I have four family members who have run marathons. I’m simply in awe of this accomplishment. Our oldest daughter Elizabeth has run three and I’ll never forget her first one, the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. The whole family went downtown on a very cold December morning, sometime around 2008, to support her. I wasn’t prepared for my emotions as she finished the race.
Months of discipline and training brought her to the finish line, and when someone handed her that silver blanket, I could not hold back my tears. Tears of respect, awe, and admiration for the tremendous sacrifice and work involved, and for her resolve and sheer guts as she ran the last few miles on an ankle she sprained when she rolled it on a curb.
There is no challenge accepted and overcome without sacrifice. I have to believe my family members did their training runs in weather that was cold, hot, rainy, humid, windy, and otherwise awful when they would rather have taken a nap or propped up their feet with a glass of wine and a book.
Now, in my second week of cardiac rehab, I’m in the midst of the challenge of my life. I know I’ll have to sacrifice; we’ve already begun making changes and there are more to come. Changing the way we eat is an adjustment and a challenge. Just like doing 20 minutes of cardio one month and one day after a heart attack. But challenges lead to growth and growth makes us better. I know after I do 36 sessions of rehab, my heart will be stronger, my confidence will be greater, and I’ll be healthier.
I already miss my salt so much in the strangest of places: my morning oatmeal. For years I’ve eaten a bowl of oatmeal (made with water as I don’t like milk) in the morning. Jim usually makes it for me and adds cinnamon and … salt. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t like my oatmeal nearly as much without salt. I still eat it, I just don’t enjoy it so much.
We like to have specific meals on certain nights of the week — Wednesday is steak night (which has never been my favorite) and Fridays are burger nights. We’re currently on hiatus from Taco Tuesday until we find a recipe that’s more compliant with the food plan. My rehab program includes cooking classes and the last one we attended featured a black bean burger that was absolutely delicious. Jim made it for me last Friday night and I absolutely loved it. I’ve never been a big meat eater, so I’m completely sold on the veggie burger. Jim and Mom had regular burgers, but I like mine better. With whole-wheat buns and sweet potato fries seasoned without salt and cooked in the air fryer, it was a healthy meal that would have been approved by the Wellness Center. Right now, we’re sticking pretty close to the food plan as we figure out how to cook without salt and with much less fat. And chicken with non-salt seasoning is really good in the air fryer.
For probably 55 years or so I’ve done crossword puzzles. My favorites are The New York Times crosswords. If you’re not familiar with these puzzles, they get progressively more difficult through the week. Monday and Tuesday are easy confidence builders, and I can usually breeze through Wednesdays pretty easily. It gets tricky on Thursdays, Fridays are a little tougher, and the Saturday puzzle is the toughest of all. Sunday is a bigger puzzle, but not so difficult.
When I first started doing these puzzles, the Monday offerings made me feel smart. Tuesday and Wednesday were fun, but when Thursday rolled around, I was often stumped. The weekends, forget it. What I noticed was that the more crosswords I did, the easier they became. My vocabulary was growing, I was learning new facts and new words from the clues. Over the years I’ve progressed to completing the puzzles every day.
My crosswords and my marathon-running family members taught me that there is no growth in the comfort zone. If I’d continued to just work the Monday – Wednesday puzzles I’d never have stretched and I wouldn’t have the 234-day streak I had put together before my health problems interfered.
So now I’m stretching in the kitchen, learning to eat without salt (😔), cutting back even more on red meat (this one is easy for me), and skipping the butter on the baked potato (ahhh, butter, I remember … ). It’s not without difficulty, but the goal is worth it, so I’ll meet this challenge head on.
I love my cardiac rehab program. We have a great facility here in Jonesboro, associated with one of the hospitals. It’s shiny, new, and well staffed. I go three times each week for a total of 36 sessions. I love that Jim goes with me, even if he doesn’t get to exercise.
On arrival, they check my blood pressure and oxygen saturation and attach EKG leads to my chest. I then do 10 minutes on a treadmill, rest a bit, then 10 minutes on a recumbent bike. As I write this, it’s Tuesday and I’m pretty sure on Wednesday I’m going to have to go more than 10 minutes. After exercise, we watch videos about heart-healthy food from the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan, which has plenty of scientific research to back it up. They advocate healthy, non-processed, plant-based foods. So I’ve given up my salt, but I get back sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, corn, beans, whole grains (bread!) and fruit. Seems like a pretty good deal to me, so I’m trying not to complain about the salt.
That’s not to say I’ve been 100 percent positive. I’ve been whiny, irritated, and I’ve despaired of ever enjoying a good dinner out again, something Jim and I enjoy. I miss bacon, and it can be a pain in the butt to try to replicate favorite recipes with less salt and fat.
But, much like my marathon-running relatives must have, I see the finish line through the confusion, frustration, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. I see that finish line and I want to be there, with a healthy body and a healthy heart, and that’s a challenge I’ll gladly sacrifice for.
Boy, this sure isn’t the post I thought I’d be writing. I didn’t think it would be September before I wrote it and I didn’t realize it would be this hard to write. This is the toughest one, because it’s a different kind of trauma than I’ve ever experienced.
But here we are. My first chemo treatment for colon cancer was August 15. It was a nice Tuesday morning, and the facility is lovely. The infusion suite (where they do the chemo) is on the top floor with tall windows on each side of the building.
Chemo went smoothly; in fact it was pretty pleasant. Jim and I went to lunch afterward and I went home a got a little laundry done. They sent me home with a pump attached that had some extra medicine that had to be dosed over two days.
