Monday, February 27, 2012


El Malpais, New Mexico
I once held the opinion that the only good reason for February was to give us a way to count the days between January and the start of spring, in March.

I hated it.  The cold, grey days.  The howling winds.  The snow that had lost its freshness and beauty, and instead lay about in misshapen lumps, just waiting for the weather to become warm enough to melt it.

Then, one day, I was talking to a good friend.  She said, "I love February."  I looked at her like she was crazy.  She explained further; I extrapolate here.

February is a month to turn to look at the beauty within.  It is a time to be thankful for warmth and all that protects us from the cold outside; cold that could destroy us in a matter of minutes if it chose.

It is time to look at firelight and candlelight, and to see reflected there the people we are within.  As the trees shed their covering cloak of leaves and show the strength and structure beneath, so it is time to look within ourselves for the same strengthening framework.  For some, it is straight and tall, symmetrical and beautiful.  For others, it is gnarled, scarred and wounded.  Yet for all, it holds our life force.  Sleeping for this time of winter, growing inside, putting down new roots, mending wounds from the storms of summer.

Yes, sleep my friends, my leaves, my mantle of green.  Sleep, knowing your season will be here soon.  Sleep, knowing your inner strength will hold you through the cold, and awaken you when the gentle days of spring say it's time to burst forth in your song of flower and scent.

Sleep in Peace.  Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dragging More Than Just My Feet

DeGrazia Studio, Tucson, AZ
I normally enjoy the time I spend composing these blog entries.

But, for some reason, today's has been hard - I've been trying to get myself to do it since yesterday, in fact.

Part, is the continued fog from the painkillers.  I like to think I can still think coherently while on them, but have quickly discovered that if it's not written down, I don't recall the details.  and I have a tendency to repeat myself until I get the aforementioned items written down.  I'm afraid I'll miss something important.

I find transition between fog and pain annoying.  I can think and hurt some, or I can be in a happy doze.  I've cut back some on the annoyance by cutting the doses in half, then taking them twice as often, so I don't get the ups and downs, but it's still tiring.  (For the curious, I'm currently on Vicoden and Valium, with Percocet as a backup in case the Vicoden doesn't cut the mustard.  I can see why Valium was the drug of choice back when - I care about what, because????  In my case, it happens to be one of the best muscle relaxants in current pharmacology, and is helping my chest adjust to its new dimensions.

The drainage tubes hurt - my body has not yet figured it doesn't need to send the lymph fluid and blood to the tissue that's no longer there. Showers are the hardest, since there's no way to both get them clean and keep them secure at the same time, but I'm making progress.  I made it most of the way through today's without having to sit down suddenly to avoid passing out.  That's one!  (The current projection is the tubes will come out mid-next week.  Let's hope that holds true.)

The harder part for me has been the psychological shift.  Yes, I am grateful the lymph nodes are clear.  And from what I've seen thus far, the new girls will look better than the ones they replaced; my surgeon is very good. 


How to replace the memories of a young girl, anxiously inspecting the mirror each morning for signs of impending womanhood; the insistence on wearing a bra because everyone else did, even though I had to keep tugging it down all day because there was nothing for it to support.  The nerve endings are severed; never again will I feel a tug in my chest when I hear a hungry newborn crying in a store.  The old ones were battered and scarred, yes.  But given a little strategic support, they looked good, and they had earned their sags.  They provided a great start for the wonderful adults I still think of as my babies.

And the new ones aren't here yet.  Now, all I see when I look at my chest are raw and sore scars - a reminder of a something gone horribly awry - a something that no one can tell me the cause of.   A something I plan to catch and eliminate from my life.  but there is fear underneath.  sometimes, it doesn't work.  sometimes, people never get to finish their camper van trips.

And while I will get from here to there, today I fear the pain to come.  (which will, I'm sure, be far worse in the anticipation than in the reality - at least that's how fear works in my life.)

So, please continue to send your support and prayers my way.  They do help.  I need to walk this road, but I don't walk it alone, and that makes all the difference.  Thank you for listening.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Superstition Mountains, Arizona
It's been almost exactly a week since I woke up in the recovery room after my operation.

