue on their path to be well-rounded, faith grounded and loved beyond measure young men. My prayer has always been to see them start off in their chosen fields (choosing to see them graduate from high school seems cliché. I want to see them soar). He placed us in a homeschool environment so my boys would be able to be hugged, cared for and blessed by people who were friends.

Every day puts the odds into play. Every day is a gift. Good days are filed away and bad days bring home the fact that the battle continues. Cancer is a lot like a foreign country. If you stay long enough, you learn the language, adapt to the weather and find joy in the culture. If I knew then that I would face ovarian cancer, I might have paused about bringing my children home. But then I wouldn’t know what I know now.

The days are long, but the years are short. It’s what you put into them that counts.

The Land of Discontentment

I have been feeling very discontented. It took me a while to latch onto the right word, but discontented sums it up nicely. After sitting on pins and needles for 2 months because of a unexpected rise in my tumor marker, I have been given a thumbs up by my oncology team. I’m back on quarterly testing for the foreseeable future. Thankful, yes but certainly not content with status quo. After over a year in the 7 range, I’m in the 10’s now. Well below the threshold of 35, but not where I was. I’m certainly not content with that.

I’m convinced that stepping on a scale is the fastest way to the land of discontentment. It’s the bullet train of emotion. If it drops, you go to the land of euphoria. If it remains that the station, it’s either a relief or a puzzler. If you gain, you zip straight into discontentment. I gained 4 pounds. I’m not surprised considering the vast amounts of junk food I’ve consumed the last 10 days. I bought into the lie that I could walk the dog 4 days a week and eat whatever I wanted. I walked from the land of healthy into the land of discontentment. I’m not happy, but it’s not unexpected either.

I talked to my devoted husband last night about this nebulous, discontented feeling I have. He was puzzled since he has left the land of discontentment and is on the island of contentment. Seems we’re never in the same place at the same time any longer. Could be that was one of the stops I missed on the train.

When I’m bothered by something, it never comes up and slaps me along side the head. It’s always this cloudy, endless black hole in the back of my mind. It takes a while for the black hole to collapse so I can put words to the visual. My visual today was a huge mass of wires with me tangled in their web. My land of discontentment is covered in computer cables, e-mails and the hundreds of other electronic gizmos that clamor for my attention every day.

I had high hopes for myself when I ended chemo. I wanted to be a different person. I wanted to be the fun mom, the sexy wife, the fabulous friend, the great housekeeper and organizer extraordinaire (quit laughing Mom). None of it happened. I’m still just a Mom, an overweight wife, a so-so friend and my house looks like I have a perpetual windstorm blowing through it. I didn’t change, at least in the ways I hoped I would.

I find that I now have little tolerance for people who whine about the piddly things in life. Who cares if you can’t find a place to park close to the door? Wal-Mart’s out of your favorite cookies? Deal with it. Dropped your dinner all over the bottom of the oven? It happens (and I do get upset about it because tuna casserole is a pain to clean up), but it’s just one meal and that’s why God created cereal (I know my DH, I need to take my own advice). Life is a series of choices. Mull over the big ones, give a second thought to the average ones, and let the little ones fall where they may. I’ve learned not to stress over the B-man’s dislike of generic Cheerios. In the grand scheme of things, it’s piddly.

Chemo made me more distractible. My concentration a lot of days is in the negative zone. Half the time I can’t remember diddly and the other half I can’t figure out why I’d want to. My boys accept the fact that Mom has chemo fog. They even say it when I’m standing in the middle of a room, trying to look like I know what I want, when, in fact, I haven’t got a clue. That makes me sad. Should my kids have to understand what chemo fog is at 11 and 8. I know it’s a joke to them, but to me it’s taken a huge part of who I was. I could juggle lists and appointments with the best of them. Now, the idea of juggling anything other than clean socks is scary and I’m not very good at that either. This is discontentment at its finest.

This morning I realized I needed to find a way to clear my head and get out of the Land of Discontentment. I deal with too much noise. Remember the static noise on TV when the channel was out? For those of you old enough to remember life before cable and satellite this shouldn’t be a stretch, unless you’ve had chemo. Then Google it. It’ll come back, I promise. That’s what I hear in my head; all day, every day. I’ve discovered that’s the National Anthem in the Land of Discontentment.

I made a huge decision. I’m unplugging. My Kindle has been turned off. I’m on a Facebook fast. I’m only tutoring 2 days per week. I’m checking e-mail twice per day. I still text, but have decided the phone is a good way to communicate (remember actually calling someone?). I continue to freelance, but will print off my research and work on it in the dining room where I can actually see out the window. I want to write creatively and cross stitch and play games with my kids. I want to move my body as I actually do something in my house. I’m hoping to lasso the source of the windstorm and try to slow them down.

