Apologies to John Denver: Flying Post-Chemo

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.
I’m waitin’ here inside my door.
I hate to have to wake at 5:00 AM.

 

No, the dawn’s not breakin’, it’s not early morn,
Our Lyft is waitin’, not blowing her horn.
Already I’m so tired that I could cry.

 

I’m flying, with lymphoma:
My sleeves, glove and leggings on.
Applaud me ’cause I’m so prepared and all.

 

‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
I’m so glad I’ve done my chemo plan,
Oh, babe, I’m ready to go!

 

There’re so many times I’ve felt quite down,
So many times, I’m so run down.
I tell you now: I’m one stronger thing!

 

Every place I go, I’ll forget you (chemo)
Every song I sing, I’ll sing for me,
When I come back, I’ll have great memories.

 

So look with me at the view.
Snorkel with me below the blue.
Know that there’s so much here to enjoy!

 

‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a Delta plane,
Going to St. John again,
Oh, babe, I’m glad to go.

 

(above sign found while wandering the backroads near Coral Bay)

 

 

 

 

 

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My first CD

Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer (Oct, 2017), I have had an almost visceral reaction to hearing about, reading about, or being told about a Cancer Death. Like many survivors, I have been told stories by some people who seem to need to share their (name the relationship)’s valiant fight and peaceful death from cancer.  Or stories about their relative’s amazing recovery. Neither was helpful. These ideas are.

I am me, the only me with Stage III Triple Negative Breast Cancer, the only me who today learned that her dear friend and church cancer support group member, Terry, passed away last night, the only me who signed on many dotted lines for a clinical trial that may “prolong” . . . the nurse didn’t finish the sentence. I learned of Terry’s death on the way to my signing, and I compartmentalized well until the drive home. My husband was driving.

On my last visit, Terry and I spoke about her memorial service. She was drifting in her pain medications, but her eyes lit up every time a friend walked in. I softly sang and hummed some of our favorite Unitarian Universalist hymns, including one she’s beginning her service with, “Blue Boat Home.

I could write a eulogy for Terry here, but I swear I hear her voice saying, “Go on! Enjoy!” She was a tiny, lively woman who leaves a hole in our congregation, Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North (UUMAN) and in my heart.

All of us with days, months, and only a few years as survivors have to face the fear of remission in our own ways.  Cancer is a horrible, evil disease.  Terry was a beautiful, lively person. She’s my first close friend Cancer Death, and her inner beauty and dignity have me less fearful of what, should I be granted long life, will probably be many other CDs.

Another song for her service will be, “I hope you dance.”

Webs, Light, and a Chalice

Who has the light? Or the Light?

It’s the season again, with blue and white and red and green. And above is my Unitarian Universalist chalice, burning at home, beside my bed. This light reminds me that I am a part of “the interdependent web of all existence.” That’s our UU seventh principle, paraphrased. The chalice flame helps me slow down and reflect, holding dear those in my congregation who are so special to me . . . who have given me the gift of Light during the dark days of my cancer treatment this past year.

Sometimes I find myself repeating those words, “the interdependent web of all existence” as I consider what it means to share life on this beautiful planet with other people, other nations, other forms of life, and even the fossils that show us life that has come before.

Be careful what you give a curious child of eight or nine.  I was given a box of rocks by a geology professor at Emory who was friends with my dad. Each was carefully labeled, stuffed with paper to keep them from scratching each other . . . where is that box now, 50+ years later? It’s in my fascination with the history of our amazing planet told through rocks. My degrees and professional life have had nothing to do with the flame of interest sparked by that box of rocks. But I am always learning.

It’s not yet Solstice, but the days are growing dark so quickly. My chalice light does not represent the lights of this winter season, yet it mingles with the neighbors’ lights.

Who has the light? Or the Light? May it grow in you and me.

Getting off chemotherapy? Happy about that?

Surprisingly, perhaps, I am scared to be, for the first time in 14 months, possibly going off chemotherapy tomorrow.  Scared? Possibly? Life as a cancer patient is never simple.

When I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) in October, 2017, my oncologist said, “Give us a year.”  Actually, I hope it will be more like 26 months.  That would mean I was placed in the medical arm of a clinical trial I am entering at the end of this year.  I have a 50/50 chance of getting the medicine or of being in the “watchful waiting” group. So that’s the funny thing about tomorrow – I’ll be off chemo for at least a month, but may be on again in mid-January.  I don’t know, and I won’t until the beginning of the year.

So – tomorrow may be my last day of chemo, and I am scared. As many with this disease have, I’ve experienced four different IV chemos given over five months, blood transfusions when my counts were too low, saline infusions because . . . who knows . . . a two-night hospital stay last December when my immune system crashed, loss of hair (you never know how much you like your eyelashes and eyebrows until they’re gone), and “hit the wall” fatigue when I wondered if I could reach the bed from the bathroom,

I’ve missed family, church and work events, couldn’t fly to Texas from Georgia to be with my brother when he died, and not been available in meaningful ways to too many people.

On the other hand, I have received the gift of caring and help from many amazing people, some completely unexpected.  Unlike some, I also have the most supportive husband in the universe.  Sorry, there’s simply no contest there.  And I’m blessed with a good insurance plan and the money to pay the deductibles until it fully kicks in.  I’ve had it easier than some.

But the thought of going off chemo after either being on it or only going off for a month to prepare for my double mastectomy, is frightening.  

The cord will be cut. I will go three months between scans and doctor’s visits.  I will be living life as a cancer survivor, all the while knowing that TNBC returns in 30% of cases.  It’s an aggressive, evil thing. And I will try to live each day fully, with the insights that this year+ of treatments has given me. Rest: both mind and body. Give over to the stillness of meditation daily. Hold your loved ones in your heart and wrap them with love and energy. Know that you are a survivor, and the mind affects the body in ways we have yet to understand. Acknowledge what I’m missing but be grateful for each day. And especially for those who love me, who care for me.

If I can face TNBC, I can face living without treatment, knowing I have done all that I can. Oh, except increase exercise as my strength returns. That really affects my mental, spiritual and physical self.  And cut down on calories. That, too. Really, my oncologist says that exercise and being at a good weight are about the only things I have left to “throw at it.” So I’ll do those.

For those of us who are survivors,

“May the longtime sun shine upon us,

all Love surround us.

And the pure Light within us

guide our ways on.”