I woke up in the middle of the night violently nauseated. I mean every 30 minutes. This is the not-pleasant part of chemo, I thought. The night was horrible, into Wednesday and all that night as well. Wow, I see what these folks have been talking about. This is nasty.
Finally on Thursday, it was time to go back to the Cancer Center and get the pump detached. Maybe if this medicine stops, the nausea will stop. They gave me as much nausea medicine as they could and when it didn’t help, the oncologist came out and said he was going to send me to the ER.
Maybe they have better nausea meds over there.
So the nurse wheeled me over to the ER and they started working on me. The first thing they did was hook me up to an EKG, which I figured was pretty routine. Until it wasn’t.
You’re having a heart attack, Mrs. Sanders.
What? I don’t have heart problems. I can’t be having a heart attack. Apparently it’s a very rare side effect of one of the chemo drugs they gave me. Lucky me.
Everything that happens after the words heart attack in a hospital is fast. All of a sudden they were taking my clothes off (ugh) and attaching a zillion wires to me. Once the heart catheterization lab was ready, my bed was surrounded with people in scrubs and they were running. It’s just like on TV, where they are running and pushing the bed, and just as scary. The ceiling flies by so quickly.
I don’t remember much else. I woke up in ICU, still nauseated. Also, after you have a heart cath, you have to like flat on your back for 12 hours, and you cannot move your right leg. The thing is, if you tell me I can’t move my right leg, it’s all I want to do. That part was absolute hell. Also, being nauseated while lying flat on your back has its own special set of complications, the description of which I’ll spare you all.
I passed those agonizing hours by mentally taking myself somewhere else. This is going to sound strange, but I’d visualize myself in New York City in Central Park, wandering around (and moving my right leg) and taking pictures. I may also have run into Art Garfunkel a time or two. Other times I’d be in my childhood bedroom, recalling all the times I rearranged the room and deciding which was my favorite. There were walks on the beach, sunsets, lots of floating on Greers Ferry Lake, and quite a bit of pool time. I’m grateful for my active imagination and creative, oft-wandering mind. It served me well in those hours.
Our local hospital’s ICU is really nice; just not for the patient. The room is dark and there’s only a tiny window next to the sleeping alcove, a nice little spot where both Jim and Sara Ann spent nights. You really cannot see the window from the bed, which I think is a serious design flaw, but I’m sure there’s a medical reason for it I don’t understand.
When I finally got to move to a regular room, I was thrilled that I could see the window and that there were things out there. It’s reassuring to see that there’s a world outside and to think about the fact that eventually I’ll be out there again. I became obsessed with the view out my window, which was basically the driveway that leads to the Emergency Room entrance. I saw people standing in the grass in the middle of the night and wondered why they were there all night long and thought about how anxious they must be about loved ones in the ER. Only to find when the sun rose that they weren’t people at all, but metal utility posts.
That’s how weird the mind can be. Watching (what I thought were) people standing outside the Emergency Room all night.
I never realized how important windows are to me until I was in ICU for three days without one. Windows gave me something of interest to look at and they connected me to the outside world. Maybe I was making up for missing the view from my office, which is our beautiful patio. For whatever reason, the window, even with its boring view, was important to me in those few days.
A couple of evenings, Jim and I watched the sunset from my room. I made him take pictures and I’m so glad I did. We’ve always loved a sunset, but these sunsets I treasured.
I think for me the windows meant hope. Hope that I would get to go home at some point, that my life will improve and I will be happy and joyful again. Never again will I take a window for granted.
Right now I’m focused on cardiac rehab and getting my heart stronger. I’ll think about chemo again when I’m ready — colon cancer is slow growing, and my labs indicated a positive prognosis, so there’s little urgency.
Today was the first day of rehab, and I did 6 minutes on the treadmill and 10 minutes on the recumbent bike. I’ll go three times a week for four weeks. I’ve chosen finishing rehab as my time to return to Jim’s and my Thursday evenings out, so I’ve got something to look forward to.
I have a long road, but I have hope, and I have a positive prognosis. Life is good.
This isn’t going to be a feel-good post. Because I’m feeling crappy and rotten. So if you’re here for daisies and rainbows, you’re in the wrong spot today.
I had colon surgery on July 6 and was recovering well. I felt so much like myself that we went out Thursday night as we usually do. We settled in with a nice glass of wine to watch The Crown. As we were watching, I felt a strange twinge in my right side. Like a side stitch you get from trying to run too fast.
I thought maybe I had overdone a little as I’d felt so good and was so ready to get back to normal life. Friday morning I woke up to searing pain in my right side, radiating to my lower back and the middle of my stomach. That’s OK, I thought; I’ll just rest and it’ll get better. It didn’t. By Monday night (a week ago) I knew it wasn’t going to, so we packed up and went to the ER.
I thought they would tell me I had a kidney stone and to go home and drink a bunch of water and pass it. They did a CT scan and I may be the only person in history not to be happy to hear they do not have a kidney stone. I wanted a kidney stone so bad. They admitted me and started me on some high-powered antibiotics for some sort of inflammation outside my colon. And an air bubble.I don’t know what role the air bubble played in the whole mess, but it’s at least interesting. My surgeon said this was a very rare complication. Lucky me.
I hated the idea of being in the hospital, but didn’t think it would be so bad. Enter Flagyl. My new non-favorite antibiotic. This is strong stuff, folks, and the side effects are nasty. They put it in my IV in the hospital, along with a medication for nausea. I was still nauseated and still am, after being home for four days and on the oral version of this monster. You know how they talk about leaving the hospital feeling worse than you did when you came in? Yeah.
At the present moment, my diet consists of toast, popsicles, soft pretzels, and ginger snaps, and anything else I think I can get down. And diet ginger ale because trying to drink water makes me gag. The pizza the first night home was not a successful experiment.