Thanks to modern pharmaceuticals and good friends, my recovery has been going well.

When they chop off a goodly amount of tissue, it takes your body a bit to realize it no longer needs to send the lymph and blood required to nourish the tissue.  So, the medical team puts in drainage tubes to prevent the excess liquid from hanging about under the skin, making unsightly squishy lumps.  Unfortunately, the drainage tubes come with their own pain, and can't be removed until they quit draining their stuff.  Fortunately, the fine medical staff at St. Luke's forsaw this, and sent me home with quite the pack of drugs. 

The drugs - a combination of Percocet and Valium - work great, but as you can imagine, don't leave much space for clear-headed thinking.  It amazes me how much energy my body is sending into healing.  A simple shower has now turned into a three hour ordeal - one to shower, two to sleep it off.

For someone who is normally quite active, it's frustrating, to say the least.  I'm not used to asking for help - but now I must.  For the next week or two yet, the best I am capable of doing is heating food in the microwave.  I do not have the focus or energy to actually fix any food - or even scrub up the dirtier dishes.  This is where my friends have come in - the fridge has magically filled itself with good things to eat; food that doesn't upset a stomach already in turmoil by drug cocktails.  Thank you.

The last week was as good as it could have been.  Kate came down with the baby, and while she more than had her hands full taking care of me and Lexi, little Lexi was the best medicine they could have prescribed.  What better to take your mind off a little pain than to watch an 8-month old figure out that she can motor about in the direction of her choice!  It did make footing a bit precarious, since her toy of choice was empty Perrier bottles, but I think I'm supposed to be working on balance anyhow.

Yesterday, one of the three drainage tubes came out; taking with it about 80% of the associated pain.  **whew**  I think I'm even feeling brave enough to venture out to see some friends for an hour or so later tonight.  I'm not used to never venturing out at all.

The best news for last:  The pathology report is in, and while I need to pull out my medical dictionary to make sense of much of it, the lymph nodes are completely clear - not just under the frozen slice they do during the actual surgery, but after the close analysis they do with the final tissue sample.  This SHOULD make my treatment down the road much easier.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Quick Guest Post

Overland Park, Kansas
This is Kate writing on behalf of Mom (all but one of you probably know her better as Janice).

The surgery went through as planned.  No complications.  Whew.

They removed a couple of lymph nodes and they were cancer free!  (That's exactly how we like our lymph nodes to be.) 

She will spend tonight and much of the day tomorrow at the hospital and we will bring her home tomorrow afternoon or evening. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Saguaro Nat'l Park, Tucson, AZ
I'm feeling like the next week or so will be full of prickliness.  Not pleasant to get yourself into, and it's not pleasant, but neither is it fatal.

I'm ready.
Not to say good-bye to the girls, I don't think there is a way for me to be ready for that, but for this to be over.  I'm tired of waiting, and want to know what's up with this tumor.  And, I want it gone.

I need to be at the hospital at ten tomorrow morning; surgery is scheduled at noon, and will last into the early evening.  The surgeons will work as a tag team.  First the breast surgeon will cut out all he can find of my demon, Asmodeus.  Then, the plastic surgeon will do the work necessary to start the implant process.  (May my champion, the Angel Raphael, patron saint of healers, be with them...) I like this part - it means getting it all over with at once - and I have had my fill of waiting these days.  In case anyone hasn't noticed.  (Kate will post something here about how things went when she can.)  I'll be going home late Thursday, after a 24 hour stay in the hospital.

It's going to be a LONG morning - nothing to eat or drink after midnight.  Including water.  ugh.  (What??? No latte???  What is the world coming to?)  Fortunately for my peace of mind, one of my friends just reminded me that by this time tomorrow night, I'll be cancer-free, and will have had something to eat and drink.  I've been so focused on the morning that I kind of forgot that there is an after to all of this. 

I managed to get my apartment in livable shape. (All that nervous energy had to go somewhere!)  It's good to know I'll have a place to come home to.

I never did get around to looking for a car.  Fortunately for my transportation requirements, I have friends willing to enable me for a bit.  I have a loaner car for a few weeks, until I'm able to get out and get shopping.