Life is tough, especially in the Land of Discontentment. Cancer is tough, even after you dance with NED (No Evidence of Disease). You spend a lot of time on the Island of What-If, which is across the Channel of Dread from the Land of Discontentment. It’s like have Charon take you across the River Styx. You don’t want to be on that boat, but you can’t see a way off. Cancer taught me that my life isn’t under my control. I like to think it is, but it’s not.

What I can control is how I look at life and what I do with what I’ve got. Yes, I’m in remission from ovarian cancer. Okay, so I eat healthy (well, I start to eat healthy AGAIN) and exercise. I try to tame the chaos in the house. Uncluttering the physical goes a long way to uncluttering the mind and soul. God won’t talk above the static, but He does talk. He needs me to get rid of the static to hear Him.

When I can finally find the mute button, He tells me to just look around and get off at the next train station. There’s always a train headed back to Contentment. You’ve just got to know when to change trains.

Making Memories

10487173_781151851948158_5764858939129974259_nTwo years ago, I found myself desperately wanting to make memories for B-man and the Ultimate Bengals Fan.  It was the day before my surgery and I had this nagging thought that if anything happened to me, I wanted them to have one last fantastic final memory of how cool their mom was.  To take it a step further, earlier in the week I’d asked Other Mom Kelley to take over my homeschooling duties in the event of the unthinkable (in her typical style she told me that we were not going there).  I had a fabulous day of skipping school and shopping for Halloween, buying pumpkins and playing in the park.  I secretly hoped that I would see those costumes on my babies.  I think there was some guilt in the mix because I knew I’d be gone for 3 nights and my hubby would be spending time at the hospital.

Eight days, a pulmonary embolism and a cancer diagnosis later, I was back home.  The future held a port insertion, 7 rounds of chemo, a Thanksgiving that ended up with a bald mom and a Christmas I don’t remember anything about except being horribly sick and tired (unlike my normal sick and tired which occurs when the boys decide to play basketball or soccer in the living room).  There weren’t too many memories made except those that the B-man talks about.  They all involve my bald head.  Apparently, no child appreciates a mom with no hair.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to rely on memories.  A dear friend passed away as a result of her battle with breast cancer.  Ironically, it wasn’t the cancer that killed her, it was the chemotherapy which had damaged her heart beyond repair.  It’s always scary to think that the thing that supposed to cure you tends to end up killing you in the long run.  Anytime another survivor dies, it chips away at my resolve for a bit.  Fortunately, it comes back, but like a scar, the resolve is never quite the same as what it was before.

I find that memories are strange things.  They warp with time.  My memories of my paternal grandma come in flashes now and they are always positive.  Initially, I remembered some negative things, but mostly I just remember being loved.  I have more vivid memories of my maternal grandpa, but even those are more of a reflection from pictures or other events. Time has a strange way of changing things so you only remember what you want.

My Ultimate Bengal Fan recently mentioned that his memories of his beloved Papaw (my dad) were mostly gone.  When I asked him what he did remember, he told me that he remembers being loved.  Nothing else; just loved.  I can’t imagine a better memory of someone than being immersed in an unconditional love.  That’s what Papaw had for his Bengals Fan.  It was a love that transcended this world and has a connection to the next.  Despite the disappointment that B-man feels for not knowing his Papaw, I know there’s a connection there.  Some memories are made by God, others by us and some are a combination of both.

Tomorrow, I get the chance to make more memories.  Cancer wasn’t able to steal that from me.  Chemo might have taken my recall, but not my memories – at least not yet.

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I know that the Beast is lurking; looking for a chance to reassert itself into my physical being.  It’s a constant presence in my mind, so I know it’s just dying (excuse the pun) to get another shot at me.  I can only do so much to keep it away.  The rest is in God’s hands, exactly where it belongs.

So tomorrow, I put the Beast back in the box and spend time with the Ultimate Bengals Fan, the B-man and the Best Husband Ever making memories.  While they may fade with time, I hope my “men” remember the love and joy and that it transcends time.

Watching and Waiting

Standing on a road I didn’t plan, wondering how I got to where I am.  I want to believe in that still small voice.  I want to hear beyond the noise. – Plum, Need You Now

I am in that lovely place that no wants to be in  – watching and waiting.  You know the place.  It’s somewhere between “blown off” and “definitive.”  You may or may not have an illness or some other disease.  So the doctors call for “watchful waiting.” They test you at regular intervals with the expectation that at the end of a specific period you will have an answer – or not.

