Dreams

I haven’t been out riding in more than a week now, the longest I’ve been away since March maybe?  Last week I was not feeling well and then I was out of town for Thanksgiving and didn’t take a trike with me.  I never expected we would have nice weather and I didn’t feel up to riding in the cold so I left my trikes at home.  I won’t make that mistake again!

I couldn’t ride, but I could look at all the books my sister has on outdoor adventures in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois.  My interest quickly narrowed to Michigan and I decided it will be the focus of my two week summer adventure in 2018.  I had thought to keep my cycling dollars here in Minnesota, but I see so many interesting places in Michigan I want to explore.  I know I can drive to anyplace in Minnesota on any given weekend so it’s not like I can’t ride all over the State all the other weeks if I choose.

I bought a new lens for my camera so I can keep working on getting better pictures.  I would like to be able to zoom in more on the birds I see along the way and I am hopeful this new lens will do the trick.  Next up will be getting a better set up for carrying my camera gear with me.

After feeling so bad last week I started thinking about how I want to be living my life as compared to how I actually am.  I’m planning to make some big changes here in the near future.  I need to prepare so nothing is going to be tomorrow, but I’ve decided it is time to be brave and go chase my dreams.  I have cancer.  There is no time like the present!

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Ups and Downs

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Sunrise over Lake Pepin. Frontenac State Park

Two things happened Saturday morning:

  • I saw a post on Facebook about the migrating swans on the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota and decided that on Sunday I was going to head out to see my river again.  My plan was to leave early enough so I could watch the sun rise over the river and then go for a ride on the Great River Trail by Trempealeau, Wisconsin.  I would get out the Fat Tad trike for the first time since April 1st when I last rode this same trail.  The trail goes through mostly wetlands so I thought I might see some of the migrating birds there. Since I was going to ride the Fat Tad, I got it cleaned up and lubed, got out my red cycling gear instead of blue, packed up my snacks, and was excited for the next day.  The anticipation of a ride is almost as much fun as the ride itself; I feel so alive in those moments. Adventures await!
  • I showed up at shul just before kiddish so that I could meet up with a friend.  I’d never arrived so late before, but it was kind of fun.  I’ve decided to go back to shul more often, but I don’t want to go every week so this was my compromise, I went but not really.  As I was chatting with people in the hallway waiting for the service to end, I got the news that a man from our shul had just died that morning of cancer.  I didn’t know him well but our oldest sons were the same age so we had conversed from time to time.  I could picture him sitting at shul with his kids, the kids he had now left behind.  I felt so sad for them all.  Cancer.  Man it sucks. It is not right that his kids will likely have to live so much of their lives without him. His oldest is only twenty-five.  I hurt for them all.

When I get news that someone else died of cancer I feel defeated.  Why do I think my outcome will be any different than theirs?  Am I so special I can avoid the same fate just by hoping?  They probably thought they would beat their cancer, too.  When they got their diagnosis they probably heard all the “Oh you’re so strong, you’ve got this!” bull shit I hear all the time, too, from people who seem uncomfortable with acknowledging to themselves or to me that I might freaking die, that cancer can mow down the best of them. I’m not even close to the best so what’s the point in trying?  My turn will come sooner rather than later.  And then I’ll have to say good-bye to my kids.

When I get news that someone else died of cancer I feel determined.  I have to go out and live my life right now, because the next person to go could be me.  I have to do what I enjoy doing to honor the memory of the one who had to leave behind the the people they loved and the things they loved doing.  I cannot waste so much of the time I was privileged to have when time for others has ceased. I have to share more with others so that when I do go away something of me will remain.

And then I live somewhere between the two.

I cannot do all the things I would love to do, but I can do some of them.  I cannot make every minute count for some greater purpose because no one can live like that for long, we all need downtime.  It is OK to take time for the frivolous, to spend hours watching mindless Netflix series, to sleep long hours when I’m tired. I have to accept that when I do go, life will go on without me and most will never know I even existed.  My mark on this world will be small and fleeting, and that’s OK.  Maybe one person I do not know will ride a trail for the first time because of me, or take enjoyment looking at one of my pictures.  Maybe someone I know will remember some crazy story I told and laugh when they’re having a bad day. My place has always been with regular people living regular lives so it would truly be the greatest honor if any echo of my life remained with them.  At one time I thought I might leave behind words, that words would be my legacy.  I loved thinking, questioning, writing – sharing my stories of life.  We are now constantly bombarded with people trying to convince us to think their way, to believe their way, however, and I’ve grown tired of words. I’ve come to realize that I would rather leave behind my eyes through pictures and let the viewer form their own thoughts, their own words.