Thank you all for your prayers and notes of support.  They are making a difference.  This would be a lot harder without you...

Ready or not, here I go...  I'll try to remember to breathe at least a little bit between now and the time they put me under for the operation(s).

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid...

Mesa, Arizona
As is often the case with me, fear was lurking beneath my anger of the other day.

Fear of pain.
Fear of hospitals and operations.
Fear of the changes to come in my body and psyche.
Fear the cancer has spread in the time between when I found it and when they will operate on Wednesday.

I woke up at three this morning, tense all over, ready for flight and just about in tears.

Then, one of the songs we used to sing in church started circling through my head.  'I will come to you in the silence.  I am hope for all who are hopeless.  Come and rest in Me.  I will bring you home.  I love you and you are Mine.  I have called you each by name.  I love you...' (Complete lyrics below)

Now the tears started - but they were healing tears.  My fears were calmed.  God-Who-Is was with me and gave me Peace and rocked me back to sleep.  'I love you and you are Mine.'

To my surprise, Peace was with me still when I got up this morning, and vestiges of it remain with me still, after my busy day.  Four more days; then at least I will have some sense of what is to come, and I certainly have enough to keep me occupied until then.

The new carpet, bed and mattress were delivered today, and we bought and set up a new futon.  Tomorrow, Joe has organized a crew to move a bunch of my stuff from the storage unit into my new home.  (It will take some careful selection - I have a lot more stuff than will fit into a one bedroom apartment!)  Monday and Tuesday I run errands and work on excuses to not go look at cars.  Wednesday, surgery...

I must remember to Breathe!


You Are Mine - David Haas

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are Mine

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are Mine

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are Mine

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

** sigh **

Superstition Mountains, Arizona
Today was just plain hard.  No two ways around it.

I arrived safely back in Kansas City last evening, after two long days of driving.  So, today I drove to my new apartment and spent the afternoon unloading the camper van.  I took out my clothes and the art supplies.  I cleaned out the fridge and pantry.  Cabinet by cabinet, I emptied my temporary home, noting to myself what I had and hadn't used in my months on the road.

It was hard to keep myself moving.  It's not time to unload the van yet.  I was supposed to get to skip winter this year.  I was supposed to spend winter in the south.  I was supposed to get to be in touch with the lengthening days, and be in beautiful places to welcome spring!

I wasn't supposed to welcome spring from a sick-bed!  This WAS NOT part of the plan!

I know I'll get breaks again once this detour is complete, but it's not going to be the freedom I enjoyed for the four months I was on the road.  For me, for the next ten years at least, this time in the camper was a one-time shot.  No just returning to the road once whatever treatment I will need is done.  It's not the new job holding me back - by that time, even if I wasn't working, I'd have run out of money, and would have to look for work if I hadn't already found it.  (which means the new job is excluded from tonight's pity party; I'm grateful I have it to go to once I'm feeling better...)

Most days, I've been grateful for the time I had on the road, even though that time has been cut short, but tonight it's not working.  I've done a pretty good job thus far of avoiding the "why?" questions that have no answers and lead to nowhere, but that's not working so well tonight, either.  Why couldn't the damned lump have waited six months?  Why?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

One Last Day

El Calderon, part of El Malpais
El Malpais National Monument
New Mexico

Today was my last day in full-fledged denial mode.

I'd heard about the famous badlands near Grants, New Mexico, and decided to stop in, since I hadn't planned to drive too far today.

It was worth the stop.  I didn't get to hike on the famous lava rocks, which, I am told, seem otherworldly - by the time I got to that end of the park, the wind was cold and I didn't want to venture too far from the camper.  But I did spend a couple of hours hiking part of the El Calderon trail, on the west side of the park.  It was a beautiful three mile trek.  The temp was in the upper 40's, but the sun was bright, and I had dressed properly for the walk, so I wasn't cold.  Not surprisingly, I didn't see another soul on the trail, except for some park rangers at the very end of the walk.  (They told me traffic will pick up considerably in March and April.)