In every down, I try to find the up. Sometimes there isn’t one. This might be one of those times. We didn’t tell many people I was in the hospital, because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me or feel like they needed to do anything for us, as nice people typically do. If you’re mad that I didn’t tell you I was in the hospital — sorry. I really am.
I’m writing from my office, looking out at my lovely patio flowers. Sometimes (like right now) there Is no upside. At the end of this week, when I get to stop taking the Flagyl, I’ll be looking at beginning chemo. So I’ll go directly from nausea to … more nausea. I know I’m still better off than many, many people, so for that I am grateful.
And even though these poor flowers have been through storms, July’s hellish Arkansas heat and a bit of neglect, they’re still blooming. I’m grateful for that. That’s my up for this week. My only one. As much as I try to keep a positive outlook, sometimes things just suck. I’m hoping I can be like my flowers and have the endurance to get through the awfulness. Sometimes it’s not positive, sometimes it’s just plain crappy.
I think this photo of the apples, with one rotten one in the middle, represents my life right now. There is one crappy, rotten one, but the rest of the apples are fresh, green, and healthy. I hope that’s how I’ll be in a few months.
Y’all know what a 12-6 curveball is? You do if you’re a baseball fan like me.
Imagine you’re at bat and you see the ball coming toward you. You can tell it’s not a 100-mph fastball and it looks like it’s just in the right place to connect with the sweet spot of your bat. You know you’re about to drive that ball over the center-field wall.
Except you don’t. Because just as you swing, the bottom drops out and the ball takes a nosedive. That’s why they call it a 12-6 curveball. It starts at the 12 o’clock position, then drops sharply to 6:00. That’s when you hear the whoosh sound that is your bat missing the ball. It’s a tricky pitch for sure.
I got thrown a curveball when I thought I had things in hand with the colon cancer diagnosis and went for my yearly mammogram. They said there was a suspicious area. Suspicious areas are not good things in medicine and I was not expecting that. As a 25-year breast cancer survivor, I thought I had it licked. But when I got the results of the mammogram, it felt like the bottom dropped out.
I did worst case in my head a thousand times. Worst case, I have both breast cancer and colon cancer in the same body. Thankfully the biopsy was negative, which means I’m down to one cancer. Not exactly a nice place to be, but one is better than two in this case.
The thing about curveballs is sometimes even the best hitters can’t connect with a well-executed curveball. Most of the time when someone hits one for a home run, it’s because the pitcher has hung the curveball, which means he has failed to get adequate spin on the ball to cause it to curve, or break. So it just floats right up there and gets knocked out of the park.
That is, if you’re prepared. If you’re off balance or not in the right position you won’t be able to hit a curveball or any other pitch for that matter. If you’re relaxed, alert, and have the information you need about the pitcher, you’ve got a much better chance.
So I think I’d have to say that breast cancer tried to throw me a nasty Uncle Charlie (baseball slang for a curveball), but hung it right over the plate for me and I hit it for extra bases.
The good news is that I’m pretty well healed from the colon cancer surgery, I don’t have breast cancer (again) and we are beginning to get back to a more normal routine. I feel much more like myself now and the other day Mom and I were going somewhere and it felt so good just to open the sunroof and see the sunshine. And Mom didn’t even seem to mind (she usually hates the sunroof).
This morning I saw my oncologist to get the treatment plan. Because there was one (out of 13) lymph node involved, I’ll be doing chemo — between six and eight treatments on a weekly basis for about three months or so. I pretty much knew that going in — my sister (a physician) had done some research so I knew what to expect. Chemo starts on August 8, but I have to have a port inserted before that.
They gave me a mini-tour of the room where they do the chemo infusions. It’s on the top floor of the building and has windows all around. Each patient gets their own recliner and it’s almost like a little personal cubicle of comfort. I can take my airPods and iPad or computer and get work done or just watch movies or videos. That doesn’t sound so bad at all.
During the worst of the waiting, as my sister and I were texting back and forth, we were joking about looking forward to our December cruise. I said I’m visualizing fruity umbrella drinks while gazing at the ocean and sent her a cute gif. So now every time I freak out, she’ll text me fruity umbrella drinks and I get that vision again and smile.
Today I’m thankful for (in no particular order):
The support of my family, especially Jim.
A wide circle of friends who care and actually read these silly blog posts.
Our church community at Cornerstone United Methodist Church.
A great team of doctors.
A state-of-the-art treatment facility.
The beautiful flowers on my patio.
Snuggles from sweet Artie.
The New York Times crossword puzzles (current streak: 207!) that keep my mind alert.
I’ve been through a few rough patches in my life, and I’ve always found that there is still plenty to be grateful for. To focus on what we’re grateful for saves us from despair.
The curveballs are tricky and they can be scary and stressful. But because I’m pretty solid in my batting stance — my support system, relationships, and faith — I’ve got a darned good batting average against curveballs.
Yesterday, just as I’m beginning to recover physically from surgery, I log on to my patient portal account and see the report of my lymph node biopsy from the procedure. I had been waiting for it, but felt pretty confident that my prognosis is good either way. It indicates that there is one lymph node involved; that is, cancer has spread to one node. Now that’s one out of a total of 13, which is pretty good odds and all. But even one lymph node is not a good sign. I’m pretty sure that means chemo is in my future, but I won’t know for another week. According to my surgeon, my prognosis is still good so I’m resting on that.