Sunday morning I got up at 4:30 am and took off on my swan sighting trip.  I watched the sun come up over Lake Pepin from Frontenac State Park and it was beautiful, so freaking cold, but beautiful.  I was thinking there is no way I was going to go out for a ride, it was too cold, but I knew I would still go out for a ride no matter.  It is what I do, how I live my life.  Life is fickle and I cannot take for granted that there will be another time for me so I’d better enjoy the day I was given.  My compromise was I left the trike ride for later and walked three miles along Lake Pepin in the cold soaking up as much of the beautiful scenes as possible while my body adjusted to the temperature.

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Lake Pepin at Lake City.

After my walk I drove further down the river and finally saw large numbers of swans.  I stood by the shore watching for awhile and just when I was ready to leave, the sky filled with birds.  It was an incredible sight, wave after wave of birds, flying this way and that.  What a fantastic thing to have been allowed to live and experience that moment!  I can still hear the sounds.

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Fall migration along the Mississippi by Weaver, MN.

Eventually I made it to the trail and got in my ride.  I could hear swans in the distance at times but I could not see them from the trail.  I saw bluejays, cardinals, and squirrels, beaver dams, streams, and many ponds.  I crossed bridges and watched trains go by.  I did not see even one other person.  It was just me, my thoughts, my memories, and peace.  I was honored to have such a day and I enjoyed it from sunrise until sunset before returning home.

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Great River Trail, Lytles Landing, Wisconsin

Sunday was a good day.  Monday was not.  Back to the world of living with cancer.  A lymph node on the right side of my neck decided to let me know it exists and is not happy!  All I could think of was that stupid joke we used to tell as a kid, “Does your face hurt?  Well, it’s sure killing me!” Yes, my face hurts!  My whole freaking head hurts.  I was working from home yesterday and decided to take a nap over lunch so maybe I’d feel better after.  I set my alarm and I was out…for hours.  Well, never mind then.  Today I was smarter and just took a sick day.  I hate this cancer.  I want to be strong, I want to feel like I’m doing my part at work to help us be ready for the long weekend.  Instead I’m sitting at home with a heat pad on my neck, hoping the damn swelling will go down and I’ll get some relief.  So far, not so good, but I’m learning that my co-workers will pick up for me just as I have done for them and it will be fine.  I’ll sit here in my chair enjoying my coffee and my memories of one beautiful Sunday out in nature.  Life is wonderful, life sucks.  I am so sorry my fellow congregant cancer sufferer was not allowed to have that day.

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Lake Pepin getting ready for sunset.

Setting Some Fitness Related Goals

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Mississippi River with St. Paul skyline

Goal #1: Ride the Door County Century 50 mile route next September.

When I got my cancer diagnosis, I lost interest in making any plans for the future.  I had cancer and what was the point in making any plans?  A month later, I started thinking about returning to Door County for another ride.  I rode the full century in 2014, a victory for me on several levels, so the thought of returning sparked my interest in life again.  I don’t want to train for 100 miles this time and don’t even think that would be a wise thing to do right now when I tire so easily and my immune system is already compromised.  It’s one thing to push myself, it’s another to make myself weaker. Fifty miles is still quite a bit longer than what I’ve been riding recently so as to be a challenge.  My sister plans to ride with me again, only this time we plan to ride the whole thing together, last time I rode 100 miles and she rode 70.  She has already checked out the route by car, found out when we need to register, and started looking at accommodation possibilities.  I think on some level this reassures her I’ll still be around in the fall.  I’m crossing my fingers for a beautiful day in which to ride!  We deserve that much.

Goal #2: Do one pull up before I die.

I’ve been working with a personal trainer since before my diagnosis but my goals were somewhat vague, wanting to be able to do a 3 minute plank, more push-ups, those kinds of things.  Last week, however, I was watching a guy doing pull-ups and told her that I always wanted to be able to do just one pull-up.  Next thing I knew she had me up on the pull-up bar with a band to help me out.  I could barely move myself, but the next few days, man did I feel the muscles in my core and back!  It felt great, except when I coughed!  I’ve been working much harder on planks and push-ups now that I want to get strong enough to do a pull-up.  I like trying to do things most people don’t do or even want to do.  The old woman isn’t dead yet and she is going to get in at least one complete pull-up before she checks out permanently!

Goal #3:  I feel like running again

I haven’t jogged in a few years now and even then it was more walking than jogging but a few days ago I was walking somewhere and felt the desire to run.  I’m now trying to get up my courage to run on the treadmill at the fitness center at work.  I got on the treadmill twice this past week, but both times I chickened out and only walked.  The last time though, I came very close, almost lifting those feet enough to qualify as slow jogging.  I need some cardio goal to fill the void left from not cycling most days. It’s cold and drab outside so when I finish working with my personal trainer I don’t have the patience or interest to get completely dry so I can go out for a ride without freezing.  I realized I’d rather just keep working out in the fitness center and might as well work on starting to run there.  November just is not an interesting month for being outdoors in Minnesota, unless you’re a hunter I guess. Maybe I will train to do some 5ks next summer, to mix it up a bit with cycling.  My balance has improved quite a bit now, so I once more feel comfortable being up on my feet.

