Sunday, April 22, 2018

More Ordinary Days, Please

Sometimes, I forget to remember, in the ups and downs and concerns of the week, just what a gift ordinary days are.

Early last week, I heard from Libby. Her cancer is back again, already. This time showing up as ten small spots in her brain, one more (probably) on her liver. And, the chemo she's been on hasn't made the spot on her lung any smaller. She'll undergo a round of radiation starting next week, to see if that'll help with the brain cancer, talk to her oncologist after that to see what her next option is for the other spots.

Hard news to hear, but it wasn't mine to share, so I didn't.

I spent the week simultaneously on two planes. One me went through the routine of my week without breaking stride. I reveled in the normalcy of production issues at work (no lives at stake there), of developing new code (ditto). I grumbled about the late spring along with everyone else in the office, stopped at the grocery store to buy dishwasher detergent, white wine vinegar and toothpaste.

The other me spent the week regrouping, sending her my thoughts and prayers, and coming up with ways I can be there for her. I spent the week cussing at fate, and working to accept what is, even though I HATE, HATE, HATE this answer.

I tried my best to live the days I have. It helps neither her nor me if I spend my time flipping through assorted doomsday scenarios, so I stopped those mental films as soon as I was aware they'd started up again.

She shared her news with us all on Friday - just the bare facts, she couldn't bring herself to say more than that just yet.

There's a lot I don't know about the days to come, but I do know, from my own experience, journeys into the unknown are hard. Another thing I know is that I need to remember to look for beauty, because when I remember to look for it, it will be there to be seen and to soothe my soul, just a little.

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Everyday Heroes

I have a small, but loyal, following of readers for my blog. (some of them don't even know who I am - which I think is way cool!) A new reader found my post on 'The Right Time to Die' from earlier this year touching, and read it to her mother, who is a resident of a local assisted living apartment complex.

Her mother was taken by the story, and invited me to come talk to her writer's group - Readers, Writers, and Wannabees. (A great name for a writer's group if ever I've heard one!) I was thrilled to accept her invitation, and went out there this past Monday to be the featured speaker at their monthly meeting.

They were a fun group to talk to. They loved my camper van stories, were responsive, and asked questions in all the right places. They told me I inspired them.

What I'm pretty sure they don't realize is how much they inspired me in return. These people are not in the best of health; as my dad would have said, 'old age is catching up with them'.

When I think of getting old, one of the things I fear is that I will lose my sense of curiosity. I'm afraid of becoming stuck, rigid, convinced I've learned all I will ever be interested in and thus be unwilling to learn anything new.

The people at the meeting were living examples of how that doesn't have to be. No, they aren't as nimble as they once were, but they don't let that stop them from learning, from being curious, from trying new things. Like Stephen Hawking (another one of my heroes), they don't let the things they can't do keep them from doing the things they can.

It was a good reminder for me - a reminder I can make choices each day about the attitudes I bring out of bed with me. I won't become rigid if I practice flexibility. The days I learn new things and let myself wander down internet information rabbit holes help to ensure I will not become a mindless, television watching robot should I be lucky enough to live long enough to become old.

It's good for me to see living examples of the lifestyles I aspire to, and I am most grateful for the opportunity to glimpse the lives of these wannabe writers.

I wanna be just like them when I grow up.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April Snow

It's been a cold weekend. Uncharacteristically cold.

I fear for my lilac blooms - we got just enough warmth for them to start to come out, then this latest cold spell came in to sit for a spell. It's been hovering around freezing all week; down in the twenties some nights.

In the mornings, I've been stopping on my way to the car, hoping against hope to see them still rightly purple instead of frost-killed black. So far, so good.

It's been a cold and grey, Minnesota kind of spring. Now, I love Minnesota, and in my heart of hearts still claim to be a Minnesota girl, but spring up there is a tough season.