This morning I went for my annual mammogram appointment. This is always a bit of an ordeal, as due to my history (25-year breast cancer survivor) they always check, recheck, and then do ultrasound. I knew it would take a little time, but I was looking forward to having one thing out of the way and getting the all-clear on something, for cryingoutloud. Apparently there is a suspicious area on my mammogram that corresponds to a suspicious area on my recent PET scan. So now I have to have a breast biopsy this Tuesday morning. I (only half) jokingly told my sister I’m ready to get rid of both of them and be done with it.
Am I overwhelmed? Yes, a bit. Right now when I think about cancer I’m not sure which end is up. Literally.
Next week is full of appointments, and not the fun kind. Surgery follow-up, biopsy, and my oncologist on Thursday, then a routine (is anything routine any more?) visit with my internist the next week. Maybe I’ll get my nails done just so I can go somewhere that is not medical.
In my last post I said I’m good. That’s still true. But I’d say I’m a little more cautiously good. I know I’m not out of the woods, and, depending on the results of the breast biopsy, may or may not have more surgery in store.
Trying to navigate one cancer and another possible cancer at the same time is, I’ll admit, daunting. I’d be lying if I said I don’t have a few butterflies in my stomach. But all of the things I said in my first post about this are still true; my supportive family, my amazing church community, friends and family who care and reach out to let me know, and, most of all, my faith.
The thing about rain is that everyone on earth experiences it. Sooner or later, we’re all going to have a rainout — maybe it’s a trip we wanted to take or something we were hoping to do that just isn’t going to work out. When it rains, we find things to do inside, like curl up and take a nap, read a book, or work on an inside project.
So this won’t be the summer I finish the Couch to 5K program. I won’t run a race, and I’ve missed the opportunity to plant a vegetable garden. I’ve gotten rained out of establishing a really good gym routine (Yes, I know I can still go, but I’m in crappy shape and I don’t physically feel like it right now). This summer won’t be carefree and lazy; it’ll be filled with appointments, tests, and treatments.
In baseball, often a rainout means you have a doubleheader the next day. I like that thought; you head home, rest, and stay dry, then come out bigger and better the next day and win two games instead of one (unless you’re the 2023 Cardinals …). I think that’s what I’m going to shoot for — the double header after the rainout.
I will get through all of this somehow, one day at a time, rain or shine. I’m going to spend these rain days working on my Spanish (trabajando en mi Español), doing my The New York Times crosswords (as of today I’ve got a 200-day streak), writing, organizing my office, shopping online for fall clothes, and looking forward to our cruise in December. I found out yesterday they offer art classes, so that’s something else to look forward to — as if sipping wine on the balcony overlooking the ocean isn’t enough. Yup, I’m a blessed old chick.
The summer of 2023 started with my first ever colonoscopy on June 13. The gastroenterologist who did the procedure was a real jerk. It’s bad to be a jerk, but I think it’s a lot worse to be a doctor and a jerk. This particular ass in scrubs told Jim over the phone that I had cancer. Usually they at least call you back and talk to you in a private room, but no, this absolute waste of a medical degree couldn’t be bothered. As my daddy used to say, that nasty doctor is his own punishment, so I’ll let him go and do his thing to himself. That’s pretty much been the only negative piece of this other than, you know, the cancer part of it.
Most of last week, including the fourth of July, was prep for surgery. What I didn’t know when I scheduled it for July 6 was that it would require a two-day prep. Silly me. My family always gets together on the Fourth, so that was a dumb choice on my part. Two days of clear liquid diet, which meant I cooked dinner for 12 for my family, and had to have Jim to come and taste for me. I didn’t mind — it was fun to cook again and everyone seemed to like it. I sat with the family at the dinner table and enjoyed my Gatorade. And it was much easier to resist the temptation of the cupcakes when I couldn’t eat anything else either. 😀
My family is the most supportive of families. They’ve been there for me through countless surgeries and now two (separate) cancer diagnoses. We’re weird, and just as dysfunctional as any other family, but we’re always there for each other and when we’re together we have good times. This year was no exception, so I went in to the surgery feeling wholly supported.
The prep the day before surgery was particularly nasty. It’s like colonoscopy prep and then some. First they give you a gallon (a literal gallon) jug of this stuff to drink. And bless their dear hearts, they included a tiny packet of lemon flavoring with the jug. It did nothing to make this mess more palatable. Here I’m showing how much I had drunk about about four hours.
By the time I was into the jug of this stuff, Sara Ann had arrived from Little Rock. She was a godsend. She’s got natural caregiver vibes and she was so good. We watched Top Chef until everyone else went to bed, then she turned on Project Runway, which has always been a favorite of mine. We compared notes late into the night on the outfits and the designers and how we miss Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. At some point I realized I wasn’t going to be able to drink the rest of the evil stuff, so I poured it down the sink with a few choice words and went to bed.
We arrived at the hospital at 5:00 a.m., as directed — Jim and me, Mom and Sara Ann. They took me back pretty quickly and started the IV, which felt like we were making progress toward the goal of getting this thing out of me. Sure enough, soon it was time to roll into the OR, about which I only remember the scary huge lights on the ceiling. I was a little disappointed that my hospital socks didn’t go better with the gown, but they were still pretty comfy if not fashionable.
This has been so hard on Mom. It’s breaking my heart to see her wanting to help and not being able to. She wants to bring me things, food, etc., and help in ways that aren’t safe for her physically. I so love that heart in her and it’s not lost on me that we have a cycle of caregiving in our little group. I’m caring for Mom, she’s trying to care for me, Sara Ann and Jim care for me, and we all care for Mom. It’s kind of beautiful and I’m the recipient of most of the caring. I told Mom that there are a ton of folks who can minister to my physical needs, but I have only one mother and that’s her.
