A Day Off

Waking up to sunshine

feels good.

My soul is warm

from sleep.

I am rested.

I was away from cancer

if only in my dreams.

 

What would a day,

an honest to goodness

waking day,

be like away from cancer?

 

No lab numbers to think about.

No office visits

or treatments.

No waiting rooms

with the

disquieting

discomfort

that there are so many others

quietly waiting

and doing what I do

regularly.

 

No appointments

to schedule.

No scans or tests.

 

No pharmacies.

No new scripts.

No refills.

No hassles.

 

I wouldn’t have to take any

medications or

supplements

that may or

may not

help.

 

No side effects

to manage

for just one day.

 

No MyChart.

No waiting for answers

to questions that only

raise more

questions

or cause

more

angst.

 

I would be absent from

Twitter,

Facebook,

Instagram,

and WordPress.

 

The TV would be off all day.

I wouldn’t be subjected to

commercials for

Ibrance,

Piqray,

Verzenio,

Kisqali,

or the latest

metastatic breast cancer

drug.

 

I wouldn’t have to see a character

portrayed with cancer

with misinformation or

one who doesn’t match

my reality.

 

There is

always

something

to remind me.

 

A day off

would mean

ZERO

reminders

that I

live

with

metastatic breast cancer.

 

My mind

would need to be

wiped clean of my

knowledge and

memories

of having it

and of its existence.

 

Because I remember.

 

Because I am never away.

 

My only

break is

in my dreams

that aren’t real

and that are quickly

forgotten.

 

I don’t get a day off.

 

I get day

after day

after day . . .

 

And I’m still

here.

 

And I’m still

grateful.

Strong and Stronger with Kettlebells

A kettlebell is a cast iron ball with a handle at the top to hold onto while lifting. They come in a variety of sizes, fit all skill levels, and there are many different ways to use them.

Doorstops.

Paperweights.

Perhaps an impromptu anchor.

Or as a solid part of strength training.

I didn’t like kettlebell work when I first started using them. Allow me to state the obvious that they were heavy and I wasn’t very strong. Slowly that changed and over time I increased my lifting amount bit by bit. I could do more reps and I was taught different ways to use them in my workouts. I began to LOVE the kettlebell part of my training sessions. The main reason was I could see improvements and knew I was gaining physical strength as I moved from one kettlebell weight up to the next. It felt good in a world where I was accustomed to loss.

I ordered them as I needed them to use in my home. I asked for them for my birthday. I watched the UPS man lug small boxes to my doorstep and tell me whatever was in there was heavy. A few of the boxes came battered but the contents were in awesome condition. Kettlebells don’t dent.

Another reason why I love working with kettlebells is what they do for my emotional strength. I got stronger on the inside knowing what I was capable of on the outside. I felt more confident and determined. I stood taller. I felt better.

I cannot find who said the following but I have come back to it a lot lately –

“Just because you carry something well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.”

I carry a lot. I carry metastatic breast cancer with me and it is always there whether it is in the foreground or background of an activity or conversation. It’s there.

It’s heavy.

We all have heavy things to carry that are not visible to others. Health. Emotions. Finances. Work. Relationships. Trauma. We carry a lot. Many of us carry these burdens well. We are used to the extra weight. We have figured out how to live with whatever we carry. Saying we are strong is an understatement. Just because we can carry it doesn’t mean that “it” isn’t heavy.

It sounds ironic but lifting kettlebells lightens the load.

Kettlebells help me work on some of my emotional weight along with something physical in this sense. I can release some of it for a few minutes. Somehow I feel more solid. I feel strong and in control of my decisions and outcomes for a bit. I feel in control.

Control is a pretty foreign feeling and I’ll take it when I can get it.

Working with kettlebells offers an amazing opportunity to combine cardio and strength training. Different muscle groups can be targeted. Deadlifts are a little different from squats. Arm presses work different muscles than curls. A traditional kettlebell swing is a quite fun and empowering feeling. I never get bored.

I get tired and I get sore, but I’m never bored.

Pavel Tsatsouline is the founder of the kettlebell school StrongFirst (written as one word). One quote of his that I love is, “We do not tolerate weakness at StrongFirst. You do not have a weak arm and a strong arm – but a strong and a stronger one.”

We are strong and stronger. Weak moments are not failures but learning opportunities. We are learning and learning some more. We are living in a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. I want to remember I am strong even on my suckiest days. I am stronger on better days but always coming from a place of strength. Hope equals strength.