It warms up just a bit; you start to think about putting away the winter coats. You get out your lighter jacket and wear it into work. That's the day the temperature decides to plummet, and you end up freezing as you walk head down into the cold wind, sleet biting into your face, wondering why anyone ever decided the climate could be considered habitable. Surely, the settlers were beyond desperate when they settled such a cold and desolate place. Surely, they settled in Minnesota because every other square inch of the country was already taken.

Then comes April. It starts the way March ended - cold, windy. The remaining snow piles are dismal gray, lined with black. But then, but then. On one magical day, winter will give up the battle. On this day, it often snows.

April snow is part of the magic of spring. The flakes are big and fluffy, you can tell it doesn't mean business at all. Often, it doesn't even stick.

Today, we had a genuine Minnesota April snow. I managed to finish up my to-do list in time to get for a walk around the park to enjoy it. I smiled the whole way, stopping every so often to try to catch the flakes on my tongue - and often succeeding!

And, sure enough, the forecast for the week says warmer. 48 tomorrow, 57 on Tuesday, then in the 70's for a couple of days. Also typical Minnesota spring, back into the 40s for the weekend.  **sigh**

But spring is here. Finally!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Genetic Lottery

A few weeks ago, a young lady I know who was getting the genetic test for breast cancer told me that if it turns out she has one of the gene, she's not going to plan to have children.

Her comment stuck with me, and got me to thinking.

Why pick on this one genetic flaw to say it must stop with me?

I mean, I get cancer is scary. I get it. But so are a host of other diseases, genetic or not. Heart disease, diabetes, MS, alcoholism - not thinking I'd choose to live with any of  'em, given my druthers. And, it's not like people who happen to win this particular throw of the genetic dice get out of life alive.

My cancer, though not one of the known genetic variants, most likely has a genetic component. But the same throw of the dice that gave me the propensity to cancer also gave me strong bones, blue eyes and a sturdy constitution. It gave me a quick mind and second toes longer than the big toes next to them.

Would I have chosen not to get cancer if it meant I instead was unable to sing? Because I'm unlikely to get to die in my sleep at age 84, does it mean the days I do have to live have less meaning?

Good, bad and ugly, life is a package deal. We don't get to pick and choose which of life's ailments are going to lay us low (genetic or not). Into every life, rain falls. We also don't get to pick the good things. Winning the genetic lottery (or, the Powerball lottery for that matter) carries with it no guarantee of happiness.

About all we can do is choose how we respond to what happens in our lives. Indeed, to paraphrase Viktor Frankl once again, it is one of the only things we can control.

If I thought my young friend could hear me through the voice of her fear, I'd tell her all this. As it is, I need to be content with having reasoned through it for myself - for I once walked in her shoes and it is good for me to know life has managed to drill at least one useful lesson into my head.

I'd much rather walk with my fear than let it lead me. While I'm still working on the practice, most days I do pretty well, and for this, I give thanks.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Future Plans

The doctors will tell you they know some of the things that cause cancer. Smoking. Too much sun exposure. A diet lacking in proper nutrition, especially when combined with lack of exercise. A bad throw of the genetic dice.

That's all well and good. But since Kate and I were both very low risks (neither of us have the cancer gene) the doctors have no answers as to why it hit us. Which doesn't stop us from coming up with causes anyways.

Working on your thesis definitely causes cancer. The first time Kate hit her thesis hard, she found her breast cancer. She finished her thesis last month, and sure enough - her dermatologist found a spot of skin cancer (stage 0) on her leg and had to scrape it off. (It's gone now - not all cancers are created equal.)

Quitting your job causes cancer.
Not camper vans. Camper vans cannot possibly cause cancer.

It's an unsettling place - not knowing why it hit me in the first place, and so unable to forecast if it will happen again, I've learned to live with the uncertainty. I keep my focus on the days I have, not the days I don't.

I find myself chomping at the bit because I need to work. Chances aren't good I will live to see eighty, but I might. And because I might, I can't yet call it quits. Work isn't a bad place, they're good to me there and I like what I do, it's just that there are so many things I'd rather be doing, and I am afraid, so afraid I will never get an opportunity to do them.