We’ve had dinners brought to us by our pastor and some other church members, and that’s been super helpful and a welcome relief from a liquid diet of gross non-lemon-flavored icky stuff. I’ve received notes, Facebook messages, and texts of support and love, wishing me well. My sister and her husband made his smoked chicken and ribs, which are the most amazing ever, and brought me a yummy lemon cake with a cute sunflower. They stayed for dinner with us and we had a great time. My sister and I agree that sunflowers are happy flowers and it was a fun, happy dinner.
My sister, a physician, has been most supportive in all of these medical crises of mine. She can untangle the medical bs and tell me what’s the real deal. She’ll tell me straight-up, good or bad, what’s up. And all along, she’s told me that it’s been the best news it can be under the circumstances.
I only had to spend one night in the hospital, which was a huge blessing. My surgeon told us that he does not foresee this affecting my life span, and that he saw no evidence of any spread of cancer, which is supported by my CT and PET scan results. The docs in my family have told me that it would be extremely rare for a PET scan to not show spread to the lymph nodes, so I’m resting on that even though I don’t have the official lymph node biopsy results.
I’m still sore and today I thought maybe I’d try to get through the day without the mild muscle relaxer and extra-strength Tylenol they sent me home with. It didn’t work, so I took them a little while ago. Maybe tomorrow on that. I still can’t drive or lift anything more than 10 pounds, which means I can’t pick up my sweet baby Artie. My appetite is still not that great, which is OK. I’m not yet eager to leave the house or put on anything with a waistband.
I’ve grown quite the collection of scars now. I’ve got scars from two C-sections, a hysterectomy, breast cancer surgery, and now this. I believe my chances of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread are all but lost. Still, I’m OK with the scars. Two of them represent the birth of my girls. The rest represent a time when I walked a difficult path and family and friends were there to support me and care for me. They remind me that I’m not alone, that I don’t have to go through tough times by myself. Scars are a visible reminder that sometimes there is healing and life after the dark times.
Sometimes, however, there is no healing and no life on earth and I grieve for the family and friends I’ve lost to this damn disease. I don’t know why it’s worked out for me and not for them, and I won’t know this site of heaven. I cannot rejoice in my own good news without considering those for whom test results are not a relief.
I’m good y’all. Really good. And I’ll be back out and about after a little more healing. But I’m not the same. I resolve to pray more fervently for those loved ones who continue to struggle with cancer and give care where I can. Now I can be the one to bring dinner, to send a note or card of encouragement. Let me be a comfort to others as others have comforted me.
This is the toughest part of the cancer thing. The waiting. Waiting for surgery. Waiting for another scan (a PET scan, the one after which I’ll be radioactive) in two days, waiting to know about treatment.
I’d like to say I’m waiting patiently, but that would be a blatant lie. Sleep is long in coming at night, my temper is short, I’m easily irritated and way more impatient with Mom and Jim than they deserve.
We’re all flawed, but I feel especially flawed right now. As a person of faith, sometimes I feel like I should be able to take this in stride, to be positive, blah, blah, blah. But that’s not really what faith is. Martin Luther King said it like this:
Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King
We’ve all seen this quote it so much that maybe we don’t really think about what it means anymore. I’m thinking about it today, though. I cannot see this staircase. I don’t know what is going to happen, don’t know what treatment will look like, and I have no idea what recovery after surgery will look like. But I’m taking every step, every day, walking into the unknown and just trying to get through it.
Faith doesn’t mean you’re not scared, anxious, and, honestly, a little pissed off. What my faith means to me is that I can be scared, anxious, pissed, and God can handle that. After all, we’re made with emotions for a reason. Real, authentic faith doesn’t mean you don’t have normal feelings — for me it means that I can find peace, comfort, love, and support through my faith, family, and community.
So in the waiting, I’m keeping my mind working. Still maintaining my The New York Times crossword puzzle streak — as of today, it’s at 184, my longest ever and I’m gunning for 200. I’m studying Spanish (aprendiendo español) and taking an online iPhone photography course. I just got back from the farmers market, where I bought some beautiful cucumbers, grape tomatoes, squash and zucchini. I’m vicariously enjoying my sister and brother-in-law’s trip to London. Tonight we’ll watch the Cardinals take on the Astros, cross our fingers and hope for the best (this isn’t our best season by a longshot). I’ll keep binging Top Chef with Mom. Tonight we’ll enjoy tacos, because it is Taco Tuesday after all.
The only way to get through the waiting is to … wait. But while I wait I have fun and look for beauty. If you follow me online, you might be sick of flower photos, but they delight and fascinate me in ways I can’t help but share. Like the view out my office window as I write this. Each day I go out and just walk around the patio, looking at the flowers. They bring me joy and peace and calm my anxious mind.
I have so much support from my entire family, church family, and my online community that I do not have to go through this alone. The more we open ourselves up to others, the more we are able to understand real love — the kind of love that keeps us going when things get really rough (like now). We’re all going through something. Open your heart and mind to those who care about you and you’ll be surprised how much others can lift you up.
Oh, here we go. Now I’m overwhelmed. Things are moving pretty quickly.
Today I saw the oncologist and my head started spinning. He’s a very nice man, and is from Ecuador, so he probably speaks much better Spanish than I do. My sister Sara says oncologists are always the kindest physicians and I believe her. I’ve never known one who wasn’t and I’ve known more oncologists than anyone should have to.
Tomorrow (Thursday, June 22) morning I’ve got two CT scans then pre-op testing. I also have to (warning: potential TMI here) collect a very large amount of urine (think gallon jug) for further testing, as I’m anemic. They did bloodwork today. You should know, if you don’t already, that professional blood-drawing people, whether they are technicians, nurses, or phlebotomists, are very good at what they do. When you see them coming toward you with a sharp thing, don’t worry. You won’t even feel the stick — I don’t even flinch anymore. But this nice woman probably drew about 10 vials of blood. I started to ask her if she left any for me, but I figured she’d heard that corny question as many times as I heard “What did you say?” when I told people I was an audiologist.