The past week presented some glorious strong moments and a couple where strength was almost nonexistent. I’m still not sure there was any strength present at all. I had undeniably hard moments. Hard stuff doesn’t mean I’m weak. It means I have hard stuff and hard stuff sucks. Living in a world of strong and stronger is work.

“Keep calm and carry on.” The famous Winston Churchill quote from 1939 was meant to reassure the British public when major cities were threatened with air attacks during WWII. Air attacks strike me as an awful lot to carry, not to say anything about keeping calm.

To carry on means to stay the course. We all have heavy things to carry. But we carry on.

I can carry what is mine and I can stay the course. I am strong and stronger.

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Waiting Rooms

Time passes excruciatingly slowly in waiting rooms. It’s exhausting. The bulk of my oncology visits are spent waiting. At my last visit, I looked around at all the others waiting. Observing who was around me made the minutes pass more quickly.

There was one patient near me wearing a bandana on her head with a mask on. She was on her phone planning a vacation for October because she “should be able to go then” as she told her husband.

Her husband and another woman were working on a jigsaw puzzle. I gathered they already knew one another by the warm hug they shared as a greeting.

Next to me, there was an older man wearing a mask who was there with his wife. Both were reading books.

Another older couple waited. The woman was engrossed in a book and the man had his eyes glued to his phone.

There was another older man there by himself in a rocking chair on his phone. He was called back soon after I began taking stock of the waiting room.

A woman who walked with a cane perhaps in her sixties and her daughter were the next to head back to the treatment area.

There was a man across the room who came in single digit degree weather wearing shorts and donning a camouflaged hat. I think he was the patient.

A woman fidgeted her leg while she flipped through the pages of a magazine. Another older man near her read a book. My assessment was they were waiting for someone but I didn’t have anything solid to form my opinion.

A woman maybe in her late thirties wore a black headwrap with a top knot bun tied in front. Her husband was with her. He looked tired. She looked healthier than he did and my guess was she was the patient.

A senior lady slowly moved about on her own, wisps of gray hair sticking out of a coral crocheted cancer cap. She settled into one of the rockers.

Me.

Alone.

Not everyone came with a caregiver or companion. That observation surprised me because it seems I read or hear so much about caregiver support. I prefer being on my own because my days when I have a full schedule of appointments at the hospital get long and there is no reason for someone else to be with me. I am grateful to be able to manage well by myself when I make trips there on average three weeks out of every month, more during testing windows.

The TV blared an action movie that no one watched. It’s usually news or something claiming to be news on other days.

Sixteen waited by my count. Most were senior citizens. I was not the youngest one. Five were probably in their 30s or 40s. There were ten women and six men. My guess six of the ten women present were likely patients, compared to four of the six men. Three were black. The rest were white. No other groups were visibly represented by my observations.

All of us were waiting.

Waiting for treatment.

We’re waiting for many “nexts” in our lives.

Waiting for good news.

Waiting for the treatment part of the day to be done so we can go home.

Waiting for chemo fog to lift.

Waiting to not feel depressed.

Waiting to not have anxiety.

Waiting for favorite foods to taste good again.

Waiting for our immune systems to be strong once more.

Waiting for tests to be scheduled and completed.

Waiting for test results.

Waiting for more targeted treatments.

Waiting for research that addresses individual mutations for cancer subtypes.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Waiting for phone calls.

Some may be waiting for a final treatment. Not me. Not having an end in sight is the preferred option for my life.

We all are waiting.

Some of us are waiting for the same things and some for different things.

Waiting rooms are spaces where you stay until things change. I have waited and waited and waited in personal waiting rooms of my own making. I have spent time waiting for others to do their part or pull their crap together. Waiting for others is inevitable when you need them in order to move forward with your part of the whole. It’s effective if you’re working as part of a strong team. Not so much if you’re wishing or hoping that someone maybe does something if they remember or have time. Waiting is hard for me because I am a doer.

I don’t like waiting and sometimes that’s the only thing left to do.

I am tired of waiting.

My wait was surprisingly short for this specific treatment visit. The waiting room looked different when it was time for me to leave about an hour later. More seats were filled. It looked like men outnumbered women.

The one factor that remained the same . . .

Everyone was still waiting.

We wait.

Tracks and Visions

Winter does not have to be a cold dormant time. Winter can be a time where you see your “tracks” more easily in the sense you can see where you have been. You can also have a vision for where you’re heading.