I’ve been in the “desert of the unknown” since September 5th.  That’s the day I found out that the unreliable CA125 decided to shoot up from a relatively low 8 to 21.4 in 11 short weeks.  I say unreliable since it’s affected by inflammation and isn’t the best indicator for some women for recurrence. In case you didn’t realize, EVERYTHING causes inflammation; allergies, stress, sprains, strains, foods.  The list goes on and on and on.

When I got my result, the nurse was reassuring.  Dr. Downer wasn’t too concerned since my recent CT showed NED (no evidence of disease).  He attributed the rise to inflammation.  His advice:  come in for my regular appointment, retest in 4 weeks and DON’T WORRY. Right.

I saw Dr. Downer this week.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I LOVE Dr. Downer.  He is, in my opinion, the best gynecological oncologist ever.  He handles my sarcasm for what it is; a warped sense of humor couched with fear.  He gets it.  He knows my brain goes into overdrive and races to the bad places that only The Beast can take you.  He takes the extra time to answer every question I have, even the stupid ones.  He lets me cry, rant, scream, question and run through every other emotion.  He also give great hugs.  His nickname is sarcastic.  When I was in chemo, it seemed that he only gave me bad news, while his PA, who I affectionately refer to here as The Lovely Liz, had good news.  It also keeps me out of trouble for mentioning him by name.  But I digress.

At my visit, I mentioned that while I knew I might need to bond with Dr. Downer again one day, I just wasn’t quite ready yet.  He told me that it would probably happen one day.  Ouch!  This was after he explained my watch and wait plan.  Get labs on 10/1, labs again in November.  Any jumps of 3 points or more for 2 consecutive tests mean a PET scan is in order.  A huge jump above normal (over 34) gets a PET scan. Otherwise it’s just pesky inflammation causing a blip in the testing.

I have spent a lot of time thinking and worrying.  I have a chemo plan set up – in my head anyway.  It will be on Wednesdays with my Angel in Blue so I can keep up with co-ops.  I have been blessed with an amazing support posse – Coach Cathy, Sista Sue, Other Mom Kelley, Miss Renie, Aunt Denise and Prayer Warrior Linda.  These women have been my constant source of encouragement and I love them with an unfailing love. My DH is straddling the line between fantasy and reality.  He has to.  Balance has to be maintained in our relationship.  I have shared the news with Mr. B and the Ultimate Bengal Fan.  I hate that they might get sucked back into my private hell.  Moms are supposed to keep their kids safe from monsters.  How can I protect them from The Beast?

I am withdrawing.  My Coach has called me out twice on this.  She’s figured out when I put on the happy face. Mom Kelley has wiped away tears when they just won’t stop.  There is no oasis in this no man’s land.  My tree is no where to be found.  I’m like the nomad the Ultimate Bengal Fan is learning about.  Nightmares haunt my sleep.  Every ache and pain is accompanied by irrational thoughts.  Thus my house is less than sparkling.

I wish I was one of those people who forgot about food and cleaned incessantly when stressed.  Instead I eat anything that might remotely look like it could be dipped, enhanced or mistaken for chocolate. I spend time playing games on my Kindle.  I struggle to write a coherent sentence.  I’m scared, but afraid to acknowledge it.  If I acknowledge it, it might be real.  Let’s face it, reality tends to be overrated.

If you need me, I’ll be chasing my friend NED around no man’s land.  I’m the one  with a large mocha in one hand and Russian dark chocolate in the other.  A girl needs to keep her energy up while jumping to conclusions.

Two Years Post Invasion

While making my boys a follow-up appointment at Children’s this morning, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the date made me nervous.  Then I remembered, “Oh crap, it was that day 2 years ago when ‘the mass’ was found.”  I love that term, “the mass.”  It makes my cancer sound like some sort of nebulous blob that could be just about anything when it was really a “malignant neoplasm of the left ovary” (the technical term for my ovarian cancer tumor).  I’m really not sure which term is worse since I have an intense dislike of both.  Being a writer, I suppose, makes me prefer the “malignant neoplasm of the left ovary” since it is simple and completely explains what it was.