I also have to have a PET scan to look for signs of metastatic disease and, y’all, this is cray. I have to follow a special diet the day before the test, and it’s going to take about two hours. The actual scan only takes about 30 minutes, but they have to give you a intravenous solution that enhances the image and it takes about 90 minutes for it to get through your entire body. Here’s the freaky thing: for six hours after the procedure, I will be radioactive. The instructions say to go directly home and avoid contact with anyone under 18 years of age or any small animals, which includes Artie, our 12-pound mini Aussiedoodle. Because I am radioactive.
I’ll get the results of tomorrow’s CT scans pretty quickly though, which will be the first answers I’ve gotten about this mess. I’m more than ready for an answer, for someone to say, “Oh, this is very bad, and here’s what we’re going to do about it” or to say, “Oh, this isn’t so bad at all. Here’s what we’re going to do about it. You’re going to be fine.” Right now the only answer I get is, “We don’t know that until we take the darn thing out of you.”
I wish I could say I’m calm and peaceful right now, but I try not to lie on the internet. I’m headed upstairs to take a nice hot shower followed by Happy Hour on the patio. Jim cooks steaks on Wednesday nights (Mom’s favorite and he sure doesn’t mind) but a steak on my plate makes me wish it were a nicely-grilled piece of fish.
We’ll watch a little baseball tonight and I’ll go to bed early because the fun begins tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. sharp.
Uncle Taco is a relatively new local restaurant, occupying the space formerly held by Eleanor’s Pizza, if you remember that. Their menu isn’t huge, but they have a nice variety of tacos and other dishes. I like it when a restaurant doesn’t feel like they have to have a 10-page menu. The decor is colorful and happy and in keeping with the historic old building that houses it. Both times we’ve been, service has been excellent and friendly. There are tables and booths and bar seating.
They offer tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, a Mexican pizza named after the restaurant they replaced, and a kids’ menu with what I assume are smaller portions. All tacos and burritos can also be served as a bowl, without the tortilla for those watching the carbs.
On our first visit we started our lunch with The Three Amigos, which includes house-made queso (yummy), house made guac (also yummy), and your choice of salsa (red, verde, or pineapple). We enjoyed all. We chose the pineapple salsa, which I loved even though I wasn’t sure about it when I ordered it. It’s just sweet enough and it goes great with the spicyness of the salsa. The guacamole tasted fresh. Today we ordered queso and we literally scraped the bowl clean. On our first trip we had the pineapple salsa,
They have a variety of tacos, with chicken, fish, pork, shrimp, chorizo, and beef options. The tacos are soft tacos and are easy to pick up and eat. Both times I’ve been I’ve gotten the fish taco (below) and I absolutely love it. It’s beer-battered cod, pineapple salsa, cotija, cilantro, & chipotle crema on a flour tortilla and it’s good and spicy — not at all fishy.
There were four of us for lunch today — me, Mom, Jim, and our youngest daughter, Sara Ann. Mom got the basic beef taco, Jim likes the Carnitas (braised pork, fresh jalapeño, white onion, cilantro, cotija, and avocado crema on a corn tortilla, and the Carne Asada (flank steak, salsa verde, white onion, cilantro, & lime on a corn tortilla), and I got a taste of Sara Ann’s Smoked Chicken taco (Queso, lettuce, pico, cheddar cheese, chipotle crema, & sour cream on a flour tortilla). The smoked chicken had a marvelous flavor and was so tender.
We enjoyed a few adult beverages with our meal. Mom had white wine, Jim had a Mexican beer, and Sara Ann and I ordered margaritas. She had the house margarita and I wanted to try the prickly pear margarita, which I loved.
I love downtown Jonesboro and am always eager to try new restaurants there and this one was not a disappointment. They’re also on DoorDash, which will be nice when we don’t feel like going out.
Prices are very reasonable and it’s a fun ambiance. Weekday specials (11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.) are two tacos, a side, and a drink (non-alcoholic) for $10. Tacos ( basic, carnitas, smoked chicken, or chorizo) are $1 off on Taco Tuesdays.
If the title of this post offends you, sorry. Cancer offends me. I hope you’re more bothered by cancer than by the word damn.
I’m a 25-year breast cancer survivor as of this writing, and I thought I was finished with cancer. My tumor was very small when diagnosed and there was no spread to surrounding lymph nodes. My treatment was relatively easy: six weeks of radiation treatment and five years of Tamixofen. I got off light; I know that.
Until two days ago. Damn cancer. Again. I had just endured the (awful, y’all) colonoscopy prep and went to the outpatient center to have the exam, thinking I would come home, eat breakfast, take a nap and get on with my life. Nope.
I remember nothing past the point that the nurse told me to roll over. I don’t even remember riding home in the car. At some point, Jim told me they found cancer and it would be seven days before we know anything. I don’t even remember him telling me, just know he did. The doctor gave him that diagnosis over the phone, which I think is extraordinarily crappy. It’s all so foggy except that one word. Damn cancer.
I’ve seen this terrible disease kill too many friends and too many loved ones of friends. For the second time in my life I wonder if it will kill me.
I’m still processing this — just starting to, really. But I think right now I’ll focus on what I’m grateful for, in no particular order.