Cross-country skiing lets me see what is both physically behind and ahead of me. It has been more challenging to do the last couple of years more due to climate change than anything health oriented. There hasn’t been enough snow. If there was enough snow, then the Wisconsin temperatures were too frigid to endure outdoor recreational winter fun. My schedule factors into plans as well. A lot has to align for me to make skiing happen. Finally, one of those aligned days happened. Even though the snow wasn’t perfect, there was what I hoped would be just enough to make it possible. Who knew when another opportunity would come along? I gathered my gear and made the short drive to the arboretum and ventured out.

My intentions on this day were to enjoy being outside getting fresh air and see how I did on skis. I went slower than a turtle and never got the gliding motion going that I love feeling on skis. Had a turtle come along, it would have easily beaten me. I managed to stay upright the entire time and that thrilled me, especially since there were wobbly moments where I momentarily lost my balance and quickly caught myself. I noticed these times were when I looked up or turned my head to the side to see something. Well, I decided not to make those movements and just stay super focused on my careful and deliberate movements forward.

It was as I reversed the route and was heading back to my starting point that I realized I had a wonderful opportunity to work on balance in action. Very slowly, I began to work on turning my head from left to right while continuing to ski forward. Then I would intentionally move my head up to look at the treetops and back down so my eyes were straight ahead. I did it over and over again and built up my confidence while I worked on making my balance better.

Being out there also made me think a lot about life balance. My body needs to move and my spirit needs to have moments in nature in order for me to feel well. I am in a very fortunate position where I don’t need to work around a work schedule. I have created new work and purpose for myself. I am now in control of where and how I want to direct that meaningful work. My life is more balanced than it used to be.

Last week I got out skiing again. I am still astonishingly slow and was passed by an older gentleman. Somehow he passed me twice. Slow and steady worked well for me. I stayed out for over an hour which was twice as long as I planned due to a decision I made to go a little farther which turned out to be much farther. I had plenty of time to think about how my tracks showed me where I’ve been and the vision I have for where I want to go.

A few of my thoughts included:

Looking back to see where I’ve been has its merits. I see my accomplishments. I can linger over happy memories. I also see if anyone is trying to pass me for a third time! However, the direction I want to go is forward so I need to focus on the path ahead of me and notice where it branches out.

I realized I looked down at my feet an awful lot to ensure I wasn’t hitting an icy patch. It seemed like I needed my gaze downward to keep my bearings. I can be just as safe looking up and looking forward, if not safer. There’s more to see. There is trust involved. I plan to continue looking forward.

One of the reasons I like cross-country skiing is because I don’t have to go down hills. I enjoyed downhill skiing in younger days. Not sure how that would work for me now. Cross-country skiing can still have hilly segments. I purposely choose flat routes. There inevitably are stretches where the trail slopes downward ever so slightly so that you take a break and coast. I usually fight these sections and actively attempt to slow myself down so that I don’t lose my balance and fall. It’s more work to fight these changes than to coast. This time I gave myself over to coasting. Less work felt good. I was safe and had nothing to fear. I plan to work smarter, not harder. Coasting may enable me to pick up speed and give me more energy.

Changing my route allows me to explore a new path. I thought I knew how I was changing my route but I miscalculated the distance. Life is exactly like this. There are miscalculations. None of us really knows how long we’ll stay on our current path before it changes. I love seeing paths turn ahead of me. It adds a little mystery to my walk, hike, or whatever. The path is revealed slowly as I move along.

I am about to mark my eighth year living with metastatic breast cancer. I can reflect on these years by comparing them to time on a ski trail. There have been paths where I’ve been wobbly. I’ve been sprawled out flat on my back hoping someone would happen by to help me up when I couldn’t get myself situated to do it on my own. I figured it out eventually. I’ve never liked relying on someone else to fix things for me that I should be able to manage on my own. Some paths have been straight, flat, and easy to navigate. It was easier to coast in younger days. There have been twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I didn’t know where I was going but it was clear I’d be on a specific route longer than I had planned and I had to keep moving forward. Sometimes I could backtrack and retrace my route. Sometimes I hoped I was closer to finishing and turning back would make things longer and harder. I can’t go back and retrace my steps with cancer. My hope is that the bit around the next turn I can’t see is a beautiful part of the trail that works well for me.

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A favorite trail in a favorite place

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best – “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

My past and future, those tracks and visions, are influenced by my inner voice. What I see is dictated by how I interpret what I see and experience. My tracks, vision, and inner voice are all tied together into one intricately woven path leading forward. Onward!