I have said that I knew my NMLO (my shorthand for the mass) was cancer as soon as it was found.  I was never in denial about my cancer.  I was, however, in denial about needing surgery.  Funny how the hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) scared me worse than having cancer.  I was TERRIFIED of general anesthesia.  I was sure I was going to die from it.  Now I realize I should have been much more scared of the pulmonary embolism that nearly killed me after surgery and the chemotherapy that was to follow.  I suppose that I had accepted the fact I had cancer, but dealing with a total loss of control while under anesthesia was more than my little brain could handle.  In fact, the Monday before my surgery, I practically begged my friend Kelley to agree to homeschool my boys if I died.  Fortunately, Kelley is levelheaded and, at that point at least, was not as close a friend as she’s become now.  Her levelheadedness, prayers and constant texts of Bible verses kept me sane.  Sanity now tends to come and go.

While some people have asked why I thought I got cancer, I’ve realized the question is “Why didn’t I get it sooner?”  With all the fertility drugs, stress, lack of exercise, lousy diet and later in life use of birth control pills (to regulate my cycles), I should have been sick a lot earlier than I was.  Actually I was sick before I got diagnosed, but no one listened.  Now, I have this insane need to be constantly reassured that how my body feels is, in fact, normal after having had cancer.

Normal, however, is a relative term.  Aside from my oft referenced neuropathy in my hands and feet, I have intermittent bone pain (thanks to the carboplatin which caused heavy metal damage to the bones), lymphedema that causes swelling in my legs and ankles (thanks to the removal of 36 lymph nodes during my debulking surgery), hydronephrosis which is a fancy way of saying that my kidney doesn’t drain completely into the ureter (thank you chemo), clotting issues (from the pulmonary embolism), eye problems (again thank you chemo) and a whole host of other things that are too minimal or insignificant to mention.  Oh, and let’s not forget the ever present chemo brain.

I really thought that I wouldn’t be writing a laundry list like this until I was at least 75.  Who’d of thought I’d be writing it 25 years early (okay a bit more than 25 years.  The big 5-0 doesn’t come until next month).  I forget that this is due to the fact that I was a “young” cancer patient in terms of ovarian cancer.  Most ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed in their 60’s.  Such are the joys and trials of being an overachiever.

Actually, I’ve spent a great deal of the last two years beating myself up for falling victim to cancer.  If only I’d stayed at a healthy weight.  What if I hadn’t been so bent on getting pregnant?  What did my husband and sons do to deserve a wife and mom who is no longer all together?  The last one weighs heavy because cancer tears you completely apart.  You stop being who you were and become this person who wears the mask of living happily in remission while living in your own private hell of what ifs.  Personally I’d rather be the blissfully unaware as I was two years ago than the teeth on edge, acutely aware individual I am now.

And I’m not saying this for sympathy.  Please don’t remark how good I look or how strong I am.  This is my reality.  Some people dislike this reality and just want to think that once you’re done with treatment you’re done.  You’re not.  You’re NEVER DONE.  If I’m blessed to be able to be 25 years cancer free, I still won’t be done.  And I’m smart enough to know that ovarian cancer is definitely a numbers game.  It’s one of those cancers that your survival percentage doesn’t continue to climb as you continue.  It kind of levels off at 10 years with a 35-40% chance of lasting another 5 years without an incident, then it hangs at 25% for another 5 years and declines from there.  I’m not a gambler, but I realize that the odds are not in my favor.

Being a realist has nothing to do with my faith.  My faith carried and continues to carry me through life.  I truly believed God would heal me from my cancer and He did.  He just didn’t do it the way I wanted Him to, but He was faithful.  He will continue to be faithful to me.  I just don’t harbor any illusions.  Cancer’s part of our world and I live in it.  I know that my next life will be cancer free and that’s enough.

So with yet another CT looming in the future, another 3 month lab test and pelvic exam, and my 50th birthday looming on the horizon, I’ve come to terms with what ovarian cancer is.  It’s an invasion.  It invades your life, turns it upside down and leaves destruction and confusion in its wake.  It also lets you know who really loves you, who’s there for you, who loves your children like you do and who will just hold you and let you cry.  The invasion is terrifying, the war is brutal and the aftermath is traumatic.  But I’m still standing and that’s a good thing.

 

 

Standing Strong

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I love this picture.  It’s my favorite one from my vacation.  Usually my favorite pictures are those of my kids or me and the hubby.  But I LOVE this picture.  It was taken on a very windy day atop the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan.  The tree in the picture is a poplar tree.  It is at least 70 feet tall and has roots that stretch out beneath the dunes in search of nourishment.  It gets beaten by winds and sand and yet is full and green and provides the only shade available for miles (I know, I stood there when I was hot one day). 

I’ve been thinking about this tree, so much so that I’ve decided to frame a print of this picture and hang it above my desk.  I’ve decided that in life you are either the tree or the sand.  You make the choice. 