Goal #4: Get on a bike again

With my improved balance, I’m thinking about biking once more.  The trike is super comfortable and I thoroughly enjoy exploring the world on it, but there are times when I would like to be on 2 wheels again.  Maybe I could still ride the Mississippi River Trail as I had dreamed, or at least the north end of it from the headwaters to St. Louis.  I’d probably be too nervous to do this on the trike since I would have to ride on roads quite often which might not have the widest of shoulders.  If nothing else, I would like to ride around the neighborhood again.  I’d often thought about getting a new frame and transferring all the components off my crash bike so I could sell the new bike, but I always hesitated. Maybe I’ll still do the new frame and transferring but keep the bike for myself.  Sometimes in my dreams I’m on a bike again and I would always feel sad when I work up, but maybe this dream will soon become reality.

Who knows what I do or don’t do.  The only thing that matters to me right now is that I feel part of life again, even if that life has changed a bit. I can still set goals and work to reach them.  Cancer did not take that away from me!

Pieces

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Sun rising as I arrive at work

When I got my cancer diagnosis, the song that went through my head was Rob Thomas’ “Pieces”.  ‘Build it up, tear it down, leave our pieces on the ground.’  I had worked hard to get healthier and there it was, all scattered on the ground.  It’s almost two months since I knew and the song still plays in my head frequently with a sad resignation.  We plan and God laughs is the Yiddish saying.

I keep trying to live my life though, even when I’m so tired I just want to quit.  I felt so sick on Thursday and wanted to leave work early.  I had my personal training appointment, however, and I refused to miss.  All I could think of was Stuart Scott working out as he was going through chemo.  “We beat cancer by how we live.” I’m not on chemo, I’m just exhausted, so what’s my excuse?  I didn’t tell my trainer I felt sick and she pushed me hard.  Only afterward did I say anything and then she gave me this look, why didn’t I tell her ahead of time.  My day had sucked, but at least working out with her would give me one thing I could feel good about, in spite of it all, I made myself be strong for 30 minutes doing round after round of push-ups and planks after straining so hard trying to do pull-ups.  Most of the muscles in my upper body are so sore right now, but it feels good! We are working on a new goal now.  I told her I want to be able to do one pull-up before I die! I’ve never been able to do one.

I still felt sick today.  Earlier I expressed to a co-worker that I wanted to come home, crawl into bed, go to sleep and never wake up.  I just don’t feel well.  I should take vacation from work again to rest up but I’m trying to hold out for Thanksgiving break.  I didn’t work very hard this week and I feel bad about that, but not extremely bad.  I was too tired for even that and I’m learning to let go of previous personal expectations.

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Sun setting during an after work ride

The past couple of days have been so cold and since I’m not ready to ride in such cold yet so I let go yet another expectation, that if it’s not raining I will ride after work.  It’s comfortable riding in the 30’s F right now, but not 20’s.  My body will adjust, but it had only just adjusted to 40’s and 30’s..  It makes me feel even more tired when I don’t ride, but even knowing this did not get me out on the trike!  This weekend is supposed to be 40’s so I am crossing my fingers. It is harder to be motivated right now. The colors are gone so it’s quite drab out and it gets dark so early.  I’m considering any number of ride options at the moment, but nothing is getting me excited to be out there.  Even the thought of seeing something different or interesting is not getting me going.  In the fall, I don’t have to look hard at all to find that ‘interesting’ because the colors are right there.  I get used to that for a few weeks and it takes an adjustment now that I have to look closer in order to see something other than drabness. November is a challenging month but it’s already almost half over so there is that!  I’ll get through and I’ll find those moments of enjoyment out on the trike, I just have to sometimes push myself and sometimes let it all be for another day!

I’m tired though and should get some more sleep.  I got home from work early and have been sleeping off and on ever since.  I fell asleep typing this and am now finishing this up some hours later.  I feel better having slept the better part of the last 12 hours.  The question for today becomes, can I push myself to do a few rounds of push-ups and planks on my own?  And I see a favorite trail of mine that has been closed for awhile was supposed to re-open yesterday so maybe I’ll go check it out again today.  Maybe I can either keep a couple more pieces of my life from hitting the floor or maybe I can pick up a couple that already have and make them work for me again.  After so much sleep, I’m feeling up to at least trying!  I know the tiredness won’t stay away for long, maybe minutes, maybe hours, but I still have trails and my trike.  It could be worse, right?

