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.

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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?

 

Mixed Day

Yesterday was one of those strange days.  It started out gloomy and rainy, but then throughout the day the clouds started to clear so that by the time I was done with work, I could go out for a ride wearing sunglasses.

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Elm Creek Park Reserve, Maple Grove, MN

The fall colors have increased now so there was that sense of anticipation while I rode, what will be the view just around this bend?  I enjoy that feeling, that is me living my life with a sense of adventure!  I just did a ten mile ride, however, since I’m still dealing with this nagging sore throat and congestion that are really starting to piss me off.  I felt fine until I started going to doctors but I’ve been dealing with these annoyances ever since!  During this ride I could feel sparks now and then of the me I like being, but there were also those moments where I felt weary and wondered if that me will eventually fade away to nothing.

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ICE Adventure

My trike is my faithful companion through all the ups and downs, through the zigs and zags along the way.  My trike may keep me from that fading away. We have explored so many trails together this year and are closing in on 3000 miles since April.  My trike helped me go on after my brain injury and now it is there for me with this stupid cancer.  I don’t know what I would do without it.  I smile more when we are together, I forget more.

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Before I left work I was talking with a woman whose brother is dying and may already be gone by now.  She told me quite a bit about his life and his recent decline.  She then stopped herself, sorry she was telling me all this when I’m dealing with my own diagnosis and uncertainty.  I assured her it was fine and that I was so sorry about her brother.  I thought about it later on as I was pedaling and realized, it was like when I am a mourner and stand with the other mourners.  I can see right then that I am not the only one mourning a loss and although I do not wish loss on anyone else, it is comforting to be standing with so many others.  It was OK for her to share her loss.  It wasn’t our choice but we are not alone; sadly the community of loss is not at all cliquish but is instead only too willing to snap up new members constantly.

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I felt good after my ride but when I got home I had to finish up the paperwork for my oncology appointment.  It was not fun writing down all the family deaths, googling to find out when my grandparents died and ending up looking at the online obituaries for my mother and sister.  After this it was time to work on my healthcare directive.  I should have done this long ago, when I was healthy and this was all about something that would happen far down the line, but I did not so there I was having to think about how I want to die.  It’s part of the deal with oncology, to have a healthcare directive on file with them.  I thought about it, what decisions I want to have made if it comes down to that, but then I decided I’d rather rock in my chair with a nice cup of coffee and then go to bed.  Yes, coffee before bed makes me sleep soundly all night.  That is me, someone for whom the usual rules never work.  The day ended with the reminder, the me I have always been is still there, she’s a bit beat up at the moment but she isn’t going anywhere yet.

Time to get ready to see the oncologist. Here we go.

 

Middle of the Night

Most nights I sleep quite soundly anymore since being so tired has been my complaint for more than a year now.  Some night are like tonight where I was asleep for a few hours but am now awake and thoughts are swirling.

I meet with my oncologist on Wednesday.  He’s going to tell me this was all a mistake, that the counts I read in my records were someone else’s, that there was an entry error and my results were within normal range.  He’s going to tell me that the three scans I’ve already had were misinterpreted and there is nothing abnormal.  He’s going to tell me the previous three weeks were just a bad dream and now I can go back to my usual life.

It was my imagination that I started feeling sick over a year ago, my mind was exaggerating something quite minor. It was just the TBI that was making me tired; I was trying too hard to get back to my normal life rather than giving my brain more time to heal.  The weird lesions on my abdomen that never healed completely in over a year, just some strange infection, nothing serious that won’t heal eventually.  Life goes on as always.

Because I can’t have cancer.  In my family we have heart disease and diabetes.  I know those diseases and I expected that one day they would be my fate.  In the meantime, however, I was finally taking steps to avoid that fate. I worked hard to lower my cholesterol and A1C.  My doctor was so pleased.  I was working with a personal trainer, I was starting to see some of my dreams begin to move to reality.  I was happy with life.  How is it possible I was told I have cancer?  It cannot be true. It just cannot!

I wake up in the morning, oh my god, I have cancer.  I’m laughing with friends and all of the sudden I realize, oh my god, I have cancer.  I lay down to relax and sleep, but then I realize, oh my god, I have cancer.  How do I get this out of my head?  It doesn’t change reality to think about it.  I wish I didn’t know.  I should have given myself years away from doctors rather than just one.  I could be blissfully ignorant right now, and maybe asleep!

When I hear cancer, I hear death.  And death is looking me right in the face, even though it isn’t the likely outcome anytime soon.  A friend told me the other day that none of us really believe we will die; we live life as if we have forever.  I think about what it will mean to not exist anymore, but I cannot comprehend since I only know existing.  I’ve spent all my life learning, thinking, becoming, and to think about all that coming to a halt and disappearing from the world just doesn’t seem right.  My mother believed when she died she would go to heaven, to some better place, but I don’t have any such belief.  I’m glad she did for her sake, that she felt assured of what would happen to her so that she didn’t have the questions I have or that sense of dread.  I, however, will never believe what she believed so how do I face the possibility that death could arrive a lot sooner than I ever imagined?  What does it mean to live?  What does it mean to die?