One thing I love about the dunes is that they are never the same.  They change day to day, hour to hour and sometimes even minute to minute depending on the wind and other factors.  Every time someone places a footprint on the dunes, they change.  What I did notice is that from just about anywhere I walked, I could find my tree.

To get to the dunes you have to climb and incredibly steep hill.  It’s nearly straight up.  My hubby and sons scampered up the hill while I hauled my body up using ropes that protected a portion of the dunes (I wasn’t the only one.  Lots of people did this).  I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath.  I found myself more than once thinking, “This is nuts!  I will NEVER make it up this hill.”  And yet, I put one hand over the other and hauled myself up that dune.  The view from the top is spectacular.  You can see all of Silver Lake.  When you walk to the other side, you get a panoramic view of Lake Michigan.  Two beautiful views separated by one square mile of sand, populated with dune wood (it’s like drift wood, only a LOT sharper from the constant bombardment of the sand).  It’s surreal, alien and beautiful all at the same time.

Cancer is a lot like the dunes. One side is the life you had before cancer – I call this Silver Lake.  It’s peaceful and relatively calm.  You are in your own little lake and can quietly live your life protected from the majority of the storms.

Then cancer hits.  Suddenly you are faced with the steepest climb of your life.  Surgery, debulking, and chemotherapy leave you reeling.  You keep climbing in hopes of reaching the top, but when you do you can’t get solid footing.  Just when you think you’ve found someplace solid to walk, the sand dissipates beneath your feet and you sink down, stumble and, perhaps, fall down.  Unfortunately, no one is going to rescue you so you have to get back up and keep walking. 

Off in the distance you hear the ORVs (Off Road Vehicles) racing the dunes.  I can’t decide if the sound is annoying or down right obnoxious (guess it depends on your mood).  We did two tours of the dunes, one in a large group and the other in a Jeep tour.  Both were fun and I can certainly see the attraction of not having a speed limit while driving on huge mountains of sand, but the ORV area reminded me of the people who buzz by you when you have cancer.  They are on the edges, but refuse to actually engage with you.

While you might think Lake Michigan is remission, I tend to disagree.  Lake Michigan is beautiful when it’s calm.  When it storms it’s not much different than the ocean and many ships have been lost.  At it’s deepest point, it’s over 900 feet deep.  So while it looks calm and the sounds of the waves lapping can lull you to sleep, don’t be fooled. 

Nope, I’m still on the dunes trying to navigate my way.  My feet keep sliding because of the neuropathy.  I’m slowly developing lymphedema in my legs from the lack of lymph nodes in my groin so my feet get fat and walking doesn’t help.  Osteopenia and bone pain throw me for a loop.  Sometimes I’m on top of a large dune looking down.  At other times, I find myself in the valley between the dunes trying to figure out how to climb the next one. 

Finding your path on the dunes is really tough.  First you have to decide if you’re going barefoot or wearing shoes.  I found going barefoot to be a bit easier, mostly because I could feel where my feet were when I was barefoot (I lose the ability to find my feet when I walk a lot due to the neuropathy).  Trust me, you have to know where your feet are at all times and knowing they are at the end of your shins isn’t enough.

Once you have the whole footwear issue (or lack thereof) decided, you just start walking.  Some are easy to climb.  I liken these to weekly labs during chemo.  They aren’t hard, but necessary.  Some are more difficult and are like those semi-annual CT scans.  You have to do them and waiting for the results is tough, but in the end you come out on top.  Then there are the monsters.  They’re steep no matter how you try to approach them.  That’s chemo and life after chemo.

Let’s call a spade a spade and say “Chemo sucks,” because it does.  But life after cancer isn’t exactly a walk on the beach.  You have to keep climbing all these small and medium size dunes, then suddenly a big dune is right in front of you.  You can’t really walk around it and, depending where you are or where you want to go, going back isn’t an option.  So you start to plan a route and start walking.  The sand shifts, the wind blows, your feet sink and you wonder if you chose the right path.  You might even have to change course a couple of times.  Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. 

The path you chose is probably not the path your companion chooses, no matter how close you are.  You see, we all walk our own path.  While others may walk on our path for a while, only you walk your path for the entire journey. 

Wherever I walked, I always looked for my tree. It was my focal point.  If I could find that tree, I could get out.  Jesus is the tree and I am the sand.  I blow helter skelter while He stands strong.  If I find the tree, I find life.

Walking on the dunes is a challenge, just like walking through life.  We all have our own challenges.  The walk isn’t easy and some will quit.  Others will walk in circles.  The idea is to stand strong like the tree so you can make your way through the shifting sand.  Remember it’s how you walk your journey, not how quickly you reach your destination that’s important.