 

Benches

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Bench by Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul, MN

I never realized my sister loves seeing benches along the trails until we were riding together these past couple weeks.  Once I found this out, I started paying closer attention to capturing some nice bench shots to send her.

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Bench in North Alexander Park in Faribault, MN

I like benches, too, and one day when I’m gone it is my wish for my sons to put up a bench along a trail in my memory.  I seldom use benches anymore since I have my own built in comfortable seat on the trike, but I like seeing them no matter. Benches along the trail just seem welcoming, inviting people to stop for a bit and enjoy nature. This trail wasn’t built for people to zoom on through working on increasing their average speed or distance, it was built for enjoyment, fro people to meander along if they want, to take time to stop and let go of that drive to always do more or be more.

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Bench by Mississippi River at Kaposia Landing, South St. Paul, MN

It is likely that from now on, benches will remind me of being with my sister.  I may not always remember events, but I do remember feelings. During the time I spent with my sister and her husband out riding trails, looking at views, taking lots of pictures, sharing meals, I felt normal again.  I was just the sister, introducing family to the trails I love so much.  We had such a good time together.  The ‘oh my god I have cancer’ anxiety disappeared.  Now it’s more of ‘I have cancer’, just a fact of my life, no more anxiety producing than ‘I have green eyes’.  There is still that sadness of knowing, but along the way in life I have accumulated quite a few sadnesses by now, so having to add another is not anything new.

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Same bench as at the start but different view. That about sums up my diagnosis at the moment.  My sister’s visit helped me so much.  I quickly learned that I had to take my time away to rest while they went off to do other things, but the time we were together helped me recapture some of the joy I used to feel while out exploring trails and taking pictures. I lost that joy with my diagnosis and although I made myself go out and still take pictures, my heart felt heavy most of the time. Seeing the smiles on my sister’s and her husband’s faces as we pedaled along soaking up the views made me smile, too.  We were out there, living life, soaking up those small moments of wonder, and I was in my element pedaling along on my beautiful trails. That is me and it felt so good to just be me again.

 

Careers

We had a group meeting today at work, all the usual stuff of what we’ve accomplished and what we hope to accomplish moving forward.  There were staff change announcements with people moving in to new roles, new hires, etc.  And then there was me.  I didn’t even sit at the main table.  What’s the point?  My career is over.  Now it’s just a matter of when I will leave and if that leaving will be because I made it to retirement or because I won’t make it to retirement.  I’ve switched to a new career track now, the one that goes nowhere.  I’m OK with that for the most part.  Who cares about a career when you have cancer? But it’s hard to sit in these group meetings knowing none of it applies to me anymore.

There was talk about some medical device innovations in oncology and I just looked at the floor.  I felt like everyone was trying not to look at me and it was awkward.  How do you talk about cancer in theory when it’s sitting in your midst in reality?  And here I’d been thinking I’m glad I work in Interventional Cardiology so that my work doesn’t remind me of my diagnosis constantly!

I’ll be fine, I’m going to live for another 20 years!  Except I felt sick for awhile today and I’m always so damn tired.  Hard to be positive when you feel like hell.  In the meeting there was talk about this or that happening in 2018 and in my head I’m thinking, I feel so rotten, will I even be around to see any of this?  Yes, I still have 20 years to go.  Except I have this goddamn cancer.  How is that possible?  It’s not.  There is some mistake, I know it. There has to be.

Beautiful Colors, Bills, and I’m Tired

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Yesterday after work I rode 10 miles in the beautiful fall colors.  Ten miles.  Not long ago I would have considered 10 miles barely even a ride yet now, one day after riding 10 miles I am so tired I couldn’t even get myself to go out and ride at all.  It gets discouraging. Here I am sitting in my chair at 6:30 pm and planning on going to bed soon.  I’m not supposed to be tired; tired is a bad sign, but I cannot pretend.  Tiredness has been biting at my heels for more than a year now.  I fought against it, but perhaps with my diagnosis I am admitting defeat, at least for the moment. I hope tomorrow will be a better day.

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My sister is coming back for a visit again this next weekend so I’m looking forward to that.  She was here last weekend as well and we had such a good time together.  Friday night we cried together but the rest of the weekend was free of tears. Most of the time life felt normal and for awhile the cancer kept out of sight.  It was nice!  They went home though and I went back to work and here I am with my close pal again. I wish, I just wish.

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I forgot to mention bills.  I got the first one last week from the day I got my diagnosis.  My summary of the day:  You have cancer.  That will be $400.  No thanks.  Isn’t there something cheaper on the menu I can get instead?