At the same time I want so badly to move on, I find myself shying away from making plans for the future. I have a tentative timetable for leaving, but a huge blank frame regarding what happens after I leave.

I've been struggling with my inability to plan - planning is not generally one of my roadblocks. Before I do almost anything, I've always had a Plan A, Plan B, and just in case, Plan E. I think I've found the key to my newfound reluctance to look at the future.

You guessed it. Making retirement plans causes cancer. And I'm not ready to deal with my cancer again.

I'm going to have to learn to get past this one.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stupid Things

When I get stressed and depressed, I do stupid things.

This past week, I was fighting a bad case of the early spring grays, and pushing forward anyways as I tend to do. I don't like being depressed, and a large part of me thinks the best way to deal with it is to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own.

Tuesday morning, I was driving into work, and decided to take a new route. Along the route is an almost blind intersection where it merges with a busier road - an intersection I know is deceptive because of the number of cars I've almost hit as they blasted through it.

Tuesday morning, it was me doing the blasting. I don't know what I was thinking, mostly I wasn't. I approached the intersection, checked my mirror, the cars LOOKED far enough back, so I floored it. I ended up OK. The car behind me beeped their displeasure at my reckless move; I'm pretty sure the only reason they didn't cream me was they were fond of their car's front end in its current condition.

Immediately, remorse set in. My face reddened, and I started berating myself. It was a stupid maneuver, and I was lucky to drive away with my car intact. All true.

But then, I started to look underneath, to try to figure out what drove me to such a stupid stunt - I DO know better... I didn't get real far before I got into the office, and work stuff silenced my inner voice. I went down to work out at my usual time. Tuesday was a kata day.

Back when I was learning karate, my instructor told me katas were a kind of moving meditation. I smiled and nodded to his face, but scoffed inside. No way - katas were tiring and hard to remember - not meditation stuff at all. Time has taught me he was right. Repetition has smoothed the path so the sequence of motion is part of muscle memory. Accessing muscle memory demands your brain be there in the moment. At the same time, as I move, part of my mind goes where ever my mind goes when it solves problems.

Tuesday, it went to the source of my depression. I can't tell you what it found, because I don't remember, but as I finished the final cool-down sequence, I felt a tight band around my heart loosen and fall away.

Let it go, let it be. This, too, shall pass. Breathe. Know you are loved.

With the band went my self-recrimination and blame. It WAS a stupid stunt, but I forgave me - on the condition that it never happen again.

This time, I got lucky, my stupid maneuver cost me nothing. (I haven't been so lucky in the past.) Next time, I'll try to listen sooner - and avoid doing the stupid thing in the first place. (You think?)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Early Spring

This time of year always tries my patience. I think winter should be over. No more gray and cold days where the sky vies with the trees to see who can be the most monochrome. It should just be spring already. I want the cool-warmth of sunshine when I walk outside. I want it to be too warm to wear my jacket - every day. I want to get out and start playing in the dirt.

Patience is not now and never has been my long strong suit - my children can attest. This time of year is a good teacher for me; a good reminder to look for the signs of the quickly-approaching renewal of spring.

The signs are there. My grass, which was still a uniform brown two weeks ago, is now turning green. The sprouts from the seeds in my butterfly garden are starting to poke their noses through their insulating blanket of soil.

The light is almost back. I no longer need to give my headlights a workout both on my way into work and on my way home. It is still light as I begin to cook my dinner.

And the trees - this is one of my favorite times of year to watch the trees (especially on those days when the sun deigns to make an appearance). At first glance, yes, they are wearing their winter gray. But look closer and you'll see the tips of the branches swelling, ready to burst with spring's new crop of leaves. As I look down the street, I marvel at the faint green aura they wear. Barely perceptible, but there. The days warm up, and the leaves unfurl. The days cool (like today), and they retreat as far as they can back into their cores, hiding from the cold.

Patience, the season tells me. Spring will be here before you know it.
Stop for a moment. Breathe the scent of new growth. Relax your shoulders - the light is returning.