A husband who meant it when he said for better or worse. In our nearly 37 years of marriage, he’s already been through cancer with me once. He’s been through numerous surgeries, hospitalizations, a difficult diagnosis of a chronic condition and now this. He’s the kind of guy who went to our girls’ cheer booster meetings when they were in high school, every pregnancy doctor visit, and every mammogram appointment after my breast cancer diagnosis.
A family support system. I not only have a tremendous support system within my family and extended family, I’ve got my own army of doctors — four of them — in my family. One of the MDs, my sister Sara, has been an outspoken and strong advocate for me at times when I’ve been too weak to question medical authority and unnecessary procedures. My father-in-law, Jim Sanders, Sr., came with me to my first appointment at West Clinic all those years ago, and gave me a bottle of my favorite wine after the visit. All of my docs have been supportive and none would hesitate to call BS if needed. The non-MD members of my family are just as supportive in their own way. My two girls, though they don’t live here, are constantly checking on me and are pretty pissed off at cancer right now. That makes me feel a lot better. I cannot imagine going through this alone. I received a beautiful text message from my sweet nephew Elliot that choked me up, and messages of support from my nephew & niece in Little Rock. I’m so blessed.
My Mom, formerly an RN (and nursing professor at Arkansas State University), still has her nurse’s manner even after her stroke. She has tried countless times to do things she shouldn’t try to do with her walker in order to take care of me. I deeply appreciate and treasure the heart from which this comes.
Access to excellent medical care. Yes, I know I’m in a small town in Arkansas, and Memphis’ West Clinic did a great job getting me through breast cancer, but I have total confidence in the medical staff at St. Bernard’s here in Jonesboro. My family knows a good number of medical professionals here in Jonesboro, so I know who not to go to. Our town of just shy of 80,000 is a medical hub for northeast Arkansas and boasts numerous specialists and sub-specialists.
Things to look forward to. I’m going on a trip this December with my Mom and sister. We’re cruising the Caribbean and I’m so excited. I’ve been working on both my and Mom’s cruise wardrobes and having a great time with that. We have many happy Saturdays in my sister’s pool and great meals together. Jim and I have our regular Thursday nights at Omar’s Uptown here in downtown Jonesboro, with all the friends we’ve made there.
My church family. We are a member of the sweetest church community I have ever known. We’re small, but mighty in love, care, concern, and acceptance. Our pastor is a kind, caring man I met first by phone during the pandemic. I had had a breast biopsy and had to wait seven days for results — an agonizing seven days. He sat on the phone me for more than 30 minutes, prayed with and for me, and gave me overwhelming peace.
My faith. I hope this cancer is as easy as the last one. It may not be, and I’m prepared for that. I’m prepared for the worst. One thing that facing death gave me so many years ago is the knowledge that I’m in God’s hands and whatever happens He’s with me. As much as I want to live longer as see so many more things, I’m at peace either way.
And that, friends, is where I’m at these days. In a few minutes, one of our two exceptional Visiting Angels caregivers will be here to stay with Mom while I have some much-needed alone time and Jim and I enjoy our night out together.
Consult for surgery Monday morning, so I’m going to enjoy my weekend, y’all. Life will go on.
The image I’ve used for this post is a special one. Years ago I took a painting class at our former church. It wasn’t the usual painting class, but they taught us to paint our feelings with paint and Q-tips. I painted this in the midst of grief after a family tragedy. On the left is a dark, black hole of grief and laid over that is the white symbol of infinity and my hope in God.
Since December of 2021, I’ve been a full-time caregiver for my mom, 87, who suffered a stroke in November 2021. I’ve learned a few things about caregiving — and am still learning — so I thought I’d share some things I’ve figured out along the way. I’ve made mistakes for sure, but I’ve also had a few successes.
It’s more important now than ever to prioritize. I work from home, so I get to be about 10 feet away from Mom while I work, for which I’m super grateful. I’ve cut back on some of my volunteer work, especially anything that requires me to be out of the house, since Mom can’t be left alone. There are very things we do in which we don’t include Mom.
Create routines. We’ve set up a schedule of meals that are mostly the same each week. Friday night is hamburger night, Sunday is hot dog night, and so on. This gives Mom some stability and sameness and allows her to anticipate and, I think, feel a sense of security.
Find fun things to do that are easy for her. Our town has a Christmas light display that you drive through, which she loves. We do it every year and talk about it so she looks forward to it. We also have TV shows that we watch regularly — right now we’re binging Master Chef (Season Two). We talk about what’s going on and who we like and don’t like. I think it makes her feel a little more a part of things.
Be willing to make a fool of yourself. I do all sorts of crazy things at home like singing and dancing to make her laugh. I try to crack her up as often as possible. I’ve always heard that laughing is good for the body and soul, so I’ll do nearly anything to give her a chuckle at my expense.
Pets are wonderful companions. In spite of herself, Mom has grown to love Artie, our mini Aussiedoodle. He sits on her lap and snuggles with her and I’ve actually caught her talking to him. It’s nice that she can enjoy him without the responsibility of caring for him.
Become a location scout. There are some places it’s easy for us to go, some places not so much. I’m learning to skip locations and venues that aren’t accessible for her, to keep her from getting frustrated and feeling like an outsider.
Develop and cultivate patience. Sometimes it would be more efficient for me to do something for her, but it’s better for her to feel as independent as possible. It can be hard for me to let go and let her do things, but when I can (while watching out of the corner of my eye) I let her try first.
Talk about the future. I want her to have things to look forward to — gatherings with family, dinners out, special events — so I talk to her about what’s coming up on our calendar and long-term season changes. She’s especially looking forward to spring and summer, when we sit on the patio, look at the flowers and enjoy a glass of wine together.
Understand that you will get frustrated. It’s not unlike parenting in that it’s the most rewarding job, but can also be the most challenging. I don’t have a lot of time to myself, but I balance that with the memories I’m creating with Mom.
