Waking up to sunshine
My soul is warm
I am rested.
I was away from cancer
if only in my dreams.
What would a day,
an honest to goodness
be like away from cancer?
No lab numbers to think about.
No office visits
No waiting rooms
that there are so many others
and doing what I do
No scans or tests.
No new scripts.
I wouldn’t have to take any
that may or
No side effects
for just one day.
No waiting for answers
to questions that only
I would be absent from
The TV would be off all day.
I wouldn’t be subjected to
or the latest
metastatic breast cancer
I wouldn’t have to see a character
portrayed with cancer
with misinformation or
one who doesn’t match
to remind me.
A day off
metastatic breast cancer.
would need to be
wiped clean of my
of having it
and of its existence.
Because I remember.
Because I am never away.
in my dreams
that aren’t real
and that are quickly
I don’t get a day off.
I get day
after day . . .
And I’m still
And I’m still
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Golden Plunger was a coveted trophy at the school where I taught. Keep in mind as you read today that the world of teaching involves meetings on topics that you never dreamed would be needed. There are conversations only others involved in education can understand. Lots of talk and resulting rules about snow pants, snowballs, and what constitutes as throwing snow. Days spent testing students and then meeting to discuss what those assessments meant and how they would inform our teaching. Most often it struck me pretty quickly what was needed, but it was discussed at length so we could come to an agreement in 4 hours with what could have been decided in an hour. Common planning time each week was often dictated by administrators and true team time was delegated to lunch which always got used for work because teaching overflowed to those places and times that were supposed to be duty free.
There were meetings about bathrooms.
Messy bathrooms were discussed a lot. Kids weren’t showing responsibility and respect in how they acted in the bathrooms and in keeping them tidy. I kid you not. Water was splashed everywhere. Paper towels were on the floor rather than in the trash. They could be left in disgusting shape for numerous reasons. Some kids disappeared there many times during a day because despite the appearance and smell it apparently was preferred from being in the classroom.
What was to be done? How could we affect positive change and gets kids to care? I worked in a district that had adopted PBIS ideology. PBIS is short for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Trainings. Surveys. Data. Rubrics. More meetings. My school focused on behaviors of being respectful, responsible, safe, and being learners in a variety of settings around the school.
Including the bathroom. Yes, we discussed how being a learner applied to school bathrooms.
In case you’re wondering, the answer is to take care of business quickly so you can return to your classroom and your work. It could be work you’re trying to avoid by going to the bathroom multiple times during reading or math, but never mind discussing underlying causes. That could be saved for another riveting meeting.
The Golden Plunger was born from these important meetings and conversations. Someone somewhere conceived this tool for all of us to have at our disposal.
There were three main bathrooms in my school: The Bell Bathroom, The Eagle Bathroom, and The Elm Bathroom. Yes, they had names. This was perfectly normal in school culture. Classrooms were assigned a designated bathroom to use. Each week there was a competition on which bathroom could be kept the cleanest. The custodians kept notes and made the final decisions. The winning bathroom would receive The Golden Plunger Award.
There was an actual golden plunger. It was hung each week in a place of honor in the winning bathroom. Great suspense was built up during the morning announcements before the winning bathroom was shared.
Classrooms would erupt in cheers.
Spoiler alert: It was rigged.
The custodians made sure all the bathrooms received this prestigious award. Some got it more than others. I’ll go on record asserting some bathrooms got used more than others. For example, my class was assigned to use the bathroom that was also used by the entire school because it was closest to music, art, gym, and the lunchroom. It was going to be messier by default every week. Hence the rigging.
I let this go long ago, but the truth always comes out.
Some kids cared. Some thought it was lame. Yet, even the ones who thought it was lame would pump their fists like they had won the plunger championships when they won. The Golden Plunger was one of many ways that built school community.
What does this have to do with cancer?
I would love an award for my efforts as someone living with metastatic breast cancer.
Silent yahoos for decent lab numbers. Frequent flyer miles for racked up driving miles to be used in the germateria. I am not opposed to a sticker chart. Impromptu dance parties in exam rooms are a must whenever good news is given. It would be appreciated to be acknowledged for the small strides I make. Heck, plan an assembly.
I’ll do these things for myself privately (except the assembly). I am a firm believer in rewarding myself and celebrating good work through walks, books, shopping, and treats.
Believe it or not, I am intrinsically motivated. I also want that sense of community at oncology visits that accompanied the golden plunger in the school. It’s harder to remain motivated without a sense of community. I can do it but I want more. It still frustrates me that this is missing when I go to visits and treatments.
Motivation is a key component to success. Feeling like I make progress in my efforts makes me feel successful. Even small wins are still wins. I work to raise or lower lab numbers. I strive to remain active and exercise. I do not lose hope because hope gives me energy time and time again to push through when the going gets tough.
I am motivated to continue treatments and endure whatever side effects I need to because I believe that breast cancer research will make future treatments more targeted and therefore more successful. I am motivated to keep advocating for myself because I am well aware that I have the most interest in my outcome. I am motivated to keep speaking up and repeating myself because more people need to hear my words. Stage IV needs more. Research equals hope. I am motivated to dig my heels in and not budge when others tell me I’m not realistic or I’m being too ambitious. I am doing what I need to do.
I am motivated to keep pushing for positive change.
Motion comes down to a push or pull. A push or pull is how force was defined in science on an elementary grade level. A plunger clears blocked pipes using the forces of push or pull. I am golden and powerful, just like that golden plunger, motivated to keep pushing that my life flows in the right direction. By no means do I wish to be equated with a plunger, but I am a force, trying to clear my way and make a better path for others.
I have become pushy.
I will find a way to keep pushing. Always.