Early on Yom Kippur morning I read a poem in the Yizkor section of a Mahzor I bought a few years ago which made me feel somewhat better.  It was about how a tree that dies in the forest still casts a shadow and that it continues to contribute to the life of the forest long after it dies.  The thought of this made me smile a little.  Maybe when I’m gone there will be some ornery, curious, adventurous little girl taking on the world and people will wonder how in the world she got that way!  Maybe when I’m gone someone will find enjoyment in a picture I took, maybe someone will remember something I said that helps them.  I think this idea of immortality works for me perhaps similarly to how the idea of heaven worked for Mom.  The thought of spending eternity in some heaven out there where everything and everyone is perfect, where there is nothing to learn, nothing to accomplish, no new adventures to undertake, sounds incredibly boring, but the thought of contributing to some spirited little girl navigating life sounds like yet another adventure.

At the end of all my pondering, however, I only know life so everything else is just guessing, trying to peer into the void.  I suppose it is human nature to try to peer on occasion, but what I don’t like right now is it seems like the void is peering back.  Stop looking at me and plotting.  I’m asking for another 20 years.  I think my youngest son deserves to have as many years with his mother as I had with mine.

It was strange at Yizkor this Yom Kippur.  Always before my thoughts have been on the people I have lost along the way.  That’s what Yizkor is, remembering.  This year, however, my thoughts were on loss in the other direction, with me being the one leaving my sons.  I am not ready to tell them good-bye.  The thought of not being with them, not being able to provide them with guidance and love through their lives brings me to tears.  I know how much it hurts to lose a mother and I cannot imagine not being there to help my sons with their pain.  I’m their mother, I’ve always been there for them.  How can I go away and leave them on their own?  Maybe it’s better to believe that when you die that’s it.  How could you move on to some new existence for eternity carrying with you the pain of separation from your children?  They are my treasures in this life and I cannot think about never being with them again.  Someway, somehow, in spite of this stupid cancer, I have to keep living for a long, long time yet.  I just have to.

Getting What You Ask For, Sort Of

IMG_4349 Some months before my mother died in 2003, she told me that she was tired of fighting for her heath.  Although I didn’t understand at all what I was saying, I told her that it was OK for her to stop fighting, that we didn’t want to see her suffer, and that we’d be OK.  She seemed to need to hear that and told me that she wanted to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary and see her great-grandchild. In June 2003 we celebrated that anniversary and in July 2003 she and Dad went on vacation to see that great-grandchild. Within a couple days of returning from that vacation Mom was gone with her wishes fulfilled.

I decided since it worked for Mom, I was going to put in my order well in advance.  When it is my time to go I want it to be on a beautiful warm fall day with a pleasant wind blowing so that when people think about me after, that will be the association.

The day I was diagnosed with cancer was such a day.  I got the call from my doctor and was in shock.  What to do but go out for a trike ride.  As I was pedaling along I realized, this was the day I had asked for.  If a person has to receive the crappy news that they have cancer, at least it should be on a day of their choosing.  The sun was shining, there were beautiful colors to view, and the wind was blowing.  I thanked the universe for granting my wish, even though it wasn’t quite what I had been thinking when I made it.  It would have been hard to receive such awful news on a gray, gloomy, rainy, cold day.  It may seem weird, but I’m happy for the day I was given.

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Who Trikes on Yom Kippur?

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Well, I did yesterday.  On a day when a person looks back on their life, what better place to begin than on a bluff overlooking a river?

A couple weeks ago a clergy friend posted a question asking people what they considered to be their holy place.  My response was that my place is the Mississippi River. There is just something about this river that calls to me and calms me.  On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, it seemed fitting to begin the day by my river.

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I have this thing for bridges and trails that wind.  All bridges must be crossed and straight trails are boring.  On Yom Kippur I am reminded of all the bridges I have already crossed and also reminded that there will always be one I will yearn to cross but will not be allowed to cross.  Some years ago that was the lesson on Yom Kippur afternoon, about how with Moses and how with us, there will always be that one river (for me, bridge) that will remain uncrossed.  I suppose sad in a way, but also OK in that I leave something unique for those who remain. On Yom Kippur I am also reminded that life is seldom straight and that I would not want it to be.  Yes, I admit that with my cancer diagnosis I am afraid of what the future will hold or that will not even be much of a future, but I also know straight trails are boring and one never knows what lies ahead.  If I can find within myself the same sense of adventure I always felt upon seeing a winding trail ahead, maybe the fear will subside somewhat?  I guess I will see.

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After my ride I felt ready to join everyone else at shul.  I mostly sat with my memories of when my sons were in shul with me, the good memories, and paid little attention to the liturgy.  My memories were peaceful and enough for the day.  The tradition liturgy was the bridge I left for others to cross as I instead took off on the winding path of memory.

Blessings for Triking

Cedar River

Charles City, Iowa

A year ago July I started getting sick and realized something was wrong.  I went to doctors, had multiple tests run including biopsies, but nothing came back as obviously wrong.  I told my sons that I knew something was not right but since it was all unknown I was going to go out and live my life.  If there was something I wanted to do, I was going to do it now rather than save it for ‘someday’. The main thing I wanted to do was ride my trike and so I did.

It became my own tradition after this that when I went out for a trike ride and saw something beautiful I would say Shehecheyanu.  I know in the Jewish tradition there are a gazillion different blessings to say if you see this or see that, but I don’t know them and have no intention of spending time learning them now.  Shehecheyanu sums up my feelings quite nicely and I feel no need to add anything.  That I was enabled to live to experience whatever that moment brought, that was enough.  I said this blessing on every ride from July onward last year and on every ride this year.  The only difference with my cancer diagnosis is that now I might say the blessing more than once as I see multiple beautiful views, that I was able to live to experience this moment, and this moment, oh and this moment, too!

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No name body of water by Fish Lake in Maple Grove, MN