Educate yourself on the medical stuff. I’m lucky to have a sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who are physicians, so I can get easy answers to my medical questions as quickly as I can send a text message. Otherwise I’d have to spend quite a bit of time researching and studying her medical needs.
Schedule time off regularly. I’ll admit I resisted this at first, but a family member insisted and I’m glad she did. I use the time for simple me time — hair and nails, shopping, errands, and sometimes I go to Jim’s office to get some work done before we go out to dinner.
Empathy is important. Before her stroke, Mom was an independent, active person who could come and go as she pleased. Now she depends on us for transportation to appointments and to church on Sunday. I try to frame it as time together rather than highlight the fact that she can no longer drive.
Reset your housekeeping standards. We are blessed with a wonderful housekeeper who comes each week and I often wonder what she must think of us. The house looks great after she’s been here, but it only lasts a day or so. I’d rather spend time with Mom watching TV than clean house, so I really don’t care.
These are only a few of the lessons I’ve learned from this past 15 months; I’m still learning. I mess up each and every day and try to do better next time. Above all, I try to enjoy our time together and ensure that she enjoys it too. I wouldn’t trade this time with her for the world.
Oh, boy. Please, 2022, be better than (at least the last part of) 2021.
I’m looking back over the past month or so and thinking that if I tried to write it as a story, any decent editor would reject it as far too improbable.
Here’s a (not so) quick timeline:
November 25 • We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with the family. Other than missing our oldest, Elizabeth, who lives in San Diego, it was pretty perfect.
November 27 • After a strange phone call with my mother, my sister calls me and I rush over to my mom’s house, to find that she’s apparently had a stroke during the night and cannot walk. We get her to the Emergency Room as quickly as we can, and, as the day goes on, it becomes apparent that she has, indeed, had a stroke. My sister stays with her the first night in the hospital, as Jim and I have church responsibilities the following day.
November 28 • My birthday, which I hardly noticed. I moved into Mom’s hospital room and slept on a cot in her room, as I didn’t want her to be alone.
November 30 • I woke up in the middle of the night with horrific stomach cramps. back pain, and nausea. I laid in bed for about an hour before I gave up and rang the nurses’ station for help. They promptly put me in a wheelchair and got me to Emergency, where I was diagnosed with a kidney stone. After I got some meds I felt better, but my sister urged me to go home and rest. While she was in the hospital, we began to realize that she was no longer going to be able to live alone and started to make plans to move into her home to care for her. Who has a kidney stone while staying with their mother in the hospital?
December 2 • (ish) Mother was released to a rehab hospital, with a release date of December 21, which gave us a mere three weeks to organize and execute a move. Because of the holiday season and lack of notice, the move has to be in two stages. I was hoping to have it completed before Mom came home, so she wouldn’t have to live in chaos. But, nope.
December 10 • Watching the weather, the warnings were ominous. Late in the afternoon/early evening I got a text from my nephew, who said he and his parents (my sister & brother-in-law) were headed to Mom’s house to get into her inside closet for shelter. Jim and I, with about 30 minutes notice on the coming storms, decided we would go to Mom’s as well. The one downside of open concept homes is the lack of interior rooms and both ours and my sister’s homes lacked a tornado-safe room. That’s how five adults and three dogs ended up in my mom’s toy closet for hours.
December 23 • Moving Day, Phase One. We had a busy day. Elizabeth had arrived from San Diego and we had our traditional family Festivus meal of catfish. Mother had trouble getting to sleep, and we realized she was having a lot of trouble breathing.
December 24 • We took Mom to the hospital at 2:00 a.m. due to her labored breathing and they admitted her for pneumonia. When they got us into a room, it was 5:00 a.m. and all I could think about was crashing on the cot in her room. I woke up at 10:00 a.m. to her doctor making rounds.
December 25 • Christmas Day but not really Christmas Day because Mom was still in the hospital.
December 26 • We realized that the upstairs HVAC unit was a goner. Thankfully they were able to replace it quickly.
December 30 • I wake up with inexplicable pain in my knee as well as stomach cramps that were much milder, but not unlike those that accompanied the kidney stone.
Today we’ll celebrate the end of 2021 with the family. We’ll all be in comfy clothes with no makeup and really won’t care a lick about anything except being together and the fact that it’s another holiday without Mother.
I could draw all sorts of conclusions from this saga. If I believed in karma, I could certainly go there and begin to wonder what horrible things I might have done to create this mess.
The only thing I can say is that it’s just life. Life is challenging sometimes, and it’s always unpredictable. It is stressful to be sure, but we don’t face it alone. I’ve tried during this time to look forward to the time when we’re all settled in, Mom is home and we have time to adjust to our new normal. As I write this, I’m sitting here with an ice pack on my knee, which is helping, so all is not lost.
In the meantime, I will focus on gratitude. I’m grateful for:
Our move to Jonesboro two years ago. Not only is Jim enjoying his new career in real estate, we are thankful we’re in a position to care for Mother so that she can stay in her beloved home.
My girls’ time with their grandmother during these trying moments. When Elizabeth arrived home after two years without seeing her due to Covid, Mom was asleep in her chair. Elizabeth crept over to her and sat on her lap with her arms around Mom’s shoulders. I wish I’d videoed it. When Mom woke up, the look on her face was pure joy. What a moment.
My supportive family, all of whom have Mom’s best interests at heart and try to do what’s best for her.
A sister, brother-in-law, and father-in-law who are physicians and can interpret the complicated medical jargon for us.
Our church and community, who have been so gracious and generous with their prayers, concern, and genuine caring.