I saw a lot of beautiful scenery, a cinder cone, a bat cave, a lava trench and several lava sinks, all left behind as lava poured across the land some 115,000 years ago.  It was quiet, the only sound that of my boots crunching across the snow and gravel.  (and I wonder why I didn't see any wildlife - they heard me coming a mile before I got there...)

For what will probably be the last time for a while, I was able to stop, breathe and relax.  Thank God for respites from reality.

Tortilla Flat

Superstition Mountains, AZ
Tortilla Flat, Arizona

No, it's not Tortilla Flats, but Flat - me, I got it wrong about the first five times I tried to say it.  While the town isn't much except for the ice cream, it's a tourist trap, the drive out there makes it all worthwhile.

Head west out of Mesa into the Superstition Mountains (a great name for a mountain range if I've ever heard one), and you're in for a visual treat.  Fortunately for my enjoyment of the drive, I wasn't in the driver's seat for once, and could look about, back and to the side to my heart's content.  It was a perfect day for the drive - sunny, upper sixties.  Arizona weather has treated me well.  The company was pleasant and the views stupendous.

I have been thoroughly spoiled by my friends and relatives on this trip.  It's been long since I neither had to prepare the food for dinner, nor help with cleanup afterwards.  What a treat it's been!  Sleep in a bit, get up in time for a good walk, water aerobics or tai chi.  Come back, shower, enjoy a leisurely lunch.  Spend the afternoon taking in the local sights.  Sit down for an early evening cocktail while dinner prepares itself in the kitchen.  Enjoy a leisurely dinner, linger at the table while the dishes do themselves, and spend the evening in conversation, catching up on each others lives.  Sleep, knowing I am welcome and loved.

I am SO glad I took advantage of the break in appointments and skipped town!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Saguaro People

Saguaro People, Tucson, AZ
Saguaro National Park
Tucson, Arizona

I wanted to join the saguaro people on their slow and stately march up the hillsides.  The view was compelling; the image so real I could almost see them moving to their gathering in the valley just over the hill.

The majestic plants are slow-growing, taking up to 75 years before developing their arms.  I wasn't prepared for the beauty of their gatherings; the first glimpse I had of a hillside covered in them just about had my camper in the ditch.

I was glad to find they are protected under state and federal law.  I like to know human people aren't allowed to come out and destroy their fragile beauty as they please.  I'm sure some still do.  I'm equally sure such wanton destruction offends God and they will be punished both in this life and in the next.

I will head back to Kansas City on schedule, to face my scheduled car wreck.  I will ignore the urge to head south to the border and keep running.  I've had to work to remain in my hard-won state of denial because the tactile reminder won't let me forget I've carried my problems with me (as much as I manage to ignore it a good deal of the time).  Yes, tomorrow won't be so fun, but tomorrow is not yet here.  Today is beautiful and I feel good and the sun is shining.  Let tomorrow bring what it will, today, I am grateful to be alive!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, AZ
Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is the site of the infamous 'Fight at the OK Corral', which happened in 1881 and lasted about 30 seconds.  Thirty shots were fired, three outlaws were killed, three lawmen were injured but survived.

In case you can't read it, the headstone to the right reads:

Here lies George Johnson
Hung by mistake
He was right
We was wrong
But we strung him up
And now he's gone

Poor guy!

The town restored the original town cemetery around 1940.  It has about 300 residents - with the Chinese and Jewish people in their own sections.  A few of the headstones were humorous, most were sad - suicide, killed, unknown.  Many of them died in 1882.  Both the headstones I saw that said 'suicide' were women, and both died that same year.  Not sure what happened to so thin the ranks of townspeople, the above gunfight happened in the year before.

The town relies on tourism to keep the town alive today.  The wide main street is blocked to cars, and if you squint and ignore the blacktop, you can almost see the horses coming down the street, riders dusty and tired; ready for some refreshment.  It took a hardy breed to survive on the edges of the frontier; they can't have stayed young long in the harsh environment.

Yet, the country is beautiful.  The air is clear and you can see forever.  Especially coming fresh from the midwest in the winter, the clear blue sky is refreshing.  It's been clear and sunny with temps in the perfect upper 60's / low 70's.  As they say - it's a great place to visit, even if I can't picture living here!